June 2017

Steven Johnson’s enduring faith motivates others

June 12 2017 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Steven Johnson began playing football at a young age in Media, Penn. He’s now an accomplished professional linebacker, but the road to his dream hasn’t been easy. What seemed difficult at the time, Johnson now sees as part of a plan that has made him stronger both on and off the field.

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Pittsburgh Steeler Steven Johnson, center, enjoys working with and encouraging children through his foundation.

During his teen years, Johnson’s parents divorced, he faced bullying at school, and he didn’t make the varsity squad until senior year. Johnson got a break after being named team captain and winning all-state and regional recognition his final year. But it wasn’t enough to win him scholarships to major university football programs, so he went on to play at a small prep-school. 
In his first season, Johnson received a devastating knee injury that put him out for the year. Depressed and physically hurting, he learned to rely on God in ways unknown to him before.

He walked on at the University of Kansas the following season, and received a scholarship the year after. Again Johnson proved his talent on the field. He won awards and led the team in tackles.
After graduating from college, Johnson participated in the National Football League’s (NFL) Scouting Combine. It did not result in a draft pick, but the Denver Bronco’s offered him a chance to compete for a position at their pre-season camp. Johnson made the team and continued on the roster for three years, playing beside one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, Peyton Manning.
He then spent one year with the Tennessee Titans, and now enters his fifth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, hoping to gain a starting position. Johnson and his wife, Stephanie, have started The Faith Motivated Foundation, which seeks to encourage kids and adults to set and achieve their goals and to live a healthy lifestyle, by motivating through Christ. Johnson has taken a rocky road into the NFL, and it’s required a large measure of faith in God and lots of hard work.
Q: What is it like to play for a quality, successful head coach like Mike Tomlin?
A: When you play for a coach that has a spiritual compass like Mike Tomlin, you feel a sense of favor and you can’t really explain it. With Mike Tomlin – and I’ve only told a few people this – he kind of feels like my dad. 
Literally, it’s that kind of trust in a coach. When you mess up, he will get on you, but he won’t beat you down. He wants to make you better, and he always tells the truth. And that’s all you can ask for in this business, for guys to be honest with you and tell you the truth. 
Q: That has to be a confidence builder. Do you want to play harder for a coach that tells it like it is?
A: Yes. “Do I need to work on something? Do I need to get better at this?” – he will say, “Yeah, you do.” 
Some coaches don’t necessarily do that. With Coach Tom you get it straight. I love “Steeler Nation,” and being in Pittsburgh is truly a blessing. 
I hope I can be a Steeler for the rest of my career. It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to be a part of that organization.
Q: Our organization, FSPN, was honored to have you as one of our keynote speakers at our “Faith and Football” live Super Bowl outreach. How did that experience impact you?
A: It was great. I had a chance to give fans an inside look into my life: what I have been through; my relationship with God; how I was brought up in my faith; and how I am still living by that today. I think it’s cool that many guys in the NFL today are active in sharing their faith in God. That’s what it’s all about, spreading the gospel.
Q: You have such a great heart for kids, but you are straight up in your message to them.
A: Exactly. Not everyone is going to be an NFL athlete or an NBA All-Star. That’s just how it is. We need doctors, teachers, firefighters and lawyers. That gift God gives us – did you use it in the right way and give back to the next generation? 
That’s what it’s all about, you know. It’s a never-ending cycle. And we have to continue to better ourselves. 
We should all have one common goal, and that’s to be successful in what we’re called to do.
Q: You reach so many kids through your faithmotivated.org foundation. I like that you take the time to personally interact with many young people.
A: Through my Faith Motivated Foundation, that’s how I do outreach to a lot of kids. 
I have kids come up to me all the time wanting to talk to me. I’m like “Wow!” Sometimes we exchange information – it can be a phone call or sometimes I have opportunity to treat them to lunch. That’s what it’s all about. 
When I was little, I followed guys (of faith) like Brian Dawkins and Duce Staley, because I was a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. 
I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so young, but the gifts that God gave us, we have to pass it on to someone else and keep this thing going.  
Q: What I enjoy about you is you’re down to earth, with a very positive message, and you show kids that side of you.
A: Yes, I’m an NFL football player, but I’m also just a regular person, you know what I mean? I eat pizza on the weekend. I love French fries. We’re regular people just like you, and we love God. I know that if you love God and trust in Him, He can take you farther than you could ever imagine.
Q: Who are some current players that you look up to in the NFL?
A: I talk to Matthew Slater (Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots) throughout the off-season. He’s always sharing his faith with me, along with his trials and tribulations; how he’s been in this league for so long; his accomplishments – so many Pro Bowls and accolades. I want to go to the Pro Bowl, and God knows that’s the desire of my heart. I’m going to continue to stick it out, and go forward.
Visit faithmotivated.org and connect with Johnson on Twitter: @smj2852.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit his website:  soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.) 

