March 2015

Committee on Resolutions named for 2015 SBC

March 31 2015 by Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd has named the members of the Committee on Resolutions for the June 16-17 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church, in Springdale, Ark., appointed the committee in keeping with the provision in SBC Bylaw 20 that its members be named 75 days prior to the start of the annual meeting.


Floyd named Steve Gaines of Tennessee as committee chairman. Gaines is senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova.
The other committee members, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Berta Delgado-Young, communications editor, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas

  • Jason Duesing, provost, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO.; Antioch Bible Baptist Church, Gladstone, Mo. (membership in process due to ministry relocation to Kansas City from Fort Worth, Texas, where his formal membership is still at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.)

  • Eric Geiger, vice president, LifeWay Resources Division, Nashville, Tenn., and teaching pastor, New Vision Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

  • Matthew Hall, vice president for academic services, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.; Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.

  • Steven Lee, lead pastor, Redeemer City Church, Washington, D.C.

  • Kathy Litton, pastor’s wife and leader of ministry to pastors’ wives, North American Mission Board, First Baptist North Mobile, Saraland, Ala.

  • Stephen Rummage, pastor, Bell Shoals Baptist, Brandon, Fla.

  • Rolland Slade, pastor, Meridian Southern Baptist, El Cajon, Calif.

  • Jay Shell, attorney, Batesville, Ark.; member, West Baptist Church, Batesville, Ark.

The committee’s composition, according to Bylaw 20, must include at least two members who served the previous year, with Hall and Shell meeting this requirement. Bylaw 20 also stipulates that the committee include at least three SBC Executive Committee members. This year they are Rummage, Shell and Slade.
The procedure for submitting resolutions is as follows according to Bylaw 20:

  • Proposed resolutions may be submitted as early as April 15 but no later than 15 days prior to the SBC annual meeting, giving the Resolutions Committee a two-week period in which to consider submissions. The committee also may propose resolutions for consideration during its deliberations. Resolutions may not be submitted during the annual meeting.

  • Proposed resolutions must be accompanied by a letter from a church qualified to send a messenger to the SBC annual meeting certifying that the individual submitting the resolution is a member in good standing.

  • Proposed resolutions preferably should be submitted by email or mailed to the Committee on Resolutions in care of the SBC Executive Committee, 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203. The drafts must be typewritten, titled, dated and include complete contact information for the person and his or her church.

  • No person will be allowed to submit more than three resolutions per year.

  • If a properly submitted resolution is not forwarded by the Committee on Resolutions to the SBC annual meeting, a two-thirds vote of messengers would be required to bring the proposed resolution to the convention floor.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff. All resolutions adopted by the SBC can be searched and read on the Web at

3/31/2015 11:43:10 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ind. bill affirms ‘inclusion’ of religious beliefs

March 31 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Indiana's leading Republican lawmakers pledged March 30 to introduce language to the state’s new religious freedom bill to clarify it does not allow discrimination against homosexuals, but seeks inclusion of religious diversity.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long said at today's press conference that backlash generated by the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law March 26, is based on a misrepresentation of the bill instead of its intent, design and effect.
“What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs,” Bosma said in a video of the press conference posted on the Indianapolis Star website. “What instead has come out is a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent and hopefully not the effect. But to the extent it is, we're intent on righting that.”
The law, effective July 1, “sets a standard of review for a court when issues of religious liberty and other rights collide due to government action,” Bosma said. Specifically, the bill prohibits a governmental entity from “substantially” burdening “a person’s exercise of religion” unless the entity “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The law is the latest in a line of 20 religious freedom bills at the state level patterned after the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that passed with broad bipartisan support. Another 11 states have religious liberty safeguards that courts have interpreted as providing a comparable level of protection.


