March 2013

U.S. missionary sending in decline, IMB strategist says

March 26 2013 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Baptists must turn back to God and join Him on mission soon or their churches will continue to decline and die, one missions leader said.
That was the stark message presented by Joe Dillon to hundreds who attended a three-day missions conference at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City in late February.
People are coming to Christ in record numbers around the world, but not so much in North America, said Dillon, a church strategist who relates to churches across the southeast for the International Mission Board.
The “Engage Your World Celebration” was sponsored for the second year by Corinth’s Baptist Men and Woman’s Missionary Union in cooperation with Chowan Baptist Association.
“We’re seeing this explosive movement of the gospel [in other nations] that cannot be explained, apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is pouring Himself out,” leading many thousands of people to accept Christ as Savior, said Dillon, who once served as a Southern Baptist missionary in Chile.
He told of one Asian country where a few years ago missionaries rejoiced if even one Muslim came to Christ in a year.
But recently a Southern Baptist missionary told Dillon he has personally baptized 1,000 Muslims who have turned to Christ over the past two years, an unprecedented development.
Rapid church growth has resulted in two nations in Asia sending more missionaries beyond their borders than American churches, he said. Churches in the United States have been declining in their missionary sending capacity each year for the past 20 years. The U.S. is now in third place among missionary-sending nations.
Even during the Great Depression, when unemployment stood at 35 percent, American churches gave proportionately three times to international missions what churches of today give, Dillon said. During those earlier hard times, he added, churches would forgo buying coal to heat their buildings so that the money could instead be used to keep missionaries on the field.
Most U.S. churches are so turned inward they have forgotten the need to sacrificially support missions, Dillon said. Most American churches are not engaging their own culture, much less cultures overseas.
Current studies show Connecticut’s population is already less than two percent Christian, which means that numerically the state could qualify as an “unreached people group.”
Studies also show that in 15 years Atlanta’s population could be less than 2 percent Christian as well, Dillon warned.
While Dillon challenged Baptists to look up and out, Rosalie Hunt urged Baptists to look back and recognize the legacy of missions history.

Baptist legacy

Hunt is a former missionary to China who still travels widely and now serves the national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation as vice-chair of the board of directors and as national recording secretary for WMU.
“If you are a Baptist, what a legacy you have!” Hunt said, noting that 2013 is the 200th anniversary of Baptist missions in the United States, since Adoniram and Ann Judson went to Burma (now Myanmar) two centuries ago.

BSC photo

Rosalie Hunt, a former missionary who now serves as vice chairperson of the National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation board of directors and national recording secretary for WMU, was one of the keynote speakers at Engage Your World Feb. 22-24 at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City. See photo gallery.

In several messages and a dramatic monologue punctuated with precise dates, names and places, Rosalie Hunt told how the woman who grew up to be Ann Judson was born in 1798 and was saved at age 16 in Massachusetts. After meeting Adoniram Judson they were married two months later and set sail on Feb. 19, 1812, for the Far East as the first international missionaries sent out from America.
Ann Judson was a pioneer linguist, evangelist, teacher and translator; she was named the Woman of the Century in 19th century America.
“Our missionary foremothers changed this nation and they changed the world,” said Hunt, noting that today Myanmar has one of the largest Baptist populations in the world.
Also during the conference, Ronnie Wyatt, pastor of Ramoth Gilead Baptist Church in Elizabeth City, shared about his vision trip to New York in 2012 through the Baptist State Convention’s Great Commissions Partnerships office. Ronnie and his wife went to New York City, then on to Syracuse in upstate New York, where they visited the Butternut Street/Shower Park neighborhood, home to about 25,000 people.
The only evidence of Christianity there, Wyatt said, is an abandoned Roman Catholic church building and a charismatic church building with a “for sale” sign on it.
“You can see Buddha statues the size of a house, but there’s no church,” Wyatt said.
Now the Wyatts are headed to Syracuse as North American missionaries to plant a church in that neighborhood. The couple divided the neighborhood into sections and are seeking prayer partners who will pray specifically for each section of the neighborhood.
David Turner, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church, said he hopes the conference will stir Baptists and others to pray, give and go to accomplish the command of Jesus to take the gospel to all the world.
3/26/2013 3:06:21 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Kerry advocates for Iranian pastor’s freedom

March 26 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Friday (March 22) called for the release of pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who is suffering in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison because of his Christian faith.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini’s wife and two young children living in the United States, called Kerry’s statement “a tremendous step forward in our government’s involvement in securing Pastor Saeed’s freedom.”

Kerry, in a press statement issued while in the Middle East, said, “I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.”

The secretary of state added, “I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.”

Saeed Abedini

Kerry also said he is “troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case and Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran.”

“I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” Kerry said.

The statement came hours after ACLJ released a letter (see below story) from Abedini recounting the torture he is enduring and one day after a State Department official finally mentioned Abedini’s case before the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Prior to that mention, State Department and White House officials had previously addressed Abedini’s case in public only when questioned by reporters and others, Fox News said, adding that Kerry’s statement marked a new level of escalation in the administration’s statements.

