July 2017

Trump reverses Obama transgender military policy

July 27 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

President Donald Trump suddenly reversed military policy on transgender individuals July 26, announcing on Twitter the United States would not “accept or allow” people who identify as a different gender than their biological sex to serve in the armed forces.

Donald Trump

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump said in a series of three tweets this morning. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
Trump’s announcement came a year after the Obama administration repealed the prohibition on transgender men and women serving openly in the armed forces. Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter set a deadline of July 1, 2017, for implementing the new policy, but new Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced June 30 a six-month delay in enlisting transgender people.
The unexpected policy change came without any explanation regarding its implementation and how it would affect transgender individuals already in the military. The Pentagon – apparently unprepared for the announcement – referred reporters to the White House, but administration officials did not respond immediately to questions about the action, The New York Times reported.
Reaction to the announcement drew widely divergent reactions.
“Christians have great sympathy and compassion for individuals struggling with gender identity concerns,” Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said in written comments, “but it is unwise to craft military policy that further entrenches the worldview of the sexual revolution throughout our armed services. I am glad to see policies of the previous administration reversed, policies which raised serious concerns about the violation of conscience for service members, including medical personnel and chaplains.
“As it relates to the church, this debate requires conviction about what the Bible teaches about God’s creation of us as male and female, as well as gospel compassion for all those struggling with their identity,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Gender issues specialist Bob Stith said, “It is difficult to understand why the statement of President Trump – ‘Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory’ – should be in question. As an American citizen, as a father and grandfather, I strongly agree with that statement.
“So for me the question comes down to: ‘Can transgenders serve without special considerations or disruptions?’ In view of that, the military should not be tasked with either the expense or the hours expended by medical personnel for something which has no connection with the military and which is essentially an elective surgery,” Stith said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP).
“As Christians, we should not lose sight of the fact that these are real people who are struggling with something for which they did not ask – and which they do not understand,” Stith told BP. “The emotional and mental turmoil is real. It is absolutely critical that we speak with compassion and avoid any form of derogatory speech.”
Stith is founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, and formerly the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues.
Supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] rights decried the president’s announcement.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – the country’s largest political organization for LGBT rights – charged Trump with being unpatriotic and unfit.
“He has put a target on the backs of the more than 15,000 transgender troops proudly serving in our military,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a written statement. “This heinous and disgusting action endangers the lives of American service members, undermines military readiness and makes our country less safe. It is also the latest effort by Trump and [Vice President] Mike Pence to undo our progress and drag LGBTQ people back into the closet by using our lives as political pawns.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, called it a “disgusting ban [that] will weaken our military and the nation it defends.”
Estimates of the number of transgender people in the armed forces vary. The Williams Institute – a pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender think tank – has said about 15,500 transgender individuals serve on active duty or in the guard/reserves. Last year, a study by the Rand Corp. estimated 2,450 transgender people are on active duty and 1,510 in the selected reserve, whose members are often referred to as “weekend warriors.”
Trump’s action came less than two weeks after an effort to prohibit military payments for procedures such as gender reassignment surgery failed. Such an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., failed, 214-209, when 24 Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.
Hartzler thanked Trump today for his policy change, saying, “[W]e cannot burden our armed forces with the tremendous costs and disruptions that transgender in the military would entail. The costs incurred by funding transgender surgeries and the required additional care it demands should not be the focus of our military resources.”
The president made his announcement three weeks after it was reported the U.S. Army had implemented new training that requires soldiers to accept the presence of people with the physical traits of the opposite sex in barracks, bathrooms and showers. The training materials said soldiers may change their gender by revising their personnel file after receiving a diagnosis by a doctor. Also, the materials said the terms “sex” and “gender” are no longer the same, according to information first published in The Federalist.
In 2014, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that affirmed “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.” It also said, “[W]e continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”
In addition, the resolution said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/27/2017 9:28:18 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New refugees welcomed by churches poised to help

July 27 2017 by Tobin Perry, SBC LIFE

Ibrahim was clearly puzzled by the hospitality of the American Christians who had shown him such love and care during his short time in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Refuge Ministry
Nepali refugee women have found a place of economic empowerment through Refuge Louisville’s MAYA ministry in which they fashion jewelry once a week.

“Why do you treat us better than our own people?” Ibrahim asked during a Thanksgiving meal last year hosted by Refuge Louisville, a ministry that equips local churches to minister to refugees.
To anyone who has heard Ibrahim’s life story, the question made sense. Injured by a missile, he had been evacuated to a hospital in Jordan and pressed into a refugee camp, according to the Refuge blog.
“We weren’t looking to the future – we were just alive,” Ibrahim said.
But at Refuge Louisville, he found a caring community of Christians who helped to welcome him into life in the United States.
Since last October, Refuge has worked with local churches from six denominations to mobilize more than 500 volunteers to support immigrants like Ibrahim. Emerging from the ministry of a Southern Baptist church plant five years ago, Refuge “exists to empower local churches to serve refugees and marginalized people in Louisville and beyond,” according to the organization’s mission statement.
Many of the refugees come from places where it’s tough for missionaries enter.
“We’ve all been trying to get into the 10/40 window forever,” John Barnett, executive director at Refuge Louisville, said of the global regions where masses are unreached by the gospel. “What if God is sending the 10/40 window to us? Are we ready? That’s what we’re equipping the church to be prepared for.”

Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Two refugee women from Myanmar prepare their part of a four-acre garden spot on land provided by Antioch Church in Louisville, Ky. The church partners with the city to prepare the soil for multiple family groups to cultivate individual gardens each spring and summer.

Kentucky resettles twice the number of refugees per capita as the national average, according to a December 2016 Pew Report. It also ranks in the top 10 among all states in resettled refugees per capita. In 2015, 61 percent the refugees arriving in Kentucky resettled in Louisville. Refuge Louisville says the city has refugees representing 120 nationalities and who speak more than 100 different languages.
Refuge is located in the heart of an area with the three largest apartment complexes housing refugees in Louisville. Antioch Church, founded by Todd Robertson, launched in the basement of one of the buildings in 2010. Though the church eventually moved, they realized it would be an ideal location to reach into the city’s growing refugee population.
“The idea for us was always – the key to reaching the refugee community was the church,” Robertson said. “We saw that building as a place that could be an incubator for new church plants, whether that be in what we were trying to do as a multi-ethnic congregation or whether it was through mono-ethnic, language-focused churches.” Robertson recently transitioned from Antioch to serve as director of missions for the Louisville Regional Baptist Association.
Barnett, a former 12-year missionary with the International Mission Board, describes Refuge Louisville as “intra-church” rather than para-church because the local church leads the effort.
“Everything we do comes out of the local church as an avenue to feed back into the local church,” Barnett said. “That’s why I call us intra-church. ... Normally a para-church would say no matter whether the local church gets involved, we’re going to continue the mission. The church planter in me, the local church guy in me, says I’d rather not exist than do that.”

Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Sharing a focus on ministering to refugees arriving in Kentucky are John Barnett, left, executive director at Refuge Louisville; Thomas Maijamaa, center, pastor of Evangelical Church Winning All; and Todd Robertson, director of missions for Louisville Regional Baptist Association.

Three major efforts are the primary focus of what Refuge Louisville now does.
First, they mobilize local church small groups of at least six people to serve as welcome teams for new refugees in a joint effort with area resettlement agencies. The teams pick up the refugees at the airport, help set up their new apartments and become a helpful resource and caring support during the refugee family’s early days in the city. At the end of the three-month commitment, the groups throw a “milestone party” to celebrate the family’s completion of a quarter of a year in the U.S.
“We’re meeting a huge need for these resettlement agencies [by helping with the resettlement process]. They are overrun,” Barnett said.
Second, Refuge matches partnering church members with refugees who have specific needs such as English classes, computer instruction, job search assistance and in-home tutoring. When Refuge discovers a need, Barnett said, they go to the churches to check for volunteers.
“We never want to be a top-down organization,” he said. “We want to serve from the bottom up. We want to help people discover their gifts. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had someone come for a few minutes and then they realize God wants them to use their gifts to minister to refugees.”
Third, Refuge provides churches with opportunities to immerse future church leaders and cross-cultural workers in an international context. In a yearlong immersion program, leaders are encouraged to move into a refugee community to engage refugees with gospel-focused relationships, be trained in cross-cultural ministry, deepen their relationship with God and learn to work in a team setting.
“We want people to be equipped to serve in an international setting without being intimidated by language or cultural differences,” Barnett said. “As they go through [the program] for a year, we’re teaching them how to do the highest-value activities, to use their natural gifts.”
Through the immersion, he noted, leaders get opportunities to share the gospel across varying cultures – a skill that the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board will want to see if they apply for missionary service.
As churches engage with refugees through Refuge Louisville, Barnett hopes they will eventually adopt communities as a whole and provide long-term initiatives and strategies to reach the refugees. Local churches have started two Arabic and one Afghan Bible study through Refuge.
“Local churches are getting excited,” Barnett said. “For many of these church members it’s the first time they’ve been on mission. They’re saying, ‘I never thought I’d share the gospel cross-culturally. I never thought I’d welcome a Syrian into my home. I never thought I’d go to a home of a Syrian. And I’d never really thought I would love to do it because God is using me.’”
For more information about Refuge Louisville, visit refugelouisville.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer based in Evansville, Ind. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE, sbclife.net, journal of the SBC Executive Committee.)

7/27/2017 9:04:33 AM by Tobin Perry, SBC LIFE | with 0 comments

Hawaii pro-life centers sue over abortion notice

July 27 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Pro-life pregnancy resource centers in Hawaii have filed suit against a new law requiring them to point women toward abortion access.

