July 2018

Still jailed in Turkey, Brunson gave ‘bold’ witness

July 20 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

American pastor Andrew Brunson’s continued imprisonment in Turkey following a July 18 court hearing is probably an act of political maneuvering rather than Islamic persecution, two Islamic studies professors say.
 

Submitted photo
Andrew Brunson, in a photo taken by his mother Pam while visiting him in prison last October.

Resurgent conservative Islam in Turkey is, however, part of the background, the professors say, that led to Brunson’s October 2016 arrest and subsequent imprisonment over what religious liberty watchdogs have called unfounded charges of terrorism and espionage.
 
“I am not in a position to speculate on why Brunson (as opposed to other Americans, who are permitted to practice their Christianity freely in Turkey) was arrested,” said Ant Greenham, associate professor of missions and Islamic studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “False accusations seem to have played a role. However, [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is now in a position of greater strength, following the lifting of [a] state of emergency” July 18.
 
“So, without seeking to preempt the procedures of the Turkish judiciary, it is my hope that the president would use his good offices to effect Andrew Brunson’s release soon, pending a further hearing on October 12th, 2018, should that prove to be necessary,” Greenham told Baptist Press in written comments.
 
Erodgan survived an attempted coup in 2016 and has since cracked down on thousands of alleged coup supporters. He has accused Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, of masterminding the coup. Brunson’s continued incarceration, Greenham said, is “linked to Washington’s refusal (for want of sufficient evidence) to extradite Gulen.”
 
During Wednesday’s hearing for Brunson, former members of the Presbyterian church he pastored for six years in Izmir “made vague, unsubstantiated” accusations against him for nearly two hours, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported. When the judge asked Brunson, 50, to reply, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”
 
Speaking in Turkish, Brunson told the court, “It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children,” according to Reuters. He added, “There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in His name. Now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’ name.”
 
The judge ordered Brunson, who has lived in Turkey since 1993, to remain in prison until a fourth court hearing Oct. 12. If convicted, he could face up to 35 years in jail.
 
Bill Campbell, a North Carolina pastor who attended the hearing, told World Watch Monitor, “As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew. Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness. The court allowed for the first time a favorable witness, and one who was to speak against him actually spoke in Andrew’s favor. It felt like they had decided the outcome before the trial.”
 
Greenham said he doesn’t believe “Islam (or Islamic theology) is the primary factor in Andrew Brunson’s continued imprisonment.”
 
Ayman Ibrahim, an Islamic studies professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed that Erdogan seems to be leveraging Brunson in an attempt to secure U.S. extradition of Gulen. Ibrahim added that the “background of ... Turkey’s religious and political scene” is Erdogan’s reassertion of conservative Islam in Turkish politics, where “conservatives have often been on the loser side” since the 1950s.
 
“Muslim conservatives undoubtedly believe and support him, as they seek to restore the glorious days of Islam and, of course, the strong ‘Muslim’ empire,” Ibrahim told BP in written comments. “This is remarkably evidenced by the support he has been giving to Muslim Brotherhood members and to the political regime at Qatar.
 
“Erdogan relentlessly encourages and advances rhetoric of Islam’s hegemony to ensure his political base is secured. In my estimation, his use of religious claims is only a tool to secure his strong political fist. He is significantly supported in his endeavor by his unprecedented control of the news media,” Ibrahim said.
 
U.S. President Donald Trump, members of his administration and members of Congress all have urged Turkey to release Brunson.
 
Trump tweeted July 18 that Brunson’s imprisonment is a “total disgrace” and Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father.” Brunson has, Trump said, “been held hostage far too long.”
 
Among religious freedom advocates calling for Brunson’s release, USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga said, “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson. Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”

7/20/2018 12:23:42 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Stateside pastors begin Virgin Island partnerships

July 20 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Pastors leading U.S. Virgin Island churches still recovering from devastating 2017 hurricanes are receiving new stateside ministry partners as another hurricane season threatens.
 

Photo by Diana Chandler
Lennox Zamore, pastor of Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church, leads a time of prayer for pastors and their wives from the U.S. Virgin Islands during the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference.

Seven pastors leading the only Southern Baptist congregations on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas are networking with stateside leaders as guests of the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest Conference Center through July 21.
 
“It has been the worst year, and yet it has been the best year,” Reginald Joseph, pastor of Cruz Bay Baptist Church on St. John, said at a July 17 networking event. “The hurricane [Maria] has done a number on us, but God has blessed us.”
 
Dennis Mitchell, executive director of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of nearly 4,000 Southern Baptist churches, told Baptist Press the partnering initiative is led cooperatively by NAAF, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and LifeWay Christian Resources Black Church Partnerships.
 
