June 2013

ERLC chairman speaks a pastor’s perspective

June 28 2013 by Caleb Yarbrough/Arkansas Baptist News

CAMDEN, Ark. (BP) – The church, more than any other institution, must constantly address issues of ethics and morality – which Richard Piles understands as well as anybody in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camden, became chairman of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) trustees in May 2012 after serving on the board for four years in various capacities.

Piles, 38, said he never set out to become directly involved with the ERLC but said he was honored to become an ERLC trustee when he was asked to serve. Piles was a member of the trustees’ administration and finance committee before becoming vice chairman and then later trustee chairman.

“I was not seeking it out. ... However, I knew that if I, as a younger pastor, was asked, I was going to get involved in our national convention because I felt that it was important for the next generation of leaders to come along,” Piles said.

The ERLC is an entity of the SBC dedicated to addressing ethical issues from a biblical perspective and promoting religious liberty. According to its website, erlc.com, the ERLC seeks “to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel.”

“Essentially, the ERLC exists for two purposes,” Piles said, “to speak to Southern Baptists about cultural issues and equip them to handle and address those issues within a local church and to speak for Southern Baptists in the marketplace and in Washington D.C.”

Photo by Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas pastor Richard Piles, as a trustee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has learned that the Southern Baptist entity has “a ton of resources that are available to local church pastors – resources that plenty of local church pastors don’t know about.”  

While he was somewhat familiar with the ERLC before becoming a trustee, Piles said he hadn’t been fully aware of the vast resources the ERLC has to offer pastors and churches.

“I did not know all that the ERLC did until I became involved as a trustee. We have a ton of resources that are available to local church pastors – resources that plenty of local church pastors don’t know about,” Piles said.

“Being a trustee, I have tapped into resources that have helped me inform my people regarding gambling, state lottery, issues regarding traditional marriage, abortion legislation, voter I.D. and concealed handguns. All of those are ethical issues. They are issues that pastors have to address,” Piles said. “It has been those issues that have caused me to trust even more the resources that are available through the ERLC.”

“First Baptist Church, Camden, is similar to most of the churches within the SBC as well as within the ABSC [Arkansas Baptist State Convention]. The average pastor at the average church has to wear a lot of hats,” Piles said.

“The typical pastor in the state of Arkansas is pastor of a small church or he is bivocational. But just because you are bivocational or just because you are rural doesn’t mean that you are excluded from all of those issues: sanctity of life, gambling, alcohol, pornography, marriage, reproductive technologies and more. Those particular problems do not discriminate. ... Those pastors may not have time to be experts in all of those issues but the ERLC does. And that is their sole purpose.”

In 2012, Richard Land, president of the ERLC since 1988, announced his retirement following controversy over remarks he made regarding the Trayvon Martin murder case and allegations of plagiarism during his weekly radio program “Richard Land LIVE!” As chairman, Piles was tasked with appointing a presidential search committee to find Land’s replacement and serving as one of its members.

The ERLC search committee worked for six months interviewing numerous candidates for the position before recommending Russell D. Moore as the entity’s new president March 26.

“Russell Moore brings with him a following automatically because of his time and influence at Southern Seminary. There is an automatic connection for him and a following with the millennial generation that he will bring with him to the ERLC. ... Dr. Moore is on Twitter, he is on Facebook, he has his blog, he does podcasts – all of those things that millennials are in touch with. ... He is very culturally relevant.

“One of the things that Russell Moore is aiming to model for the convention is ‘convictional kindness,’” Piles continued. “His mindset is that he can disagree with someone regarding conviction but he is still going to be kind, gentle, likeable and personable throughout the entire conversation.”

Regarding the June 26 Supreme Court decisions embracing gay marriage, Piles from his vantage point as a local church pastor and as ERLC chairman, said the rulings were “certainly disappointing but not surprising,” since a number of observers had predicted the stance that the court would take.

“Now that it is reality, the question that is most pertinent to me and my congregation is how will we respond,” Piles said.

“I have set aside our Sunday evening worship service on July 14 to speak on and answer questions from my members regarding court’s decisions and homosexual marriage in general. Some might think I need to respond to sooner. However, this is a complex issue that has far-reaching ramifications and needs to be handled with intentional care,” Piles noted. “I want to make sure that I have done my job in addressing the issue thoughtfully and respond then with ‘convictional kindness,’ borrowing a phrase from Dr. Moore.