A Place for Women in Waipo, Hawaii

The law, signed by Gov. David Ige on July 11, requires pregnancy resource centers to post signs telling women about the state’s “family planning services.”
A Place for Women in Waipo, run by Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which has five affiliates in Hawaii, filed suit July 19 with help from the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Pregnancy centers must post signs on letter-sized paper in at least 22-point font or give each woman a notice in person when she checks in stating that:
“Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including, but not limited to, all FDA-approved methods of contraception and pregnancy-related services for eligible women. To apply online for medical insurance coverage that will cover the full range of family planning and prenatal care services, go to mybenefits.hawaii.gov. Only ultrasounds performed by qualified healthcare professionals and read by licensed clinicians should be considered medically accurate.”
In testimony before state lawmakers, Planned Parenthood officials claimed that pro-life pregnancy centers give biased, misleading and false information to women who seek their help.
The suit by Place for Women and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates states that the law violates the First Amendment by coercing pro-life centers “to engage in government-mandated speech.”
In a video posted to Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor’s Vimeo site, pastor Derald Skinner stands in front of shelves full of diapers, baby clothes, bottles and pregnancy information pamphlets. The law amounts to church persecution, he said.
“Our particular pro-life center is in our church,” Skinner noted. “So it’s very important to realize that they are dictating to us what we can and cannot say. Will they give me my sermon next and tell me what I can preach?”
Pregnancy centers that violate the law must pay up to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. The suit notes pregnancy centers are nonprofit organizations that offer free services and operate on limited budgets. Neither organization plans to comply.
Opponents of the law said it gives pro-life centers three “untenable” options: comply and violate their religious beliefs; face penalties or civil lawsuits for not complying; or stop operation entirely.
The law doesn’t apply to hospitals or other “comprehensive” organizations but only to “limited service pregnancy centers” defined as those that provide pregnancy tests, pregnancy options counseling, ultrasounds, prenatal care, reproductive health counseling and collect health information from clients.
Similar laws around the country have faced varied outcomes in court. Pro-life centers have won against laws requiring a government-mandated message in Maryland, Illinois, Austin, Texas and New York City.
But in California, pregnancy centers must tell women where they can get an abortion. Alliance Defending Freedom also represents the National Institute of Family and Life’s suit against the California law and has requested a Supreme Court review.
“Americans should always have the freedom to think and speak without fear of unjust government punishment. Freedom of speech also means the freedom to not express views that would violate one’s conscience,” attorney Elissa Graves of Alliance Defending Freedom said. “Because of the First Amendment’s protections, courts have repeatedly rejected these types of laws as unconstitutional.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of the WORLD News Group based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

7/27/2017 9:04:19 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

First a tornado, now theft strike New Orleans church

July 27 2017 by Louisiana Baptist Message staff

Just a few months from completing a renovation of its buildings heavily damaged by a tornado in February, a New Orleans church has suffered yet another setback – theft from its worship center.

Photo by Jeffrey Friend
Stephanie Friend, center, wife of Suburban Baptist Church pastor Jeffrey Friend, and another member of the congregation speak with a New Orleans police officer about the break-ins at the church.

Multiple times over a six-day period, burglars have broken into the worship center of Suburban Baptist Church and stolen office and construction equipment, pastor Jeffery Friend reported in a story published July 25 by the Baptist Message.
But just like the tornado failed to destroy the church’s spirit, Friend said the thefts will not stop the congregation from moving back into its buildings.
“I truly believe wherever God is showing out, you should look for Satan to show up,” Friend said. “I’m not surprised bad things have started to happen. In fact I anticipated it. But God has been doing amazing things at and for Suburban.”
Among the items stolen were three computers, two televisions, two printers, power tools and shingles. Until they can install a security system in two weeks, the church also has to pay $1,800 for overnight armed security guards.
Friend said an investigation by the New Orleans Police Department is ongoing.
An EF-3 tornado touched down in eastern New Orleans Feb. 7, heavily damaging the church’s facilities. More than 100 churches from across the U.S. responded to help rebuild the facilities in the months following the tornado.

Photo by Jeffrey Friend
Tools and other equipment were stolen over the course of multiple break-ins during a six-day period at Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Most recently, First Baptist Church in Haughton, La., worked on the rebuild and will continue doing so during the weekend of July 28 when they team up with Grace Baptist Church from Springfield, Tenn., to help finish the worship center. Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Haughton, is the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s president and Steve Freeman, pastor of Grace Baptist, is the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s president.
Friend is hoping the stolen equipment can be recovered so the rebuilding process can continue without many interruptions.
“Pray that the skilled help keeps coming and we can afford to go in when it’s time to go in,” the pastor said. “It would be terrible to go into a new building and it’s empty.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the staff of the Baptist Message, baptistmessage.com, news journal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

