June 2019

High court upholds cross on public land

June 21 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20 a 40-foot cross on public land that serves as a memorial to World War I soldiers does not defy the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

First Liberty photo
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20 a 40-foot cross on public land that serves as a memorial to World War I soldiers does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against a government establishment of religion.

In a 7-2 decision, the justices reversed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion that a Latin cross in Bladensburg, Md., violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment under a nearly 50-year-old test by promoting Christianity. The American Humanist Association (AHA) challenged the constitutionality of the cross, which was completed in 1925 to memorialize 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County, Md.
In its opinion, the high court did not go as far as some supporters of the memorial cross hoped it would. The justices declined to overturn what is known as the Lemon test, but they also refused to rely on it in their opinion. That three-prong test presented in the court’s 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion says a law must have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion” to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Many religious freedom advocates have criticized the Lemon test, saying it calls for a purge of religion from the public square that the U.S. Constitution does not require.
Nevertheless, defenders of the Bladensburg cross’ constitutionality applauded the high court’s ruling.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), called it “a good, common sense decision from the court to uphold religious freedom and a nearly century-old memorial.”
“I am thankful the justices saw through this attempt to amend the Establishment Clause to mean what [James] Madison did not write,” Moore said in a written statement. “As we argued in our brief to the court, maintaining this memorial cross is hardly an official establishment in law of Christianity. We hope this opinion will lead to clearer, consistent rulings on matters of faith in the public square.”
The ERLC joined with other organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the cross’ constitutionality.
Kelly Shackelford – president of First Liberty Institute, which represented the American Legion in its defense of the cross – described the opinion as “a landmark victory for religious freedom. The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over.”
David Cortmann, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, commended the court. “A passive monument like the Bladensburg Cross, which celebrates those who died to defend our Constitution and acknowledges our nation’s religious heritage, simply does not amount to an establishment of religion,” he said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said in a written release the organization’s legislative efforts “will be redoubled as the American Humanist Association works to strengthen the wall of separation between church and state, brick by brick.”
The Bladensburg cross decision is the latest in a long line in which the high court has sought to interpret a much-debated clause in the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The cases have included such considerations as Ten Commandments displays on public property, school prayers and government prayers.
In its opinion, the court said the memorial’s age and its various meanings to observers provide support for its constitutionality.
“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark.
“[W]hen time’s passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol, or practice with this kind of familiarity and historical significance, removing it may no longer appear neutral, especially to the local community for which it has taken on particular meaning,” Alito wrote. “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”
Joining Alito in the majority were the other four court members who are typically considered conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The case, however, split the normally liberal wing of the court. Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the majority, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Lemon test received criticism from some of the justices, most notably Thomas. He “would take the logical next step” declined by the majority and “overrule the Lemon test in all contexts,” Thomas wrote.
Lemon “has no basis in the original meaning of the Constitution” and “continues to cause enormous confusion” in the states and lower courts, he said. “It is our job to say what the law is, and because the Lemon test is not good law, we ought to say so.”
Since the Lemon test’s introduction in 1971, justices have offered a variety of tests in Establishment Clause cases. In a 2013 decision regarding legislative prayers, the court suggested Establishment Clause challenges must be viewed by reference to historical practices and understandings.
In her dissent, Ginsburg said the maintenance of the cross on a public highway “elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion. As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content.”
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, an agency of the state of Maryland, owns the Bladensburg cross, which is located with monuments to veterans of other wars in Veterans Memorial Park.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/21/2019 4:46:47 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Floyd affirms Birmingham progress, eyes SBC 2020

June 21 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Answered prayer, unity, compassion and clarity are among distinguishing characteristics of the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting, Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press (BP).

Photo by Rebecca Manry
Answered prayer, unity, compassion and clarity are among distinguishing characteristics of the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press in a recap of the event.

