July 2016

Charlotte loses NBA All-Star game over ‘bathroom bill’

July 29 2016 by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service

Unable to convince North Carolina to repeal a law that requires men and women to use restrooms consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificates, the NBA on July 21 announced it would take its ball – and the 2017 All-Star game – out of Charlotte and move to an as-yet undisclosed venue.

Twitter photo

Media reports hint the new location will be the New Orleans Superdome – a facility with the same restroom policies as Charlotte’s Time Warner Arena, according to Tami Fitzgerald of NC Values.
But in their announcement on July 21, the NBA focused only on North Carolina.
“While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,” the NBA said in a press release.
Gov. Pat McCrory called foul. Since its passage in March, McCrory has defended HB2 against vitriolic criticism, threats of economic sanctions, and federal lawsuits.
“The sports and entertainment elite, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and the liberal media have for months misrepresented our laws and maligned the people of North Carolina simply because most people believe boys and girls should be able to use school bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers without the opposite sex present,” McCrory said.
The NBA announcement made no effort to explain the “climate” that has been created with the passage of House Bill 2. But Gregg Watkins, communications manager for Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts told me, “What’s changed is when something is extended and then taken away.”
HB2 rescinded the Charlotte law and similar ordinances passed by other North Carolina cities and replaced it with a uniform non-discrimination code applicable to all North Carolina municipalities. The state legislation removed the municipal LGBT civil rights status and requires people use the restroom specific to the sex on their birth certificates.
The law applies to government buildings and schools but allows private business, like Target, to establish their own policies. Confusion over the law’s application to publicly owned-privately operated venues, including Time Warner Arena, required clarification by McCrory. He issued an executive order April 12 allowing municipalities the prerogative of ceding public accommodation authority to the private operator.
“Consistent with an Executive Order issued by Gov. McCrory, the City of Charlotte has allowed private operators of certain city-owned facilities, including Time Warner Arena, to establish the policy for use of multiple occupancy restrooms,” Charlotte City Attorney Robert Hagemann told me.
In a prepared statement, Roberts took the NBA contract revocation in stride, denouncing the “discriminatory actions reflected in HB2” while commending the city’s “commitment to equal rights and inclusion.”
“I appreciate the NBA and our Charlotte Hornets being such strong champions of equality,” she said.
The mayor made no mention of the economic impact on the city or the potential loss of private and public revenue as a result of the NBA’s actions.
The NBA’s decision infuriated U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose district includes Charlotte. In a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Pittenger noted the organization’s hypocrisy as it expands into countries long-known for human rights abuses. He pointed specifically to China’s practice of “harvesting vital organs as part of their oppression of religious minorities.”
“Meanwhile, the NBA will start selling tickets for preseason games in China next week,” Pittenger wrote. “Is the NBA implying China’s abhorrent violation of basic human rights is acceptable, but North Carolina saying men shouldn’t use the girls’ locker rooms is a bridge too far?”
Pittenger accused Silver of “gross lack of judgment and moral clarity.”
Fitzgerald, an attorney and executive director of NC Values, suggested in a press release the NBA could be held financially liable for breaking the contract. The city and state have honored their end of the contract in preparing for the event, including renovating Time Warner Arena, she noted.
Fitzgerald said the NBA will be hard pressed to find a city with an appropriate arena, hotels, and restaurants, as well as a city or state ordinance allowing biological males to use the women’s restrooms.
“It is ironic that the NBA would choose to relocate their All-Star game to the State of Louisiana, since last month the state joined North Carolina and 22 other states to stop President Obama’s transgender bathroom directive granting boys access into girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities in schools and universities,” Fitzgerald said.

7/29/2016 10:12:24 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

‘Until He comes’: Police, clergy pledge 24/7 prayer

July 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Months before related shootings in three states resulted in the deaths of eight policemen and two black civilian men in July, the Houston Police Officers Union began recruiting clergy and intercessors to make Houston a city of prayer.

Photo by Diana Chandler
Claude King, a discipleship and church health specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources, leads a Prayer Boot Camp at Ridgecrest, N.C.

The result is a prayer room established at police union headquarters in downtown Houston, where continuous prayers are planned around the clock for the city beginning in August, Union Baptist Association church consultant Rickie Bradshaw told Baptist Press (BP).
“Our prayer request is for the Son of Man to come,” Bradshaw said, referencing the Lord’s Prayer. “So we’re going to pray day and night about His kingdom coming and His will being done on the earth, and all of this was taking place way before we’ve had this plight in America. There are a group of police officers in our city that want ... Houston known as a city ... covered by prayer.”
The prayer initiative is the result of work that began cooperatively in April among at least four Houston prayer networks, the police officers’ union, the Union Baptist Association of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the nationwide Prayer Boot Camp initiative of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prayer organizers believe the only answer to police-related, racially charged violence is a revival generated by the Holy Spirit, Bradshaw said, referencing the biblical parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.
“These officers and these intercessors are now feeling like they have no other option as that widow did, who went to the judge day and night. She had no other option but to cry out to God to come,” Bradshaw said. “How long will it be? It will be until He comes and makes Houston the praise of the earth (Isaiah 62:7).”
Isaiah 62:7, which encourages Jerusalem to pray day and night, is also motivating the initiative.