7/27/2017 8:54:57 AM by Louisiana Baptist Message staff | with 0 comments

Suicide bomber kills eight people in Maiduguri, Nigeria

July 27 2017 by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service

A female suicide bomber on July 17 killed at least eight people when she detonated explosives at a mosque in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri. The bombing is the latest in a spate of attacks by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram this month that have killed at least 43 people in the city.
Danbatta Bello, a spokesman for the civilian defense force, said two girls were strapped with explosives, but one got stuck in barbed wire in a ditch near the area. Bello said officials from the civilian defense force chased after the second girl.
“She rushed to the mosque and detonated the second bomb,” Bello said. “The first girl blew up where she was trapped.”
The explosion, which brought down the mosque, killed at least eight people and wounded 13. Bello said security officials killed two other female suicide bombers in another part of the city around the same time as the mosque attack.
The Nigerian military late last year said it had “crushed” the extremist group, but its sporadic attacks persist and have heightened in the past month.
On July 12, four suicide bombers killed 19 people and injured 23 others in Maiduguri when they first attacked civilian defense forces and then civilians who came out to mourn the dead. On July 3, Boko Haram militants raided the village of Ngalewa in southern Niger, 30 miles from the Nigerian border. Witnesses said the militants killed at least eight people and kidnapped about 40 women and children.
Earlier this month, Boko Haram released an unverified video of 10 kidnapped women calling on the government not to forget about them. The women were likely abducted in a June attack when the militants ambushed a 200-vehicle convoy on a highway connecting Maiduguri to the town of Damboa. Another video released earlier this month showed the public execution of eight men in northeastern Nigeria. Agence France-Presse reported one man who donned a white turban told the gathering villagers that the people facing execution were “apostates who have left the fold of Islam.” He warned the villagers of a similar fate should they defy the enforced Sharia law.
Martin Ewi, an analyst with South Africa–based Institute for Security Studies, confirmed terror attacks, especially in Maiduguri, have stepped up in the past month. Ewi said the killings signal that Boko Haram now has more opportunities to attack.
“It has either gathered strength, or the other party has relaxed,” he said, referring to a decline in security efforts in the area.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Onize Ohikere writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

7/27/2017 8:51:49 AM by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Newcomers, young adults embrace black church conference

July 26 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Ryan Littlejohn of Wichita, Kan., attended his first Black Church Leadership and Family Conference July 17-21 after hearing a glowing report of the previous year’s gathering.

Photo by Diana Chandler
Joseph Howard, far left, youth pastor of Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Rockmart, Ga., led evening coffee house discussions for young adults at the 2017 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference.

“I came because my pastor (Tarrance C. Floyd) and first lady (Jacqueline Floyd) came last year, and they just really, really loved what this place offered and everything they learned,” Littlejohn told Baptist Press (BP) on the grounds of Ridgecrest Conference Center, the site of the annual event. “And they shared it with the congregation, and a group of eight of us came here, based on just what they said. We came and it’s been everything and more thus far. I’m just excited and really learning a lot here.”
An evangelism leader in his mid-30s, Littlejohn was among 30 percent of the nearly 950 attendees who were newcomers to the 2017 event, according to conference host LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
“I just love coming together with fellow believers and then just all the things you’re adding to what you already know,” Littlejohn said. “And it just has so much to add to your life and to your ministries, and even opening your eyes up to some future things and more things that you can do, not just what you’re doing now.”
Littlejohn also is among a growing demographic of millennials and young adults the conference is attracting, said Mark Croston, LifeWay’s national director for black church partnerships.
“We have been trying to be more intentional about adding classes and activities focused on this important growth area,” Croston said. “Among the activities are our evening Young Adult Coffee Houses, a zip line course and laser tag, to mention a few. Joseph Howard, youth pastor, Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, Rockmart, Ga., led our young adult efforts this year and the group has given us even more engaging activities we are already planning for 2018.”

Photo by Diana Chandler
Mark Croston, national director for black church partnerships of LifeWay Christian Resources, wore his “mission possible” shades during each evening worship service of the 2017 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C.

Young adults could be seen participating in various conference sessions, including a small group of about 15 who participated in the post-evening worship coffee house discussions on contemporary topics and issues important to the demographic.
Racial reconciliation, sexual orientation and gender identity, the black church and politics and the biblical call to protect life at every stage comprised a conference track of classes focusing on contemporary issues. Classes were categorized into nearly 30 tracks, including the Bible, church growth, evangelism, personal finance, missions, women’s ministry, men’s ministry and seminary-level instruction and discussion.
“What makes this conference unique is that there really is something for the entire church family,” Croston told BP. “As we plan, we specifically pray and plan to meet the current needs of our church leaders and the age-appropriate needs of their families. This event is information, inspiration, exhilaration and relaxation all wrapped up in one.”
Attendance included 705 adults, about 170 sixth- through 12th-graders enrolled in Centrifuge camp (Fuge), and 50 children through fifth grade enrolled in preschool and day camp.
A week of events specifically designed for children culminated with a children’s choral performance, including Spanish and sign language, during the July 20 evening worship service, under the direction of children’s music leader Russell M. Andrews, minister of music of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va. He also led 6:15 a.m. daily praise and worship.

