June 2013

Seminary luncheons draw alumni, guests

June 21 2013 by Baptist Press

HOUSTON – Campus updates and award presentations highlighted the alumni luncheons hosted by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries June 12 during the SBC annual meeting in Houston.

Following are reports from the luncheons:


A highlight of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual alumni luncheon was a special discussion between the school’s newly inaugurated president and a key Conservative Resurgence figure.

Before some 150 alumni and friends, Jason Allen, Midwestern’s president, and Judge Paul Pressler, a former Texas Appeals Court justice, discussed Pressler’s instrumental role in turning the SBC from liberalism to its conservative biblically-based roots.

Introducing their time of dialogue together, Allen said of Pressler, “I and my generation stand on the shoulders of giants, and one of those men sits in the room with us today.”

Prompted by Allen’s questions, the judge retold the story of the Conservative Resurgence from his vantage point. He divulged several behind-the-scenes accounts of crucial moments and events that ushered in the resurgence, which began with Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers’ election as SBC president in Houston in 1979.

Pressler also recounted how he, Paige Patterson and other denominational leaders met together, prayed to and petitioned God, cried and rejoiced over the subject. He particularly expressed the many evidences of God’s faithfulness as he and many others sought to bring back biblical faithfulness into a convention that had fallen into theological liberalism.

“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Pressler said of his typical disposition in life. “But sometimes there are things you have to fight for.”

Concluding their conversation, Allen asked Pressler to share his thoughts about the future of the SBC, especially in light of increasing cultural degeneration.

“The opportunities are great, and I see churches being formed where there’s been no gospel [preached] in a long time. I see bright, fabulous young people pastoring churches and people responding,” he told those in attendance. “Where the seed is sown, God will give the increase.”

Pressler added that he was excited about the future of theological education in Southern Baptist life.

“For the first time, we have [many of] our students getting a theological education that grounds them on the Word of God and teaches them to preach expositorally,” Pressler said.

Following the dialogue, Allen presented Pressler the seminary’s first For the Church Award. The special recognition honored the judge for his service to the convention and its churches during the Conservative Resurgence.

In Allen’s presidential report to alumni and friends, he said that while it had been an incredible week filled with joy, it was also a time for concern especially in light of the recent LifeWay report, low messenger totals at the convention and national and cultural concerns. He summed up the state of Southern Baptists and the local church in three words: “But if not.”

The term originated in the King James Bible but was the three-word cable to London about the British Expeditionary Force’s dire situation as the German military closed in on them at Dunkirk in France.

“But if not” represented that unless divine intervention occurred, the British soldiers there would perish. Two things then took place – London’s marketplace became silent and the churches were filled with people praying for the situation. Remarkably, the Germans stalled in their pursuit and over the next many days, 338,000 British soldiers were evacuated and lived to fight another day.

Allen said the stakes are high “for our culture, our nation, our denomination, and most especially for our churches; ‘but if not’ for the grace of God, Midwestern Seminary would not succeed.

“As a seminary, we must abide under a Romans 10 logic, and that logic frames for us our vision of For the Church. There is a sense in which our ministry and mission at Midwestern Seminary is conditioned by these three words – ‘But if not,’” Allen said.

“Our role is to exist for the local church – producing the pastors, ministers and evangelists who will be the next generation to carry out the Great Commission mandate, and it is by God’s grace that we accomplish the task and mission before us.”

Allen presented two other awards during the luncheon’s activities. Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, was presented the Denominational Service Award, and John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, was honored with the Alumni of the Year award. Allen said both men were invaluable leaders in the denomination and dear friends of Midwestern Seminary.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary honored Pearl Dee Chiu, Willie Simmons and Roger Barrier with Distinguished Alumni Awards at the seminary’s alumni and friends luncheon.

“Three roles that depict our distinguished alumni are missionaries, pioneers and pastors,” Jeff Iorg, the seminary’s president, said. He noted that they were being honored because of the significance of their contributions in spreading the gospel.

Pearl Dee Chiu, a missionary, was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. She graduated from Golden Gate with a master of religious education in 1968 and a master of church music the following year. While attending Golden Gate, she served at UC Berkeley in the international student ministry department, where she met Wah Chiu, her husband of 41 years.

After graduation, Chiu served as minister of education and music at Chinese Baptist Church in Berkeley, Calif. In 1999, she founded Mission Hope Ministries, a fundraising organization which supports four mission projects in Thailand. The projects provide housing and/or education, job training and religious teaching for various groups including orphans and children in poor families, children of prisoners and newly released prisoners, and inmates.

Willie Simmons, a pioneer, is a native of Louisiana who graduated from Golden Gate in 1983 with a doctor of ministry degree. While attending seminary, he was the first African American called to pastor First Southern Baptist Church in Compton, Calif. During this time, Simmons also trained people to work with Hispanics.

After graduation, Simmons received a call from the Foreign Mission Board to work with African American churches and pastors to stimulate interest in foreign missions. He was the first African American pastor to be called at the management level of the FMB. In 1993, he co-founded the African American Korean American Christian Alliance, which traveled to South Korea on a goodwill tour.

In 2001, Simmons was appointed to a two-year assignment as a staff missionary and served in Brazil through the International Mission Board’s Masters Program. He was the director of Golden Gate’s Theological Field Education program and served as a TFE mentor for international students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today, Simmons lives with Marva, his wife of 56 years, and leads a cross-cultural community Bible study at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas.

Roger Barrier, a pastor, is a native of Dallas who received a doctor of ministry from Golden Gate in 1992. He has been the pastor of Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz., for 35 years. The mega-church is known for its well-integrated and multigenerational ministry. Barrier was called as pastor in 1975 when the church had 70 members, and it now has approximately 10,000 members.

