June 2017

‘10 Questions’: Page’s guide for pastor searches

June 2 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

“Pastor Searches for Dummies” would have been a fitting title for the latest book from Frank S. Page, he wrote in the book’s introduction.

Instead, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO chose Looking for a New Pastor as the title of his new guidebook. The book released June 1 from B&H Publishing shares biblical instruction and practical insights gleaned from Page’s 34 years in the pastorate and additional, ongoing denominational service.
“I was inspired to write this book out of a deep sense of need. Having been a pastor a long time and now helping churches across our convention, I found that many churches, if not most, struggle when it comes to finding a new pastor,” Page told Baptist Press (BP). “In almost every situation, laypersons are charged with seeking a new pastor and many of them are unprepared to ask the right questions. Thus the subtitle of the book, ‘10 Questions Every Church Should Ask.’”
Page designed the book for laypersons who serve on pastoral search teams as well as pastors seeking new posts.
Thousands of senior pastors resign from their jobs in the U.S. each year, Page said, leaving about 10 percent of churches with the task of hiring a new leader. Making sure pastors and churches are well suited for one another, and communicating needs and expectations clearly during the search process, can often make the difference in a pastor’s length of service, Page said.
“The pitfalls which churches often encounter are many and varied,” Page told BP. “Often the ‘vetting’ process is weak and this leads to difficult and sometimes disastrous situations. In the book, I help churches learn how to truly discover the DNA of their own church as they also discover the true DNA of the pastoral candidate.”
Page reveals such insights as “10 things a pastor wishes the search committee had revealed,” “10 things churches wish their former pastor had told them” and “10 things the candidate will not tell the committee.” Getting started in the pastoral search, strategies to avoid, deciding what to look for in a senior pastor, and questions to ask during interviews are included.
“I believe church leaders can learn a great deal from reading the book because I share real life examples of things to watch for, warning signs to be aware of and successes and failures which are often replicated across the nation,” Page said. “It is a highly practical book which deals with the struggles that most search committees and churches deal with.”
Page pastored Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylor, S.C., and churches in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas before his 2010 election to lead the SBC Executive Committee. He was SBC president from 2006-2008, and has pastored several congregations on an interim basis.
The book is available at LifeWay Christian Book Stores and other top retail outlets.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/2/2017 9:36:28 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Affirm LGBT lifestyles, foster care workers ordered

June 2 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Foster care workers and families in Illinois must allow gay and transgender youth to express and explore their chosen gender identity and sexual orientation, according to a new state governmental directive.
Termination is among the penalties workers with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) would face for violating the policy, the DCFS said in its new rules added May 11 as Appendix K to the state foster care policy manual.
“Staff may not impose personal, organizational or religious beliefs on [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] children, youth and families, and in no way should personal beliefs impact the way individual needs of children/youth or families are met,” the 17-page policy states in part. “DCFS staff can be disciplined for violating this policy up to and including discharge, per the Employee Handbook and CMS (Illinois Department of Central Management Services) Personnel Rules.”
Foster care caseworkers and caregivers must use “an affirming approach” in facilitating a child’s “exploration of any [LGBT] matters” and must be “open, non-judgmental, and empathic,” the new rule stipulates.
R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is among Christian leaders decrying the policy. In The Briefing, his daily news and opinion podcast, Mohler said the policy effectively eliminates the participation of “all believing, convictional Christians” in Illinois’ foster care system.
“Now keep in mind also that state-by-state there are recurring patterns in which it is Christian churches and Christian parents who are particularly given to offering these kinds of services to children,” Mohler said.
Although DCFS qualifies the policy as promoting the “well-being” of children and youth, Mohler said the directive is misguided in its concept of “well-being.” The state is pandering to “moral revolutionaries” who promote LGBT lifestyles while totally disregarding the biblical worldview, Mohler said.
“This development in Illinois also serves as a very brutal reminder of the fact that there is no way to escape the impact of this tremendous moral divide in the United States,” Mohler said. “We’re looking at a divide over the very definition of what it means to be human, what it means to be male and female, and what it means to care for rather than to harm children.”
DCFS Director George Sheldon announced the new policies at EqualityCon 2017, an advocacy and education event hosted May 6 in Springfield, Ill., by the pro-LGBT Equality Illinois Institute.
“LGBTQ youth have the right to be treated equally, to express their gender identity and to have the choice to be open or private about their sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity,” Sheldon said at the event. “They need to feel free to be who they are.”
Ethicist Mary Rice Hasson, an attorney and fellow at the ecumenical Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, said the new policies encourage youth to identify as LGBT, and could violate the religious freedom of foster care workers and foster parents.
The policies “exert a chilling effect on DCFS staff, volunteers, foster parents and others whose ‘speech and behavior’ will be monitored and evaluated according to ideological criteria by the state of Illinois,” Hasson wrote in a May 30 opinion article in The Federalist. “Forget the democratic process. Forget free speech, freedom of religion and the conscience rights of American citizens. Forget the welfare of vulnerable children.”
Illinois foster care workers are required to inform LGBT youth of legal rights of “self-determination” regarding gender identity and sexuality, the policy states, opening the door to legal recourse.
“The state of Illinois heels to the commands of [LGBT] activists; it has embraced a new creed based on the [LGBT] vision of the human person,” Hasson said. “The only winners are progressive activists and lawyers eager to fill their litigation dockets. The losers? Illinois’ most vulnerable children.”
DCFS arranged foster care to 39,595 children in fiscal year 2016, according to its Executive Statistical Summary released in April, 2017.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/2/2017 9:27:19 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