Contributed photo
About 25 African American employees of Southern Baptist entities and ministries attended the 2017 annual business meeting of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network (BSBDSN) during the 2017 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Officers are president Charles Grant, church partner, black and urban churches, LifeWay Christian Resources; vice president Port Wilburn, associational director of missions, San Francisco and Peninsula Baptist Association; secretary Diana Chandler, writer/editor, Baptist Press; and acting treasurer Roy Cotton Sr., director, African American Ministries, Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Fuge camp pastor Al Hollie, youth pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., along with Fuge director Bianca Howard, children and youth minister of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and Fuge worship leader Vernon Gordon, pastor of New Life Church in Richmond, Va., conveyed the enthusiasm of camp participants with a video and verbal reports after the children’s choral performance. A liturgical dance performance by Calvary’s Anointed Mime & Vessels of Praise Dance Ministry of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., encompassed children and youth.
Evening preachers were Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md.; Eric Geiger, vice president of the resources division of LifeWay; Peter Wherry, senior pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.; and Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Mountain View, Calif.
Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., led conference-wide adult Bible study daily at 11 a.m., adapted from LifeWay’s You curriculum tailored for urban audiences.
The North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board jointly hosted a complimentary dinner emphasizing stateside and international Southern Baptist missions.
Other Key speakers among a team of more than 50 included Kim Hardy, co-founder of Married with Purpose and Passion and wife of the pastor of LifePoint Church, Marietta, Ga.; Tamiko Jones, a Woman’s Missionary Union consultant and minister of missions and young adults at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas; Jerome Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa.; and Frederick A. Davis, senior pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.
Roy Cotton II, director of music and creative arts at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, led evening worship, joined by his wife Niya Cotton, worship leader of Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas.
The Black Denominational Servants Network, open to African American Southern Baptists employed by SBC entities, Southern Baptist state conventions and associations and Woman’s Missionary Union, held its annual business meeting during the conference.
Registration has already begun for the 2018 conference, scheduled July 16-20 at Ridgecrest.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
Related article:
Black church conference: nurture, fellowship & praise

7/26/2017 10:21:53 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gallup: Non-denominational Protestants on the rise

July 26 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Data pointing to a dwindling percentage of Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination has spurred calls for churches marked by God’s “presence and power” and for reemphasis of biblical doctrine.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Steve Gaines said a strong denominational identity doesn’t seem to hinder the church he pastors or the SBC. Still, the manifest work of God in a church is far more important than its denominational identity, he told Baptist Press (BP).
“We are ‘Bellevue Baptist Church,’” Gaines said of the Memphis-area congregation he leads. “I don’t believe the word ‘Baptist’ hinders our ministry. I don’t believe being part of the SBC hurts us. I believe if what is happening in and through a specific local church is Christ-honoring and Spirit-anointed, people will come and get involved regardless of what the name of the church is or what denomination it is part of.”
According to the Gallup polling organization, just 30 percent of American adults identified with a specific Protestant denomination in 2016, down from 50 percent in 2000. Over the same timeframe, the percentage of Americans who regard themselves as Christians without claiming a specific denomination rose from 9 percent to 17 percent, a July 18 news release stated.
“I’m convinced that we should seek to have churches that are marked by the supernatural presence and power of God,” Gaines said in written comments. “If people sense the presence of Jesus at a church, they will come and be part of what God is doing. And they won’t care whether that church is part of a denomination or not.”
Gallup claimed the shrinking percentage of Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination stems from two realities:
– “There are fewer Protestants of any kind in the American population today.” Thus, “the pool of those who identify with a specific Protestant denomination is smaller.”
Protestants shrank from 57 percent of the population in 2000 to 47 percent in 2016, Gallup stated. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who do not claim a religious identity of any kind rose from 10 percent to 20 percent.
– Those who self-identify as Christians increasingly put themselves in the “non-denominational category.”
Of Americans who do claim a specific Protestant denominational identity, Baptists are the largest group with 10 percent of the population. Some 3 percent identified specifically as Southern Baptists in 2016, down from 8 percent in 2000.
Gaines said the lack of denominational loyalty seems to parallel a lack of loyalty to corporations and brands among Americans, with workers frequently transferring “from company to company” unlike they did in previous generations.
“Whether [the lack of organizational loyalty] is good or bad, I don’t know,” Gaines said. “But it is reality. That’s why many churches have chosen to remove the name of their denomination from the name of their church. Many churches in the SBC have removed the word ‘Baptist’ from their identity. Again, I can’t say whether that is right or wrong. That is between them and the Lord.”
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, told BP he is “not surprised” by Gallup’s findings.
“As we have [a] greater [number of] therapeutic pulpits and fewer pulpits preaching clear biblical doctrine, theological (thus denominational) identity gets muddy, cloudy and irrelevant,” Smith said in written comments. “I’ve always felt a responsibility to make sure ... members [of churches I pastored] have understood why we are Baptist.”
Smith added, “Sadly, for many ‘Baptist’ is a sociological indicator, rather than an exegetical/ecclesiological one. ... Historic Protestant identity and confessions will be more important heading forward because ‘evangelical’ is becoming more and more useless” as a theological descriptor amid a vast number of people who claim that identity without holding key theological beliefs traditionally associated with evangelicalism.
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., told BP the rejection of denominations may be a rejection of stereotypes associated with those groups rather than a rejection of their doctrine.
“While many say they prefer a non-denominational church, I think their bigger concern is not wanting to be a part of a church that fits their stereotypes of certain denominations,” Greear said in written comments. “If a church is big on the gospel, the mission and loving each other, then denominational affiliation is less of an issue.
“In other words, I don’t think the answer is downplaying our denominational affiliations, but on ‘playing up’ gospel love. The greatest challenge is to clearly proclaim the gospel message to a society that has increasing numbers of people who have faith in nothing,” Greear said.
Smith urged Southern Baptists to emphasize Baptist distinctives, like believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership, in their discipleship processes.
“We have the Baptist Faith and Message,” Smith said. “The question is, do we care? Discipleship includes learning biblical truth. We need to do better in many cases.”
Churches “that have a membership process,” Smith said, generally have membership classes with “a doctrinal component” and teach theology well. He expressed concern about the health of churches that emphasize “lowest-common-denominator” Christianity and eschew points of doctrine that distinguish denominations from one another.
Such churches tend to “lack biblical and theological clarity and explicit identity,” Smith said.
Yet amid the increasingly non-denominational milieu, Smith said, “I feel pretty good about [the SBC’s] identity, as it is so driven by Great Commission passions” – especially surrounding the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.
Gallup’s 2016 data was drawn from telephone interviews of 2,053 adults May 4-8 and Dec. 7-11. The margin of error in the survey was plus or minus 3 percent at the 95 percent confidence rate, according to the release.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/26/2017 10:19:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump administration cuts target contraceptive-based sex ed.

