June 2014

GuideStone reports on progress, health care

June 17 2014 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

Citing good news across all ministry areas within GuideStone Financial Resources, President O.S. Hawkins delivered the organization's 96th annual report to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Baltimore.

GuideStone provides retirement plans, life and health products, ancillary insurance products, property and casualty coverage and mutual funds to Southern Baptist and evangelical churches. Beginning earlier this year, GuideStone made its award-winning mutual funds available to Southern Baptist and evangelical church members.


Investments

Turning first to investments, Hawkins announced during the June 10-11 SBC annual meeting that GuideStone was recognized by various reporting agencies that monitor mutual fund companies.

In 2014, the annual Lipper Fund Awards once again recognized GuideStone for outstanding fund performance, this time recognizing the GuideStone Extended-Duration Bond Fund as the Best Fund Over 3 Years and the Best Fund Over 5 Years in the Corporate Debt A-Rated Funds category. In each category, which ended Nov. 30, 2013, the Extended-Duration Bond Fund beat out more than 50 eligible funds.

This is the third consecutive year the Lipper Fund Awards has recognized GuideStone Funds. In 2012, the entire GuideStone Funds family was ranked No. 1 out of 182 eligible fund families with up to $40 billion in assets and was honored with Lipper's Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S. over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2011. In 2013, the MyDestination 2025 Fund was ranked No. 1 out of 92 similar funds for its performance over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2012.


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Photo by Paul W. Lee
GuideStone Financial Resources president O.S. Hawkins presents a report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10 at the Baltimore Convention Center. He said his entity is fighting to protect religious liberty against the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate. "We're in a battle on the healthcare front in America," Hawkins said, and GuideStone is fighting through litigation and legislation.

During the economic trough in 2008-09, which included the market's eventual low point on March 9, 2009, Hawkins said GuideStone encouraged participants to "stay the course" in investments that were appropriate for their time horizon. Today the S&P 500 Index, which most consider a broad measure of the overall market, is up 217.8 percent between March 9, 2009 and May 31, 2014, revealing that an account of $50,000 on March 9, 2009 would have $159,000 today, excluding contributions.

"Retirement is a marathon; it's a long-term race," Hawkins said, encouraging messengers to make use of GuideStone resources to determine an appropriate asset allocation consistent with their risk tolerance and time horizon.
 

Health care

GuideStone is very competitive in its medical plans, Hawkins said. Renewal rates in GuideStone's group health plans topped 98 percent going into 2014, while renewal rates among other insurance products topped 99 percent, Hawkins said. The plans are strong, Hawkins said, and are growing.

As the convention started, GuideStone announced expanded enrollment opportunities for its medical Personal Plans that take effect July 1, 2014.

"We're in a battle for health care in America, as many of you know," Hawkins said. "We're fighting this on multiple fronts," including through prayer and then advocacy in courts and in Congress.

While discussing health care, Hawkins turned his report to the issues of litigation over the contraceptive mandate which requires the coverage of certain abortion-causing drugs. Recently, some 200 ministries and organizations filed amicus briefs in support of GuideStone's position, Hawkins said.

GuideStone's litigation is alongside Oklahoma-based Reaching Souls International and Georgia's Truett-McConnell College to challenge the mandate. While a narrowly carved exemption exists for churches and other closely held ministries, many other ministries are subject to the controversial mandate. An Oklahoma federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in December that currently protects GuideStone and the ministries it serves from the mandate's penalties. GuideStone is seeking a permanent injunction to provide protection while the case is heard. No trial date has been set.

"Our own government is trying to force us to choose between long-held biblical convictions and health coverage," Hawkins said. "These are religious liberty issues that are at stake and we are determined to not allow this administration, or any, to tell us that we have to provide abortifacients to any people, and for free on top of that."
 

Property and casualty

GuideStone is in its third year of a partnership with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company to provide churches and ministries with property and casualty coverage. Hawkins cited a 99 percent renewal rate as evidence of the service and competitive rates GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual offer.

"We're thankful for the relationship we have with Brotherhood Mutual and the ability to provide property and casualty and risk management for your churches, ministries and associations," Hawkins said.


Mission:Dignity

GuideStone's ministry to retired pastors and their widows who live near the poverty line, Mission:Dignity, continues to expand, Hawkins said.

"One of the joys of my life is to be able to tell you that in the 17 years that we've held stewardship in the ministry we call GuideStone we've been able to send out over $100 million to pastors and widows who are in need," Hawkins said.

Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program support; all donations come from individuals, churches and Sunday school classes. One hundred percent of gifts to Mission:Dignity go to help someone in need; all administrative costs are funded through a separate endowment.

Hawkins highlighted two of his books, The Joshua Code: 52 Scripture Verses Every Believer Should Know and The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer. Author proceeds and royalties from the sale of these two books benefit Mission:Dignity.

After presenting GuideStone's newest Mission:Dignity video, Hawkins reiterated his concern to pastors that they need not worry what will happen to their wives if the pastor should die first.

"If you're sitting here with a wife that has stood with you and wept with you and ministered with you and worked with you; I want you to rest in the fact that if the Lord takes you first, and you wonder what would happen to her, GuideStone will be here to be Christ's hand, and your hand, extended to her until she gets to Heaven with you," Hawkins said.

Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 22 throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. Churches can receive free, undated bulletin inserts by contacting Mission:Dignity at www.MissionDignitySBC.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/17/2014 11:59:29 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments



BCH launches multi-million dollar capital campaign

June 17 2014 by BCH Communications

Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) is taking steps to make sure North Carolina children and families can depend on the 128-year-old statewide organization well into the future. BCH publicly launched a multi-million dollar capital campaign during a kick-off event held June 10 at its oldest campus, Mills Home in Thomasville.
 
