March 2013

Justices question federal marriage definition

March 28 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Several U.S. Supreme Court justices, including swing vote Anthony Kennedy, questioned the validity of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in oral arguments, signaling they may be ready to strike down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The high court heard arguments Wednesday (March 27) for the second consecutive day on the contentious issue of same-sex marriage. While Tuesday’s arguments dealt with a California initiative that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, Wednesday’s debate regarded Congress’ 1996 law that used the same definition for federal purposes.

The justices have several options in resolving the two cases, which likely will be decided in June before the court adjourns for the summer. The possibilities range from affirming laws protecting traditional marriage to legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. Some observers predict the court will agree on a ruling somewhere between those possibilities.

Photo by Doug Carlson
Outside the Supreme Court (currently under renovation), marriage advocates stood their ground during March 26-27 hearings on two gay marriage cases. The monumental debate now moves inside the chambers of the court’s nine justices, who are expected to release their decisions this summer.

Wednesday’s arguments concerned only part of DOMA, which received overwhelming approval and was signed into law by President Clinton, who recently said he now opposes the measure. Lower courts struck down the law’s Section 3, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits. Section 3 prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. DOMA’s Section 2, which was not challenged in this case, authorizes states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in states where such unions are legal.

Some associate justices questioned the federal government’s role in enacting DOMA, since marriage is traditionally the domain of state governments. Kennedy, who often votes with the court’s conservatives but has sided with its liberals on some issues championed by homosexual activists, charged DOMA with inconsistency.

Kennedy told DOMA advocate Paul Clement, “You said ... Congress wanted to help the states. But then [in] Section 3 ... Congress doesn’t help the states which have come to the conclusion that gay marriage is lawful. So that’s inconsistent.”

Clement disagreed, saying Congress aided the states “in the sense of having each sovereign [state] make this decision for themselves.” Clement said the federal government was sovereign on the matter.

Kennedy said Congress was telling the states it will help them “if they do what we want them to.”

Clement told Kennedy, “No state loses any benefits by recognizing same-sex marriage. Things stay the same.”

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor challenged Clement, asking, “But what gives the federal government the right to be concerned at all at what the definition of marriage is? ... [Y]ou’re saying, we can create this special category – men and women – because the states have an interest in traditional marriage that they’re trying to protect. How do you get the federal government to have the right to create categories of that type based on an interest that’s not there but based on an interest that belongs to the states?”

One way to “stay out of the debate,” Clement said, and “let the democratic process deal with this is to just say, ‘Look, we’re going to stick with what we’ve always had, which is [the] traditional definition [of marriage].”

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli contended DOMA violated the Constitution’s equal protection rights and criticized Clement’s argument that Congress passed DOMA for purposes of uniformity. “It was enacted to exclude same-sex married, lawfully married couples from federal benefit regimes based on a conclusion that was driven by moral disapproval,” he told the justices in arguing for invalidation of Section 3.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan raised the question of whether “animus,” or hostility, was a basis for DOMA’s passage. When Verrilli and Roberta Kaplan, also arguing against Section 3, cited “moral disapproval” as the reason for the law, Chief Justice John Roberts challenged their contentions.

“So that was the view of the 84 [of 100] senators who voted in favor of it,” Roberts asked Verrilli, “and the president who signed it? They were motivated by animus?”

Verrilli replied by saying “it may well not have been animus or hostility.”

As it did in Tuesday’s arguments, the court not only considered the constitutionality of the law in question, but it also weighed whether the court was in a position to rule on the case. The justices spent almost half of the nearly two hours of arguments hearing from lawyers debating whether the House of Representatives leadership had standing to defend DOMA after President Obama’s administration refused to advocate for it and whether the high court has jurisdiction over the appeal since the Department of Justice agreed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s invalidation of the law.

The House leadership’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, represented by Clement, intervened in defense of DOMA after Obama declared his opposition to the law. As a result, the Department of Justice not only has refused to defend DOMA but has opposed it in court.

Richard Land, Southern Baptist ethicist and church-state specialist, has said he hopes the Supreme Court rules in favor of traditional marriage in both of the cases argued Tuesday and Wednesday, but he suspects the court will decide to leave the issue in the hands of the states.

“If they were to rule in favor of same-sex marriage in both cases or against same-sex marriage in both cases, they make the role of the court the issue. And the Roberts court does not want to make the court the issue,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The path likely for the current court led by Roberts is to uphold the California initiative but defer to each state’s definition of marriage in the DOMA case, he predicted.

“[T]hey make both sides unhappy, but they don’t outrage both sides,” Land told Baptist Press.

The ERLC was among many organizations that signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs in support of DOMA. Many foes of DOMA also filed competing briefs.

In friend-of-the-court briefs before the arguments, advocates for traditional marriage warned the court about the repercussions of legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. They said a ruling in support of gay marriage would:
  • Harm religious freedom, possibly resulting in the loss of tax-exempt status by churches and other religious organizations.
  • Undermine the legal reasoning for prohibiting polygamous marriages.
  • Send the message children do not need both fathers and mothers.
Hundreds of people – overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage – rallied in front of the court building Wednesday. They also did so Tuesday, when advocates for traditional marriage participated in a March for Marriage to the Supreme Court that included a rally on the National Mall.