July 26 2017 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

Teen pregnancy prevention programs that advocate the use of contraceptives have been notified by the Trump administration their federal funding will be cut by more than $200 million annually.
Ascend, formerly the National Abstinence Education Association, lauded the cuts as appropriate given the “controversial and explicit” nature of some sex education programs used in public schools.
“The cuts signal a concern over programs that many parents and school administrators have found to be controversial and explicit,” said Mary Anne Mosack, Ascend’s executive director. “These programs were held up as model programs for the country, but we found that in many regards they did not have the required body of research behind them to be considered model programs. It’s not surprising to me that these cuts have taken place.”
The cuts, announced this month, will not take full effect until next year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“On July 1, HHS awarded 81 continuations for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grant awards,” an HHS spokesperson told Baptist Press (BP). “All of these grantees were given a project end date of June 30, 2018. The President’s [Fiscal Year] 2018 Budget eliminated funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, so our grants office informed the grantees of their June 30, 2018, end date, to give them an opportunity to adjust their programs and plan for an orderly closeout.”
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is an “evidence-based program that funds diverse organizations working to prevent teen pregnancy across the United States,” according to the HHS website. At least some program initiatives seek to increase the frequency with which teens use contraception during sexual activity, the website stated.
Despite being the recipient of more than 90 percent of federal sex education funding, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has not drastically decreased teen pregnancy, according to a report released by the American Journal of Public Health. Some 80 percent of the time, participants in the program fared no better or worse than other teens in terms of preventing pregnancy, the report stated.
Teen pregnancy has declined steadily over the past 20 years, according to HHS, but America still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among developed countries.
Valerie Huber, chief of staff at HHS’s Office of Adolescent Health, is the former president and CEO of Ascend and was a chief proponent of the HHS cuts, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In an October op-ed for the Daily Caller, Huber highlighted the importance of teen sexual abstinence.
“The healthiest message for youth is one that gives youth the skills and information to avoid the risks of teen sex, not merely reduce them,” Huber wrote. “This is the kind of message we give to youth when we encourage them not to smoke, to exercise more and to avoid underage drinking.”
Opponents of the HHS cuts say a lack of federal funding for contraceptive-based programs will increase the teen pregnancy rate. Kelly Wilson, a health and kinesiology professor at Texas A&M University and lead researcher for its Innovative Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs project, told NPR the cuts will “impact teens across the nation.”
“I think that this entire cut to eliminate the evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, to eliminate Title X Family Planning Programs definitely shows that there is a change in the atmosphere at multiple levels,” Wilson said. “We absolutely need these kind of programs [and] there are still different populations that have high teen birthrates that need to be impacted. Hispanic girls are still more likely to experience teen birth compared to their white counterparts.”
Ascend will continue to advocate increased funding of sexual risk avoidance programs, which encourage teens to delay sexual activity, Mosak told BP.
“We certify over 1,000 different sexual risk avoidance educators across the country,” Mosak said. “We want to continue to empower educators to understand what the sexual risk avoidance message is and to give them the skills and the research they need to effectively teach in the classroom. The ultimate goal is to get the message of avoiding sex to the student at the granular level.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Woodman, who will be a senior journalism major at the University of Missouri, is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)

7/26/2017 10:16:27 AM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Houseparents sow spiritual seeds at children’s home

July 26 2017 by Hannah Hanzel, Baptist Messenger

“When we first came, the Holy Spirit just kept saying over and over again, ‘This is your home.’ It still feels like home to this day. This is where God wants us to be,” Lieschen Saale said while rocking back and forth in her living room.

Photo by Hannah Hanzel
Houseparent Lieschen Saale voices a calling with her husband David to nurture each child they serve through Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, not knowing when the Spirit may “bloom” in one of their lives.

