June 2014

Baptist leaders comment on SCOTUS ruling

June 30 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday (June 30) struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, ruling for the first time "closely held" companies may exercise their religious opinions and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans.
Writing for the majority in Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito claimed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides individually or family-owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, with protections against government mandates that violate religious conscience.
“Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard the RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Court affirmed the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the Third Circuit.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, shared his thoughts on the ruling. “We are indeed thankful for the recent ruling from the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is an absolute victory for the proponents of religious liberty. I am thankful that both common sense and conscience have seen a victory in a day where such victories are rare. For those who are strongly pro-life, I think this is a great day!”


BP photo illustration
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission used a blue ribbon to promote prayer prior to the Supreme Court decision June 30 in the case involving Hobby Lobby. 


Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, added, “I am thrilled at the ruling because it affirms that religious liberty is a core value of our great nation. The American people won a great victory today against governmental overreach. It serves as a strong reminder to each of us, that the First Amendment extends to individuals and business owners, not just to churches and other houses of worship.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the ruling was an “exhilarating victory for religious freedom,” due in large part to the fact Hobby Lobby owners David and Barbara Green, along with their children, had "refused to render to Caesar that which did not belong to him.”
“As a Baptist, I am encouraged that our ancestors' struggle for the First Amendment has been vindicated. This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy,” Moore said.
Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. One of those was the “morning after pill,” which causes the spontaneous abortion of an implanted, fertilized egg. Since the company's owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for non-compliance with the ACA.
Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded by Mart Green, joined the case with Hobby Lobby, and in a separate case, Norman and Sam Hahn, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, also challenged the ACA's contraceptive mandate in court.
Both Conestoga and Hobby Lobby lost their pleas for injunction in district court, and the Third Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, setting the cases on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The government maintained throughout the proceedings at the Supreme Court that the federal government had a “compelling interest” in mandating the coverage of contraceptives. The Court, however, decided in a 5-4 decision there was no such interest when measured against the provisions of the RFRA.
“Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's definition of ‘persons.’ But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another,” Alito wrote.
“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations' financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.”
Alito also wrote that Hobby Lobby's Christian character was an inseparable part of the fabric of the company. The company's purpose statement commits its leaders to honoring the Lord and operating by a set of biblical principles, such as remaining closed on Sundays, refusing to facilitate or promote the use of alcohol, contributing to Christian ministries and missions and running newspaper advertisements with an evangelistic purpose.
Alito claimed the Greens -- and their companies Hobby Lobby and Mardel -- conduct business in this manner knowing “they will lose millions in sales annually by doing so.”
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, issued a statement following the Supreme Court's decision. She said the family was pleased with the decision.
“Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles,” Green said in her statement. “The Court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion on the Court. She claimed that, by the ruling of the majority, the Court had “ventured into a minefield” of questions about judging the merits of religious opinions. She also wrote she would have confined “religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed ‘for a religious purpose,’ ‘engage primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,’ and not ‘engaged … substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.’”
Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in the Green family garage after the family borrowed $600 to manufacture miniature picture frames. Today, the company employs more than 13,000 in 572 stores across the nation. Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded in 1981, now has 35 locations in seven states. The company gives 10 percent of its corporate profits toward Bible translation.
The Greens have repeatedly attributed the success of their companies to the infusion of Christian principles in their business model.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/30/2014 3:58:18 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

SCOTUS: Hobby Lobby and religious liberty prevail

June 30 2014 by Biblical Recorder staff

In a narrow 5-4 landmark decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties and other religious-based companies.
At stake in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc was whether the United States government can compel individuals and the businesses they own to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” Steve Green said in a written release. Green is the CEO of Hobby Lobby. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”
The Obama Administration offered nonprofits an “accommodation” requiring a company’s insurer to pay for certain drugs and devices. Employers would then be the legal entryway by which their employees were able to obtain prescription drugs on their employee health care plan without a co-pay.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood both objected on religious grounds to providing four of the 20 forms of birth control – two brands of the emergency “morning after” pill and two kinds of IUDs (intrauterine devices). Plan B, “Ella” and the others prevent embryos from implanting in a woman’s uterus. 


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations require companies such as Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, Christian bookstore chain, Mardel and others to provide their female employees with health insurance that includes various forms of birth control.
The mandate contains a narrow religious exemption, exempting only churches.
Associate professor of law at Faulkner University, Michael J. DeBoer, said “The ACA did not mandate that employers and health insurance plans cover contraceptive services. Rather, the ACA required cost-free coverage of several broad categories of preventive health services, including preventive care and screenings for women as provided in guidelines by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

“The Obama Administration subsequently adopted regulatory rules implementing this provision of the ACA. It was in these rules that the Administration decided to include all U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling within the required package of covered preventive health services. The FDA-approved contraceptive methods include Plan B, Ella, and copper intrauterine devices.”