“In short, FBC Camden will continue to define marriage the way God defines marriage in His Word as between one man and one woman for a lifetime,” Piles said. “We will attempt to do a better job in modeling Christ-honor marriages in our members. We will continue to expect our members to live their lives according to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, and we will minister to whomever regardless of their struggles and point them to Jesus who offers real life change.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caleb Yarbrough writes for the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.)
6/28/2013 3:13:39 PM by Caleb Yarbrough/Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments

Supreme Court nixes human gene patents

June 28 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of human gene patenting not only affirms an important ethical truth but opens the door to potential advances in medical research, supporters of the decision say.
The high court’s nine members unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be patented in a June 13 decision overturning patents already granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In an opinion written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the court stated, “[A] naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated” by a biotechnology firm.

Commenting on the ruling, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore said the high court “was right. Human beings didn’t create genes, and they cannot patent them.”

“God gave humanity dominion as servant stewards over the natural order, but He didn’t give humanity dominion over humanity,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “The wild mystery of our genetic code is one more reminder that we are creatures, not gods.”

Bioethics expert David Prentice also applauded the justices’ decision.

“That the Patent Office approved patents on our genes is a profoundly disturbing idea, as is the idea that someone else can own parts of your body, especially your genetics. The Supreme Court has resoundingly denied this idea,” said Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at Family Research Council.

Myriad Genetics Inc., based in Salt Lake City, uncovered the location and order of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and received patents as a result of those discoveries. Mutations of those genes can greatly increase the chances of breast and ovarian cancer. 

The site and sequence of those genes “existed in nature before Myriad found them,” Thomas wrote.

Myriad “did not create anything,” Thomas noted. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

While the Supreme Court rejected patenting of naturally occurring DNA, it upheld patents of synthetically created, or complementary, DNA (cDNA). cDNA may be patented “because it is not naturally occurring,” Thomas wrote.

The two–fold ruling – rejecting patents for DNA and supporting patents for cDNA – will provide options for cancer patients and should benefit research, observers said.

“Patents generally encourage research and innovation,” Prentice said in a written statement. “However, the patents on normal DNA sequences have led to limits on research to develop diagnostic tests and treatments, and thus have also greatly increased the cost for tests under an exclusive license. This decision opens the field for more research and development to occur in genetics.”

The court’s ruling on cDNA “could stimulate innovation in genetic research,” he also said.

Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, described the justices’ opinion as “a clear victory for patients that will expand medical discovery and preserve access to innovative diagnosis and treatment options.”

The ERLC joined in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the high court to overturn gene patenting. The brief said, “The person should not be treated as a commodity for sale to the highest bidder, and property must be recognized in a way that respects all of the members of society.” The ERLC signed on to the brief with Brian Scarnecchia, president of the International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute.

The Supreme Court’s opinion reversed the ruling by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals regarding patenting of naturally occurring DNA and upheld that panel’s decision regarding synthetically created DNA.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/28/2013 3:11:18 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Heaven’s Rain’: painful road to forgiveness

June 28 2013 by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – When Brooks Douglass awoke in ICU after enduring a gunshot wound, the last thing on the mind of the 16-year-old preacher’s son was forgiveness.

After all, the two men who shot Douglass also hogtied his family at gunpoint, raped his sister Leslie, who was 12, and killed his parents Richard and Marilyn.

But after several decades and career changes, Douglass decided to share his journey to forgiveness by creating a movie, “Heaven’s Rain,” telling his story of faith and finding peace in the middle of life’s turmoil.

“On a personal level, I want it to be a tribute to my parents and the people that they were,” said Douglass, who hosted an early screening of the movie at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Houston. “It’s not just about the power of forgiveness; it’s about the power of God’s work in our lives to help us to do things that we don’t think we’re capable of – and we’re probably not capable of.”

Photo by Hannah Haggerty
Brooks Douglass, producer and actor, attended a premier of his film “Heaven’s Rain” at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Houston. 

A production of the Christian film studio EchoLight, the movie delves into the lives of the Douglass family, who served as missionaries in Brazil for three years and as Baptist ministers in Oklahoma City. Douglass, who attended law school, joined the military and served as Oklahoma’s youngest state senator, produced the film and starred in the movie as his own father.

Leslie, who still lives in Oklahoma, also plays a singer in the movie.

Douglass said Heaven’s Rain has taken more than five years to complete. But telling the world about his past was the last thing on Douglass’ mind when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his interest in filmmaking.

While taking a scriptwriting class, Douglass said the one topic he avoided writing about was his family’s tragic history and his painful memories. But Douglass’ writing instructor advised him otherwise.

“Where I come from, that’s why you should write it,” Douglass said his teacher told him.