While Southern Baptists applaud the Indiana bill, vocal opponents have threatened economic, social and political backlash. Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle has said he will cancel the company’s planned $40 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters while Apple CEO Tim Cook opposed the law and others like it in a March 29 Washington Post editorial. Thousands of people protested the law in downtown Indianapolis March 28.
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said religious liberty for everyone must always be preserved.
“It is one of the major core values of our country which must never be compromised or distorted in any way,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said. “The leaders of our nation must always lift high this founding principle of freedom for all Americans.”
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore, who addressed the issue today on CNN, has called public conversation regarding the bill “the most uninformed and ignorant” he’s “seen in years.”
“When secularized or nominally religious people don’t understand religious motivation, then they are going to assume that, behind a concern for religious exercise, is some sinister agenda: usually one involving power or money,” Moore wrote at the ERLC website. “That sort of ignorance is not just naive. It leads to a breakdown of pluralism and liberal democracy. I shouldn’t have the power to mandate that a Jain caterer provide wild game for some Baptist church’s Duck Dynasty-themed ‘Beast Feast,’ just because I don’t understand their non-violent tenets toward all living creatures. I shouldn't be allowed to require Catholic churches to use grape juice instead of wine just because I don’t understand transubstantiation.”
Law professor Michael J. DeBoer, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Liberty University graduate, likewise said opponents of the law are misinformed in a commentary at ERLC's Canon and Culture website.
“Opponents of the legislation have not ... displayed a commitment to accuracy in their communications about the legislation,” DeBoer, a licensed Indiana attorney who teaches at Faulker University in Alabama, wrote. “Instead, they have rallied opposition based upon misunderstanding and misinformation, upon fear and myth. As a consequence, many are uninformed and misinformed about the legislation. Undoubtedly, there are some who are knowingly distorting and mischaracterizing the legislation, and there are others who are motivated by a deep-seated hostility to faiths that are both believed privately and lived publicly.”
According to the Indiana Republican Caucus, the law “establishes a judicial standard of review which will provide the courts with clear guidance on how to resolve any matters that come forth surrounding religious freedom. ... Indiana’s RFRA assures that our state courts follow the same reasoning that the federal courts and 30 other states follow when they weigh these issues.”
State versions of the law are fueled by Hobby Lobby’s 2014 victory over a provision of the Affordable Care Act regarding contraception, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Christian-owned company a victory based on the federal RFRA. Caucus member Long said Indiana’s law does not license discrimination.
“This law doesn’t do that, and it never has done that in the past,” Long, of the Indiana Senate, said at today’s press conference. “And it won't be allowed to be used in Indiana that way either.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the law in a private event with about 80 invited guests and listed the Affordable Care Act as evidence that the legislation is needed.
“One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views,” Pence said in a statement on his website. “Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action. ... In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.”
The bill does not mention sexual orientation, but opponents have expressed concern that it might be used to deny services to homosexuals based on religious reasons.
The full text of the Indiana RFRA is posted is below this story.
Text of Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Chapter 9. Religious Freedom Restoration
Sec. 1. This chapter applies to all governmental entity statutes, ordinances, resolutions, executive or administrative orders, regulations, customs, and usages, including the implementation or application thereof, regardless of whether they were enacted, adopted, or initiated before, on, or after July 1, 2015.
Sec. 2. A governmental entity statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom, or usage may not be construed to be exempt from the application of this chapter unless a state statute expressly exempts the statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom, or usage from the application of this chapter by citation to this chapter.
Sec. 3. (a) The following definitions apply throughout this section: (1) “Establishment Clause” refers to the part of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Indiana prohibiting laws respecting the establishment of religion. (2) “Granting”, used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions. (b) This chapter may not be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address the Establishment Clause. (c) Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, does not constitute a violation of this chapter.
Sec. 4. As used in this chapter, “demonstrates” means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion.
Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, “exercise of religion” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.
Sec. 6. As used in this chapter, “governmental entity” includes the whole or any part of a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, official, or other individual or entity acting under color of law of any of the following: (1) State government. (2) A political subdivision (as defined in IC 36-1-2-13). (3) An instrumentality of a governmental entity described in subdivision (1) or (2), including a state educational institution, a body politic, a body corporate and politic, or any other similar entity established by law.
Sec. 7. As used in this chapter, “person” includes the following: (1) An individual. (2) An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. (3) A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.
Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.
Sec. 10. (a) If a court or other tribunal in which a violation of this chapter is asserted in conformity with section 9 of this chapter determines that: (1) the person’s exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened; and (2) the governmental entity imposing the burden has not demonstrated that application of the burden to the person: (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest; the court or other tribunal shall allow a defense against any party and shall grant appropriate relief against the governmental entity. (b) Relief against the governmental entity may include any of the following: (1) Declaratory relief or an injunction or mandate that prevents, restrains, corrects, or abates the violation of this chapter. (2) Compensatory damages. (c) In the appropriate case, the court or other tribunal also may award all or part of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees, to a person that prevails against the governmental entity under this chapter.
Sec. 11. This chapter is not intended to, and shall not be construed or interpreted to, create a claim or private cause of action against any private employer by any applicant, employee, or former employee.
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