“I feel like the spirit of the convention was overall really strong, and I contribute that to a lot of things. But overall, I think that God answered our prayer. I believe that the Spirit of the Lord was present,” Floyd said. “I think there was a resolve coming to Birmingham that we’re going to speak clearly, we’re going to try to do it in the right way, and I thank God the messengers determined to do it in the right spirit.”
In an interview with BP, Floyd discussed the June 11-12 meeting in Birmingham, Ala., his outlook for the future and highlighted the importance of next year’s annual meeting.
“We are on a path that we need to be on, and we’re seemingly on that path together, which is highly encouraging,” Floyd said. “I would say this, ... come to Orlando, Fla. We really need Southern Baptists to engage.”
Floyd highlighted various elements of the Birmingham meeting, referencing two constitutional amendments, a bylaw amendment creating a standing Credentials Committee, the Caring Well Challenge and tools to help churches address sexual abuse, the “Who’s Your One?” personal evangelism challenge and the Go2 initiative to mobilize college students in missions. He noted engaging reports from SBC entities, pointing out the commission of 26 new missionaries through the International Mission Board.
Continue to support the Cooperative Program that supports the sending of missionaries and other work of Southern Baptist entities, he encouraged pastors and laypersons in comments to BP.
“Do what you can to prioritize your giving through the Cooperative Program,” he said. “Make sure it’s a part of every finance committee conversation when you start budgeting processes.... Try to find a way to give more. Elevate your giving. Accelerate your giving; do it faster than maybe you think you can do it.”
The new constitutional amendments, Floyd said, are “public billboards” proclaiming the SBC will not tolerate churches that ignore sexual abuse and commit racial discrimination. In order to stand, the constitutional amendments require the affirmation of two-thirds of messengers in two consecutive meetings.
“We want everybody to come to Orlando and help us out,” he said in encouraging Southern Baptists to attend the 2020 meeting June 9-10 in Orlando, Fla. “We need that two-thirds majority again.”
The standing Credentials Committee, Floyd said, marks a new way of dealing with challenges the SBC has long addressed regarding morality and doctrinal issues, including racism and sexual abuse.
“What we are talking about is not something new. Some of that’s already been done,” he said. “What we are talking about is a new way to do it.” The nine-member group is designed to objectively consider matters that arise and report decisions to the EC.
“We’re not here to govern churches. We’re here to assist churches,” Floyd said. “Our goal is always restoration, not simply elimination.”
The possibility of creating the committee stirred debate in advance of the meeting, but drew overwhelming approval from messengers. Addresses from Floyd and SBC President J.D. Greear clarified the committee’s purpose and purview, which Floyd believes stemmed misperceptions.
“I think the Executive Committee moving forward in the area of the governing documents was extremely powerful,” Floyd said. (See related BP story.)
He noted progress made to date across the SBC family and affirmed plans to do his part through the EC to encourage living and breathing gospel urgency; empowering all churches, generations, ethnicities and languages; telling and celebrating what God is doing; loving others like Jesus loves; and prioritizing, elevating and accelerating generosity. He encouraged churches to utilize resources including the Caring Well Challenge, Who’s Your One and Go2.
Floyd enjoyed fellowship with a diversity of Southern Baptists through the SBC Many Faces Booth in the Exhibit Hall and ethnic fellowship events in Birmingham. Inclusion has marked his service extending through the pastorate and denominational life.
Nothing tells the SBC story like an annual meeting, he said.
“The more people come to an annual convention meeting, the more people are going to hear our story, and we have a great story in Southern Baptist life,” Floyd said. “We’re going to do everything we can to start mobilizing people to Orlando immediately. It’s not one group’s job; it’s all of our job. We’re going to charge Orlando.”
Annual meetings also encourage Southern Baptists by telling the work churches support through the Cooperative Program, he noted.
“They really want to see that the missional vision of the Southern Baptist Convention is realized, because it’s really the missional vision of Jesus, that every person in the world is told about Jesus and that we make disciples of all nations, all ethnicities,” Floyd said. “And that’s really what the heart of the Cooperative Program is all about.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/21/2019 4:41:42 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Longtime missionary to Japan Ralph Calcote, 95, dies

June 21 2019 by Mary Jane Welch, Baptist Press

Every week a small group of World War II and Korea veterans meet in Wesson, Miss., to drink coffee, maybe eat lunch, swap stories and remember comrades who died. But Ralph Calcote no longer joins the Greatest Generation Coffee Club, having died at age 95 on May 9.

Calcote’s story, encompassing 35 years as a missionary to Japan, wasn’t quite like the other veterans in the group.
He tried to serve in World War II but was turned down because of poor eyesight. When the war ended and qualifications changed, Calcote was accepted into the Navy. He served nine months, most of them as a draftsman in Washington, D.C.
When he did go overseas in 1951, Calcote, his wife Gena and their young son Stuart went in peace – as Southern Baptist missionaries to America’s former enemy, Japan.
It was during the war, while working as an engineer for General Electric in Syracuse, N.C., that Calcote felt called to missions. When he left the Navy, he entered The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he met his future wife, Gena Wall, a student at the Woman’s Missionary Union Training School.

Goal of 100

After seminary, Calcote was called as pastor of Jenkins Memorial Baptist Church in St. Martinville, La.
The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) had set a goal of sending 100 missionaries to Japan as soon as possible after the war. When the Calcotes sailed with seven other missionaries on the SS President Cleveland in August 1951, the goal was drawing near.
In mid-1953, the Calcotes wrote that they were rejoicing in the appointment of the 100th missionary to Japan. “Number 100 seems to be concrete proof that Southern Baptists will fulfill their promise to the Lord of advance into all the world with the gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ,” they wrote.
When they first arrived in Tokyo, the Calcotes were surprised to see how much of Tokyo had been destroyed during the war. “Huge smoke stacks stand all over the city as monuments of the destruction which comes with war,” they wrote in a newsletter to friends at home.
“On the sites of the destruction have been built many small shacks and business places. Except for a few places, Tokyo is not a beautiful city,” they wrote.
But Tokyo was where they would stay for two years of language study before moving to other areas to work in evangelism and church planting.
Their first Sunday in Japan, the Calcotes attended a church which had been organized more than a year earlier. It had 119 members, but 300 in attendance that Sunday. That evening, Calcote preached his first sermon in Japan.
During language study, Calcote taught a Bible class in a toothpaste factory after the workday ended on Saturdays. “I assure you that I leave that class feeling better than I do when I enter,” he wrote in a newsletter. That evening, the class had presented him with a sample of their products: a half-dozen toothbrushes and a carton of toothpaste.