ACLJ had called on Kerry to act on Abedini’s behalf by Friday, which marked one week since the State Department was entirely absent from a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding Abedini’s case that included testimony from his wife Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho.

On Friday evening, Naghmeh Abedini said she was “very encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s statement demanding Saeed’s immediate release.”

“I am very happy to read that although Secretary Kerry has asked for medical treatment for Saeed, he does not stop there and states that the best outcome is Saeed’s immediate release,” she said.

“I hope to see more proactive actions from our government. Saeed and I are both proud to be Americans. I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States,” Naghmeh Abedini said.

Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, testified at the congressional hearing alongside Abedini’s wife and said Friday he was pleased with Kerry’s “bold and public statement” on the pastor’s behalf.

“The voice of nearly 550,000 people worldwide is being heard and is now being echoed by the top diplomat of the United States,” Sekulow said, referring to a petition for Abedini’s release at

“Pressure works. Now the focus turns to Iran. The world is watching. Iran must honor its promises, its international obligations and the human rights of this U.S. citizen. Iran must free Pastor Saeed,” Sekulow said.

In the letter from Abedini written on scraps of newsprint, the badly beaten prisoner said he is able to endure because the joy of the Lord is his strength and he has learned to forgive those who persecute him.

“I forgave the prison doctor who did not listen to me and did not give me the medication that I needed. I forgave the interrogator who beat me,” Abedini wrote. “... The minute I forgave them and loved them, that second I was filled with unspeakable joy. ... Love is as strong as death.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)

Letter from Saeed Abedini

Following is the text of Saeed Abedini’s letter, translated into English and circulated by the American Center for Law and Justice March 22:

Hello to my dear love and wife,

When I saw my family for the first time behind the glass walls, I could see my mom four meters away. As she approached me and saw my face, she broke down and could not get closer. She was crying. I understood what she felt because after weeks of being in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, I also got to see my face in the mirror of an elevator that was taking me to the prison hospital. I said hi to the person staring back at me because I did not recognize myself. My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown.

It was a few days ago when one of my family members, with weary eyes and after running around for 15 weeks in trying to get me out of prison, said that my dad says every single day that “this week I will get my son out of prison.” But this does not happen and he is not able to get me out of prison. In that instant I looked into the wrinkled and tired eyes of my dad. I could clearly see that he had ran around for months and he had no more strength left in him. It was very hard seeing my family in such a situation.

You, my wife, on the other side of the world, alone with the kids. Alone and worried. My family here in Iran, being interrogated, tired and under so much pressure.

With the loud voice of the prison guard, our visitation had ended and they put covers over our eyes and we returned to the dark room void of any natural sunlight.

I started praying for my family. My dear Naghmeh. You are the love of my life. I am always in love with you.

Dear Naghmeh, I have been stung so many times that I have become full of poison. This is an Iranian saying. A lot of people say that they have been stung by so many people that their whole being is full of poison like a poisonous snake. It means that we have been bitten by the snakes of this world so many times that, that all of the poison has collected in us and that we are like the poisonous snake. But if we sting anyone, we will die. This Iranian saying is full of spirit of revenge and unforgiveness and every time I would hear this in Iran, I would get very sick hearing it.

A few days ago they brought a young war veteran who was disabled in 80% of his body in my cell. He had been put in solitary confinement with his horrific condition. And this had made him very mad and he kept saying “why did they do this to me? I gave my whole life for their sake. See what they have done to me!!!” And when he would get very mad he would say “I will take my revenge!”

I spoke to this young man until 4 in the morning. I spent time with him and spoke to him to forgive. When we don’t forgive, we drink the poison ourselves and then wait for the other person to die. And we take the knife that has hurt us and we stab ourselves with it again! And this is the will of the evil one who wants to destroy us.

But when we forgive, we pour out the poison of the enemy and of the devil and we don’t let the poison stay in us and we don’t let the poison make us into poisonous snakes! So that we don’t become like the person we despised and who persecuted and tortured us.

Maybe you ask, what is the secret of being so happy in such a hard situation?

Forgiveness and a change of attitude. When we forgive, we become free and we become messengers of peace and reconciliation and goodness. And whoever stings us, we can take into our embrace and love them. And in this dark and evil time, we can live full of love and full of peace and full of joy and shine like the stars! Glory be to His Name.

I forgave the prison doctor who did not listen to me and did not give me the medication that I needed. I forgave the interrogator who beat me. Every day when I would see the interrogator and for the last time when I saw him, I forgave him. I smiled at him and with respect shook his hand and I said my goodbye. The minute I forgave them and loved them, that second I was filled with unspeakable joy. I saw in the eyes of the interrogator that he had come to respect me and as he was leaving, he could not look behind him. Love is as strong as death.

We have to get rid of the poison in our body because if we don’t, we will die. We have to get rid of both poisons; first the poison of the snake that bit us and also the poison in us that was created by that bite. We can get rid of the first poison by forgiveness and we can get rid of the second poison by humility, by dying to ourselves, and allowing the band-aid of love and goodness to replace the empty place of the wound. So that we are not a tool of darkness and revenge, but that we can be light and love and a vessel of forgiveness and we can be transformed in the process.