In 2007, Douglass began writing the script for Heaven’s Rain, which depicts his parents’ faith, their untimely death and his battle to find justice and to forgive. The only details that are different from reality, Douglass said, are the actors’ hair colors and a collapsed time frame of a few events.

His writing instructor helped Brooks finish the script in 2008. A year later, Douglass traveled to the jungles of Brazil to begin filming.

In 2010, Douglass and his crew started filming in Oklahoma City where his parents were killed in their home in 1979.

“They said at the hospital that [my sister and I] shouldn’t be alive,” said Douglass, who had picked himself off the floor, dragged his sister to his car and sped to the hospital for medical attention after the gunmen left. “There’s a reason the Lord got me out of the house.”

Despite struggling with anger toward the gunmen for nearly two decades, Douglass decided in 1995 to do the unthinkable – meet with one of the murderers.

“When I got into where I was actually meeting with him, it was like everything made sense,” Douglass said, as he understood that he had wanted to go to law school and become a senator to make up for the injustices against his family. “Over the course of an hour-and-a-half-long meeting with him, things began to make sense. I never really thought about the amount of rage and anger I carried around inside of me until I was sitting there looking at him, talking to him.

“I’m so tired of carrying this around in my chest,” Douglass said he told the gunman in prison. Every word from the confrontation scene in the movie was from his actual conversation with the murderer. “It was sort of a moment of clarity that ‘I’ve got to deal with this.’ It became more apparent to me that maybe I need to forgive.”

The gunman Douglass met with – Glen Ake – had changed since the crime. During their meeting, Ake said he had become a Christian and apologized for what he had done, Douglass said. Ake was executed a year and a half later, in 1996.

Douglass said forgiving was a journey in itself, but he had been encouraged to do so from the legacy his parents left behind. The final sermon his father preached the day before he died, Douglass said, was about forgiveness. Having this sermon on tape, Douglass said much of the sermon he preached in the movie was straight from his father’s words.

Marc Harper, EchoLight director of marketing, described the film as Christian ministry.

“Just like Jesus used stories to illustrate the Kingdom of God,” Harper said, “this story illustrates so many truths that apply today: forgiveness, healing that came from hurts, triumphs out of tragedies, light out of darkness through Christ.”

Heaven’s Rain is slated for a soft release by early 2014, Douglass said. Until then, he is in the process of creating two additional films as well as working to pass stronger criminal victim’s rights laws.

“I’ve had great successes in my life, but I’ve also failed more times than I’ve succeeded,” Douglass said. “And to get through those times, I often said, ‘What made me get off that floor in the first place?’ I remember that question coming to mind – ‘Why did I even bother getting up off the floor that night?’ ... I wanted to live, and I believe God wanted me to live, and even my parents would have wanted me to live and to go forward and live the best life possible. We’re capable of that. Through our faith, we can overcome those times. We do have a reason to get up off the floor and to live that better life and be a better person, and to know that it means something.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Byrd is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)
6/28/2013 3:07:30 PM by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christ-centered preaching panel topic

June 28 2013 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – How can a sermon from the Old Testament point to Jesus? Four panelists outlined various approaches and the differences between their views in a discussion of Christ-centered preaching and teaching held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Houston.

Panel moderator Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and general editor of The Gospel Project curriculum initiative, asked panelist Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., why there has been a growing conversation about interpreting and teaching Scripture from a distinctly Christ-centered approach.

This approach, Akin responded, confronts “moralistic therapeutic deism” – which is sociologist Christian Smith’s term for the default religion in American Christianity, or a fundamental misunderstanding of the scriptural texts.

“I read a Sunday School publication for children that said, ‘Be nice to your mother-in-law like Ruth,’” Akin said during the session held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Houston. “That’s great advice but it’s not the point of the book of Ruth.”

Different views on how sermons from the Old Testament can point to Jesus were aired in a panel discussion held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting. Moderator Ed Stetzer (from left) was joined by pastor Eric Hankins of Mississippi, curriculum editor Trevin Wax of The Gospel Project; and pastor Jon Akin of Tennessee.

Akin said his Christocentric approach starts with a framework laid out by Jesus and the apostles and “is based on the assumption that the central purpose of what God is doing in the Old Testament is Jesus.”

In response, panelist Eric Hankins, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., expressed support for Christ-centered preaching but said he was concerned that the methods proposed by Akin and others were “oversimplifying things and flattening out the scriptures in some ways.”

Hankins referred to several Old Testament scholars who have raised issues about “drawing out a hermeneutical method about the Old Testament from Jesus’ words.”

The fourth panelist, Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, explained how the new curriculum produced by LifeWay Christian Resources fits into the ongoing discussion.