The states that have legalized same-sex marriage are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Vermont. Gay marriage also is legal in the District of Columbia.

The DOMA case is United States v. Windsor.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)

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7 questions & answers: the Supreme Court & gay marriage
Justices ponder narrow Prop 8 ruling
3/28/2013 6:08:20 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

7 questions & answers: the Supreme Court & gay marriage

March 28 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Following are commonly asked questions about the Supreme Court’s two days of arguments in the gay marriage cases.

Q: What issues were the justices deciding?

The constitutionality of two laws: the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Passed and signed into law in 1996, DOMA has two main sections: 1) It gives states the option of not recognizing gay marriages from other states and 2) it defines marriage for federal purposes and federal benefits as being between a man and a woman. Only the second section of DOMA was in front of the court. But even though the court did not deal with the DOMA section that affirms states’ rights, it nevertheless could get to that issue with the Prop 8 case. Prop 8 is a constitutional amendment, adopted by California voters in 2008, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. California is one of 30 states that define marriage within the state constitution in the traditional sense. Another 11 states define it that way via statute. Nine states recognize gay marriage.

Q: What are the possible outcomes of the cases?

If the court strikes down both DOMA and Prop 8, then gay marriage could be legalized in all 50 states. But there are other possible outcomes, including the upholding of both as constitutional. Based on the oral arguments heard by the court, though, that type of sweeping victory for social conservatives seems unlikely. If the court arguments are any indication, it seems more likely that the court will overturn the DOMA section at issue while at the same time not even ruling on the constitutionality of Prop 8, thus keeping the issue – for now – a state matter. Predictions, though, can be tough, as proven in 2012 when most court-watchers thought the justices would overturn the historic health care law, only eventually to see the court uphold it.

Q: If the court avoids ruling directly on Prop 8, what happens to the issue nationwide?

A ruling that skirts the constitutionality of Prop 8 would limit the lower court’s overturning of Prop 8 to California. Under one scenario, the court could rule that – the official sponsors of Prop 8 – did not have “legal standing” to appeal the decision after Prop 8 was overturned by the federal district court. “Standing” became an issue when the governor and attorney general of California chose not to appeal the decision. reported that under that scenario, the district court’s ruling “could end up being limited to only the couple of counties and state officials named as defendants in the lawsuit.” The court also could dismiss the petition as “improvidently granted” – that is, justices could say it should not have taken the case in the first place. Justice Anthony Kennedy – a swing vote – seemed to open the door for either scenario when he said there’s a “substantial question” on standing and in the next sentence said, “I just wonder if the case was properly granted.” A majority of the justices seemed to be in favor of punting on Prop 8’s constitutionality.

Q: Where did the justices fall on the broader question of gay marriage legalization?

Kennedy, as he often does, made comments friendly to both sides. Conservatives were heartened to hear him express concern about going into “uncharted waters” and to note that “we have five years of information” on the impact of gay marriage “to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more” on the impact of traditional marriage. But liberals pointed out that Kennedy also seemed concerned about the “legal injury” to the “40,000 children in California” who live with same-sex parents and want “their parents to have full recognition and full status.” But, as previously noted, Kennedy also implied that the court should not be considering Prop 8. The court’s liberal wing – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan – all made comments friendly to gay marriage legalization, with Kagan rejecting the notion that traditional married laws can be tied to procreation. But all four justices also questioned whether the court should be hearing the Prop 8 case. And Sotomayor heartened social conservatives when she said in the DOMA arguments that “states control” marriage, although she said it in the context of the DOMA case, not Prop 8. Three of the four members of the court’s conservative wing – John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito – expressed concern about gay marriage legalization. Roberts said marriage, throughout history, “developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.” Conservative bloc member Clarence Thomas did not ask questions, as is his custom.

Q: Which side won oral arguments – liberal or conservative groups?

Potentially both, simply because there are two laws at play. If the DOMA section in question is struck down, it would be a win for social liberals and would grant gay couples in the nine states where gay marriage is legal the federal benefits of marriage. But if the court also gives deference to states on the issue of marriage, it would leave in place traditional laws in the remaining 41 states – with the possible exception of California. That would be mostly a win for social conservatives. Kennedy made comments in supports of state rights.

Q: When will the court issue its decisions?

Most likely in June.

Q: Where is public opinion on the issue?

Polls are showing a small majority in support of gay marriage, although there’s evidence that polling is off, at least some. That’s because – as the argument goes – a portion of the population is giving only the “socially desirable” answer to pollsters. Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News, noted in a March 26 column that among the approximately 30 states that have voted on traditional marriage, pre-election polls “have underestimated support” for the traditional side in all but one instance. He quoted New York University political science professor Patrick Eagan as saying pre-election polls, by average, underestimate support for traditional marriage laws by 7 percentage points. “There is more to this than simply the difference between the difference between the electorate and the general population,” Stirewalt wrote. “Some folks are lying to pollsters.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

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3/28/2013 6:00:08 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Ky. lawmakers override religious freedom veto

March 28 2013 by Todd Deaton, Baptist Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky’s General Assembly voted overwhelmingly March 26 to override Gov. Steve Beshear’s veto of House Bill 279, also known as the religious freedom bill. The Democratic House passed the measure 79-15 and the Republican-controlled Senate voted 32-6.

