June 2015

ERLC rallies evangelicals with marriage statement

June 30 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement June 26 following the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a 14th Amendment right, making it legal in all 50 states. The statement, entitled “Here we stand: An evangelical declaration on marriage,” addresses the definition of biblical marriage, gospel ministry and religious liberty.
The statement has been signed by more than 100 evangelical leaders, including

  • Danny Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  • Tony Merida, pastor for preaching, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

  • Clint Pressley, pastor, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte

  • Bruce Riley Ashford, provost, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  • J.D. Greear, pastor, The Summit Church, Durham

  • Bruce Frank, senior pastor, Biltmore Baptist Church, Asheville

  • Richard D. Land, president, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Matthews

See the full list of signatories online at erlc.com/herewestand.
The statement is printed here:


As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.
The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matthew 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Ephesians 5:32).
The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.
Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.
The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Romans 13:1-7);

  • the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;

  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;

  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;

  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;

  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter.
The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is the content editor at the Biblical Recorder.)

6/30/2015 12:29:45 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Calabash church project might point way to new ministry

June 30 2015 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Calabash is a coastal North Carolina town best known for its seafood restaurants.
But lately N.C. Baptist Men volunteers have been coming to this Brunswick County town to help River of Life Church get into a new building. More importantly, this single construction project might be historic.
It’s the first chapter of a bold new ministry for N.C. Baptist Men to support the planting of new churches by helping them construct buildings.
Teams of volunteers with N.C. Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) have been working on River of Life Church’s new building since last year. The partly completed metal building sits in a prime location beside U.S. Highway 17 at Calabash, not far from the South Carolina border. Other teams will help finish the building in coming weeks.
River of Life is a new church, started over the past two years by church planter Tom Gore, with backing from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Church Planting Team.
The church has grown steadily, so much that it has outgrown the community club meeting rooms members have used for services at nearby Sunset Beach. But, as for most new churches, finding money for a meeting place was difficult.


Major breakthroughs

A major breakthrough came last year when a local developer gave the church a whopping 45 acres of land along U.S. 17, a major coastal road that has seen steady development in recent years. Still, even with land provided, paying for a new building seemed impossible.
A second breakthrough came when leaders of N.C. Baptist Men wanted to explore creating a new cadre of volunteers to work on construction of new churches –  and use River of Life for a test.
N.C. Baptist Men teams have constructed church buildings before, but on an irregular basis.
“We found that when volunteers were working on a church building, if a disaster struck, they would respond to the disaster, leaving the construction, since disaster relief was their main assignment,” said Gaylon Moss, who oversees disaster relief and Baptist Builders for N.C. Baptist Men.
“We want to determine if we can assemble enough volunteers who would be willing to focus on construction related to new churches across the state, without reducing our disaster relief responses.
“The River of Life Church project is our first test of this. We won’t know for a while if it will be a viable ministry for us.”

Shared vision, partnership

Mark Gray is one Baptist leader hoping the Calabash project will be the first of many construction projects for newly planted churches.
“This volunteer effort with Baptist Men would be a special blessing from the Lord, because the cost of initial facilities is incredibly prohibitive for the majority of new churches,” said Gray, head of the BSC’s Church Planting Team.
Gray’s consultants work with 100 to 150 church planters throughout the year, providing limited financial support, training, coaching and advice.
In 2014 they helped start 103 new churches, which equals starting a new church about every three days on average.
Collectively, those churches made 111,084 evangelistic contacts, registered 3,513 professions of faith and averaged having 5,300 people in worship services on Sunday, most of whom would not have been in any church apart from the new church being planted nearby.
Planting new churches is an important part of the convention’s drive to reach North Carolina’s estimated 5.8 million lost people.
“The average new church plant in America has a worship attendance of 84 after four years of existence,” Gray noted.
More than half the new church plants are among the more than 300 people groups now calling North Carolina home.
N.C. Baptists support this church planting ministry through their Cooperative Program giving and their gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).
 Since both N.C. Baptist Men and the convention’s church planting ministry receive funding through NCMO, a union of the two seems appropriate.

