July 2016

Boot Camp explores biblical, practical foundations for worship

July 26 2016 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Pastor Phillip Reynolds has seen firsthand how transforming worship can transform a church. With his congregation at First Baptist Church of Hickory divided over worship styles and uncertain about the future direction of the church, Reynolds reached out to Kenny Lamm, senior worship consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).

“One of our staff pastors had attended the regional Worship Leader Boot Camp conducted right here at our church,” Reynolds said. “Acting as host of the event, this staff pastor had participated in the boot camp and knew it was just what we needed as a church body.”
In early 2015, Lamm began meeting with First Baptist Hickory’s leadership team. A few months later, he led about 200 members of the congregation through some of the same material that’s presented in one of Lamm’s Worship Leader Boot Camps.
“That is the evening that got us to where we thought we were to where God wanted us to be,” Reynolds said.
Lamm hopes that other congregations can see God move in a similar way in churches across the state following the next Worship Leader Boot Camp, scheduled for Aug. 26-27 at Peninsula Baptist Church in Mooresville, just outside of Charlotte. The event is designed to equip worship leaders and pastors with a biblical foundation for worship, while providing practical tools and resources for churches to experience worship renewal.
“When people leave our worship experiences, we don’t want them talking about the great music or the great worship team,” Lamm said. “We want them talking about how they had a transforming encounter with the God of this universe.”
In addition to the teaching and training sessions, the boot camp includes times of worship for attendees throughout the weekend. The boot camp explores a variety of issues that impact corporate worship today and offers practical, hands-on training. All attendees at the August boot camp will receive a revised edition of Lamm’s worship leader handbook, which includes updated resources and access to other exclusive content.  
Lamm said the boot camp will emphasize moving congregations from passive spectators to active participants in worship and seeking God’s direction for worship approaches and practices in one’s specific local church context.
“It’s a great time to dream God-sized visions for your worship ministry,” Lamm said.
Early-bird registration for the event is available through Aug. 8 at a cost of $25 per person. After Aug. 8, the registration fee increases to $30. Walk-up registration on the day of the event is $40. More information about the boot camp, including online registration, is available at worshipmooresville.org.
Reynolds said the instruction and training offered at Worship Leader Boot Camp is valuable for worship leaders and pastors.  
“We are very thankful to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or making this available to churches,” Reynolds said. “It has been an exciting experience for our church.”
Want to go?

  • What: Worship Leader Boot Camp
  • When: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 26-27
  • Where: Peninsula Baptist Church, Mooresville
  • Cost: $25 per person through Aug. 8. $30 after Aug. 8. $40 at the door.
  • Info: worshipmooresville.org
7/26/2016 7:44:22 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

CLI finds niche in prison ministry

July 25 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

When Kathleen Skaar moved to Raleigh more than 20 years ago, she and her husband, Anders, did the “proper thing:” joined a church. Both admit they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the time.