“This important law will protect the rights of people of faith in Kentucky,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC).

“Religious freedom was a good ideal when Kentucky became the 15th state of the Union on June 1, 1792. It still is,” Chitwood said. “I praise God for this victory.”

Chitwood and Curtis Woods, the KBC’s associate executive director, were among religious leaders and legislators who publicly denounced the governor’s March 22 veto at a Family Foundation of Kentucky-led rally prior to the Tuesday afternoon’s legislative session.

In an open letter to Beshear on March 22, Chitwood asked, “When did the cherished, constitutional right of religious freedom become such a danger to our society?”

“An overwhelming majority of our legislators obviously don’t see it that way, nor do Kentucky Baptists see it that way,” Chitwood wrote.

House Bill 279, proponents argue, brings Kentucky back into line with federal court standards that Congress affirmed in its 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law seeks to restore “compelling interest/least restrictive means” as legal tests that government must pass before restricting religious freedom.

The legislation was drafted in response to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s “Amish case” decision last fall in which the court implemented a “rational basis” standard for deciding a church/state matter.

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court similarly attempted to apply a “rational basis” test in reaching a decision. Congress, however, corrected the federal court’s action by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Proponents contended that HB 279 is a similarly worded “corrective” measure.

HB 279 was sharply opposed, however, by gay advocacy and other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. In the Lexington Herald-Leader, Chris Hartman, director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, was quoted as saying the override of Beshear’s veto made minorities more vulnerable to discrimination.

“Much to the contrary, this law protects against discrimination,” Chitwood told Kentucky Baptists’ Western Recorder newsjournal. “History has proven that religious freedom isn’t to be feared.”

Beshear, in vetoing the bill, had said it was vaguely worded and could result in costly and protracted lawsuits. The Democratic governor released a statement after March 26’s legislative action expressing disappointment with the override of the only bill he vetoed in the 2013 legislative session, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

“As I explained in my veto message, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights,” Beshear said.

State Baptist leaders – who, along with the Family Foundation of Kentucky, have maintained throughout the controversy that these concerns were unfounded – were pleased with Tuesday’s outcome, pointing out the magnitude of the vote margins in both chambers.

Chitwood expressed his deep appreciation to Kentucky Baptists who took time to call their legislators. “Once again, we see how our people’s involvement makes a difference,” he said.

“I am thrilled that our legislatures came together to stand for religious freedom in the commonwealth,” said KBC President Dan Summerlin of Paducah.

“This was a bipartisan effort and it demonstrated how people can work together to achieve vital legislation for the protection and the welfare of our society,” said Summerlin, pastor of Lone Oak First Baptist Church.

Adam Greenway, immediate past KBC president and associate dean and professor of evangelism and apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also was “deeply encouraged” by the strong bipartisan vote.

“Protecting the religious freedom of all Kentuckians is one of the first principles of our Baptist identity and a necessary commitment of our responsible citizenship,” Greenway said. “On this matter, people of faith from all across this great commonwealth contacted their legislators and cried out to God, and as a result the Lord has brought about a great victory.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
3/28/2013 5:49:08 PM by Todd Deaton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Panel: Chinese regime still marked by brutality

March 28 2013 by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Near-death torture and medical or food deprivation describe the experience of innocent prisoners under China’s latest Communist officials, experts said at a recent Capitol Hill briefing.

A panel of Chinese, American and European leaders discussed the horrifying realities under the regime in a March 5 event sponsored by ChinaAid and Freedom House.

“The things that take place in China amount in my view to a modern genocide,” said Edward McMillan-Scott.

McMillan-Scott, vice president of the European Parliament, described the Chinese government over the span of his lifetime as growing into the “most arbitrary, brutal and corrupt regime in the world.”

Blind since childhood and now a prominent human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng explained the recent cyber-attacks launched by China on the press in the United States earlier this year. He also talked about life under the new Communist regime for his nephew and himself.

“In China they can openly go to your house to grab things, beat you, rob you of your abilities and your freedom,” Chen said.

Chen is known as a “barefoot lawyer,” or a self-taught activist, who advocates for victims of forced sterilization and abortions, as well as women and the poor in China. He is commonly known for his organization of a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi in the province of Shandong for violent enforcement of the one-child policy.

Placed under house arrest for about a year and formally arrested in June 2006, Chen was not allowed to have a lawyer. He was sentenced to four years and three months and was released in September 2010, then placed under house arrest and intense police scrutiny. Amnesty International deemed him a prisoner of conscience and issued appeals for his release.

“It’s incumbent upon the Chinese people to continuously fight for moral high ground and to bring moral legitimacy, not just to rely on what is written in books for law,” Chen said.

He left China for New York City with his wife and two children in April 2012 following negotiations between the U.S. and China.

“I hope this Congress will take actions to help to break the Berlin Wall on the Internet, the cyber Berlin Wall in China. I hope this new Congress will give it some thought and take some tangible actions that can be seen by the world,” Chen said.

