July 2015

Planned Parenthood tops Twitter trends

July 17 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Christians took to social media en masse when news broke July 14 that Planned Parenthood allegedly sold baby parts gained through partial birth abortions.
 
The hashtag #PlannedParenthood trended in the top three nationally July 14, social media expert Marty Duren said, with the online analytics site Topsy.com noting more than 57,000 tweets using the hashtag between Tuesday morning and midday Wednesday. That total does not include tweets on the same subject that did not employ the hashtag.
 
Response to the Planned Parenthood news “was all over my Facebook feed all day,” said Duren, manager of social media strategy for LifeWay Christian Resources. “... It covered up Twitter.”

 
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The social media dustup was provoked by a video released by the nonprofit medical watchdog group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) showing a Planned Parenthood Federation of America executive discussing the fetal parts business with an undercover investigator posing as a potential buyer. Planned Parenthood claimed they donate the body parts for scientific purposes and do not receive monetary benefit, but CMP countered by publishing an advertisement delivered to Planned Parenthood abortion clinics by a biomedical company stating that supplying tissue is “financially profitable.”
 
Duren said he did not see any Christian posts in social media defending Planned Parenthood.
 
“This was very unified,” Duren said. There was “an amount of anger or outrage” associated with “virtually every single comment, every single tweet.”
 
Among the most active participants in the social media response was Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). He tweeted on the topic more than 25 times in 32 hours. In one day, a commentary he wrote condemning Planned Parenthood’s actions was shared 22,000 times on Facebook and 4,000 times on Twitter, according to the ERLC.
 
One of Moore’s Facebook posts was blocked for several hours, with Facebook displaying a message stating the post “include[d] content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” ERLC spokesman Daniel Darling said, “Thankfully, Facebook admitted the error and responded back to Dr. Moore through ... one of their top executives.”
 
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, received 1,300 retweets in 16 hours when he tweeted, “Sadly, if Planned Parenthood @PPact was selling the body parts of puppies, not aborted babies, the mainstream media would actually cover it.”
 
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Denny Burk tweeted more than 30 times related to Planned Parenthood, sharing statements on the controversy from Republican presidential candidates and telling major media outlets, “The Iran deal is not the top story today. This is.”
 
At least six Southern Baptist Convention entity heads tweeted about Planned Parenthood. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Daniel Akin commented, “Killing babies for profit in America. Read this and weep.”
 
Among pastors, Bart Barber of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, tweeted that Planned Parenthood “finally found a use for prenatal ultrasound that they don’t oppose.”
 
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., tweeted, “It’s like Nazis on how to profit from body parts of Jews. Evil.” Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., tweeted, “This is beyond belief.”
 
Clint Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., tweeted a link to Moore’s commentary with the note “stop and read.” J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., retweeted the statement, “It should bother us as a society that we have a use for aborted human organs, but not the baby that provides them.”
 
Among the broader evangelical community, pastor and author John Piper called via Twitter for Christians to pray and fast about abortion July 15. Author and cultural commentator Eric Metaxas tweeted, “Your children and grandchildren will ask you: When the Planned Parenthood video came out, did you do anything about it?”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

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Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts

7/17/2015 11:46:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Alaska church brings laughter and God’s love to Syrian refugees

July 17 2015 by Evelyn Adamson, IMB Connecting

MIDDLE EAST – The paper accordion hit the ground and Kareem* burst into uncontrollable laughter. His mother rushed in from the next room to see what the commotion was about. Mason Kendrick,* the paper accordion maker, looked up at her from his seat on the floor and asked if something was wrong. She said nothing was wrong, but she couldn’t believe her young son was laughing. He hadn’t laughed in over five months.
 
Kareem hadn’t laughed since his family fled Syria and he became one of the 2 million children uprooted by violence in Syria and placed in various countries throughout the Middle East.
 
Kendrick looked back at the still-laughing Kareem. He’d never met anyone who had gone that long without laughing, especially not a young child. Kareem was only five or six years old.
 
Kendrick said, “I didn’t know that I was going to really affect someone’s life.”
 
But he did. He brought laughter back into a home.

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Kendrick, a teenager from Fairbanks, Alaska, traveled to the Middle East with the goal of sharing God’s love with Syrian refugees. Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 4 million refugees have fled the country, and Kendrick’s church sought to help by visiting families and distributing relief supplies.
 