3/31/2015 11:37:20 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

View of God’s image urged at race summit

March 31 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Racial reconciliation in the church calls for a strong view of the image of God in all people, a deep commitment to understanding others and an intentionality in achieving diversity, speakers said on the second day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored leadership summit.
Black, white, Asian and Iranian pastors and leaders addressed racial disunity March 27 during the event conducted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in Nashville. After several presenters March 26 focused on the centrality of the gospel of Jesus in solving racial divisions, speakers on the final day provided further application of the gospel to the issue.
Christians must see the image of God in all people without minimizing their differences, African-American speakers said.
Jesus “gave me Himself,” author and ERLC staff member Trillia Newbell told the audience. “But what He didn’t do was strip me of my brown skin. He has created me in His image.
“If anyone ever told you to be color blind, don’t,” she said. “Don’t be color blind, because He has created us uniquely for our good and for His glory.”
Hip-hop artist and author Trip Lee said Christians must “fight for gospel love and understanding.”
Recalling a Christian who told him, “I don’t even see you as black,” Lee said the comment was unhelpful, though he appreciated what his friend was trying to say.


ERLC photo
Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director for community outreach, spoke on “United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.”

“Experience matters,” Lee said. “You cannot love others if you dismiss or ignore their experience.”
The experiences of blacks in the United States are different than those of whites, he told attendees. Some Christians carry burdens other Christians do not, he said.
“How can I possibly bear my brother’s burdens if I don’t know what his burdens are?” he asked, adding, “Understanding one another helps us to love one another.
“We have to seek that understanding, and only the gospel can produce the kind of sacrificial love that labors to do that.”
Washington, D.C., pastor Thabiti Anyabwile said believing the Bible’s teaching on God’s image in all human beings affects racial reconciliation.
“You cannot be a Christian renewed in the image of God and be indifferent to or opposed to reconciliation in the body of Christ,” he said. “The reconciliation flows necessarily from the saving and sanctifying work of the Lord. You can’t break those two things apart without breaking the cross. You can’t break those two things apart without opposing the Spirit’s ongoing work in the church. You can’t break those two things apart without breaking ourselves.”
Anyabwile, the pastor of newly planted Anacostia River Church, addressed the image of God in His original creation, in its “distorted reflection” when sin entered the world, in the re-creation of sinners in God’s image through the work of Christ and in the final image-bearing in the glorification Christians will experience upon Jesus’ return.
Racial reconciliation “must begin with our learning the habit of seeing each other as together made in the image of God and therefore possessing inestimable, unfathomable dignity and worth and preciousness,” he said.
Christians “have to take seriously the seriousness of sin,” Anyabwile said, adding racial reconciliation “can’t be done by people who deny original sin and who deny the depth of depravity.”
The people who should be best able to speak the truth about racial disunity are “the people who believe this book and believe this gospel,” he said.
“If racism does not exist, it will be the first sin produced by the fall that was completely cured apart from the gospel,” Anyabwile said. “We’re only practicing self-deception if we think racism has vanished or we think it has just vanished from our hearts. No, the potential for it lurks” in every person’s heart.
Reconciliation among Christians of different skin colors and ethnicities requires the renewal of their minds, he said. The race issue is “one of the most underdeveloped areas of Christian discipleship in the United States,” Anyabwile said, pointing to a lack of Sunday School curriculum, Bible studies and accountability questions on the subject.
Fred Luter, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) first African-American president, asked attendees if racism among Christians is the reason worship in heaven is not reflected in the American church. He preached from Rev. 5, which describes worship of the Savior who has redeemed people from every tribe, language, people and nation.
“What we are praying for right now in our churches will one day be a reality ... when all of God’s sons, when all of God’s daughters, when all of God’s children will be gathered at the throne, from every nation, from every tribe, from every tongue, from every race, from every nationality ... red, yellow, black and white, we’re all precious in His sight, and the reason that we shall be able to do that is because of God’s grace in our life,” Luter said.
“That is the way it was intended when God created the church, and that is definitely the way it is going to be when we all get to heaven,” he told the audience.
“The church should be Exhibit A” for “racial reconciliation in the kingdom of God,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
“How can we say that we love God, whom we’ve never, ever seen, yet hate our brothers and sisters that we see every day?”
Speakers called for purposefulness and suggested practical actions to gain racial reconciliation and diversity.
Pastors are pivotal in achieving racial reconciliation in churches, ERLC President Russell Moore said. They need to pray, preach and equip church members “to start being on mission together,” he said.
“[W]hat we need to have are pastors who are preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God and what it means to be reconciled to God and to be reconciled to one another,” Moore told the audience during a question-and-answer session.
“Sometimes that doesn’t mean coming in and answering all of the questions,” he said. “It means preaching and discipling in such a way that your people will start to ask the right questions and then to be able to move together and to work together on those things and to recognize you are going to make mistakes.”
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas (SBTC), said Christians must repent of racism, pray for gospel oneness and act intentionally. The SBTC is conducting its “Look Like Heaven” emphasis to foster racial unity.
“There is no silver bullet” to racial reconciliation, just a process, he told attendees.
“[I]f we are not seeking to help our churches and help our convention and help our organizations and neighborhoods to look like heaven, then we are failing a biblical mandate,” Richards said. “It is the gospel that brings about racial reconciliation.
“We have to be intentional. ... Intentionality means we need to get out of our comfort zone and engage those whom we perhaps don’t know.”
Lee included the following in his suggestions for fighting for reconciliation and unity:

  • “Don’t treat people who are different too different.

  • “Don’t assume stereotypes.

  • “Try not to flock with people who look like you all the time.

  • “Intentionally look to understand. Go deep relationally. Ask questions.

  • “Persevere through difficulties and growing pains. ... We’ve got to give one another room to grow and understand.

  • “You should ask yourself if you have assumptions about other races” and socio-economic groups.

  • “Meditate on scripture and pray that God will give you a passion for that unity, but remember that only the gospel can produce that kind of sacrificial love and unity. And we want to put that gospel on display for the world to see.”

Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, expressed five desires for attendees and their churches: (1) A “robust understanding” of the image of God; (2) an overcoming of fear in discussing racial issues; (3) churches that confess sin; (4) hospitality and love for neighbor; and (5) a knowledge of the gospel as “race transcending.”
Other speakers March 27 were Kevin Smith, assistant professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, and Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas.
Panels on the second day discussed racial reconciliation in regard to the SBC and pop culture. Six breakout sessions also were held.
Norton Hall, a band from Southern Seminary, and Jimmy McNeal, a worship leader at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, led music during the summit.
The summit, held in LifeWay’s Van Ness Auditorium, drew 550 registrants.
The ERLC initially planned for its 2015 leadership summit to be on pro-life ethics but announced in December it was changing the theme to racial reconciliation in the wake of grand jury decisions in the police killings of black men that provoked widespread protests and a nationwide discussion. The shift in plans followed refusals by grand juries in St. Louis County and New York City to indict police in the high-profile deaths of African-American men.
The first ERLC Leadership Summit, held in April 2014, was on the gospel and sexuality.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/31/2015 11:30:03 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: Americans see value in church attendance

March 31 2015 by Lisa Green, LifeWay Research

The overwhelming majority of Americans say they find value in attending church, a new LifeWay Research study shows.
Two-thirds of Americans think attendance is admirable; only 11 percent consider church useless.
Even among nonreligious people, 80 percent believe church attendance is acceptable, and 43 percent label it admirable. Just 29 percent call it useless.


But despite their professed fondness for church, Americans are more likely to believe attendance is declining (55 percent) or the church is dying (42 percent) than growing (36 percent) or thriving (38 percent), according to the LifeWay survey of 1,000 Americans from Sept. 19-28 of last year.
“Americans have a much more optimistic view of the people and practice of attending church than they do of the health of the church,” said Scott McConnell vice president of the Nashville-based LifeWay Research. “Church attendance is much like regular exercise and driving the speed limit. People do not live out everything they admire.”
Confirming McConnell’s assertion that Americans’ churchgoing is at odds with their behavior, even on Easter, traditionally the best-attended Sunday of the year, large segments of the population say they don’t plan to attend, previous LifeWay research has found.
Their attitudes reflect the mixed trends of the past 50 years. While many mainline denominations have lost membership, some have grown. And while more people are Christian today than in 1970, Christians make up a smaller share of the burgeoning population, according to a study from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.


Some say church is out of date

Faced with those trends, many churches have shifted toward contemporary worship styles and new outreach methods, although 27 percent of Americans still think church attendance is outdated, LifeWay research found. That belief is even more pronounced among the nonreligious (42 percent), Catholics (31 percent) and people 25 to 34 years old (34 percent) who are among the Millennial generation in which fewer claim religious affiliation or profess belief in God, according to the Pew Research Center.
Young adults, like most Americans, don’t see church attendance as an assumption in today’s culture. While 54 percent of those over 65 describe churchgoing as an expectation, that viewpoint is in the minority for every other age group – a sign that those who attend are making a personal choice rather than responding to societal pressure.
That’s a positive finding, McConnell said. “I don’t think evangelicals would want that to be the reason people go to church anyway.”