“Our goal is to show people how to read the Bible as one grand narrative,” Wax said. “It’s not new for us to say we’re going to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Trying to read the Bible without Christ at the center is like trying to read a book in the dark. We all agree we’re going to read the Bible as Christians.

“The question is, how do we do this in a way that is hermeneutically responsible?” Wax said.

Stetzer elicited a discussion between Akin and Hankins on how to preach through Old Testament passages.

Akin explained how he would take Proverbs, for example, and demonstrate that wisdom can only be obtained and lived out through Christ, who is wisdom personified. Hankins agreed, but asserted, “I don’t think that it needs to be preached that way every time.”

The apostles and New Testament writers referenced the Old Testament in a way that gives modern Christians a framework to use in their interpretation of it, Akin said. He described allusions and similarities between the Old Testament account of David and Goliath, and the New Testament’s accounts of Christ’s defeat of sin and Satan.

Hankins noted his reservations and belief that Akin’s explanation drifted “from typology to allegory.”

While all Christians look at the Bible with a fresh perspective through the cross, Hankins said there is a distinction between the apostles and those who followed them. New Testament writers, he said, had a clearer ability to see the connections between Jesus and the Old Testament.

Wax, who classified his own personal stance as somewhere between Hankins and Akin, said church members would “go to the Bible the way we’ve conditioned them to go to the Bible.”

“If we establish the wrong pattern,” Wax said, “[church members will] go to the Bible looking for themselves rather than looking for Christ.”

Because Hankins had originally expressed concerns with The Gospel Project along these lines, Stetzer asked how he felt the Bible study curriculum handles these issues.

“The concerns I had were addressed,” Hankins said. “There is a great deal that’s helpful and useful in teaching people how it all fits together.”

Wax closed the panel discussion by stating where the new LifeWay materials would fit in the discussion.

“We know Bible study that changes lives is Bible study that leads to an encounter with Christ, because the written Word is the testimony to the living Word,” Wax said. “So, with The Gospel Project, our main intent is to be hermeneutically responsible in the way we are pointing people to Jesus, but making sure we are always pointing people to Jesus.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Follow a continuing conversation on the subject at The Exchange, Stetzer’s blog at ChristianityToday.com. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/28/2013 3:01:28 PM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Syrians who flee ‘desperate to hear about Jesus’

June 28 2013 by Eden Nelson, IMB

MIDDLE EAST – Zulema* left horrors behind when she fled from Syria two years ago, with family members left behind to languish in prison.

But she ran straight into the arms of people she says God put in her path.
“I started to hear from them, the most magnificent thing I’ve heard in my whole life: How to know God,” Zulema said. “As I slept this night I heard a voice telling me, ‘I sent you those people so you will get to know God more.’”
As the news shares horrific accounts of the war in Syria and many people have left their homes to escape the tragedy, an untold story remains. The tragedy has opened doors for the Gospel to be shared in ways that have never been seen, according to Christian workers in the region. Syrians who have never heard the gospel before are finding Christians waiting to tell them in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
“It is awesome to be on the edge of what God is doing,” said Catherine Steel*, a Christian worker in the Middle East.
Women now meet weekly to hear stories of the Bible, stories completely new to them. They are having visions, reading the Word and coming to Christ, Steel said. “For so long, only 1 percent of Muslim women were turning to Christ.”
A movement of this kind is “unheard of,” she said.
Families are encountering Christ and turning to him, while Syrian Christians who have fled the war are experiencing God’s mercy in ways they have never seen.

Arabic-language Bibles and Christian books occupy a place of honor on the bookshelf of an influential Muslim community leader among Syrian refugees.