On the edge of a faded rug covering the cement floor in Kareem’s living room, Kendrick sat beside his sister, Amelia,* as they sorted craft items to make bracelets with Kareem and his siblings.
 
For the past three years, Amelia had raised money by cleaning the church and working through the summers. Originally, she was raising money to attend an Acteens camp, but when the camp was cancelled, she then looked for an overseas trip.
 
“I had my heart set on China,” she said. “I really wanted to go to China. My dad went when I was younger, and since then I really, really wanted to go to China. I also wanted to work with children.”
 
But all the invitations to serve in East Asia were for college students, not teens.
 
Then one night at church, Amelia listened to a couple share about the Syrian refugee crisis. She learned that millions of Syrians had fled the explosive clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebel forces. She saw photos of families crossing the desert, some walking for days just to reach the closest border.
 
In the time Amelia shared with Kareem’s family, Syrian refugees became more than a cause, they became her friends. She learned that refugees need more than a handout. They need people to come alongside them and listen to their stories, their pain.
 
Amelia said, “People see [Syrian] refugees as a humanitarian effort, that they need help. And listening to secular news you hear of refugees and that they need physical help. You don’t hear [about] their spiritual need. That really changed when I came here.”
 
Amelia said, “I guess God’s been teaching me that no matter how people look on the outside – not in appearance, but in manner – that if they don’t know Him, they’re still broken.”
 
*Name changed
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evelyn Adamson is a writer for IMB. If you or your church are interested in partnering to help offer relief to refugee families, please consider giving by visiting imb.org. Type “Syrian Crisis” in the search box. Explore how God has been at work over the past four years in the midst of this crisis by viewing our Syrian crisis interactive.)

7/17/2015 11:35:35 AM by Evelyn Adamson, IMB Connecting | with 0 comments



Religious freedom key to global security, experts say

July 17 2015 by Sara Weissman, Religion News Service

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, an estimated 77 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is “highly” or “very highly” restricted.
 
“This, I think, entitles one to use the word ‘crisis,’” said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project (RFP) at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

 
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REUTERS photo
A Pakistani refugee, a member of the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic minority sect, cries as she leaves a detention centre with her family on a bus in Bangkok on June 6, 2011. The Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan is often targeted in attacks by Islamic extremists.

The RFP hosted an all-day conference on religious freedom at Georgetown University on July 16.
 
Titled “Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right,” the conference  featured a discussion between U.S.  Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of Congress, and Katrina Lantos Swett, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Baylor University President Ken Starr served as moderator.
 
Ellison commented on the importance of  protecting minority religions. He noted that he would be working on July 17, a day Muslims around the world will take off to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.
 
“In implicit ways,” he said, the U.S. “is a Christian country. You find that out if you happen to not be Christian.”
 
He cited the Ahmadiyya community of Pakistan. Its members consider themselves Muslim, but the Pakistani Constitution does not.
 
“Freedom of religion implies the freedom to be unorthodox,” Ellison said. “Though I am a Muslim, God might inspire me to understand Islam slightly differently from some other Muslims.”
 
According to Lantos Swett, addressing issues like these should be a top priority for U.S. policymakers.
 
“My experience, as someone who’s been involved in human rights more broadly and religious freedom specifically, has been that there’s a tendency to put (religious freedom) in its little box and at certain convenient moments that little box is brought out and put out on the table and some nice platitudes are said,” Lantos Swett said. “… I would make the case very forcefully that it’s in our interest to put religious freedom right in the middle of our security strategy, our foreign policy strategy.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Sara Weissman is a reporting intern for Religion News Service.)

7/17/2015 11:27:05 AM by Sara Weissman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Brandon’s family stands with him

July 17 2015 by Jim Edmonson, Baptist Children’s Homes

The boys who are part of the Trailblazer group at Cameron Boys Camp are always quick to entertain visitors with stories about their life in the woods. They are proud to show the campsite they built, the open-air stove where they prepare meals, and the tent that is their classroom when the lessons don’t take them out on rambles to identify flora and fauna. But their anticipation is heightened when their families visit.
 
Thirteen-year-old Brandon stands and his smile widens when his mom and grandmother enter the large gathering room. Families are pouring in for a day with their sons, grandsons and brothers.
 