“We made a commitment [after hurricanes Irma and Maria] that we would adopt all of those seven churches,” Mitchell said. “Part of that adoption process was to commit ourselves to doing everything we could do to mobilize other African American churches to come in and partner with those guys.
 
 “Ken Weathersby at the Executive Committee made a commitment to fund bringing the pastors and their wives over here, and then we [NAAF and LifeWay Black Church Partnerships] would provide some platforms and some venues to get them connected with potential partner churches,” Mitchell said. “It really was a collaboration.”
 
Weathersby, EC vice president for convention advancement, introduced the pastors on the opening night of the Ridgecrest conference July 16 and helped facilitate a ministry partner match-up after the July 17 evening worship service.
 
“These are some of the sharpest brothers on the island,” Weathersby said July 17, noting the pastors’ diligence and hard work. After the hurricanes, “they did not leave their posts.”
 
James Dixon, pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., exhorted stateside pastors in facilitating the July 17 meeting. Dixon leads his congregation on about 10 mission trips a year, he said, including local, national and international outreach.
 
“A church not doing missions needs to go out of business,” Dixon told the 50 stateside pastors and ministry leaders who attended the event. “What’s the point? Because that’s what it’s all about. ... I really love missions, and it excites me when I see things going forward to meet the needs of people.”
 
Needs among island pastors are varied, including construction repairs, church vans, song books, sign language instruction and essential repairs to rainwater collection systems.
 
“The road ahead is a little steep, so we could use some prayer support,” said Andrew George, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church on St. Thomas. Hurricane Maria destroyed four of the five buildings at Bluewater Bible College that the church supports. Roof repairs are essential, George said, as roof gutters are used to collect rainwater for islanders’ use.
 
Lawrence Turnbull, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church on St. Thomas, said the “love and concern” shown by stateside pastors increases his determination “to work more diligently for the Lord, understanding that I’m not alone in what I’m doing.”
 
Power has been restored and some homes have been repaired as St. Thomas continues to recover from the 2017 hurricanes, Turnbull said. But homeowners are plagued by many concurrent problems involved in recovery, he said, such as inadequate insurance, disreputable contractors and many residents’ departing the island for the States. Public school enrollment has dropped by 50 percent on the island, he said, evidencing residential flight.
 
Yet, the tragedy has had a beneficial spiritual component, Turnbull told BP.
 
“Our church in particular has grown since the storm as people realize the need for God more than before,” said Turnbull, whose membership of about 100 includes six new converts and seven new members who had already professed salvation.
 
“Overall, I think it has positively impacted the spiritual lives of the people,” he said. “We used to have a lot of crimes in the island and since the hurricanes, crimes have declined.”
 
None of his members relocated to the U.S. mainland. Although their homes were damaged, they were able to complete repairs.
 
“We were fortunate and we were blessed,” Turnbull said.
 
John Smith Jr., pastor of Shepherd’s Fold Community Church on St. Croix, invited church mission teams.
 
“We need you,” Smith said. Leading one of only two Southern Baptist congregations on St. Croix, Smith cited baptism figures of about 55 converts in the past two years.
 
U.S. Virgin Island churches cooperate with the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC). Jeffery Singletary, an FBC regional catalyst, mobilized three “Feeding the 5,000” evangelistic crusades to the islands in late 2017 and January.
 
Singletary described the new stateside involvement as phenomenal.
 
“It means that we are moving from conversation to action,” Singletary told BP. “And to see these [NAAF] pastors embrace fellow pastors who’ve experienced hardship that none of us would ever wish upon anyone to experience, and to not just open their hearts but their arms, and to embrace them and to say that you are part of us, and we are in the struggle with you – it means so much to me.”
 
In addition to Joseph, George, Turnbull and Smith, attending the conference are St. Thomas pastors Felix Durand of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church and Robert Nelson of Bovoni Baptist Church along with El John, pastor of Bible Baptist Church on St. Croix.
 
Lennox Zamore, who pastored Ebenezer Memorial Baptist prior to his pastorate at Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church in Florida, also attended the meeting at the North Carolina conference center.

7/20/2018 12:17:51 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



LifeWay's former Sullivan Tower to be imploded

July 20 2018 by LifeWay & Baptist Press Staff

Implosion of the 11-story Sullivan Tower on the former campus of LifeWay Christian Resources is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 21.

Sullivan Tower, on Ninth Avenue North in downtown Nashville, was built in phases from 1940-1956 and named for James L. Sullivan, president of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) from 1953-1975.
 
The SBC Building, located directly across the street from the tower, may experience a disruption in internet service. The SBC Building houses the SBC Executive Committee, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Southern Baptist Foundation and Seminary Extension. Among the Executive Committee websites that may be disrupted for an undetermined length of time are sbc.net, bpnews.net and sbclife.net due to cable service located underneath the street of the implosion.
 