Dubbed “Sharing Hope … Changing Lives,” the initiative is BCH’s first capital campaign since 1997. The funds will provide much-needed support for the nonprofit’s locations in 19 North Carolina communities including Broyhill Home in Clyde.
 
“We intentionally named the campaign after our organizational vision statement,” said BCH president Michael C. Blackwell. The campaign is the third in his 31-year tenure. “In only four words, this statement shares the powerful heartbeat of the campaign as well as the ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes itself.”
 
Baptist Children’s Homes is the largest child care organization in the southeast. The nonprofit provides residential homes to North Carolina children who come from a variety of challenging circumstances ranging from family dysfunction to abuse, neglect and abandonment. BCH also offers services for adults with developmental disabilities, senior adults and single mothers.

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The financial goal for “Sharing Hope…Changing Lives,” which ends in January 2016, is $21.3 million. The funding will allow BCH to meet a variety of immediate needs while strengthening its foundation for the future.
 
“Longevity is an integral part of the BCH legacy – a legacy that began in 1885 when Mills Home first opened its doors,” Blackwell said. “It’s the highest honor, and greatest responsibility, to ensure that the ministry will continue to be a haven of hope for children and families who turn to us now – and in generations to come.”
 
Blackwell’s campaign leadership team includes BCH’s executive vice president, development and communications, Brenda Gray and Cargill Associates senior vice president Paul Blevins. Blevins was a part of BCH’s two previous capital campaigns. BCH trustee Jerry Jordan and his wife Evon from Oakboro are campaign co-chairs. Paul Broyhill, Chairman of the Broyhill Family Foundation in Lenoir, serves as honorary chair. The family founded Broyhill Furniture and provided the funding to establish BCH’s Broyhill Home in Clyde.
 
“The Broyhill Family Foundation gives to many wonderful causes, but BCH is a favorite and primary interest,” Broyhill said. “There are children in situations so difficult they are almost impossible for us to realize.”
 
The campaign is focused on raising funds in three specific areas: renovations at BCH’s statewide locations, ongoing operational support and building the organization’s endowment. According to Gray, the campaign is vital to the nonprofit’s future and the services it offers.
 
“Without this campaign, children will go unserved,” Gray said. “We must sustain this ministry for the children of today and of tomorrow.”
 
The silent phase of “Sharing Hope…Changing Lives” started in June 2013 with the approval of BCH’s Board of Trustees. Nine divisions comprise the campaign. The state is sectioned into six geographical divisions. The final three include BCH alumni, staff members and trustees.
 
The staff and trustee campaigns were launched at the start of the silent phase. Other gifts were also solicited privately from corporations, foundations and other statewide supporters in preparation for the public launch.
 
“I’m excited to report that 100 percent of BCH’s trustees have given to the campaign, and they have exceeded their $4 million goal,” Gray said. “Also, BCH staff members have more than doubled their $100,000 goal by giving $212,000.”
 
Co-chair Jerry Jordan said the goal was to raise 60 percent of the total funds prior to the public phase. “We have raised 62 percent of our goal for a total of $13,288,333.00,” Jordan shared. “We can’t believe we’re at this point. We are so blessed. We’re off to a good start.”
 
Blackwell is energized by the initial swell of support, but recognizes that the hardest work lies ahead.
“The remainder of the campaign will take effort and participation from all our statewide supporters,” Blackwell said. “Not only are we charged with caring for the daily needs of our residents, but we have to maintain the homes we provide for them. As with any home, roofs need replacing and heating and air units must be repaired.
 
“We must be able to provide for our children, and by the grace of God we will.”

6/17/2014 11:46:17 AM by BCH Communications | with 0 comments



Southeastern gives, receives at Baltimore

June 17 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

During the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Baltimore, the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching sponsored a breakfast June 10 for pastors and church leaders.
 
The Spurgeon Center, located at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, equips and encourages pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches, and represents an intentional bridge between the seminary and local churches.
 
John H. Ewart, director of the Spurgeon Center and associate vice president for global theological initiatives, said, “Our goal is to see Southeastern as both the Great Commission seminary … and also as the pastor seminary.”
 
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, spoke on the topic of the pastor and the spiritual life.
 
He said, “If you put everything into your stock or weight or value or charisma or smile, then we don’t have much. That’s why I believe deeply in my heart that the greatest need in our lives as Southern Baptists is to move into a major season of extraordinary prayer.”

 
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BR photo by Michael McEwen
Daniel Akin, center, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, receives the Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service June 11 from Oklahoma Baptist University President David Whitlock, right, and Stan Norman, left, provost and executive vice president for campus life.

Floyd reminded pastors that no one else could determine whether they are going after God.
 
“I want to extend His glory to the nations of the world,” he said, “and I hope you will give your best to Him. God can do more in a moment than you can do in a lifetime.”
 
Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) presented Southeastern seminary president Danny Akin with its Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service June 11 at the Southeastern alumni luncheon.
 
Hobbs was one of the SBC’s leading theologians and the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla.
 
In 2013, former Union University president, David Dockery, received the award.
 
The luncheon featured a panel consisting of Akin; Bruce Ashford, provost of SEBTS; Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at SEBTS; Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources; and Trillia Newbell, blogger and author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research Division, moderated the event.
 
J.D. Greear, a Southeastern alumnus and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, announced The Summit will be giving $500,000 to the seminary over the next five years.
 