Because these religious-based companies believe that human life begins at conception, the families contended that if the corporations were to cover those particular forms of birth control, they would be “complicit in abortion.”
Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was not a case about whether organizations can have religious beliefs or about access to contraceptives, according to an official document produced by Andrew Walker, director of policy studies, and Travis Wussow, legal consultant on ethical issues, of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). This case was ultimately about the freedom of individuals and the businesses they own to operate their businesses according to their religious beliefs free from government coercion.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were concerned that if Hobby Lobby won, then employers might be able to refuse to cover other medical procedures such as blood transfusions and vaccinations.
According to the ERLC, such abuses aren’t happening in America and also, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) initiates an appeals process that balances convincing government interest to an individual or corporation’s evidence of having their religious liberty substantially burdened. Passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate, the RFRA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Congress has never excluded businesses from the protection of the RFRA and by extension, the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution which refers to the section of the First Amendment that states:   
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”
Even though Congress has never excluded a corporation, it could make an amendment at any time.
On June 26 the high court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited anti-abortion protests on public sidewalks within 35 feet of an abortion clinic or hospital.
According to the Court’s ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, the 35-foot “buffer zone” became law in 2007 without evidence abortion protesters had impeded access to abortion clinics and with the particular purpose of silencing the political, religious or moral viewpoint of those who oppose abortion.
Abortion protestors sued, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Eleanor McCullen, who filed the case, saw the challenge to the law dismissed by the District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Russell D. Moore, president of the ERLC said he was thankful the Court made the right decision, “recognizing freedom of speech and freedom of dissent.

“Those of us who are pro-life have constitutional guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, along with everyone else,” Moore said. “This was a good decision, and I am cheered that it was a unanimous decision.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – More stories and commentary on this landmark decision are available on BRnow.org.)

6/30/2014 2:23:50 PM by Biblical Recorder staff | with 0 comments

Panel: Diversity for the sake of Kingdom

June 30 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

BALTIMORE (BP) -- While economic woes have slowed the growing ethnic diversity at state levels in the Southern Baptist Convention, panelists at the Cooperative Program exhibit, held during the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, discussed intentional efforts to include ethnics in Convention leadership.
The economy has caused a large number of individuals to lose their jobs at state conventions across America, including many Hispanics and African Americans, Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, told panelists.
At the same time, lackluster Cooperative Program giving percentages by many ethnic churches has excluded many from being elected to serve on boards of state or national agencies and entities, he said. "That has kept many from even being considered. We are working to change that."
Many ethnics give very strongly to their own ethnic fellowships and lack understanding of how the Cooperative Program works, Page told Ed Stetzer, who moderated the panel, "Ethnicity and Diversity in the SBC."


A.B. Vines, president of the National African American Fellowship


One of the "untold stories" of the SBC is the work of four ethnic advisory councils he has appointed to suggest ways to increase involvement, education, and understanding of ethnics in the SBC toward a goal of reaching every racial and ethnic group in America with the Gospel, Page said as Southern Baptists gathered for their June 10-11 annual meeting.
Edgar Aponte, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told the panel some first generation Hispanics know only Spanish, while the second generation might know English and not Spanish, "but know the culture."
"We don't want to see diversity for the sake of diversity," Aponte said. "We want to see diversity for the sake of the Kingdom.... We want to see that reflected in our churches."
Panelists, which included A.B. Vines, president of the National African American Fellowship, agreed the downsizing taking place in many state conventions is a block between the grassroots leadership and national leadership.
"The middle is blocking the grassroots," Vines said. He said the issue is not "racism, it's being racial. A lot of it is fear. We are not trying to take over. We are just trying to have a balanced convention."
To be able to reach "the masses" people need to be willing to move on and reach past their comfort zones and beyond who they know, panelists agreed.
Ethnics shouldn't be lumped together either, Aponte said, because, for example, "the Latino population may have a different mindset on how they approach different issues."
Page said there are many issues remaining to be addressed in looking at diversity in the SBC. One he touched on was when people make casual comments like, "He's gonna be elected whether he's white or black." 
For an African American, that comment "just took away his blackness," Page said, admitting that while Anglos may have been taught to be "colorblind," they must continue to ask entities to hire ethnics.
In church planting and revitalization, it would be damaging to be culturally insensitive, he said, particularly in urban areas.
"I'm always going to be a white guy, but I'm learning," Page said.
Vines said it takes everyone being intentional to make a difference. "We are family -- embrace the whole family, and we all win," he said.