Salman* and Basimah* are one such Christian couple. They fled after Salman’s brothers were killed and his life was in danger.
Eight years after the couple accepted Christ, “the war started in Syria, then we came to Lebanon and again the door opened for us to have fellowship and be close to Jesus,” Basimah said. “[The church] embraced us as a family as one of them, and they showed us true love and acceptance.
“My faith was renewed and I started to know more and have a deeper knowledge about the Bible and my Savior,” she said. “Our only refuge is the Lord. He is the one who is helping us to adapt with this new situation and the difficult times that we are facing.”
Christian workers are hearing stories and watching a movement they say is miraculous.
“Many are gathering together, sometimes more than once a week, to study the scripture together and fellowship,” said Ruth James*, a Christian worker in the region.
Zulema is one of those who met Christ this way. After she fled Syria and was embraced by Christians, she began to read the Bible and ask questions. Two months later, she decided to follow Christ.
“The word of God is becoming very close to my heart as I read the Bible,” She said. “I am memorizing what’s in there and it is becoming part of me. I was drowning in a deep sea and someone came and rescued me. My hope is that many would experience that rescue as I did.”
James said many are experiencing just that.
“They are so cut off from the outside, and many feel they have been completely abandoned by the world and may be wondering if they have been abandoned by God as well,” James said. “In that moment, in that place of desperation when the things they have been taught about God are being eroded by the reality of the suffering that they have endured at the hands of their ‘brothers’ in Syria as well as in their host countries, they are desperate to hear about Jesus.”
Syria was once a country where Jesus was not openly spoken about and faith questions were not brought to the light. Now everything has changed, James said.
Steel looks upon the situation in Syria and sees it as the story of God’s redemption in history – brokenness to hope. “We know what caused it and we know what can fix it. And we have a hope,” she said. “No matter how bad and how complicated things get, we have hope.”
She asked for Christians around the world to advocate for the Syrian people, knowing there is more to the story.  “Please pray, ‘God, Syria’s broken, come make it right — whatever it takes, that they may see your gospel,” she said.
*Names changed for security reasons
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East.)
6/28/2013 2:56:33 PM by Eden Nelson, IMB | with 0 comments

The real fights over gay marriage are just starting

June 27 2013 by Susan Page, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, while historic, didn’t settle the issue. In fact, they fuel it.

For President Obama, the repercussions of Wednesday’s (June 26) ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act will mean review and revisions in hundreds of federal laws. In everything from Social Security checks to Pentagon benefits, gay married couples now must be treated the same way as heterosexual couples.

For gay rights advocates, the twin decision that opens the door to resume same-sex marriages in California bolstered determination to expand the right to wed for gay men and lesbians. The Human Rights Campaign set a goal to achieve that in all 50 states within the next five years.

And for opponents of gay marriage, the battle turned to state capitals, where 36 states bar gay marriage by statute or constitutional amendment.

“We didn’t lose,” Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said, noting the high court had declined to recognize a constitutional right to marry. “They punted.”

The two decisions were undeniably far-reaching, clearing the way for gay marriages to resume in the nation’s largest state and striking down a federal law that barred the government from recognizing same-sex marriages sanctioned by states. But previous landmark court decisions on divisive issues, including racial integration and abortion rights, have prompted decades of legal and political fights over their meaning and implementation, not to mention efforts to reverse them.

“The good side of this ruling is that they have affirmed to states that this is a state issue and states can decide,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on Glenn Beck’s radio show. He counseled allies: “The battle is going to be lost at the federal level. Concentrate on your state.”

“With these two historic rulings, we’ve taken two giant steps forward toward the American promise of equal justice under law,” Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, said in an interview. “We celebrate today, and tomorrow we wake up and fight like hell.”

Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the administration would work “expeditiously” to implement the changes in laws and benefits stemming from the demise of DOMA. “Important, life-changing work remains before us,” he said.

In the second case, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage, the court’s narrow ruling — that the supporters of the ban didn’t have the standing to bring the case — doesn’t affect other states.

That leaves an expanse of battlegrounds and a patchwork of laws. While every state in New England now recognizes same-sex marriages, for instance, not a single state in the South does. That reflects regional politics: 64 percent of those in the Northeast support gay marriage, a survey by the Pew Research Center last month found, compared with 43 percent in the South.

Overall, by 51-46 percent, Americans said they favor allowing gay men and lesbians to wed, the first time a majority has espoused that view in the Pew Research Center poll.

The relatively subdued reaction Wednesday by House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a reminder of the balancing act GOP leaders are playing on divisive social issues such as immigration and gay marriage.

They need to satisfy base supporters who strongly oppose same-sex marriage but be mindful that language that seems intolerant harms the national GOP brand and the prospects for regaining the White House. That is a tightrope that the GOP’s 2016 presidential contender also may have to walk.

“A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman,” Boehner said in a written statement. The House had paid to defend DOMA in court when the Obama administration refused to do so.

One of the most outspoken conservative comments came from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a favorite of the Tea Party movement. “Marriage was created by the hand of God,” she declared. “No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”

Asked about Bachmann’s comments, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi retorted: “Who cares?”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, senior Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary committees, reintroduced a measure to repeal the parts of the Defense of Marriage Act that survived the court’s scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said he would push Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“This doesn’t end it,” Huelskamp said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan Page, Catalina Camia and Susan Davis write for USA Today.)
6/27/2013 2:50:29 PM by Susan Page, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Marriage defenders express disappointment

June 27 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Defenders of the biblical, traditional definition of marriage expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage, especially its decision to strike down a federal law defining the institution as only between a man and a woman.