A promising concept

So far, the church construction concept looks promising, according to Gerald Williams, a Fayetteville resident and plumber by trade, who has led the River of Life project since last year.
“I’ve had no trouble getting volunteers,” Williams said in late May.
“We’ve had teams coming from across North Carolina, plus from Georgia and South Carolina. We just had an eight-man team from Blue Ridge, Ga., who put in 460 feet of sewer and water lines.”
River of Life is paying a construction company to erect a metal-walled, steel-framed building, using a loan obtained through the N.C. Baptist Foundation’s church loan program. But the church is counting on volunteers to frame in the rooms and other work needed to get the building useable.
Volunteers can definitely save money. For example, a sewage lift station for the new building, required for pumping waste, would have cost $18,000 for a local contractor to provide and connect.
“We bought it for $11,000 and did it ourselves,” Williams said.
A six-man team began the project by clearing six acres of the River of Life site for the building. They cut a road and cleared six acres of trees in a week, leaving the ground ready to be graded.

Blessed by God

To Williams, having so few workers accomplish so much in so few days was just another indication that River of Life Church has been blessed by God.
“The church can only succeed. There’s no way it’s going to fail,” Williams said. “So far, every step has been doubted, but each time it worked out.”
Several area churches have given support, such as housing volunteers who come to work.
True, the project has had the usual sorts of delays that slow construction projects, such as an unusual string of bad weather, plus delays in permits and architectural plans.
Volunteers started framing in the rooms at the beginning of June, after the building, steel work and insulation was completed at the end of May. As the metal shell for gatherings has taken shape, Gore has focused on getting the actual church – the members – to also take shape.
Members teamed up with an outreach ministry earlier this year to make evangelistic visits, talking to people around Calabash about Jesus and handing out 975 Bibles. Twenty people prayed to receive Christ as Savior. Visitors are still dropping by to check out River of Life’s services because of that outreach, Gore said.
An ongoing ministry at a local school has also flourished. Five people who teach or work at the school have joined River of Life in the past two years, he said.
Gore tells of individuals and families he has met with, prayed with and led to faith in Christ.
He believes many people are just waiting for the new building to be ready before they start attending.
“We expect growth to pick up even more,” he said.
Gore dreams of partnering with a nearby group to establish a pregnancy crisis center on the church’s new site. And he’s already counting seats.
“The new sanctuary will seat about 220 or so, depending on how we arrange them,” he muses.
Going to two Sunday morning services may come sooner rather than later, he thinks. A series of miracles have gotten River of Life to this point, and Gore is counting on more of the same as the church grows.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Creswell writes for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

6/30/2015 12:20:35 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Elected from North Carolina

June 30 2015 by BR staff

North Carolina Baptists elected by the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio, are listed below:

  • Executive Committee – Joe Knott, Christ Baptist, Raleigh, re-elected for a second term

  • Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – Tami L. Fitzgerald, Capital Community, Raleigh, re-elected for a second term

  • International Mission Board – Andy Davis, First Baptist Church, Durham re-elected for a second term, and Rob J. Peters, Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, elected for a term to expire in 2019

  • North American Mission Board – Steve Hardy, Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, elected for a term to expire in 2019

  • LifeWay Christian Resources – Amy Mielock, First Baptist Church, Cary elected for a term to expire in 2019

  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – David Bruce, Lake Mills Baptist Church, Candler, elected to fill an unexpired term ending in 2016, and Clint Pressley, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, elected for a term to expire in 2020

  • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – N. Todd Houston, Beach Road Baptist Church, Southport, elected to fill an unexpired term ending in 2017

  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – William “Bill” Bowyer, Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church, Wake Forest, elected for a second term.

Members of the 2016 Committee on Nominations were elected in Columbus, Ohio, also.
The two N.C. Baptists who will serve are Will Toburen, The Summit Church, Durham, and Scott Reed (layman), Calvary, Winston-Salem. This committee will nominate others in the state to serve on Southern Baptist Convention boards and agencies at the 2016 SBC meeting in St. Louis, Mo.

6/30/2015 12:14:52 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

SBC mission boards signal increased collaboration

June 30 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, interviewed Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and David Platt, president of the International Mission Board (IMB) on a number of different issues at the Cooperative Program exhibit at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The answers Platt and Ezell gave Stetzer about IMB and NAMB ministry statement amendments signaled an increased amount of collaboration between the two organizations in the future.


