July 2017

Redefine your life, Send Conference’s 4,000 exhorted

July 31 2017 by Josie Bingham, NAMB

“Is anybody hungry for a fresh move of God?” Las Vegas pastor Vance Pitman asked the crowd of 4,000-plus during the first of four main gatherings at the Send Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Photo by Casey Jones
North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell and International Mission Board president David Platt introduced the main conference sessions at Send Orlando together. The two organizations partnered to host three Send Conferences across the United States from Long Beach, Calif., to Dallas, Texas, to Orlando, Fla., in 2017.

“Our prayer is that God would move fresh in your heart – that you would have a fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit,” said Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, in speaking on how to live on mission by redefining life.
The sold-out Send Orlando, July 25-26 at First Baptist Orlando, was the last of three 2017 Send Conferences focused on the theme “Redefine” sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and International Mission Board (IMB).
Send Orlando featured 43 speakers including Trip Lee, J.D. Greear, Rachelle Starr, David Platt and Kevin Ezell in 36 breakout sessions with topics that included “Effective Preaching in the 21st Century,” “Critical Issues in Global Missions,” “College, Compassion and Community,” “Women, Missions and the Holy Spirit.”
Starr, founder of Scarlet Hope, an organization that rescues women in the sex industry in Kentucky, led a breakout session on “Big Issues Made Small ... Change Your Community, Change the World.” Starr shared stories from the front lines of her everyday ministry and encouraged attendees to look around and “find people who need to hear about Jesus.”
“Ministry can be messy, and sometimes even heartbreaking, but seeing the light of our great God shine into the darkness is a one-of-a-kind experience,” Starr said. “Our mission is to meet each woman right where she is and point her to Jesus who is our only hope. We share the gospel with each dancer, bouncer and club owner God puts in our path. He didn’t call us to just share the Good News when people ask but to go and share it to all who will listen.”
Generation Link, a mission-minded mentoring program located in 13 states and four countries, brought 150 interns to Send Orlando. Jeremy Chasteen, director of Generation Link, said he knew the positive impact Send would have on his interns because “the Send Conference always aligns with our desire to train young adults through the local church to be lifelong disciple-makers.”

Photo by Nick Drake
A late night worship concert featuring David Crowder, his band and rapper Kevin Burgess, also known as K.B., surprised attendees on the first night of NAMB and IMB’s Send Orlando Conference at First Baptist Church in Orlando. The July 25-26 event was the last of three Send Conferences held in 2017.

“I love having the opportunity to invest in young men and women currently making big decisions in their lives,” Chasteen said. “It was our hope that our participants would be exposed to continued opportunities for mission after Send Conference.”
While Send Orlando hosted breakouts for those looking to be discipled, the event also provided steps attendees could take to redefine their lives and move toward missional living every day.
“I pray that God will raise up many in attendance at Send Orlando who are willing to accept His call for their lives to take the gospel to places it has not yet reached,” said Chris Hunsberger, executive director of Radical, who has attended all three conferences this year. “The Send Conference is laser-focused on equipping and encouraging the church to mobilize and plant healthy churches.”
Send Orlando attendee Mark Koch, executive director of Ride Nature, a company created to impact the world through surf, skate and wake outreach, brought eight of his team members to Send Orlando for further growth and spiritual encouragement.
“We heard David Platt and Tripp Lee were speaking at Send Orlando,” Koch said. “They’ve always been an encouragement to our adventurous team. I’ve heard these men speak in the past and I was excited to bring my team along with me to hear them again, to grow in fellowship and to leave inspired to continue living daily missional lives.”
First Baptist Orlando staff and volunteers opened their doors to welcome the event and many church members attended and volunteered at the conference.
“I love the facilities and what we’re able to do here,” said Will Mowdy, a First Baptist Orlando member. “I’ve been coming to this church for 37 years because it’s truly a place where people are served in the name of Jesus. It’s such a privilege and honor to be here serving my church, my Lord and the people who’ve come to this conference to learn about living for Him.”
Platt, the IMB’s president, urged attendees who felt God’s call to share the gospel in remote places to get up and go.
“Charles Spurgeon said that every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter,” Platt said. “And yes, that is what this conference is about – to recognize every opportunity to live out the gospel and tell people about Jesus.
“But why in 2,000 years have we not gone with the gospel to northern Nepal?” Platt asked. “Yes, let’s live on mission wherever we are, but I also believe that God is not just calling disciples to be where they currently are but He’s opening doors for them to take the gospel to unreached places.”
“Every day we wake up should be a mission trip,” said Ezell, NAMB’s president. “As Christians, we’re all called to do this. We are all to be obedient and to share the gospel. At the North American Mission Board, we try to help churches plant 1,200 churches per year because we simply want you to be on mission and be encouraged in a place to live on mission every day.
“But then we want you be more interested in sharing the gospel than in simply hearing it,” Ezell said. “It’s amazing what God can do through you tonight and tomorrow and for the rest of your life.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josie Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.)