'Gospelization' of America's urban core

With an increase in immigrant populations coming to America's urban core, "gospelization" -- a term often used to imply Gospel penetration -- is a natural strategy, panelists told Micah Fries who led a discussion on "Urban Pastoring," with H.B. Charles and Rich Johnstone.
This movement of people to the core of many of our major cities provides hands-on opportunities for pastors to lead their people to be on mission in their own cities, said Johnstone, North American Mission Board's Send North America leader in San Francisco, which will naturally lead to urban diversity.
Noting Google is centered in urban San Francisco, Johnstone said it has a high level of influence reaching the people there and can potentially make a difference worldwide.
H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he was reminded of "the importance of the church having a faithful witness" when he moved to the growing downtown area where there is a great need for the Gospel.
As the reality of how large the task is set in, Charles, who pastors a large African American congregation, was grateful to receive a call from the pastor of a nearby, predominantly white church offering a ministry partnership.
"We are seeing great progress," Charles said. "We are intentionally beginning and multicultural and cross-race ministry," he said.

The role of corporate prayer

Bobby Sena, the newly appointed Hispanic Relations consultant to the SBC Executive Committee, told a panel on prayer, that although it is great to be bilingual and Spanish, that "when you are praying with others, that brings oneness of mind."
Unity and prayer go "hand in hand," Sena said. "It's not an either/or, it's a both/and."
K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee's African American Advisory Council, said greater diversity can be achieved intentionally by joining for prayer meetings and mission trips, good soul food, dinner get-togethers, and email.
Williams, who serves as pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., envisioned what he said only God can do.
"I know that prayer is the unifying factor that God in the person of the Holy Spirit might be able to use to usher this nation into a great spiritual awakening," he said.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer based in Houston.)

6/30/2014 1:35:23 PM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

More than 700 saved in 40 Days

June 30 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- More than 700 unborn children were saved from abortion during 40 Days for Life's fall campaign.
As of Nov. 16, the 40 Days staff had received reports of 732 unborn babies protected from abortion during its latest campaign, Sept. 28 to Nov. 6. More than 5,000 unborn children have been saved from abortion since the 40 Days effort began in Texas in 2004. The effort went national in 2007.
The semi-annual campaign -- which focuses on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics -- was held this fall at a record 301 sites in the United States and overseas.
Among the reports received from participants in the latest campaign:
  • In Sharonville, Ohio, a woman stopped in her car and spoke to a 40 Days volunteer outside an abortion clinic. "She thanked me for praying," the participant said. "She said that a few days earlier she was driving by and was considering an abortion. She has five boys and is pregnant with a girl. Her husband of 20-plus years has left her." She told the 40 Days participant, "Never feel that what you are doing is in vain. It was your prayers that changed my mind and saved my little girl and me."
  • In Austin, Texas, a teenage couple went to a clinic for an abortion they hoped to obtain by means of a judicial bypass that would enable the girl to avoid informing her parents. A 40 Days participant told them about their unborn child's development and the alternatives and resources that were available. They entered the abortion clinic, however, only to leave shortly thereafter "with smiles of joy and satisfaction. They decided to not have an abortion," the volunteer said.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/30/2014 1:15:55 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Goodbyes and separations aren’t always easy for missionary parents

June 30 2014 by Tess Rivers, IMB writer

“Over my dead body!”

Those were Connie Beckler’s exact words more than seven years ago when she got the phone call that her daughter and son-in-law had committed to international missions.

“I prayed for everything to go wrong,” admits Beckler, who is a member of Maywood Baptist Church, Independence, Missouri. “I didn’t want them to go because they talked about India. They talked about Africa, and I thought, ‘Oh my, gosh, no!’”

Then Beckler’s daughter, Brie, learned she was pregnant with her second child. Late in the pregnancy, doctors admitted Brie to the hospital for pre-term labor where she stayed for three weeks. Her daughter was born nine weeks early.

“I just thought, ‘OK, this is not really what I meant,’” Beckler says. Still she hoped, “But that’s going to keep them here. Maybe they won’t go.”

Instead, Beckler’s newborn granddaughter had no lingering health problems, and the couple began the process of selling their house.


“I thought, ‘Well, [it] will take them forever to sell their house,’” Beckler recalls.

The house sold in two months.

“God [was] just knocking me in the head, saying, ‘I’m not listening to you,’” says Beckler. She then realized, “I had to start praying differently … I had to start praying that they would make the right decisions, that God would lead them where He wanted them to go.”

A parent’s broken heart

Beckler’s initial reaction isn’t necessarily surprising, says Mark Whitworth, head of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) member care group, a team that provides emotional and mental health support for more than 4,800 IMB missionaries serving around the world. Instead, Beckler’s emotions mirror the feelings of many parents, including those — like Beckler — who consider themselves “strong Christians,” active in a local church.
“It’s very normal for parents to feel a sense of loss and grief,” Whitworth says. “It’s a process every parent must work through.”

The grief process is as varied as the individual, Whitworth explains. For some parents, the process may be more intense than for others. Although Sharla Rachel, who is a member of First Baptist Church, Carrollton, Texas, applauded her daughter’s interest in missions as a child, she was not as enthusiastic when her daughter and son-in-law announced in their mid-30s their intent to serve overseas.