BP photo by Bill Bangham
Kevin Ezell, left, president of the North American Mission Board, and David Platt, center, president of the International Mission Board, were interviewed by Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, about the future of SBC missions June 16 at the Cooperative Program booth in the exhibit hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

When asked about the recent NAMB ministry statement amendment, Ezell responded, “Three or four years ago the IMB asked to change their mission statement so they could minister in North America in collaboration with NAMB. … So what we simply did was take that statement and flip it. It’s the exact same wording to give us the freedom to go outside of America with the collaboration of the IMB.”
Platt added, “The more those relationships and conversations are happening, and through partnerships together, the better for the spread of the gospel here and for the spread of the gospel there.”
Stetzer ended the interview by asking Platt candidly, “Do you plan on moving any people into the empty rooms at [NAMB headquarters]?”
Platt responded, “Everything is on the table.
“However and wherever we can best mobilize churches from, train missionaries from and engage missionaries from – we want to be wherever that is.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is the content editor at the Biblical Recorder.)

6/30/2015 12:05:33 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Moore, Dever discuss culture, same-sex issues

June 30 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) co-hosted an event with 9Marks called “Connecting Church and Culture” that attracted more than 800 attendees at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The event included a panel discussion with ERLC President Russell Moore and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. It was moderated by Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the ERLC and Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks and elder at Capitol Hill.
The conversation covered a range of topics related to cultural engagement and local church ministry. The purpose of the event was to help churches consider “how the gospel applies to culture and applies to the church,” according to Bethancourt.


From left, Mark Dever and Russell Moore

Bethancourt started the discussion by asking Moore to explain “how the collapse of the Bible-belt is bad for America but good for the church,” a topic addressed in Moore’s forthcoming book, Onward. Moore said “Bible-belt culture” provided social deterrents against undesirable practices because a person’s standing in a church often affected his or her standing in the community – like the stigma associated with divorce, for example.
He said blending church and social order creates nominal Christianity. “When you have the sort of Christianity,” continued Moore, “where in order to be part of the community, you have to be part of church, you lose the distinction between the church and the world.”
Moore added, “God has given us the opportunity to reclaim our distinctiveness and to reclaim our strangeness … it’s going to be difficult to be a good American and a Christian at the same time. I think that can be very good for the witness of the church.”
Leeman asked the panelists to discuss how to engage Christians who believe same-sex marriage is biblically acceptable. Both Moore and Dever agreed that pastors should treat these claims seriously. Dever said a “warning” tone was appropriate for younger believers that might be new to Christian theology and doctrine, but a firmer tone was necessary for older Christians making “high-handed” claims that same-sex marriage is biblically acceptable.
Moore said the issue is about “differing claims of apostolic authority,” because those arguments assume that “if the Apostle Paul had known what we [allegedly] know now about sexual orientation, he would have written differently about the issue.” He continued, “that is not just an interpretation of a moral text. That is a different understanding of the inspiration of scripture … It’s an issue of sufficiency of scripture.”
The panelists also took questions from the audience via Twitter, discussing whether or not to attend same-sex weddings, the long-term effects of the sexual revolution, how to use pronouns with transgender people and other topics.
Visit erlc.com and 9marks.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is the content editor at the Biblical Recorder.)

6/30/2015 11:57:01 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Elizabeth church gives Christian flag prominence

June 29 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor


When the Christian and American flags are flown in proximity to one another, flag etiquette calls for the American flag to be in the prominent position. Rit Varriale wants to see churches reverse that tradition in favor of a more biblical statement.
As the senior pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., Varriale said the church has installed their first ever flagpole and will raise the two flags in a special patriotic ceremony after the morning worship service on Sunday, July 5. But this time, the Christian flag will fly in the higher position.
“If you stop and think about it, [flag etiquette] is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches us,” Varriale said. “We are first and foremost, Christians who are called to serve the living God.”
The national motto of the United States, “In God we trust,” was signed into law in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Varriale said the statement acknowledges that there is a Divine Being to whom we are all accountable, and that is our greatest authority.
“Before our accountability to government is our accountability to God,” he said.