White House closes international abortion funding loophole

June 1 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

President Donald Trump expanded the Mexico City Policy last week to include all foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Reagan-era rule that bans U.S. funding for groups that perform or promote abortion previously applied only to family planning groups such as International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International. About $8.8 billion in U.S. funds will fall under the expanded rule, called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” according to a senior Trump administration official.
Unlike the Mexico City Policy, which Trump reinstated in January, the new rule will cover health programs for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health and malaria treatment, in addition to family planning and reproductive health. C-Fam’s Lisa Correnti told me the policy change was necessary to cut U.S. funding for all international abortion, since abortion giants such as IPPF and Marie Stopes International are no longer the only groups providing abortion around the world: “It’s been institutionalized, so it’s coming through many different agencies and departments. That is the reason why it had to be extended across all global health.”
Pro-life leaders praised the new rule.
“Contrary to what the abortion giants and their pro-abortion liberal friends are saying, this expanded Mexico City Policy will be welcomed across Africa,” said Obianuju Ekeocha, president of Culture of Life Africa.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., also hailed the change, noting the policy doesn’t cut one penny from global health assistance funds: “This humane policy seeks to respect and protect the precious lives of unborn girls and boys from the violence of abortion.”
Under the new rule, foreign NGOs will be allowed to receive funds if they promise not to perform or promote abortion, and the rest of the funds will be redirected. Correnti predicted the government will have no trouble finding new grant recipients: “There are many, many faith-based organizations that do work on the ground in these developing countries that can deliver these services and comply and not be using their own money to promote abortion or perform abortions.”
In the past, some organizations may have been overlooked for aid grants since they don’t provide “a full range of services,” but under the new rule, Correnti said more organizations delivering holistic care would be eligible: “We maintain that the healthcare delivery will actually improve.”
The new rule exempts U.S. assistance to national or local governments, public international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, and any U.S. humanitarian aid, such as the State Department’s refugee assistance program, USAID disaster relief, and U.S. Department of Defense relief.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

6/1/2017 9:36:37 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

SBC leaders welcome proposal to revise HHS mandate

June 1 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist leaders expressed gratitude and hope at news the Trump administration has drafted a rule to protect the freedom of conscience of religious institutions that object to the abortion/contraception mandate established under President Obama.