He hugs his mom as two-year-old Addie comes running into the growing crowd. She jumps. Her big brother grabs her in the air and she climbs comfortably onto his shoulders. They become inseparable for the next few hours.

 
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It’s been a year since Brandon came to camp. Big for his age, he used the advantage to bully other children at school. He admits that he “hates” fights and avoided them, but nonetheless he gained a reputation of being a tough guy.
 
Brandon was angry. The anger grew after his grandfather died. “I shut down,” he remembers. “I wouldn’t listen to my mom – to not a word she said.”
 
School was difficult for Brandon. The pace was too fast and he fell behind. His anger worsened and soon the bullying that had been reserved for school came home. Brandon turned on his younger siblings, especially his sister.
 
Fearful for her son and for Brandon’s eight-year-old brother and eleven-year-old sister, Brandon’s mom turned to camp.
 
The first three weeks, Brandon recalls “it was pretty darn hot.” He was out of shape and found himself gasping for breath as the boys walked every place they went.
 
“I thought I was in pretty good shape,” he says. “It was all a little overwhelming. I felt alone and kept silent. I couldn’t trust anyone.”
 
It was hard, but Brandon hoped that someone could help him. He hoped that Camp would be “good” for him. He hoped the anger would stop. “I hoped things would change,” he confesses.
 
Today, Brandon will tell you that there are times when he is less than successful, but his mom says he is a “different boy.”
 
“It is amazing to see my son turn into such a caring person,” she says. The proud mother says her son has worked hard to turn things around. She also credits the other boys and Brandon’s Chiefs and case manager for helping her family. “It is amazing to watch him grow into a young man.”
 
Brandon agrees that things are different. He is open to the Chiefs and the other boys. He now trusts them. Brandon says he has always been good at making friends, but he is learning how to keep friends.
 
“You have to be a friend first,” he says. “If you treat someone like they ought to be treated, you both win.”
 
Brandon is trusting God, too. “Chief told me that you don’t just say your saved,” he says, “you have to give your life to Him and trust Him to show you the way.”
 
Brandon says he felt different in his heart - something changed. “It was a big step for me – a good step.”
 
Brandon credits “the Lord” with helping him focus – focus on helping others and what he can learn at camp.
 
“If you don’t watch out,” he warns, “you can lose step and the devil will try to get a foothold.”
 
When Brandon goes home for visits, he says his mom works with him to be successful. He says they don’t yell at each other any more – “they have conversations.” He does chores and even spends time with his sister talking and doing things. Brandon is looking to the future when he will complete the amp program and return home. He is confident that with his family’s help, he will be successful.
 
“Camp doesn’t work without families pulling together and making it work,” Cameron Boys Camp director Stephen Ashton says. He says days when the families visit are important to the Campers. It is important for the families to see how they learn, what they do, and how they work together. Families need to become aware of the emotional tools the boys will use when they return home.”
 
Brandon says some of the boys never get used to living outside. But he says that will be the thing he will miss most.
 
“I love living outside,” he says. “I love the woods. I feel more at ease and I can talk to God under these trees.”
 
You can help share hope with children like Brandon by making a gift to Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. Please give online at bchfamily.org/givenow to help immediately.
 

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7/17/2015 11:17:51 AM by Jim Edmonson, Baptist Children’s Homes | with 0 comments



Planned Parenthood defense unfounded, CMP says

July 16 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Planned Parenthood is lying in defense of its dispensation of aborted fetal parts through its nearly 70 U.S. clinics, said a nonprofit medical watchdog group that has conducted an undercover investigation of the abortion provider.
 
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released video footage July 14 of a Planned Parenthood executive meeting with a CMP investigator who posed as a fetal parts buyer, in which the costs, procedures and regulations in the procurement and transportation of a wide range of fetal parts were discussed.
 
In its defense, Planned Parenthood said it “donates” fetal tissue for scientific research “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards,” and that “there is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.”
 
Planned Parenthood’s claims of gaining patient consent, not receiving monetary profit and following the law in its dispensation of aborted fetal tissue are all false, CMP said within hours of Planned Parenthood’s statement.