‘All needing the Savior’

After language school, the Calcotes were assigned to northern Kyushu Island to strengthen existing churches and start new ones in a large coal-mining area.
As they adjusted to Japanese customs, the Calcotes also noticed a change in how they saw the Japanese people. “At first people all seemed the same to us,” Calcote wrote in a newsletter in late 1952. “Now they are individuals, all different, all needing the same Savior.”
“Baptists are still few in Japan and growth is not a fast thing,” he wrote in the same letter, “but Japan Baptists are definitely moving, increasing in faith, in strength, and in numbers. We have churches or mission points all the way from Hokkaido in the north to the tip end of Kyushu in the south and are steadily growing in our efforts to win Japan for the Lord.”
At the time, Japan was home to 53 Baptist churches, and 53 young men were attending the Baptist seminary at Fukuoka to prepare for the ministry.
Calcote and his wife, in their 35 years in Japan, engaged in evangelistic work in various places – Kokura, Yahata (later part of Kitakyushu), Nagoya, Tokyo and Fukuoka.
Four of their five children were born in the country.
Calcote graduated from Mississippi State University, Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
After retiring from overseas missions, Calcote served as the hospice chaplain for Hospice Ministries and as chaplain for King’s Daughters Hospital in Brookhaven, Miss.
He is survived by five children: Stuart, Cherryl, Nancy, Janet and Robert; 12 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and four stepchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mary Jane Welch has long written about missions and edited missions publications and websites. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/21/2019 4:37:16 PM by Mary Jane Welch, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

B21 panel: Protecting abuse victims central to mission

June 21 2019 by Andrew J.W. Smith, Southern Seminary

Protecting sexual abuse victims is central to the mission of the church, said a group of denominational leaders during the Baptist21 panel on June 11 in Birmingham, Ala.

Photo by Van Payne
B21 panelists included, left to right, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Jen Wilkin, author and Bible teacher; J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C.; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary. Not pictured are Dhati Lewis, vice president of Send Network and Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary.

Immediately after the panel, Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, addressed his church’s handling of a sexual abuse case as reported June 10 in the New York Times. The panel was held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, June 11-12.
The panel featured Danny Akin, Albert Mohler, J.D. Greear, Jen Wilkin, Russell Moore, and Dhati Lewis, and was moderated by Nate Akin, the director of Baptist21. The six panelists addressed a broad range of issues, from sexual abuse in the church to complementarianism and racial reconciliation. B21 is a pastor-led network that focuses on addressing issues relevant to Southern Baptists in the 21st century.
J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he is often told that emphasizing the protection of abuse victims distracts from the mission of the gospel. This mindset is “foolish,” he said.
“This is the mission,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. “The mission as a shepherd is presenting the church and the gospel and everything that is attached to it as a safe place for the vulnerable.”
Learning how to deal with sexual abuse allegations is a “primary component” of training men and women for ministry, said Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, during the panel.
Small churches tend to be looser about abuse allegations because the accused are often beloved members of their communities, Akin said. But research indicates that abusers don’t look obviously dangerous and often seem like good people, making it that much easier to groom their victims. Abusers, Akin said, often look “just like us.”
“We are going to be the haven for the hurting that we should have been all along,” Akin said. “I believe God will honor this, but it’s not easy. It’s very difficult when the people that you have to expose ... are family members or people that you’ve trusted or worked with for years. They were very good at hiding this.”
Some critics claim that complementarianism, the theological view that men and women have unique but complementary roles in the church and the home, makes churches and organizations more susceptible to sexual abuse and dysfunction. 
According to Jen Wilkin, noted author and Bible teacher, there is no theological boundary line in sexual abuse cases. It exists in every theological camp and denomination, she said.
Yet the precise practices within complementarian churches are often insufficient, Wilkin said. Churches often misidentify abusive marriages as merely bad marriages.
“Complementarianism [can] become just as dangerous a place for people who are in systems of abuse as in any other theological environment,” she said. “Just because we have a theological position that we are deeply convicted of does not mean our practice is good.”

Chandler responds to Village Church allegations after B21 panel

Immediately following the panel discussion, Southern Baptist pastor Matt Chandler gave his first public statements in response to allegations regarding his church’s handling of sexual abuse.
That week, the New York Times reported that Chandler’s church had failed to respond appropriately to a case of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by a member of Chandler’s pastoral staff. According to media reports, Matthew Tonne, who had been the church’s associate children’s minister, was indicted, charged, and arrested in connection with the case involving the alleged sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl at a Village Church children’s summer camp. (See related Biblical Recorder story.)
Chandler answered questions from Nate Akin for 15 minutes after the B21 panel, stating that the church did not handle the case perfectly but did “the best we knew how.” According to Chandler, church leadership “double reported” the abuse – the church worked with the family to report the incident and the church also reported – to the police department and worked with the local authorities to inform all the parents whose children had attended that particular summer camp. 
Church leaders were told by those working on the case that “there were things we could and couldn’t say,” and they were asked not to release Tonne’s name because it might impede the investigation, Chandler said.
“The New York Times article would have looked very different [if we had released the name],” Chandler said. “It would have been [about] how we actually obstructed the investigation.”
Chandler said he is in a “period of introspection” and noted, “We are an imperfect church with imperfect people. We make mistakes; I am painfully aware of my limitations. They are numerous. But when it comes to reporting as soon as we heard, taking our cues from the detective and family, I’m not sure how we could have done it differently.”
To see full interview with Chandler, go to b21-interview-with-matt-chandler-from-sbc19.
The panel was held as Southern Baptists that week addressed the issue of sexual abuse during their annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala. (See related stories here and here.)
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith is news manager for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/21/2019 4:26:15 PM by Andrew J.W. Smith, Southern Seminary | with 0 comments