“When Rose* was in first grade, she came home from a Girls in Action (GAs) meeting at church and said, ‘I’m going to be a missionary!’” Rachel recalls. “That was great when she was 6; it was a different matter when she was 36!”

For 12 years, Rachel and her husband, Richard, had shared a home with their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. When Rose and her family moved to the Balkan region in 2009, Rachel’s sense of loss was profound.
“I had seen those grandkids every day of their lives,” Rachel recalls. “I couldn’t even imagine not having those three kids, and I love Rose … I love (my son-in-law) Steve.*”

Rachel decided to talk with her pastor: “I said, ‘I know in my heart this is the right thing. I know in my head this is the right thing, but my heart is breaking.’”

The pastor’s response comforted her.

“He said, ‘Sharla, that’s OK,’” Rachel recalls. “‘That’s a mother’s heart that’s breaking, but that’s OK. … It will forever break because you will forever be that mother.’”

Victims of the call

While intense feelings of loss, grief and even bargaining are normal, the situation becomes unhealthy when parents refuse to let go or try to intimidate or “guilt” children into staying, Whitworth says.
Gordon Fort, IMB senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training, agrees. “When parents don’t support their child’s call, I can see it all over [the child’s] face,” Fort says.

Often, workers simply avoid discussing their work or their call with unsupportive family members.

“My mom has felt like a victim since we left for seminary,” one worker reported. “I don’t think it would be healthy for me to have any additional guilt about this.”

Another missionary agreed: “This is something we constantly wrestle against. Our view is that if this is God’s best for us, then it must be His best for everyone this call touches: our kids, our parents, all the cousins, the entire family. This is His plan for all of us.”

“The safest place …”

Still, even the most supportive parents struggle with the separation and a sense of hopelessness during times of illness, death, political upheaval and violence.

“I cringe when I hear people say, ‘The safest place is in the center of God’s will,’” Fort said recently, speaking to a national gathering of missionary parents in Kerrville, Texas. “You, better than anyone, know the dangers inherent to living cross-culturally.”

Sally Ozment, whose daughter and son-in-law have served in various locations in Asia for more than 20 years, was particularly unnerved by the rise in terrorist activity after the Sept.11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

“[My faith was shaken] particularly when they were in the Philippines,” recalls Ozment, who is a member of Sutter Creek Baptist Church in Sutter Creek, California. “I know God can take care of them, but as a mother hearing those things you just think, ‘Please, God, keep them safe.’”

In reality, Fort says, missionaries are not always safe. Violence and illness strike. Sometimes, children die. Clarence and Cynthia Beckett* understand that reality all too well. Their grandson, Noah,* died in January 2011 as a result of Burkitt lymphoma, a rare cancer that in the U.S. accounts for about 500 cases a year in people under age 40. Noah, whose parents were serving in Eurasia at the time, was 11 years old when he died.

“To see [our] daughter [and her family] go through something like that … hurt me the most,” Cynthia recalls. “I was so totally helpless. I couldn’t change anything.”

Still, to see Noah’s strength and the strength of their family when the worst happened also gave the grandparents strength, Clarence says.

Cynthia agrees. “It’s good to know that your children can walk through something like that and still testify of God’s goodness and never look back.”

Surety and certainty

For many parents, it is this certainty of God’s faithfulness, rather than the safety of the calling, that encourages them in difficult moments.

Robert Lovell, who is a member of Clear Springs Baptist Church in Mascot, Tennessee, recalls a 2002 trip to Manila, Philippines, to visit his son, Joe.

“We were in a section [of the city] and I did not feel comfortable,” Lovell says. “I asked Joe, ‘Don’t you ever worry about being in some of these places?’ Joe said, ‘I don’t worry about it, Dad. I look at it this way. If something happens to me [and] they kill me, I will just beat you home.’”

“I’ve thought about that statement many times,” Lovell says, “and I’ve shared it with others.”

Other parents respect the surety of their child’s calling, even if they may not completely understand the reasons for it.

Helga Culbert’s son, Mitchell,* serves in Central Asia. Culbert, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1980, does not feel that her son is in a safe place.

“I pray for my grandchildren because I always think they are at risk, although Mitchell tells me they are not,” says Culbert, who is Catholic but attends a Methodist church in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “I worry about them growing up in a totally different environment … because I came from a totally different environment.”

Still, Culbert respects her son’s decision and trusts him to take good care of her grandchildren.

“He does what he believes in, and in a way I am really proud of him,” Culbert says. “Not many people know exactly what they want to do with their life. So in that regard I am proud of him and I support him and I love him unconditionally.”

Ozment agrees. “I know parents that would give anything if their child would go to church once a month. … Mine live [their] call. … It is a huge blessing to know that they are serving God Almighty, that there are people who hear about Jesus who might never hear if they weren’t there,” she says.

“Who would want to change that?”

 *Name changed

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Tess Rivers is an IMB writer.)