Director of financial development at SEBTS, Daniel Palmer said, “I think the tears … in Dr. Akin’s eyes said it all. This gift is huge.
 
“We don’t raise money for the sake of raising money; we do it to graduate well-prepared champions for Christ who are financially free to go serve wherever God calls them. Every gift to Southeastern is multiplied through the future ministries of thousands of students. This historic gift from the generous people of The Summit Church will help us keep world-class preparation affordable for students until Christ returns.”
 
Nearing the end of the SBC annual meeting June 11, Akin presented the seminary report to convention messengers.
 
He said the school has experienced many blessings, and if the numbers hold SEBTS will jump to a six-year record enrollment. The seminary also recently endowed the sixth and seventh chairs where individuals gave at least a million dollars to those endowed chairs.
 
“This year on my 10th anniversary, our seminary family gave me a gift,” Akin said. “In one night, they collected and presented a gift of almost $300,000 for scholarships to be given to those who are coming from ethnic minorities so that we might enable them to be well-trained to build strong, vibrant churches across our convention.”
 
One of the things that excited Akin about the SBC was the “growing heart and passion to have churches that look like the church in heaven from every tribe, every tongue, every people and every nation. It is my prayer that God might be so kind in my lifetime that we would not see just an increase of ethnic minorities in our convention and churches, I am looking forward … to the day when … [minorities] are at the head of the table and giving us direction and to guide us in leadership.”
 
Southeastern has seven degrees completely online. Akin said that we have to recognize the technological age in which we live. He said SEBTS has been “proactive in taking theological education to where you are, and we are seeing this more and more with great success without compromising one whit of quality of the education we’re delivering but by simply making it more accessible to more Southern Baptist across America and around the world.”
 
Akin closed, “The students you are sending to our six seminaries inspire me and encourage me. I’ve never been more positive and more optimistic than what I believe the future holds for Southern Baptists and Bible-believing Christians; because our God’s kingdom is marching on. He is going to accomplish His saving purpose, and isn’t it amazing that He gives you and me the opportunity to be a part of what He is doing?”

6/17/2014 11:37:26 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Christians flee as violence spreads to northern Iraqi cities

June 17 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

Iraqi Christians came under fire again as the bloody campaign of Islamic militants spilled over from Syria into Iraq’s northern cities last week.

An estimated 10,000 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant), also known as ISIS and ISIL, advanced rapidly on Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, such as Tikrit and Kirkuk, leaving a wave of destruction in their path and sending the Iraqi army reeling in panic. By June 15, ISIS terrorists had begun to approach Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers, policemen and government officials captured by ISIS have been summarily executed, as have some Chaldean Catholics, according to reports from sources inside the besieged region. Those same sources claim nearly all of the remaining Catholics have fled Mosul.

“All the faithful have left the city,” Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told the Catholic World Report. “Who knows whether they will ever be able to return.”

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly 1 million Christians have left the country. An estimated 500,000 remained in the northern portion of the country among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 2,000 years. Nona said there were “35,000 faithful living in Mosul” in 2003.

“Three thousand were still there in early 2014,” Nona said. “Now, probably no one is left there and that is tragic.”

Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of Kirkuk Evangelical Church, confirmed the report.

“Ninety nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” Jazrawi told World Magazine June 10.

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The region’s Catholics have been under pressure for some time, according to Catholic News Service. The agency quoted an Iraqi Catholic identifying himself only as “Danny,” who said Christians “have been the objects of kidnapping, torture and killing by extremists, hoping to extort money from us or to force us to convert to Islam, for several months.”

Father Khalil Jaar, who is responsible for aiding Christian refugees who have reached Amman, Jordan, told Catholic News Service that ISIS forces have killed many Christians, but also Muslims who oppose their efforts to impose strict Sharia law.

“All the people are suffering. But as we are a minority – minority Christians – it is normal to suffer more than others. But even the Muslims are suffering from these fanatic people,” Jaar told CNS. “They don’t have mercy on anyone, Christian or Muslim. The only answer they have is to kill them.”

According to the newspaper La Stampa, whose Vatican Insider project reports daily on Catholics around the world, at least one church under construction in Mosul has been demolished and the fourth-century monastery of Mar Benham is in the hands of ISIS militants. Vatican sources published the e-mail correspondence of a Dominican friar in the area, who told his superior the situation was “critical and apocalyptic.”

“They murdered adults and children. Hundreds of bodies have been left in the streets and in the homes, without any mercy,” the Dominican friar wrote in his e-mail.

If not killed for their faith, Christians who remain in occupied Mosul will likely see the imposition of a “dhimma” by ISIS if the group holds onto the city, just as Syrian Christians experienced when the Islamists took control of the ancient Christian city of Raqqa in March.

Under a dhimma, a protection agreement much like those between mafia families and businesses, Islamists agree to offer “protection” to religious minorities in exchange for money. If the agreement is not signed, subjects are faced with the choice of converting to Islam or facing the sword.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in March that Christians in Raqqa, Syria, had signed the agreement, which committed them to a biannual tax of “four gold dinars” – about $500 per person.

In addition to being required to practice Christianity behind closed doors, Christians in Raqqa were told to follow 11 other directives in order to keep the agreement with their Muslim overlords. Among those directives, Christians were prohibited from building new sanctuaries or restoring ones damaged in the civil war there, and they were forbidden from aiding any faction or government opposed to ISIS, Haaretz reported.

The U.S. State Department condemned the agreement in Raqqa as a violation of “universal human rights.”