Surely you have someone in your family, city, work or environment that have become like poisonous snake who have bitten you and tried to make you poisonous. So, forgive them and use the antidote of love and be Victorious!

One of the chances of forgiveness came when I was blindfolded and a guard was holding my hand guiding me. He asked “what are you here for? What is your crime?” I said “I am Christian Pastor.” All of the sudden he let go of my hand and said “so you are unclean! I will tell others not to defile themselves by touching you!” He would tell others not to get close to me. It really broke my heart. The nurse would also come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others “in our religion we are not supposed to touch you, you are unclean. Baha’i (religion) and Christians are unclean!” She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had. According to the doctor’s instructions, they would not give me the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because I was unclean.

I could not fall sleep one night due to the pain when all of a sudden I could hear the sound of dirty sewer rats with their loud noises and screeches. It was around 4 in the morning. It sounded like laughter in a way.

Even though many would call me unclean and filthy and would not even want to pass by me and they had abandoned me and they were disgusted to touch me because they were afraid that they would also become unclean, but I knew that in the eyes of Jesus Christ, and in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, I am like the sewer rat, beautiful and loveable – not disgusting and unclean – and like the rats I can scream with joy within those prison walls and worship my Lord in joy and strength.

The Joy of the Lord is my strength. Amen.
3/26/2013 3:02:13 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Nations Ford equips members to witness

March 25 2013 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Last year at a staff retreat pastor Phillip Davis and the leadership team of Nations Ford Community Church began to ask God what He wanted them to do to have a greater impact in their southwest Charlotte community. In 2012 the church baptized 71 new believers. Since then they have baptized about 30. But on Easter Sunday they will see another 75 young Christians proclaim their faith through baptism.

“We were doing a lot of things that were meeting needs and changing lives, but we really felt the need to be more intentional about our evangelistic efforts,” Davis said.

Contributed photo
Phillip Davis, pastor of Nations Ford Community Church in Charlotte, is leading his congregation through a year-long focus on witnessing. 

“So, I began to really pray and seek God for a tool that would be non-threatening so that every member could be involved [in witnessing] rather than just leaving it for a special few who were trained in evangelism.”
Davis was looking for a way to make witnessing part of their culture rather than a church program. “The church is called to evangelize, yet we tend to avoid it with everything within us,” he said.
He discussed with his staff the difference between a “testimony” and a “witness.” “We do a testimony in church about the tests we have gone through and how God has brought us through that test; that becomes our testimony. Our witness is to bear witness to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ through our salvation experience.”
Davis and his staff developed a theme for 2013, “Growing from good to great in our witness.”
He began looking for a tool that every person in their congregation could easily use to tell their story of how Christ came into their life, how they accepted Him as Savior and Lord and what difference it has made.
At the Baptist State Convention of N.C. annual meeting in Greensboro last November, Davis met Dennis Nunn, a North Carolina native who teaches his “Every Believer a Witness” seminar in churches across the country. He felt an instant connection with Nunn’s message that every believer can be a witness, so he scheduled a January seminar at Nations Ford church.

Nunn led the four-day event, resulting in about 25 people coming to Christ, and launching the church into a year of emphasis on being a witness. In every worship service, every event and every meeting, “…we started with finding out who told their story to who,” Davis said.
He wants to see his congregation put witnessing into practice on a daily basis and remove the fear factor.

Contributed photo
A group from Nations Ford Community Church gets ready to witness at Brook Valley Apartments.

“Every week we are going into the community, and we’re knocking on doors. The church has gotten away from the old traditional ways of personally sharing Christ with people, so we are going back to those things,” Davis said.
The church believes there is a need to get back to the basics of taking their personal witness into the marketplace. The leadership wants to make it simple for people to share their story ‘as they are going.’

Davis said, “The main thing you hear [from members] is the excitement. They didn’t think they could do this. ... I’m looking at these shy people who would have never said a word, but they are going out and telling their story. To me, that’s the power of God at work.”
Nations Ford Community Church recently started a Hispanic satellite in their old location.
They are launching another satellite in the south Charlotte Ballantyne community, where the pastor’s son, R.J. Davis, will preach.
Phil Davis said he believes 80 to 90 percent of the congregation can be mobilized to engage in everyday conversations with people who don’t know Christ. “That’s our strategy – to increase the number of people who feel comfortable talking about their faith to others on a daily basis. We want everybody talking to somebody,” he said.
“As a pastor, my dilemma was finding a tool that was simple enough, that was not intimidating to our members ... when we broke it down into its simplicity, a light bulb went off – our folks said, Ah ha!”
3/25/2013 3:18:41 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Faithful, effective churches focus of Advance13

March 25 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Pat Fiordelise admitted he was skeptical about how much he’d learn while attending the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh. Fiordelise, a self-described “traditional” pastor, wondered if a conference known for its hip “reformed” speakers, “rock band” music, “skinny jeans” and army of loyal, younger pastors and students was for him.

Fiordelise, 39, pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., was one of hundreds of pastors from around the country who gathered March 19-21 at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The Summit Church in Durham, Vintage Church in Raleigh and a variety of partner organizations presented the conference, which focused on “Building a Faithful and Effective Church.”