Submitted photo
Houston police officer Edwin Rubio receives prayer at the Prayer Boot Camp hosted by the Houston Police Officers Union and co-sponsored by the Union Baptist Association of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with other groups.

“The Lord says you who are watchmen on the wall, for the sake of Zion, take no rest for yourselves and give Him no rest until He makes Jerusalem – London, Houston, whatever – the praise of the earth,” Bradshaw said. “How do we know when Houston becomes the praise of the earth? [When] revival and spiritual awakening [come].”
A total of 24 prayer captains, including six law enforcement officers and eight pastors, signed a covenant at a July 23rd Prayer Boot Camp at union headquarters, committing to ensure that intercessors are praying in the prayer room around the clock, Bradshaw told BP.
“What’s really exciting about this is these are men and women who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, recognizing that they have a responsibility to intercede on behalf of the city before the Lord Jesus Christ,” Bradshaw said. “We made a declaration that we would keep the fire burning until He comes. This says something that is at the very heart of 24/7; you don’t start and stop.”
The July 23 Prayer Boot Camp was designed by Claude King, discipleship and church health specialist with LifeWay Adults, who developed the prayer camp in December 2015, as a model to teach Christian disciples how to pray. King developed the camps after the 2015 release of the “War Room” movie by brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, and based the content on the movie-related resource “The Battle Plan for Prayer.”
“What Claude King has taught us is prayer and discipleship,” Bradshaw said. “Jesus said go out in twos, because we don’t want the fire to go out. Those men and women who have signed up to become captains, we are saying to them, we want you to sign a covenant to disciple others.”

LifeWay Prayer Boot Camp

King offered the camp at the July Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C., July 11-15, among more than 10 other camps he has offered in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, and in Texas prisons.
“What we believe is that God’s going to take the body of Christ, the larger body of Christ and help us to love one another, and show compassion, and to feel the pain, and to pray differently,” King said. “How do we pray in light of the circumstances of today?” he asked African American leaders and laypersons gathered at Ridgecrest.
“We need to ask God to give us a heart of compassion like His for those He has created,” King teaches. “We need to pray together. But not against each other; for each other. We need to pray blessing and not cursing. We need to pray for understanding and empathy.”
Former North American Mission Board regional vice president Gary Frost, currently national facilitator of prayer and compassion initiatives of the Mission America Coalition, joined King in leading the Ridgecrest prayer camp.
“Do you sense that, not only are a lot of things happening, they’re happening fast. It seems like there’s an acceleration of stuff going on. Fifty people are killed in Orlando, and then this happens over here and that happens over there,” Frost said. “It seems as if our civilization as we know it is actually disintegrating. There’s a breaking down going on.”
Frost pointed participants to the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes in responding to violence.
“We have an opportunity in this current dark environment for the world to see Christ,” Frost said. “When you pray you’re talking to somebody who knows what you’re talking about, because Christ was tempted in every point just like you are, yet He never sinned. So the ultimate reconciliation can only occur in Christ who is the bridge, who connects us all together in oneness. We have to come together in unity, and that can only happen in Christ.”
King is leading three camps this week in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a flexible curriculum that can be tailored to multiple timeframes including weekly prayer meetings and one-time events from two hours to one day long, King said. Resources are available at blog.lifeway.com/growingdisciples/prayer-boot-camp/.
“During the Prayer Boot Camp, groups learn how to pray and how to pray specifically and strategically. More importantly they spend significant amounts of time praying together,” King told BP. “I’ve led Prayer Boot Camps primarily to train trainers so they in turn can lead Prayer Boot Camps in their churches and in other areas, associations and state conventions.”
King noted, “When people who are rightly related to God pray, God works in circumstances and in the lives of others in answer to our prayers and in accordance with His will. Prayer doesn’t change things, but God changes things in answer to prayer.”

7/29/2016 10:06:05 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CCCU board considers membership requirements

July 29 2016 by J.C. Derrick, WORLD News Service

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) board of directors is considering recommendations for new membership and affiliate guidelines during meetings this week, amid differences over same-sex marriage hiring policies.