In one of two rulings Wednesday (June 26), the justices said in a 5-4 decision the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion means same-sex couples will have access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.

In the other case about gay marriage, the justices appeared to provide a limited victory for same-sex marriage advocates. The court’s 5-4 ruling on a procedural question apparently will have the effect of allowing to stand a federal judge’s invalidation of a California amendment that limited marriage to heterosexual couples.

In its opinions, however, the Supreme Court declined to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country or to decide states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.

Below are statements on the DOMA decision from advocates on both sides of the marriage divide:

– Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:

“This decision is far-reaching, with massive implications for family life and religious liberty. The grounding of this decision in equal protection and human dignity means this is not simply a procedural matter of federalism. This is a new legal reality.

“Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need ‘family values’ to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it.

“In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness. Marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching.

“God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and His church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with His church, as a head with a body.

“Same-sex marriage is on the march, even apart from these decisions, and is headed to your community, regardless of whether you are sitting where I am right now, on Capitol Hill, or in a rural hamlet in southwest Georgia or eastern Idaho. This is an opportunity for gospel witness.

“The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global ‘Gay Agenda’ conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mark 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature.

“If we’re going to preach that sort of gospel, we must make it clear that this cross-bearing self-denial isn’t just for homosexually-tempted Christians. It is for all of us, because that’s what the gospel is.

“Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ And that’s good news.”

– Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee:

“We have seen a rapidity of cultural change that is mind-boggling. Christians of every denomination need desperately to repent of our sin, call upon the name of the Lord, and be more involved than ever in being salt and light!

“We should be thankful that our God is not involved in changing His mind or listening to every wind of culture. His Word is His Word. His way is His way. There is no variation or shadow of turning in Him.

“We believe this is a wrong decision with far-reaching moral and religious liberty implications. With one stroke of the pen, this court has redefined the universal, historical and biblical ideal of marriage as a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman.

“From a biblical perspective, the normalization of homosexual behavior and the legitimization of same-sex marriage are clear marks that God’s hand of favor has been withdrawn from society (The New Testament, Romans 1:24-32). This court has formally disavowed His rule over our personal lives, our families, our communities and our nation.

“The withdrawal of God’s restraining hand of influence will directly impact our children and grandchildren. They will be increasingly marginalized by the mainstream entertainment and news media, facing overt persecution for their faith unless we experience a mighty movement of God to awaken us to biblical redemption through Jesus Christ.

“Yet, we should not be surprised. The days in which we live were predicted long ago:

‘But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. (The New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:1-5)

“We continue to love and pray for our country. We will work to defend and uphold the ideals of religious and personal liberties enshrined in our God-given and constitutionally-granted Bill of Rights. We also pray for spiritual awakening. This is and always has been our only hope as a nation. Only then will we see an accompanying return to righteousness and holiness.”

Photo by Tom Strode
Hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters await today’s Supreme Court decisions at a rally in front of the court building, which is undergoing repair.  

– President Obama:

“This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

“This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

“So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

“On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

“The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”

– Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council:

“While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought. Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex ‘marriage.’ As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify.

“We are encouraged that the court learned from the disaster of Roe v. Wade and refrained from redefining marriage for the entire country. However, by striking down the federal definition of marriage in DOMA, the Court is asserting that Congress does not have the power to define the meaning of words in statutes Congress itself has enacted. This is absurd. The Defense of Marriage Act imposes no uniform definition of marriage upon the individual states. However, the states should not be able to impose varying definitions of marriage upon the federal government. The ruling that the federal government must recognize same-sex ‘marriages’ in states that recognize them raises as many questions as it answers. For example, what is the status of such couples under federal law if they move to another state that does not recognize their ‘marriage?’ This decision throws open the doors for whole new rounds of litigation.”

– Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis., the Senate’s first openly homosexual member:

“The nation’s highest court reaffirmed our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law. The Court made a strong statement for equality and freedom, overturning discrimination against gay and lesbian American citizens simply because of who they love.

“While this is a huge step forward for our country, the fight to make America more equal does not end with a Supreme Court decision. There is more work to be done to fulfill the promise of freedom and equality for all – in which America becomes a place where every family’s love and commitment can be recognized and respected under the law.”

– R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

The decision declaring unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act “takes us right up to the brink of nationwide same-sex marriage,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer shortly after the decision.

“I think it is hard to overestimate the impact of the decisions today,” Mohler said. The court also declined to uphold California’s Proposition 8, which protected traditional marriage.