6/30/2014 12:42:36 PM by Tess Rivers, IMB writer | with 0 comments

Sudanese Christian reported free, still in Sudan

June 27 2014 by Baptist Press

The Sudanese Christian who was freed from death row earlier this week still is not permitted to leave Sudan. But some media reports indicate she has been released from police custody after being charged with obtaining a false travel document and giving false information to immigration officials.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, was detained by a group of 40 Sudanese officials Tuesday (June 24) at the airport in Khartoum as she tried to travel to South Sudan then the United States with her family, the Daily Mail reported. Her husband Daniel Wani, an American citizen, and two children – Martin, 20 months, and Maya, one month – were also detained. Wani was labeled an accessory to Ibrahim’s crimes, CNN reported.

If convicted of the new charges, Ibrahim could face up to seven years in prison, the Daily Mail said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a midday press briefing today (June 26) that she could not confirm reports Ibrahim has been released from custody. From the American government’s perspective, “Meriam has all of the documents she needs to travel to and enter the United States,” Harf said.


Meriam Ibrahim and husband Daniel Wani

“Before I came out [to give the briefing], it was our understanding that she was still at the police station, which was where she was being held this morning D.C. time,” Harf said. ”Again, very fluid situation, so I can’t confirm these reports that she has been released. We are in communication with the Sudanese foreign ministry to ensure that she and her family will be free to travel as quickly as possible.”

Harf said June 25 that U.S. officials visited Ibrahim while she was in custody and supplied her with personal items. The Sudanese government has “assured” the U.S. that Ibrahim and her family will be kept safe, and the U.S. has told Sudan it wants the family to leave the country as quickly as possible, Harf said.

Sudanese authorities said Ibrahim was detained for having a U.S. visa on illegitimate South Sudanese travel documents. Harf would not comment on the specific documents in Ibrahim’s possession but said American officials do not grant visas to individuals with invalid passports.

Ibrahim and her family “need to be able to depart Sudan swiftly,” Harf said. “I don’t have any more details on what their travel will look like. But we clearly care about this very deeply and have raised it at the highest levels, and are working very hard to resolve it.”

NBC News reported that Ibrahim’s Muslim brother told police Wani had “kidnapped” her with plans to take her to America against her will – a possible contributing factor to her arrest. The brother, Al Samani Al Hadi Mohamed Abdullah, complained that her Muslim family should have been notified of her release from death row instead of her Christian husband, NBC said.

The report of a troublesome Muslim family member aligns with earlier suggestions that Ibrahim’s original charge of apostasy stemmed from family fighting over religion.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called on President Obama to help Ibrahim.

“I would humbly call upon President Obama to speak out for Meriam,” Cruz said June 25. “There is no one who has a bully pulpit like the president of the United States. This is a case that cries for presidential leadership. Her husband is an American from New Hampshire. Her babies are Americans, and this is a grotesque example of religious persecution.”

Cruz asked everyone watching his speech to pray for Ibrahim and said he supports legislation providing “immediate relief for Meriam to allow her to come to America.” Cruz also spoke of Ibrahim’s uncompromising stand for Christ.

Being a Christian “is Meriam’s only crime in Sudan, and for that crime she was sentenced to be tortured and executed,” Cruz said. “Meriam was told by the government of Sudan that if she would merely renounce Jesus Christ, she would be spared that horrible sentence. But Meriam told her captors that she would not and could not renounce Christ.”

Ibrahim gained her initial freedom after a Sudanese appeals court overturned a death sentence she received for refusing to abandon her Christian faith, Bloomberg News reported. Ibrahim, whose conviction and death sentence were greeted by international protests, was convicted under Sharia law of “apostasy” (leaving Islam) and sentenced to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian.

Ibrahim gave birth to the couple’s second child May 27 in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women in Khartoum. Their 20-month-old son had been imprisoned with his mother since February.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

6/27/2014 12:49:25 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

World Vision tries to shore up its evangelical base

June 27 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

World Vision tested evangelical boundaries three months ago when it announced it would allow its employees to be in same-sex marriages. The policy was short-lived; the relief group reversed it within 48 hours after supporters threatened to pull donations.
In the past, World Vision has requested that it be known as a Christian humanitarian organization, not necessarily an evangelical one, because many on staff are not from an evangelical background. But now, in the wake of the controversy, the board of the $1 billion relief group appears to be steering the ship in a more evangelical direction in an attempt to shore up the base of its support.
Most telling: World Vision is asking board members to formally affirm a statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. And new appointments to the World Vision board include big names from the evangelical community.
Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving at Google, and John Park, another Google employee, left the board after the dust-up. Three other board members rotated off due to term limits. Rich Stearns remains as president, despite some initial chatter that he could be fired for the controversy.


Creative commons image by Angel Moreno
Since enacting and then reversing a policy allowing its employees to be in same-sex marriages, World Vision has lost about 10,000 of its child sponsors.


Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Jerry White, president emeritus of the Christian ministry Navigators, have both agreed to join the board. The new board chair is Joan Singleton, vice president of Milton Hershey School, who replaced James F. Bere Jr.
World Vision was founded in 1950 by Bob Pierce, who also founded Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and helped spur evangelicals to social action. Employees must be members of a local church, affirm a statement of faith and/or affirm the Apostles’ Creed and sign a conduct policy that includes abstinence outside of marriage.
World Vision has always had an evangelical donor base, but many Americans did not know it was a religious organization – much like many people don’t realize that the Salvation Army is actually a church. World Vision’s best-known program allows donors to sponsor an individual child overseas for a monthly fee, with letters and photos of those kids sent to supporters.
The March dust-up over gay employees moved a divisive cultural issue to the forefront of the evangelical community, forcing both the organization and evangelicals to decide where the boundaries fell on same-sex marriage.
“I think they were a little premature, knowing where most evangelicals were on the issue,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, who was forced to resign in 2008 by the National Association of Evangelicals after he told NPR he accepted same-sex civil unions. “They not only retreated, but now they’re establishing their bona fides.”
Since the policy change and reversal, the organization has lost about 10,000 of its child sponsors, or 1 percent of its donor base. Sponsors pay $35 a month, so the loss could add up to around $4.2 million annually.
There has been a drop in growth rate, but not a decline in overall donations, according to World Vision spokesman Steve Panton. Cash donations are up 1 percent compared with the same period last year, but less than the 3 percent World Vision had projected.
“We are watching our expenditures closely, but have not cut budgets for the rest of the year,” Panton said in an email. “While we don’t disclose the exact makeup of our donor base, it is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of our individual donors in the U.S. are evangelical Christians.”
The organization works with several hundred corporations, and “less than a handful” dropped their partnerships, though Panton declined to give specifics.
World Vision is a powerhouse in international aid and American giving circles, wrote Joy Portella, president of the nonprofit consulting group Minerva Strategies, in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. World Vision is among the top 20 organizations that raise the most from private support, according to The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 400 rankings.
World Vision is the second-largest organization in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, behind just the Salvation Army. In 2013, World Vision received nearly $179 million in grants of food and cash from the U.S. government and other agencies, according to its financial statements.
As a parachurch organization – independent of any one church’s or denomination’s oversight – World Vision is different from a group such as Catholic Relief Services, which is controlled by the doctrine and rules laid out from the Roman Catholic Church.
“World Vision has Christians and non-Christians within their donor base. All of that came to a head over the gay marriage debacle,” Portella said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they are retroactively finding themselves an evangelical organization. They’re not going to gain anyone’s trust in waffling in their image and brand.”
The dust-up created additional confusion for the organization’s international affiliates, even though the policy applied only to U.S. employees. International World Vision entities, including those in Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, clarified that they are separate entities with separate policies that follow local nondiscrimination employment law.
Other World Vision affiliates, meanwhile, took steps to clarify that they weren’t bound by the World Vision proposed policy, which could be seen as unbiblical in parts of Asia, Africa or South America.
The long-term impact of World Vision’s decision could take time to assess, since some donors forgave the aborted policy change and continued sponsorship. But it’s not the first nonprofit to face pushback and an abrupt about-face.
In 2012, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation cut funding to Planned Parenthood over concerns about abortion but later reversed its decision after many supporters balked. As a result, Komen lost about $77 million in contributions, sponsorships and race entry fees (about 22 percent) between 2012 and 2013, according to recently released financial statements.
“World Vision could have a very strong evangelical base that is forgiving,” Portella said. “While it was a big deal in the philanthropic and religious news world, it wasn’t as big a deal where everybody knew what was going on. I could see a certain segment of the population not being clued in. They kind of got lucky.”

6/27/2014 12:35:00 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Abortion protest buffer zone struck down

June 27 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

The Supreme Court on Thursday (June 26) unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law which prohibited anti-abortion protests on public sidewalks within 35 feet of an abortion clinic or hospital.

According to the Court’s ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, the 35-foot “buffer zone” became law in 2007 without evidence abortion protesters had impeded access to abortion clinics and with the particular purpose of silencing the political, religious or moral viewpoint of those who oppose abortion.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the Court’s opinion, wrote Massachusetts had violated the First Amendment by “the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes.”


iStock image

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Commission said he was thankful the Court made the right decision, “recognizing freedom of speech and freedom of dissent.”

“Those of us who are pro-life have constitutional guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, along with everyone else,” Moore said. “This was a good decision, and I am cheered that it was a unanimous decision.”

Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act in 2007 to criminalize the protests near a “public way or sidewalk,” but the act exempted multiple classes of citizens, including employees or agents of the facility “acting within the scope of their employment.” They were allowed to express opinions within the buffer zone, such as telling potential patients to ignore the protesters.