6/12/2017 2:46:24 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Houston leaves mark on ‘Mission Control’

June 12 2017 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

When he was sleeping in his car at the track trying to break into writing about NASCAR, Rick Houston never imagined he would author a book or be part of a film. “I just think that a guy from Yadkinville, N.C., having the opportunity to work with a team from England on a film like Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is pretty much the definition of a miracle,” Houston said, “just how everything came together and how beautiful a film it is.”

After writing Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, Houston became an associate producer and consultant for Mission Control, a documentary inspired by his book written with Milt Heflin, a former flight director and retired chief of the flight director’s office for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
“He has become the greatest long distance mentor I could have ever imagined,” Houston said of Heflin. “He has become a true friend.”
Houston described Heflin’s assistance on Go Flight as “absolutely invaluable.” Heflin made himself available for procedural or technical questions. “He really made that book far better than it would have ever been had he not been involved,” Houston said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how well the film came out and how proud I am of the team that put it together.”
In the book, Houston shares stories of the early race to space between the United States and the Soviet Union. The men who worked in mission control were students straight out of college, soldiers toughened by their service and even blue collar workers. The movie is directed by David Fairhead and produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds.
Houston hosted screenings May 25-26 of Mission Control at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center’s Willingham Theater. About 300 people came to see the film and participated in a question and answer time with Houston.
“Ever since this whole process started, I would run by the theater where the showing was held,” Houston said, dreaming of the day when he would be able to show this movie to his hometown. “This town means a lot to me. It’s home now.”
Although Houston is a Nashville, Tenn., native, he has called Yadkinville home for many years.
“This is where my family is; this is where my friends are; this is where my home is. I just wanted to do something for them because they had supported me for so long. To see it finally happen was a huge blessing.”
Houston, who is a member of Maplewood Baptist Church in Yadkinville, is a freelance writer as well, including some articles for the Biblical Recorder, North Carolina’s Baptist news journal.
Houston found his first space-writing job in the message board of collectspace.com. An author had backed out of a book deal with University of Nebraska Press and an editor was looking for individuals with space knowledge to divide the chapters for the project. Houston’s writing ex-perience ratcheted him to the top of the list. He was given the lead chapter of the book on Apollo 11.
“I really didn’t want to take it,” Houston said. “That was a story that had been told a million times. I really didn’t know how to do it in a way that would be fresh and interesting. But I jumped into it.”
Not long after that project – Footprints in the Dust: The Epic Voyages of Apollo – Houston was asked if he would like to do a book on the space shuttle program, Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, 1986-2011. That led to Man on a Mission, a children’s biography about David Hilmers, an astronaut, which then led to Go Flight.
“Once I got my foot in the door, I kind of kicked the door down,” he said. “That’s what any writer has to do. They take advantage of every  opportunity they can get.”

Reality check

When Houston was working on Wheels Stop, he had the opportunity to operate an actual shuttle simulator but his weight kept the buckle from being able to fasten. That started him on a journey of weight loss and wellness. Although his weight has fluctuated, he has lost about 100 pounds and strives to exercise on a regular basis.
The astronaut helping him was “really nice” about the awkward situation, but “to this day, almost seven years to the day later, that memory still drives me,” Houston said. “I’m not skinny now. I’ll never be skinny, but when I’m out walking or running or working out, I’ll flash back to that, and I’ll keep going.”

What’s next?