 
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“Planned Parenthood makes two key admissions in their statement today: 1) aborted fetal parts are harvested at their clinics, and 2) money is exchanged in connection with this. They also tell several lies: 1) That proper consent is obtained from patients, 2) That Planned Parenthood does not make money off the body parts, and 3) That everything is legal,” CMP said in a press release posted at centerformedicalprogress.org.
 
“None of this is standard across the mainstream medical field,” CMP said, “but it is standard across Planned Parenthood’s insular and unaccountable abortion field.”
 
But Planned Parenthood, in an official statement July 15, maintained its propriety in the face of growing allegations from political leaders and others.
 
“These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn’t matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood Vice President of Communications Eric Ferrero said. “Women and families who make the decision to donate fetal tissue for lifesaving scientific research should be honored, not attacked and demeaned.
 
“Our medical practices and guidelines in this area are clear, and we do this important work just like other high-quality health care providers,” Ferrero said, “with full, appropriate consent from patients, under the highest ethical and legal standards, and with no financial benefit for the patient or Planned Parenthood.”
 
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Planned Parenthood’s practice is indefensible.
 
“The horror of this story should be shocking to the consciences of all Americans. And Planned Parenthood’s response to this video is as chilling as it is unconvincing,” Moore said in a July 15 press release. “Let’s be clear about what is going on. It is not only that infants, in their mother’s wombs, are deprived of their lives, but also that their corpses are desecrated for profit. This is not only murderous; it is murderous in the most ghoulish way imaginable.
 
“Is it not clear at this point that these are not health care providers but pirates and grave-robbers of those who have no graves?” Moore said. “The Department of Justice and the United States Congress should undertake a thorough investigation of this.”
 
CMP posted on its website a link to an advertisement from StemExpress, LLC, that promotes doing business with the California-based biomedical company as financially profitable. StemExpress supplies human cells, fluids, blood and tissue parts to research laboratories.
 
“[StemExpress] advertises four different times the financial benefit that Planned Parenthood clinics can receive from supplying fetal tissue, with the words: ‘financially profitable,’ ‘financial profits,’ ‘financial benefit to your clinic,’ [and] ‘fiscal growth of your own clinic,’“ CMP said. “The advertisement carries an endorsement from [Mar Monte] Planned Parenthood Medical Director Dr. Dorothy Furgerson.”
 
The advertisement quotes Furgerson, who directs clinics in middle California and northern Nevada, as saying, “Our partnership with StemExpress is beneficial in a number of ways. First, it allows us to contribute to life-saving research that is advancing diagnostic and medical care. Second, StemExpress has a Plug-in Solution that allows us to add additional clinics quickly. Lastly, I feel confident that our patients’ anonymity is secure through their strict protocols and practices.”
 
Planned Parenthood in a July 14 press release described CMP as “a well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and service.”
 
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner released a statement July 15 calling for an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices.
 
“I have asked our relevant committees to look into this matter. I am also calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices,” Boehner said. “When an organization monetizes an unborn child – and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video – we must all act.”
 
Moore requested an investigation of Planned Parenthood in letters to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell July 14, and has encouraged continued efforts to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars in funding abortions.
 
“If we have learned anything from the Kermit Gosnell horrors of years past,” Moore wrote, “surely we have learned that vulnerable women and children should be protected from this sort of abusive profiteering.”
 
In his press release, Moore also called on presidential candidates to address the atrocities shown in the undercover video.
 
In related news, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the states of Texas and Louisiana have launched investigations of Planned Parenthood, the Washington Post reported.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

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7/16/2015 11:40:38 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Survey: American evangelicals stand behind Israel

July 16 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

American evangelicals remain among the strongest supporters of the nation of Israel. Among pastors, 80 percent say Christians need to support Israel.
 
Those are among the findings of a study of American attitudes toward Israel and the Bible released by Nashville-based LifeWay Research July 14. Researchers conducted two separate surveys of 1,000 Americans as part of the study last fall, along with a survey of 1,000 senior pastors of Protestant churches.
 
“No piece of literature has had more impact on American culture than the Bible,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. “No country is more intertwined with the ancient biblical narrative than Israel, and evangelical Americans see a contemporary connection with the nation.”

 
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Researchers found evangelicals see a close tie between God and Israel.
 