7/31/2017 9:19:21 AM by Josie Bingham, NAMB | with 0 comments

Brownback lauded as international religious liberty nominee

July 31 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

President Donald Trump’s selection of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the U.S. State Department’s top religious liberty post has drawn praise from advocates for the freedom that is under threat in much of the world.

Screen capture from KWCH.com
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been hailed as an “exceptional” nominee to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The White House announced July 26 the president’s intention to nominate Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Brownback welcomed the opportunity despite being in the midst of his second term as Kansas governor.
“Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul,” Brownback said on Twitter after the announcement. “I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brownback will bring vast public service experience and a history of global religious liberty advocacy to the post. He has been Kansas’ governor since 2011 after two years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 15 years in the Senate. While in Congress, he spoke out for religious freedom in various countries and strongly backed the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that created the post for which he is the nominee.
Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious liberty proponent, described Brownback as “an outstanding choice” who will be “an exceptional ambassador.”
“This ambassadorship is a key piece in our nation’s responsibility to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world, one that requires a seasoned, respected leader who brings conviction and gravity to the work of this crucial post,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Governor Brownback is exactly this kind of leader.
“He has my prayers and pledge of full cooperation, and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead,” Moore said in a written release. “We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. I urge the Senate to confirm Governor Brownback without delay.”
Montserrat Alvarado, executive director of the religious liberty law firm Becket, said Brownback’s “legacy of promoting and defending religious liberty both in the United States and overseas is strong.”
“His robust experience defending religious freedom for people of all faiths makes him uniquely qualified to lead America’s international defense” of religious liberty, she said in a written statement.
Two former ambassadors-at-large for religious freedom commended Brownback in comments to WORLD magazine.
David Saperstein, who served in the role during the last two years of the Obama administration, called it “a very strong appointment.” Brownback, Saperstein said, “knows the issue very well.”
John Hanford, ambassador-at-large from 2002-09, said Brownback is “someone of real prominence who has a lot of professional experience in dealing with challenges that you would find at a place like the State Department.”
Religious liberty advocates inside and outside Congress had been urging the Trump administration to name someone to the post. While it took six months, Trump still acted sooner than Presidents George W. Bush or Obama did at the beginning of their administrations. Bush took more than nine months to announce a nominee, while Obama required more than 16 months to present his choice.
Brownback’s selection comes at a time when religious freedom continues to deteriorate. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – also established by IRFA in 1998 – said in its annual report in April that the status of religious liberty globally “is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. The blatant assaults have become so frightening – attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents and wholesale destruction of places of worship – that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated.”
An April report from the Pew Research Center showed 79 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with “high” or “very high” levels overall of government restrictions on or social hostilities toward religion. Open Doors, which serves the persecuted church overseas, said in its annual report in January the persecution of followers of Jesus continued to rise, with about 215 million Christians undergoing “high, very high or extreme persecution” in the last year in the 50 countries on its watch list.
The ambassador-at-large oversees the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious liberty conditions overseas, proposes policies in different regions or countries and establishes programs to further freedom of belief.
If confirmed, his priority will be coordinating the Trump administration’s efforts on global religious liberty, Brownback told WORLD Radio. The position, he said, is intended to be a “coordination role of multiple entities” – including those that focus on security, economics and diplomacy. Brownback wants to bring the “various aspects of the administration to focus on religious freedom,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/31/2017 9:16:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Executive Committee enlists Cooperative Program catalysts

July 31 2017 by Mark Kelly, SBC LIFE

Four Southern Baptist pastors will be casting vision for the Cooperative Program (CP) in different regions of the country as part of the “young leaders” initiative of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC).