Lieschen and her husband David left their ministry and home in New Mexico nearly 14 years ago to begin a new season of life with Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC) in Oklahoma City.
Seasons seem to be a recurring theme with the Saales. Long before their calling to be houseparents at OBHC, their first season as a young couple with children formed their entire ministry.
Lieschen and David, as parents of two children, Cathleen and Clinton, were involved in church ministries ranging from Acteens to Royal Ambassadors. They served in children’s and youth ministry and even volunteered as Wednesday night cooks at their church for a time. As young adults, they felt the call to vocational ministry but didn’t know where specifically the Lord wanted them to serve.
One year, their daughter fell ill. To obtain the best treatment, Lieschen had to be separated from her husband for a considerable period of time.
It was during this season of separation and isolation that the Lord began to do a work in David’s heart. Soon he was speaking openly to Lieschen about finding a ministry they could serve in together full time.
Once their daughter’s health began to improve, the Saales began praying and searching and were soon hired to work at the Eagles Wings Youth Ranch in New Mexico where they served for three years.
The ranch’s primary ministry was caring for at-risk children. The children would stay for one week and receive counseling, individual growth exercises and spiritual guidance. Many of these exercises came in the form of regular ranch work such as working in the on-site garden and caring for the livestock.
Recalling her time at Eagles Wings, Lieschen said, “We would see kids step on campus looking so totally defeated. Within just one week, the change in those kids was unbelievable. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. Only God could use just one week to change an entire lifetime.”

Photo by Hannah Hanzel
Lieschen Saale, second from right, a houseparent with Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, uses a bunny care ministry to teach residents responsibility and how to serve others.

As the Saales began to see God’s work in a one-week experience, they began asking Him what the next season of ministry for their family.
Houseparenting, to most, can be a scary thought. But the Saales knew that was the next step for them. After much research, they found an open position through an online resource, and in a matter of weeks they were on their way to Oklahoma City for an interview with the Baptist children’s home there.
From the moment they stepped on campus to the moment the interview concluded, the Spirit of God repeated the same message to Lieschen again and again, “This is your home.”
After accepting the position and moving in, the Saales got to work. Compared to connecting one week with kids, they now had anywhere from months to years to invest in them.
Asked what the hardest part about her ministry is, Lieschen smiled through tears, “Letting go.” While healthy reunification with the children’s family is the goal of Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, it is the hardest part for houseparents.
As the boys and girls grow and learn in their homes on the OBHC campus, they develop family ties with those around them. Through these relationships they experience true family and true love, more specifically – Christ’s love.
Along with having to let go, houseparents often have to face the hard truth of not getting to see OBHC residents to spiritual fruition.
A joyful smile returned to Lieschen’s face when describing her favorite part of being a houseparent. “To be honest, some of the children come from abuse and abandonment, so they don’t have hardly any good childhood memories. So it is our desire to create some for them to recall later in life,” whether they’re hiking the Wichita Mountains, having a picnic or jumping into the springs in Sulphur.
Through such activities as a rabbit ministry focused on serving, tea parties focused on purity in young women or working on an annual summer mission trip, the Baptist children’s home keeps children learning and serving year-round.
“Our work involves planting a lot of spiritual seeds. Sometimes our work just barely scratches the top of the soil,” Lieschen said. “Sometimes we actually get to plant the seed. But in this ministry, seldom do we see the flowers. This is our calling, whether we see the Spirit bloom in a child or not. Our calling is to do what we can with each child who comes to us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hannah Hanzel writes for the Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

7/26/2017 10:13:05 AM by Hannah Hanzel, Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

Millennial and bivocational: church’s intentional DNA

July 26 2017 by Alex Sibley, SWBTS

As both a crew member at Trader Joe’s and a minister at Progression Church in Baton Rouge, La., Joe Handy essentially gets to pastor two locations – his “Trader Joe’s campus” and his “Progression Church campus.”

Photo by Matt Miller
Lead pastor Brian Crain, left, meets with two of Progression Church’s bivocational staff, teaching pastor Joe Handy, center, and pastor of children and family ministries Joe Ashley.

At Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain, Handy rubs shoulders with nearly 85 coworkers from a wide range of social, cultural, political and spiritual backgrounds, most of whom have little to no interest in visiting a church.
“So I try to pastor them right where they are,” Handy says. “I’m the only pastor some of them have. I love that I have opportunity to bring church to them.
“As they get to know me,” he continues, “trust builds, and I get to play the role of friend and pastor in their lives,” though they sometimes never realize it. “It’s fun seeing the worlds of Progression Church and Trader Joe’s collide like that.”
Handy is one of four bivocational ministers on Progression Church’s five-person pastoral team. Lead pastor Brian Crain is Progression’s only full-time staff member, though he did begin as a bivocational minister. Needless to say, bivocational ministry is an important part of Progression’s DNA, paving the way for avenues of ministry that otherwise would have been unavailable.
Progression Church was planted in January 2014, but discussions for the church’s formation began at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary years earlier. Crain, Handy and Joe Ashley – who now serve as Progression’s lead pastor, teaching pastor and pastor of children and family ministries, respectively – were students at the Fort Worth campus and often spoke about planting a church together. After much discussion and prayer, they felt the Lord leading them back to their home state of Louisiana and specifically to reach out to millennials in the region.

Photo by Matt Miller
Lead pastor Brian Crain shares his message with the predominantly millennial Progression Church in Baton Rouge, La.