Barrier founded “Preach It, Teach It” in 2008 as the result of a burden he had for overseas missionaries with few resources. The website (preachitteachit.org) provides Bible training, questions and answers and other resources. It is translated into various languages and offers sermons, articles, devotionals and advice. Contributors include Francis Chan, Andy Stanley, Beth Moore, Max Lucado and John Piper.

Barrier is a featured pastor on Crosswalk.com, the largest Christian website in the country. He partners with Intimate Life Ministries and regularly teaches national leaders for Campus Crusade for Christ and other missions organizations. Barrier lives in Frisco, Texas, with Julie, his wife of 38 years.

Also at the luncheon, Iorg reported on the work of the seminary by reiterating five trends he shared in his earlier convention report. The first trend is that opposition to the Christian worldview is on the rise and will continue to increase in North America. “This reality mandates Golden Gate hold fast to the Word of God,” Iorg said.

A second trend is to reallocate resources. “Churches and seminaries must reorder their priorities,” Iorg said. “We must take a strong look at what we have and how we’re using it and what is really essential for our seminary.”

A third trend is the acknowledgement that the digital world is here to stay. “Information storage and retrieval, resources and information access are changing, and our seminary has changed and is changing as a result,” Iorg said. “We are working hard to create an educational delivery model for the 21st century, meeting the needs of students in the digital age.”

Iorg said a fourth trend is a result of digital access to information. “We are becoming an international seminary as we embrace the digital world,” he said.

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, churches are emerging as more vital partners in seminary training,” Iorg said as he explained the fifth trend of partnership. “Internships, apprenticeships, mentoring and other training programs all provide opportunities to work hand in hand with churches to bring to bear the best of both worlds – seminary and church – on fulfilling our mutual mission of shaping leaders who expand God’s Kingdom around the world.”

Golden Gate continues to live by three watchwords, Iorg said: biblical, missional, global.

“Your seminary in the west has just graduated its 8,000th graduate and is looking ahead to the future,” Iorg said. “We hope you will continue to stand with us for the gospel.”

New Orleans

Graduates of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and their families packed a Hilton Americas Hotel ballroom for the seminary’s annual alumni and friends luncheon.

Chuck Kelley, the seminary’s president, presented four former graduates with the distinguished alumni award. Recipients included Ron Herrod, who received a master of theology in 1968; Chris Machen, master of church music, 1980; Mike Shaw, master of theology, 1973, and doctor of ministry, 1976; and Don Stewart, bachelor of divinity, 1960, and doctor of theology, 1965, converted to a Ph.D. in 2002.

Each distinguished alumnus was a tribute to the diverse ministry paths many New Orleans Seminary graduates take in life.

Herrod spent a total of 36 years serving as a pastor, including a decade at First Baptist Church in Kenner, La. In 1995, he left the pastorate to start the Ron Herrod Evangelism Ministries Association, a Tennessee-based nonprofit organization that focuses on evangelistic crusades, mission projects and leadership training.

Kelley said that while Herrod served at First Baptist Kenner, he was a household name for New Orleans Seminary students because of the church’s reputation for evangelism.

“Every one of those years, [the church] led the Louisiana Baptist Convention in baptisms,” Kelley said.

Machen has spent more than 30 years in the music ministry as a singer, songwriter, publisher, actor, studio musician, choir specialist and worship leader. He currently serves as worship pastor at Preston Ridge Baptist Church in Frisco, Texas. Notable choir anthem titles Machen has written include “Bow the Knee,” “God is Able,” “And God Cried” and “God Still Moves.”

Kelley said he met Machen when they were students at Baylor University.

“Chris was one of the most talented musicians we had on the entire Baylor campus,” Kelley said. “He broke the hearts of the music faculty because he had this magnificent voice and great musical talent and he was going to waste it doing worship and praise. But it says a lot about Chris that he never let his talent take him off the track God had for his life.”

Machen and his wife Diane performed several songs during the luncheon and led attendees in singing hymns and the seminary’s alma mater.

“God’s given us music over the years,” Machen said. “We’ve always wanted it to be for His glory and to elevate the church and lead people to Jesus. We’re just very grateful, and thank you for this wonderful honor.”

Shaw has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala., for 34 years.

Besides serving as pastor of First Baptist Pelham, Shaw is a volunteer chaplain for the city. He has served on the board of directors for The Alabama Baptist newspaper and on the State Board of Missions for the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Shaw was president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention from 2010 to 2012. Last year, he was elected to serve as a trustee of NOBTS.

Of Shaw’s long ministry at First Baptist Pelham, Kelley said, “I don’t think there are many things God cherishes more than a long obedience in the same direction.”

Shaw, fighting back tears, offered one key to his long ministry at Pelham.

“I can tell you how to go somewhere and stay a long time,” Shaw said. “You marry your sweetheart who’s the sweetest woman and the best Christian you’ve ever known, and folks will put up with you to keep her.”

Stewart is professor emeritus of New Testament and Greek at New Orleans Seminary. He served as executive vice president at NOBTS from 1978 to 1990, directed the school’s professional doctoral program from 1991 to 1997, and was professor of New Testament and Greek from 1997 to 2003.

A highlight of Stewart’s extensive ministry experience is the 36 churches where he’s been interim or transitional pastor. From teaching at William Carey University from 1963 to 1978, to serving under both Landrum Leavell and Kelley, to his church ministry, Stewart has built a legacy of faithfulness, Kelley said.

“Dr. Stewart, you are a faithful man of God. That’s just who you are. It doesn’t matter what the job description might be. It doesn’t matter what the role might be. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you are just a faithful servant of God.”

Also during the luncheon, Kelley described for alumni and friends of the seminary the $1.5 million gift an anonymous family gave to NOBTS this past spring.


Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary held its annual luncheon to celebrate God’s faithfulness – past, present and future.

Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., shared their experiences as students at Southeastern.