Kathleen Skaar

In April 1995 Skaar attended a church-sponsored women’s retreat. The speaker invited everyone that did not know Jesus personally to pray and commit their life to Him. Skaar gave her life to Christ that day. “My life changed pretty dramatically,” she said. “I began reading the Bible and Christian books. Every time I had a question, God would bring just the right book at just the right time. So I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if people had the advantage of reading these books?”
The seeds of a unique ministry sprouted out of that question. Christian Library International (CLI) began very small as Skaar, founder and executive director of the ministry, looked for ways to make Bible study materials accessible to fellow Christians. She founded CLI as a way to share books with patrons in a local Young Men’s Christian Association in 1996. For several years she gathered books from church groups and individuals, and made them available to individuals and Bible study groups.
Something happened in 2002 that began to redirect the ministry’s focus. “We had some extra books, and we didn’t know what we were going to do with them, so we decided to see if the prisons could use them,” Skaar explained.
Prison chaplains reacted immediately with much interest. “Everyone we talked to said, ‘You have no idea what an answer to prayer you are,’” said Skaar. “They don’t have funds for these materials, so this was a great blessing to them.”
CLI sent an increasing number of books to prison chaplains, but their staff began wondering what was happening to the books. So they began stamping each book with contact information.
“We started getting all these letters from inmates saying how God was working through a particular book or how He was working in the prison,” Skaar said. “That was a great encouragement.”  
Considering Henry Blackaby’s core statement in his book, Experiencing God, Skaar began to look “where God is working and join Him.” Applying that principle she realized God was working in the prisons.
“The Holy Spirit was working in ways far above average, so in 2006 we decided that we are a prison ministry, and we would put all of our resources in working with men and women in prisons.” Now the full strength of the ministry targets those who are incarcerated in the 5,000 prisons, jails and detention centers in the United States. CLI is currently sending materials to 1,450 correctional facilities. Some of the units have chaplains, but most do not have the resources to hire a chaplain.
CLI first operated out of the Skaar’s home, then moved to the facilities of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Raleigh. In July the ministry moved into an office building in North Raleigh. The new facility provides adequate office space, a shipping department and room for volunteers. Letters pour into the CLI office every day from prisoners across the country. Each inmate receives a hand-written letter from a ministry volunteer that includes a personal response to Bible-related questions and prayer needs.
A bulletin board in the new office is packed with letters telling the stories of more than 600 inmates who trusted Christ as their Savior last year. One prisoner said, “letters to a prisoner are gold.” Inmates know that CLI will answer every letter. No one is unimportant.
As each person is contacted Skaar said, “We can connect them to a Bible study and start discipling them.”
A video tells the story of an inmate who had a bad relationship with his son, but was able to lead his own son to Christ. “It was only because of the discipleship program that I could do that,” the inmate explained.  
“God’s Word, no matter what form, will always accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. It never returns void,” added Skaar.
CLI is supported by churches, individuals, foundations and publishers. Partners listed on their website include the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Family Christian Stores, Lifeway Christian Stores and Prison Fellowship.
Many churches support CLI through book drives, financial gifts and volunteer support. The Summit Church, Providence Baptist Church and Bay Leaf Baptist Church are some of the ministry’s strong local partners. A church in the Atlanta area gives their largest support for prison outreach.
Will Gatling, associate pastor for missions at Bay Leaf, said the church supports CLI with a monetary gift each year and through church wide collections of books, tapes and materials annually. One recent book drive yielded 3,000 books.
“We’ve had a number of people that volunteer to serve at packing parties and other ways to help CLI,” he said. “It has been a great opportunity for our people to be involved in local ministry.”
Gatling served on the original CLI board of directors about 15 years ago. He said when the organization began doing prison ministry exclusively, “It’s like the world opened up to them and the ministry began to flourish. They’ve found a niche in ministry that I don’t know if anyone else does.”
Anders Skaar is a former executive recruiter who now serves as CLI’s communications director. He joined the ministry in 2002. They are members of Crossroads Fellowship. Kathleen Skaar has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Florida, master’s degree in business administration from Meredith College and a master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
CLI welcomes gently used Bibles, Christian books, CDs and DVDs from churches and individuals. Contact 4724 Hargrove Rd., Ste. 100, Raleigh, NC 27616, or (919) 790-6987. Visit the website: CLI.world.

7/25/2016 4:37:27 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Fire destroys historic Mount Holly church

July 25 2016 by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer

Another North Carolina congregation is grieving after a fire destroyed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Mount Holly July 21.
The Mount Holly Fire Department attempted to access the fire origin but were pulled from the building when flames grew. According to the department, the roof collapsed into the sanctuary, and crews worked to contain the fire and prevent it from reaching other parts of the church campus. Firefighters stayed at the location overnight to monitor the sanctuary. No injuries were reported.
The church held a worship service July 24 at Mount Holly’s Grand Hall.
“We covet the prayers of the community and Christian brothers and sisters of all stripes, and we are overwhelmed at all those that have already sent words of support to us,” Pastor Kendell Cameron said in a statement to the Biblical Recorder. “We are especially thankful for those that have offered to share facilities with us.”
An investigation is ongoing to determine the fire’s cause and assess total damage to the campus. The sanctuary was built in 1924 and renovated in 1989. Church leaders have said they plan to rebuild the sanctuary. A cause for the fire is expected this week.
Cameron said, “We love our beautiful sanctuary, but we know ultimately that it is not First Baptist Church. First Baptist Church is the people who come to worship and who come to serve Christ together. Our hearts are indeed broken, but we will trust in the Savior who is our Rock and Redeemer to carry us through. We trust fully, and, like Abraham, we believe the Lord will provide.”
A fire July 17 destroyed Cherry Grove Baptist Church’s sanctuary in Cerro Gordo.