Rit Varriale

“So from a Christian perspective, our flag etiquette is completely improper. We should be flying the Christian flag above the American flag,” as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks us to do something that is inconsistent with what God has called us to do.
He joins the increasing number of pastors who believe government is trying to coerce Christians to live in ways that violate the teachings of scripture. “They use different justifications for it, like anti-discrimination laws. Christians are being coerced to serve the government before they serve God. That is something we can’t stand for,” said Varriale.
Elizabeth Baptist Church is not alone. Varriale noticed a small African-American congregation a few miles down the road that was flying the Christian flag on top of the American flag. “I asked the pastor about this, and he shared the very sentiments that I have. We have a common bond on this. With all due respect, we honor our government, and we’re very proud to be Americans, but we must honor God before human authority.”
The July 5 worship service will focus on independence and freedom, Varriale said. “But it’s going to address the fact that with our freedom, the greatest thing we can do is to stand up for God’s church and the principles of religious liberty. As a symbol that we are committed to this truth, after the worship service in the sanctuary, the congregation will go outside and raise the flags on a new flagpole. We’re just doing this to honor our Lord and as a testimony to our community that serving God is our first priority.”
The Sunday morning message is titled, “God Before Government.” Along with the church’s newly launched website GodBeforeGovernment.org and Facebook page, Varriale said he hopes the public ceremony will encourage other churches to join the movement as a public witness.
“If a church already has a flagpole, start flying the flags in that order. If they don’t have a flagpole, go get one, and fly the flags in that order, so any person who drives by their church will see the Christian flag in the highest place and know they are driving by a church that has made the commitment to honor God before anything else.”
The pastor said the clash of religious rights and minority/individual rights particularly in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) agenda and the large number of lawsuits against Christian businesses should cause Christians to ask, “Where did we start going wrong, and how did we come to this place?”
“In large part we started going wrong when we stopped standing up for things that are inherently part of the Christian life, like prayer,” Varriale said. “The admonition from the government to stop praying in the public school system was packaged under the notion of rights – the rights of the individual.” The minority didn’t want to pray, and felt they should not be asked to pray in a government institution. But Varriale contends the public school is not only a government institution, but a place that serves the people of the community. “Any institution should be able to reflect the values of the people who live there,” he added.
“Now, stepping back and looking at the issue of prayer in school from a biblical perspective, the church made an incredible mistake by listening to and appeasing the government and refusing to pray with our children,” he said.
“Now we are reaping what we have sown by not standing up for the things we believe in.”
Varriale says the same scripture that teaches respect for authority, as in Romans 13:1-2, and resistance to that authority, also invites judgement on ourselves. “When the authority asks you or commands you to do something that is against our Christian values – that is, something God tells you not to do, or God specifically commands you to do – then the responsibility of Christians is civil disobedience. You see it in the Old Testament – as in Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, – or in the New Testament in the lives of the apostles.”
LGBT leaders have practiced civil disobedience, Varriale noted. “That is the level of commitment they have, and that’s why they are winning. The church is going to have to be as committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the LGBT community has been committed to their agenda.”
“If the church doesn’t stand up and articulate that we serve God first, we are setting ourselves up for failure, because the very next step for government coercion will be the pulpit.”
He noted the example of five Texas pastors whose sermons were recently subpoenaed by the city of Houston. He believes all speech that addresses biblical morals will soon be labeled discriminatory, and will not be tolerated by the government.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – For more information visit GodBeforeGovernment.org, facebook.com/GodBeforeGovernment or elizabethchurch.org.)

6/29/2015 2:04:49 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Supreme Court extends same-sex marriage nationwide

June 29 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court transformed the legal definition of marriage June 26, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that states must recognize marriages between people of the same sex, providing a new definition throughout the country to an institution created by God as a covenant between a man and a woman.
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for a deeply divided court, saying, “[T]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”
Southern Baptist leaders expressed dismay at the opinion but also sought to encourage churches to respond with courage and faithfulness.
“I deeply believe in biblical and traditional marriage. The court has determined otherwise,” Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd said. “This decision shows one thing: Our desperate need for the next Great Awakening and the hope of the gospel given to all persons. We must rise up like never before with great urgency, to forward the message of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in a written statement, “I am a conscientious dissenter from this ruling handed down by the Court today, believing, along with millions of others, that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman and that it is improper for the Court to redefine an institution it did not invent in the first place.
“Despite this ruling, the church of Jesus Christ will stand fast. We will not capitulate on this issue because we cannot,” Moore said. “At the same time, now is not the time for outrage or panic. Marriage is resilient. God created it to be so. The church must now articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage and work to rebuild a culture of marriage.”