Nathan Millican, Chad Keck, Curtis Cook and Matt Crawford

The pastors who will be telling the CP story and promoting its vision for the next generation of pastors and leaders are Nathan Millican of Foothills Baptist Church in Phoenix; Chad Keck of First Baptist Church in Kettering, Ohio; Curtis Cook of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass.; and Matt Crawford of First Baptist Church in Sebring, Fla.
Much of their effort in the West, Midwest, Northeast and South, respectively, will focus on online engagement through social media and other channels, said Ashley Clayton, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the Executive Committee.
The catalysts also will arrange meetings geared for young pastors during major events that Southern Baptist pastors already attend, such as the SBC annual meeting, SEND conferences and state Baptist convention meetings. The four catalysts will continue serving full-time at their respective churches.
Frank S. Page, the Executive Committee’s president, noted, “In ways that have probably never happened before, at least that I am aware of, we are aggressively and intentionally making efforts to engage the SBC’s young leaders. A person might ask, ‘Why is the Executive Committee doing this?’ Simple: We are doing this to continue our legacy of cooperation for the Great Commission.
“If you’re a young pastor, the EC wants you to know that we value your voice. We are grateful for your engagement through the Cooperative Program and in the SBC,” Page said. “We want to support you in your ministry, and we want to continue to partner with you to glorify God by making disciples of all nations.”
The four CP catalysts, in comments to SBC LIFE, journal of the SBC Executive Committee, underscored the value of cooperative missions and ministries.

Millican emphasized how churches across America are “better together” as they collaborate through the Cooperative Program.
“Imagine your church attempting to fully fund a missionary in Central Asia to reach Muslims. The financial burden would be great, and the burden would be compounded as you think through the pervasive lostness in Central Asia,” Millican said. “But imagine the joy and impact of a myriad of men and women rallying together to equip, resource and fund a couple to go to Central Asia.
“The Cooperative Program continues to be effective and impactful in taking the gospel across the street, across our state and across the globe so people will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ,” Millican said. “Sure, things could always be better, more efficient; but let’s keep our hand to the plow and, by God’s grace and the work of the Spirit, lead our congregations to exude and pursue the value that we are truly better together.”

Keck, who served as second vice president of the SBC in 2015-2016, explained how he had personally benefited from the Cooperative Program as a student at Oklahoma Baptist University and then Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Keck said he also has had “the privilege of serving alongside numerous International Mission Board missionaries on short-term trips and North American Mission Board church planters through church partnerships to see how giving through CP impacts lostness.”
Cook said Hope Fellowship Church is delighted to pay forward for others the partnership that helped their congregation launch and grow strong.

“Working to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Northeast is both an exhilarating opportunity and a daunting challenge,” Cook said. “Over the past 13 years in Boston, we have experienced firsthand the blessing of Kingdom partnership through the Cooperative Program.
“When we started our church, we were blessed by the sacrificial partnership that played a key role in helping this new work begin,” Cook said. “In the early years of our church, we found great joy in being able to partner with other churches through CP to help support missionaries around the world when we could never do that by ourselves. And now we experience partnership in new ways as we are able to help plant churches in partnership with others and have seen members of our church go and serve among the nations.”

Matt Crawford, who, like Keck, is a product of Southern Baptist cooperative missions, noted, “As a lifelong Florida Baptist blessed through the educational opportunities provided by the Cooperative Program, I am so grateful for the opportunity to broaden the CP conversation with my generation of Southern Baptist pastors.
“There is no greater cause for us to work together to support, as we seek to glorify our Savior through completing the Great Commission. We’ve got to continue to tell the story of CP and cast a compelling vision for our cooperation around what is most important,” Crawford said.
Earlier this year, the Executive Committee appointed a Young Leader Advisory Council, chaired by Jordan Easley, senior pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn. In March, the EC advisory council announced a 21-question survey at TalkCP.com to assess the attitudes and overall engagement of young leaders across the SBC.
The Executive Committee and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) also are launching a young leader initiative to engage pastors between the ages of 25 and 45 more effectively. NAMB has enlisted Jonathan Akin, former pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., and cofounder of the B21 blog and annual meeting panel discussions, to lead the effort to engage those who are disconnected or minimally involved in Southern Baptist life.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston from reporting by freelance writer Mark Kelly for SBC LIFE.)

7/31/2017 9:10:51 AM by Mark Kelly, SBC LIFE | with 0 comments

Infant Charlie Gard dies after parents’ futile pleas

July 31 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Charlie Gard – the infant at the center of a battle over parental authority that gained international attention – has died, his parents announced July 28 in England.