7/25/2016 4:30:29 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer | with 0 comments

N.C. churches respond to tragedies, racial tension

July 25 2016 by BR staff

Two black men from Louisiana and Minnesota were shot to death by police officers in early July, followed immediately by retaliatory attacks in Texas and Louisiana on law enforcement officers that killed eight and wounded many more. The series of back-to-back tragedies left the nation in shock, wondering if racial healing is possible.
The Biblical Recorder reached out to a number of North Carolina churches to discover what practical steps they have taken to help reconcile racial differences in their congregations and communities. Here are their responses:

Byron Greene

Byron Greene, senior pastor, Highland Baptist Church, Raleigh

Highland responded to the recent shootings by immediately posting passages of scripture (Matthew 5:9, 38) on social media that convey reconciliation and peace.
My message on Sunday first acknowledged the loss of all innocent life due to the shootings and the growing grief caused by the violence. I intentionally recognized our having several members of the law enforcement community, along with their families, that serve the public. I revealed their personal fear and confusion.
The heart of the morning message acknowledged the decline of society being partly due to our treatment of the church and our not being the church as instructed. We left with a call to commitment. Galatians 5:22-26 was our lead passage.
In recent days I have reached out to one of our area African-American congregations and area law enforcement officials desiring to come together for prayer and fellowship.


Gerald Hodges

Gerald Hodges, lead pastor, Westwood Baptist Church, Roxboro

Like most Southern Baptist churches in our community, Westwood is primarily a Caucasian congregation, although we do have some members who are African-American. We also have several law enforcement officers who are active members of our congregation, including our city’s Chief of Police. And the neighborhood adjacent to Westwood is a mobile home community made up predominantly of African-American families. So the events in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas hit close to home for many in our church family.  
We did not have to scramble to plan a response to that difficult week. God had already planned it for us. I did not need to pick out a special passage for the sermon. We are currently working our way through the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 32, the text that Sunday, we saw that before a society can be fundamentally transformed, the people living in that society must be inwardly transformed. No human government or special interest group can bring about this change. One of our elders led in a special time of prayer for the families of all those who had lost their lives in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas, and for those communities.   
For many years our church has worked to improve our relationship with our neighbors, believing that our call to make disciples begins right at our back door by building personal relationships and sharing the gospel with the individuals and families who live closest to us.  
In addition to our church’s efforts, officers from the Person County Sheriff’s Department organized a special community-wide prayer service. It was held at the county office building and was well attended by many local law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol, emergency responders and local citizens. Next week our Police Department will partner with a local African-American congregation to host a “Community Cookout & Conversation.” We look forward to participating in that event and pray for God to use it to bring reconciliation and healing to our community. We are praying that “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

Kelly Bullard

Kelly Bullard, senior pastor, Temple Baptist Church, Fayetteville

On the Sunday morning following the events in Louisiana and Minnesota we joined together with several churches in our community for a morning prayer gathering, prior to our individual worship services. This was a sweet and emotional time of prayer and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, across ethnic and denominational lines. During our Sunday morning worship service we were privileged to have Fayetteville City Police Chief Harold Medlock worship with us. He shared briefly about the work he and his officers are doing in our city, and how our congregation can pray for and support them. We also recognized officers, fire fighters and other first responders that were present in our service. We had a time of focused prayer for these men and women, as well as their families.
In addition, I am always amazed of God’s timing as it relates to human affairs and my sermon series. I have been preaching through Ephesians this summer and I found myself on July 10 in Ephesians 3:1-12, dealing with the Paul’s explanation of the mystery of the gospel and its accessibility to both Jew and Gentile. Paul’s words in Ephesians 2-3 remind us that all barriers of division between God and man, as well as man and man, have been brought down through Jesus Christ. I challenged our congregation to live missional lives for Jesus, building bridges to all peoples, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

Ed Tablazon

Ed Tablazon, pastor, Triad Journey Church, Winston-Salem

As a pastor of an Asian church, I am beginning to realize that when there are issues like these, we tend to do nothing. To some degree we think that this is not our issue. But the presence of second-generation immigrants both in our homes and in our church lets us see these issues in new ways. Honestly, this was the first Sunday ever that I addressed this issue from the pulpit. When things like this happen, I usually say a couple of words and pray for it, but last Sunday was a bit different. The following were thoughts I said last Sunday:
How should we respond to the painful events of the past week?

1. Pray! Pray for healing, healing for our nation; healing for those that have been wounded in the shooting; emotional healing for those who lost loved ones and friends and others who are hurting; these events affect hundreds if not thousands of people in many ways.

2. Know! Many of us Asians have no idea how deep and complex this issue is. From a biblical perspective, this is the impact of sin: prejudice. Sin causes us to see what is visible while the Lord sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and we are all guilty of this sin. Every human being is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) regardless of the color of his skin, economic background or race. We, the first generation Asian immigrants, have little idea about the roots of racial discrimination. We need to know, or our silence and indifference make us guilty as well!

3. Engage! Rather than quickly giving our opinion on the matter, let us begin to engage others in conversation to broaden our horizon, begin to understand the issues involved, and biblically address effective solutions for God’s glory and our good.