With the ruling, religious freedom remained a major concern for Southern Baptist leaders and other defenders of biblical/traditional marriage, as well as some dissenting Supreme Court justices. The expansion of same-sex marriage into most states has resulted in a growing clash between “sexual liberty” and religious liberty, especially for florists, bakers, photographers and other business owners who have conscientious objections to providing their services for same-sex ceremonies. Many have been penalized by courts or commissions or are facing penalties.
In the majority opinion, Kennedy emphasized that “religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
Chief Justice John Roberts found the majority’s assurance less than convincing, saying the decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty.”
“The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage,” Roberts wrote. “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.
“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage – when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples,” the chief justice said. “Indeed, the Solicitor General [Donald Verrilli in oral arguments] candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said the opinion has “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”
“In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well,” Thomas wrote. “Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples. The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our nation’s tradition.”
Floyd and Moore expressed their discomfort about the state of religious freedom in the wake of the high court’s decision.
“Our #1 concern at this point is that religious freedom is protected in every way, honoring our God-given conscience, and that we not be discriminated against for our biblical and traditional stand,” Floyd wrote.
Moore said the court’s finding of “some illusory Fourteenth Amendment right to same-sex marriage will have wide-ranging and perilous consequences for the stability of families and for freedom of religion. In the wake of this decision, we must ensure that the American principles of pluralism and religious liberty are maintained, as the religious convictions of millions of Americans necessarily cause us to hold a different, more ancient, view of marriage than the one the Court has imposed.”
A broad evangelical Christian coalition organized by Moore released a statement June 26 declaring opposition to the high court’s decision and recommending ways the church should respond in the ruling’s aftermath. The recommendations included praying for government authorities as Christians seek to rebuild “a culture of marriage,” loving those who disagree and developing a “common culture of religious liberty.”
The Supreme Court majority’s support for legalizing same-sex marriage did not come as a surprise. Nor did Kennedy’s role in writing the majority opinion. It always appeared Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would cast votes to confer marriage rights upon same-sex couples.
Kennedy’s opinion was the latest in a series that observers predicted would find its logical conclusion in the legalization of gay marriage. Kennedy wrote for the majority in 2003 when the court legalized same-sex relations. In 2013, Kennedy’s opinion struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, saying it violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages.
In his June 26 opinion, Kennedy said the high court’s past decisions offer four principles for the fundamental right to marry to apply to same-sex couples:

  • “[T]he right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.

  • “[T]he right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.

  • “[I]t safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. ... Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.

  • “[M]arriage is a keystone of our social order.”

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote.
In concluding his dissent, Roberts encouraged advocates for same-sex marriage to celebrate their achievement, adding, “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Each of the four justices who disagreed with the majority wrote a dissenting opinion, an uncommon event. Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito were the other associate justices to dissent.
Other than the right to marry, the high court’s June 26 decision did not appear to grant increased liberties to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, though Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and same-sex marriage advocates praised the court’s ruling.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, described the decision as “a transformative triumph decades in the making, a momentous victory for freedom, equality, inclusion and above all, love.”
“Today’s win is the culmination of a decades-long campaign that successfully made the case in the court of public opinion, enabling victories in the courts of law,” Wolfson said.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, meanwhile lamented, “Our hearts are saddened to hear of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore the desire of the American people, to ignore legislative processes and most of all to ignore God’s clear and unambiguous word.
“If there was ever a time when we need believers to be salt and light it is now,” Page said. “God help us all, but especially our children and grandchildren.”
Same-sex marriage already was legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Court rulings had produced legal gay marriage in more than two-thirds of those states before the justices’ opinion expanded it to all 50 states.
The court’s opinion came in a case, Obergefell v. Hodges, from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a 2-1 decision in November, the court – based in Cincinnati – ruled states have the authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The opinion came in challenges to laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee – states where voters approved constitutional amendments between 2004 and 2006 that limit marriage to a man and a woman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

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6/29/2015 12:23:48 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay weddings: who must perform them?