Screen capture from Fox News
Charlie Gard

“Our beautiful little boy has gone, we are so proud of you Charlie,” his mother, Connie Yates, said in a statement, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) News.
Charlie died in hospice care a week short of his first birthday, Aug. 4, after being removed from a ventilator. He was born with a rare condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS). His parents – Chris Gard and Yates –- fought numerous legal battles for their son’s life and raised about $1.7 million for an experimental treatment in the United States that he never was permitted to receive.
The Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Charlie was a patient, refused to permit the therapy and received the backing of British courts and the European Court of Human Rights for removal of his life support.
Pro-life advocates grieved the infant’s death after the legal battle that came at the intersection of the sanctity of human life, medical ethics and parental rights.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we learn of Charlie Gard’s passing,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life. She provided legal counsel for the parents in the last weeks of Charlie’s life. “We are so thankful for his life, which though too brief, has made a lasting impact on the world and drawn together people from all walks of life and political persuasions, uniting them around the dignity and value of every human being.”
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore had said July 24, “Charlie Gard might be invisible to the European authorities, but Jesus knows and loves him.
“The European courts’ abuse of their power by usurping the authority of Charlie’s parents regarding his care is shocking to the conscience,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Charlie appeared healthy at birth but began to deteriorate soon thereafter, BBC News reported. He eventually had severe brain damage and could not open his eyes, breathe without a ventilator or move his limbs.
Michio Hirano, a Columbia University neurology professor, had offered to try nucleoside bypass therapy with Charlie. Hirano traveled to London to determine if Charlie might still be a candidate for the experimental treatment, but a MRI scan indicated it was too late, according to BBC News.
On July 24, the parents ended their legal fight to gain treatment for Charlie. Their lawyer told a judge in a British High Court hearing that “time had run out” for the infant, BBC News reported. Since the experimental treatment no longer seemed to hold promise, the parents said they “are now going to spend our last precious moments” with their son.
Gard and Yates lost a final court battle July 27, when a judge ruled Charlie would be moved from the hospital to a hospice instead of his home to die after being removed from a ventilator, according to BBC News.
President Donald Trump and Pope Francis both offered in early July to help the parents.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment July 18 to grant permanent residence status to Charlie Gard and his parents, according to The Hill newspaper. The proposal would have expedited the process for them to travel to the United States for the experimental treatment.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/31/2017 9:06:38 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NY Times op-ed spurs discussion of race and the SBC

July 31 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A black Oklahoma minister’s New York Times op-ed “renouncing [his] ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention” has drawn responses from a range of African Americans who say they will continue to cooperate with the convention as it pursues racial reconciliation.

Photo by Diana Chandler
Some 950 Southern Baptists gathered for the 2017 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference the same day a New York Times op-ed criticized the SBC for “a deep commitment to white supremacy.”

Meanwhile, the op-ed’s author, Lawrence Ware, explained his views in an interview with Baptist Press (BP), noting he does not believe Southern Baptists by and large are intentionally racist. He also said he likely would have “softened” some of his language against the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) if given an opportunity to rewrite the op-ed.
Ware, a staff minister at Prospect Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, wrote in a July 17 Times op-ed that “a deep commitment to white supremacy” within the SBC helped prompt his renunciation of convention involvement, as did “homophobia” in the convention.
Co-director of the Center of Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University, Ware wrote that a key factor in his decision to renounce ordination in a Southern Baptist church was the SBC’s failure at its Phoenix annual meeting in June to “immediately” adopt a resolution submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic denouncing white supremacy “of the so-called alt-right.”
Ware also criticized the SBC for expelling from its annual meeting “activists who tried to raise awareness about the ways in which the convention fails its [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] members.”
At the annual meeting, an initial decision by the Resolutions Committee not to consider McKissic’s resolution was upheld by a vote of messengers. But those preliminary decisions yielded to a June 14 resolution, presented by the Resolutions Committee and adopted overwhelmingly by messengers, which decried “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Approximately five pro-gay and pro-transgender protesters were asked to leave the Phoenix Convention Center when members of their group “inappropriately used the official convention logo and were identified as violating the published SBC materials distribution policy,” convention manager William Townes told Baptist Press. “It was later discovered that one of the protestors who was requested to leave was wearing a counterfeit guest badge.”
Ware wrote in The Times, “As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.”