7/25/2016 4:14:01 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Financial struggle segues to church planting

July 25 2016 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

High Pointe Baptist Church was struggling financially when Juan Sanchez arrived as pastor just over 10 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church
Members of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church, a church plant of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, gather on their launch Sunday, March 6.

Sanchez and High Pointe members decided that if God allowed the church to grow “we would no longer build auditorium space, but instead we would plant churches.”
The Austin church committed to reaching beyond its walls to ensure they were not keeping all the money for themselves and were modeling by faith sacrificial giving, Sanchez told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Their first church planting venture grew out of the handful of Hispanics to whom Sanchez was preaching each Sunday before the morning service. They hired someone to lead the group, and it became an independent Spanish church.
As High Pointe continued to grow, the church realized a large number of members were driving from Elgin, Cedar Park and Leander, all of which were a half-hour’s drive from the church.
“If we had people coming from those distances all the way to High Pointe, then clearly there was a need for gospel churches there,” Sanchez said. “So in order to care for our members well and plant gospel churches where our members felt there wasn’t one they could attend, we just started long-term deciding we need to plant churches where our people are coming from so they don’t have to drive so far.”
The leadership developed a church planting strategy that includes bringing someone on staff in a pastoral assistant role to learn who they are, what they’re about, how they’re structured, how they govern and what their philosophy of ministry is – “just getting to know our DNA,” Sanchez said.
In the second year, the church planting resident develops a core team of members who will agree to help start a new congregation. The team studies what it means to be a church, studies a statement of faith and church covenant, studies how to live together as a church, and studies how to develop a culture of evangelism and discipleship.

Juan Sanchez

“It’s really just equipping them to understand what this might look like and the commitments that are going to be expected of them,” Sanchez said.
In year three, they launch. In 2011, High Pointe launched Covenant Life Fellowship in Elgin, sending 30-35 people on a core team, and that church was self-sustaining by its second year.
For the church members who were driving from northwest Austin – mainly Cedar Park and Leander – High Pointe turned to Ben Wright, who had served on staff for several years as an associate pastor.
“Ben already knew our DNA, so we jumped right to year two, which was developing the core team,” Sanchez said. “The next step was planting the church. They were planted in February (2016), had their first public meetings in early March, and the Lord has really blessed them already.”
Wright, now pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, said the population in that area is growing significantly as people move from around the world to Austin’s technology sector. “Church planting hasn’t even begun to keep up with that need,” he said.
The nations are coming to northwest Austin, Wright told the TEXAN, and “there’s an opportunity to reach people with the gospel who will have ways to spread that gospel back to countries that are very difficult to reach.”
Wright said he is grateful for High Pointe’s leaders “taking the risk of sending out a bunch of solid, faithful people for the sake of the gospel.” High Pointe isn’t “a rich church by any means, and I have tremendous respect for Juan leading his church to act in faith for a cause infinitely bigger than his own church’s interests.”
Sanchez compared church planting to getting married and having children. People want to wait until they’re ready, but they’ll never be ready, he said.
“If you’re waiting until you’re ready to plant a church, you’ll never plant a church,” Sanchez said. “It does require faith. It requires wisdom. You don’t want to do this foolishly. You have to count the cost.”
Part of counting the cost is financial, he said, and another part is letting go of valuable church members to start new growth.
“If we were to wait until we thought we were ready financially and leadership-wise, we would never do it,” Sanchez said. “So we have to pray about it, the church has to come to an agreement, and by faith we have to step out and do the Lord’s work.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer based in Nashville, Tenn. This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/25/2016 8:06:45 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump promises change; Baptists remain divided

July 25 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Donald Trump told Americans he would solve their country’s problems in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president July 21 but appeared unable to bridge the divide over his candidacy among Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians.