Women & men on churchgoing

Women have more positive attitudes than men about churchgoing, the LifeWay study found, with 69 percent of women and 63 percent of men viewing attendance as admirable. Only 9 percent of women consider church useless, while 14 percent of men hold that opinion.
Larger shares of women also believe in the health and vitality of the church. Forty percent of women say the church is growing, and 41 percent describe it as thriving. Among men, only 32 percent think it is growing, and 34 percent label it thriving.
LifeWay Research also found significant differences along ethnic and racial lines.
Although most Hispanics believe going to church is expected (55 percent), attendance is considered useless by 1 in 5 – almost double the rate of the population as a whole.
Whites are among the least likely to consider church useless (8 percent), but 60 percent believe the church is declining.
In contrast, most African-Americans believe the church is growing (55 percent) and thriving (56 percent). More often than other groups, they describe church attendance as common (74 percent) and popular (61 percent).
“The longevity of the Christian church proves it is not a fad,” McConnell said. “Some Americans feel cultural expectations to attend church, but our recent research shows that those who actually do attend hold more closely to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19-28, 2014. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Green is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.)

3/31/2015 11:23:04 AM by Lisa Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

New York City to change rules to allow churches to rent schools

March 31 2015 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

Congregations in New York City that rent space in public schools will be able to hold Easter services this Sunday despite a ruling on March 30 by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting an appeal from an evangelical church in the Bronx that sought to overturn a ban on after-hours worship services at public schools.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that the mayor would work to ensure that houses of worship could continue to rent space like any other group.


Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Church members hold signs during a 2013 rally in the Bronx in opposition to the New York City Department of Education’s policy prohibiting worship services in public school buildings during the weekends.

“Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop rules of the road that respect the rights of both religious groups and nonparticipants,” Wiley Norvell said in response to the ruling. “While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises.”
Pastor Robert Hall of the Bronx Household of Faith, which was the plaintiff in the case, said he was cautiously optimistic after the administration’s response.
“We are gratified that he is allowing the churches to stay,” Hall told The New York Times. “It remains to be seen what the long-term policy is going to be, however.”
Monday’s decision, issued without comment, was the third time that the high court rejected an appeal by the Bronx Household of Faith, which for years held Sunday services at a local public school. The church last year finished work on its own building near P.S. 15, but said it still needs extra space for events that include religious services.
The city’s Board of Education said it wanted to maintain a policy against allowing houses of worship from renting space in city-owned buildings to prevent a blurring of church-state lines.
The mayor supports that policy in principle, but in a marked change from his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio has also said he wants to allow congregations the same access as any other group.
“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access,” de Blasio said a year ago after a federal appeals court upheld the city’s ban, which the Supreme Court essentially affirmed on Monday.
“You know, they have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space, pay the same rent – but I think they deserve access,” de Blasio said.
Earlier this year, as part of the mayor’s push to provide universal pre-K for the city’s children, the de Blasio administration announced that starting in September, pre-K classes will be permitted to break in the middle of the day for “non-program” activities such as prayer or religious instruction.
The policy has pleased faith-based schools, most of which operate under Jewish or Catholic auspices and many of which receive city funding for pre-K classes. But it has alarmed some civil liberties advocates.
Supporters of the Bronx Household of Faith and some 60 other groups that had been allowed to worship in public buildings pushed de Blasio to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
“This policy is clearly nothing more than religious segregation – the kind of segregation the mayor has said he opposes,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented Bronx Household of Faith in its legal battle against the city’s policy.
(EDITOR – David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker.)

3/31/2015 11:17:14 AM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Okla. Baptist DR helps tornado victims

March 30 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press/Oklahoma Baptist Messenger

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers began preparing meals, clearing debris and repairing damaged homes March 27 after tornadoes swept across central and northeastern Oklahoma just two days earlier, killing at least one person.
At least 75 homes were destroyed and several hundred were damaged in the Oklahoma City metro area, Oklahoma disaster relief director Sam Porter reported. Still, Oklahomans are resilient and thankful that the storms were not as damaging as those that struck Moore, Okla. and other communities in May, 2013, Porter said, that destroyed 4,035 homes and killed 25.


Photo by Bob Nigh
Disaster Relief volunteer Stan Bradley checks his list as he works to call out assessors after the March 25 tornadoes that hit Moore and Sand Springs, Okla.