Geng He, wife of human rights lawyer Gao Zisheng, shared some of her husband’s experiences under the regime. She, like Chen, hopes U.S. and European officials will place appropriate pressure on the authoritarian Chinese government. Last fall, China’s Congress announced a new board of Communist Party leaders.

“Facing this situation, Gao doesn’t have any fear [of] those in power, and he has tried to spread righteousness and justice and human rights by utilizing his knowledge and capabilities as a lawyer. With his familiarity with law and eloquence, he was able to win cases for many victims. As a result, he enjoyed a very positive reputation and even love in the hearts of the people,” Geng said.

Geng escaped from China with her two children. Her husband is still detained.

She described to the briefing audience how the police monitored her children and her. Geng also explained the emotional and mental distress that her daughter went through while being escorted to school in police vehicles.

During her husband’s detainment, the family was not adequately allowed visitation, she said. When the family asked where Gao went during his “disappearances,” the guards would respond by saying, “We don’t know. Why are you asking us?” Geng said. The family later learned Gao was being horribly tortured by the police during those times.

Geng is distressed, but, like Chen, she is hopeful the U.S. will not be silent at the injustice. She quoted the poignant words of Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

McMillan-Scott, a friend of Gao and his family, regards Gao as “a very genuine expert lawyer, as well as a Christian.” He recounted the few times that Gao has been able to contact him by phone while detained. When Gao described his condition, McMillan-Scott quickly understood Gao, like Chen, is a prisoner of conscience.

“Now I have to say personally I have no religious beliefs, but I do believe it’s clear that religious freedom is a fundamental part of any society. Even the Chinese Constitution provides that freedom, although of course it doesn’t exist in China,” McMillan-Scott said.

To illustrate the brutality of the regime, McMillan-Scott recalled a time when Gao told him of his near-death torture. He would awake from being attacked, and people would be standing around him in white coats. Scott explained that when Gao asked why the regime did not want him to die, they replied with a very grim statement:

“We don’t want you to die; we want you to want to die.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tonika Reed is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)

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Mother of forcibly aborted girl interviewed

3/28/2013 5:32:44 PM by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mother of forcibly aborted girl interviewed

March 28 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Feng Jianmei, whose daughter was forcibly aborted seven months into her pregnancy last June, has told a Chinese TV station of her continued struggle for emotional healing.

“Several local government officials lost their job and I got compensation [for the circumstances], but there is no real winner in this case,” Feng told Shanghai-based Dragon TV, according to a report by the pro-life organization All Girls Allowed, which is based in Boston.

“We lost the most,” Feng said in an interview with the satellite TV station. “We lost a baby.”

The story and photo of Feng and her forcibly aborted daughter went viral on the Internet after family planning officials in China’s Shaanxi province kidnapped, beat and forced her to undergo an abortion while her husband Deng Jiyuan was at work. She had no birth permit under China’s population control program known as the “one-child” policy.

Family planning authorities earlier had levied a fine and, when Feng’s family did not pay, they performed the abortion on her and placed her dead child’s body in bed with her. A Chinese dissident posted an account and a photo of the devastated mother and her dead daughter on the Internet, sparking global attention.

Feng, in the interview, said she moved to China’s Jiangsu province for medical treatment and emotional health.

She told Dragon TV (in Mandarin), “I thought that if I changed my living environment, my mood would get better. After I went to Jiangsu province, I felt much better. Before, when people recognized me, it always reminded me of the forced abortion.... I had a very uncomfortable feeling.

“I went to the hospital to get checked a few times,” Feng said. “When I went to Jiangsu, I also got checked several times. I underwent a small surgery over there. There are still some problems with my body. I’m still in the process of healing. I also take medicine every day.”

The local government initially said they would pay for hospital bills associated with her recovery from the forced abortion, but they have yet to follow through.

“They told me about a reimbursement at the beginning,” Feng said, “but they never mention that anymore.” Two surgeries she underwent cost nearly $1,700 in American dollars.

Feng said she hopes to return to Shaanxi province to be with her husband, who is forced to live hundreds of miles from his wife to pay for her medical expenses.

Brian Lee, executive director of All Girls Allowed, which largely focuses on China’s coercive abortion measures, said the Dragon TV report reiterates “how devastating the brutal enforcement of the one-child policy really is.”

“But there is hope,” Lee said in a written statement after Feng’s interview in February. “We have a God who is bigger than this tragic situation. We believe He will bring healing and justice to Ms. Feng and we pray that day comes soon.”

On March 14, the Chinese Health Ministry reported the following statistics for its family planning practices since 1971, according to the Financial Times:
  • 336 million abortions performed.
  • 196 sterilizations conducted.
  • 403 million intrauterine devices inserted.
China first instituted limits on population growth in 1971 and established its “one-child” population control program in the late 1970s. The policy also has helped produce a gender imbalance because of the Chinese preference for sons.

China’s 336 million abortions surpass the current United States population of about 315 million. It also dwarfs the number of abortions reported in this country during the last 40 years. Since 1973 when abortion was legalized for any reason throughout pregnancy by the Supreme Court, an estimated 55 million of the lethal procedures have been performed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

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Panel: Chinese regime still marked by brutality
3/28/2013 5:26:31 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Justices ponder narrow Prop 8 ruling

March 27 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court struggled during oral arguments in a landmark case regarding same-sex marriage with not only how it should rule but whether it should rule on the constitutional issues involved in the controversial subject.