Screen capture from CNN.com

Trump closed the GOP convention in Cleveland with a nearly 75-minute speech in which he promised to restore law and order to the United States and to repair the “rigged” political system. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” the New York businessman and reality TV star told Republican delegates and a national viewing audience.
“I am your voice,” Trump told viewers more than once. “I am with you. I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
Trump, however, failed to mention abortion, traditional marriage, freedom of conscience and additional moral, social issues important to Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.
Trump’s omissions came after Republicans adopted a comprehensively pro-life, strongly conservative platform regarding moral and religious freedom issues on the first day of their convention. His speech also came less than a week after he named a social conservative, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as his running mate.
The split among some Southern Baptist leaders on Trump continued to manifest itself before and after his acceptance speech. Some Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him in the general election as an alternative to Clinton.
Others, many using the hashtag #NeverTrump, say they are refusing to vote for either major party candidate. They have declared that their opposition to Trump will continue through the general election because of what they describe as his untrustworthiness on moral and religious liberty issues and offensive rhetoric.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, said on Twitter after the GOP nominee’s speech, “Tonight the world witnessed the @realDonaldTrump I’ve come to know. Strong. Decisive. Compassionate.”
Jeffress expressed optimism about what Southern Baptists and others will do by the November election.
“I believe you are seeing evangelical Christians coalescing around Donald Trump – primarily because of the influence the next president will have on the selection” of Supreme Court justices, Jeffress told Baptist Press in written comments.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech Wednesday in which he refused to endorse Trump but urged voters to follow their conscience “crystalized this binary choice we have in November between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” Jeffress said. “If Christians are going to do what Cruz suggested and ‘not stay home in November’ and also oppose the radical policies of Hillary Clinton, what choice do they have except to vote for Trump?”
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., described Trump as a “true patriot” in a convention speech prior to Trump’s.
A vote for Trump is a vote for “conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” Falwell told delegates. A conservative’s decision either not to vote or to vote for a third-party candidate is “a de facto vote” for socially liberal presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Falwell said.
Other Southern Baptists, however, said after Trump’s speech nothing had changed for them – they still would not vote for the Republican nominee in spite of Clinton’s advocacy for abortion rights and other liberal policies.
“I have heard nothing tonight that would persuade me to change my mind & vote 4 @realDonaldTrump,” Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted. “The saddest political situation in my life.”
Denny Burk, the new president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said #NeverTrump should not be finished.
“The party belongs to him, and the GOP as we have known it is officially dead,” Burk wrote in a blog post July 21.
“If ever the country needed its statesmen to be men of courage, it is right now. ... I ask you not to make your peace with the convention’s outcome. You should actively oppose the candidate through the general election,” Burk wrote.
During his speech, Trump expressed gratitude to the “evangelical and religious community,” saying, “I’ll tell you what, the support they’ve given me – and I’m not sure I totally deserve it – has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight.
“They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits,” he said, referring to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bars churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates.
“I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans,” Trump told the GOP audience.
Describing himself as “the law-and-order candidate,” Trump said things will change when he is sworn in as president Jan. 20. “[S]afety will be restored” and “Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced,” he said.
In contrast to Clinton, he promised “to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
Trump also called for suspension of immigration “from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”
The Republican nominee also promised:

  • To replace the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with “a person of similar views, principles and judicial philosophies.”
  • To repeal “Obamacare,” the 2010 health care law.
  • To rebuild the military.
  • To lift limitations on energy production.
  • The enforcement of all trade violations by other countries.

Another Thursday speaker, PayPal cofounder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, told delegates, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”
Thiel also seemed to minimize the controversy over the Obama administration’s May directive requiring schools to permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex. He said, “Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?”

7/25/2016 7:58:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kaine, a social ‘moderate,’ is Clinton VP choice

July 25 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, whose pro-life stands in state-level offices stand in stark contrast to a socially liberal voting record since being elected to the U.S. Senate, has been selected as the running mate of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Tim Kaine