“We love our school and want to make a difference in the world, but that difference begins with investing in the lives of students,” Hunt said.

Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president, said equipping students is a great opportunity aimed at Kingdom investments.

“The 21st century culture is looking more and more like the first century,” Akin said. “In response to this, biblical inerrancy must be reclaimed in order to proclaim Christ faithfully today.”

Southeastern, then, is going to love God’s Word so that it might love His world, Akin said.

Looking toward the future of the school, Akin said Southeastern is building both the greatest missionary seminary and a more ethnically diverse seminary committed to serving Christ Jesus.

“In a world satisfied with a convenient and comfortable Christianity, we are building a seminary that proclaims Christ to the ends of the earth and we want to build a school that looks like the church in heaven where every tribe, people, tongue and nation are represented,” Akin said.


R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, announced Thom Rainer as distinguished alumni of the year at the Southern Seminary alumni luncheon.

Rainer, a master of divinity graduate from Southern in 1985 and doctor of philosophy graduate from 1988, is president of LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. Before assuming leadership of LifeWay, he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary.

Rainer thanked seminary leaders for the award and expressed gratitude in particular to the Mohler family for their investment in him and his family.

Rainer is the author of 22 books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad and The Millennials.

Mohler surveyed the happenings at Southern Seminary during the past year and spoke of a transition time on campus. Two executives from the seminary were tapped recently as heads of SBC entities: Jason Allen as president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Russell Moore as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Mohler introduced to alumni Randy Stinson and Gregory Wills as senior vice president of academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at the seminary, respectively. He also introduced Adam Greenway as dean of the new Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, Matt Hall as vice president of academic services and Jarvis Williams as associate professor of New Testament interpretation.

Mohler, who this year will mark his 20th year as Southern’s president, expressed gratitude to the seminary community for their contribution to his time at Southern. He recounted several pledges that he made to Southern Baptists at his first convention as president in 1993 and said the seminary, which was then engrossed in controversy, is now the seminary intended at its founding in 1859.

“Twenty years later, I am able to come back to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention and say, ‘You gave us a commission, you gave us a charge.’ I came and made several commitments to you, and by God’s grace, I’m able to say as I come back 20 years later that we’ve kept those commitments.”

Southern Seminary will hold an event in honor of Mohler’s tenure during Heritage Week in October.


Evangelism took center stage at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s alumni luncheon.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., were honored as distinguished alumni, and Southwestern President Paige Patterson updated alumni on the evangelistic atmosphere on campus.

“Frank Page and his wife Dayle have made immeasurable contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention and to the work of the Kingdom of God,” Patterson said. He applauded Page for his courage to write a book about his daughter’s suicide and for his commitment to evangelism and prayer.

“When you wrote me the letter about [the award], I wept,” Page told Patterson. “It meant a lot to me because I love Southwestern. I remember being pronounced a Southwesterner by Dr. [Robert] Naylor.”

Page added, “One of the primary things that is a deep burden to me is the denigration of evangelism across our churches and in our land. In fact, we’re seeing less personal witnessing than ever before. But there is a bright light coming out of Fort Worth where soul winning is not only encouraged but it is exampled by faculty, staff and students and also by our dear president.”

In recognizing Gaines, Patterson said he took on the unenviable task of following legendary Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers and has done a remarkable job.

“You have kept the exposition of Scripture and the mandate of evangelism and leading people to Christ side-by-side,” Patterson said.

Gaines expressed gratitude for the award, saying, “God used Southwestern to change my life, and I will forever be grateful.” He said he cherished the opportunity to study under great men like evangelism professor Roy Fish.

Patterson gave alumni an update about what God is doing in and through Southwestern. Among the programs and events mentioned, Patterson told alumni about the ongoing evangelistic spirit on campus as seen through professors leading students in door-to-door evangelism; the seminary’s annual spring break revival program, which sends revival preachers to churches in nearly every state; and the recent report from Southwestern’s short-term mission team to the unreached Antandroy people group of Southern Madagascar, where they witnessed more than 400 professions of faith.

Patterson encouraged alumni with one of his standard evangelism axioms: “Never pass a solitary figure who seems to be all alone in the world. You see them everywhere. They just don’t register with you. You see them sitting on a park bench. Maybe they’re fine, but chances are that a lot of trouble is surrounding that person’s life. He’s sitting there on the park bench, sitting at the bus stop, sitting somewhere by himself, wondering what is next.”

Patterson challenged alumni never to pass someone like that without attempting to share the gospel. He recounted the story of Keith Eitel, dean of the School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern, who several years ago took time to witness to a young Australian man in such a state on the streets of Thailand. After listening to the young man, Thai, share about his feelings of emptiness, Eitel shared the gospel, and Thai placed his faith in Christ.

Thai subsequently moved to the United States and enrolled in the College at Southwestern, where he recently graduated. Now pursuing a master of divinity at Southwestern, he also serves as a chef on campus.

Patterson traveled to Australia earlier this summer, and while he was there, he visited Thai’s family and shared the gospel with them. Although they did not place their faith in Christ, Patterson said the seeds have been planted, and he hopes that one day Thai will have the opportunity to lead them to faith.

Patterson, who served on the advisory committee on Calvinism appointed by Page, also addressed the topic during the luncheon.

“I want to promise you something,” Patterson said to any at the luncheon who hold to Reformed theology. “If you adopt Reformed theology, you will never be persecuted at Southwestern Seminary.... I want you to know you’re welcome at Southwestern Seminary, and I’m glad to have you there.”

Patterson also clarified that Southwestern will continue to demonstrate the evangelistic and doctrinal zeal of the Swiss and South German evangelical Anabaptists, who lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation. This type of gospel passion, Patterson said, can be felt all over campus.