Houston’s next book comes out in August. He’s back to his National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) roots with Dale vs. Daytona: The Intimidator’s Quest to Conquer the Great American Race.
“I really enjoy the process,” Houston said.
Another book is expected late this year or early 2018 on the 2001 Daytona 500 race where Dale Earnhardt was killed. “It is a much different beast to write a book than to write a news story,” Houston explained. With a news story, you get the quotes, you get the interview, you write it and you’re done. To put 140,000 words down on paper or on computer is a much different beast. It requires planning; it requires a lot of thought.”
While it is a big leap from news writing to penning a book, Houston said, “I think any ink-stained wretch, as most journalists would call themselves, dreams of the day where they can expand their horizons and write a book.”
His first two to three books were written while he was still covering NASCAR.
Although Houston did have a niche in NASCAR and now in NASA, as a writer, he just wants to tell the story.
“That’s the thing that I love about being a journalist,” Houston said. “Everybody has a testimony. Everybody has a story.”
In the introduction of NASCAR’s Greatest Race: The 1992 Hooters 500, Houston shared a bit about his own story. He shared about sleeping in his car, stockpiling food from the press box for later meals. 
“I cannot begin to tell you how frightened and alone I felt,” Houston said of his divorce around that time. “I had no money. I had zero to my name. That was rock bottom.”
His child was calling another man “daddy,” and it hurt Houston to his core.
He asked a friend for money to make a phone call, and the friend provided him $2, an amount Houston used to buy a bag of chips and a candy bar. “It was by far the worst moment in my life,” he said. “I prayed harder and more sincerely that night than I ever did before.”
Houston’s friend told him about a job at a local newspaper the next day. Houston applied and worked there two years before moving on to a full-time job with a racing newspaper.
Houston, 49, has since remarried (1996) and has twin boys, age 16.
Having grown up in the church, Houston received a degree in religion from Belmont College (now university) in Nashville. “I was going to be the next Billy Graham,” he said.
But he quickly found he was “far more comfortable behind a keyboard than I was in a pulpit.”
Email Houston at apollo18cdr@yahoo.com. Visit missioncontrol.movie.

6/12/2017 2:32:10 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments

Bethlehem builds for future

June 12 2017 by From press release

Almost two years ago, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Taylorsville, N.C., was struck by lightning, triggering a fire that destroyed most of its facilities.

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Plans for Bethlehem Baptist Church include a new sanctuary, baptistry and prayer room. “It is our desire that these facilities will honor God, and that He will bless them to be powerful tools to impact our community and world for Jesus Christ now and for generations to come,” said Wayne Caviness, senior pastor.

Sun., June 11, members broke ground on new facilities to include a sanctuary, family life center and educational space.
“Our community has been amazing,” said Wayne Caviness, senior pastor, in a press release sent to the Biblical Recorder. “Fire departments from Alexander, Catawba and Caldwell counties, EMS, law enforcement, county personnel and many business and community volunteers helped save the educational building from a complete loss. These efforts were just the beginning of an overwhelming outpouring of love and support.”
The church invited the community to a special groundbreaking service followed by worship and a meal.
A fire, ignited July 18, 2015, after multiple lightning strikes, destroyed two-thirds of the church’s facilities. Read the Biblical Recorder article about the fire here.
“Our location has changed for a while,” Caviness said, “but the God we serve is never-changing, and we are continuing in the mission to which He has called us.”
The day after the fire in 2015, the church met at Bethlehem Elementary School for its Sunday worship.
The church continued to meet at the school until renovations were completed on the remaining portion of the building Dec. 20, 2015.
The large cross, which displayed painted messages and is considered a landmark that many identify with the church, was unharmed in the front yard of the sanctuary. To make way for the new construction, the cross was moved to the front of the existing youth house building.
Winstead Architecture and Moss-Marlow Building Company were chosen for the projects.
In addition to much prayer, discussion and a church-wide needs assessment, the building committee visited numerous churches to determine God’s direction for the project. 
Winstead Architecture took the input from the committee and produced architectural renderings for the proposed construction, which were presented to the church on July 17, 2016.
“We were blown away by what they did,” said Dwayne Simmons, building committee chairman. “We never really talked about a ‘look.’ We expressed the needs we wanted the facility to meet, and turned it over to them. The results far exceeded our expectations.”
The new facility includes a 9,000-plus-square-foot sanctuary, a new baptistry and prayer room as well as a centralized welcome center. The new family life center will accommodate a basketball and volleyball courts, a commercial grade kitchen and storage for tables and chairs.
Nearly 20,000 square feet of administrative and classroom space offer room for the church to grow. 
Moss-Marlow received working drawings for the construction in November 2016. Once these plans were accepted, they went through an approval process with Alexander County. 
“We are excited about the plans for a new worship center, educational space and family life center,” Caviness said. “It is our desire that these facilities will honor God, and that He will bless them to be powerful tools to impact our community and world for Jesus Christ now and for generations to come.”
Contact (828) 495-7250 or visit bethlehembc.org.

6/12/2017 2:00:34 PM by From press release | with 0 comments

ACP: Churches up in 2016; baptisms, membership decline

June 9 2017 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

Southern Baptists experienced growth in the number of churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2016, according to the latest Annual Church Profile report (ACP).