 SBC ‘good willed’

Ware told BP that if given the opportunity to rewrite his Times piece, he “probably would have changed” the phrase “a deep commitment to white supremacy” to reflect his belief Southern Baptists are “good willed” but “maybe not as sensitive to the voices of people of color as they could be.” Racial insensitivity among Southern Baptists, he added, seems “un-willful.”
The phrase “white supremacy,” as used by Ware, refers to “seeing things through the lens of being white in America,” he said. The op-ed is “not calling the SBC white supremist. That’s a huge difference because a white supremacist is like a KKK member or a neo-Nazi. But white supremacy, however, can almost be benign at times.”
Ware does not “have a problem with the SBC’s stance” on homosexuality, he said. His criticism is only of a “lack of love” for people struggling with same-sex attraction among some Southern Baptist churches, “which is not quite an SBC thing ... but I do think the SBC could do a better job with helping churches” address “that very vulnerable population.”
Prospect Church, where Ware serves, will continue to cooperate with the SBC, including financial support of convention causes, ministry partnership and reporting vital statistics through the convention’s Annual Church Profile, pastor Lee Cooper told BP.
“We support Rev. Ware’s decision that he makes personally,” said Cooper, a member of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Board of Directors from 1999-2003. “As a church, that has not been our determination to withdraw from the SBC. But I do support his decision and also can affirm some experiences that he’s had with the SBC. That makes it worthy of our continued discussion as we work [toward] some resolutions that I think need to be addressed.”

Media coverage

Terry Mattingly of the Get Religion blog, which monitors media coverage of religion, critiqued news outlets for “placing a bright national spotlight” on Ware’s views while downplaying the SBC’s multiethnic ministries.
The same day Ware’s op-ed was published, Mattingly noted, some 950 African American Southern Baptists convened in North Carolina for the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources. See related stories here and here.
Mattlingly asked why news outlets reported sparsely on the conference while devoting significant attention to Ware, whose “profile” appeared to be “higher” among liberal-leaning publications “than it is in the national network of black Southern Baptist leaders.”
Mark Croston, LifeWay’s national director for black church partnerships, told BP the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference has provided training for predominantly black churches for nearly 25 years and illustrates the SBC’s progress toward ethnic diversity.
“In light of the current conversation I would ask, ‘Is the SBC perfect?’ Answer, ‘No,’” Croston said in written comments, “and neither is any other religious body. Changing groups only means I trade one set of challenges for another. Second question, ‘Is the SBC moving in the right direction?’ Answer, ‘Yes.’
“Twenty-five years ago there were about 400 black churches in the SBC. Today there are about 4,000 black churches and another 3,000 churches of other minority groups. Today the SBC has been said to be the most ethnically diverse religious body in America. On any given Sunday, the gospel is preached in SBC churches in the USA in over 70 different languages,” said Croston, author of a chapter in B&H Academic’s 2017 book Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Today the SBC is open to bringing all people to the table, though sometimes that is a struggle. But with every struggle, our goal is to make our denomination look more and more like Heaven,” said Croston, citing Revelation 7:9-10.
Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, told The Tennessean when queried about Ware, “The SBC has some racist people in it, but so [do] other denominations as well. I am one that believes it’s better not to leave, but rather to stay and help educate other brothers and sisters about problems, whether it be racism or some other issue.”
McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, told The Tennessean he values partnership with the SBC because of its mission and ministry work worldwide.
“I think the Southern Baptist Convention is worth trying to bring healing and hope,” McKissic said. “The majority of the people’s hearts are in the right place, but there is still some work to be done.”
While McKissic and Ware both said they know African Americans who have left the SBC over the past year, Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, said he does not know of anyone closely connected with convention life who has left.
Yet Smith, who is African American, said he disagrees with the initial decisions by the Resolutions Committee and the convention not to act on McKissic’s resolution.
“That was something that was burdensome to a portion of the convention,” Smith said, “and there were other parts of the convention that just didn’t seem to realize how burdensome that was to some other brothers and sisters.”

‘You can’t always run’

Gabriel Stovall, a Georgia pastor, state convention missionary and campus minister, wrote in a column submitted to BP that he “identified” with Ware’s “struggle to walk away from the convention.” But he also sensed “the voice of Jesus telling me ... stay put” in order to benefit from the SBC’s multiethnic ministry.
“Every time I get the itch to walk away,” Stovall, pastor of Atlanta’s Butler Street Baptist Church, wrote, “I think of the hearts who have been changed by dialogue with others who are different, and through true, tangible love shown even while struggling to understand – starting with my own heart.”
Stovall added, “Staying doesn’t mean 100 percent agreement ... For me, staying put can be boiled down to one concept alone: That is my trust in the fact that Jesus knows more than I do about the power of my testimony. You can’t always run from everything and everyone that you deem problematic – not if you are to follow Christ’s example.”
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told The Christian Post he becomes frustrated when it appears the SBC’s active pursuit of racial reconciliation lags behind the language of its resolutions.
Page asked “people of color constantly to give us feedback on what’s happening, how they feel and if they see enough progress.” He acknowledged the distress some individuals from racial minority groups have felt and said the SBC is engaged in an ongoing effort to address it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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7/31/2017 8:58:02 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church begun in 1794 holds first Vacation Bible School

July 28 2017 by Scott Barkley, Georgia Christian Index

Island Creek Baptist Church joined in for the first time since its founding in 1794.