June 29 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Legal opinions vary widely on what the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate of nationwide same-sex marriage will mean for pastors and government officials authorized to perform weddings.
Some legal experts say government officials charged with performing weddings could lose their jobs for refusing to marry gay couples. But others believe both ministers and government officials likely will have freedom not to perform same-sex marriages that violate their religious convictions.
And some experts believe pastors who refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages could face government repercussions.
The court’s majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, states that “religions” and “those who adhere to religious doctrines” may “continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
The ruling added, however, that the Constitution “does not permit the state to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.” There is no specific statement regarding who would be required by law to perform a same-sex wedding.
Dissents by both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas criticized the majority’s apparent disregard for religious liberty, noting that the majority defends religious individuals’ right to advocate and teach their views without also protecting the right to live out those beliefs. Thomas, joined by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, said “the majority appears unmoved” by the “inevitability” that “individuals and churches [will be] confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.”
Roberts, joined by Scalia and Thomas, wrote, “People of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
Scalia’s dissent noted that “not a single evangelical Christian” had a say in the court’s opinion, as none of the nine justices are evangelicals.


Mike Whitehead, an attorney in Kansas City, Mo., who has served on the staffs of two Southern Baptist Convention entities, said oral arguments in the cases known as Obergefell v. Hodges “made clear that the federal government position would be to require that public officials who are authorized to perform marriages must also perform same-sex marriages, regardless of an individual official’s religious conscience. Conscientious objectors could face firing, fines or worse.”
By surveying marriage statutes in five states – Tennessee, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming and Rhode Island – it is estimated that an average of at least 907 public officials per state are authorized to perform weddings. That figure excludes former public officials authorized by the statutes to perform weddings as well as clergy members, who are also referenced in the statutes.
If this estimate reflects the number of government employees authorized to solemnize marriages across all 50 states, tens of thousands of public officials could be compelled to marry gay couples if Whitehead’s assessment is correct.
Public officials empowered to perform marriages, Whitehead said, may be able to refuse to perform any weddings, but an official who performs only heterosexual marriages likely will be declared in violation of the Constitution.
Whitehead cited events in North Carolina as a microcosm of what could happen across the nation. Last fall, the state’s 670 magistrates received a memo from North Carolina’s Administrative Office of the Courts stating that because a federal court had legalized gay marriage in the state, magistrates were required to perform same-sex weddings or face possible criminal prosecution.
At least six magistrates resigned rather than marry homosexual couples. Later, the state legislature passed a bill allowing magistrates to opt out of performing weddings altogether. Gay marriage advocates are challenging the law in court.
Gilbert Breedlove, a former magistrate in Swain County, N.C., who resigned rather than perform gay weddings, said other Christian officials should prepare to “respond in faith” to the Supreme Court’s ruling even “if it takes resigning your commission.”
Breedlove, pastor of an independent Baptist church in Bryson City, N.C., predicted Christian public officials generally will choose to resign rather than defy the law. But he acknowledged that some officials might “feel the Lord leading them to face criminal charges.”
The North Carolina legislature’s bill protecting magistrates’ religious liberty was passed following Breedlove’s resignation, and he said it is unlikely a magistrate position will open again.
Whitehead speculated that ministers also could face government pressure to perform same-sex weddings, with those who refuse to solemnize gay marriages losing the power to solemnize any marriage on behalf of the state. Church weddings, he said, could become merely religious ceremonies without meaning in the state’s eyes.
“Secularists will try to avoid this constitutional crisis of religious freedom,” Whitehead said, by “simply tell[ing] the minister, ‘We’re not going to force you to perform a marriage ... but we’ll not permit you to do any marriages if you refuse to perform marriages between homosexual couples who are lawfully married under our state law.’”
David Smolin, a constitutional law professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, does not believe pastors will face legal repercussions for performing only heterosexual weddings. He told BP standard interpretations of the Constitution and federal statutes establish a “zone of autonomy” around clergy that should protect their ability to perform state-recognized weddings without compromising their religious convictions.
Government officials with religious convictions against gay marriage, however, could face significant challenges, Smolin said.
If public officials “are in a position of usually solemnizing [marriages for] all takers who come to them that are eligible under state law,” Smolin said, then refusing to marry a same-sex couple “might be a violation of their duties and subject them, and the state, to a discrimination lawsuit.”
Among those particularly at risk of being forced to violate their religious convictions are Christians who work for government offices that issue marriage licenses, Smolin said. Religious schools and businesses may face penalties for refusing to acknowledge gay marriages in admissions, hiring and student housing, he said.
Christiana Holcomb, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said it’s possible that both clergy and government officials could maintain the right to perform weddings according to their religious convictions, though she stressed that the particulars of the Supreme Court’s opinion need to be studied. Protections of religious liberty vary from state to state, she said, and states with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts protect freedom of conscience to a significant degree.
“Government officials do not forfeit all of their religious liberty protections simply by being employed by the state,” Holcomb said. “... They have the freedom guaranteed to them by the First Amendment and hopefully state laws” to “only perform weddings that accord with their convictions.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former SBC president, said at a press conference June 17 in Columbus, Ohio, that a justice of the peace in Dallas had already called him seeking advice on what to do if same-sex marriage was legalized. Graham expressed hope that public officials would be permitted to recuse themselves from performing weddings that violate their religious convictions, but he said Christian government workers must be prepared to stand for Christ regardless of the consequences.
“As a believer, if you are called upon ... you must obey God and not man, if it means giving up your role or facing penalties,” said Graham, who, along with the other living SBC presidents elected since 1980, released a statement affirming the biblical definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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6/29/2015 12:16:43 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Hearing heartbeat saves lives, Stowe leader says