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However, other key measures declined in 2016, including membership, baptisms, average worship attendance and total giving, according to the ACP compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.
The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 479 to 47,272, a 1 percent increase over 2015. The number of Southern Baptist churches has increased the last 18 years. Southern Baptist churches also reported 4,492 church-type missions last year.
Although the number of cooperating Southern Baptist congregations grew, reported membership of those churches declined by 77,786, down 0.51 percent to 15.2 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined 6.75 percent to 5.2 million worshippers.
Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people in 2016, a 4.89 percent decline from the 295,212 reported in 2015. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members.
“We would be remiss in not giving thanks for every baptism and every new follower of Christ,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.
Southern Baptists have seen a decline in the number of baptisms for several years, he said. “It’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning. I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities, though. Instead, there is a lack of engagement.”
Rainer said while most churchgoers believe it’s their personal responsibility to share their faith, most never do.

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“We should follow Christ’s example and pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers,” Rainer said. “Let us pray that God will send out the workers in our pews to engage those who don’t yet know Him.”
Rainer said he is thankful for SBC President Steve Gaines’ emphasis on prayer for spiritual awakening at this year’s annual meeting.
Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, noted “virtually everyone who sees these figures will react negatively and lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor and our increasingly irrelevant programs. Indeed, we all should.
“However, the stark reality of these numbers should cause each of us to look inwardly,” he said. “Am I sharing the gospel as I should? Am I developing relationships with family, friends, coworkers and others with whom I can gain an opportunity to share the good news? Am I burdened for the lost and praying for their salvation?”

Giving & missions expenditures

Giving among Southern Baptists was down slightly in 2016. Undesignated church receipts increased 0.67 percent to $9.2 billion. However, total church receipts reported through the ACP decreased 0.73 percent to $11.5 billion.
Total missions expenditures also decreased 1.3 percent to $1.19 billion.
Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) mission initiative is not broken out in the ACP annual report. Instead, CP totals are reported by the SBC Executive Committee, which facilitates the mission gifts to the SBC’s national and international missions and ministries.
With the release of the total number of churches through the ACP report, the Executive Committee has calculated the average CP percentage from the convention’s cooperating churches for 2015-2016 as 5.16 percent, down 0.02 percent from last year’s 5.18 percent, according to Page. The states reported receiving a total of $475,212,293 in CP gifts in 2015-2016, of which $190,468,781, or 40.08 percent, was forwarded to the Executive Committee for distribution through the SBC Cooperative Program allocation budget.
The ACP is an annual statistical report churches voluntarily provide to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

6/9/2017 12:28:01 PM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

House OKs aid for ISIS survivors

June 9 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to assist Christians and other survivors of the genocide committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In a June 6 voice vote, the House passed without opposition the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, H.R. 390. The bill, which still requires Senate approval before going to President Trump, would provide humanitarian aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities in the two Middle East countries. It also would promote criminal investigations and prosecutions of the terrorists responsible for genocidal acts and crimes against humanity.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is working for the proposal’s enactment, applauded the House action.
“When it comes to the murderous slaughter of the innocent throughout the Middle East, we cannot show moral indifference,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “Some of the areas in which the Christian faith was born are now killing fields. ... History has shown us that when the United States does not act, religious freedom becomes imperiled, so I hope the Senate will act swiftly to expedite this bill in its chamber.”
Non-profit organizations have provided humanitarian assistance to Iraqis and Syrians displaced and otherwise victimized by the Islamic State (ISIS), but the United States government has yet to do so, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chief sponsor of the measure.
In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry designated the terrorist campaign by ISIS as genocide. No ISIS member has been tried for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes since then, religious freedom advocates said in March.
Despite the genocide designation, “the existential threat to Christians and Yazidis and other minorities continues to this day,” Smith said.
“President Trump and Vice President Pence have strongly, publicly committed the Administration to providing relief to Christians, Yazidis and other genocide survivors, and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice,” Smith said in a written statement. “H.R. 390 will help ensure that officials implement these commitments and is a blueprint for implementation.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, said in written remarks, “Tens of thousands of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria continue to face persecution at the hands of ISIS and they need our help now.”
Among its provisions, the House-approved bill directs the administration to:

  • Identify persecution threats and early warnings of genocide and crimes against humanity directed toward individuals in Iraq and Syria and religious and ethnic minorities at risk of forced migration;
  • Provide funding to faith-based and other organizations for the humanitarian needs of genocide survivors;
  • Urge other governments to prosecute perpetrators of “genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.”

ISIS’ terror campaign in the Middle East has included execution, rape and sexual enslavement. Other ISIS atrocities cited by religious liberty advocates include torture, mass graves, assassination of religious leaders and the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries.
Violence by Islamic extremists since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has resulted in an exodus from the country by many Christians and other religious adherents. The number of professing Christians in that country has declined by death and displacement from as much as 1.4 million to fewer than 300,000, according to estimates.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/9/2017 12:24:47 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Executive Committee marks 100 years ‘behind the scenes’

June 9 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s (EC) 100th anniversary will be marked by a “low-key” celebration, says EC President Frank S. Page, because by design the committee has never been characterized by publicity and attention.