The DOMA ruling “will be a devastating thing for this country,” Mohler said. “I believe that marriage is a pre-political institution, that is one of God’s greatest gifts to his human creatures and that it always has been and always must be the union between a man and a woman. To radically transform the institution of marriage is to change the definition of what it means for humans to exist together in community.

“I think when you look at American history, there are many dates that stand in our constitutional history as what you might call stand-out, red letter days. This is one of those days,” Mohler added.

While “there are many people celebrating this, we recognize that this is a major cultural divide over something as basic as marriage. I think it will be very devastating for our country for the long-term, because what it means is the inevitable marginalization of marriage and the subversion of the most essential institution of human existence.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.)

Related stories/opinions

Gay marriage prevails at Supreme Court
Guest column: How should same-sex marriage change the church’s witness?
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6/27/2013 11:40:43 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

College wins contraceptive mandate injunction

June 27 2013 by Baptist Press

PITTSBURGH – Geneva College, a Christian school in Beaver Falls, Pa., has become the first nonprofit to receive a preliminary injunction against the contraceptive mandate.

Geneva, affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, objects to providing the federally mandated insurance coverage to employees and students that includes Plan B (the so-called “morning-after” pill) and ella (the “week-after” pill).

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti originally had dismissed Geneva’s lawsuit but then reinstated it in May after the school presented evidence that it was already experiencing the effects of the mandate.

Conti did not explain why she granted the injunction in her June 18 court order, but she wrote in May that the federal government “failed to build sufficient lead time” for schools like Geneva to make plans for the mandate.

Federal judges have dismissed lawsuits from other schools like Wheaton College on the grounds they aren’t experiencing immediate harm from the mandate.

Judges likely will decide on the merits of the ongoing lawsuits like Geneva’s after the Department of Health and Human Services issues a finalized contraceptive mandate in August.

Conti first dismissed Geneva’s suit on the grounds that the federal government hadn’t finalized the mandate, and so the college didn’t have standing to sue.

Geneva asked the judge to reconsider, presenting evidence that the school was already considering whether to drop its student health plan for the next school year based on its objections to the mandate as it stands. HHS’ proposals on changing the mandate haven’t given the school any real hope that it can comply without violating its biblical principles.

The school was to notify students by May 13 if it was dropping its insurance plan. Conti agreed the college was already suffering the effects of the mandate and reinstated the lawsuit.

“Geneva is no longer planning for some indefinite event in the future,” Conti wrote.

She added, “At this time all plaintiffs like Geneva have to rely on, until a final rule is published, are the existing final rules and the proposed rules. Geneva is potentially without any ‘final’ guidance (as defendants would define it) until the very day it is expected to have a student health insurance plan in place – a process that, in reality, can take many months.” The judge dismissed some of the counts in Geneva’s lawsuit but kept its core allegations.

Several other schools such as Wheaton College and Franciscan University have watched judges dismiss their lawsuits against the mandate on the same grounds Conti used to dismiss Geneva’s initially. But Conti noted those schools’ insurance plans weren’t necessarily under the same time crunch as Geneva’s.

The ruling might have little impact on the other Christian colleges unless they can present facts like Geneva did showing that they are also facing immediate decisions on their insurance coverage.

The mandate, part of regulations implementing the 2010 health care reform law, requires nearly all employers to carry insurance plans that cover drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions.

Among those state-defined contraceptives are Plan B and other “morning-after” pills, which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos, and “ella,” which, in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486, can act even after implantation to end the life of a child. The rule mandates plans to underwrite sterilization for women and related “education and counseling.”

The abortion/contraception requirement is the target of more than 60 federal lawsuits and will be implemented for Christian institutions and other nonprofit organizations beginning Aug. 1. It will take effect when each organization’s health plan begins a new year. The mandate’s start-up date for for-profit organizations was Aug. 1 of 2012.

The abortion/contraception mandate, also known as the HHS mandate because of its issuance by the Department of Health and Human Services, gives those who object to it, according to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, three options, all unacceptable: 1) violate their consciences by obeying it; 2) violate the law, which could produce hefty fines; or 3) stop providing health coverage, which could force workers to purchase insurance with provisions they object to and possibly open the employers up to penalties.

Of the 61 lawsuits that have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate, 32 are by for-profits. Included are Christian publisher Tyndale House, Christian-owned Hobby Lobby and businesses owned by Catholics, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Courts have granted injunctions to 20 for-profit corporations blocking enforcement of the mandate, but have refused to provide such relief to Hobby Lobby and six others. No action has been taken in five for-profit lawsuits.