The former secretary of state and first lady announced her selection July 22 via text message to her supporters, The New York Times reported.
Elected to the Senate in 2012, Kaine served as Virginia’s governor from 2006-2010 and as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009-2011. Previously, he served as Virginia lieutenant governor and mayor of Richmond.
Virginia pastor Rodney Autry, who has advocated for pro-family concerns in the commonwealth for two decades, told Baptist Press (BP) Kaine is “a study in contrasts.”
Kaine is “essentially a good guy with a true moral center” whose public policy unfortunately “does not reflect his personal beliefs and life choices,” said Autry, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hayes, Va., which cooperates with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV).
“The personal positions of former Gov. and now Sen. Tim Kaine are quite agreeable to many evangelical convictions,” said Autry, who served on the 2015-16 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Committee on Nominations and is a former member of the SBC Executive Committee. “However, his public policy and voting record is rather disparate from what would be a satisfying effort on the part of one supported by biblical conservatives.”
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2005, Kaine pledged to reduce the number of abortions in Virginia by promoting adoption and abstinence-focused sex education, Politico reported. During his tenure as governor, Virginia received an F grade from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in 2007. Two years later, he signed a bill authorizing the sale of “Choose Life” license plates.
Since his election to the Senate, however, Kaine has received a perfect rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America three years in a row and opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.
In an interview with NBC News last month, Kaine, a Roman Catholic, said, “Personally, I’m opposed to abortion.”
But he went on to explain, “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics but even a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves, and the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”
When President Obama included Kaine on his short list of potential running mates in 2008, the then-governor’s “personal opposition to abortion generated significant scrutiny,” Politico reported.
Kaine’s policy stances have shifted on so-called homosexual rights as well.
As a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2001, Kaine told the Associated Press he opposed same-sex marriage. Four years later, he opposed granting adoption rights to same-sex couples while running for governor, according to The Washington Post.
However, in 2006 he campaigned against Virginia’s state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Then during his Senate campaign, he supported same-sex adoption when declared by a judge to be in a child’s best interest, The Post reported.
Kaine’s Senate votes have garnered a 90 percent approval rating from the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-homosexual rights lobbying group.
Still, the conservative publication The Federalist referred to him July 22 as “a moderate Democrat who doesn’t scare religious conservatives on sensitive things like the right to life.”
John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, told BP Kaine’s pro-life stands as governor “cost him some votes in the Democratic side of things, but he stood very strong on that issue.”
Upton met with Kaine once a year while he served as governor and said Kaine seemed willing to listen to concerns from the faith community.
“Since I’ve been executive director, he’s been the most accessible to the religious community of any governor we’ve had,” said Upton, who has served in his current position since 2002. Kaine “was very responsive and just very open to listen to our concerns, and he was also very transparent.”
Brandon Pickett, SBCV associate executive director, told BP Kaine is more conservative on economic issues than he is on social issues.
“According to those who know Senator Kaine best and have worked with him while he was governor of Virginia, he is known as an honest and honorable man who stands by his word,” Pickett said in written comments. “They say he leans moderate right on economic issues while leaning left on social issues. That being said, these state leaders say while he may have at one time been pro-life he now believes in upholding Roe v. Wade.”
Kaine is scheduled to formally accept the vice presidential nomination next week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

7/25/2016 7:48:13 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Egypt’s Copts weather new wave of attacks

July 22 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Islamist assaults against Egypt’s largest minority, Coptic Christians, have claimed the lives of two priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church, a pharmacist who was beheaded and a baker.

IMB photo

World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on Christians facing persecution, chronicled the murders and numerous other assaults on Copts in the past two months along with attacks on churches, homes and businesses in a July 20 article. Much of the violence occurred during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
Also chronicling the attacks against Copts and their Coptic Orthodox Church, which dates back to the first century, are Morning Star News, another news service on the persecuted church, and Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based advocacy organization.
Egypt is “diseased with discrimination,” Coptic Bishop Makarius said in Arabic in an interview with the Copts United website, World Watch Monitor reported.
Among Mararius’ concerns for Egypt’s Copts, who number about 10 million among the nation’s populace of 86 million:

  • “conciliation sessions,” or “reconciliation committees,” between victims and their accused/alleged perpetrators where Christians often face pressure to accept judgments that favor Muslims.
  • numerous attacks “on the village level” where government intervention is ineffectual.
  • the Egyptian constitution’s article on “defamation of religion.” The statute could be acceptable, the bishop said, “were it applied even-handedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians,” Makarius said. “The [Egyptian] constitution contradicts itself. Some articles stress freedom of expression, while expressing a contrary opinion against [Islamic] religion is quickly judged as defamation.”

Egypt is among 16 countries recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “countries of particular concern” as the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty. The State Department, however, currently does not list Egypt among its top-tier designees.

Attacks enumerated

Among the attacks against Copts in recent months according to World Watch Monitor, Morning Star News and Coptic Solidarity:

  • the beheading and multiple stabbings of a pharmacist who had been taken to an apartment by two men who were recorded on security cameras in the vicinity, but no suspects have been arrested.
  • the public assault and humiliation of a Copt grandmother. As recounted by Morning Star News: “... an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.”
  • the murder of a Coptic priest that was claimed by the “Islamic State,” which termed the cleric “an infidel fighter,” World Watch Monitor reported.
  • a knife attack on two women, whose neck wounds left them in critical condition. The assailant reportedly told police he was “following the Islamic State’s instructions,” according to World Watch Monitor.
  • the murder of a baker who was stabbed several times in front of his wife by an assailant who reportedly repeated that he was “doing this in obedience to what Allah has decreed.”
  • The arson of a village church 400 miles south of Cairo; the burning of numerous homes; and mobs that have gathered to intimate Coptic churches, families and individuals.

Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Christian worker in Egypt, told Baptist Press, “These instances demonstrate the real, growing pressure from Muslims influenced by intolerant interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an.
“While Muslims in the West worry about the ‘radicalization’ of individuals in the Islamic heartland, minorities experience much more dire outcomes as mobs and violent groups inflict their will on them,” Edens said.
The attacks are but the latest wave of tumult for Egypt’s Copts, who faced even more severe persecution in 2013 after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the Islamic predecessor to the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Calls for action

El-Sisi has made a number of conciliatory gestures toward the nation’s Copts. But Bishop Makarius, via Twitter on July 17, noted he was “reminding” the president that Copts “are Egyptian citizens.”
Among the actions Coptic Solidarity is seeking by the Egyptian government:

  • “Bring to account and apply the full force of justice against perpetrators of violence, including all local police and government officials whose indifference and complacency have allowed these mob actions and attacks against Copts.”
  • “Abolish the so called ‘reconciliation meetings’ which should not replace bringing perpetrators to justice in the judicial system.”
  • “Pass and implement legislation to guarantee the freedom of building of new churches and repair of existing ones,” especially those that have been destroyed by Islamists.
  • “Pass legislation to combat discrimination, and create an impartial body to monitor its implementation.”
  • “Shut down avenues of religious hate, including from within state-backed religious, media and educational bodies.”
  • “Annul the abusive ‘anti-blasphemy’ code in Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.”
  • “Annul religious identification from official identity cards.”
7/22/2016 11:45:56 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Failed coup leaves Turkey’s Christians on edge

July 22 2016 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

In the aftermath of a failed military coup, Christians in Turkey are likely to face increased scrutiny and more persecution, an international security expert told Baptist Press (BP).

CNN screen capture

An estimated 50,000-60,000 people – soldiers, police, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and teachers – have been fired or detained since the July 15 coup attempt, according to news reports.
The coup is widely seen as move by elements of the military opposed to the increased political influence of Islam in the constitutionally secular country. Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, has declared a three-month state of emergency, allowing him to bypass parliament to enact new laws and restrict or suspend freedoms, the BBC reported.
Some observers have argued that Erdogan himself staged a fake coup to strengthen his grip and accelerate Islamification of the country, although a spokesman for the president labeled the conspiracy theory “nonsensical.” The scope of the post-coup crackdown nevertheless indicates the government is taking advantage of the situation to persecute citizens on its lengthy lists of enemies, observers say.
“This is a brazen move on behalf of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (JDP),” said Scott Brawner, president of Concilium, a Christian nonprofit organization that specializes in security training and analysis.
“The JDP has eroded the personal rights of minority religions, especially Christians. This includes the confiscation of church properties, assaults and attacks on Turkish Christians that go unprosecuted by the state, and real and tangible threats against Muslim-background believers from society and the government,” Brawner said.
Turkey’s Christian community accounts for about 0.2 percent of the country’s total population of about 81 million, according to the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report compiled by the U.S. State Department. Turkey is an ally of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Tensions within the country have been heightened by the influx of more than 2 million refugees fleeing Islamic State terror.
Christian workers living in Istanbul described the coup aftermath as “the worst-case scenario for Christians living in Turkey,” said Sandra Elliot, program coordinator for International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for persecuted Christians.
“When the president addressed the people during the coup, he called on them as ‘Turks’ and as ‘believers in God’ – equating the two,” Elliot said. “The government may very well see [Christians] as a threat due to their lack of adherence to Islam.”
During the attempted coup, two churches were vandalized in cities in eastern Turkey where Christians have been killed in the past, according to the World Watch Monitor news service. In Malatya, unidentified assailants broke glass panels in the door of Malatya Protestant Church. In Trabzon, the windows of Santa Maria Catholic Church were smashed; a group of Muslim neighbors was credited with driving the vandals away.
President Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on Hizmet, a moderate Islamic network that sponsors secular schools, tutoring centers, hospitals and relief work. Hizmet is led by Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who began feuding with the president in 2013 and now lives in exile in the United States. Erdogan has vowed he will purge the “virus” responsible for the plot.
The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, reacted with “serious alarm” to the widespread arrests and called for fair trials and the rule of law, the Reuters news service reported. “In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” al-Hussein said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted earlier this year that the “overall landscape for democracy and human rights in Turkey has deteriorated over the last several years. The government has increased restrictions on social media and cracked down on journalists and individuals or groups that criticize the government, especially President Erdogan.”
The commission lists Turkey as a “Tier 2” country in which “religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level that would mandate a [country of particular concern] designation but require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”
Since the secular state was founded in 1923, Turkey has weathered several military coups and subsequently segued back to civilian governance.
Turkey straddles a peninsula in western Asia and serves as crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia. The country is bordered by Syria and Iraq, as well as Greece, Bulgaria and Georgia, with the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea to the west.
Turkey figures prominently in the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament. Two of the apostle Paul’s letters – Galatians and Ephesians – were written to Christians in what is now Turkey. The Bible also mentions specific places located in Turkey, including Mt. Ararat (Genesis 8:1-5), Haran (Genesis 11:31), the lands of the Hittites (Genesis 15:19-21), Tarsus (Acts 9:11), Iconium (Acts 13-16 and 2 Tim. 3:11) and Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and host of the “God’s Revolution” podcast.)
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7/22/2016 11:40:18 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Sudan’s crisis stirs call to prayer