Baptist leaders thankful housing allowance challenge ends for now

June 20 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press, and Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

The legal challenge to the constitutionality of the ministerial housing allowance is over – for now.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) announced June 14 it would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court its March judicial loss, thus concluding its latest effort to gain nullification of the allowance that is part of a 65-year-old federal law. The FFRF was not confident of its chances of winning its appeal given the current make-up of the high court, according to its news release.
A 1954 federal law permits churches to designate part of eligible ministers’ income as a housing allowance, enabling “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has interpreted “ministers of the gospel” to include leaders of other religious faiths.
In March, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled unanimously the clergy allowance does not violate the First Amendment clause that prohibits government establishment of religion. The decision – the second by the Seventh Circuit against FFRF – reversed a federal judge’s 2017 opinion that invalidated the allowance as a violation of the Establishment Clause.
GuideStone Financial Resources – the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity – expressed gratitude for the decision.
“We are thankful for so many, including the U.S. Justice Department, that so ably argued on behalf of the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a news release. “It is our belief that had the case made it to the Supreme Court that the housing allowance would have been upheld as constitutional. Regardless, pastors and churches needn’t worry in the near-term about the housing allowance.”
Hawkins said GuideStone would continue “to monitor alongside our Southern Baptist family, and as part of a coalition of large and historic pension boards, both litigation and legislation related to the housing allowance to advocate on behalf of the pastors we are privileged to serve.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said, “It is in no one’s interest for the government to penalize those who seek to serve their communities. That’s what this lawsuit was about, and I’m glad to see it dropped.
“Not only that, but the [Seventh Circuit Court] was right to unanimously uphold the allowance as constitutional,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “This allowance benefits communities, and the termination of this frivolous lawsuit is a victory for all Americans.”
GuideStone and the ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Church Alliance in 2018 that asked the Seventh Circuit to reverse the lower court opinion. The brief contended the housing allowance acknowledges the reality that a minister’s residence is often an extension of a church’s ministry and passes the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause tests.
In its March opinion, the Seventh Circuit panel agreed the housing allowance is constitutional under the Supreme Court’s church-state precedents, including the three-part Lemon test. That standard, named after the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion, says a law must have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion” in order to be considered constitutional.
In considering an appeal, the FFRF, a Wisconsin-based atheist organization, said it decided the Supreme Court’s present composition – which consists of five apparent conservatives – would not be favorable to its case. “After ‘counting heads,’ we concluded that any decision from the current court would put the kibosh on challenging the housing allowance for several generations,” the FFRF said in its news release.
Harold R. Loftin Jr., GuideStone’s chief legal officer, said of FFRF’s reason for not appealing to the high court, “We believe that their case had no merit, regardless of the ideological makeup of the court, but, regardless, are thankful that this matter has been put to rest for the time being.”
Federal law also permits housing allowances for certain employees, including members of the U.S. military, workers living overseas and employees of educational institutions.
The Justice Department argued before the Seventh Circuit panel last year the allowance is constitutional under the Establishment Clause. Becket, a religious freedom organization, also argued on behalf of the allowance.
“The [Seventh Circuit Court] rightly recognized that providing this kind of equal treatment to churches is perfectly constitutional, and churches should be allowed to serve the neediest members of their communities without the tax man breathing down their necks,” said Luke Goodrich, Becket’s vice president and senior counsel, in a written release.
Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin twice ruled the housing allowance is unconstitutional. The Seventh Circuit overturned Crabb’s 2013 ruling, finding the FFRF lacked the legal right, known as “standing,” to challenge the allowance. In the latest suit, the appeals court agreed with Crabb that FFRF had “standing” because the IRS rejected its leaders’ efforts to claim the ministerial allowance.
The lawsuit did not threaten the part of federal law that enables tax-free use of a parsonage or other home owned by a church or another religious body.
In December 2017, Crabb issued a stay postponing enforcement of her opinion until after the appeals process is concluded.
The Church Alliance is a broad coalition of denominational pension programs that cover ministers who qualify for the housing allowance.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations for GuideStone Financial Resources. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2019 10:16:26 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press, and Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments

Native Americans utilizing print & video for ministry

June 20 2019 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Ledtkey “Lit” McIntosh, one of the stalwarts who helped develop the Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC), retired as FoNAC’s chairman during its seventh annual meeting June 10.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Gary Hawkins, executive director of FoNAC and pastor of Native Stone Baptist Mission in Tulsa, Okla., speaks during the FoNAC annual meeting June 10 in Birmingham.