SBHLA photo
During the 1960s, the SBC Executive Committee, pictured here in 1969, prompted the convention to act on doctrinal and cultural matters like the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963 and the 1968 “Statement Concerning the Crisis in Our Nation.”

Unbeknownst to many Southern Baptists, Page told Baptist Press (BP), the EC has been a “quiet, behind-the-scenes, steady hand that has helped guide and direct [the SBC] over the years.”
From shepherding the fledgling Cooperative Program and averting a convention-wide financial crisis in the early 20th century to spurring the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message and steadying the convention following the Conservative Resurgence, the EC has influenced the SBC at numerous key junctures.

The early years

For its first seven decades of existence, the SBC carried out its work between annual meetings through “numerous ad hoc committees,” according to Albert McClellan’s book The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. But that organizational structure “simply could not carry the increased [work] load in the twentieth century.” In 1910, for instance, the convention appointed 33 separate committees, and many Southern Baptists realized the convention needed a more business-like structure.
In 1916, a messenger from Texas moved that the convention establish an Executive Board to “direct all the work and enterprises fostered by this convention.” Eventually, his motion led to a 1917 proposal adopted by the convention May 18 that the SBC maintain separate boards for its entities yet establish an Executive Committee with limited authority to help coordinate the convention’s work.
Begun with seven members, the EC was charged, among other duties, “to act for the convention during the interim ... on all matters not otherwise provided for” and to advise convention boards “only on request.”
A decade later, the convention enlarged the EC and expanded its duties to include recommending an operating budget for the SBC each year and an annual allocation of Cooperative Program funds to entities. The expanded EC was granted “full authority to study the affairs of the agencies of the Convention, and to make suggestions,” but it still lacked authority over any SBC entity.
As the EC administered the Cooperative Program (CP), established in 1925, among its greatest challenges was to help the convention pay off some $6 million in debt – a sum equivalent to about $84 million in 2017 according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
So great were the pressures of this debt-laden period, McClellan wrote, that EC executive secretary Austin Crouch carried a resignation letter to each SBC annual meeting in case messengers’ frustration boiled over. “Happily,” McClellan noted, Crouch “never had to use” the letter and the SBC was debt-free by 1943, annual CP receipts having increased by 234 percent during the previous decade.

New challenges

Financial stability in the convention allowed the EC to address new challenges in the 1940s-1950s.
Under executive secretary Duke McCall – who also served as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the EC provided counsel in the convention’s establishment of the Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico and in the convention’s partnership with two new seminaries – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary).
In a lighter matter during McCall’s 1946-51 tenure at the EC, the committee’s staff eliminated the hyphen from “Co-Operative Program” because director of publicity C.E. Bryant “tired of using two extra finger strokes” on his typewriter to type the hyphen and capitalize the subsequent “o,” according to McCall’s oral history published in 2001.
Doctrinal and social issues were among EC priorities in the 1960s under the leadership of executive secretary Porter Routh, who served from 1951-79.
In 1962, amid controversy over Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliott’s claim the book of Genesis was not “literally true,” an EC recommendation led to formation of a committee that drafted the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message.
Following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the EC recommended and the convention adopted the then-controversial “Statement Concerning the Crisis in Our Nation” – a document that “affirmed God’s love for all men of all continents and colors, of all religions and races.”
A key initiative of the 1970s was Bold Mission Thrust, an EC-proposed campaign adopted by the SBC in 1978 “to enable every person in the world to have the opportunity to hear and to respond to the gospel of Christ by the year 2000.”

‘Epicenter’ of controversy

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Today’s SBC Executive Committee has championed the Cooperative Program and ethnic diversity within the convention among other emphases.

The SBC’s Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s found the EC “at the epicenter of” conflict, said David Hankins, an EC member from 1986-94 and chairman in 1991-92. He served as a vice president on the EC staff from 1995-2004 before assuming his current role as executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
When the group attempting to turn the SBC in a more theologically conservative direction achieved a majority on the EC around 1990, two of their most significant actions, Hankins told BP, were dismissing allegedly biased BP leaders Al Shackleford and Dan Martin in 1990 and proposing an amendment to the SBC Constitution in 1992 which declared churches that condone homosexuality to be “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
EC meetings in the 1980s and early 1990s were “very political,” Hankins said. “It was a very charged atmosphere. In those days ... the gallery was packed out” and guests “would holler from the grandstands about the proceedings.”
David Maddox, who chaired the EC from 1985-87, told BP that President Harold Bennett was a steadying force during that era.
Bennett, who led the EC from 1979-92, “was so able” as an administrator, said Maddox, a California real estate developer. “Harold was a very, very strong [president] and served both sides” of the SBC conflict.