“The storm itself is not as great a magnitude, but for those that lose their homes or a loved one ... it’s major for them. It’s very significant for them,” Porter said. “If all they’ve lost is their home, they’re thankful no one lost their life. There’s a great thankfulness that it wasn’t more destructive than what it was.”
A 30-member rebuild crew is applying tarps to the damaged rooftops of salvageable houses. The Tulsa Metro Baptist Network has set up two mobile feeding units at Foundation Church in Sapulpa, Okla., and plan to prepare at least 1,200 meals a day for up to three days, Porter said.
“I really think that will grow. They started out with 600 and just in the matter of a couple of hours, they said let’s put that at 1,200,” Porter said of the meal preparation. “We have chainsaw teams that are working, and there’s been a request also, we have a tarp team, putting plastic tarps on top of the houses to stop the roof from leaking until they can get it fixed,” Porter said, “and just the general debris clean-up teams.”
Trained assessors and chaplains were out determining needs within an hour of tornadoes. More than 50 mobile homes were destroyed in the River Oaks Mobile Home Park in Sand Springs, according to news reports.
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s (BGCO) mobile command center is set up at The Church That Matters in Sand Springs, said Dave Karr, BGCO disaster relief state training director.
“Pastor Rusty Gunn has graciously offered us the use of the church’s parking lot,” said Karr, who initially set up an Oklahoma City-area incident command post at BGCO headquarters. Jim Sheets from Bartlesville was acting as incident commander in Sand Springs.
The state’s disaster relief team and in-state volunteers will likely be able to handle the response to storm victims, Porter said, but warned that it’s still early in the storm season.
“Our greatest magnitude storms normally happen in May. This is the first tornado to hit this year, and knowing ... the geography of the United States,” Porter said, “another one could come next week that’s great or greater.”
Porter praised Oklahomans for their response to victims, and thanked those who support the Cooperative Program that helps fund such efforts.
“Oklahomans are resilient. The greatest thing that happens is ... the community comes together and they know how to respond,” Porter said. “People who were hit two years ago are usually the first to go a mile down the street to help someone who’s hit again. Volunteers really lead the charge in this here in this part of the United States.”
The BGCO disaster relief operation may receive tax-deductible donations. To learn more, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, the news service of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/30/2015 12:34:04 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press/Oklahoma Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

Measuring church planting success

March 30 2015 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB

Recently the North American Mission Board (NAMB) shared good news that Southern Baptist church plants were up 5 percent in 2014. We still have a lot of catching up to do because our church planting efforts lost pace with population growth decades ago, but hopefully last year’s increase will begin a new trend.
In addition to starting more churches, we must pay close attention to the health of these new congregations. Do they have staying power? Are they reaching people for Christ? Do they give to missions causes? In short, are they having an impact? We cannot and will not sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.

NAMB photo
Matt Schoolfield, here with wife Kristen, planted Fellowship Raleigh Church in Raleigh, N.C., in 2010 making his one of 943 Southern Baptist churches planted that year. About 80 percent of the “Class of 2010” church plants are still ministering today, according to a recent analysis conducted by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

At NAMB we started monitoring Southern Baptist church plants much more carefully beginning with the Class of 2010. We are continuing to improve this process, but we already know a lot more than we did a few years ago.
As a reminder, the church planting class of 2010 started with 943 church plants. We pull our data from the Annual Church Profile (ACP) so we can make comparisons to the broader report that includes all Southern Baptist churches. The most recent ACP year for which these details are available is 2013, so that’s the data we are using.

Survival rate

Of the 943 churches planted in 2010, 757 are still functioning and are identified in the 2013 ACP database, resulting in a survival rate of 80 percent.


Churches planted in 2010 reported a 7 percent growth in membership from 2012-2013. During the same period, church membership throughout the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) declined .86 percent.


Worship attendance also continues to increase. The 2010 church plants reported a 20 percent jump in attendance for the reporting year, compared to a 2.21 percent drop across the SBC.


We plant churches so they can reach people for Christ. The Class of 2010 reported one baptism for every 13 members, a ratio of 1:13. Across the SBC the ratio was 1:51.