The regular July board meeting – taking place at the council’s Oxford study abroad location – comes after a special task force spent nine months exploring CCCU’s categories of affiliation. The task force has submitted its final report, so the board can now approve it, amend and approve it, or vote it down.
Last July, following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage, two CCCU member schools, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, announced new hiring policies to include non-celibate homosexual faculty and staff. At the end of a two-month consultation with members, the two schools voluntarily withdrew from the council in September.
The board said the process revealed that a “lack of clarity, purpose, and common understanding exists about the various associational categories within the CCCU.” In response, the board formed a task force to “explore how the council will remain rooted in historic Christianity while also fruitfully engaging with other institutions seeking to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom.”
Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, and Barry Corey, president of Biola University, co-chaired the task force, which included a range of theological perspectives within the CCCU.
Most observers do not expect the just-completed recommendations to include a shift in the council’s requirements for full membership, since most schools still hold to the church’s historic teaching on marriage. It is less clear whether the recommendations will make accommodation for schools such as Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, who, even as non-members, may want to partner with the council on other issues.
“I view this as a very important, albeit not an all important, issue,” said Taylor University professor Bill Ringenberg, a leading Christian higher education expert, who noted the incarnation of Christ and related matters should come first. He said religiously serious evangelical and Catholic institutions should work together to promote religious freedom: “I would favor more unity rather than less unity.”
Last year’s Obergefell decision has tested that unity like never before. Cedarville and Shorter universities recently withdrew from the CCCU, making at least eight departures in the last 12 months. Three Mennonite schools voluntarily left because they changed their hiring policies, while five others – including Union University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and The Master’s College – left for more conservative reasons.
Cedarville president Thomas White said he was dismayed last September to learn, according to a CCCU statement, only about 25 percent of members desired no affiliation with schools that affirm same-sex marriage. Upon White’s recommendation, Cedarville’s board of trustees voted unanimously to leave the council.
“In this time of cultural chaos, we felt it necessary to communicate our convictions clearly, while maintaining compassion toward those who disagree,” White said. “We quietly resigned from the CCCU in mid-February, while recognizing that other conservative schools may have chosen to remain.”
White called the CCCU’s coming decision “extremely important for Christian higher education” and the organization’s future.
“I pray that the report will communicate a clear path forward for the authority of Scripture and the biblical view of marriage without compromise,” White said. “If that happens, we would consider returning to the CCCU.”
Shorter University, a Baptist institution in Rome, Ga., did not respond to a request for comment, but the school’s recent history offers instructive context: In 2012, Shorter began requiring employees to sign a personal lifestyle statement that included a prohibition on sex outside of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.
Since the task force formed last year, the council has added four new board members: Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, L. Randolph Lowry, president of Lipscomb University, Claude Pressnell, president of Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, and Evans Whitaker, president of Anderson University.

7/29/2016 10:00:30 AM by J.C. Derrick, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Hell defended amid National Geographic’s challenge

July 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The doctrine of hell, claims an article in National Geographic, “isn’t as popular as it used to be.”

Screen Capture from NationalGeographic.com
The National Geographic documentary “Map of Hell” describes this history of belief in the afterlife.

But evangelist David Stockwell apparently hasn’t received the memo. He has preached on hell at every single one of his evangelistic meetings through 45 years of full-time evangelism and told Baptist Press he sees people respond “with conviction and a great desire to get right with God.”
Stockwell, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, is among evangelicals who defend the traditional doctrine of hell and dispute the notion that individuals who have not received Jesus as their Lord and Savior simply cease to exist when they die – a belief known as annihilationism and defended by some scholars quoted in the National Geographic article.
Other proponents of the traditional view – like California pastor Ben Skaug and Boyce College professor Denny Burk – dispute National Geographic’s suggestions that annihilationism may soon become the dominant perspective and that belief in eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous has not always been the consensus view of Christians.

‘Compelled to preach the truth’

The National Geographic article, published May 13, reports that 58 percent of Americans believe in hell, down from 71 percent two decades ago. The article quotes seven contemporary and historical Christian figures who have defended annihilationism and four who support the traditional teaching on hell.
In tandem with the article, the National Geographic Channel aired a documentary titled “Map of Hell,” which explored the history of belief in the afterlife.
In the article, writer Mark Strauss claims “it is difficult to know” where “most evangelicals stand on the issue of hell.” He references “a conundrum that continues to tug at the conscience of some Christians, who find it difficult to reconcile the existence of a just, loving God with a doctrine that dooms billions of people to eternal punishment.”
For Stockwell, the greater “conundrum” is how a holy God can accept sinful humans as His children.
“Eternal judgment in pain, agony and flames of hell are what we all truly deserve,” Stockwell said. “But God ... who is rich in love and mercy, because of His great love for us, so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son” to pay “the penalty for our sin.” Only those who do not receive this gift must suffer judgment in hell.
The mandate to preach hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, Stockwell said, stems from Scripture passages like Jude 1:22-23 and the fact that “Jesus talked about hell twice as much as He talked about heaven.” During Stockwell’s ministry, messages that included discussion of hell have led people to Christ who went on to become International Mission Board missionaries and leaders at prominent churches among other paths.
“If we really believe God and what He has said in His Word,” Stockwell said in written comments, “then we would be compelled to preach the truth of what God has said: that those who die without Christ in their hearts will spend eternity in hell, forever and ever! We would realize that our friends and neighbors, members of our own families, people all around us are dying in sin, without Christ, and on their way to hell.”