Reflecting the group’s interest in reaching younger Native Americans, Jordan Kanuho of the Pawnee and Navajo nations was named FoNAC’s new chairman. He is pastor of Belvin Baptist Church in Okmulgee, Okla.
“Lit was in the trenches when all this started,” FoNAC executive director Gary Hawkins said.
McIntosh, formerly was a national missionary for Native Americans with the North American Mission Board, connected in his work with Native leaders from the United States and Canada.
“It concerned me we didn’t have a voice,” McIntosh told Baptist Press. Today, FoNAC provides a growing influence across North America in networking Natives and those wanting to spread the gospel with and among Natives.
FoNAC’s annual meeting included a welcome from McIntosh, reports from Hawkins and treasurer Tim Chavis, and performances by Pawnee Chief Junior Pratt and his three children who danced in ceremonial regalia to the beat of Pratt’s native drum and singing.
Native Americans comprise about 2 percent of the nation’s population, McIntosh said as he welcomed about 60 people to FoNAC’s gathering, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 11-12 sessions in Birmingham, Ala.
“Many people would say that [2 percent is] insignificant, but with God, nothing is impossible,” McIntosh said. “We keep our focus where it ought to be, not on numbers but in souls.”
Cora Pratt, 11, dressed in contemporary blue Pawnee dress and shawl embroidered with Christian symbols, signed The Lord’s Prayer before Tim Chavis, FoNAC treasurer and pastor of Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Pembroke, N.C., reported on the group’s finances.
FoNAC’s budget has grown to nearly $79,000 from its initial budget of $3,000, Chavis said. With contributions from supporting churches expected to reach $80,000 over the next year, expenses are budgeted at $78,652.
Hawkins, in his executive director’s report, said, “We have a lot of different needs ... for the gospel to become free-flowing among our Native people. We need to encourage Native people to feel empowered to take ownership of spreading the gospel in a contextualized way without compromising the message of God’s Word.”
Burnt Swamp Baptist Association in North Carolina, which consists entirely of Native congregations, does “a lot of things,” Hawkins noted, including mission trips across America and internationally, such as the Philippines, Africa and Australia, in addition to local disaster relief ministry in hurricane-ravaged areas of North Carolina.
“Burnt Swamp is the most mission-minded group of churches that I’ve ever had the privilege of associating with,” Hawkins said. “I’m thankful to God that they are one of FoNAC’s partners, and have been from the point of our origination.”

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Cora Pratt of Pawnee, Okla., signs The Lord’s Prayer in Pawnee Indian sign language during the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Native American Christians June 10.

Hawkins spoke of a 28-page booklet of Native testimonies titled New Life in Jesus: Messages from Native Men expressly written to Native Men to be available in the coming weeks from FoNAC at http://www.fonac.org for a donation.
The booklets already have been dispersed to reservations, jails, rehab centers, individuals and churches. One Native believer, severely handicapped, hands them out from his wheelchair, Hawkins said.
“He gives them to men and women on his reservation and has done so in all types of weather to share how Jesus has changed lives of many Native people and to let them know that Christ is the hope of all people,” Hawkins said.
In 2018, FoNAC partnered with Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, Morning Star Ministry of North Carolina and Centerville Baptist Church in Nunnelly, Tenn., to provide more than 500 stuffed gift boxes (similar to Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes) and backpacks for children in at least 15 Native churches and communities in Oklahoma.
“These were used as evangelism tools in sharing the gospel with many of our people,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins received word from a mission pastor of a Native work on a reservation that was facing ministry challenges, so he invited the pastor to participate in a video conference with some of FoNAC’s board members. “As our team listened and responded with words of encouragement, advice and heartfelt prayer, we were all blessed to sense a feeling of community of helping one another,” Hawkins said.
FoNAC has previously conducted video conferencing with churches and hopes to make these more available in the days ahead to aid those desiring to learn about the importance of developing a good understanding of Natives’ worldview and unique circumstance.
Simulcast/video is a great tool to help in all areas of ministry as it relates to Native people of North America because “you can hardly find anything for Native people in ministry,” Hawkins said, referencing print, video and social media.
“While each tribe is unique, with its own history, culture and current situation, there are commonalities that bind Native people together, and we’re working to find and develop resource tools to bridge the barriers that have hindered the gospel message,” he said.
Hawkins referred to a book published in 2018 by the SBC Executive Committee, Many Faces of the Southern Baptist Convention, that includes a chapter he wrote explaining the uniqueness of Native peoples. The book also includes chapters by other ethnic leaders. Many Faces is available as a PDF online at sbc.net/manyfaces.
Josh LeadingFox, a member of the Pawnee nation and pastor of Immokalee (Fla.) First Seminole Indian Baptist, who was the 2006/2007 NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion, brought the day’s message from John 12:9-11, in which Lazarus told what Jesus had done in his life.
“When Jesus comes to the scene, He can turn it all around,” LeadingFox said. “Tell your story. Share Jesus. Be faithful.”
With neither old nor new business to discuss, FoNAC celebrated Native heritage with ceremonial dances performed in feathered headdresses and full regalia by Andy Pratt, 5, and Adam Pratt, 9, accompanied on the drum by their father, Junior Pratt.
Kanuho, FoNac’s new chairman, told Baptist Press after the meeting he will “continue to build on what Bro. Lit and the executive board have established. A lot more Natives are moving to urban areas, so we’ll be networking and building a presence on reservations and in urban areas.”
FoNAC’s next annual meeting will be concurrent with the June 2020 SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent with Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2019 10:10:26 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Messianics focus on relationship building

June 20 2019 by Timothy Cockes, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF) focused on both business and relationship building at their annual gathering, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
Ric Worshill, executive director of the Southern Baptist Fellowship, spoke June 9 about the importance of connecting and building relationships with the other Southern Baptist entities. The SBMF is primarily composed of Messianic Jews (Jews who follow Jesus Christ as Messiah).