The justices heard arguments Tuesday (March 26) in the first of two days of considering whether states and the federal government can limit marriage to the traditional definition of the union only of a man and a woman.

The high court weighed whether Proposition 8, a 2008 amendment approved by California voters, is constitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Prop 8, which defined marriage in the traditional sense.

On Wednesday (March 27), the justices will hear arguments regarding a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage in federal law as only a heterosexual union. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated that portion of the 1996 law.
Photo by Doug Carlson
A family attends a March for Marriage on the Washington Mall as the Supreme Court hears arguments for and against California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and woman.

While the justices spent most of Tuesday’s session hearing arguments about the merits of Prop 8, they spent some time on whether its supporters had legal standing to defend the initiative in court. Advocates for Prop 8 appealed a federal judge’s ruling against the amendment when state government officials, including the governor and attorney general, refused to do so.

Though the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit ruled they had such standing, the justices queried both Prop 8 proponents and opponents on the question.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy even questioned whether the high court should have accepted appeal of the case.

The problem, Kennedy told pro-gay marriage advocate Theodore Olson, is “you’re really asking ... for us to go into uncharted waters, and you can play with that metaphor – there’s a wonderful destination, it is a cliff.”

Associate Justice Samuel Alito challenged U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s call for the court to determine the effects of same-sex marriage, especially since traditional marriage is thousands of years old and gay marriage even internationally is barely a decade old. The arguments included conjecture about the impact on the children of same-sex marriage.

“[T]here isn’t a lot of data about its effect,” Alito told him. “And it may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.

“But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? ... [W]e do not have the ability to see the future.

“On a question like that, of such fundamental importance,” Alito said, “why should it not be left for the people, either acting through initiatives and referendums or through their elected public officials?”

Arguing for the constitutionality of Prop 8, lawyer Charles Cooper told the justices it is reasonable “to be very concerned that redefining marriage ... as a genderless institution could well lead over time to harms to that institution and to the interests that society ... has always used that institution to address.”

One of the concerns is redefinition of marriage “will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus ... the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples,” Cooper said.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan challenged Cooper’s argument, presenting the hypothetical case of a state deciding: “Because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?”

Cooper agreed it would not be constitutional.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Olson what state restrictions – including on polygamy and incest – could exist if marriage is a fundamental right, as he was arguing.

“[I]f a state prohibits polygamy, it’s prohibiting conduct,” Olson argued. “If it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status.”

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia asked Olson, “[W]hen did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?”

In a lengthy back-and-forth with Scalia, Olson said he could not set a date after saying at one point it was when “we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control....”

Afterward, a co-counsel for Prop 8’s supporters said they have been asking the same question as Scalia.

“At what point in time did marriage, this cornerstone of civilization and the bedrock of our society, all of a sudden become unconstitutional? And we don’t believe obviously it ever has,” Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told Baptist Press. “We believe Americans have the constitutional right to uphold, support and defend marriage as it has always been. And so we certainly are hopeful that the Supreme Court agrees with us.”

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said of the justices, “I hope they rule in favor of traditional marriage in both cases. That’s my hope and prayer.”

He suspects, however, the court has granted review to both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases to leave the issue in the hands of the states.

“If they were to rule in favor of same-sex marriage in both cases or against same-sex marriage in both cases, they make the role of the court the issue. And the Roberts court does not want to make the court the issue,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The path likely for the current court led by Chief Justice John Roberts is to uphold Prop 8 but defer to each state’s definition of marriage in the DOMA case, he said.

“[T]hey make both sides unhappy, but they don’t outrage both sides,” Land told BP. “And having learned this lesson from the outrage and controversy provoked by Roe v. Wade, they will leave this contentious issue to the people in the various states and their elected representatives.”

Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates have criticized the 1973 Roe decision that legalized abortion throughout the country for taking the decision out of the hands of the states.

Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a written statement, “If the Supreme Court goes the wrong way and rules that there is somehow a ‘constitutional right to same-sex marriage,’ it will become, in my view, an illegitimate arbiter of the rule of law. It will have lost its legitimacy in its entirety, and will have just simply morphed into a political machine. Common sense and a quick read of the Constitution say there is no such right to same-sex marriage.”

The ERLC and Liberty Counsel were among many organizations that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Prop 8. Many foes of Prop 8 filed competing briefs.

In friend-of-the-court briefs before the arguments, advocates for traditional marriage warned the court about the repercussions of legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. They said a ruling in support of gay marriage would:
  • Harm religious freedom, possibly resulting in the loss of tax-exempt status by churches and other religious organizations.
  • Undermine the legal reasoning for prohibiting polygamous marriages.
  • Send the message children do not need both fathers and mothers.
Both sides turned out crowds of hundreds, maybe even a few thousand, to champion their causes. Advocates for traditional marriage participated in a March for Marriage to the Supreme Court that included a rally on the National Mall. Same-sex marriage advocates rallied in front of the court building.