Consensus on hell?

Skaug, who is writing a doctoral dissertation on the doctrine of hell at Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, noted that judgment of the wicked is commonly referenced in Scripture as an expression of God’s justice.
The Old Testament Minor Prophets spoke of “the day in which God would bring judgment to the wicked.” In the New Testament, every book “speaks to or references God’s judgment of the wicked,” said Skaug, executive pastor of Los Angeles-area Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., and a former vice president at Gateway Seminary.
“Since all judgment has been given over from the Father to the Son, hell is the place where Jesus Christ will sentence the wicked (John 5),” Skaug said. “It will be a place where they will face eternal fire (Matthew 18:6-9). This place is the very same place that has been prepared beforehand for Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:31-46), where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished.”
Hell, he said, “is described as eternal destruction in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10. In other words, it is the place where the omnipresent God is actively pouring out His perfect wrath on the wicked who have rejected Jesus Christ.”
Skaug questioned National Geographic’s claim that “in its earliest years, Christianity didn’t have a consensus on the nature of hell.”
The early church “did not have a unanimous understanding of the doctrine of hell,” Skaug said, noting that the third-century theologian Origen believed postmortem punishment was only temporary. “However, to say the early church did not have a consensus on the doctrine of hell is another matter.”
Theologians like Tertullian in the second and third centuries and John Chrysostom in the fourth century believed in eternal conscious torment, and Augustine popularized that view in the fourth and fifth centuries, Skaug said.
“From Augustine through the medieval period, the traditional doctrine of hell was considered standard orthodoxy,” Skaug said, and it continued to prevail in the Reformation era. The Enlightenment of the 1700s saw some churches begin to depart from orthodoxy, yet “the conservative church maintain[ed] its hold on the traditional doctrine of hell.”

A matter of authority

In the end, Skaug said, beliefs about hell are determined by an individual’s view of Scripture.
“Our job is not to judge the Scriptures to determine if they fit inside of our Westernized perspectives, but rather allow the Word of God to mold and shape our thinking so that our thoughts are closer to God’s thoughts,” he said. “If the Bible declares that hell is a real place, then evangelicals should not be embarrassed to proclaim the traditional doctrine of hell as truth.”
Burk, who contributed to the 2016 book Four Views on Hell, made a similar observation, suggesting many theologians who reject the traditional doctrine of hell “tend to be drifting in other crucial areas of doctrine as well.”
“I do not claim this is true in every individual case,” Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce, wrote in a blog post, “but it is true in many cases. What we believe about Hell is fundamentally a reflection of what we believe about God, His character, and His justice. Revisions in the doctrine of Hell, therefore, are often accompanied by other revisions that undermine orthodox evangelical faith.”
The National Geographic article, Burk wrote, uses a tactic common among annihilationists when it notes that Anglican author and pastor John Stott, who died in 2011, was an annihilationist.
While expressing profound respect for Stott, Burk argued “he had a patently unbiblical view of Hell” which, because of Stott’s “otherwise impeccable credentials,” has “provided cover for others who have drifted away from the traditional view.”
Burk questioned a prediction attributed to theologian Preston Sprinkle by National Geographic that “even within conservative evangelical circles, the annihilation view of Hell will be the dominant view in 10 or 15 years.”
Burk responded, “It may very well be that belief in annihilationism is on the rise. But still, is it the ‘dominant’ view? Dominant among whom? Bible-believing Christians? Bible-believing Christians around the world? I don’t think so.
“In the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church,” he wrote, “the near consensus view has been the Eternal Conscious Torment view. The recent decline of that view in the West may simply be a sign of Christianity’s decline in the West. I’m not convinced it’s a sign the Christian church is undergoing some historic shift in its doctrine of Hell.”
Among Southern Baptists, seminary professors and other entity leaders must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, which states in Article X on “last things,” “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

7/29/2016 9:54:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LGBT history lessons planned for Calif. students

July 29 2016 by Molly Hulsey, WORLD News Service

California revamped its social-science education guidelines in July to incorporate lessons on historic lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals and social movements in the approved curriculum. The decision garnered almost unanimous support at a public meeting and across the state, but some Californians are concerned about its long-term impact on their children.