By the second day of the conference, Fiordelise said he was impressed after hearing messages from John Piper, Bryan Loritts, Tyler Jones and J.D. Greear. Other keynote speakers included Matt Chandler and David Platt.

BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
John Piper, center, shares during the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh. Piper, along with Tyler Jones, David Platt, J.D. Greear and Matt Chandler participated in a question and answer time. The conference focused on its theme: “Building a Faithful and Effective Church.”

“I’m not very … attune with Summit or [Vintage Church], or I’m not part of the Gospel Coalition. I’m not reformed. I’m not Calvinist … but I think that we have a lot in common,” Fiordelise said.
“Regardless of your slant on theology we’ve all been commissioned to share the love of Jesus,” he said. “We’ve got to get on board with what we agree on and get the gospel out everywhere.”
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, contended churches need to be both “deep” in raising up disciples and “wide” in reaching more people for Christ.
“Churches that grow wide but not deep are not growing nearly as widely as they think,” he said. “And those who grow deep but not wide are probably not nearly as deep in the gospel as they think. Faithful churches must be concerned with both.”
If churches want to reach the next generation, they must be both “missional” and “attractional.”
“Every year the pie of people who will come to our churches, even for special events, that pie is shrinking,” he said.  “We’ve got a lot of great shows trying to compete for a bigger slice of that shrinking pie.”
Greear emphasized that pastors and church leaders should also count the “right numbers.”
“So you baptized 300 people last year; do you know where they are?” he asked.  “Have they showed that they are really saved and are walking as disciples?”
Pastors need to take more of a role in training up leaders who can disciple new believers. They also need to lose the “superman complex” – the belief that they are the only ones who can teach and lead in the church, said Tyler Jones, pastor of Vintage Church.
If not, they will reduce the workforce in their church from “potentially hundreds to just one.”
Pastors are servants – period, said Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

“I get nervous when a guy operates in such a way that he puts off the vibe that God should be grateful that He grabbed him,” Chandler said.
“What we all have in common is this, we are all servants of the most High God. And we are to regard ourselves as such.”
Chandler, who led The Village Church from 160 people to 10,000, said large crowds are nice, but there are many small church plants with strong ministries.
“If you’re laying a foundation on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are actively involved in fruitful ministry,” he said.
“You can throw out all the top 100 fast growing list. … And you can rest in the Bible’s weight that says you’re being faithful.”
During a panel discussion – that featured Piper, Platt, Chandler, Jones and Greear – speakers answered submitted questions that dealt with everything from the Great Commission to racial tensions.
Grace and communication are the key to dealing with conflict and reconciliation, said Piper, associate pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn.

“Stay at the table when the conversation is happening,” he said. “The most sad development is to watch people make an attempt ... get hurt and walk away. And it happens in both directions. Don’t walk away.”
The evening before, Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church in Memphis, shared about his multi-ethnic ministry and its impact on the city.
The church launched in 2003 and has blossomed into a congregation that is 65 percent Caucasian and 35 percent African-American. 
“One of the most powerful witnesses to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is when people who normally would not do life together come together,” he said.
“If we merely view diversity professionally, but we don’t integrate it into our own lives, we undo the very message we are trying to preach.”
Reaching other cultures, ethnic groups and unreached areas of the world isn’t merely a good idea, said David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. It’s what we’re called by Jesus to do.

“We’re constantly putting before our folks [at Brook Hills] that our lives are a blank check on the table to be spent for his namesake in all nations,” said Platt during a panel discussion. 
“As best we know, 6,000 people groups have yet to be reached with the gospel, and therefore if we’re going to be obedient to the great commission, there has to be an intentionality in our lives and ministries and the local church to go after all the nations.”
But making a difference comes down to brokenness, said speaker Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

While the need to share the gospel is great, and 2.6 billion people are living in poverty, Fikkert said materially wealthy Americans and materially poor coming together can be a “bad mix.”
“When people who are full of pride interact with people who have shame, the way that we speak toward them, the things that we say to them tend to communicate ‘you are broken and you need me to fix you,’” he said.
Both parties are worse off at the end of the day, Fikkert said. 
“Poverty alleviation isn’t so much about me putting food in the hands of a beggar as much as taking the hand of beggar and saying, ‘I’m a begger too, but I’ve found the bread of life, and He can fix you and He can fix me. Let us feast on Him together.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Buddy Overman, a writer with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, contributed to this story.)
3/25/2013 3:00:07 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments

Gay marriage would harm children, briefs warn

March 25 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – If the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage it would be sending a detrimental message to society that children don’t need both mothers and fathers.

That’s according to friend-of-the-court briefs filed by traditional groups and others urging the court to leave the issue of marriage to the states and to uphold both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Baptist Press is previewing Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s gay marriage oral arguments by looking at the core arguments that defenders of traditional marriage are making in their briefs. Prop 8 is a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman in California, while the DOMA section in question defines marriage in federal law in the traditional sense. If both are overturned, then gay marriage likely would be legalized in all 50 states.

Of the more than 30 friend-of-the-court briefs filed supporting traditional marriage, the dominant theme ties the historical definition of marriage to procreation and childrearing.