About 7 in 10 (69 percent) say the modern nation of Israel was formed as result of biblical prophecy. A similar number (70 percent) say God has a special relationship with the modern nation of Israel. And nearly three-fourths of evangelicals (73 percent) say events in Israel are part of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.
 
While evangelicals remain convinced about a tie between Israel and God’s plans, Americans generally are less certain.
 
Less than half (46 percent) believe the formation of modern Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. More than a third (36 percent) disagree, while 17 percent aren’t sure.
 
Americans are split over whether Jews are God’s chosen people as referenced in the Bible, with just under half (46 percent) saying they agree. A similar number (44 percent) disagree, while 10 percent are not sure.
 
And some Americans think God was closer to ancient Israel than to the modern-day nation.
 
About two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say God had a “special relationship with ancient Israel.” About 1 in 4 (27 percent) disagrees, while 9 percent are not sure.
 
In contrast, only 48 percent of Americans say God has a special relationship with modern Israel – fewer than the 53 percent of Americans who believe God has a special relationship with the United States, according to previously released LifeWay research. About 4 in 10 (39 percent) disagree that God has a special relationship with modern Israel, while 13 percent are not sure.
 
Evangelicals (70 percent) are much more likely to agree than Americans who don’t identify as evangelicals (38 percent).

 
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Overall, nearly half (47 percent) of Americans believe events in Israel are tied to the Book of Revelation. Forty percent disagree, and 13 percent are unsure.
 
Younger Americans, those age 18-24, are less likely (36 percent) to see a tie between Israel and the Book of Revelation than those 45 and older (52 percent).
 
Women (52 percent) are more likely to agree than men (42 percent). Those with graduate degrees (24 percent) are much less likely to agree events in Israel are part of the prophecies in Revelation than those with a high school degree or less (55 percent).

 

Support for Israel

When Americans are asked whether they support Israel’s statehood, 42 percent agree, while 35 percent disagree. One in four (23 percent) is not sure.
 
Their view of Israel is affected both by their schooling and by their view of the Bible and prophecy.
 
Higher levels of education correlate to higher levels of support for Israeli statehood. Those with a graduate degree are most likely to be supporters at 61 percent, followed by those with a bachelor’s degree (56 percent), those with some college (43 percent) and those with a high school diploma or less (31 percent).
 
Slightly more than half of American men (51 percent) say they support Israeli statehood, compared to a third (33 percent) of women. Support is also significantly higher among evangelicals (50 percent) than others (39 percent).
 
Supporters are split on the reasons they back Israel. Sixteen percent say the Bible tells them to, while 9 percent say it’s because Israel is important for biblical prophecy. Some (13 percent) say they support Israel primarily because Israel is America’s best friend in the Middle East. Others say it’s because Jews needed a refuge after the Holocaust (11 percent) or because Israel is the one and only Jewish homeland (15 percent).

 
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Though the term Zionist is synonymous with believing that Jews should have their own state, only 8 percent of Americans claim this label. A third (32 percent) of Americans are not sure whether they are Zionist.
 
Among the most ardent of Israel’s supporters are senior pastors of Protestant churches. Most (80 percent) agree “Christians should support Israel.” About 1 in 7 (14 percent) disagrees.
 
Even though they support Israel, some pastors have their doubts about Israel’s military actions. About 4 in 10 (41 percent) agree with the statement, “It is hard to defend Israel’s military tactics.” Fifty percent disagree, while 9 percent are not sure.
 
Methodology: The first phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19-28, 2014. The second phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 5, 2014. The calling utilized Random Digit Dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.5 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Those labeled evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian.”
 
The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
 
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is former senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

 

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7/16/2015 11:28:15 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



All-Star Pujols anchored by faith

July 16 2015 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

He grew up playing catch just like any kid, except he used limes instead of a baseball and a milk cartoon instead of a glove. He often watched his dad play softball and carried him home when he got drunk after the games.
 
Life in the Dominican Republic wasn’t easy for Albert Pujols, but now the 10-time All-Star has come to realize that God had a plan for him all along.
 
“God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball,” Pujols wrote in a testimony posted on his foundation’s website. “But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which my wife ... and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”
 
Pujols’ early life, as told by Joe Posnanski in Sports Illustrated in 2009, was typical for a Dominican youth. As many as 50 percent of children in the nation live in poverty, according to a 2013 study released by the United Nations Children’s Fund.
 