A stabilizing force

Following the Conservative Resurgence, the EC helped shepherd the SBC through what former EC President Morris Chapman called “the stabilization of the convention.”
Part of that stabilization was adoption by the convention in 1995 of the Covenant for a New Century, a plan that streamlined the number of SBC entities from 19 to 12 and whose implementation was overseen by the EC.
Another part of the EC’s post-Resurgence work, Chapman told BP, was re-emphasis of the Cooperative Program.
“During my 18 years as president of the Executive Committee,” Chapman said, “I increasingly became convicted that the Cooperative Program had to be the most brilliant means of financial support ever known to any denomination. Everywhere Southern Baptists leaders fellowship with non-Southern Baptist leaders, one of their first questions is, ‘Will you tell us about the Cooperative Program and why it has been such a success?’”
Since Chapman’s retirement in 2010, Page has led the EC to spearhead “a renewal of trust in cooperation” within the SBC, the current EC president said. That renewal has included attempts to mediate convention conflicts, a call for churches to increase their giving through CP by 1 percent of undesignated receipts and emphasis on involvement of various ethnic groups in SBC life.
Page has hired the first African American EC vice president and appointed advisory councils to make recommendations to him regarding the convention involvement of African Americans, Hispanics Asian Americans and other ethnicities.

Serving others

Despite its achievements, the EC’s work remains unknown to many Southern Baptists.
Since at least the 1950s, EC employees have reported being introduced at speaking engagements as staff members of the Baptist Sunday School Board and later LifeWay Christian Resources – the entity that housed the EC until 1963 and that has been located nearby ever since.
“After a while I just quit correcting them,” Hankins said, “because how do you explain” to someone uninitiated in the nuances of SBC polity “what the Executive Committee is?”
Chapman believes the EC remains a low-profile aspect of SBC life “because its primary job is to do what it does for the welfare of the convention entities and the churches,” not to promote itself.
The lack of notoriety is fine with Page, he said, because his daily prayer is that the EC would facilitate and highlight the work of other entities to make disciples of every nation on earth. That’s why he plans to keep the 100th anniversary celebration discrete, with a modest reception in September.
“When the other entities succeed,” Page said, “we’ve hit a homerun.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/9/2017 12:20:00 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Moore: Sanders’ remarks ignorant of Constitution

June 9 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore has decried Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stated opposition to a White House nominee based on the candidate’s adherence to foundational Christian teaching.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders – an independent from Vermont and 2016 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination – said June 7 he will oppose Russell Vought’s nomination as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. In announcing his opposition, Sanders cited a 2016 blog post by Vought in which he said Muslims “stand condemned” because they have rejected Jesus.
Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said, according to the Associated Press. The nominee’s post was “hateful” and “Islamophobic,” and he should not be confirmed, the senator said.
Moore described Sanders’ comments as “breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant – both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine.”
“Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he told Baptist Press in a written statement.
In his comments, Moore referred to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which includes: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Sanders took exception to comments made in a January 2016 blog post in which Vought defended his alma mater, Wheaton College, after the Christian school began termination proceedings against a professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
In the post at The Resurgent website, Vought wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Sanders called Vought’s post “indefensible.”
“It is hateful. It is Islamophobic,” Sanders said at Vought’s June 7 hearing before the Senate Budget Committee. “And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
In the hearing, Vought said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles,” according to the Associated Press (AP). Vought said his post was intended to defend the actions of Wheaton College and were not anti-Islamic.
“I specifically wrote it with the intention of conveying my viewpoint in a respectful manner that avoided inflammatory rhetoric,” Vought said in a written response to the committee, AP reported.
Vought previously served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and vice president of Heritage Action for America. Sanders is the lead Democrat on the Budget Committee.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/9/2017 12:15:59 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sexual risk avoidance advocate named to HHS post

June 9 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A leading advocate of sexual risk avoidance – a holistic health approach encouraging sexual abstinence until marriage – has been named to a top post in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Valerie Huber