Sullivan Tower originally was used as an administration building, with its basement and first two floors completed in 1940. Nine more floors were added from 1950 to 1956. The six-story north wing was constructed in 1922, with a structure connecting it to the Sullivan Tower built in 1960.
 
Sullivan Tower and the other buildings on LifeWay’s former property are being cleared as part of a mixed-use redevelopment called The Nashville Yards, which will include a hotel, office buildings, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues. The controlled implosion will include a number of road closures and restricted access around the perimeter of the building. In January, developers imploded the 12-story Draper Tower named for former LifeWay President Jimmy Draper.
 
The nearby Frost Building, named for LifeWay’s first president, James M. Frost, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is not a part of the demolition.
 
LifeWay completed the sale of its 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville in November 2015. The campus encompassed nine buildings with more than 1 million square feet.
 
LifeWay employees moved to the newly constructed headquarters in the Capitol View downtown development in November 2017. The new 277,000-square-foot headquarters also houses a LifeWay retail store.
 
LifeWay is one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, music, church supplies, events. Established in Nashville in 1891, the company owns and operates more than 170 LifeWay Christian Stores throughout the United States as well as Ridgecrest Christian Conference Center in North Carolina.

7/20/2018 12:11:06 PM by LifeWay & Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments



‘Word Matters’ podcast celebrates 50th episode

July 20 2018 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

Bible readers may be tempted to skip challenging passages like 1 Corinthians 15:29, which speaks of people being baptized for the dead, or Genesis 6:4, which references the Nephilim – a mysterious people the King James Version calls giants.
 

Trevin Wax, left, and Brandon Smith, right.

But puzzling passages like these are worth extra attention for Brandon Smith and Trevin Wax.
 
The two pastors who serve on the Bible and reference team at LifeWay Christian Resources have spent the last three years examining difficult passages of the Bible through their “Word Matters” podcast – which will mark its 50th episode on July 30.
 
“As pastors and Bible teachers, we often found it difficult to find simple, accessible audio resources for some of the most confusing and controversial passages of the Bible,” said Smith, editor for Holman Bibles at LifeWay and a pastor at City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. “So, when Trevin and I started the podcast, we thought it would be fun and exciting to create the resource we wish we had.”
 
The Word Matters podcast now reaches tens of thousands of listeners each month. It’s an accomplishment Smith finds stunning.
 
“When we started this podcast, we knew the number of questions could be endless,” he said, “but we had no idea our audience would grow to the point of justifying 50 episodes and counting.”
 
The pair’s 50th episode will examine the book of Jude. Smith and Wax will discuss Jude’s citing of an exchange between the archangel Michael and Satan – a story that isn’t found anywhere else in Scripture and is thought to have come from the noncanonical book “The Assumption of Moses.” The episode will address whether extrabiblical books are authoritative.
 
In each episode of Word Matters, Smith and Wax discuss a challenging passage, explore interpretations, offer potential solutions and walk through practical ways to teach the text.
 
They often invite Bible teachers and scholars to serve as podcast guests. Past episodes have featured Jen Wilkin, Tom Schreiner, David Allen, Russell Moore, Jonathan Pennington and George Guthrie.
 
Popular “Word Matters” episodes have asked:

  • What is the meaning of 666? (Revelation 13)

  • Can Christians lose their salvation? (Hebrews 6)

  • What is the sin that leads to death? (1 John 5)

  • Should Christians submit to the government in all instances? (Romans 13)

Wax, who serves as LifeWay’s Bible and reference publisher and as teaching pastor at Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, said he appreciates the way the podcast format serves the church by providing a way for Christians to wrestle with difficult passages of Scripture during a commute or workout.
 
“I’ve always loved radio for the way sounds and voices stir up my imagination,” Wax said. “Downloading podcasts has become ‘the radio’ for me – a way of diving into one of my favorite methods of communication and learning on the go.”
 
Listeners can subscribe to Word Matters through the website, Wordmatters.com, or listen to episodes through iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher and RSS feed.
 
New episodes also are announced on Twitter, @WordMattersPod.

7/20/2018 11:58:18 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



IMB, ex-missionary’s accuser differ over abuse response

July 19 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The International Mission Board (IMB) and an alleged sexual assault victim of a former missionary have presented differing accounts of how the board handled an investigation of the alleged misconduct.
 

Mark Aderholt

After Baptist Press published a July 16 update on the case of former IMB missionary Mark Aderholt – who has been charged in Fort Worth, Texas, with sexual assault of a child under 17 – his alleged victim, Anne Marie Miller, sent an email to BP disputing the IMB’s representation of its 2007 investigation into the alleged misconduct. Miller was 16 and Aderholt 25 when the assault allegedly occurred in 1996-1997.
 