Geneva College was the first nonprofit to receive such relief from a court. Courts have dismissed 18 of the nonprofit lawsuits, citing procedural issues.

The Obama administration proposed a rule change in February to address conscience objections to the abortion/contraception mandate. Religious liberty advocates said it appears to protect churches and church ministries but not religious institutions and individuals.

In a letter to Congress June 21, ERLC President Russell D. Moore urged passage of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which amends the health care reform law to protect Americans from having to purchase or provide insurance that includes coverage of abortion or another service to which they object on “moral or religious” grounds.

It also bars discrimination by the government against health care workers or institutions refusing to participate in abortions.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reports by WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine and Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.)
6/27/2013 11:36:36 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Luter lauds Hispanic churches for vitality, leading by example

June 27 2013 by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press

HOUSTON – Hispanics not only belong in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) but “they are here to stay,” SBC President Fred Luter said at “Avance Hispano 2013” held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Houston.

LifeWay Christian Resources, the International Mission Board, GuideStone Financial Resources and the North American Mission Board hosted the missional advance dinner June 9 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“The Hispanic fellowship is critical, and our [Hispanic] churches are critical, to what we are doing in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Luter, who was translated by Joshua del Risco, the North American Mission Board’s director for Hispanic evangelism.

Photo by Van Payne
SBC President Fred Luter speaks to the Avance Hispano gathering June 9 in Houston. Joshua Del Risco, who provided translation, is in the background. Del Risco is the North American Mission Board’s Hispanic evangelism director.

Luter declared that “our Hispanic churches are the churches that are growing the most in the Southern Baptist Convention.” He also thanked attendees “for the impact that you are making on the Kingdom of God.” 

Stating that the Southern Baptist Convention needs a revival, Luter said he wanted to use the Hispanic churches as an example for other churches to model.

“All of us go through difficult times in life and in ministry,” Luter said. “Because the Hispanic churches are doing so well, the enemy will try to do his best to come against us. But you got to hold on and hold out and understand that if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

Gus Reyes, Hispanic ministries consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas and a member of the Evangelical Table on Immigration, led in a time of intercessory prayer for those involved in the proposed immigration reforms.

Reyes asked attendees to stand if they knew someone who needed intercession before God due to an immigration issue. In response, nearly everyone present was on their feet.

Angel Luis Angel Diaz-Pabon, the editor of the newly released “Biblia del Pescador,” also attended the meeting. The Bible version is an evangelistic and apologetic tool that will soon be translated into English and other languages.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Raul Lema Jr. is associate team strategist for theological education ministries at the Florida Baptist Convention. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/27/2013 11:30:55 AM by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Group prays for the nation at SBC

June 27 2013 by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press

HOUSTON – A 45-minute season of prayer for the U.S. highlighted the annual convocation of the Hispanic National Fellowship of Southern Baptist Churches in Houston.

J. Antonio Gamiochipi, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista of Alief, and members of the Houston-area church hosted the event June 10 at Alief, which provided both a meal and worship service.

Augusto Valverde, pastor of Iglesia Un Nuevo Amanecer in Miami, led the prayer time that has been a tradition for the Hispanic fellowship at every Southern Baptist Convention. The congregation prayed in small groups using a “Concert of Prayer” format prevalent in many Spanish-speaking churches.

Photo by Fernando Marquez
Members of the Hispanic Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention pray together at a dinner June 10 at the Houston-area Primera Iglesia Bautista de Alief.  

Attendees addressed specific needs of the U.S. as a leader presented the prayer themes, which included family, churches, education, government, armed forces and unity, and the groups then prayed for various matters in each theme.

Nelson Daniel Venturini, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Restauracion in Houston and a professional family counselor, preached about the Christian family and the challenges it faces in the present culture. Venturini based his message on a code for family construction which he uses as a family therapy tool. Using 15 concepts for building a strong and healthy family, Venturini challenged attendees to build a strong family. The code and other information can be accessed at www.constructoresdelafamilia.org

Mateo Ariza Sosa, a member of the Primera Iglesia Bautista of Alief, said “it was impressive to see the beauty of God in the prayers, the songs and the teaching.” The convocation was the first time Sosa, a newly converted believer, had participated in this event.

Representatives from the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources were present to answer questions and provide available resources in Spanish. Attendees also received a copy of the Spanish translation of the book Radical by Alabama pastor David Platt as a gift from LifeWay en Español.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Raul Lema, Jr. is associate team strategist for theological education ministries at the Florida Baptist Convention. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/27/2013 11:26:29 AM by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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