Valerie Huber, co-founder and president of the Ascend advocacy and education group, will join HHS under the leadership of Secretary Tom Price, Ascend announced June 8.
Huber’s appointment as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health at HHS was first reported June 6 by The Hill, based on an internal email it obtained that HHS acting assistant secretary for health Don Wright wrote to his staff. Neither HHS nor President Donald Trump has officially announced Huber’s appointment in statements to the media.
Huber’s “wealth of professional experience in the field of public policy will serve her well in this position,” Wright said in the email, according to The Hill.
In her new post, Huber “will work to make optimal health possible for all Americans,” Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, said in its news release.
Huber promotes sexual risk avoidance as an educational platform that extends beyond an abstinence-only model.
“Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health,” she said in a 2016 Focus on the Family interview. “I bristle at the terminology ‘abstinence-only’ because our programs are so holistic. They contextualize a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not. Rather than someone telling a young person, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ it’s casting a vision for a young person’s future.”
Huber opposes the current Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TTP) program implemented in 2010 that Trump has announced plans to discontinue. In an April editorial in The Hill, she described TTP as a failure that has promoted sex more than health.
“Now, nearly one billion dollars later, troubling revelations have surfaced that show that most youth did not improve their health as a result of the TPP program – and too many were hurt,” Huber wrote in the guest editorial. “Multiple studies, mostly from federal sources, paint a stark picture of the results of this one-billion-dollar experiment.”
Huber cited HHS findings that more than 80 percent of teens in TTP “fared either worse or no better than their peers who were not a part of the program.” Rather, TTP harmed students, she said. “Some teens who were taught the TPP program were more likely to get pregnant, more likely to have sex and more likely to have oral sex.”
Huber has praised Trump’s 2018 budget proposal that would increase abstinence education funding by 50 percent.
“We urge Congress to take the president’s recommendations and do all they can to give even more youth the opportunity to focus on their futures, rather than on any of the possible consequences of teen sex,” Huber said.
In today’s press release, Ascend named Mary Anne Mosack as its executive director replacing Huber. Mosack has served as Ascend’s national director of state initiatives and a lead trainer in sexual risk avoidance.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
Related articles:
Trump budget would double abstinence education funds

6/9/2017 11:40:22 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lottie Moon offering nears $153 million

June 8 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press & BR staff

The 2016-17 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) for International Missions reached its fourth highest total ever, closing at approximately $153 million, according to data released June 7 by the International Mission Board (IMB).
The 2016-17 LMCO was down 7.7 percent from the previous year’s record total ($165.8 million). An IMB spokesperson called last year’s record-setting spike in giving an “anomaly,” alluding to the generous response of Southern Baptists as the IMB implemented a staff reduction plan to counteract deep budget deficits from previous years.
The five-year LMCO giving record is as follows:

  • 2016-17: $153 million
  • 2015-16: $165.8 million
  • 2014-15: $153 million
  • 2013-14 $154 million
  • 2012-13: $149 million

This year’s total is within 1 percent of 2013-14’s $154 million total, which was the second highest LMCO ever given by Southern Baptists.
The exact 2016-17 total, which was released to Baptist Press, is $152,982,560.94. That amount approached the offering’s $155 million goal and is approximately equal to the IMB’s 2016-17 LMCO budget projection of $153.5 million.
Please see IMB’s full release below.

2016 Lottie Moon offering closes at $153 million

By Julie McGowan
Southern Baptists responded to the challenge to play their part in helping the gospel resound to all nations through their gifts to the 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, which neared the $155 million goal when the books closed on the annual offering. Southern Baptists gave $153 million through the 2016-17 campaign to support International Mission Board field personnel.
Every dollar given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) supports nearly 3,600 Southern Baptist personnel on the mission field, who are sent by their local churches to evangelize, disciple, plant and multiply healthy churches and train leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.
“As we consider billions of people who have yet to hear the gospel, we as Southern Baptists realize the best way we can play our part in fulfilling the Great Commission is through cooperative effort in praying, giving, going and sending,” said IMB President David Platt. “Thank you, Southern Baptists, for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to support a growing mission force working to make disciples and multiply churches around the world. Through the generosity of every single Southern Baptist who gave, the grace of God is resounding to the glory of God among more and more people and peoples.”
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director/treasurer of national Woman’s Missionary Union which promotes the offering in partnership with IMB, expressed her gratitude for the gifts.
“It is amazing to realize that since 1888, Southern Baptists have given nearly $4.4 billion” to the LMCO, Wisdom-Martin said. “We are grateful for the countless churches that continue to keep missions as a priority.
“Today I intensely feel the weight of my personal call to help Christians develop spiritually toward a missions lifestyle,” she said. “We must be profoundly aware of God’s work in the world, bold in our prayers and sacrificial in our generosity. The cause of Christ demands nothing less.”