Approved lesson guidelines – including half of the material from proposed plans – educate second-graders on “LGBT families in the context of understanding family diversity as a contemporary and historical reality” and fourth-graders on pioneer gender relations and crossdressers in the Old West, said supporter Judy Appel, the executive director of the advocacy group Our Family Coalition.
LGBT movement politician Harvey Milk will also make an appearance in fourth grade lesson plans, while upper-level courses will be steeped in recent LGBT events like last year’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage or this year’s transgender bathroom debate.
Other historic LGBT figures will be in the spotlight too. If this year’s LGBT History Month icon list is any indication, figures could include the likes of President James Buchanan, entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes, rock star David Bowie, and celebrity drag performer RuPaul.
“We’ve heard a lot of our teachers who want to teach this material, but didn’t have the resources,” Appel said. “History is very personal for people, and this is how we are telling our story.”
Critics, however, fear the new curriculum is oversexualized for young children and could replace more crucial historical events and figures.
“There is no mention of Manifest Destiny or Native Americans,” 11th grade teacher Brianna Leemkuil told CBS Sacramento about one of her class’ units. “You want us to talk about a tiny LGBT community and ignore the killing of an entire people group?”
California Department of Education’s communications director, Bill Ainsworth, said the new guidelines are not enforced by the state, but suggest a list of textbooks and materials from which districts can select. He said neither private nor public schools have to adhere to the guidelines, but the resources will provide “lots of info on LGBT individuals and their communities that more accurately reflect their role in history.”
According to Appel, these textbooks will be released in 2017.
The overhaul implements a 2012 law called the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, & Respectful Education Act (FAIR). The act requires state textbooks for kindergarten to eighth grade students to feature LGBT and disabled Americans and prohibits educational resources that portray LGBT individuals in a negative light.
“A lot of parents certainly want to have more control over how their younger kids are introduced to these adult concepts,” Matthew McReynolds, a senior staff attorney at the Pacific Justice Institute, said. His legal defense organization has tried to get the FAIR act repealed over the years.
Like Leemkuil, McReynolds is also concerned the guidelines will oust more consequential highlights from textbooks. He said LGBT history month’s noteworthy figure lists have included a few notable individuals in the past, but, more often than not, obscure athletes, current pop musicians like Lady Gaga, and homoerotic writers fill up its ranks.
“Most people think it is the most prominent gay activists being featured,” he said, adding that most teachers and parents don’t realize the scope of celebrated LGBT figures is larger – and yet, not quite as historic as they had imagined.

7/29/2016 9:50:08 AM by Molly Hulsey, WORLD News Service | with 1 comments

United Methodists elect first openly gay bishop

July 28 2016 by Ciera Horton, WORLD News Service

The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Western Jurisdiction unanimously elected the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop on July 15, going against the UMC’s official stance on homosexuality.

The Rev. Karen Oliveto’s election follows long-term disputes within the 12.7 million-member UMC about homosexuality, furthering concerns of an impending church division.
“This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, said after the vote.
Immediately following the Western Jurisdiction’s election, the South Central Jurisdiction in Wichita, Kan., asked for the church’s Judicial Council to review the decision. The leaders asked if electing a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” as a bishop was lawful under UMC doctrine. The election could now prompt review under church law.
The UMC is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States and has yet to change its official statement on sexuality. The UMC Book of Discipline from 2012 states, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Despite the official statement, the church itself is divided on the topic of same-sex marriage and ordination. Some fear a long-brewing church divide.
“If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of the Methodist magazine Good News.
The Western Jurisdiction has a history of disobedience to church rules, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “This is a fundamentally schismatic action of the Western Jurisdiction declaring it no longer wants to live in unity with the rest of our denomination,” wrote John Lomperis, the institute’s UMC action director. “If [Oliveto] is no longer Methodist in belief, she would have more integrity to find another faith community, rather than breaking the promises she chose to make to us.”
United Methodist bishops are elected by five jurisdictional conferences, and any elder in good standing is eligible. Some argue sexual orientation should not disqualify someone from being in “good standing.”
Oliveto is a pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif. In 1964, Glide helped create the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, an organization intended to enlist religious leaders for LGBT advocacy. Oliveto has made headlines before for controversial behavior. In 2015, she made a statement she said was against Islamophobia by holding a sign saying, “We are all Muslims.” She has also supported abortion, publicly criticized the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and long officiated same-sex marriages.
Oliveto also was not the only openly gay minister nominated for a bishop’s post in the UMC this year. Two others, the Rev. David Meredith and the Rev. Frank Wulf, were also nominated in early June in other jurisdictions.
In recent years, many mainline Protestant denominations that once condemned same-sex wedding ceremonies and the ordination of gays have changed stances. The Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have all voted to allow LGBT pastors and same-sex weddings.
Pressure to make the UMC alter its stance on same-sex marriage and ordination has increased since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing gay marriage last summer.
After the Methodist global meeting in May, reports spread that the denomination might ultimately divide; the UMC has discussed separating from more conservative churches in Africa and Asia.
Chris Ritter, pastor at Geneseo First United Methodist Church in Geneseo, Ill., wrote that everyone was to blame for the potential schism: “To frame what is happening as either a conservative takeover or a progressive temper-tantrum would be to both miss the point and wallow in the sort of self-indulgent blame-shifting that is so common in any divorce. … We leaders allowed the church to arrive at this place both by sins of commission and omission. In spite of some notable successes, we have poorly represented Jesus together.”