Abortion protestors sued, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Eleanor McCullen, who filed the case, saw the challenge to the law dismissed by the District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts argued the “frenetic activity” caused by abortion protesters threatened public safety.

The Court, even while acknowledging the need for public order, rejected that notion citing the few arrests over the years since the law has been in effect. Roberts also noted the non-confrontational nature of distributing anti-abortion literature.

The Court ruled constitutional protections of speech could not be extended to some citizens and not others who, in this case, conducted “side-walk counseling” in an effort to change women’s opinions on abortion before a procedure.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor joined Roberts in his opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia filed concurring opinions.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Scalia wrote “the obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to ‘protect’ prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks. The provision is thus unconstitutional root and branch and cannot be saved, as the majority suggests, by limiting its application to the single facility that has experienced the safety and access problems to which it is quite obviously not addressed.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/27/2014 12:20:17 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Yellow Card Strategy’ shines for Christ on World Cup stage

June 27 2014 by Alan Brant, Baptist Press

With 64 soccer matches contested by 736 players on 32 teams in 12 cities, the month-long 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is the most watched sporting event in the world.

In addition to the 1 billion people tuning in around the globe, an estimated 600,000 visitors are converging on Rio de Janeiro and the 11 other host cities in Brazil to watch and cheer for their country’s team. Other visitors to Rio, however, have another goal in mind – sharing the message of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.

A team of 11 Southern Baptist college students and two student ministry leaders traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup as part of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) student mobilization efforts to partner with Brazilian Baptists in outreach during the world-famous soccer tournament. The students, their Brazilian co-workers and some IMB missionaries are spending two weeks witnessing in communities around Rio and evangelizing near the city’s Maracanã stadium, where tens of thousands of fans attend World Cup matches twice a week during the June 12-July 13 competition.

“Yellow Card Strategy”

After arriving in Rio, the student volunteers spent time learning about a specialized witnessing technique developed by the Brazilian Baptist Home Mission Board. Diogo da Cunha Carvalho, coordinator of evangelistic strategies for Brazilian Baptists’ domestic missions efforts, helped to develop the “Yellow Card Strategy” for Brazilian churches to use at a regional soccer competition in 2013.


IMB photo by Lina White
Diogo da Cunha Carvalho briefs Southern Baptist and Brazilian Baptist student volunteers on the “yellow card” evangelism method used during the FIFA World Cup June 12 – July 13. Carvalho, who coordinates evangelistic strategies for the Brazilian Baptist Home Mission Board, helped to develop the strategy for a regional soccer tournament in 2013.

In soccer, Carvalho explained, a yellow card is displayed by a referee as a warning or caution to a player regarding conduct that could lead to expulsion from the match (signified by a red card).

“It’s a sign to the player that he is getting very close to severe consequence for his actions,” Carvalho said. This visual understanding is the perfect direct approach for witnessing against the backdrop of a soccer match, he added.

Carvalho demonstrated the witnessing technique, which begins by approaching someone and raising a yellow card while blowing a whistle – just like a soccer referee. This warning, though, is a message from God, the Baptist volunteer tells the person.

“In Brazil, probably 90 percent of the people will say ‘yes’ when asked if they want to hear the gospel,” Carvalho said. “With such an interest in the Word, we can take a direct approach like this yellow card.”

After receiving permission to explain the message, the approach leads to a “goodness” test, Carvalho explained. Here, the presenter shows, through a series of questions, how all are sinners according to the Bible and fall short of being “a good person.” Then, the believer shares the reality of the Good News.

“We talk about the Law to emphasize the seriousness of sin, but now introduce the Good News through the act of love that God did for us,” Carvalho said.

In a country such as Brazil with a history of religiousness, “at this point some may connect the phrase ‘Jesus died for our sins,’ but there’s a disconnect between that phrase, their actual sinfulness and the ‘I’m a good person’ mentality,” Carvalho told the Southern Baptist students. “They don’t connect the giant statue of Jesus that stands over Rio with what Jesus did for them on the cross – that He came to die and He rose again to defeat death for their freedom.”

On game days in Rio, the collegiate team divides into groups of two or three, along with a translator. The teams then fan out around the outside of Brazil’s national stadium, which is thick with celebrating fans even hours before the stadium opens.

Lee Dymond, campus minister at Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.) and leader of the collegiate group, said the students “who are here on our team have a heart for evangelism and a heart for the gospel. There [are] very few times in history where so many people from so many different places come together. We get an opportunity to be right here with them and we get an opportunity to share the gospel with as many as we can.”

Bekah Gordon, co-leader of the collegiate trip, said the atmosphere was exactly what she had hoped.

“It’s the World Cup!” said Gordon, who serves with Dymond at Auburn-Montgomery as a semester missionary through the North American Mission Board. “I grew up playing soccer, and I’m now a soccer coach in Montgomery. To be able to combine two of my greatest loves – the gospel and soccer – is awesome.”