Nina Shea, writing in National Review Online, said the situation in northern Iraq shows “the religious cleansing of Christians from Iraq is entering the end game.”

“President Maliki is vowing that Iraq’s army will regain control, but this may take time. ISIS has controlled parts of Ramadi, the capital of Sunni Muslim Anbar province, and much of Fallujah for the past six months. When the army does eventually succeed in reversing jihadi control in Mosul, it may be too late for the Christians. Once Middle Eastern Christians flee to the West, they don’t return,” Shea wrote.

“This is a profound development for the Christian church, of course, which has had a two-thousand-year-old presence there. But it will have long-term national-security implications for the West. American political leaders have so far failed to distinguish the religious cleansing from its surrounding context of terror and conflict. They overlook the fact that religious pluralism and diversity are among today’s casualties.”

ISIS disavows any notion of freedom of religion. The group, which began as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has morphed into a sect deemed too violent even by Al-Qaeda’s spiritual leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was second in command to Osama bin Laden. Zawahiri has supported a group in Syria called Al-Nusra, which – though it has committed atrocities of its own – has been more protective of civilians.

According to Haaretz, al-Zawahiri told ISIS to operate within the guidelines established by Al-Qaeda or it would face “a dreadful battle.” But ISIS is not listening. The group is now under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who until 2009 was in U.S. custody at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a direct descendant of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, has surpassed al-Zawahiri in popularity and prestige among Sunni Islamists, according to a Washington Post report. A senior U.S. intelligence official told the paper he is “more violent, more virulent, more anti-American” than other potential successors to bin Laden.

His radical hatred of Jews, Christians and Americans in general is believed to be accompanied by his hatred of two other types of Muslims – Sunnis who do not believe in establishing an Islamic caliphate over the whole of the Middle East, and Shiite Muslims, with whom Sunnis have argued over the succession of Islamic imams (spiritual leaders) for nearly 1,500 years.

Al-Baghdadi’s brand of extremist Islam also puts him at odds with the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government, Iran and clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr, who encouraged Shiite Muslims to attack American troops in Fallujah during the Iraq war.

Al-Sadr issued a statement through FARS, an official Iranian news agency, saying he would cooperate with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to “form peace units to defend the holy places” of both Muslims and Christians. What will likely follow is a larger religious war with any remaining Christians in Iraq caught in the middle of sectarian strife.

Elijah Abraham, born under a different name to a Shiite family in Baghdad, is now a Christian evangelist who travels to the Middle East often to train Christian pastors.

Abraham told Baptist Press the administration of President Barack Obama originally viewed ISIS as an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and gave the group money and arms to aid its effort to overthrow Assad. Abraham said the move was a serious miscalculation that has brought harm to Christians.

“ISIS is an extension of Al-Qaeda. With American funds, now ISIS is killing Iraqis and planning to go for Baghdad and Iraqi Shiite shrines to settle an old score,” Abraham wrote in an e-mail. “Since 2009 with President Obama’s policies in the Middle East, there has also been a systematic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.”

If ISIS gains the upper hand in the battle, Abraham said the world can expect to see more of what it saw June 15, when ISIS militants released a video reportedly showing the mass execution of captured Shiite Muslim military recruits.

“Christians will be slaughtered in this battle,” Abraham said.

Barnabas Fund, an aid agency that supports minority Christians in Islamic countries, issued a statement saying the recent attacks on Christians in Mosul are “a clear statement from ISIS that they are no longer welcome.”

“It is feared that this latest exodus could be the final death knell for the Christians of Iraq,” the group’s international director, Patrick Sookdheo, told CNS News.

“Having previously sought refuge in Syria, this is no longer an option, and as ISIS violence threatens the stability of the wider region, Christians have very few places of safety to which to run.”

The northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, with its population of 200,000, also fell to ISIS militants June 15.

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

6/17/2014 11:14:23 AM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Court backs pro-life ads as free speech

June 17 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A national pro-life organization has gained a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in its challenge to a state law it says restricts free speech.

The justices unanimously ruled June 16 the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) had demonstrated that an Ohio prohibition on “false statement[s]” during an election campaign injured the pro-life organization. The SBA List and another organization thereby can go forward with their lawsuit, they said. The high court returned the combined case to a federal judge for a ruling in keeping with its opinion.

The SBA List ran ads during the 2010 election campaign asserting Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat, voted for “taxpayer-funded abortion” when he supported the health-care reform law enacted earlier in the year. It also sought to rent billboards in his Ohio district to communicate that message. Driehaus, who described himself as pro-life, denied the measure funded abortions and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Before the November election, the panel found probable cause that the SBA List had violated the “false statement[s]” prohibition.

The SBA List and the country’s other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed with Driehaus, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. The National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops undergirded their positions in detailed documents.

Driehaus dropped his complaint after he lost his race for re-election, but the SBA List continued with a suit it had filed before the election. The pro-life organization alleged its free speech had been chilled and it faced the likelihood that its rights to free speech and association would again be “chilled and burdened.” A federal court combined the challenge with one brought by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes but dismissed the suits, ruling neither offered a “sufficiently concrete injury for purposes of standing or ripeness.” The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed the decision.

The SBA List welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling in its favor as a “step toward victory for the freedom of speech.”

“The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement.

“It is beyond dispute that Obamacare contains multiple abortion-funding provisions,” she said, adding SBA List “is now one step closer in its quest to unleash the First Amendment from the constraints imposed by Ohio’s unconstitutional false speech statute.”