7/28/2016 8:36:40 AM by Ciera Horton, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

DNC features Planned Parenthood, talk of ‘glass ceiling’

July 28 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Talk of Hillary Clinton’s Methodist roots, an address by Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards and discussion of Clinton’s becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party were among the newsworthy events July 26 at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia.

Screen capture from YouTube
Former President Bill Clinton told DNC delegates Hillary Clinton “got her introduction to social justice” from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech.

On the day delegates officially nominated Clinton, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, delivered a keynote address chronicling their life together and her record of public service, including its religious influences.
“Hillary got her introduction to social justice through her Methodist youth minister, Don Jones,” Bill Clinton said. “He took her downtown to Chicago to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak, and he remained her friend for the rest of his life.”
In the realm of social justice, Bill Clinton said, his wife went on to help strip tax exemptions from segregated private academies in the South, serve children with disabilities, advocate legislation to promote adoption and stand for women’s rights as well as so-called homosexual and transgender rights.


The Democratic Party Platform adopted by delegates July 25 states, “We believe unequivocally ... that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion – regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
Richards, leader of America’s largest abortion provider, was also among Tuesday’s DNC speakers and said Planned Parenthood “trusts Hillary Clinton.”
“She will always stand up for Roe v. Wade,” Richards said, “and the right of every woman to access a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter her economic status.”
In contrast to Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence “say they’ll defund Planned Parenthood,” Richards said.
Trump also has “pledged to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and undo decades of progress,” Richards said.
Bruce Ashford, a cultural commentator and provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press he “can’t comment on Hillary Clinton’s spirituality” because he “can’t see her heart.” But he said of her Methodist affiliation, “I hope that her spirituality will help her recognize that freedom of choice ends where innocent human life begins,” a reference to Clinton’s support of abortion rights.
Ashford objected to Richards’ appearance as a DNC speaker and to the party platform’s statements on abortion. He referenced undercover videos released last year by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of organs from aborted babies.
“After video revelations that [Planned Parenthood] is creatively recycling babies’ body parts after aborting them,” Ashford said, “it adds insult to injury to feature Cecile Richards on the DNC [speakers’] platform. The DNC needs to change their [party] platform so that they welcome unborn babies in life and protect them in law.”

A female president?

Hillary Clinton appeared at the end of the night’s program via live video to the sound of breaking glass and a collage of America’s 43 presidents, all of whom have been male, a reference to the metaphorical glass ceiling said to prevent women from rising to leadership positions in business, politics and other realms.
Although Barack Obama is known as the 44th president, Grover Cleveland is counted twice because he served two non-successive terms.
“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” Clinton said of her nomination. “... If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
First lady Michelle Obama struck a similar note in her address July 25, saying, “because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters – and all our sons and daughters – now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
In response to a potential Hillary Clinton presidency, The Washington Post quoted two Southern Baptist leaders in a July 20 article under the headline “God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say.”
Owen Strachan, immediate past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), told The Post, “A good number of evangelicals would probably prefer to see men lead in the political arena, and I would be one of them. Many evangelicals would say that men need to be the ones who step up and take responsibility, not simply for the home and the church, but also for the community.”
There isn’t a specific Bible passage prohibiting a woman from becoming president, Strachan said, and ultimately, a female president is permissible as long as her role in the executive branch does not cause her to neglect her biblically assigned roles as a wife and mother.
The Post said evangelicals who express uneasiness about a female president cite Bible passages like Eve’s creation as Adam’s helper in Genesis 2 and the implication in Judges 4 that it was less than ideal for Deborah to lead Israel.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told The Post most evangelicals care about candidates’ policies more than their gender. He added, “I think in general terms, there is a good reason why men tend to lead in these positions. I think embedded in creation is a natural tendency” toward male leadership.
Current CBMW President Denny Burk told BP there are differing opinions regarding a female president within the evangelical movement known as complementarianism – a position stipulating the fundamental equality of men and women as well as a distinction between their roles in the church and home.
“The Bible is clear that the differences between male and female are part of the goodness of God’s creation and that those differences have specific applications for leadership in the church and in the home,” Burk said in written comments. “The applications outside of home and church leadership are a little more inferential than explicit in Scripture.
“That is why you have evangelical complementarians on both sides of this question. Complementarians agree with one another at the principle level but then have different views on how the principle should be applied outside the two domains explicitly addressed in Scripture – the church and the home,” Burk said.

7/28/2016 8:36:03 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Islamic State group kills priest in Western church attack

July 28 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Islamic State jihadists slit the throat of an elderly Catholic priest who was celebrating Mass in Normandy, France, early July 26, marking the terrorist group’s first known attack on a church in the West, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Screen capture from Fox News
The murder of 85-year-old Catholic priest Jacques Hamel while he celebrated Mass July 26 in Normandy, France, marks the first time ISIS has attacked a church in the West.