Aderholt served with the IMB from 2000-2008 and went on to serve on staff with Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., and with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
 
In response to Miller’s claims, board spokesperson Julie McGowan said, “We stand by the statements we made. We are cooperating with an ongoing criminal investigation, and we do not plan to share information publicly that could interfere with that investigation.”
 
Among Miller’s claims: she did not decline “multiple times” to report the abuse, as the IMB claimed, and the IMB is not “supporting” her. Miller also said that while others could have reported her alleged abuse to Texas law enforcement in 2007, IMB was the only organization or person with “an intimate knowledge of what happened” until she “gave the details to law enforcement” earlier this year.
 
“As the victim in Mark Aderholt’s case,” Miller said, “I assure you I did not say ‘multiple times’ that I did not want to report the abuse to law enforcement.” Miller wrote that she made the comment one time following what she characterized as “an emotionally stressful and inappropriate line of questioning from the IMB” in its 2007 investigation. She also faults the IMB for not encouraging her to file a report or offering to help her “psychologically deal with their investigation.”
 
The fact that others could have reported “does not let the IMB off the hook, especially with their in-depth knowledge of my abuse,” she wrote.
 
Miller added, “In order for the IMB to ‘support’ me, they need to accept their own responsibility for not reporting this crime and publicly apologize to me and the thousands of SBC members who could have been negatively impacted by the IMB not informing other entities of this heinous act.” She also wrote “[IMB]’s actions are not consistent with the [SBC annual meeting’s] resolutions about women and sexual abuse.”
 
McGowan told BP in an email, “We have a process to openly share information with media, and we have shared that information.”
 
She reiterated that “IMB has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct that is shared with all personnel. If anyone has knowledge of a case involving sexual misconduct, we strongly encourage them to come forward, and we provide multiple avenues for them to report. When we are informed of possible cases of sexual misconduct of any kind, we investigate those situations immediately and, if warranted, take the appropriate action to report it to local authorities and remove individuals from IMB employment.”
 
Ministries and other employers looking to hire any former IMB missionary can request a reference, McGowan said, by emailing references@imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/19/2018 12:14:58 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBC seminaries: #MeToo is ‘wakeup call for the church’

July 19 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries long have sought to train ministers in personal integrity, but amid the #MeToo movement, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin said, they have “heightened the alert.”
 

 

From Southeastern in North Carolina to Gateway Seminary in Southern California, SBC seminaries are training students and faculty to recognize and deal with abuse, reemphasizing personal sexual morality and offering resources to those struggling with sexual sin.
 
Southeastern has “raised the flag and heightened the alert,” Akin told Baptist Press, “given the cultural trends that we’re now encountering, given the technological world in which we live” where moral failings often are widely publicized.
 
Southeastern requires all employees to take an online training course covering sexual misconduct and reporting abuse, Akin said. The seminary also has revised and clarified institutional policies on sexual misconduct and has begun running background checks on all incoming students. This fall, Southeastern will implement a required training program for all incoming students “to help them understand what their responsibility is if indeed they become aware of a situation where sexual abuse may have taken place,” Akin said.
 
The minister’s personal conduct and integrity, Akin said, are discussed in courses on theology, pastoral ministry and spiritual formation.
 
“What has happened in our culture” with the #MeToo movement “was also something of a wakeup call for the church,” Akin said. The past year’s reports of sexual immorality in the SBC have been “heartbreaking at every turn,” but “we can come out on the other end of our pain much better, much stronger and far more equipped to deal with issues like this in the future.”
 
While federal law requires that colleges and universities participating in government programs offer training in sexual abuse prevention and reporting, no such requirement governs SBC seminaries, Akin noted, so they offer training programs voluntarily. Some Baptist colleges are mandated by law to offer training.
 
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP it has, for the past year, required all students, faculty and staff to complete an online training program that equips them for prevention of and proper response to sexual abuse in ministry settings. The seminary pays the fee for the training, which is obtained through the organization MinistrySafe.
 
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP it trains students to identify and prevent sexual harassment and abuse in at least eight courses in the curriculum. Faculty and staff are trained in the same areas through the employee manual and a required harassment compliance class.
 
Southwestern’s communication vice president Charles Patrick wrote a July 17 post on the seminary’s blog asking, “Is pornography morally acceptable at seminary?” and answering that “God’s Word has ... the answer for breaking the selfish and superficial shackles of pornography.”
 
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP in a statement, “Our employee policies and training procedures, student handbook and academic catalog speak clearly” against harassment and sexual misconduct “and specifically encourage all to bring forward any concerns as to a violation of our policies and implore all employees to report immediately any awareness of alleged violations.”
 