Photo by Jenni Carter
Children used their creativity in a staple of VBS, craft time, during the first-ever summertime outreach at Island Creek Baptist Church near Sparta, Ga.

The church had a Vacation Bible School (VBS).
Over time, folks from Atlanta-area communities had bought retirement homes on the shores of Lake Sinclair and found a church home at Island Creek near Sparta, Ga.
What they didn’t find too much of was children, which had been a years-long concern of pastor Arthur Gunn and others.
“We wanted to grow the children’s ministry because we believe they’re the future of the church,” said Gunn, who became pastor 18 years ago.
So why no VBS before now?
“We never felt there were enough children attending or leaders for a VBS,” Gunn said. “We’d been thinking for several years about having one.”
Things changed when a volunteer, Lisa Boone, was willing to take the lead.
“She took an interest in the children’s ministry and began to work with them,” Gunn said. “She’d give children a ride to church if they needed one.”
So after a few months of planning, Island Creek held its first VBS over the course of a weekend, June 9-11. Each day from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. more than two dozen children learned about Christ through the theme “Campout: Getting S’More of Jesus.”

Photo by Jenni Carter
Volunteers experimented with their creative side in fashioning a campfire setting for the first-ever Vacation Bible School at Island Creek Baptist Church in Georgia.

“I love children and wanted to help out,” said Boone, one of Island Creek’s members who lives elsewhere – for her, two hours away in McRae – but spends weekends at a home on Lake Sinclair.
“I prayed about it. A lot of people talked to me over it,” Boone said. “We have eight or nine children attending church regularly, and I wanted to hold a VBS.”
Gunn’s wife Vicki had been encouraging her husband and the church to have a VBS for the past few years but knew he was hesitant.
“When I first came to the church,” the pastor said, “we only had a couple of children attending.” Church attendance has climbed from a dozen to approximately 130 today.
“The church is isolated,” he said, “but there’s a group around the lake we reach out to. Some started attending, then others, after word of mouth got around.”
Boone, who attended sporadically, picked up her involvement through the children’s ministry and has been named the church’s part-time children/youth minister. With grown children of her own, she picks up as many local children as she can with her Chevy Tahoe to take to Island Creek.
Gunn acknowledged some trepidation among church members about the VBS. Would any children show up? Did they have enough volunteers? Did they know what they were doing?

Photo by Jenni Carter
Island Creek Baptist Church, near Sparta, Ga., held its first Vacation Bible School in the history of the church, founded in March 1794.

Among the VBS attendees, 10 made professions of faith. Two were scheduled to be baptized July 16 at Island Creek. A third, who was visiting from another church, will be discipled and baptized there. Around half of the VBS attendees, Gunn figured, were local, and the others were visiting grandparents on Lake Sinclair.
The last day of VBS coincided with the church’s regular Sunday worship.
“Those who had doubts were pleasantly surprised, especially when the kids came forward to accept Christ,” Gunn said. “The volunteers were tickled pink at the way it turned out.”
He recommends churches similar to Island Creek look hard at doing a VBS.
“If they have any children at all around, those churches need to try it. Kids absolutely enjoy VBS. Ours were thrilled with it and asked if we were going to have it again next year.”
Boone credits church members for allowing God to use them.
“I couldn’t have done it without that teamwork,” she said. “Everyone worked together perfectly. I’ve helped with VBS before but never put one together myself.”
Not long after church leaders announced the VBS, Boone placed a sign-up sheet for volunteers. At first, there were way more empty blanks than ones with names.
“One elderly couple called me and said they’d like to volunteer, but they just weren’t sure,” she recounted. “They thought they wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Boone convinced them otherwise.
“I told them they’d be perfect to help with the children,” she said. “They volunteered, and they were perfect.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is web content editor for The Christian Index, christianindex.org, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