A brief by the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel asserts that the definition of marriage on the state level has always been grounded in at least four facts: 1) only heterosexual unions can produce children, 2) children need a mother and a father, 3) mothers and fathers bring unique and complementary contributions to childrearing and 4) children raised outside of a mother–father home fare worse, on average, on multiple levels later in life.

“We live in a world demarcated by two genders, male and female. There is no third or intermediate category. Sex is binary,” the Liberty Counsel brief reads. “By striking down Proposition 8, this Court will be making a powerful statement: Our government no longer believes children deserve mothers and fathers. In effect, it would be saying: ‘Two fathers or two mothers are not only just as good as a mother and a father, they are just the same.’”

Mothers and fathers are “each uniquely important to a child’s development,” the brief says. Legalizing gay marriage would toss that logic aside.

“Many boys will grow up without any positive male influence in their lives to show them what it means to be a man, and many girls will grow up without any female influence to show them what it means to be a lady,” Liberty Counsel says. “The repercussions of this are incalculable and will reshape the culture in which we live. Many children learn appropriate gender roles by having interaction with both their mother and their father and by seeing their mother and father interact together with one another.”

Harvard University professor Robert P. George and two others warn in a brief that if the court legalizes gay marriage, “our law, public schools, and media would teach that mothers and fathers are fully interchangeable” and that “only bigots think otherwise.” Such a widespread belief would be disastrous, diminishing “the social pressures and incentives for husbands to remain with their wives and biological children.”

“[T]here is significant evidence that mothers and fathers have different parenting strengths – that their respective absences impede child development in different ways,” the George brief says. “Girls, for example, are likelier to suffer sexual abuse and to have children as teenagers and out of wedlock if they do not grow up with their father. For their part, boys reared without their father tend to have much higher rates of aggression, delinquency, and incarceration.”

A brief by the Family Research Council (FRC) asserts that “by definition, same–sex couples are unable to provide the benefits of dual-gender parenting.”

The reason the government provides legal benefits and the title “marriage” to heterosexual couples is because of the unique benefits that such relationships provide to society, the FRC brief says.

A friend-of-the-court brief signed by 18 state attorneys general makes a similar point, saying, “States need not provide marital recognition to same-sex couples if doing so would not promote the state’s reason for recognizing marriages in the first place.”

The “basic rationale” for the traditional definition of marriage is to “encourage biological parents to remain together for the sake of their children,” the attorneys general brief says.

“The hope is that the availability of marriage makes it more likely that unintended children, among the weakest members of society, will be cared for,” the A.G. brief reads.

“Traditional marriage is not about imposing disadvantages on homosexuals, but about promoting behavior exclusive to opposite-sex couples, namely procreation through sexual intercourse where a baseline condition for optimal childrearing – the cohabitation and mutual dedication of the parents –is present,” the attorneys general say. “In this regard, the laws of marriage generally reflect the state’s interest in the welfare of children, their protection, and their well-being.”

The attorneys general acknowledge there are heterosexual couples – among them the elderly and the infertile – who either can’t have children or who choose not to have children. But the AGs say those couples, despite not having children, nevertheless “model the optimal, socially expected behavior for other opposite-sex couples whose sexual intercourse may well produce children.”

Furthermore, the AGs say, a state’s interest in protecting “the biological relationship between parents and children” does not “require a state to outlaw adoptions or otherwise to prevent parents from raising children” to whom they are not biologically related.

“It does, however, allow the state to express a preference for biological parents ‘whom our society ... [has] always presumed to be the preferred and primary custodians of their minor children,’” the AGs assert, quoting a 1993 Supreme Court opinion.

The George brief quotes research by University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox as saying “men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise” and children benefit from having parents with distinct parenting styles.” The research further says that “family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live.”

“In short,” the George brief concludes on the topic, “it is at least reasonable to fear that redefining civil marriage would make it more socially acceptable for fathers to leave their families, for unmarried parents to put off firmer public commitment, or for children to be created for a household without a mother or father.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
This is the third part in a three–part series previewing the Supreme Court’s gay marriage cases, which will be heard Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Related stories

Briefs argue religious liberty on line in marriage cases
If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn
Guest column: The Supreme Court & gay marriage (Part 1)
Guest column: The Supreme Court & gay marriage (Part 2)
3/25/2013 2:45:54 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Briefs argue religious liberty on line in marriage cases

March 22 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Religious liberty will suffer if gay marriage is legalized, impacting everything from Christian business owners’ freedoms to parental rights and perhaps even resulting in churches losing their tax-exempt status, according to legal briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by supporters of traditional marriage.

“We are not crying wolf,” one of the briefs states, quoting gay marriage backers as equating racism with opposition to gay marriage. “If support for conjugal marriage is like racism, we need only ask how society treats racists. We marginalize and stigmatize them.”

Baptist Press is previewing Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments on marriage with a three-part series examining some of the core points made by traditional groups. The court will consider the constitutionality of two laws: California’s Proposition 8 and a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Prop 8 is a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman in California, while the DOMA section in question defines marriage in federal law in the traditional sense. If both are overturned, then gay marriage likely would be legalized in all 50 states.

The loss of religious freedoms is a recurring theme in the 30-plus briefs filed with the court supporting Prop 8 and DOMA.