Trends in giving

The 2016-17 campaign total follows usual trends for the annual offering, according to IMB Treasurer Rodney Freeman.
“Based on our receipts of $153 million and looking at receipt trends over the last three years, the 2016-17 campaign total is in line with the campaign totals for 2014-15 ($153 million), 2013-14 ($154.1 million) and 2012-13 ($149 million),” Freeman reported to trustees.
“Our goal for the campaign was $155 million based on projected need and wise stewardship of Southern Baptists’ gifts. We see last year’s LMCO total as an exceptional response from Southern Baptists in light of past financial challenges, but not as the beginning of a new trend. We are thankful for churches’ faithful and consistent generosity in support of their mission personnel,” he said.
The LMCO campaign year – which historically has run from June 1 to May 31 each year – does not align with IMB’s fiscal year, which runs January 1 to December 31. To help alleviate confusion, IMB finance leaders, in conjunction with the board of trustees, have proposed to align the fiscal year and the LMCO campaign to October 1 through September 30. Messengers will vote on the proposal during the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.

Light in dark places

Southern Baptists’ gifts support the Harrell family, who live on the edge of Mozambique’s coastal waters solely to reach the 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people with the gospel. They support Nick and Shannan Copland, who use modern tools to meet people and forge relationships in the ancient Italian city of Verona. The gifts make a way for IMB missionaries Rodney and Helen Cregg* to help prostitutes in a notorious South Asian red-light district realize the hope of the gospel.
“Because you gave, I’m able to access remote areas of Central Asia and explain the gospel with people God is already drawing to Himself,” one worker reports to Southern Baptists on a “Thank You” video. “With your help, we are bringing light to the dark places among unreached people groups.”
The International Mission Board partners with more than 40,000 churches which work together to spread the gospel around the world to billions of people who have never heard it. The primary way this is accomplished is through the coalition of Southern Baptist churches’ sending and supporting thousands of missionaries. Support for the personnel comes through Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Visit IMB.org/give to learn more about supporting Southern Baptist missionaries, or give now.
* Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie McGowan is public relations manager for the International Mission Board.)

6/8/2017 10:02:17 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press & BR staff | with 0 comments

SCOTUS refuses to hear former Marine’s appeal

June 8 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court missed an opportunity to clarify religious liberty law by refusing to hear a former Marine’s appeal, Family Research Council (FRC) representative Travis Weber said.

Monifa Sterling

The U.S. Supreme Court declined June 5th to hear the appeal of former Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling, discharged in 2013 for bad conduct after she refused to remove displays of Isaiah 54:17 from her workstation.
The court missed an opportunity to clarify the Religious Liberty Restoration Act (RFRA) Sterling had used unsuccessfully in her defense, said Weber, a former naval aviator who directs the FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.
“The Court should have taken the opportunity to clarify that RFRA protects religious expression in the military such as what is at issue in this case. Unfortunately, that must wait until another day,” Weber said June 5th in a FRC press release. “In the meantime, we must hope that leaving this ruling in place is not interpreted by anyone as permission to continue to scrub religious expression from our military.”
First Liberty Institute began representing Sterling in 2016, appealing her case before the military’s highest court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). Defeated there, First Liberty appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 23, 2016.
“Since the Supreme Court did not decide to review the case, the travesty below by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will now stand,” said First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shackelford. “The military court’s outrageous decision means federal judges and military officials can strip our service members of their constitutional rights just because they don’t think someone’s religious beliefs are important enough to be protected. Our service members deserve better.”
Shackelford vowed to continue fighting for religious liberty of U.S. service members.
“We will now work even harder to ensure our nation’s brave service members do not lose their religious freedom,” he said in a First Liberty press release. “We will continue the fight for religious liberty in the armed forces through other matters and through legislative efforts.”
Sterling had used the RFRA and First Amendment rights to religious expression in her defense, but the Navy Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals said RFRA did not apply. Sharing Bible verses does not constitute religious exercise as a “part of a religious system of belief,” the court said in its August 2016 ruling.
Since being discharged and reduced to the lowest military rank, Sterling has experienced “great financial hardship,” First Liberty said, and might have difficulty receiving veterans’ benefits.
Sterling’s fight began at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., in May of 2013, when her supervisor and drill sergeant ordered her to remove the personalized versions of Isaiah 54:17 from her work area. The supervisor said she didn’t “like the tone” of the often-quoted, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” Sterling persisted in reposting the scripture after someone put them in the trash, First Liberty said, and was court-martialed shortly thereafter.
Despite Sterling’s support from religious liberty advocates, former U.S. Army chief of chaplains Douglas Carver advised her supporters in 2015 to reserve judgment. Likely, he told Baptist Press (BP), there was more to Sterling’s story than the right to post scripture at her workstation.
“From my perspective of 38 years in the military, I have found no more fair legal process than military justice,” Carver told BP. “It’s thorough. It’s fair. It’s merciful.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/8/2017 9:57:39 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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