David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written release, “The First Amendment forbids government from acting as a ‘truth commission’ on matters of public debate. The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully upheld the freedom of Americans to speak in accordance with their views by allowing them to challenge laws that silence them. The Susan B. Anthony List’s warnings about abortion funding in Obamacare were objectively true. If that fact was part of what cost this congressman his job, that’s because his constituents, like most Americans, reject taxpayer-funded abortion.”

Writing for the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said the Ohio commission’s proceedings were burdensome for the SBA List with the “additional threat of criminal prosecution.”

“As long as the petitioners continue to engage in comparable electoral speech regarding support for the [Affordable Care Act], that speech will remain arguably proscribed by Ohio’s false statement statute,” Thomas wrote.

The SBA List’s “insistence that the allegations in its press release were true did not prevent the Commission panel from finding probable cause to believe that SBA had violated the law the first time around,” he wrote. “And, there is every reason to think that similar speech in the future will result in similar proceedings, notwithstanding SBA’s belief in the truth of its allegations.”

The case is SBA List v. Driehaus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

6/17/2014 11:04:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Transgender stance: needed & wise, Moore says

June 16 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Questions from churches about the transgender issue and the tide of culture pointed to the need for Southern Baptists to address the topic during their annual meeting, the convention’s lead ethicist said.

Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) approved a resolution on transgender identity June 10, marking the first time the SBC has addressed the issue in a stand-alone measure. After what appeared to be a unanimous vote on the convention floor, Russell D. Moore explained to reporters some reasons for the resolution.


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Photo by Matt Miller
David Dykes, chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, and Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, discuss resolutions approved by messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

On a recent day, he received three phone calls from pastors or church leaders who were dealing with the issue, said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

Meanwhile, the transgender movement has made progress in the wider culture.

“The cultural mindset is that gender is something that is constructed by the individual,” Moore said at a news conference after the vote. “So it’s disconnected from how the person is created.

“And that’s one of the reasons why I think this resolution ... was so wise, because it spoke to what the Bible teaches about what gender means in the first place, about how God’s design is good,” Moore said, “and then talked about the fact that we’re living in a world that is fallen, in which there is a great deal of confusion in what it means to address that.”

Moore told reporters, “Right now we’re living in a situation where Time magazine just two weeks ago talked about the transgender issue as the new civil rights movement, the new frontier of the civil rights movement.... [W]e have to be prepared to give a witness and to give an answer from the scripture on that.”

David Dykes, chairman of the Resolutions Committee and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, pointed reporters to a clause in the resolution that noted a 2011 survey showed about 700,000 Americans consider their gender to be different than their biological sex.

“To this point we had not spoken on this issue, so there was a need for clarity” on the SBC’s position, Dykes said.

Time’s cover story reflected advances made by advocates for transgender recognition and normalization, such as:

  • A review board of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruled May 30 that people receiving Medicare may no longer be automatically rejected for coverage of sex reassignment surgery.

  • 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that provide explicit protections for transgender people.

  • California enacted a law in August making it the first state to enable students to use the restrooms and play on the athletic teams of the gender they identify with, regardless of their biological sex. Public schools in New York City and other localities have issued guidelines that permit students to participate in sports and physical education in accordance with their gender identity, not their biology.

The SBC resolution adopted June 10 affirmed “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”

It expressed “love and compassion” to people who deal with conflict between their biology and their gender identity. The statement invited all transgender people to put their faith in Jesus and welcomed them “to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership.” It also recognized transgender people as image-bearers of God and denounced abuse and bullying toward them.

In addition, the resolution opposed attempts to change a person’s “bodily identity” through such treatments as gender reassignment surgery.

Moore said the resolution “spoke with conviction about the issue – very clear biblically about God’s design for gender, for sexuality – but also didn’t just speak about transgender persons. It spoke to transgender persons with the message of the redeeming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I think the committee has spoken with a great deal of wisdom and a great deal of pastoral sensitivity to this issue,” Moore said. “I think it is a great sign of the Southern Baptist Convention taking seriously what it means to minister to a changing culture by addressing this issue at all.”

The original resolution was submitted jointly by Denny Burk, associate professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., and Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies.

Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, described the resolution as “thorough, straightforward and redemptive. It stresses God’s design and intent as well as hope and compassion.”

“It took courage to tackle an issue which will almost certainly be misrepresented and misunderstood even though it is factually accurate and ultimately more compassionate than those who would oppose it,” Stith said in a statement to Baptist Press. “It is always a more loving way to point to God’s plan for His creation. The author of confusion has from the beginning sought to cast doubt on God’s intentions, and the massive sexual disorientation rampant in our world today demonstrates that this tactic is still effective.

Stith noted that the key challenge related to the resolution “will be getting churches to really think through it and understand how to implement it in that same spirit of compassion and steadfastness. Will our churches be equally courageous in preparing our people for this brave new world?

“We cannot continue to ignore these issues or issue occasional comments in sermons and think that this will prepare Christians for these challenges,” Stith said. “I pray that our churches will study this resolution carefully and seek wise counsel in helping to prepare our members to adequately defend these truths in the marketplace of ideas.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. BP editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)

6/16/2014 10:14:45 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gospel conversations emphasized at NAMB presentation

June 16 2014 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell exhorted messengers at the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting to join in reaching communities for Christ through “Gospel conversations.”

“We have much to celebrate, but there is still much to be done,” Ezell said.

Among the most pressing of tasks for Southern Baptists and evangelicals is that of individual believers living a life on mission – sharing the gospel in their communities.