“Thanks to the leadership ... of our evangelism professors and literally the whole faculty,” Patterson said, “our students are winning people to Christ at unprecedented rates all around the school. When they leave, they are soul winners. They know what it means to witness and share their faith.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reporting by Tim Sweetman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Frank Michael McCormick of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Michael McEwen of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Aaron Cline Hanbury of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/21/2013 11:17:53 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelist: What must & must not change

June 21 2013 by Norm Miller, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – Three things that are changeless are “the man, the message and the mission,” and three that must change are the “mindset, methods and motives,” the president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) said at their annual meeting in Houston.

Eric Ramsey, also president of Tom Cox World Ministries, recapped the message that must not change: that Jesus was fully God and fully man is the only way to salvation.

“He is the Creator, who loved us so much He paid the death penalty for our sins,” Ramsey told the crowd of about 200 assembled for a COSBE-led worship service in Houston June 9 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 11-12 annual meeting in Houston.

Ramsey said 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 is the gospel in a nutshell: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Photo by Matt Miller
Eric Ramsey, an evangelist and the 2012-13 president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) spoke during the COSBE morning worship service June 9 at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston.  

Ramsey said the message that Jesus Christ died and rose again is changeless, as is the unchanging mission to make disciples according to the Great Commission in Matthew 18:19-20.

The phrase, “As you are going,” is the grammatically correct way to understand the “go therefore” verbiage in the passage, Ramsey said. “It is assumed we are already going. As we go, we are to make disciples.”

The process of discipling is “first we learn, then we emulate and then we become a multiplier – someone who goes and makes disciples,” Ramsey said.

What Christians must change is their mindset. He referred to Philippians 2:5-9, Ramsey said, noting that Jesus was obedient unto death on a cross and thus, “a believer’s mindset does not need to reflect self-centeredness.”

“Do you spend more time talking about yourself than about Jesus?” Ramsey asked.

Expressing appreciation for those who stand against the encroachment of godlessness in American culture, Ramsey said Christians “must be careful about how much we present Christ against the culture and begin to represent Christ in the culture.”

“If I set myself up to represent Christ against culture, then it keeps me from being effective for Christ in our culture,” he said. “We need to be louder about Jesus Christ than we are about societal issues because Christians are not the change agents; Jesus Christ is.”

A mindset change includes knowing the culture in one’s own neighborhood, Ramsey said, but that does not mean the Christian message changes. “How we communicate that message does change,” he said.

“We don’t need to begin with ‘You are a big sinner,’“ he said, because “the wall immediately goes up because so many don’t know what sin is.”

Many in America define sin as breaking one’s own moral code, he said, “and many church members believe this.”

Jesus knew His culture, Ramsey said, noting that Jesus talked about fishing with fishermen, sheep with shepherds and crops with farmers.

“We must know the audience in our culture and speak their language to keep the mission on point,” he said.

Christians’ evangelistic methods must change, too, because they “can take on a life of their own,” Ramsey said.

The gospel is successful by itself, and “as we get so broad, the gospel loses its central message of Christ dying for our sins, and that God wants to transform our lives.”

Speaking to motives, Ramsey said if “we work for the rewards of men, then we have our reward.”

“If we are trying to please people, we are not pleasing God, and the gospel is not effective,” he added. “Then the church will plateau and become ineffective.”

“When we are willing to humble ourselves not just through a worship song but with our lives, then God will exalt us,” he said.

“If we keep our mindset right, we can focus on the man. If we keep the methods right, we can focus in the message, and if we keep the motives right, we can focus on the mission,” Ramsey concluded.

Also preaching at the meeting were COSBE vice president Richard Hamlet of Global Ministries Fellowship and international evangelist David Stockwell.

COSBE re-elected by acclamation Ramsey and Hamlet to their positions of president and vice president, respectively. Musician Russell Johnson of Conway, S.C., was elected worship leader for COSBE’s next annual meeting.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Norm Miller is director of communications at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/21/2013 11:13:26 AM by Norm Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Iran’s new president offers little hope of change

June 21 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN – Though he has been described in Western media as a moderate candidate, Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s president-elect, shows few signs of easing up on the persecution of Christians in the Islamic Republic. 

Rouwani, a cleric, is loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and “they have set their strategy regarding Christianity in Iran and continue to see it as a threat and will continue to be strict about it,” Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband is imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith, said after the June 14 election.

Naghmeh Abedini was born in Iran but grew up in the United States after her family fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. She said she hopes she is wrong about continued persecution “and that many families (including mine) will see their loved ones returned to them.”

In addition to Naghmeh Abedini’s husband, several other Christians known to the international community remain in prison in Iran, including pastor Benham Irani, who at last report suffered from an acute blood infection and was barely able to walk as he serves a six-year sentence for “acting against the interests of national security.”

Also imprisoned, facing a nine-year sentence, is Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, the attorney who defended another long-imprisoned Iranian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, whose freedom was the focus of a worldwide campaign that resulted in his release last year.

Rouwani, one of six candidates to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, securing his position as the country’s next president. 

His victory prompted celebrations in the streets of Iran and gave some in the international community hope that the harsh rhetoric of Ahmadinejad would yield to progress, USA Today reported. 

But Christians in Iran agreed with Naghmeh Abedini’s assessment that little would change regarding the government’s brutal treatment of minority faiths. 

“The Christians I recently spoke with seemed rather apathetic about the elections,” a fieldworker for Open Doors International said. “They don’t seem to expect significant changes in Iran’s policies against Christians.”

World Watch Monitor explained that the real power lies with Khamenei, who controls even who is allowed to run for president. 

Each potential candidate is vetted by the Guardian Council, which includes six experts in Islamic law selected by the supreme leader and six jurists appointed by the Iranian parliament. The jurists are limited to those nominated by the head of judicial power, who is appointed by the supreme leader, World Watch Monitor said.