The Class of 2010 continues to support missions with their offering dollars. These church plants gave more than $3.3 million to missions in 2013. That’s up 12 percent over the previous reporting period. The giving includes the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings.
The good news is not limited to the Class of 2010. Churches planted in 2011 are doing well also. They have a two-year survival rate of 87 percent and saw membership rise 20 percent in the most recent year. Attendance jumped 52 percent, missions giving 47 percent and they had a baptism ratio of 1:14.
These trends give us an encouraging snapshot of how recent church plants are doing. If more established churches come alongside our plants, their chances for success will increase greatly. Please keep these church plants and their pastors in your prayers. Many of them are ministering in difficult areas and your prayers and offerings make a huge difference.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. For more information about the North American Mission Board’s mobilization efforts, go to

3/30/2015 12:21:13 PM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB | with 0 comments

GenSend mobilizers recruit students for summer missions

March 30 2015 by Kristen Camp, NAMB

Abby Hughes is one of only two Generation Send (GenSend) campus mobilizers in the Northwest who is taking on the responsibility to find other college students to participate in GenSend 2015.
“I have been working alongside my church, as well as reaching out to pastors around the Northwest to connect with students who could potentially take part in GenSend,” said Hughes, who will be leading a GenSend team in New York City this summer.
GenSend is a development process designed to be an exciting, intense and unique student missionary experience that immerses college students into an urban context to gain practical knowledge of the realities of missions and leadership.


NAMB photo
In January, several dozen GenSend student mobilizers gathered at the North American Mission Board for training. The student leaders are responsible for mobilizing more than 350 students from college campuses to serve on the North American Mission field this summer.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) conducted its first mobilizer training weekend for 41 students, including Hughes, in Atlanta in September 2014. A second training was held Jan. 6-7, 2015. The trainings are designed to equip students to create missional communities with other students on their college campuses and invite these students to serve in a major city in North America with a GenSend team this summer.
Hughes said one of the most important things she learned at the mobilizer training was how to be intentional with her time and her relationships. Hughes has seen several students commit to missions this summer and several more have joined her missional community group.
Along with teaching intentionality, members of NAMB’s student mobilization staff joined other speakers at the mobilizer trainings to share the vision for GenSend and urban church planting. The speakers also walked the students through practical instruction to fulfill their assignments.
“One of the most helpful and beneficial parts of the mobilizer training for me was having all of the practical questions answered,” said Hughes, a sophomore at Washington State University. “I was given clarity on what steps to take going forward as a mobilizer as well as how to leverage the personalities on my team for Christ and the mission He has given us for the summer.”
Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Atlanta’s Blueprint Church emphasized the importance of contextualization in an urban setting during his session on urban church planting.
“There are four things to consider in contextualization,” said Lewis. “The gospel must be contextualized. We can’t put our confidence in our own ability to contextualize. We should contextualize with a sense of urgency and we should remember that the goal of contextualization is reconciliation.”
For mobilizers like Hughes, contextualization will be key. The approach she took participating in GenSend Portland during the summer of 2014, will be different to contextualize the gospel as she leads her team in New York City this summer.
“College ministry looks so different in the Northwest,” said Hughes. “But the beauty of the gospel is that it is transferable everywhere and accessible to everyone. Like Dhati said, we have to contextualize the gospel into each person’s ‘heart language.’”
Mobilizers are required to recruit 10 students out of their missional communities by spring 2015 to serve in their assigned cities and continue to share the gospel. NAMB’s goal for GenSend 2015 is to have over 350 students serving in 16 Send North America cities across the United States and Canada from June 22 to August 5.
The number of teams per city will vary. But at least one team will serve and connect with a Southern Baptist church in each of the following cities: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Portland and San Diego.
Ken Miller, NAMB’s Missionary Development national coordinator encouraged the students to keep the right mindset during a session on missional community. “Don’t go into the city with the attitude that this is your team. You need to have the attitude that you are here to serve them and love them, as well as serve your city alongside them,” said Miller.
These words definitely stuck with Hughes as she left Atlanta and went back to her campus to begin her work as a campus mobilizer.
“I’m so excited that I have the opportunity to spend 10 weeks in a major urban city with the sole purpose of loving and serving people in the name of Jesus,” said Hughes. “I am excited to be humbled and challenged alongside my team and see how the Lord moves this summer.”
Learn more about GenSend student missions opportunities at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kristen Camp writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related Stories:

GenSender intersects with world in NYC
GenSend hooks Hunt on urban church planting

3/30/2015 12:10:43 PM by Kristen Camp, NAMB | with 0 comments

ERLC announces ‘Gospel for Life’ book series

March 30 2015 by Baptist Press staff

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced March 26 in a news release its plan to publish the Gospel for Life book series through a partnership with B&H Publishing Group.
The book series will feature issue-specific volumes from noted Baptist leaders that address hot-button ethical issues facing Christians in today’s culture, according to the release. The goal of the series is to produce gospel-centered resources that equip Christians and local churches to engage ethical issues with convictional kindness.