June 29 2015 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS Communications

The donation of an ultrasound machine to Southern Baptists in Columbus will help pregnant women in Ohio’s largest city to hear the heartbeat of their unborn child and choose to give birth, said area leaders.
“For mothers who have this unintended pregnancy, once you have the ultrasound and hear the heartbeat, the Lord does a lot – it helps connect for the women that what’s inside of you is real,” said Cindy Irizarry, development director of the Stowe Mission of Central Ohio and executive director of its pregnancy medical clinic.
“It’s a [window] to the soul for mothers to see and hear,” she noted.
As part of its Psalm 139 Project, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) presented the gift of the portable machine to the Stowe Mission Center, an outreach of the Metro Columbus Baptist Association (MCBA), June 14. The presentation was made during morning worship services at Southern Baptist church plant Veritas Community Church, where ERLC President Russell Moore preached on the Gospel and racial reconciliation.
ERLC’s communications director Dan Darling made the presentation with Irizarry and Michael Brooks, Stowe’s president and CEO.


“One of the things that impressed us about Stowe is the sense of mission and holistic health services they’re providing to low-income and underprivileged people,” Darling said, referencing Stowe’s urgent care, dental clinic, eye clinic, HIV/STD testing and mental health screening. “They have a great mission not only to apply the gospel to the soul but also the body. We’re very proud to partner with them.”
According to the ERLC, 78 percent of women who see and hear their unborn child carry their pregnancy to term. The donation of the ultrasound to Stowe is important, because the city of Columbus provides few alternatives to abortion for unplanned pregnancies, resulting in staggering rates of infant mortality and abortion.
For the first quarter of 2015, the infant mortality rate in Columbus is 8.8 per 1,000 live births, a 44 percent increase from the previous quarter, according to statistics from Columbus Public Health. Infant mortality rates are calculated from the number of babies that die before their first birthday, often due to socio-economic factors, pre-term or low-weight births and sleep-related deaths.

A great avenue of ministry

Irizarry has served as the director of Crossover, the evangelistic event prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, each of the past two years. At the request of Rich Halcombe, director of missions for MCBA and chair of the board for Stowe, Irizarry and her husband Arnaldo moved from Baltimore to Columbus in October 2014. During discussions with Halcombe and Brooks about how prostitution, fatherlessness and poverty are bringing many young pregnant women through Stowe’s doors, Irizarry and her husband decided to stay in Columbus and direct the mission’s new pregnancy clinic.
“This could be a great avenue for saving mothers and fathers spiritually and saving babies physically,” said Halcombe.
Prior to her work with Crossover, Irizarry opened two pregnancy centers in Miami and was the development director for a pregnancy center in Baltimore.
An unplanned pregnancy in college led Irizarry to choose an abortion, but she says the death of her unborn child later helped her find new life when she professed faith in Christ in 1995. Irizarry says she hopes Stowe’s mission will not only extend to the neighborhoods around Stowe but to students at nearby Ohio State University who think a pregnancy spells the end of their aspirations.
“We live in an era where women can do everything, but it’s kind of a conflicting message when you’re told that a child is going to limit you,” Irizarry said. “There’s hope; a baby doesn’t end your life, and that’s what I hope to share with others.”
For area pastors like Nick Nye, lead pastor at Veritas Community Church and board member for Stowe, the ERLC’s gift of the sonogram to Stowe enables churches to respond to abortion more effectively.
“The gospel compels us to handle it on two fronts,” Nye, an alumnus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “We can provide a deeper reality of what’s going on when a woman is pregnant, seeing the baby, but also we’re doing a lot more with adoption as a church and engaging with foster care.”
The MCBA has more than doubled its number of churches to 119 since 2004. In addition to its free medical services, Stowe’s ministry also served nearly 165,000 meals last year, and provides tutoring, job training and clothing distribution.
For more information on the ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project ministry go to, psalm139project.com/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – S. Craig Sanders is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