Reuters.com screen capture

The White House Office of Management and Budget has provided notice on its website it is reviewing an “interim final rule” regarding the controversial requirement, The New York Times reported May 29. The notification followed by less than four weeks an executive order from President Trump directing the secretaries of three federal departments to consider revising rules to protect the religious freedom of the mandate’s objectors.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help implement the 2010 health care law, requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. More than 90 religious nonprofits – including Southern Baptist organizations GuideStone Financial Resources and four universities – legally challenged the regulation’s failure to provide an adequate accommodation for their objections.
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins voiced gratitude for the report.
“While we won’t know what the interim final rule will be until its release,” Hawkins said in a written statement for Baptist Press (BP), “we are grateful for an administration that recognizes the importance of protecting religious liberty and look forward to a rule that protects the varied and various Christian schools and missions ministries we serve from the threat of crippling fines.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said he is “hopeful that the administration will follow through on their commitment to reverse existing policy that has left many Americans vulnerable to overreach by the federal government.”
“The hostile attitude toward tens of millions of law-abiding Americans seen in previous years is tragic, as is the audacity of a state that believes it can annex the human conscience,” Moore said in written comments for BP.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, told BP in written remarks he is grateful to God the president is “doing the right thing.”
“Our nation has held dear both the principle and the practice of religious liberty for more than 200 years,” Page said. “It is unconscionable to expect persons and employers to act outside of their faith and conscience. This commitment to religious liberty has been threatened by a very secular agenda over the last years.
“I am grateful for yet another example of our president’s commitment to religious liberty and that he has again kept his promise to protect our freedoms.”
A supposed copy of the draft regulation was leaked May 31. Becket, a religious liberty organization that represents some of the institutions challenging the HHS accommodation, said the leaked version would protect the religious organizations from the mandate.
The Baptist universities that are parties in lawsuits challenging the mandate’s failure to provide an adequate accommodation are East Texas Baptist, Houston Baptist, Oklahoma Baptist and Truett McConnell.
Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before Obama left office.
When it issued the controversial rule in August 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions, but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
GuideStone, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity, is exempt from the mandate, but it serves ministries that are required to obey the requirement.
The ERLC and two other SBC entities – the International Mission Board and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as Southern Seminary’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – filed a friend-of-the-court brief in 2016 that urged the Supreme Court to rule that the HHS accommodation violates religious freedom.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held” for-profit companies such as family owned businesses.
Trump issued his executive order – which also addressed other religious freedom issues – on the National Day of Prayer, May 4, in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/1/2017 9:29:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump budget would double abstinence education funds

June 1 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

President Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget has drawn praise from advocates of teen sexual abstinence for asking Congress to double the percentage of sex education funds devoted to abstinence-based approaches.
Of the approximately $1 billion in federal funding for sex education annually, about 10 percent currently goes to programs that advocate delaying sexual activity. The figure will increase to 20 percent if Congress adopts Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, said Valerie Huber, president and CEO of Ascend (formerly the National Abstinence Education Association).
“We applaud President Trump for his immediate efforts to give more youth the skills they need to avoid sexual risk,” Huber said in a news release, adding “this is a good step in the right direction.”
Ascend supports “parity” in federal funding between abstinence-based programs and programs that do not urge abstinence, Huber said. Therefore, “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 an interview with Baptist Press (BP) that Trump’s budget proposal – which Congress may accept, reject or amend – includes among its recommendations for abstinence-based sex education some $165 million in grants to programs devoted to sexual risk avoidance.
The president’s proposed budget, sent to Congress May 23, includes no funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, a sex-education initiative launched under the Obama administration that emphasizes risk reduction and “normalizes teen sex,” according to Ascend’s release.
“The majority of teens have not had sex, far fewer than 25 years ago,” Huber said. “We are eager to work with both Congress and the administration to ensure that these increasingly healthy choices are reinforced in sex education classes across America. The president’s proposed budget is a great start.”
Richard Ross, cofounder of the True Love Waits movement and a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, applauded the abstinence-based approach to sexual education.
“Developmentally, toddlers don’t need to run with scissors,” Ross told BP in written comments. “And middle schoolers don’t need to smoke. And high schoolers don’t need to be sexually active outside marriage. We don’t have programs to teach toddlers how to run with scissors more safely, or programs to teach middle schoolers how to smoke more safely. But many in Washington are happy to wink at teen sex and then try to slightly reduce the often horrific consequences. The approach is illogical and inconsistent with other issues.
“In a pluralistic culture, I applaud an administration that seeks to motivate secular teenagers to delay sex,” Ross said. “Following God’s principles, even without realizing it, is healthy for teenagers and for society. But Christian teens are far more motivated by another factor. Most of those who embrace lifetime purity, single or married, do so because they adore King Jesus and live for His glory. There is no stronger motivation.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/1/2017 9:16:07 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Transgender student wins restroom case appeal