Ezell said he and other Southern Baptist leaders are grieved by the number of baptisms being reported among churches in North America. Despite some years of increase, overall population growth has dramatically out-paced baptism rates.

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Photo by Matt Miller
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, gives a report during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. A portion of the NAMB presentation focused on church revitalization. Ezell highlighted a Baltimore church plant that merged with an established church that was in decline – what NAMB calls a “legacy church plant.”

A decrease in baptisms is the impetus behind NAMB’s introduction of the “3 Circles” evangelism tool developed at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Fla., led by pastor Jimmy Scroggins. Scroggins joined Ezell during NAMB’s presentation to share about the simplicity of gospel conversations.

Now incorporated into a mobile app and printed and distributed as the “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide,” NAMB’s evangelism guide offers all believers a simple and versatile tool for presenting and explaining the gospel in every-day conversation.

 

Evangelistic church planting

An emphasis on evangelism and a laser-like focus on evangelistic church planting, Ezell said, is how Southern Baptists can hope to see a shift in North America’s understanding of and response to the gospel. Thus far the response has been encouraging.

Ezell reported that of 943 churches started in 2010, 856 (91 percent) are still thriving. In the most recent year of reporting they baptized 3,394 people, grew in membership by 20 percent and gave $2.9 million toward mission efforts.

In 2013, Ezell said Southern Baptists added 1,105 congregations in North America, including 936 church plants – more than half of which are non-Anglo congregations.

“If we’re serious about reaching North America, we need to reflect the diversity and background of the people we hope to reach,” Ezell said as he shared NAMB’s appointment of church planting catalysts to help facilitate church planting among three of North America’s largest ethnic groups – Hispanics, Chinese and Koreans.

 

Achieving the impossible

Among the greatest stories of people reaching their own community is that of Montreal native David Pothier at La Chapelle church, a congregation of more than 700, Ezell said. Not only did the church reach hundreds of people, but last year they baptized 100 – in a city many may consider decidedly secular.

“Montreal is by far the most challenging of all [Send North America] cities,” Ezell said. “It’s perhaps the most spiritually dark place in North America.”

Joining Ezell onstage were La Chapelle church planter David Pothier, a native of Montreal, and new believer Cedric Dumoulin, who visited the church for the first time at the invitation of a friend.

Dumoulin did not come as result of outreach methods at La Chapelle. He came because of a friend, and he stayed because of the church’s welcoming and worshipful environment.

“From the first music notes I felt the presence of God for the first time, and during the message all the deepness of my soul was touched. It led me to read scriptures, find God and find life in God,” Dumoulin said. “When God arrived in my life everything changed. Now I want to live for God. Not just with God but for God.”

 

Church revitalization

Last year, church planter Brad O’Brien moved to Baltimore to start Redeemer City Church, which meets in the once-thriving Lee Street Memorial Church building.

With Lee Street on the decline, lay leader Raymond Hoffman, a member of the church for 61 years, began meeting with O’Brien about bringing life to his church. Gradually the two decided to build two churches into one. Lee Street and Redeemer became Jesus Our Redeemer Church late last year.

Emphasizing the need to revitalize churches in all the Send North America cities, Ezell introduced messengers to Hoffman, O’Brien and O’Brien’s wife Jena-Marie.

“Only 10-15 percent of our churches are healthy, and another 70-75 percent are plateaued or declining,” Ezell said. “It’s amazing what God can do when churches are open to whatever God can bring before them.”

Jesus Our Redeemer is now thriving and is reaching its neighborhood one gospel conversation at a time.

Hoffman says of his once-dying church, “Every Sunday is different. The spirit is good; the people are loving. It’s a peaceful place to go. On Saturdays I walk around edgy because I want Sunday morning to come so I can get to church early.

“I love [O’Brien],” Hoffman added. “I’d follow him in whatever he wants to do.”

Earlier in his report Ezell paid tribute to the leaders of Baptist state conventions in the South through whose leadership church planting funds have been allocated to places such as Baltimore and other North American cities, where churches are scarce.

Ezell said a new funding model these leaders adopted will put $8 million annually into non-South regions.

“I’m grateful for the leadership of these men. I’m grateful for their friendship. And I’m grateful for their sacrifice,” Ezell said.

Ezell closed the presentation by sharing how a man he never knew led a conversation that altered the course of his life.

“Bill Sullivan is not a pastor that you’ve heard preach at a conference,” Ezell said. “Bill Sullivan never wrote a book. Bill Sullivan shared a gospel conversation with a young 26-year-old. Bill Sullivan shared the gospel conversation with Mike who was married to Glenda. They both became believers. They had three children and 13 grandchildren. My life was changed because of that, because that 26-year-old Mike was my dad.

“My dad passed away February 13, and as I reflected on that day at my dad’s funeral I was so grateful for a Southern Baptist layman I don’t even know who took the time to have a gospel conversation with my father.

“We’ve got to be a people who are about sharing our faith,” Ezell said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)

6/16/2014 10:03:01 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP, other Baptist ‘family’ matters discussed in Baltimore

June 16 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

A three-day discussion among Southern Baptists became a focal point of the exhibit area of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore as a procession of diverse, articulate Baptists conversed about core values.

The dialogue at the Cooperative Program (CP) exhibit took place from casual chairs on a simple platform in a high-tech production area that projected the discussion on a massive two-sided high-definition screen overhead and streamed it on the Internet.

Nearly 125 different speakers addressed such topics as Southern Baptists’ hallmarks of cooperation, international missions, church planting and theological education as well as matters related to ethnic diversity, social justice and sexuality.