The announcement, the release noted, was made in conjunction with the start of the ERLC’s 2015 Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation,” March 26-27 in Nashville.
ERLC President Russell Moore and ERLC director of policy studies Andrew Walker will serve as editors for the series.
“Our goal with this series is to help connect the agenda of the gospel to the complex questions of the day in a way that is accessible to and helpful for Christians and churches,” Moore said in the release. “I am thrilled to get to partner with this team of talented scholars and pastors to produce these volumes, and we pray the Lord would use them to equip the saints to face the tough questions of 21st century life from a kingdom perspective.”
Devin Maddox, Christian living and leadership publisher at B&H Publishing Group, also expressed enthusiasm about the books. “The time has long past for churches to begin preparing to engage a rapidly changing culture,” he said in the release. “I couldn’t be more excited for B&H to partner with the ERLC in a shared mission to serve churches in this way.”
There will be a total of nine books released in the series. The first three books, tentatively scheduled to release in spring 2016, will focus on racial reconciliation, same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
Authors for the first round of books:

  • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

  • John Piper, founder and teacher,

  • J.D. Greear, pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham area

  • Russell Moore, president, ERLC

  • Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach, ERLC

  • Eric Mason, founder and pastor, Epiphany Fellowship, Philadelphia, Pa.

“The books will be written in an accessible manner for laypersons in the church,” the release said, “and will include discussion questions at the end of each chapter to be used for small group discussion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Information submitted in a news release by the ERLC.)

3/30/2015 11:59:48 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

ERLC Summit speakers lament, repent of racist SBC past

March 27 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit took place March 26-27 in Nashville, Tenn.

“The cross and the Confederate battle flag cannot coexist,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), “without one setting the other on fire.”
Disagreement among American Baptists about slavery was one of the major reasons why the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) formed in 1845. Many Baptists in the Confederate South wanted to support missionaries that owned slaves. Others argued that the Bible condoned slavery as a societal institution. Still more advocated against racial integration almost 100 years after slavery was abolished in America.
Racism has lingered in the SBC since the beginning, according to Moore.


In 1995 the SBC apologized in the form of a resolution that it had historically accepted and perpetuated racial strife of the worst kinds, “from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest.”


Photo by Alli Rader
Russell Moore preaching during the first plenary address, “Black, and White, and Red All Over: Why Racial Reconciliation is a Gospel Issue”

On March 26, the first day of the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit in Nashville, Tenn., that is focused on racial reconciliation, Moore sought in his opening sermon to fan into flame the so-called fires that will destroy racial strife among Southern Baptists.
Moore deplored the comments of a Sunday School teacher from his childhood who told him upon the discovery of a coin in his mouth, “Get that out of your mouth … a colored man may have handled that.”
He went on to speak candidly about explicit and implicit racism among Southern Baptists, calling them to repent and believe the reconciling truths of the gospel.
Southern Baptists need to understand how ethnic divisions are overcome, added Moore. “White, born-again Christians tend to assume the body of Christ is white, with room for everyone else,” he said. “Racial reconciliation is not a matter of mercy ministry toward minority communities.”
Instead, it is about the fundamental Christian beliefs found in Ephesians 3:1-13 that the gospel is a message for everyone and the church is a unified, multi-ethnic people that are “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise.


Photo by Alli Rader
Russell Moore and John M. Perkins during a conversation on “The Civil Rights Movement after 50 Years.”


Other speakers followed, like Tony Evans, renowned speaker, first African-American graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas; Robert P. George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions; and H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., a majority black church that merged with predominantly white Ridgewood Baptist Church in early 2015.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, also touched upon the gospel and racial reconciliation as he described the connection between the church’s mission and all the nations of the world.
Walter Strickland, SEBTS special advisor to the president for diversity and theology instructor, moderated a panel discussion on key issues in racial reconciliation with Evans, Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga.; Kevin Smith, assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.; and Dean Inserra, senior pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla. They discussed topics ranging from the role of poverty in racial reconciliation to “the talk” that African-American parents often have with their sons about how to interact with law enforcement in ways that diminish the heightened level of suspicion often placed upon black males.
John Perkins, civil rights activist, author, Christian minister and president of a foundation in his name, also joined Moore on stage for an interview. Perkins recounted his conversion to Christianity and immersion into the civil rights movement. He also discussed his struggle with forgiveness toward whites after being ridiculed and beaten in a Mississippi jail for his civil rights involvement. Perkins said, “God, if you let me out of this jail alive, I want to preach a gospel that’s stronger than my black interests.” God answered his plea, he said. “God put me in relationships with white people who loved me beyond my racism.”

3/27/2015 2:46:51 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 3 comments

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