Pujols and his family moved to New York in 1996 to pursue a better future, but the family’s view of America took a dent when Pujols witnessed a shooting at a grocery store, prompting the family to move to Independence, Mo.

 
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Photo by Keith Allison
Albert Pujols

Following a short stint at Maple Woods Community College in the Kansas City area, Pujols declared for the 1999 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He wasn’t on many teams’ radars heading into the draft, according to Red Sox scout Ernie Jacobs.
 
“People weren’t sure how old the guy was. You assumed what he told you was true, but he wasn’t a great body, and his swing was a little long ... There were a couple of scouts who liked him, who thought he could go high, but there were a lot that didn’t,” Jacobs said in a Boston Globe article in 2006.
 
Amid the doubts surrounding Pujols heading into the draft, he was able to answer some doubts of his own. In November 1998, he trusted Jesus as his Lord and Savior just months before the draft.
 
Pujols’ future wife played a large role in his conversion.
 
“In the spring of 1998, my soon to be wife, Deidre, began sharing with me the love of Jesus. My most exciting moment came when I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life. If it weren’t for Jesus, I would not be where I am today and my life would be without purpose,” Pujols wrote in his testimony.
 
They married in 2000 and together cared for Deidre’s child from another relationship, Isabella, who was born with Down syndrome. Isabell became a symbol of hope for the Pujolses, who later created the Pujols Family Foundation to promote awareness of Down syndrome.
 
Heading into the draft a born-again Christian, Pujols was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round as the 402nd overall pick.
 
After nine All-Star appearances – more than any of the 401 players drafted before him – many analysts and fans believed Pujols would don Cardinal red for the rest of his playing days. But that’s not what happened, and he left St. Louis in 2011 for the Los Angeles Angels.
 
Many were critical of Pujols’ decision, and some went a step further by suggesting that his talent wasn’t all natural, including former Cardinal Jack Clark, who accused Pujols of using steroids.
 
“I know for a fact he was [on steroids]. The trainer that worked with him, threw him batting practice, from Kansas City, that worked him out every day, basically told me that’s what he did,” Clark said in 2013 during a radio show.
 
Pujols responded to Clark’s accusations by asserting that his commitment to God would override any desire to take steroids.
 
“Why would I do something like that to my family? Why would I do something like that to God? Why would I do something like that to my team?” Pujols asked at the time, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
 
Clark later retracted his statement after the trainer he mentioned denied ever talking to Clark, the New York Daily News reported.
 
Criticism of Pujols persisted as injuries plagued his early years with the Angels. Many media outlets lamented the superstar’s decline, with Fox Sports calling his time in Los Angeles a “severe disappointment” and a “disaster.”
 
After all the criticism, Pujols finds himself in a familiar spot this week: the All-Star Game. The 15-year veteran currently is on pace to match the production he had during the prime of his career.
 
Addressing the criticism that has long dogged him, Pujols still points to his faith.
 
Pujols will start at first base in July 14th’s All-Star Game at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Baptist Press intern Daniel Woodman is a journalism major at the University of Missouri. Pujols’ faith and life story are further documented in “Pujols: More Than the Game” by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth.)

7/16/2015 11:22:29 AM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sturgis volunteers ready for more miracles of faith

July 16 2015 by Victor Lee, Baptist Press

Amid thousands of bikers, often with debauchery nearby, Southern Baptist volunteers will share their redemption in Jesus during the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Aug. 3-8 in South Dakota.
 
Sturgis, population 6,000 for 358 days a year, will swell to hundreds of thousands for the milestone, drawing every kind of person, from the unique to the dangerous.
 
Buck Hill, director of missions for the Dakota Baptist Convention (which includes both Dakotas), said volunteers are anticipating more miraculous moments of newfound faith akin to what they’ve seen during 10 years of outreach at Sturgis.
 
Hill and a team of 200-plus volunteers have a tight, proven plan for sharing the gospel at a 40-by-30 tent on one of the town’s streets. The volunteers venture to Sturgis from across the Midwest, Southeast and elsewhere to work one of four three-hour shifts each day.
 
“Catchers” – those who invite guests into the tent – greet passersby, telling them they will be registered for a giveaway of a $21,000 Harley Road King if they go into the tent and listen to a three-minute Gospel presentation, which is the presenter’s personal testimony of their life before Christ, how they came to know Christ and their life since salvation.