According to Gordon, evangelizing with the yellow card approach “is really unique because you’ve got a lot of soccer fans who know exactly what it means.”

At the stadium one day, Gordon and her partner approached a young man sitting alone.

“Ricardo was sitting by himself [and we] walked over to him and threw up the yellow card and blew the whistle,” Gordon said. “He immediately threw up his hands and said ‘What did I do? What did I do?’

“That was the perfect reaction because we wanted him to have the idea that something was wrong,” she said. “We told him it’s not just what he has done, it’s what all of us has done.”

At first Ricardo said he was a good person, but recognized after the examples Gordon gave that he was indeed guilty and deserving of penalty and hell. He admitted he had a faith background as a child, but discarded it to enjoy his own lifestyle of fun and partying.

“This concerns me very much,” Ricardo said through the translator.

Gordon and her evangelism partner Jordan O’Donnell, a student at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, explained to Ricardo “that giving our lives to God is not like going to prison; it’s not bondage, but freedom,” Gordon recounted. “We shared that we are not bound to sin anymore and life with God is better than the world.

“We continued to share but our translator interrupted us and said, ‘He’s ready to accept Christ!’” Gordon said. “We prayed with him and he said ‘I feel free now.’ The cool thing about this whole exchange is that Ricardo is from Lima, Peru. God blessed our [Portuguese-speaking] interpreter with enough Spanish to communicate the gospel clearly.”

James Dubuisson, a student at the University of North Alabama in Florence and youth minister at First Baptist Church, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., admitted he had some apprehension to the direct approach of witnessing.

“I was skeptical of the methods we’re using here because I’m more comfortable building a relationship with someone and then sharing the gospel,” he said. “But coming up to someone on the street and saying, ‘You need to know about Jesus’ is new to me. God has been challenging me a lot.”

Dubuisson said it was a great feeling to approach the first person and find him receptive to the gospel. “When we were leaving, they said it was the best thing that ever had happened to them,” he said.

For the ones who did not accept Christ following their conversation, Dubuisson said, “I pray that God continues to work through the seeds we’ve planted here.”

For ongoing coverage of the World Cup outreach, see the story package, “The Cross at the Cup,” at commissionstories.com/americas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alan Brant is a freelance writer and editor in Texas.)

6/27/2014 12:00:53 PM by Alan Brant, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Customer service leads to prayer of salvation

June 27 2014 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Resources/Baptist Press

Victoria Cano was getting ready to close the LifeWay Christian store one Saturday in Amarillo, Texas, when she noticed a woman entering the doors.

As is her custom, Victoria asked the woman if she needed any help.
The woman, who was hearing impaired, came up to the counter and motioned to Victoria, asking for paper and pen. Victoria found them for her, and after a minute, the woman passed the paper back with a note on it.

“She asked if I could help her find a book about accepting Christ,” Victoria said. “I nodded my head and wrote back, asking if it was for her or for a friend.”

The woman pointed to herself.


LifeWay employee Victoria Cano

So Victoria led her to a section of the store with books on prayer and began to make some suggestions.

The first few were workbooks on prayer, but they didn’t seem to fit what the woman wanted. She then began writing another note, this time with a more specific request.

“She said what she wanted was a prayer to God, asking Him into her heart,” Victoria said.

While working in a LifeWay store the past two and a half years, Victoria had become used to people coming in and asking questions about faith. But this kind of direct question about how to receive Christ was new.

After looking at a couple of other books, Victoria had an idea. She went back to the counter and got another piece of paper, this one big enough for an extended conversation.

“Can I help you write your own prayer?” Victoria wrote.

That brought a smile to the customer’s face.

During the next few minutes, the two corresponded about God’s love, Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, and how becoming a Christian starts with a simple act of faith.

“I started by writing out that God loves her very much and that I thought she had come into the store for a reason,” Victoria says. “I told her, life may not always be easy, but God will always be there for us. All He wants to do is to come into our hearts and be the Lord of our lives.”

That too brought a smile to the woman’s face.

“She wrote, ‘It’s that simple?’” Victoria recalled. “And I said, ‘yes.’” The customer then prayed the prayer Victoria had helped her write.

When they finished, the customer, who didn’t give her name, picked up the piece of paper with their conversation, and then made the sign for “Thank you.”

The woman bought several books on prayer. And before the woman left the store, Victoria wrote down her own name and number in case the woman came back needing some additional help.

“This is the coolest experience I’ve ever had,” said Victoria, a 20-year-old student at West Texas A&M University, who works part-time at the LifeWay store. “I’ve been on several mission trips with my church and never had something like this happen.”

A few days later, she told the story of her conversation with the customer to Matthew Burrow, general manager of the Amarillo store.

Matthew said he was impressed by the way Victoria was able to think on her feet and meet the customer’s need.

“You never know what a customer might ask,” he says. “But that’s the reason we’re here.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources

6/27/2014 11:38:30 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Resources/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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