Gateway President Jeff Iorg wrote in an April 16 blog post that “starting last year, we have revised our curriculum at Gateway to include much more intentional instruction about moral purity, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and protecting people under our spiritual leadership. We are being more direct about teaching leaders the importance of submitting themselves to accountability systems, including how to create those systems in ministry organizations that often resist such ‘corporate bureaucracy.’”
 
Glenn Prescott, Gateway’s director of theological field education, told BP via email the seminary has overhauled approximately six courses over the past few years and added a course to the curriculum on “ministry finance and strategic planning,” which includes training on prevention and handling of sexual abuse.
 
This fall, Gateway will begin providing “sexual abuse awareness training for all of our students,” Prescott said. That training eventually will be part of two courses taken by each student – one early in their course of study and one late. In addition, the seminary’s two-semester ministry internship program includes a two-hour session on sexual purity utilizing a video case study of a predatory pastor who pursues sexual relationships with people in the congregation.
 
Gateway’s curriculum tweaks “did not begin as a response to the actions of the most recent (past couple of years) public #MeToo events across the country nor the proceedings at this year’s SBC annual meeting,” Prescott said. “We have tried to be ahead of the curve.”
 
The June SBC annual meeting in Dallas included adoption of a resolution “On Abuse” as well as discussion of sexual misconduct in the main meeting and at auxiliary events.
 
Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), told BP the institution he leads has adopted a two-pronged approach to teaching ministers about sexual misconduct and abuse: “building godly men with godly character” and “teaching them how to help people who have been victimized or caught up in sexual abuse.”
 
The “foundation” course that addresses godly character at New Orleans Seminary, Kelley said, is a required spiritual formation class which includes small-group meetings with a professor. Risk management, safety for children and adults, domestic violence and mandatory reporting laws are covered in required courses on church leadership and administration, pastoral ministry and counseling in ministry.
 
“These issues are hit two or three times in the curriculum for nearly everybody, and then we have specialized training for people who are in fields like counseling and social work,” Kelley said.
 
New Orleans Seminary was reminded of the need to emphasize personal integrity, Kelley said, by professor John Gibson’s 2015 suicide amid his struggle with sexual sin and by another professor’s resignation over a moral failure.
 
With professors and students, Kelley said, the seminary seeks to strike a balance between accountability and ministry. As part of that balance, NOBTS has an arrangement with a local Christian counseling practice where faculty who need help with personal and moral issues can receive counseling billed to the seminary without the seminary being told their identity.
 
“All we get is the bill,” Kelley said.
 
While it is possible to focus so much on preventing and responding to sexual misconduct that believers neglect the Great Commission, Kelley said, the moral climate of New Orleans, where “the world’s values” are “just jammed in your face,” long has demanded focus on sexual abuse and misconduct.
 
Because of similar worldly values permeating American culture everywhere, Kelley said, “All six of our seminaries agree these are important issues.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/19/2018 12:14:19 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Federal court protects liberty, life in Texas case

July 19 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A federal appeals court ruling that protects a church’s internal communications buttressed both religious freedom and defense of the unborn, according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s church-state entity.
 

Screen capture from YouTube
Protecting religious organizations’ autonomy in the public square “cannot be understated.” – Judge Edith Jones, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed July 15 a federal judge’s order requiring the Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops of Texas to turn over their private deliberations on what they describe as doctrinal and moral issues.
 
Though the case involved the Catholic Church, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) had said in a friend-of-the-court brief a failure to vacate the order would also endanger the religious freedom of Southern Baptist and other congregationally governed churches.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore applauded the Fifth Circuit’s opinion.
 
“The court’s ruling, which affirms religious liberty, as well as the sanctity of human life, is a victory for all Americans,” Moore said in a written statement. “Churches and religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to disclose private information that could sabotage their ability to protect human dignity and engage in the public square. I am thankful the court acknowledged this in their decision.”
 
Moore said he prays the bishops and other religious organizations “will continue to stand firm in their convictions as we work to ensure the state respects their constitutional rights.”
 
The case involves a challenge by the Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic network – as well as Texas abortion doctors and other abortion providers – to a 2016 state law that requires fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages to be buried or cremated rather than discarded in a landfill or by other means. The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB) is not a party to the lawsuit, but Whole Woman’s Health sought its emails seemingly because the bishops have offered free burial for fetal remains in the church’s cemeteries in the state.
 
Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin refused June 13 to suppress Whole Woman’s Health’s subpoena of emails and attachments involving TCCB Executive Director Jennifer Allmon since Jan. 1, 2016, on the disposal of the remains of aborted babies. The documents sought “do not address religious doctrine or church governance,” Austin wrote in his order.
 
On June 18, the Fifth Circuit Court halted the order at the TCCB’s request and called for the filing of briefs in the appeal by June 25.
 