C. Ashley Clayton, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship development, said the June 9-11 Cooperative Program hub evolved in response to the desire to facilitate important conversations amicably without controlling the outcome.

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Photo by Adam Covington
Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, listens as Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks on a panel addressing “Theological Challenges Young People Experience” hosted by Ed Stetzer at the exhibit hall of the Baltimore Convention Center June 9 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10-11. Also on the panel were Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Like Southern Baptists themselves, the speakers were from every area of the country – as well as Cuba. Many were young leaders interspersed among bivocational and mega-church pastors, church planters, seminary presidents and professors, state convention leaders and missionaries.

The issues they spoke of were rooted in the nature of the exhibits surrounding the stage – reflecting the Cooperative Program that ties Southern Baptists together in support of national and international missions and ministry.

“It becomes a broad, free-flowing conversation,” Clayton said. “Sort of like the family after church” deciding where they want to go to eat.

It’s “autonomy at its best,” he added.

There were no harsh exchanges but there were plenty of opinions while nearly everyone kept an eye on a huge countdown monitor.

Some big crowds, but mainly groups of interested people, gathered to listen for 15- to 25-minute sessions encompassing panels with a facilitator asking questions, “Ted”-like talks or one-on-one interviews.

A panel led by Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist with the North American Mission Board, specifically addressed Cooperative Program funding.

“How does CP fuel church planting in North America?” Fry asked church planters Victor Schloss, Keith Weiser and Tim Miller. “And how has it impacted you?”

“For me, it’s the vision,” Weiser, pastor of Resonate Church in Pullman, Wash., said, noting the collective nature of Southern Baptist work impacting potentially millions of people.

Without CP, Weiser said he would have been “isolated and un-resourced,” noting the North American Mission Board helps create networks, funding and fellowship.

Schloss, San Diego city coordinator for the Send North America church planting initiative, said he doesn’t consider CP a program as much as a philosophy that can leave “a legacy for the next generation.”

The Cooperative Program “unites us for the Great Commission,” Schloss said, and is unparalleled in its effectiveness.

Planting a church, Schloss said, is like caring for a baby – and if CP hadn’t existed, he would have been “fragile, discouraged, isolated.”

Among speakers and panelists addressing cultural issues, Jed Coppenger, pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tenn., said it’s easy for people to get caught up in partisan politics instead of just being clear on scripture. Preaching expositionally can let God speak to the issues, he said, adding, “Jesus loved the people and He loved them enough to tell them the truth.”

Panels addressing denominational issues included “Reversing the SBC Baptism Decline,” “Fault Lines within the SBC,” “What the IMB of tomorrow should look like” and viewpoints from the Hispanic Advisory Council.

The six SBC seminary presidents hosted “Theological Challenges Young People Experience” while Kevil Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, participated in a conversation about collegiate church planting.

Juan Carlos Rojas, president of the Western Cuban Baptist Convention, served on a panel with a couple of Cuban pastors who recounted how a church-planting movement in Cuba blossomed despite severe challenges.

Kerry Bural, principal of The Resonate Group, a Nashville-area creative and strategic services company, took part in a panel on “Social Media in a Ministry Context.” Resonate partnered with the SBC Executive Committee in producing the discussions at the Cooperative Program exhibit.

Tim Brister, a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., told Baptist Press he was thankful for the “diverse range of topics” that are relevant to many Southern Baptists and give “voices to various issues.”

In addition to Frye who facilitated several of the panels, Jon Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., and a Baptist21 organizer, and Micah Fries, vice president of LifeWay Research, hosted various other panels.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Houston.)

6/16/2014 9:55:19 AM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Unofficial Baltimore attendance: 5,294

June 13 2014 by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting, June 10-11, drew 5,294 messengers to Baltimore from the nation’s 45,000 Southern Baptist churches. The unofficial total is a three percent bump from last year’s meeting in Houston, which drew 5,103 messengers. Official numbers will be released later in June and the numbers do not include guests or children.

Messengers have not gathered in Baltimore in 74 years, when 3,776 met here in 1940.
 

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Photo by Paul W. Lee
A view from the Baltimore Convention Center, where the two-day Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting will be held, shows attendees flowing in. Thousands of messengers from across the nation will attend the June 10-11 meeting.

SBC Registration Secretary Jim Wells said the results were encouraging after the attendance in Houston was “way, way down.”

“I thought we’d be up a little bit because it was a [SBC] presidential election year and a new destination,” Wells said. “I think people really liked being on the harbor.”

As could be expected, Maryland churches turned out in force for the meeting in their backyard; their 429 messengers dwarfed their 2013 total of 66. The state with the largest delegation was Virginia at 497. Guam, which had not been represented in recent years, joined Maine in sending only one messenger.

Next year, with the convention headed to Columbus, Wells said he is reluctant to project an estimate of 2015’s attendance.

The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers are as follows: Alabama, 248; Alaska, 15; Arizona, 20; Arkansas, 172; California, 98; Colorado, 28; Connecticut, 8; Delaware, 23; Florida, 288; Georgia, 379; Guam, 1; Hawaii, 10; Idaho, 4; Illinois, 92; Indiana, 74; Iowa, 4; Kansas, 27; Kentucky, 251; Louisiana, 170; Maine, 1; Maryland, 429; Massachusetts, 10; Michigan, 29; Minnesota, 3; Mississippi, 198; Missouri, 143; Montana, 5; Nebraska, 2; Nevada, 26; New Hampshire, 5; New Jersey, 39; New Mexico, 31; New York, 67; North Carolina, 427; Ohio, 89; Oklahoma, 128; Oregon, 2; Pennsylvania, 106; Puerto Rico 4; South Carolina, 243; South Dakota, 4; Tennessee, 423; Texas, 320; Utah, 8; Vermont, 6; Virginia, 497; Washington, 5; Washington, D.C., 20; West Virginia, 40; Wisconsin, 6; Wyoming, 6. There were 256 messengers that were approved through the credentials process but were unaffiliated with a state convention.