June 1 2017 by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service

A Wisconsin high school girl who identifies as a boy should be allowed to use the boy's restroom, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 31.
Ashton Whitaker, a 17-year-old senior, won permission to use the boy's restroom in September when a district court judge overruled objections from the Kenosha Unified School District. The appeals court upheld that ruling, dismissing the school district's claims of harm to other students. The 7th Circuit declared other students' concerns "hypothetical," in contrast to the real harm Whitaker suffered.
If the school district appeals, Whitaker's case could be the first involving transgender restroom access to go before the Supreme Court.
The justices decided not to hear another case involving restroom and locker room access for transgender students earlier this year after the Trump administration revoked guidelines requiring schools to open facilities based on gender identity, not biology.
That case challenged the federal government's right to issue such a directive, but subsequent cases have focused on whether gender expression is a constitutionally protected right.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Leigh Jones writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

6/1/2017 9:11:12 AM by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

From baby mice to designer humans?

June 1 2017 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

Scientists in Japan are growing mice from skin cells.
A team of researchers at Kyushu University last year converted tail cells from adult female mice into viable eggs, and then inseminated those eggs to produce embryos. They implanted the embryos in female mice who gave birth to healthy baby mice.
The process, called in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), is a big leap from today’s in vitro fertilization (IVF). With IVG, doctors can artificially create eggs and sperm by coaxing cells from other parts of the body into stem cells, and then into eggs and sperm.
Researchers say it is only a matter of time before they can use the process for human reproduction.
But experts warn of serious ethical, medical and legal consequences for using this new technology on humans. In a cautionary article published earlier this year in the journal Science Translational Medicine, a group of academics from Harvard and Brown universities noted the technology “promises to transform the fields of reproductive and regenerative medicine,” but also creates “vast ethical and social policy challenges” that must be addressed.
With IVG, creating life no longer would require a man and a woman: Two men could make a baby biologically related to them both using the skin cells of one to make an egg, and the sperm of the other. A woman could make a baby by herself using her cell-turned-sperm and her egg, almost like cloning. A group of three or four people could create a baby by creating two embryos, and then taking an egg from one and a sperm from the other, creating another embryo with multiple parents. Such scenarios inevitably would affect the traditional understanding of parenting.
The article also addressed the potential for “unauthorized” use of biomaterials: Someone retrieves a skin cell from a hotel room bed or bathroom, creating a baby biologically related to someone without their knowledge.
“Should the law criminalize such an action? If it takes place, should the law consider the source of the skin cells to be a legal parent to the child, or should it distinguish an individual’s genetic and legal parentage?” the authors wrote.
They also raised the potential for bioethical issues on a massive scale.
“IVG may raise the specter of ‘embryo farming’ on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life,” wrote the authors, pointing to the inevitable destruction of large numbers of embryos, the commercialization of egg production, the creation of an “all but inexhaustible supply” of embryonic stem cells for research and the open invitation for a couple to create “designer babies” due to limitless eggs.
But significant scientific hurdles remain.
“People are a lot more complicated than mice,” Susan Solomon, chief executive of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, told The New York Times. “And we’ve often seen that the closer you get to something, the more obstacles you discover.”
Despite those hurdles, the article’s authors warn IVG technology is moving faster than our conversations about the ethical questions it raises.
“We have come to realize that scientific developments are outpacing our ability to think through them,” Eli Y. Adashi, a medical science professor at Brown, told The New York Times. “It’s a challenge for which we are not fully prepared.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

6/1/2017 9:03:16 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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