Ric Worshill, left, executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, and Bruce Stokes, right, president of the SBMF discuss business at the SBMF annual meeting Sunday, June 9 in Birmingham.

“It used to be said that we were the best kept secret in the Southern Baptist Convention, and I wanted to change that,” Worshill said. “We need the people in our fellowship to connect with others in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we need the Southern Baptist Convention to know that we are here to do Jewish evangelism and to help them do Jewish evangelism because we know how.”
The fellowship has a booth at the annual meeting where they have resources for the local church to use in ministering and evangelizing to Jewish people. Currently there are more than 300 members of the group, including 20 foreign missionaries, although this year’s gathering drew a smaller crowd because the SBC annual meeting fell on what Jews refer to as the Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, which is celebrated 50 days after the resurrection.
During their business meeting, the fellowship specifically discussed the relationship between the SBMF and the SBC Executive Committee.
SBMF President Bruce Stokes noted new Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd recently asked all of the different ethnic and language groups within the SBC to send him a summation and purpose statement before he meets with them in early August. The fellowship also spent time in their business meeting going over reports from this past year as well as going over both previous business and new business for the fellowship.
Stokes spoke about some of the gradual steps they are taking to change some of the bylaws and policies in order to make sure the fellowship will “function and not just meet together.”
“We’re going to eventually rewrite all of our bylaws and policy, but rather than trying to do that on paper and then seeing if it works in real life, we’re struggling through the concepts and then writing things down as we go,” Stokes said.
The gradual changes, Stokes said, are meant to give Worshill as the executive director the ability to focus on the relationship building and networking with the other SBC entities. Stokes will then work on informally restructuring policy as the fellowship moves along.
“We want to act as a sort of liaison between the SBC and the Messianic movement,” Stokes said.
In terms of the relationship between the SBMF and other Southern Baptists, Worshill emphasized the gospel partnership that is necessary between the SBMF and fellow Southern Baptist churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.
“I know exactly what Jews fear about Jesus, and I know how to meet their needs in sharing Jesus with them, but if I don’t share that with the other brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that leaves just me this one person out here when thousands of people could be sharing. We want our fellow Southern Baptists to know that we are here if they have a Jewish neighbor that they need to minister to. We want to be able to help them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press Summer intern and graduate student at Liberty University. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2019 10:05:48 AM by Timothy Cockes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Asian American group shares ‘God at work’ stories

June 20 2019 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

Church leaders attending the fourth annual National Asian American Fellowship shared stories of God at work among the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2,073 Asian churches.
Church planter Jon Las shared his story of starting Mosaic Church in northern Alberta, Canada. During the past five years, the church has seen 468 people make professions of salvation in Christ.

Photo by Adam Covington
Church planter Jon Las shared his story of starting Mosaic Church in northern Alberta, Canada, during the June 10 meeting of the National Asian American Fellowship in Birmingham.

“Pray for us,” Las said. “It’s a really hard soil up there. It’s as cold as the weather.
“We’re so thankful for the work of God. There are a lot of young people up there.”
Las and other Asian American church leaders shared their stories during the fourth annual National Asian American Fellowship meeting prior to the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala. The meeting also included the third annual gathering of the Asian American Second-Generation Fellowship.
Felix Sermon, who started Grace International Christian Church in 2017, described how God is using his church to engage the multi-cultural community around Springfield, Va., with the gospel.
“In the Northern Virginia area, you’ll find 192 of the 196 nations of the world represented,” Sermon said. “If you want to serve the Vietnamese, come to Northern Virginia. If you want to plant a church among the Tongans, come over here. They are all here.” 

Ronnie Floyd addresses fellowship

Ronnie Floyd, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, began his message to the church leaders present with words of gratitude.

Photo by Adam Covington
Attendees of the National Asian American Fellowship pray for Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, after Floyd’s address to the group.

“Thank you for what you’re doing for the gospel,” Floyd said. “Thank you for what you’re doing for the Southern Baptist Convention. Thank you for what you’re doing in your churches.” 
Floyd centered the rest of his remarks around two areas. First, he reminded attendees to keep the gospel first in everything they do. He urged Asian American churches to target their ministries around the vastly unreached mission fields in their community.
“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. There is a great population who needs Jesus,” Floyd said.
Second, Floyd told attendees of his desire to bring about a new culture of love for one another within Southern Baptist life.
“I want to urge you to help me build that culture,” Floyd said. “Let’s refuse to be divided. Let’s just refuse it. Let’s come together in every way we possibly can, even in the most challenging circumstances we may face, in our church and among Christian brothers and sisters, for the sake of the testimony of the gospel. We need to love one another.”
Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary, and Doug Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board, also shared words of encouragement with the fellowship.

Update on NAMB ministry to second-generation


Photo by Adam Covington
Chris Wong, second-generation national coordinator at NAMB, gave a brief update to the National Asian American Fellowship on NAMB’s work to help churches engage second-generation populations with the gospel.