July 22 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With South Sudan on the brink of renewed civil war, a Southern Baptist-led relief organization and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) remain unrelenting in their ministries there, amid what one aid worker called “a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”

Living Water Community Transformation photo
Amid a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, Living Water Community Transformation feeds hundreds of children daily at its two schools.

“There is no hope [for South Sudan] other than Jesus,” said Ann Rao, founder and president of Living Water Community Transformation, an organization that engages in women’s ministry, church planting, education of children and agribusiness training in the South Sudanese community of Akot. “I don’t even know what else to say. The whole situation is very overwhelming.”
South Sudan, established in 2011 when Christian regions of heavily-Muslim Sudan gained independence, has been embroiled in fighting between warring tribal groups since an attempted coup in 2013, Rao, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa-area Lutz, Fla., told Baptist Press (BP).
The latest round of violence broke out July 7 and escalated the next day when armed clashes erupted between troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his rival, vice president Riek Machar, as the two met in the nation’s state house, according to media reports. The clashes left 273 dead, the BBC reported.
Machar remains in hiding, and a 10-week-old peace arrangement “hangs by a thread,” according to the BBC.
An NPR report cast partial blame for the conflict on the international community because it has not “used economic sanctions to force both leaders to control their fighters.”
At least 36,000 South Sudanese refugees have been displaced from their homes this month, bringing the total number of refugees since December 2013 to approximately 1.6 million, Reuters reported. An additional 743,000 people have fled the country, and 4.8 million are “severely short of food.”
“The lack of food is just horrible,” Rao said. “... Supposedly, it’s a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”
In partnership with Baptist Global Response (BGR), a global relief organization, Living Water feeds hundreds of students each day at its two primary schools and has helped establish a 12-acre farm.
A lack of preparedness for national independence helps fuel the conflict, which has included “massacres” and “a lot of rapes,” Rao said. She lamented that though many South Sudanese profess to be Christians, including some top government leaders, the “hatred from all the killing and revenge killing” will continue to cause national strife.
SEBTS’s ministry to the South Sudanese includes theological education of pastors in partnership with the South Sudan Baptist Convention, with hope of a seminary being established one day in Juba, the capital city.
Many South Sudanese “pastors and congregations have sought safety in refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia,” SEBTS associate vice president for global theological initiatives John Ewart told BP in written comments. “They are starting churches and conducting training and discipleship within those contexts. I continue to get reports of new converts and baptisms taking place in these camps. In addition, many pastors are traveling in and out of South Sudan to continue to minister there as well.”
During a mission trip last year with SEBTS President Daniel Akin to train South Sudanese pastors in Uganda, Ewart wrote about the Christian unity among pastors from warring tribes.
“We have church leaders from both tribes here with us seeking solutions and training,” Ewart wrote in a blog post. “It is a testimony to Christ and His grace to watch them sing and learn and fellowship together after the brutality many of them have suffered at the hands of the other tribe.”
Some pastors living in Uganda and Kenya “travel as circuit riders into South Sudan pastoring as many as seven churches at one time,” he wrote. “They spend hours in travel and days away from their families. Some have seen their churches destroyed or scattered and wait to go back to rebuild. Most of their churches and church plants simply meet under trees.”
BGR executive director Jeff Palmer told BP that South Sudan’s conflict does not seem to provoke “a lot of sympathy” in the West because Americans find it difficult to empathize with “people fighting over tribalism. We don’t understand that in the States.”
Yet Americans – followers of Jesus especially – should care about South Sudan “because of the great need that’s there,” Palmer said.
Rao asked believers to “pray for peace in South Sudan.”
The renewed call to prayer echoes a 40-day prayer emphasis supported by the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) leading up to Sudan’s national referendum on the South’s independence in 2011. Sudan’s then-ambassador to the U.S. Akec Khoc, a Christian, addressed the WMU’s Orlando, Fla., Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in 2010 regarding his nation’s need for prayer.
“We are coming to you for prayer to our heavenly Father to give guidance to the leaders and the people of Sudan because it is only through Him that we can get peace,” Khoc said.
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7/22/2016 11:31:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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