Wells was first elected registration secretary in 2002 and was re-elected to another term June 11. He serves as the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program missionary for strategic partnerships.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway.)

6/13/2014 11:29:21 AM by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC honors heroic Christians at SBC

June 13 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Members of two families who are standing heroically for the Christian faith received awards from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and grateful affirmation from messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention.

The ERLC honored the Greens, who own Hobby Lobby, and Saeed Abedini, a prisoner in Iran, Wednesday morning (June 11) during the SBC’s annual meeting. ERLC President Russell D. Moore presented the John Leland Religious Liberty Award to Steve and Jackie Green for their family’s refusal to abide by the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs to their workers. Moore gave the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award to Naghmeh Abedini on behalf of her husband, Saeed, an American citizen imprisoned since 2012 by Iran’s oppressive regime for his Christian service in that country.

Messengers gave extended standing ovations to both the Greens and Abedini when they received the awards. At Moore’s request, many messengers knelt on the floor as newly elected SBC President Ronnie Floyd led in prayer for both families.
 

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Photo by Van Payne
During the June 11 Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee presentation, ERLC president Russell D. Moore presents an award to the wife of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor who is imprisoned for his Christian faith in Iran. Abedini received the Richard Land Award for Distinguished Service for “faithfully serving the Lord Jesus Christ ... despite the risk that was involved.” His wife Naghmeh received the award on his behalf and received a standing ovation from messengers. Newly elected SBC president Ronnie Floyd then led messengers in a prayer for the imprisoned pastor.

The presentations preceded the ERLC’s annual report to the convention.

In his second appearance at the SBC as the ERLC’s president, Moore introduced the awards presentations by reminding messengers of the Baptist heritage of standing for religious freedom – sometimes at great cost.

“We’re living in a time right now in which religious liberty is imperiled at home and around the world, and it is time for us to remember that we have been here before,” Moore said. “The gospel came to us in letters being written out by apostles from jail cells. The gospel came to us through the centuries from people who were constantly under threat of their liberty to preach.

“[W]e should say to the world around us, ‘Don’t call it a comeback.’ We have been here for centuries, and we will continue to stand here for religious liberty for everyone,” he said.

Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate is expected to be resolved in a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court before it adjourns in late June or early July. The justices’ opinion “probably will determine the next 100 years of what it means for us to be a free people in this country,” Moore told messengers.

The Green family’s refusal to comply with the mandate, which is a regulation helping implement the 2010 health-care law, has placed the entire business of more than 570 arts and crafts stores at risk. A court loss could result in fines totaling $1.3 million a day.

“It would be really easy for the Green family simply to say, ‘Let’s just submit to that.’ But because of their strong faith in Jesus Christ and because of their courage, the Greens have refused to comply” with the requirement, Moore said.

Steve Green, Hobby Lobby’s president, is the son of David and Barbara Green, who founded the Oklahoma City-based company. Steve and Jackie Green are members of a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma City.

Saeed Abedini, an ordained minister of Iranian descent, was arrested nearly two years ago while visiting Iran to complete work on a government-approved orphanage and was given an eight-year prison sentence.

Saeed and Naghmeh, both Muslim converts to faith in Christ, helped in the growth of the Iranian house church movement before moving to the United States in 2005. Reports of Saeed’s condition indicate Iranian authorities have tortured him, placed him in solitary confinement and pressured him to deny Christ. Iranian prison officials have threatened to lengthen his sentence because he is leading fellow prisoners to faith in Jesus, Baptist Press reported May 30.

“And at every point, the Iranian government seems to think that Saeed Abedini will get tired of all of this treatment and renounce his faith in Jesus Christ,” Moore told messengers, “and at every step no matter the beatings, no matter the imprisonment, no matter the exile, Saeed Abedini has confessed with that great cloud of witnesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Naghmeh, meanwhile, has been “a courageous and tenacious voice for her husband and for the persecuted church around the world,” he said.

In his report, Moore said the ERLC had worked in the last year on a variety of issues – including the defense of marriage, the liberty to pray without governmental supervision and the right to freedom of conscience against the abortion/contraception mandate for Hobby Lobby, the SBC’s GuideStone Financial Resources, Baptist colleges and all others. The ERLC also “has given great emphasis on equipping churches” to address the issues from a gospel perspective, he said.

“There are things that we were able to assume in the past that we must articulate now,” Moore said of the changing culture. “We must equip those children in Vacation Bible School for a world where following Christ will be seen as strange, will be seen as possibly dangerous, will be seen as subversive. But that is no new situation.

“The gospel did not come to us from Mayberry,” he told messengers. “The gospel rocketed out of a Roman empire where the strangest idea in the world was a community of people who cared for the vulnerable, for the widowed, for the orphaned, for the unborn, a community of people who were willing to lose their jobs, who were willing to lose their social standing, who were willing to lose the respect of the people around them. They were even willing to go to execution ... because they confessed and believed that a crucified man has presented himself alive.”

While applying justice to such issues, Moore said, the ERLC has sought “to always, always, always include an invitation of the gospel to whosoever will believe.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

6/13/2014 11:20:04 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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