The states that have legalized same-sex marriage are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Vermont. Gay marriage also is legal in the District of Columbia.

California voters approved Prop 8 after the state Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage earlier in 2008.

The Prop 8 case is Hollingsworth v. Perry.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
3/27/2013 3:14:04 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Piper emphasizes role of preaching in worship

March 27 2013 by Michael McEwen, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST – John Piper, in chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, emphasized the essential role of preaching in worship, asking at the outset, “Why does preaching have a prominent place in the church today? And is there biblical warrant for this?”

Piper, now a vocational elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., said March 21 the Word of God is preeminent because scripture affirms its preeminence.

“God has chosen to reveal Himself as the Word and by the Word. First, God was the Word before anything existed. As the Gospel of John states, ‘In the beginning was the Word.’

John Piper addresses a full chapel March 21 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Second,” Piper said, “God reveals Himself by the Word (1 Samuel 3:21). If worship is a seeing and a savoring of the appearing of the glory of God, then the Word is to be central.”

Piper said 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 affirms that the Word of God is breathed out by God, and he said worship is the response of the mind and heart to God’s work in the world.

“His works are done by His Word,” Piper said. “If we are to see a work of God, we should know that the work is brought about by the Word. For instance, in Jesus’ life and ministry, sins are forgiven by His word. The dead are raised by His word. The sick are healed by His word.

“The Word created life and therefore wherever there is worship and response to God’s Word, it is first because of God’s mighty Word.”

An essential component of the Word, Piper said, is that it penetrates the heart and the soul. Something powerful happens when the Word of God is accepted and trusted.

“The Word of God is to be both seen and savored,” he said. “We are to mentally assent to God’s Word, and our hearts are to respond and love His truth. These two constitute true worship.”

Preaching has historical precedence as well, Piper said, highlighting texts such as Nehemiah 8 and Luke 4. In Nehemiah, Piper said, Ezra blessed the Lord, and the Israelites worshiped in response to the reading of the Word. Additionally, the priests helped the people understand the instructions from the Word.

In Luke 4, Piper noted, Jesus traveled to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath. After arriving, He read from Isaiah and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“As these two texts show,” Piper said, “there is a history of people gathered for worship, the Word read and someone opening the Word for the people to be affected by it. Worship is both a right knowing and a right feeling in response to the Word of God. Without right knowing, we have emotionalism. Without right feeling, we have intellectualism.”

Piper concluded, “Preaching is something more than explaining the Bible. Preaching is a valiant form of communication that is in accord with its eternal worth. All vital, Christ-exalting and authentic communion with the living God is to be saturated with the Word of God, and this is essential in preaching.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael McEwen is a news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The chapel service is available here.)
3/27/2013 3:03:00 PM by Michael McEwen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wife of slain pastor tells of peace & hope

March 27 2013 by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press

MARYVILLE, Ill. – Cindy Winters didn’t set out to write a book. But as she journaled about her grief and pain after her husband Fred was killed in his Maryville, Ill., pulpit four years ago, she realized how healing the writing process could be. And she wanted to share that with others on a similar journey.

Pastor Fred Winters was killed at First Baptist Church in Maryville in 2009, when a gunman entered a Sunday morning worship service on March 8 and shot him in the pulpit. Media outlets immediately descended on Maryville, pushing the story into national headlines. Just days later, Cindy Winters extended forgiveness to the shooter on CBS’ “Early Show.”

Cindy Winters

“We have been praying for him,” she said. “... We really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this by coming to know Jesus.”

Hope, forgiveness and peace are among the themes in Winters’ new book Reflections from the Pit, available now on Her writing process started simply, when she sat down with pen and paper to express some of the emotions that were overwhelming her.

“I would leave that writing experience with a sense of renewed strength,” Winters said. “Oftentimes, peace would sweep in over me, and then hope. And just a sense of ‘OK, you know what, I’m going to be able to make it through the rest of the day.’”

In brief devotion-like sections, Winters shares her thoughts in hopes of easing some of grief’s isolation. The book also includes scripture passages, nature pictures, prayers, poems and space for readers to write their own journal entries.

“They’re all highly personal, and they all come out of a feeling of being overwhelmed,” Winters said of her entries. “They’re not all sad, they’re not all dark. Some of them are funny. Some of them come from really good places; some of them are obviously from a really bad spot.”

And the book isn’t just for people going through grief. “I think it’s for anybody who has found themselves in the pit, regardless of how we get there. The pit can be very painful, and very dark, and very hard to get out of. So I think it’s for anybody who can say, ‘You know what? My life’s in the pit right now.’”

Cindy Winters, whose husband Fred was shot and killed in his pulpit four years ago, has written a book – Reflections from the Pit – about her journey of hope, forgiveness and peace amid tragedy.

People from Illinois and Missouri were on hand for a March 10 open house to celebrate the book’s release at the Wildey Theater in nearby Edwardsville.

Winters feels a close connection with the Maryville community that protects her husband’s memory and legacy, evidenced in part by Fred Winters Memorial Park, scheduled to be completed this year. 

As for her family – Winters has two teenage daughters – she admits life still feels like a roller coaster. 