“When I was in a youth ministry class taught by Dr. Johnny Derouen, he mentioned some stats about the millennial generation,” Crain recounts. “He taught us that the millennial generation was the largest in American history and the most lost. That was one of the moments that clicked with me as to what God wanted me to do with my life; I wanted to plant a church that would reach my generation and the generations to come.”
Crain and Ashley graduated from Southwestern with master of divinity degrees in 2013. Along with Handy, who continues to pursue his master of theology, they and their respective families formed half of Progression Church’s six-family launch team in Baton Rouge.
Regarding the context in which they now serve, Ashley says, “It’s pretty fun when, on any given Sunday, you may see a Southern Baptist blue blood, a liberal from the Northeast, a recovering hardcore drug addict, a classic prodigal child, some dude with a dog, and a Catholic school prodigy growing in Christ and worshiping Him together.”
Each of the team credits their time at Southwestern with preparing them to face the challenges of doing ministry in this context.
“At Southwestern, I began to understand the value of the scriptures, how to correctly handle them and how to help others understand them,” Handy says. “This has served me well in a culture that has a faulty sense of direction and little regard for truth.” Crain adds, “Southwestern helped me feel confident to pastor and teach the Bible because I was taught the answers to the questions I had or where to find them.”
Three years after its launch, Progression Church, which meets in Louisiana State University’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) building, now has two worship services, 10 small groups and an average attendance of 125. Despite this growth, however, the church can only support one full-time minister. After Ashley and Handy, the remaining ministers are the two-person worship team of Ryan Andress and Michael Young.

Understanding the workplace

Photo by Matt Miller
Joe Ashley, bivocational pastor of children and family ministries for Progression Church, works in maintenance and repair for a property management company in Baton Rouge, La. He didn’t become a church planter “to play it safe,” so “I figure if your boss has a talk with you about how you are overtly sharing the gospel with your coworkers, you are doing something right.”

Ashley, who does maintenance and repair for a property management company, says bivocational ministry allows pastors and members of the congregation to better relate to one another. “Many pastors would be surprised to find out that their congregation is having trouble relating to them,” he says. “It is a different world to work with unbelievers for a company whose main purpose is to make money.”
Handy agrees, saying that working in both spheres grants him credibility and insight. “I see both sides of the story,” he says. “I know what it is like to be a pastor; I also know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a layman. I understand some of the unique struggles that come with a secular work environment. Seeing both sides of the picture influences the way I teach and interact with my people in the church.”
Another benefit of bivocational ministry is a greater opportunity to meet and interact with lost people, Ashley says, noting, “The person who only works for the church can have a hard time being evangelistic outside of the pulpit, not because of apathy but because he does not know many lost people unless they come to church.
“At the job I have now,” he continues, “I got to explicitly share the gospel with a man in my very first week. The person who is solely employed by the church can certainly overcome these disadvantages if he works at it, but the bivocational minister typically finds these issues resolved naturally.”
For Handy, “it’s been cool to see the progress of some of my coworkers. For some, it’s exploring the scriptures for themselves or attending church for the first time in years. Some have trusted Jesus for the first time; others have been baptized or joined our church.”
Crain says that Handy “constantly” has people from Trader Joe’s coming to church with him and has already baptized two of his coworkers. The first of these was the first person ever baptized at Progression Church.
This person, whose name is Kyle, was already a believer when he met Handy but had never been baptized and had fallen away from church. But, at Handy’s invitation, he attended Progression’s launch service, became involved with the church immediately thereafter and was then baptized by Handy.
Handy was later privileged to baptize another of his coworkers, Craig. He and Handy had had a conversation about grace one day at work. Handy then bought Craig a Bible and brought him to Progression Church. This led to multiple conversations about what it means to follow Jesus, and after a few months, Craig gave his life to Christ on the park bench in front of the store. Following his public profession of faith through baptism, Craig has since become one of the most faithful members at Progression Church.
“It’s always a surreal moment for me,” Handy says of baptizing fellow Trader Joe’s employees. “It’s just a snapshot of what God is doing in that store as a whole.”
Ashley says he didn’t become a church planter “to play it safe,” so “I figure if your boss has a talk with you about how you are overtly sharing the gospel with your coworkers, you are doing something right.”
“Thankfully for me,” Ashley continues, “he was a believer and told me to keep going. I did not tell him this, but I was going to continue anyway. I already had permission from my other boss.”
Among the challenges Progression Church’s bivocational ministers face are fatigue, the sense that there is not enough time in the week and the need to be a good employee on two separate fronts.
“It is rare that we have a meeting where everyone is there,” Ashley says about Progression’s staff. “You have to give people space to miss stuff to go provide for their families. This means we have to work harder at staying unified as a staff.” Solutions include texting one another often (or, in Ashley’s words, “a lot ... a whole lot”) and having lunch together regularly.
Despite the challenges, Crain sees the team having an impact for the Kingdom inside as well as outside the church, noting that lives have been changed, people have fallen more in love with Jesus and believers in the workforce have come to see how their workplaces can be mission fields. “We have been faithful to make disciples of Jesus in Baton Rouge, and we have reached millennials as we felt led to do,” he says. “So yes, so far so good.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Sibley is associate director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in the seminary’s Southwestern News magazine.)

7/26/2017 10:02:24 AM by Alex Sibley, SWBTS | with 0 comments

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