7/28/2017 9:30:42 AM by Scott Barkley, Georgia Christian Index | with 0 comments

Students sue school for hushing pro-life speech

July 28 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service

Two students have filed a lawsuit against their Pennsylvania school district for the right to operate a pro-life club according to their proposed mission statement. The lawsuit, filed July 11, came after the district refused to back down from requiring the club’s policies meet unprecedented standards.
Elizabeth Castro and Grace Schairer jumped through all the requisite hoops to establish Trojans for Life at Parkland High School in Allentown, Penn., only to have their request denied in March. After attorneys with the Thomas More Society warned the district in a letter that its actions violated the students’ constitutional rights, the school backed down but with a caveat.
The club said its mission was to “establish an active pro-life culture among the youth of our community by educating our peers on life.” But the district demanded the students keep their pro-life message confined to members only and changed the mission to “establish[ing] an active pro-life culture among our members by educating our members on life.”
“As far as we know, no other club is restricted to advocating and educating solely their own members, but are permitted to engage in speech with the entire school,” Thomas More Society attorney Jocelyn Floyd told WORLD News Service. “Even after we explained the problems with those restrictions and gave legal support to back up our explanations, the district insisted that it would not change its positions on any of them.”
With negotiations at an impasse, Castro and Schairer filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit, Castro v. Parkland School District, claims the district’s actions violate the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment.
The district also prohibited the club from fundraising, fearing a possible violation of the Establishment Clause if money raised by the students went to support religiously affiliated pregnancy centers. But Floyd said the law allows student clubs to use raised funds at their discretion.
Administrators called students’ plans to sponsor a memorial service outside an abortion center “dangerous,” denied the activity, and declared all club activities subject to district approval.
Floyd said no other Parkland High School club is required to operate under such scrutiny, and the standards violate the district’s own policy.
Schairer, who will be a senior this fall, hopes to see the club established before she graduates to educate her peers about abortion and offer resources to students facing unplanned pregnancies.
“The school is treating us like second-class citizens because we want to create a culture of life and be a positive influence to our peers,” she said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

7/28/2017 9:23:46 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Fresh evidence of fetal tissue research

July 28 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Lawyers with the Thomas More Society plan to take the University of Minnesota to court again after discovering new evidence its researchers are still illegally experimenting with aborted fetal remains.
The legal group will file a motion for relief against a judge’s April decision dismissing a previous lawsuit against the university.
In October, Pro-Life Action Ministries and two individuals filed suit against the university accusing it of violating a 1988 statute that requires the burial or cremation of aborted or miscarried fetal remains and limits laboratory tests to those “necessary for the health of the woman or her future offspring or for purposes of a criminal investigation or determination of parentage prior to disposing of the remains.”
As evidence, the plaintiffs pointed to a 2015 video by the Center for Medical Progress that alleged the University of Minnesota conducted illegal research on aborted fetal tissue. Later, purchase orders surfaced showing the university purchased aborted fetal tissue directly from abortion centers between 2008 and 2014.
In court, the university claimed it had stopped doing illegal research on fetal remains, and the judge dismissed the cased based on a lack of evidence. But a few days later, Thomas More’s Erick Kaardal obtained an official university email admitting to ongoing fetal tissue research.
“We’re disappointed that due process rights were thwarted, but we are encouraged by the fact that we are correct, they are continuing to do the research,” Kaardal told me.
The emails came from a state legislator’s staff, who inquired separately about ongoing research using aborted fetal tissue. University of Minnesota staff member Christine Kiel said that within the past year, the university had procured 203 tissue slides from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and obtained brain, eye and cochlea samples from 25 fetuses from the University of Washington. Kiel claimed the University of Minnesota didn’t pay for the samples.
Minnesota’s fetal disposition law survived a Planned Parenthood challenge in 1990, when a court ruled “the statute passes constitutional muster.”
Kaardal said “abortion politics” have made it difficult to pin down the university: “When you have large universities who are willing to violate criminal statutes in order to do illegal research, it’s a little disturbing, because we hope research universities would have the highest ethics, and we don’t want researchers to be subject to criminal sanctions. And I think there must be a problem with a research university, University of Minnesota in this case, in understanding that they, too, are under the law.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

7/28/2017 9:19:09 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

WWII-era couple’s sacrifice yields new Hispanic church

July 28 2017 by Lonnie Wilkey, Tennessee Baptist and Reflector

Missions has been a way of life for Earl and Violet Newcomb since the mid-1950s in helping start six churches.

Photo by Lonnie Wilkey
Three of Earl and Violet Newcomb’s seven children recently attended a worship service with them at Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist. Standing, from left, are Elaine Newcomb, Sherrie Kennedy and Debbie Hicks.