“In your Western media, the candidates are divided into conservatives and reformers, as if there is a choice. But let me tell you this: There is no choice. All of the candidates are from Ayatollah Khamenei’s team,” an Iranian believer told Open Doors.

Until Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency in a controversial election in 2005, the president “had at least some influence on the direction of the country. The power seemed to be more equally divided between the supreme leader and the president, but that is not the case anymore,” an Iranian Christian told World Watch Monitor. 

To sway the Iranian public, which disapproved of Ahmadinejad’s leadership, Rowhani’s speeches became increasingly reformist during the campaign, and he was considered the clear favorite going into the election.

At a news conference June 17, Rowhani spoke of moderation, trust and new beginnings while making clear that Iran’s nuclear program would continue, USA Today said. 

During the campaign, Rowhani criticized the regime’s confrontational foreign policy style and said he could have achieved the same nuclear power progress without incurring the international sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy, USA Today said.

In pre-election meetings, Open Doors reported, Rowhani “seemed intent to transform the damaged relations between Iran and the West and called for the release of political prisoners.”

While attention in Iran was focused on the presidential election, Assist News Service (ANS) said, six Christians were convicted of attending a house church and spreading Christianity. 

Four of the men were sentenced to more than three years in prison, and two were sentenced to eight additional months. A woman and her teenage son, ANS said, each received a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Mohabat Iranian Christian News Agency said, “It seems that the Iranian Intelligence organizations have been actively pursuing their intentions during the past one-and-a-half months of presidential election activities to pressure non-Muslim Iranians [in] the most severe form possible. 

“With people and media so much engaged in elections, this time is a golden opportunity for Iran’s Islamic regime to resume religious minority cases,” Mohabat News said, according to ANS.

Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband Saeed has been held in Tehran’s Evin prison since last September, wrote in her analysis of the new president that he presented himself as a moderate in order to bring hope and unity among the Iranian people while removing any danger of the Iranian regime losing control.

“His background does not show any signs of moderacy,” Naghmeh Abedini wrote. “ ... My prayer is that the people of Iran will not once again put their hope in a president to fix everything. He is only one man. But that the people of Iran would discover Jesus Christ who can truly bring the peace and joy that they are looking for through forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God.”

In the same Facebook post, Naghmeh Abedini offered an update on her husband. 

“Saeed’s father visited Saeed today and he was doing good. His bleeding seems to have stopped, but he continues to have some medical issues that need to be tended to (he has some pain),” she wrote.

“The prison authorities are not happy about the conversions in prison and are threatening to move Saeed to another city/prison and are doing what they can to prevent him from sharing Christ in prison,” Abedini wrote. “This is most likely empty threats. But please continue to keep Saeed in your prayers.”

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini, said June 18 that the threat to move Saeed to a prison in a more remote area of southern Iran underscores “the daily difficulties that Pastor Saeed faces – not only the fact that he is imprisoned but the psychological torment he endures at the hands of his captors.”

A move to southern Iran, the ACLJ said, “would make it nearly impossible for his family to visit him any longer. It would also tear him away from friendships he has developed with fellow prisoners of conscience.”

ACLJ said even a modest improvement in the pastor’s medical condition and good spirits “is evidence that the ‘prayers of many’ are being answered.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
6/21/2013 11:10:46 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Exodus International shuts down, president apologizes

June 20 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Exodus International, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality,” announced late Wednesday (June 19) that it’s shutting its doors.
Exodus’s board unanimously agreed to close the ministry and begin a separate one, though details about a new ministry focused on gender and sexuality are still being worked out.

The announcement came just after Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement apologizing to the gay community for many actions, including the organization’s promotion of efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation.
Exodus functioned as a support group for men and women who were struggling with their sexual orientation, and early on embraced the idea that gays and lesbians could become straight through prayer and counseling.
But the belief in “reparative therapy was one of the things that led to the downfall of this organization,” Chambers said in an interview, noting that Exodus in recent years redirected its focus to helping men and women work through their sexual identity.
“I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents,” Chambers said in the apology. “I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite – or worse.”

Photo courtesy Exodus International
Alan Chambers is the president of Exodus International, a support group for men and women who are struggling with the sexuality. 

Chambers, who is married to his wife, Leslie, said his core beliefs about sexuality have not changed, and admitted he still wrestles with his own same-sex attraction.
The announcement comes at a critical point for gay rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue two potentially decisive rulings on gay marriage and public opinion shifts rapidly in favor of gay rights and even gay marriage.
A recent Gallup Poll showed that 59 percent of Americans now view gay or lesbian relations as “morally acceptable,” a 19-point swing since 2001 and the biggest change seen on any social issue, including divorce, extramarital affairs and other issues.
When Chambers was hired in 2001, he said he told the board, “Success looks like Exodus going out of business because the church is doing its job.” Three years ago, he said, Exodus had more than 20 employees in its Orlando office. Today, it has nine. In July, it will have 3 employees before it completely shuts down.
“Maybe I’ll get my wish and be a decorator and be a peacemaker on the side,” Chambers joked.  
Chambers had already disavowed reparative therapy at the annual Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference in January 2012, and his apology “is the acknowledgement many of us have been waiting to hear for a long, long time,” said GCN executive director Justin Lee.
“Alan has been moving this way for awhile … but this apology is much more explicit and leaves no room for support for change therapies or demonizing gays.” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College who has long observed the ex-gay movement.
“Exodus has been a lighting rod for Christian discussion about homosexuality over the years and with today’s events will probably continue to be for awhile.”
John Paulk, who was spotted at a gay bar in Washington, D.C., in 2000 and left his role as chairman of Exodus, also recently apologized for the reparative therapy he once promoted.
Chambers announced the closure of Exodus at the ministry’s 38th annual conference in Irvine, Calif. Local affiliated Exodus ministries, which are autonomous, will continue, but not under the name or umbrella of Exodus.
“Headlines about Exodus closing down will cause celebrations across the gay community,” said Mel White, who ghostwrote Jerry Falwell’s autobiography years before he came out as gay and launched the gay rights group Soulforce.
“What’s going to replace it is the question. I’m skeptical of it. At this point, I say thank you, I am grateful. But have you changed your basic theology?”
Exodus began in 1976 by a gay man, Frank Worthen. “Perhaps nothing has brought Exodus into the mainstream of evangelicalism more than its embrace by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family,” wrote Christianity Today in 2007. The ministry has faced some challenges in recent years, including a split with Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago and other dissolved partnerships.
In his apology, Chambers acknowledged stories of people who went to Exodus for help only to experience more trauma.
“I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope,” he said. “In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me.”
On Thursday, journalist Lisa Ling’s program “God & Gays,” which features Chambers among others, will air on The Oprah Network. “The organization needs to shut down. Shut down!” a man in the trailer tells Chambers.
“It was excruciating to sit through a group of a dozen people who shared a lot of pain and anger,” Chambers told RNS. “To sit with them and listen and take it is something the church really needs to do.”
Chambers said that 18 months ago, he proposed the idea of shutting Exodus down to its 150 leaders. Ling’s program was not the impetus for shutting things down he said, but it did provide timing.
“Sitting there listening to those stories did speed up the process a little bit,” he said. “I think it’s time in the church that we wake up and realize our culture has changed and the church isn’t in charge anymore.”
6/20/2013 3:49:07 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Akin: SEBTS sees God’s faithfulness