One of the briefs reaches a jarring conclusion for religious institutions: If gay marriage is legalized, churches and other religious organizations that oppose gay marriage could lose their tax-exempt status. The brief points to a 1983 case, Bob Jones University v. U.S., in which the court said the IRS could revoke Bob Jones’ tax-exempt status because of its policy prohibiting interracial dating and marriage. (The university since has reversed that policy.)

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty says if gay marriage is legalized without strong conscience protections for religious groups, the tax-exempt status “could be stripped by state agencies and local governments based solely on that religious institution’s conscientious objection to same-sex marriage.”

“Whether the First Amendment could provide an effective defense to this kind of penalty is an open question,” the Becket Fund brief reads.

A brief by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reaches a similar conclusion.

“If the Constitution were construed to require government affirmation of same-sex relationships as marriage, it would seem a short step to requiring such affirmation as a condition of receiving government contracts, participating in public programs, or being eligible for tax exemption,” the Catholic brief reads.

But tax exemption is only one of many potential impacts on religious freedom if the high court redefines marriage, the briefs warn. A person’s employment in a secular job could be threatened if he or she refuses to affirm gay marriage, the briefs say.

“Photographers, caterers, innkeepers, adoption agency officials, parochial school administrators, counselors, foster-care and adoption providers, and others will be forced to comply with the revisionist view or lose their jobs – or licenses and government contracts,” reads a brief signed by Harvard professor Robert P. George and two others.

A government that legalizes gay marriage “would come to see” those who support only traditional marriage “as champions of invidious discrimination,” the George brief says.

The George brief provides examples:
  • In Canada, a man named “Damian Goddard was fired from his job as a sportscaster for expressing on Twitter support for” traditional marriage.
  • In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities “was forced to give up its adoption services rather than violate its principles by placing children” with same-sex couples.
  • Also in Massachusetts, public schools “began teaching students about same-sex marriage” after it was legalized there, and a federal court “ruled that parents had no right to exempt their children.”
The Becket Fund noted a case in New Mexico in which a professional photographer, Elaine Huguenin, declined to take pictures at a same-sex commitment ceremony, was sued and then ordered by the state to pay nearly $7,000 in fines because her business was considered a public accommodation. The case currently is before the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Churches and religious organizations, Becket says in its brief, could face legal trouble under public accommodation laws, particularly if they rent their facilities to non-members and “serve people with different beliefs.”

“Unfortunately, the more a religious organization seeks to minister to the general public (as opposed to just coreligionists), the greater the risk that the service will be regarded as a public accommodation giving rise to liability,” Becket says.

A host of services provided by churches and religious organizations could be impacted, Becket says: marriage counseling, family counseling, job training programs, child care, adoption services and the use of wedding ceremony facilities.

Traditional-minded churches and religious organizations likely want to avoid the appearance of condoning gay marriage but may be forced to do so by the state, the brief says.

Religious colleges and universities that provide housing to married couples also could face legal action if they deny such housing to married gay couples, Becket warns.

“There are some limited exemptions for religious institutions, but they would not automatically cover all conflicts triggered by legal recognition of same-sex marriage – and determining their scope would require costly litigation,” Becket warns. “Similarly, state and local housing laws ban discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status, and sexual orientation – and the religious exemptions are also limited.”

Because “many of the conflicts” between gay marriage and religious liberty “can be avoided – at least in part – by legislative exemptions,” the court should leave the issue in the hands of legislatures, the Becket brief urges.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. This is the second part in a three-part series previewing the Supreme Court’s gay marriage cases, which will be heard Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Related stories

If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn
Guest column: The Supreme Court and gay marriage (part 1)

3/22/2013 2:05:22 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Iranian pastor given medical exam, longer visit

March 22 2013 by Baptist Press, Morning Star News

WASHINGTON – Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor who has been imprisoned in Tehran for his Christian faith, has been examined for internal bleeding and was granted an extended visit with his family for the first time, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

“Our sources in Iran have confirmed that Pastor Saeed’s family in Iran was able to visit with him today in Evin Prison for an extended two-hour visitation,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, wrote March 18.

“It’s the first time Iranian authorities have granted his family an extended visit since his imprisonment last fall. This extended visitation was granted as part of Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrations,” Sekulow said.

Saeed Abedini

Abedini reportedly told his Iranian family that he had been examined for internal bleeding sustained from the repeated beatings he has endured in the infamously brutal Iranian prison.

ACLJ’s report also said Abedini told his relatives that prison officials assured him he would be taken to a private hospital outside the prison to receive medical attention.

“There’s no word on when this would occur,” Sekulow wrote. “But with his medical condition worsening each day, such medical attention is needed immediately and would be a welcomed sign.”

Medical treatment for the persecuted pastor, Sekulow said, would be “the first modest step toward acknowledging the grave human rights abuses Iran has perpetrated against this U.S. citizen.” He added, though, that Iranian officials have failed to keep promises in the past.

In one more bit of positive news, ACLJ said the Iranian Mission to the United Nations has asked Iran’s top appeals court officials to consider Abedini’s case.

“International pressure is working,” Sekulow wrote. “Now is the time to step up the pressure. We know Iran is listening.”