 
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BP file photo
Baptist volunteers Roger Persing and Lyn Hanson work to draw passersby into a hospitality tent at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 2010 where they heard testimony of God’s power to change people.

“This is how we do it, no other way,” Hill said. “Our catchers ask for three minutes, and three minutes is all we take.”
 
An estimated 35,000 people have accepted the invitation to hear the testimony and register for the bike over the years, and 6,000 have prayed to receive Christ – an outstanding return rate for evangelism at a mass event.
 
It will be organized chaos at the tent as volunteers shine a light in the darkness.
 
“Normally in Sturgis you can see all of the buildings,” Hill said. “But if you only came to the rally, you’d have no idea what Sturgis looks like. There are campsites all over the Black Hills. They stay for 100 miles all around.
 
“When dark comes, it can really get crazy,” Hill said. Most of the people at the rally aren’t misbehaving, but the “one-percenters,” as Hill calls them, make up for it.
 
“There have been shootings and stabbings, usually out in the campgrounds. There are people walking around in very offensive clothes ... but we have well-dressed people too. The gangs are there, and we’ve had them stalk our tent just to see what we’re doing.
 
“But many police officers come from all over the country – on their own time – and work 12-hour shifts. They walk in groups. They walk by our booth because they know who we are, so we have a good working relationship with the police. We feel protected.”
 
Follow-up with those who prayed to receive Christ, though a constant challenge, has improved over the years. “We log those who’ve made decisions into a database,” Hill said. Each volunteer is given a number and receives information on whom he/she led to Christ. And every name is sent to the Evangelism Response Center of the North American Mission Board on a daily basis.
 
“We make sure the volunteers – the critical person – call Sally and talk to her and check up on her to see if she found a church home or what they can do to help her. Some people have kept up with who they led to Christ for years,” Hill said.
 
There are some challenging moments in the tent, but Hill and his team have a contingency plan for most everything.
 
“We get families with small kids, and yet we’ve had women come under the tent who were ‘painted’ like they had clothes on,” Hill said. Immediately a female human shield forms around the painted lady, and a woman shares the gospel.
 
“I was one of the ones that was skeptical to start with,” Hill said of the Sturgis outreach, “but I’ve seen evidence myself of life change under the tent. Literally life change under the tent. ... I see them come in swearing with a beer in their hand and leave with their life changed, tears coming down their faces.”
 
Among the salvation stories Hill recalls from the Sturgis outreach:

  • “A husband and wife with kids come under the tent, and we begin sharing the Gospel. Almost simultaneously tears are running down their eyes. Both pray to receive Christ. She says, ‘OK, now we need to go.’ Some tell her not to rush, but she says, ‘You don’t understand, we just prayed for a brand-new life. If we believe what we just said, we don’t need to stay here. We need to go home and start our new life.’”

  • “The son of a Southern Baptist preacher came in. This story is sad and funny at the same time. He just wanted to sign up for the bike. His name was Joe. He said, ‘I know I’ve got to listen to this, but it’s fruitless.’ His dad was a preacher but he had never accepted Christ. He did that day.”

  • “A man came to the tent and prayed to receive Christ. He had been estranged from his family, but he went back to his family and went back to church. It was taking some time for the family to believe the change. The man came back in the next year with his son. He explained how he was back with the family, but he said, ‘I want you to tell him what you told me.’ The son prayed to receive Christ. He had seen the change.”

“When people say, ‘This won’t work, you can’t lead people to Christ in three minutes,’ I tell them, ‘You’re right, because it’s not us that lead them to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit.
 
“I know what I see. I see the evidence.”
 
Check out sturgisbikegiveway.com for more information.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Victor Lee is a writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.)
 

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7/16/2015 11:14:12 AM by Victor Lee, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Court rules against religious groups in contraception case

July 15 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14 that religious employers must comply with federally mandated employee health coverage – which includes all FDA-approved contraceptive services – because the mandate does not present a substantial burden to religious exercise or violate First Amendment rights.
 
The mandate includes an accommodation scheme for religious non-profits and closely held organizations that object to the contraception coverage. Objectors may submit a form to the Department of Health and Human Services, signing away the coverage to a third party.
 