Earl Newcomb served as song leader while operating a business in Franklin, Tenn., and Violet served as pianist and church treasurer.
“Lord, open the door and we will go,” they always said.
In 1975 the couple helped begin their last church, Harpeth First Baptist Church in rural Williamson County, Tenn. They bought the property (which included the old Harpeth Community School that was open from 1914 before closing in 1974) and later sold it to the church.
Harpeth First Baptist Church peaked in attendance in the 1990s before dropping off, said William Burton, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
By 2014, the Newcombs were the only members who attended regularly. Their faithfulness to give, however, kept the doors open and provided for an interim pastor to preach once a week. And the church continued to give 10 percent of its offerings through the Cooperative Program and 5 percent to the Nashville Baptist Association.
“They kept it going like that for two years,” Burton said, noting that the couple had approached the Tennessee mission board at one time about donating the property for a church start and that other churches had been in contact about helping them revitalize. The timing, however, never worked out.
“We were not discouraged,” Violet Newcomb said. “We left it in God’s hands as people walked away” from the church.
Daughter Debbie Hicks acknowledged there were “a few dry years” at the church and noted she asked her parents, “Why don’t you go and join another church?” But they persevered and refused to give up on the church they helped to start.

Photo by Lonnie Wilkey
William Burton, church planting strategist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and volunteer church planter at Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist, speaks during Sunday worship.

In the meantime, approximately 684 Hispanic households had moved into the Spring Hill/Thompson’s Station area near Harpeth First Baptist Church.
“We prayed about it and God opened the doors for a Hispanic congregation to come here,” Violet Newcomb recounted.
That congregation was Iglesia Bautista La Esperanza (Hope Baptist Church). A merger of the two churches began in November 2015, and today it is known as Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist.
Burton, who is working with the congregation as a volunteer church planter, said it is not the traditional Hispanic congregation as it is a Spanish-English church, with both music and preaching in both languages during each part of the service.
Burton noted that the merger combines the best of both church revitalization and church planting. “There is not a model quite like this,” he acknowledged.
The Hispanic congregation has taken off, having baptized nearly 50 people since last November.
“We knew the Lord wanted to plant a church here,” Burton said. “We just didn’t know it would occur in the manner that it did.”
When the Hispanic congregation began meeting, the sanctuary was in disarray, and there were even snakes in the attic. The church received some grants to help with the remodeling, and church members have done the work. They are now constructing an addition to the sanctuary that will increase seating to about 180 people.
Since the merger, the Newcombs have maintained their membership there. “They have adapted so well to the change,” Burton noted.
What’s more, the Hispanic congregation has “adopted” the couple who are seen as “grandparents” by the entire church, Burton said. “They love the Newcombs.”
Daughter Sherrie Kennedy said her mother has been touched by how loving and caring the Hispanic congregation is. “They gave Mom and Dad a peace that they had done the right thing.”
Burton said the experience with the merger has been especially good for the Hispanic congregation as “they have inherited a missional heritage from Harpeth First Baptist Church, a heritage that we hope will continue and influence other ethnic congregations as well as the generations that come through giving through the Cooperative Program, the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions as well as other Southern Baptist missions offerings.”
In addition, Burton said the congregation has seen “a World War II-era couple [Newcomb received a Purple Heart after losing his leg in the Battle of the Bulge] lovingly embrace them and welcome them into the church. It’s incredible what God has done.”
The Newcombs have seven children who are well aware of their parents’ commitment, made even before some of them were born. “When they entered the ministry, they never looked back,” Kennedy said. “They sacrificed for the ministry. They knew they wanted to impact lives for Christ.”
“They just wanted to serve God,” Hicks said.
Daughter Elaine Newcomb agreed. “It’s always been for His glory, not theirs.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.com, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

7/28/2017 9:03:08 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Tennessee Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

Illustrating the need for religious liberty

July 28 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service

An address by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to a group of Christian attorneys drew fire and false accusations from media sources. The incident served to illustrate the theme of Sessions’ speech – the essential role of religious liberty in America and the need to preserve it.
In his remarks to a gathering of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys in Southern California on July 11, Sessions recounted the “Western heritage of faith and reason” that framers of the Bill of Rights understood as the foundation of religious liberties. They did not seek to establish a theocracy but to recognize the rights of conscience that were “essential to being a created being,” he said.
“But the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief. And in recent years, many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack,” he told the attorneys. “This feeling is understandable.”
As if to demonstrate his point, a major news outlet writing about the event cited an organization that uses public shaming as a means of silencing or marginalizing the voices of its ideological opponents. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2016 labeled Alliance Defending Freedom an “anti-LGBT hate group.” ABC News repeatedly used the moniker and unsubstantiated claims about ADF’s intentions toward LGBT people in its report.
Calling the article “journalistic malpractice,” ADF has demanded ABC News apologize and retract the story.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

7/28/2017 8:39:16 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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