More than 540,000 people have signed a petition at calling for Abedini’s release.

Last week Abedini’s wife Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho with their two young children, told members of Congress she is disheartened the Obama administration is not helping her husband.

Testifying March 15 on Capitol Hill, Naghmeh Abedini said, “I must say I am disappointed with our government. I am disappointed that our president and our State Department have not fully engaged in this case. ... I expect more from our government.

“[W]e should know as American citizens that our government will stand up to protect our beliefs, our fundamental human rights,” she said.

After no representative from the State Department attended the hearing, Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, left the hearing record open to allow the State Department a week to file written testimony.

Wolf and five other congressmen subsequently sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to make Abedini’s case a priority and to swiftly issue a public statement calling for the pastor’s immediate and unconditional release.

“There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the room that our government didn’t deem the hearing important enough to provide a witness,” the congressmen wrote to Kerry. Such a void, they said, “sent a dangerous message to rogue regimes the world over – even human rights abuses that compromise the safety and security of American citizens will be met with virtual silence from the U.S. government.”

Abedini has reported that Iranian authorities at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran are torturing him and pressuring him to deny Christ. Iranian officials arrested and imprisoned him last year, and a court sentenced him in January to eight years in prison for endangering Iran’s “national security” by planting house churches a decade ago in the Mideast country. Abedini, 32, is an ordained minister of Iranian descent who became a United States citizen in 2010.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
3/22/2013 1:58:22 PM by Baptist Press, Morning Star News | with 0 comments

Rocky Mount church calls pastor from seminary role

March 21 2013 by BR staff

First Baptist Church of Rocky Mount has called a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary vice president as its new senior pastor.
Dennis Darville, 56, currently Southeastern’s vice president for institutional advancement, will start at First Baptist on May 1. Darville had been the church’s interim pastor since Jan. 1, 2012.
“My prayer for First Baptist Church Rocky Mount is that God would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of Him through His Word … That He would open our minds to see Jesus,” Darville said in a brochure distributed to church members.
Darville has worked in sales for several golf companies, including Ashworth, Ping and Greg Norman. He was vice president of sales for both Ashworth and Ping. Darville received college and master of divinity degrees from Southeastern College and Southeastern Seminary. He has also served as interim pastor of Sunset Avenue Baptist Church in Rocky Mount and Covenant Baptist Church in Charlotte.
Darville was raised in McComb, Miss. He and his wife, LeeAnne, have been married 31 years. They have a son, Jonathan, and daughter, Joanna, who is married to Joe Patrick. Darville also has a grandson who was born last year.
3/21/2013 4:01:53 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn

March 21 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would jettison the rationale and logic behind prohibitions on polygamous marriages, according to several friend-of-the court briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the traditional definition of marriage.

“Ultimately, there is no principled basis for recognizing a legality of same-sex marriage without simultaneously providing a basis for the legality of consensual polygamy or certain adult incestuous relationships,” reads one of the briefs, filed by the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel. “In fact, every argument for same-sex marriage is an argument for them as well.”

Over the next few days, Baptist Press will preview some of the legal arguments made by supporters of traditional marriage ahead of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s oral arguments. On those days the court will consider the constitutionality of two laws: California’s Proposition 8 and a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Prop 8 is a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman in California, while the DOMA section in question defines marriage in federal law in the traditional sense. If both are overturned, then gay marriage likely would be legalized in all 50 states.

A friend-of-the-court brief signed by 18 state attorneys general also briefly warns about the potential legalization of polygamy if gay marriage is legalized. The brief – which supports Prop 8 – says the traditional definition of marriage is tied to the fact that only a man and woman can reproduce, thus continuing society’s very existence. The state has an interest, the brief says, to see that children are raised, ideally, by the mother and father who beget them. A mother and father in each home is “optimal for children and society at large.”

“Once the natural limits that inhere in the relationship between a man and a woman can no longer sustain the definition of marriage, the conclusion that follows is that any grouping of adults would have an equal claim to marriage,” the attorneys general brief states, arguing that marriage no longer would be about the needs of children but about the desires of adults.

A friend-of-the-court brief supporting Prop 8 by three academians, including Harvard’s Robert P. George, says there is a movement in the United States to see group relations recognized by the government.

“Nor are such relationships unheard of: Newsweek reports that there are more than five hundred thousand in the United States alone,” the brief signed by George reads.

Liberty Counsel’s brief quotes 19th century Supreme Court cases that upheld the federal government’s ban on polygamy in Utah. Among them were Reynolds v. United States (1878) and Murphy v. Ramsey (1885). In the 1885 case, the justices affirmed the traditional definition of marriage, writing that laws are “wholesome and necessary” when they are established on the basis of the idea of the family as “consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” The court called traditional marriage “the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization.”

Liberty Counsel asserted that “when the traditional definition of marriage as that between one man and one woman is reversed to include other marriages, the state is left with little, if any, justification for other laws restricting marriage.”

“For example,” the Liberty Counsel brief warns, “some might argue that larger family groups (of 3 or more adults) would provide an even stronger private support network than the two-adult model. Or, marriage between certain close relatives would minimize the number of legal heirs, potentially minimizing disputes over property distribution upon death. At a minimum, there is nothing inherent in polygamous or certain incestuous relationships (e.g., consenting adults who are related, but not by blood) that makes those unions less worthy of state recognition under such criteria.”