“We still have so many transitions that we are making,” Winters said. “That is so odd to say after four years, but we are. There’s still a lot of things that are kind of unsettled and a lot of aspects of our life that are still extremely difficult to try to navigate through.

“But there is a level of normalcy to our life now that there wasn’t a couple years ago. There are things we do now that don’t have the same kind of sting to them, you know, because we’ve done them now four times in a row.”

And God has sustained them.

“... It all comes down to just knowing that God is faithful and that He’s good, and trusting Him, and looking at that every day. And not relying on ourselves or our circumstances to be our comfort. And knowing that only truly God can heal and comfort us.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist, the newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)
3/27/2013 2:36:09 PM by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Russell Moore elected next ERLC president

March 26 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Russell Moore has been elected as the next president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). 

The ERLC’s board of trustees approved Moore, currently dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a special, called meeting Tuesday (March 26) at a Nashville hotel. 

Moore, 41, a native of Biloxi, Miss., will be the eighth president of the entity charged by Southern Baptists with addressing moral and religious freedom issues. With a background in government, the pastorate and seminary training, he already is well-known as a commentator from a Southern Baptist and evangelical Christian perspective on ethics, theology and the culture.

“I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Southern Baptists as ERLC president,” Moore said. “I pray for God’s grace to lead the ERLC to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the mission of the gospel in the world.”

Contributed photo

Russell Moore

Moore’s election means he will be only the second ERLC president in the last quarter of a century. He will succeed Richard Land, who will retire upon the completion of 25 years leading the entity.

“I am delighted that the Holy Spirit has led the ERLC’s trustees to Dr. Russell Moore as the commission’s next president,” Land said. “Dr. Moore is a godly Christian minister, a devoted husband and father, and a convictional, committed Baptist. His excellent academic preparation, combined with his keen mind and his tender heart for God and His people, make him a person uniquely suited to serve our Savior and Southern Baptists in this crucial role at such a critical moment in our nation’s history. 

“I join the trustees and ERLC staff in committing to pray for Russell and his dear family as he prepares to assume the tremendous responsibilities of the ERLC presidency,” Land said.

Moore will begin his new responsibilities June 1. At that time, Land will become the entity’s president emeritus, an honor bestowed on him by trustees in September. 

The ERLC trustees’ seven-person presidential search committee, chaired by Barry Creamer of Criswell College in Dallas, recommended Moore to the full board after a seven-month process.

“After praying, planning, meeting and working for months to find the man we believe God would have lead the ERLC, we are blessed by the board’s election of Russell Moore today and confident that God will use his message to impact churches and the public marketplace of ideas for what is right, true and desperately needed today,” said Creamer, Criswell’s vice president of academic affairs.

Moore has served since 2004 as dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He joined the faculty in 2001 as professor of Christian theology and ethics and continues in that role. 

He was preaching pastor at a campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville from 2008-12. While a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore was associate pastor at Bay Vista Baptist Church in Biloxi, Miss.

Before attending seminary, Moore served for four years as an aide to pro-life Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi.

Moore and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.

Moore is a leading voice in the growing pro-adoption movement among evangelicals. His 2009 book – Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches – has played a significant role in that cause and he is a frequent speaker at adoption conferences.

On his blog, in written commentaries, in speeches and in news media interviews, Moore comments frequently on a range of issues and the Christian gospel’s impact on them. These include abortion and other sanctity of life matters, race relations, marriage, pornography, politics and popular culture.

Government, academic and church leaders applauded Moore’s selection in written statements.

“His presence of mind and keen insights as a theologian and pastor are such that his work has not only benefited me personally, but many who serve our nation in public life,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. “I have never read anything by Russell Moore that did not leave me with a strong impression that this was a man who could speak carefully and powerfully to the public square.”

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said, “He will provide a public voice Southern Baptists will follow and the secular world will respect. ... The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will greatly miss him, as will I, but we congratulate Southern Baptists on the wisdom of their choice. Russell Moore was made for this position of leadership, and for this hour.”

SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page, whose Ph.D. is in ethics, said, “Welcome, Dr. Moore to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. As an ethicist myself, I am always concerned about this particular area of our ministry. I am delighted that someone with Dr. Moore’s cultural awareness and concern for God’s people has been appointed to such a post for such a time as this. I encourage all Southern Baptists to pray for him during this time of transition, for the need has never been greater.” 

Popular author and Southern California mega-church pastor Rick Warren said he “can think of no one more qualified in experience, in temperament, in passion, and in doctrine to represent us as Southern Baptists on the most critical ethical issues of our day, and on the all-important issue” of religious freedom.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Moore “has uniquely prepared himself spiritually, theologically, academically, and politically for just such a moment as this. Placing a leader with the right convictions, a razor-sharp mind, and a moral compass that will not fail paints a bright picture for Southern Baptists’ future.”

In addition to his book on adoption, Moore has written two other books, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ and The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective. He has three other books scheduled to be published, including one on marriage and one on abortion. Moore also has edited and contributed to other books.

He has served four times on the Resolutions Committee at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, including as chairman in 2010.

Land, who was 41 when he became head of the entity in 1988, led the transformation of the ERLC during the convention’s theological resurgence, moving the commission in a more conservative direction on such issues as abortion. He announced his retirement as ERLC president in July 2012. 