Chris Wong, NAMB’s second-generation national coordinator, gave a brief update on the entity’s work to help churches engage second-generation populations with the gospel. He addressed the need for more church plants to reach a growing diverse community of “third-culture” people who do not fit easily into cultural boxes.
“Really, the solution is about having a leadership pipeline in our churches while thinking about not only the next generation but the generation after that, modeling this development within our churches so that people can walk out not only knowing what they need to know but also experiencing what it looks like to have that life-giving relationship, that Paul-and-Timothy relationship,” Wong said.
Wong asked first-generation Asian church leaders to develop those mentoring relationships with second-generation leaders in their church in order to help accelerate church planting efforts. He also noted that second-generation leaders often have cultural fluidity that gives them an advantage when reaching an increasingly diverse North America.

Awards for special supporters

The fellowship recognized three individual Southern Baptists from the SBC Executive Committee for their unique support of Asian American churches.

  • Bill Townes, vice president for convention finance

  • Ashley Clayton, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship

  • Art Toalston, senior editor of Baptist Press


New officers

The fellowship announced and prayed for a new slate of officers for the upcoming year. Masashi Sugita, of Dublin Baptist Japanese Church in Dublin, Ohio, will become the new president. Carter Tan, of Grace Chinese Baptist Church of Manakin-Sabat, Va., will be the vice president. Jonathan Hayashi, of Troy (Mo.) First Baptist Church will serve as the secretary.
Last year’s vice president of the Second Generation Asian American Fellowship, A.J. Camota of International Christian Church in Suffern, N.Y., will serve as the president of the fellowship for the upcoming year. Hyung Lee of Torrance, Calif., will serve as the vice president.
Sammy Joo, the senior consultant for Asian ministries at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, presided over the meeting as the outgoing president of the fellowship.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer online at tobinperry.com. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2019 9:56:41 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC Hispanic Council leaders talk reaching Hispanics

June 20 2019 by Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Convention

Officers of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Hispanic Leaders Council discussed the complexities of ministry in Hispanic communities – and ministering in their particular contexts – at a panel sponsored by the Cooperative Program during the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Photo by Lindy Lynch
Danny Sanchez, co-chairman of the SBC Executive Committee’s Convention Advancement Advisory Council, discussed the complexities of ministry in Hispanic communities – and ministering in their particular contexts – at a panel sponsored by the Cooperative Program during the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

During the panel, which was conducted completely in Spanish, moderator Bobby Sena asked the group questions on challenges they face in reaching different groups of Hispanics. They also discussed efficient methods of evangelism, resources they use, and specifically working with Hispanics who are “apartados,” those who once went to church but no longer do.
“These brothers have diverse responsibilities working in different committees but today they represent the SBC’s Hispanic Leadership Council working together for the Kingdom of God,” said Sena, Hispanic relations consultant for the SBC Executive Committee.
The panel was made up of Jonathan Santiago, director of Send Relief of the North American Mission Board; Felix Cabrera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Baptist Convention; Danny Sanchez, co-chairman of Convention Advancement Advisory Council of the SBC Executive Committee, and Victor Pulido, pastor of Iglesia Bautista del Sur El Calvario in Turlock, Calif.
One of the biggest challenges these leaders are facing in reaching Hispanics with the gospel, the panel noted, is bringing the “apartados” back to church. “Apartados are the largest group (in Puerto Rico), they know of God and went to church but stopped,” Cabrera said. But, he added, since Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is experiencing the beginnings of a spiritual revival.
Santiago noted that Hispanics tend to be a largely religious group, and another challenge in ministering to them is showing them the difference between knowing of God and having an intimate relationship with Him.
When it comes to reaching Hispanics of all generations and assimilation levels, Sanchez said the key is to form a “nexus of friendship and a family atmosphere.”
In Texas, where Sanchez ministers, he is finding that the most successful churches in evangelism are those that are studying the Bible in home settings and providing services like English classes and employment preparedness. “It’s about showing them God’s love,” he said.
Language is another component to consider when ministering to Hispanic communities, the panel discussed. Second and third generations tend to speak in English while their parents speak mostly Spanish.
“Listen to their heart language,” Pulido said. “Listen to how they speak to their parents and significant others and that is how you reach them, that is how you minister to them.”
Sanchez noted, “Hispanics retain their culture and language through the generations, and that is what brings them to Hispanic churches despite which language they speak most often.”
“We need churches to reach that 30 percent that only speaks Spanish,” he said, “but we also need churches for those that speak English while retaining their culture – and we need churches that are flexible to reach both.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keila Diaz is a digital communication assistant for the Florida Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2019 9:52:45 AM by Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Convention | with 0 comments

SBCAL approves plan to fight sexual abuse

June 19 2019 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) voted unanimously during their meeting, June 9, to approve broad recommendations to Southern Baptist associations, state conventions and churches about how to prevent the abuse of minors.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Bob Dean, of the Dallas Baptist Association, discusses a document drafted by SBCAL addressing sexual abuse in churches, during the group’s plenary session June 9 at the Hilton Hotel in Birmingham, Ala.