In the Fifth Circuit’s July 15 divided opinion that blocked Austin’s order, Judge Edith Jones wrote for a three-member panel to say past U.S. Supreme Court opinions “have protected religious organizations’ internal deliberations and decision-making in numerous ways.”
 
While none of those decisions have directly addressed discovery orders as in this case, “the importance of securing religious groups’ institutional autonomy, while allowing them to enter the public square, cannot be understated and reflects consistent prior case law,” she wrote.
 
Problems regarding both the First Amendment’s protection of religious free exercise and prohibition on government establishment of religion “seem inherent in the court’s discovery order,” Jones said. “That internal communications are to be revealed not only interferes with TCCB’s decision-making processes on a matter of intense doctrinal concern but also exposes those processes to an opponent and will induce similar ongoing intrusions against religious bodies’ self-government.”
 
Judge James Ho agreed with Jones and wrote in a concurring opinion, “It is hard to imagine a better example of how far we have strayed from the text and original understanding of the Constitution than this case.”
 
The abortion providers’ effort to gain the TCCB’s internal communications causes the court to wonder if it is an attempt “to retaliate against people of faith for not only believing in the sanctity of life – but also for wanting to do something about it.”
 
Judge Gregg Costa dissented from the majority opinion, saying the TCCB documents sought by the abortion providers in this case “do not come close to the concerns” addressed in the Supreme Court’s line of decisions on religious free exercise and establishment of religion.
 
Before Austin’s order, the Texas bishops provided more than 4,300 pages of external communications at the request of Whole Woman’s Health but they refused to grant about 300 internal communications that included “private theological and moral deliberations,” according to Becket, a religious liberty organization representing the TCCB.
 
Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a written release after the Fifth Circuit decision, “Letting trial lawyers put religious leaders under constant surveillance doesn’t make sense for church or state. The court was right to nip this abuse of the judicial process in the bud.”
 
In its brief in support of the TCCB, the ERLC – joined by the National Association of Evangelicals – said the SBC is not hierarchical, unlike the Catholic Church, but its cooperating churches and other congregationally governed bodies still “would face serious harm.”
 
“Religious deliberations over doctrine and mission and morality are just as protected by the church autonomy doctrine for congregational churches like the Baptists as for any other religious organization,” the brief said. “The threat posed by the subpoena in this case is equally menacing to religious freedom as if it had been levied against a Baptist minister, a state Baptist convention, a Baptist cooperative entity, or any other religious body.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/19/2018 12:13:05 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



O’Brien sets retirement as Carson-Newman president

July 19 2018 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector

Randall O’Brien, president of Carson-Newman University, has announced his plans to retire, effective Dec. 31.
 

Randall O’Brien

O’Brien celebrated his 10th anniversary on July 8 as the 22nd president of the Baptist-affiliated liberal arts college in Jefferson City, Tenn.
 
O’Brien was elected by trustees in July 2008, officially joining the college on Jan. 1, 2009. A native of McComb, Miss., O’Brien was executive vice president and provost at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, at the time of his election.
 
In a letter to university trustees and others on July 15, O’Brien expression appreciation for his 10 years with Carson-Newman but noted “a new appointed time now arises, a time to enter into a new season of life.” He cited plans for him and his wife to spend more time with their children and young grandchildren.
 
In the letter, O’Brien thanked the university’s trustees, administrative leadership, faculty, staff and students for their support. He also mentioned a number of other groups including university alumni and friends, Tennessee Baptists and convention affiliation, and other constituencies.
 
O’Brien also cited the contributions of his wife Kay as “first lady” of the university. “Now is the time for you to give another blessed couple the privilege of serving with you at Carson-Newman,” he wrote. “God will surely bring the right teammates to you. Their gifts will help you take our beloved school of providence and prayer to the next level of excellence.”
 
He closed his letter to the trustees by noting he is looking forward to the upcoming fall semester. “The future is bright for Carson-Newman,” he wrote. “Let’s make this school year the best ever.”
 
Harry Brooks, trustee chairman and a member of Union Baptist Church (Washington Pike) in Knoxville, said O’Brien has done “a phenomenal job” as president.
 
“He has been a delight to work with,” Brooks observed. “He has had the strong support of the staff, professors and students at Carson-Newman.”
 
Brooks said there currently is no timetable to find a successor. “We will begin the process of the search and selection of a new president soon,” he said.
 
University board member Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, and a former president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, credits several qualities to O’Brien’s success.
 
“He has always been an incredible communicator, an incredible builder and incredible encourager,” Haun said. “And I think when you mix those three ingredients together in his position as a university president, it’s quite powerful. The attendance records set at Carson-Newman are a great result of his leadership and what he has been able to accomplish.”
 