June 20 2013 by Baptist Press

HOUSTON – Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, cited Psalm 96 in opening his report to the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday, June 11.

“The Psalmist says that the Lord is greatly to be praised for everything,” Akin said. “Well, we are greatly praising the Lord for His faithfulness to us at Southeastern Seminary.”

Akin said Southeastern now has surpassed the 3,000 student enrollment mark. Considering its 1992 enrollment of 550 students and its academic probation, Akin said Southeastern has blossomed by God’s grace into a fruitful and abounding seminary. 

Akin said Southeastern is “a Great Commission seminary, which means that every professor is a Great Commission professor, every classroom is a Great Commission classroom, every student a Great Commission student, and by God’s grace, every graduate becomes a Great Commission graduate.”

Southeastern could only take this stance as a Great Commission institution because the seminary rests on an infallible and inerrant Word, Akin said.

Commenting on the declining numbers for the Southern Baptist Convention over the past several years, Akin said he believes it is a great responsibility – alongside the other five seminaries – to train “hot-hearted, mission-minded, fervent and evangelistic pastors who expound the Word of God and teach others to do the same.”

Southeastern is committed to serving pastors who see their churches as base camps that help train “green berets for Christ,” Akin said, “whether these individuals are going across the street or across the globe to share the gospel.”

“And Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary could not do what we do to train Great Commission students without the support of you all, so thank you very much!” Akin told messengers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Michael McEwen of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
6/20/2013 3:43:21 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Filipinos gather for fellowship & partnership

June 20 2013 by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – For the 20th consecutive year, Filipino pastors and families met in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), June 11 in Missouri City, Texas.

“The men and women who come from the Philippines are the best missionary force in the world,” said Jeff Christopherson, vice president of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Northeast Region and guest speaker at the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America.

About 100 Filipino Baptists across the continent attended the annual meeting to encourage fellowship, partnership and promotion of church planting, said Roger Manao, outgoing president of the fellowship and chairman of the Asian Multiplication Evangelical Network.

Photo by Thomas Graham
Roger Manao, president of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship and pastor of Philadelphia Bible Church International in North Philadelphia, speaks during a luncheon of the fellowship’s annual meeting June 11 at First Philippine Baptist Church in Missouri City, Texas.

“My hope today is that this meeting will really strengthen some type of partnership among pastors and churches,” Manao said. “My hope is that when they go back to their own churches that they will be inspired [to envision] new work and that their churches will multiply and we will continue to partner together.”

Elected as the fellowship’s new officers were Peter Yanes of Pennsylvania, who formerly served as vice president, and two vice presidents, Sam Abad of New York, who will serve in the East Coast region, and Noel De Guzman of California, who will serve in the West Coast region. Darius Nable of New Jersey was elected secretary; Allan Gayongala of Arizona, treasurer.

“Our expectation today is to build a strong relationship among pastors and church planters,” Manao said of the gathering, adding that he wanted to encourage pastors to get involved in SBC life. “Sometimes, as an ethnic pastor, you feel isolated. So my goal is to inspire them to get involved in the SBC life and become a participant – not only in terms of attendance but even in cooperative giving.”

Manao said another goal of the meeting was to encourage pastors to create more churches in order to reach more Filipino-Americans.

Currently, about 220 Filipino-American churches serve nearly 4 million Filipinos now living in North America, Manao said. He added that churches should do more to reach out to the unsaved Filipinos.

“Our hope is that ... we’ll be encouraged to be a part of the Great Commission but also to plant more churches and partner with NAMB and IMB [International Mission Board] to make that happen,” said Ernest Dagohoy, executive pastor of First Philippine Baptist Church in Missouri City.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Byrd is a staff writer for Baptist Press. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/20/2013 3:35:11 PM by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Panel discusses neglected children

June 20 2013 by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – “As the people of God, it is essential that we care about what He cares about, and He cares about the neglected.”

This was Al Gilbert’s charge during a panel discussion on the biblical call to love neglected children around the world. Gilbert, North American Mission Board (NAMB) vice president for evangelism, hosted the discussion June 12 at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.

Sponsored by NAMB’s LoveLoud team, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Gospel Project of LifeWay Christian Resources, the event featured dialog on the church’s role in loving and caring for neglected children within the context of biblical justice.