Churches and their auxiliaries are exempt from the mandate, while publicly held corporations have no exemptions. The case before the circuit court addressed the standing of non-profit organizations.
 
In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held, for-profit entities with religious objections were exempt from providing healthcare coverage that included abortion-inducing contraception. The White House issued a revision July 10 requiring such businesses to follow the accommodation scheme provided to religious non-profits.
 
GuideStone Financial Resources, Oklahoma Baptist University, Truett-McConnell College, a Catholic organization for women called Little Sisters of the Poor and other appellants claim the mandate – accommodation included – violates their faith by making them complicit in providing abortion-inducing drugs through healthcare plans, according to press releases.

Harold Loftin, GuideStone’s general legal counsel, said, “GuideStone has, from the filing of our case, objected to the so-called ‘accommodation’ because it requires certain religious employers that GuideStone serves to take actions that the government intends to use to deliver abortion-inducing drugs and devices to our participants and their dependents. The evidence presented to the court showed that ‘women’ as young as age 10 will be notified of their eligibility to receive abortion-inducing drugs and devices for free by GuideStone’s third-party administrator, if the religious employer complies with the government’s demands.  … GuideStone will continue to explore and exhaust the options and legal remedies available to protect the unborn who cannot protect themselves.”
 
Attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said they are “closely reviewing the court’s decision and will decide soon whether they must seek relief from the Supreme Court.”
 
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a press release, “This is a disappointing decision, for both religious liberty and for the sanctity of life.
 
“This is a day for all of us to bombard the Throne of Grace with petitions for a favorable outcome on appeal, for strength of resolve, for the unborn in this country and for all of our leaders, so many of whom have turned their back on the founding principles of this country. We are working already with our legal advisors to determine our next steps. Today was a setback. It is not the final outcome.”
 
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund and lead attorney in the case, spoke on behalf of Little Sisters: “It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.”

(Updated July 16, 2:40 p.m.)

7/15/2015 2:51:06 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts

July 15 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A woman identified as a Planned Parenthood executive is shown in an undercover video released July 14 negotiating the sale of baby parts gained through partial birth abortions performed at Planned Parenthood facilities.
 
After the video surfaced, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) defended the action of donating such body parts, but said no monetary benefits are gained, other than the reimbursement of costs incurred in the delivery of the body parts.
 
“In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different,” Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications, said in a press release posted on the PPFA website. “At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does – with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.

 
7-15-15_PPFA_WEB.jpg

Screen capture from YouTube
The nonprofit medical watchdog group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the video showing a woman identified as Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America senior director of medical services, discussing the PPFA fetal parts business with an undercover investigator posing as a potential buyer at a July 25, 2014, lunch meeting.

“There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood,” he said. “In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”
 
In the video, Deborah Nucatola explains Planned Parenthood’s supposed baby parts business and discusses in detail the care Planned Parenthood locations take to ensure the delivery of intact body parts of aborted babies.
 
“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver,” she said in the transcript posted on the Center for Medical Progress website, “... so I’m not gonna crush that part. I gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
 
Nucatola noted, “I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they know where they’re putting their forceps.”
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted the video appears to be credible, based on his inquiries among “respected figures in the pro-life community ... who confirmed the accuracy of the video,” he blogged at Moore to the Point.
 
“If this does not shock the conscience, what will? It is not only that infants, in their mother’s wombs, are deprived of their lives, but also that their corpses are desecrated for profit,” Moore blogged. “This is not only murderous; it is murderous in the most ghoulish way imaginable.”
 
Moore, among many who have fought to stop the funding of abortions with taxpayer dollars, called Planned Parenthood “pirates and grave-robbers of those who have no graves.”
 
He called on the church to recommit itself to protecting the most vulnerable among us.
 
The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering,” Moore wrote. “This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, ‘Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey’ (Isaiah 10:1-2).”
 
Nucatola, who has served in her Planned Parenthood position since 2009, maintains an office in Los Angeles. Planned Parenthood’s media office in New York did not return Baptist Press’ message requesting a comment.
 
The CMP video was obtained through its Human Capital project, a 30-month journalistic investigation documenting Planned Parenthood’s fetal parts business.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

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Planned Parenthood defense unfounded, CMP says
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7/15/2015 11:06:32 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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