The document, entitled “Encouragements to Associations, State Conventions, and Churches Regarding the Prevention of Abuse of Minors” outlines a series of 10 recommendations around prevention/protection, awareness/education and ministry care/healing. The meeting was held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“As you read through these recommendations, some of you – no doubt – are saying, ‘We’re already doing that.’ I applaud you for that,” said Kevin Carrothers, associational mission strategist (AMS) with the South Salem Baptist Association of Mt. Vernon, Ill. “You are on the proactive side so this serves as a reminder to you to continue to safeguard the vulnerable in your churches. For some of you, these are new. These are encouragements to you. That’s how we want you to take these. Not prescriptive, but certainly some areas for you to consider in your association but also in your churches.”
Carrothers led a three-member task force in drafting the document. According to the group’s executive director, Ray Gentry, this year’s 250-plus registrants marked the highest total in years.
The recommendations approved by SBCAL do not bind Southern Baptist associations but serve as a guide for associational mission strategists throughout the SBC. SBCAL leaders also described the document as a work in progress.
“It’s our heart that we’re going to certainly be responsive,” said David Stokes, the chairman of the group’s executive team and the executive director of the Central Kentucky Network of Baptists, based in Lexington.
“This is not us making a statement and saying we’re never going to talk about this again. This is the beginning of a path to address this.”
The associational leaders unanimously voted to amend the title of the previously released document, adding the words “the prevention of” to the title in order to emphasize the desire of SBCAL to provide proactive support on the issue.
For the full text of the statement, visit sbcassociations.org/vote.

Vision team report

The SBCAL also unanimously approved a series of recommendations designed to help associations implement components of the organization’s 2018 SBCAL Vision Report. The vision team organized into three sub-teams, tackling different areas of the report. The recommendations include:

  • Developing “AMS Search Committee Guidelines” to help associations looking to hire a new associational mission strategist.

  • Partnering with Church Multiplication Ministries to “provide coaching and coach training for associational leaders.”

  • Developing a guide on “Associational Mission Strategist Succession Planning” to help associations create a leadership pipeline that includes training, mentoring and coaching for future leaders.

  • Writing a series of 1,000-word essays to better define the proficiencies outlined in the 2018 SBCAL Vision Report. SBCAL leaders plan to expand these essays into full chapters that will be part of a book on effective associations to be published in 2020. A video training for each of the proficiencies is also being planned.  


Changes to the SBCAL Constitution

The SBCAL also voted unanimously in Birmingham to amend its constitution in order to continue to transition toward a year-round operation. First, they voted to expand the definition of SBC entities represented on the executive team to include all entities that give at least $1,000 to the SBCAL budget.

Second, they voted to amend the constitution to change the conference planning team to the administrative team.
Third, the conference voted to change the title of SBCAL’s executive director to president/CEO.
The approved constitution also included a variety of minor edits made to update the legal language.

SBC leaders speak to SBCAL


Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Johnny Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership for the North American Mission Board, greets attendees at SBCAL’s morning worship service June 9 at the Hilton Hotel in Birmingham, Ala.

A number of SBC leaders showed their appreciation for Baptist associations during the two-day event. Johnny Hunt, the North American Mission Board’s senior vice president for evangelism and leadership, shared on Sunday morning his vision for the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign.

SBC President J.D. Greear also highlighted the campaign, centering his talk on the four crucial convictions the Who’s Your One campaign is built on. 
“The gospel is always supposed to be going forward,” Greear said. “It’s always supposed to be penetrating lostness. It’s supposed to be expanding. Jesus promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against His church.”
International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood and Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director-Treasurer Sandra Wisdom-Martin also addressed the SBCAL, both highlighting the place of associations in their missional stories.  

New SBCAL officers

Former vice chairman Sean McMahon, executive director of the Florida Baptist Association of Tallahassee, Fla., is the new SBCAL chairman.
Other officers are vice chairman Mark Millman, Southern Wisconsin Baptist Association, and recording secretary Philip Price, Jackson County (Miss.) Baptist Association.

Plenary speaker Ted Traylor

Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., dissected the new title (associational mission strategist) recommended by last year’s SBCAL. Traylor, who was a part of the vision committee that recommended the new title, described each of the three words in the title.
“Association,” he said, stood for the context. Associational leaders work in a specific place of ministry.
“Mission,” stands for the “commission we’ve been given,” Traylor said. He defined the commission as the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20.
“You are a sent one. Never forget it, dear man of God,” Traylor said. “As you lead in your associational context, you are on mission. You’re to go and make disciples.”
“Strategist,” Traylor said, describes an associational leader’s conduct. He specifically noted the 17 proficiencies for associational mission strategists approved by SBCAL last year and defined two of those proficiencies.

Plenary speaker Robert Smith

Robert Smith concluded the 2019 SBCAL with a rousing sermon on Acts 17:16-34, “Making the Unknown, Known.” Smith focused much of his sermon on how Paul used the concept of the “unknown god” to make the God of the Bible known to the Greek philosophers he met at Mars Hill.
Smith ended his message encouraging associational mission strategists with a reminder to keep making God known in their communities.  
“Don’t worry if your name is left out of the book,” Smith said as he broke out into song. “Don’t worry if you’re not mentioned in the conversations of the great, mighty, rich, and famous. God knows your name. God knows who you are. God knows why you do what you do. Therefore, I say to you this morning when you give your best of your service, telling the world that the Savior has come, don’t be dismayed when men and women don’t believe you, for He will say, ‘Well done.’”
Smith is the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

SBCAL 2020 in Orlando

Next year’s SBCAL meeting will be June 7-8 in Orlando, Fla. Participants can pre-register for $69 through the end of June at sbcassociations.org/orlando. The 2020 meeting will mark the conference’s 60th year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer online at tobinperry.com. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/19/2019 11:31:20 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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