“We’re honored to facilitate the conversation amongst Southern Baptists when it comes to the neglected,” Gilbert said. “We want to see our churches respond to social issues like this in a gospel-centered way.”

Photo by Susan Whitley/NAMB
D.A. Horton, third from left, answers a question during a LoveLoud breakfast panel discussion held at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Houston. Joining Horton on the panel were Johnny Carr, far left, director of church partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, Tyrone Barnette, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., and Russell Moore, far right, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Horton serves as executive director of ReachLife Ministries.  

The meeting featured a panel including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Johnny Carr, director of church partnerships for Bethany Christian Services; Tyrone Barnette, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; and D.A. Horton, executive director of ReachLife Ministries.

Panel members urged Southern Baptists to respond to God’s call to love neglected children in their communities and to offer guidance on issues of mentorship, fostering, adoption, special needs ministry and biblical manhood.

“In our churches, we have families in financial and relational poverty and children who need to be mentored and guided,” Carr said. “This is where we as a church must intercede to take care of these people in the ways in which they need it the most.”

“In my community,” Barnette said, “the absence of fathers is a huge issue. We started mentorship programs to try and raise up biblical men and strong families. Things like fostering or even adopting a neglected child can do the same thing. It’s certainly not easy but can be a gateway to life change.”

Panel members said programs like this must not be viewed as one-time projects, but rather, as a way of life and state of the heart in the church. This, they said, begins with church leadership.

“Leadership sets the rhythm for the community,” Horton said. “Our church leaders must look at loving the neglected as more than a project; it has to be the culture of the church.”

Moore said Jesus didn’t call His followers “to reach people who are already thriving and healed. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Who are the people that I am to love and how as a church can we do that?’ We must see people as a whole, the way Christ sees them, and minister to the whole of their needs.”

For more information on NAMB’s LoveLoud ministry, visit namb.net/loveloud.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)
6/20/2013 3:29:03 PM by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Obama administration halts appeal on Plan B

June 20 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – One version of the “morning-after” pill now is available to girls of all ages.

The Obama administration informed a federal judge June 10 that it would end its appeal of his ruling that struck down age restrictions for a drug that has the potential to cause abortions. Its action means even pre-teen girls may purchase the drug over the counter.

The decision involves Plan B One-Step, a brand of the “morning-after” pill, which also is known as emergency contraception. The drug, however, has a secondary mechanism that can cause an abortion.

Plan B One-Step and other “morning-after” pills can restrict ovulation in a female or prevent fertilization, but they also can block implantation of the early embryo in the uterine wall. The latter effect causes an abortion. 

Once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves Plan B One-Step for unrestricted sale, companies manufacturing one-step generic pills – such as Next Choice One Dose – are expected to apply for FDA approval, according to The New York Times.

Pro-lifers decried the Obama administration decision while abortion rights advocates applauded.

The action “is a clear example of the administration's willingness to put politics ahead of the health and safety of girls,” said Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. “We are disappointed that this administration has once again sided with its political allies and ignored the safety of girls and the rights of parents.”

In 2011, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, established 17 years old as the minimum age for a female to purchase Plan B One-Step. Even when the FDA lowered that age limit to 15 in April, it was insufficient for federal judge Edward Korman, who had ordered sale of the pill without a prescription or age restriction.

The “morning-after” pill is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills that include one-step versions – such as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice One Dose – and two-step versions such as Plan B and Next Choice. The Obama administration has not agreed to lift the age restriction on two-step methods because of concern girls may not be able to use them safely, The Times reported.

The one-step version must be taken in a single dose within 72 hours after sexual intercourse. Under the two-part regimen, a woman takes a pill within 72 hours and another dose 12 hours later. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/20/2013 3:24:22 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

House, in landmark vote, OKs ban on late abortions

June 20 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives has approved landmark legislation that would prohibit abortions during the last half of pregnancy.

In a roll call Tuesday (June 18), the House voted 228-196 for the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797), which would ban abortions nationwide on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The ban is set at the developmental stage based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain.

The House’s support of the bill, however, is unlikely to translate into approval by the Senate or endorsement by President Obama. The measure will face stronger opposition from senators, and Majority Leader Harry Reid may not bring it to the floor for a vote. The White House has threatened a veto if the bill were to reach Obama’s desk.

Nonetheless, pro-life advocates applauded the House’s passage of what some see as the most important legislative protection for unborn children in years.

“Unborn children aren’t issues to be debated. Issues can’t feel pain and issues can’t die. Unborn children are persons, our neighbors,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 

“A compassionate society would demand mercy and justice for those in the dawn of life,” Moore said. “The House was right to recognize such compassionate justice, and I pray our senators and our president will as well by passing and signing this legislation.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., said the vote “marks the first time in history, in either chamber of the U.S. Congress, that affirmative protection has been extended to unborn children. It is my prayer that today also marks a day when America finally opens her eyes to the humanity of these little victims and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), called it “the most significant piece of pro-life legislation to come before the House since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2007.”

The White House, however, issued a policy statement expressing its strong opposition to the bill. Senior advisors would urge Obama to veto the bill if the Senate passes it, according to the statement.

“This bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and shows contempt for women’s health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients’ health care decisions, and the Constitution,” the Obama administration said.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 opinion in Roe, coupled with a companion ruling in Doe v. Bolton, had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country for any reason at any point in pregnancy.

Franks’ bill would alter the dynamic regarding abortion, calling on the courts to consider whether the pain experienced by an unborn child should receive some weight in deciding on a woman’s right to an abortion. 

Supporters of the legislation frequently cited the trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell in advocating for the bill. In mid-May, a jury convicted Gosnell of the first-degree murder of three born-alive babies, as well as 21 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gosnell, 72, received three consecutive life sentences without parole for the murder convictions.