In addition to Creamer, other ERLC trustees on the presidential search committee – all members of Southern Baptist churches – were Kenda Bartlett, executive director of Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C.; Kenneth Barbic, a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association in Washington, D.C.; Lynne Fruechting, a pediatrician in Newton, Kan.; Ray Newman, executive director of Georgia Citizens Action Project in Atlanta; and Bernard Snowden, family life pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Bowie, Md. ERLC trustee chairman Richard Piles, who appointed the search committee, was an ex officio member. Piles is pastor of First Baptist Church in Camden, Ark.

In addition to its Nashville office, the ERLC has an office in Washington, D.C.

More information on Moore, including a full list of endorsements, is available at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
3/26/2013 3:37:10 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Pilot project to identify UUPGs in N.C. metro areas

March 26 2013 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

When Bob Lowman moved to Charlotte about 15 years ago to pastor a church, he was not all that familiar with unreached, unengaged people groups, or what it would take to reach these people groups with the gospel.
Now, after seven years as director of missions for Metrolina Association in Charlotte, he finds himself immersed in a city that is home to at least five unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) and a growing ethnic population. These UUPGs are groups that are less than 2 percent evangelical and have no church planting strategy among them.
“The first several years I noticed a significant number of church plants coming from international congregations and different people groups and communities. The more that happened, the more it got my attention,” Lowman said. “A growing awareness seemed to burst one day. The nations are in our neighborhood, and I thought, what are we going to do about it?”
In the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system, 165 different native languages are spoken. From 2000 to 2011, the non-Anglo population increased 187 percent, Hispanic/Latinos by 147 percent and Asians by 93 percent. On the eastern side of the city, one apartment complex alone is home to 12 different languages, such as Nepali, Arabic, Urdu, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Somali.
More and more refugees from Nepal and Burma are also moving into the area.
To reach this growing diverse population, Lowman and Metrolina Association are participants in a pilot project to help identify different people groups living in North Carolina’s metropolitan areas.
The North Carolina Metropolitan Areas People Identification Project (NCMapID) is a partnership among the Metrolina Association, Piedmont Association in Greensboro and Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
“With nearly 75 percent of North Carolinians living in eight metropolitan areas of our state, and with more than 77 percent of our non-Anglo population living in these same eight areas, we must become more intentional in our efforts to penetrate lostness in our state’s cities,” said Michael Sowers, BSC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships.
NCMapID will focus on the Charlotte and Greensboro areas, with the goal to create an effective model that can be used in the six other North Carolina metropolitan areas to identify unreached people groups.
“Our state’s growing diversity provides churches an opportunity to reach the world with the gospel without leaving North Carolina,” Sowers said. “Yet, in order for the church to engage the people of the world whom God is bringing to North Carolina, we must first begin to identify these people groups.”
Before the project officially launched earlier this year, Lowman spent time last year working with Jeff Sundell, a former International Mission Board missionary in South Asia for 10 years. Sundell has already identified five UUPGs in Charlotte.
“We can now say that all five of these groups are being engaged with the gospel right here in Charlotte,” Lowman said. When North Carolina Baptist volunteers come to Charlotte and Greensboro they will work in teams and go out into different areas of the city. They will talk with people and try to learn who they are and where they are from. Information collected by volunteers will be entered into a database, and when the project is completed, the people group data will be available to local churches.
Larry Doyle, director of missions for Piedmont Association, said he is honored to join this pilot project.
“This is one of the most important things we can do in the next several years; this is big for us,” he said. “We don’t see unreached people unless we are looking. This project will help us see them, and maybe really see them for the first time.”
Doyle said the process of surveying and collecting information will be just as valuable as the end result. His prayer is that as churches are involved and meet people in the community, they will begin to build relationships.
“It goes back to the Great Commission - are we making disciples? And will this help us make better disciples?”
Doyle came to the Greensboro area in 1993 to pastor a Spanish-speaking church – the only one in the area – after serving as a missionary in Ecuador. “Now I can’t even tell you how many Hispanics are here,” he said. “We have people living here from Nigeria, Liberia, the Congo and Pakistan. We must help get the church comfortable with being missionaries in their own communities.”
NCMapID is also an opportunity for college students to learn to think like missionaries.
“Even students who do not have much time, or money, can participate in this and take ownership of it,” said Evan Blackerby, campus minister at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 
Blackerby and his wife have prayed for some time about serving overseas. “I have this passion born within me to see different people groups come to know the Lord. Our minds were set to leave Greensboro.”
Blackerby has learned that while God does call believers to serve overseas, that does not negate God’s command for him to reach people groups living in his city and neighborhood. He said that although international missions may seem more “glamorous,” he knows God has him serving in Greensboro to reach those around him.
Doyle is praying that NCMapID will help churches understand and embrace their calling and responsibility to reach the nations right where they are.
“The Great Commission means making disciples of every ethnic people as you meet them, wherever you go,” he said. “The ethnics are here, and it’s our job to reach them.”
To learn how your church can participate in NCMapID, or for more information about the project, email or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5654.
3/26/2013 3:25:22 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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