In the knife attack just before 10 a.m. in the rural community of Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray, two men forced 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel to his knees, murdered him and filmed themselves making comments in Arabic while dancing around the altar, a nun who witnessed the attack told AP.
An 86-year-old man was wounded during the Mass attended by one other parishioner and three nuns, the AP reported. The attackers took two hostages as human shields before being killed by police.
Intelligence experts called the attack a major shift for the terrorists who are targeting nations active in a U.S.-led coalition against the group in Iraq and Syria.
Haras Rafiq, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank, said the Islamic State group (also known as IS, ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is speeding a “global jihadist insurgency.”
“What these two people today have done is [shift] the tactical attack to the attack on Rome,” he told AP, “an attack on Christianity. ... This is going into a house of God. This is attacking and killing a priest. ... We’ve been talking about the danger of a global jihadist insurgency. This is what it looks like.”
Daniel Shoenfeld, an analyst with the Soufan Group security intelligence service, called the attack “a shot directly at Western Christianity. It’s this effort by the Islamic State and their supporters to drive a further wedge between broader Western society and Muslims,” Shoenfeld told AP.
French President Francois Hollande called the attack a “profane” act against the Republic of France.
Police identified one of the attackers as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, a local native who had been arrested on preliminary terrorism charges after trying twice to travel to Syria using family members’ identity papers. Kermiche had been under house arrest, but committed the attack when his surveillance bracelet was deactivated, as it was a few hours daily during a surveillance agreement, the AP said.
The other attacker was not identified. Together, the two men had three knives, several fake explosives and a kitchen timer wrapped in aluminum foil. One person, believed to be a 16-year-old minor, was arrested in the investigation related to the crime. The IS group is known to have recruited fighters from the area.
Hamel had served the parish for a decade and was described by diocesan official Philippe Maheut as “always ready to help. His desire was to spread a message for which he consecrated his life,” Maheut told AP. “And he certainly didn’t think that consecrating his life would mean for him to die while celebrating Mass, which is a message of love.”
According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, IS killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in 2014 and more than 20,000 in combat. IS has killed more than 1,200 people outside of Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to a New York Times analysis.
7/28/2016 8:35:28 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

8 Nepalese Christians arrested for proselytizing

July 28 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service

Eight Nepali Christians arrested in June, including one pastor and two teachers, could soon be tried for trying to proselytize children.

International Mission Board photo

The Christians were working in Dolahka District, in northern Nepal, a part of the nation hard hit by the 2015 earthquakes. Authorities arrested them June 8 for distributing religious literature to children in an attempt to convert, a violation of the anti-conversion statute in the 2015 constitution, according to Asia News. Officials tortured the Christians while they were in custody, according to Asia News’ sources.
Prakash Pradhan, principal of Mount Valley Academy, a local private school, denied the group tried to convert anyone. The group only handed out materials to Christian students who requested them, Pradhan said.
Pastor Tanka Subedi said the accusations are based on Article 26, paragraph three of the new constitution. Subedi is the leader of Nepal’s Religious Liberty Forum and co-chairman of the Nepal Christian Society.
“Based on the constitution, the government has decided to ban all projects that have the nature of proselytizing, which will paralyze most Christian activities in Nepal,” Subedi said by email.
Nepal adopted its new constitution on Sept. 20, 2015, outraging Hindu nationalists by remaining an officially secular nation. The nation used to be a Hindu monarchy. But Subedi said the new constitution’s impact “is just becoming visible,” and the Christian minority is living in confusion.
“The constitution in itself created a confusion on whether Nepal is a secular state or Hindu state called secular,” Subedi said.
The arrests don’t bode well for religious freedom in the country, William Stark, International Christian Concern regional manager for South Asia, told Worthy News.
“Last year, many were concerned when Nepal adopted its new constitution that included the controversial Article 26,” he said. “Christians feared that this article would be a weapon used to stop the growth of the Christian community. Today, Nepalese Christians have seen their fears realized.”
In 2015, religious rights groups, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), condemned the constitution’s wording. CSW warned it “fails to allow for choosing and changing one’s faith ... as a matter of individual rights, as required and guaranteed by international treaties.” Muslims, also a minority in Nepal, joined Christians in expressing concern over the new constitution’s conversion ban.
Although the accused Christians don’t have a trial date yet, courts are preparing charges, Asia News reported. Hindu nationalists want the government to impose the harshest sentence possible.
According to UCA News, the country’s new criminal code (which is not yet law) “proposes five years of imprisonment and a penalty of 50,000 rupees for anyone found guilty of converting a person from one religion to another.”
Subedi called the arrests unfair and insisted officials should not pursue charges. A democratic country which is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “should not be charging people for distributing books,” he concluded.
This is the second time this year Nepal’s government has angered Christians. In April, it removed Christmas from the calendar of official national holidays, Barnabas Fund reported. Although officials claimed they were trying to reduce the overall number of holidays, Christians perceived it as an attack on their religious rights.
Related articles:
Nepal churches cope with fatal earthquake
Nepal hit with second major quake in 17 days
In Nepal, relief supplies reaching quake survivors
In Nepal, fuel crisis hinders quake recovery

7/28/2016 8:34:50 AM by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Bicycle ministry steering lives toward recovery

July 28 2016 by Eric Reed and Morgan Jackson, Illinois Baptist

“Pastor Hurricane! Pastor Hurricane! Me next!” a 9-year-old redhead shouted.