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB), noted that O’Brien “has served Carson-Newman with great distinction. He, along with a strong board of trustees, has led the university to a much stronger position financially than where the university was a decade ago.”
 
Davis cited O’Brien’s “extensive resume, from educational preparation to military service” and the contributions of his wife Kay who “has been a wonderful first lady at Carson Newman. They’ve made a great team.”
 
The TBMB leader recalled that just last summer under O’Brien’s leadership and with the support of the board of trustees, “Carson Newman took the unprecedented action of adding the Baptist Faith and Message to its governing documents. [Because of that action], the bonds between the Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches and its educational institution in East Tennessee were made stronger,” Davis affirmed.
 
“We wish Randall and Kay well as God continues to use them in these retirement years,” he added.
 
Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman has more than 2,500 students and offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.com, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. With reporting by Charles Key of Carson-Newman University. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/19/2018 12:12:18 PM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments



Youth team in Guatemala treks to towns & villages

July 19 2018 by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector

The concept of “giving the shirt off your back” took on an almost literal sense for 37 students and leaders who traveled to Guatemala for a weeklong mission trip in June.
 


Submitted photo
Ethan Stacy of First Baptist Church in Manchester, Tenn., interacts with Guatemalan boys and girls during a missions trip to the Central American country. The youth on the trip who knew how to play guitar were instantly "rock stars" with the children, said Bruce Edwards, Tennessee Baptist youth ministry specialist.

“Many of the kids left for the trip with a suitcase packed full of clothes and came home with a virtually empty suitcase,” said Bruce Edwards, youth ministry specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB). “We asked them to bring clothes that they would be willing to donate to the underprivileged in Guatemala, and I think the experience of doing that was very meaningful for many of the kids.”
 
The mission team, sponsored by the mission board and its Youth Evangelism Conference (YEC) outreach, encompassed youth from five churches along with several TBMB personnel, including Edwards and disaster relief specialist Wes Jones and his wife Pam, former missionaries to Guatemala.
 
Every two years, YEC sends a team of youth on an international trip, using the money collected during a special offering at the two-day YEC event each March to provide scholarships.
 
There was some initial concern among the parents of the students about the recent volcano eruptions in Guatemala but Edwards said those worries subsided when the parents were assured that the group would be “nowhere near the eruptions.”
 
The June 8-16 trip was eye-opening for a large number of the youth for several reasons, Edwards said.
 
“For many of them, this was their first international trip,” he said. “And for some, it was the first plane ride they’ve ever been on.”

The Tennessee Baptist Convention has had an ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists since 2016. Garry Eudy, field coordinator for the Tennessee/Guatemala Partnership, served as the point man for the youth missions trip.
 
The team spent the first night of the trip in Guatemala City, then loaded up in “chicken buses” – “basically jazzed-up school buses,” Edwards said – the following morning for the four-and-a-half-hour drive north to the Lake Atitlan area where they were housed at a Baptist camp while ministering and witnessing in towns and villages near the lake.
 
“We ate there, slept there and showered there – when there was water,” Edwards said. “I always tell the people on these trips, I can pretty much promise that you will have water, but I can’t promise you hot water.”
 
After arriving, the group was divided into two teams: a red team and an orange team.


Submitted photo
Aaron Buck of First Baptist Church in Manchester, Tenn., talks about soccer with the children during a student mission trip to Guatemala in June.


The red team traveled by boat – making about a 40-minute ride one way each day – to San Pedro. After docking, the team would ride in the back of a truck to the town to begin their ministry.
 
“Each morning, we went to a different school and visited every classroom in the school, telling a Bible story, doing a craft, playing a game and singing a song,” Edwards said.
 
The schools they visited were an elementary school in the morning and a middle school in the afternoon.
 
“By the end of the week, we had told the story of Zacchaeus hundreds of times,” Edwards said. “That was our Bible story of our choice, and everything we did – arts and crafts and such – was geared toward Zacchaeus.”
 
Guatemala, unlike America, allows the name of Jesus to be mentioned inside the schools.
 
“We had a gospel presentation in every classroom,” Edwards said. “They are totally open – and very receptive – to the gospel.”
 
The red team took sports equipment – everything from balls to sidewalk chalk – and presented it all to the principal for the school’s use. “The schools are pretty poor,” Edwards said. “So, everything we brought with us on the trip, we left at the school for them to have.”
 
Recess was a time when the kids often would come up and ask questions, and Edwards said he knew of at least five children who prayed to receive Christ during recess.
 
First Baptist San Pedro, the largest Baptist church in Guatemala, hosted the red team. Each afternoon, the team would deliver food to people who the church had identified as needy.

And every day, it rained.

“I’m talking torrential rain; like 10 inches,” Edwards said. “In the morning, when we would go across the lake, it was beautiful and calm. By about 1 or 2 o’clock, it would start drizzling and by 3, it was pouring. That happened every day. It was the rainy season. Everything we took got wet.”
 