Four days after Gosnell’s conviction, Franks announced he would expand the effect of his bill to the entire United States. Prior to that action, Franks’ legislation affected only the District of Columbia, which the U.S. Constitution has granted Congress authority over. Last year, Franks sponsored a similar ban in D.C. but it failed to gain congressional approval. The House voted 220-154 for his measure but it required a two-thirds majority under the rule by which it came to the floor.

The latest House vote on the proposal broke down nearly along party lines. Only six Democrats voted for it and only six Republicans opposed it.

Among Southern Baptist members of the House, 32 voted for the bill, while two voted against it and one was unable to vote. A Southern Baptist, Franks is a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church.

The bill provides exceptions for endangerment to the mother’s life, rape and incest.

A public opinion survey in March by The Polling Company showed 64 percent of American voters would support a law that fits Franks’ proposal with only a threat to the mother’s life as an exception.

Nine states have enacted bans similar to Franks’ bill, according to NRLC.

In the Gosnell case, the three children whom he was convicted of murdering were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic criticized for its unsanitary and unsafe conditions, according to a 281-page report issued by a grand jury in 2011. Gosnell, who destroyed the records in most of those deaths, or a co-worker typically killed the living children by a technique he called “snipping” – jabbing scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/20/2013 3:21:38 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone advocates passage of Church Health Plan Act

June 20 2013 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The following article from GuideStone Financial Resources sets forth the Southern Baptist entity’s support for the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 as a corrective measure for disadvantages church health plans face under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, enacted in 2010.)

DALLAS – For 95 years, GuideStone has provided financial and health benefits to pastors, ministers and employees of church and church-related organizations such as universities, seminaries, hospitals and other ministry-focused organizations. When added up across all denominations, more than 1 million pastors and others serving those organizations receive health care coverage through church health plans like those made available by GuideStone.

Those pastors, ministers and employees, as well as their families, were disregarded and put at a disadvantage when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010. Beginning in 2014, premium tax credits will be made available to eligible individuals who purchase their health coverage from commercial health care exchanges but those credits will not be available to pastors and others who get their health care coverage from church health plans.

The Church Health Plan Act, S.B. 1164, introduced in the Senate, will provide fairness for church health plans that cover ministers and others serving churches and ministry organizations. GuideStone strongly supports the efforts of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mark Pryor, D.-Ark., and Sen. Christopher Coons, D.-Del., and urges both Democratic and Republican senators alike to ensure its swift passage.

Recognizing the economic realities facing Washington, the bill does not add to the cost of health care reform’s overall tab. It simply ensures that a benefit promised to millions of Americans is available to pastors and other church staff members. GuideStone believes pastors should not have to choose between tax credits available to other Americans and proven health care plans designed with the unique needs of ministers and other church employees in mind.

GuideStone is encouraging pastors and other concerned individuals to contact their senators and urge them to join as co-sponsors and work together for the sake of pastors and others in ministry.

The Church Health Plan Act enables pastors and others who receive their coverage through church health plans to access the same premium tax credits provided to participants in secular health plans.

“For many months GuideStone has been advocating on multiple avenues related to health care reform, and we continue to do so,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone. “Now, Congress stands poised to provide fair treatment for church health care plans. If Congress fails to act, they will be disadvantaging church plans as compared to commercial, secular plans.” 

Church health plans have a robust legacy of providing health care benefits to pastors and others employed by ministry organizations. Many of these health plans date back well over a century. Church health plans offer many unique features, among them portability, which allows ministers to take their coverage with them as they move to different places of service.

Long before federal mandates, GuideStone’s church health plans, which serve more than 60,000 Southern Baptists, already were providing plans without annual limits and refraining from cancellation of coverage based on high or frequent claims. Additionally, church health plans are structured in a manner that is consistent with each church’s polity and convictions regarding health coverage.

Many who share conservative political values have been outspoken about the need to repeal the health care reform law. While that remains an ultimate goal for many, the Church Health Plan Act will help level the playing field immediately, while repeal efforts continue over the coming years.

“This is a matter that deserves prompt attention,” Hawkins said. “Failure by Congress to act is an unthinkable affront to the vital and historic role of church health plans and, as a practical matter, places a disproportionate financial burden on many pastors and others in ministry who have relatively low household incomes. This is wholly unwarranted. Church health plans have been consistently competitive with private insurers and have existed in their current form for years and years. They have met the needs of their constituents in a manner that reflects their core convictions.”

If Congress chooses not to act, church health plans will find themselves in an untenable and unfair position within the health care marketplace. GuideStone is diligently preparing for the full effect of the implementation of President Obama’s health care reform in 2014 and will be there to serve its participants as has been the case for so many years. However, GuideStone joins with other church health plans in urging enactment of the Church Health Plan Act so church health plans will be allowed to continue and compete as health care reform unfolds in future years. 

“As we look at the changes that will begin to take hold in 2014, now is an important time to speak up for pastors and church plans,” Hawkins said. “We have said repeatedly that we consider it a sacred privilege and serious responsibility to protect and preserve church health plans that are uniquely designed for pastors and others in faithful service. 

“We continue to advocate for His servants and urge Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike to pass this bill. We must always put pastors above politics.”

GuideStone has a committed team of employees and industry experts working through every aspect of the health care reform law to ensure that its health plans offered for the 2014 plan year are competitively priced and appropriately structured. Additionally, as has been the case for many years, GuideStone is at the forefront of a coalition of other church health plans, making known to Congress and regulators the needs of ministers and other church employees who are served by church health plans. For more information on the Church Health Plan Act of 2013, and GuideStone’s advocacy efforts on behalf of pastors, visit www.FairnessForPastors.org

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is senior manager of editorial services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.) 
6/20/2013 2:27:53 PM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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