In passing Prop 8, the state of California could have rationally concluded that marriage is “society’s way of recognizing that the sexual union of one man and one woman is unique, and that government needs to regulate and support this union for the benefit of society and its children,” Liberty Counsel said. California also could have concluded that despite “the personal fulfillment of intimate adult relationships, marriage laws are not primarily about adult needs for approbation and support, but about the well-being of children and society.”

“This court,” the brief says, “has long understood the importance of the marriage union as between one man and one woman.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. This is the first part in a three-part series previewing the Supreme Court’s gay marriage cases, which will be heard Tuesday and Wednesday.)
3/21/2013 3:52:03 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with spiritual roots

March 21 2013 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

BEVERLY, Mass. – For Alcoholics Anonymous to continue helping addicts find freedom in sobriety, the 75-year-old organization has to reclaim its spiritual roots.

That’s the message coming from reformers who say the group has drifted from core principles and is failing addicts who can’t save themselves. But what constitutes the heart of AA spirituality is a matter of spirited debate.
Has AA become too God-focused and rigid? Or have groups watered down beliefs and methods so much that they’re now ineffective?
“Some think AA is not strict enough,” said Lee Ann Kaskutas, senior scientist at the Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, Calif. “Others think it’s too strict, so they want to change AA and make it get with the times.”

With more than 100,000 local meetings and an estimated two million members worldwide, AA is grappling with how much diversity it can handle. Over the past two years, umbrella organizations in Indianapolis and Toronto have delisted groups that replaced AA’s 12 steps to recovery with secular alternatives. More than 90 unofficial, self-described “agnostic AA” groups now meet regularly in the United States.
Faith language in AA goes back to the group’s founders, Bill Wilson and Robert Holbrook Smith. Six of the 12 steps, as prescribed in the original 1939 Big Book, refer to God either explicitly or implicitly. Step three, for example, cites “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Now some worry the founders’ efforts to be as inclusive as possible are being undermined by attempts to ensure, as one Indianapolis AA newsletter put it, that “AA remains undiluted.”
“In the past, there was a great deal of elasticity and tolerance in terms of different views,” said Roger C., a Toronto agnostic whose book The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps came out in January, and who doesn’t use his last name to protect his privacy. “But there’s been an increasingly rigidity from those who say, ‘It’s got to be this way and only this way.’ That has alienated a great number of people.”
But others argue that AA seldom offers the tough love that alcoholics need. Too many meetings ignore the 12 steps posted on their walls, said Charles Peabody, a 35-year-old former alcoholic and drug addict whose 2012 memoir, The Privileged Addict, has an entire chapter on “Watered Down AA.”
For Peabody and many addicts he’s sponsored, the key to becoming “a free man” has been rigorous and urgent application of the 12 steps, from taking fearless moral inventory to making painful amends. Yet mainstream AA meetings routinely do a “disservice,” he argues, by leading attendees to believe that meetings and sponsors – rather than God and concrete action steps – are what they need most in recovery.
“In mainstream AA, you hear either the war stories or the sob stories,” said Peabody, who lives in Beverly, Mass. “This is the solution? I just keep coming, drinking crappy coffee and listening to people bitch and moan? I knew that wasn’t going to work.”
Research suggests other factors can be more important than vigorous application of the 12 steps. Kaskutas says the strongest predictors of sustained sobriety through AA are whether a person has a sponsor, has a social network that consists of non-drinkers and is committed to service.
Spiritual practices aren’t always necessary for recovery, research suggests, but they can help.
“Prayer and meditation increase as a function of AA participation,” said John Kelly, associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “That does lead to better outcomes for some.”

Men who’ve beaten addictions with Peabody’s guidance trace their healing to character reform via the original 12 steps. Twenty-three-year-old Pat Smith of Wakefield, Mass. battled heroin and crack cocaine in his teenage years, but nothing worked until he enrolled in a residential, intensive 12-step program. For addicts, he says, surrender to God is an indispensable step.
“People [at AA meetings] are like, ‘We don’t need God in here, leave God out of it’,” Smith said. “But the truth is, AA is a religious program. ... It’s Christian principles, the whole book. So it’s like, if you guys want to go to meetings and leave God out of it, then go ahead. But don’t call it AA because it’s not.”
Roger C. brings a different concern. Those who insist on doing the original 12 steps, he says, are apt to alienate nonbelievers, who might never get the help they need.
Some get turned off “when someone comes up to you as a new member of AA and tells you, ‘if you don’t find God, you’re going to die a drunk’,” Roger C says. “That rigidity is very religious, very intolerant and very hurtful to a number of recovering alcoholics who are looking for an avenue to get sober.”
Offering multiple pathways to recovery bodes well for alcoholics, Kaskutas says, because what works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else.
“Because there’s this ethic of take what you need and leave the rest, it puts the attendee in a position of being able to form a program that is palatable to them,” Kaskutas says. “AA is doing just fine.”
3/21/2013 3:42:19 PM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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