Photo by Eric Reed
Pastor Jeffrey Gee (left) looks on as recently released inmate Gene works on a bike at Hurricane Memorial’s workshop.

“That’s not his name, Dominic! That’s his church,” the boy’s mother chided. “He’s Pastor Gee.”
“Me, me, Pastor Gee!” Dominic chanted. He wanted his turn on the bicycle training path.
On a warm day behind the Herrin House of Hope soup kitchen and thrift shop, pastor Jeffrey Gee of Hurricane Memorial Baptist Church in Herrin, Ill., and several volunteers taught children bike safety, complete with helmets and a course lined with orange traffic cones. The bikes they rode were second-hand, but they had been completely repaired and spruced up in the church’s bike shop. It’s all part of Gee’s plan to keep the kids out of trouble, and at the same time teach former convicts a trade to keep them from returning to prison.
By Gee’s calculations, a fourth of Herrin’s population “has been in jail for at least one day,” said Gee, “many for a year or two.” That’s believable in a state that has 45,000 people in prison right now. This fact led the Hurricane church to start a “re-entry ministry” five years ago. Today their outreach to former prisoners includes a 12-step program, gardens, housing, and their ever-expanding bicycle shop.

World of wheels

The basement under the sanctuary of Hurricane Memorial is packed with bicycles, a hundred or more in rows and rows. Gee buys them at police auction – stolen and broken bikes that can’t be reunited with their owners – and brings them to the workshop. New repairman Gene had one turned upside down on a worktable. In his 50s, Gene is one of four men recently released from prison who live in the church’s former parsonage, and who work on the bikes.
Hurricane Memorial has a big vision for Gene and others like him. The pastor characterizes his congregation as a neighborhood church. With 80 members, “we’re really just a small church,” he noted, “but we do a lot.”

Photo by Eric Reed
Reintegrating into society is difficult for many newly released prisoners. More than half go back to jail. Pastor Jeffrey Gee (second from right) and Hurricane Memorial Baptist Church want to give them a fresh start with job skills, a purpose, and a place in the community.

“When I first encountered what Hurricane Memorial has done under Pastor Gee’s leadership, I was struck at how much ministry to the community they were doing as a small church,” said Stephen Williams, one of Illinois Baptist State Association’s zone consultants for southern Illinois. It doesn’t take a big church to have a big impact.
The parsonage serves as a halfway house, giving the people who stay there time to get re-integrated into society. With the bike shop, as well as an organic garden and greenhouse, there is no shortage of work to be done.
The bike program allows volunteer workers to prove that they can show up for work faithfully. They earn a reference in order to get a paying job. And they can choose and fix their own bicycle, a means of transportation to a future job.

The road to recovery

Keeping these men from returning to prison is a considerable challenge.
In Illinois, 51.7 percent of former inmates are sentenced for later offenses and are back in jail within three years – higher than the national average. A Pew Research study shows if Illinois could cut its recidivism (return) rate by 10 percent, the state would save $40 million. More important, lives would be changed.
Gee and Hurricane Memorial Church are doing their part.
In addition to teaching work skills, the church offers a group meeting to help people stay clean and sober. Their Celebrate Recovery ministry offers a place to find biblical truth and community with those facing similar struggles. The 12-step program geared toward all “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” is based on principles from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a national ministry started by pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church in California with chapters in local churches.

Photo by Eric Reed
Bike shop worker David helps a girl with her helmet at a bike safety class at Hurricane Memorial.

In May, Gee led “Celebrate Recovery Sunday,” conducting the morning service as if it were any other Celebrate Recovery night. The aim was to get the church members on board with the ministry, and to let them see how beneficial it can be for people struggling with addictions. For this small congregation, “Pastor Hurricane” continues stirring up ministry activity.
In just over a year, the bike team has repaired and distributed more than 100 bicycles free of charge. Gee hopes to open another shop in Marion about 12 miles away, making more bicycles available to kids and to adults who need transportation to work. “If you see an adult riding a bike around Herrin or Marion,” Gee said, “it’s probably one of ours.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by editor Eric Reed and intern Morgan Jackson of the Illinois Baptist, ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist, the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)

7/28/2016 8:34:12 AM by Eric Reed and Morgan Jackson, Illinois Baptist | with 0 comments

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