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6/29/2015 12:04:01 PM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments

NOBTS adds new ministry program, faculty

June 29 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications

The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) trustee executive committee approved a new master of arts degree in church and community ministries and elected three faculty members during their June 9 meeting.
The new 47-hour master of arts in church and community ministries is designed to prepare students for community ministry through a local church or a social service agency. The degree combines foundational Christian ministry studies (biblical exposition, theology and evangelism) with specialized social work and community ministry courses.
“The professors in the social work department are excited about the expanding training opportunities available for social work students at NOBTS,” Loretta Rivers, professor of social work at NOBTS, said. “This new degree will equip students to assess community needs and develop ministries with vulnerable populations, such as children, juvenile delinquents and aging persons.”
The new master of arts degree focuses on preparing students for local church ministry and can serve as a complement to additional master of social work study at another university for those seeking social work licensure. The seminary established an articulation agreement with the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) with the latter approach in mind. The agreement allows current qualified seminary social work students to study concurrently in the USM’s master of social work program. NOBTS will begin offering the degree as soon as the school receives approval from its accrediting agencies.
The board also elected Rick Yount as a visiting professor, Jonathan Key to the Leavell College faculty and Courtney Veasey as a ministry-based faculty member.
Yount was elected to serve as visiting professor in foundations for Christian education. A long-time professor and Christian education practitioner, Yount holds education-related doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of North Texas. He served as a professor at Southwestern from 1984 through 2012 and as an adjunct professor at NOBTS since 2012. Yount’s teaching specialties include educational psychology, quantitative research design, statistical analysis and philosophy of education.
The trustees elected Key as assistant professor of Christian ministry in Leavell College, the seminary’s undergraduate school. Key serves at the seminary as assistant to the president and director of student enlistment. A bivocational minister, Key also serves as associate pastor at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner, La. Key earned a master of divinity degree and a doctor of ministry degree from NOBTS. In 2012, the year Key graduated with the M.Div., he received the Broadman and Holman Seminarian Award.
Veasey was elected as instructor of biblical womanhood in Leavell College (ministry-based faculty). Veasey earned a master of divinity degree from NOBTS and a master of theology degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She is a current student in New Orleans Seminary’s doctor of philosophy program in biblical interpretation. Veasey also serves as director of women’s academic studies at NOBTS.
The ministry-based faculty category is a trustee-elected, non-tenure track category for instructors who serve in other ministries. The seminary developed the model to bring practical, real-world ministry experience to the classroom. These instructors supplement the work of the full-time faculty by providing specialized, focused instruction in key disciplines.
In other action, the trustees promoted Kristyn Carver from associate professor to professor of psychology and counseling. Carver, a trustee-elected faculty member since 2005, occupies the James B. and Rose Ramsey Chair of Psychology and Counseling. Before her election to the faculty, Carver served as a full-time adjunct instructor in the seminary’s Leavell College from 2000 to 2005.
During the meeting NOBTS President Chuck Kelley announced James “Jamie” Killion will serve as associate professor of voice and conducting as a presidential appointment during the 2015-2016 academic year. Killion is completing his dissertation in the doctor of musical arts program at the University of Oklahoma. He holds a master of church music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and spent nearly 20 years in music ministry at churches in California, Oklahoma and Texas. Killion comes to NOBTS after serving as assistant voice professor at California Baptist University since 2011.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

6/29/2015 12:03:55 PM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications | with 0 comments

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