But the team did not let the weather stop them from sharing the love of Jesus, Edwards said, recounting that one rainy afternoon the red team navigated over a rocky path to take food to an elderly lady who lived in a one-room house.
 
“When the group knocked on her door, this lady – she was probably close to 90 years old – answered the door, and the translator told her who we were,” Edwards recounted. “[The translator] said, ‘we’ve come to your house today representing First Baptist San Pedro and we’ve brought you a gift.’ She looked in the gift basket and realized it was food and she started crying.”
 
It turned out that the lady was a believer, and that very morning she had prayed for God’s help because she had completely run out of food.
 


Submitted photo
Emily Coleman of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Knoxville plays with children during recess at a Guatemalan school where a Tennessee student volunteer team ministered in June.

“She thought our whole team was angels,” Edwards said. “It was a great teaching lesson for the students.”
 
The orange team was hosted by a church in Santiago, not far from camp. They were asked to establish missions initiatives in areas identified by the pastor.
 
One of their biggest jobs was painting a school, and they spent one full day on that assignment. Unfortunately, the heavy rain washed away most of the paint just hours after the project was completed. So, the team came back again the next day and painted the building again.
 
Their determination was worth it, Edwards said. Many gospel conversations took place during the two days. “The teachers and principals were appreciative,” he said, “and a connection with the host church was made because they knew they had sent the team.”
 
Each night, the teams would gather together for dinner and for times of sharing, planning and worship. It was in those moments, Edwards said, where the team was able to truly grasp the impact that was made.
 
“We had some long days – and a lot of wet clothes,” Edwards said. “But I believe it was a life-changing trip for many of the kids. Some of them came away with a whole new perspective of what they have and how blessed they are.”
 
Students participating in the Tennessee trip came from First Baptist Church in Manchester, Ridgeview Baptist in Knoxville, Dixie Hills Baptist in Bolivar, Eagle View Community Church in Cosby and ClearView Baptist in Franklin.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Dawson is a communications specialist for the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.org, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/19/2018 12:11:36 PM by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments



Baptist Association emphasis, with new name, moves to October

July 17 2018 by Baptist Press & LifeWay Staff

News about associational missions was among the headlines during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Dallas, except for one action by messengers of importance to the 1,100 Baptist associations across the country.
 

BP file photo
Ray Gentry

What made the news: a recommended title was unanimously approved by the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) – “associational mission strategist,” or AMS – to be considered by Baptist associations to supplant the title of “director of missions.” The AMS designation was among an SBCAL study committee’s recommendations to more accurately reflect the range of strategies being utilized by local and regional associations of Baptist churches.
 
Not garnering headlines, yet significant to Baptist associations, was a vote by messengers at the annual meeting to change the name and dates for the annual associational emphasis on the SBC Calendar of Activities.
 
The new name: Week of Prayer for Baptist Associations (formerly Associational Missions Emphasis).
 
The new dates will be the third week in October: for 2019, Oct. 20-26 (formerly in May).
 
The annual emphasis, said Ray Gentry, SBCAL executive director, underscores “the importance of cooperating together as sister churches to reach our local mission field and to pray for the association, its leaders and its ministries. … Southern Baptist missions cooperation and collaboration starts at home and goes forth to the ends of the earth.”
 
In churches, the emphasis can highlight “what your association is doing to assist churches in advancing the gospel – whether church planting, mission trips and missions mobilization, church revitalization, school and community impact events, children’s camps, church leadership development, etc.,” Gentry, who also leads Georgia’s Southside Baptist Network in McDonough, noted in comments emailed to Baptist Press.
 
Six years of undated resources, which can be utilized at any time of the year, can be accessed at http://www.ameresources.org through a partnership between the SBCAL and the North American Mission Board.
 
“There are themes, graphics, videos, sermon helps and bulletin inserts,” Gentry said. The 2019 Week of Prayer for Baptist Associations theme is “Associations:  Equipping Churches to Make and Mobilize Disciples,” with next year’s resources to be available on Dec. 1 of this year.
 
“The association is how Southern Baptist churches collaborate in their city/county/region to help one another in missional partnerships,” Gentry said. “Associations assist pastors and churches in advancing the gospel in a variety of ways, depending on their setting. Examples include, but are not limited to, providing a block party trailer for churches; pastors’ conferences; leadership development for pastors, staff and church lay leaders; community impact ideas and assistance; associational mission trips and partnerships; and church planting and church revitalization helps, coaching, manpower and support.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston, with reporting by Joy Allmond of LifeWay Christian Resources. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/17/2018 10:11:43 AM by Baptist Press & LifeWay Staff | with 0 comments



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