March 2015

Marijuana dangers can’t be ignored, critic says

March 20 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The growing support for legalizing marijuana among Americans and their lawmakers remains unwise but not unexpected, Southern Baptist ethicists say.
Marijuana’s inroads have been demonstrated already in March by a new public opinion poll that shows for the first time a majority in the United States favors legalization of the drug. In addition, Democratic and Republican senators introduced this month for the first time a bill to lift the federal ban on medicinal use of marijuana.
These developments follow the accelerating legalization of marijuana during the last two decades. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, beginning with California in 1996. D.C. and four of those states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – also have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Fifteen states – 10 with legalized medical marijuana and five without – have eliminated jail time for possessing small amounts of the drug, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
MPP, a leading promoter of marijuana legalization, is seeking to end bans on the drug in 12 more states by 2019. It is campaigning to gain approval of legalized marijuana initiatives in five states next year.
Meanwhile, the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Substances in that classification are considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Schedule I consists of “the most dangerous drugs” and have the potential for “severe psychological or physical dependence,” the DEA says. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
Schedule I status for marijuana – and a continuing ban on even its medicinal use – is warranted, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.


Barrett Duke

“Those who classified it as a Schedule I drug understood just how dangerous it is,” Duke told Baptist Press in written comments. “To ignore this danger for the sake of those who might be helped is to likely unleash its destructive power well beyond any possible medicinal value it might have.”
The evidence of marijuana’s harmful effects includes its status as the most prevalent drug involved in criminal activity, Duke said. In addition, more teenagers enroll in addiction treatment with a principal diagnosis of marijuana dependence than all other illegal substances put together, he said.
“We are not acting responsibly to these kinds of realities or to the clear devastation this drug is causing if we make access to it easier,” Duke said. “Easier access to marijuana is bound to lead to more widespread use of it for recreational purposes, with all the attendant problems, including addiction, personal problems and family breakdown.”
Americans “would be better served if Congress retained the Schedule I classification and simply instructed the appropriate government entities to conduct studies to assess the potential medicinal benefits of marijuana,” he said. “Until such studies have been conducted and the benefits are seen to clearly outweigh all the known negative effects, we should continue to make access to marijuana more difficult, not less so.
Southern Baptists continue to demonstrate concern about the harmful effects of drug use on their denominational calendar. This Sunday, March 22, is Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday.
Some members of Congress already are seeking to remove marijuana from its Schedule I classification. On March 10, Sen. Cory Booker, D.-N.J., introduced a bill, S. 683, that would move the drug to Schedule II, thereby declaring it has accepted medical value. It also would repeal federal penalties for medical marijuana and allow Veterans Administration physicians to prescribe the drug for veterans with serious illnesses. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is the lead Republican co-sponsor. In February, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced two bills to legalize marijuana.
President Barack Obama commented on marijuana in an interview released March 16 by VICE News, an international, alternative media organization. Asserting criminalization’s impact on some communities and the cost to states, Obama said, “At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.” However, he tells people decriminalization is “not a panacea,” Obama said.
“I appreciate the president’s recognition that decriminalizing marijuana does not solve our nation’s drug problem,” Duke said. “Indeed, decriminalization will lead to more drug problems because more people will use the drug.
“Our government should resume its efforts to discourage drug use, not encourage its decriminalization.”
The General Social Survey (GSS) – a highly regarded, bi-annual public opinion poll – found Americans’ barrier-breaking support for legalization of marijuana in research conducted last year. Released March 4, the survey found 52 percent of respondents favored legalization, 42 percent were opposed, and seven percent were undecided, The Washington Post reported. Support for legalization jumped nine points from the last GSS survey in 2012.
Americans’ increasing support for legal marijuana “should not surprise us,” said C. Ben Mitchell, provost and professor of moral philosophy at Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn. “We are living in the shadow of the 1960s cultural revolution whose motto was ‘satisfy every desire.’ Most Americans embrace that motto today.”
The changing landscape on marijuana legalization will present challenges for churches, Mitchell said.
“Unfortunately, churches in those states where marijuana is legal will increasingly have to help individuals, families and communities repair the shattered lives created by the drug,” he told BP in a written statement. “Make no mistake about it, marijuana use will leave personal and social scars.
“The good news is that the gospel of Jesus changes what people love,” Mitchell said. “The Holy Spirit enables individuals to forgo the love of an artificial high for the sake of a relationship with the risen Messiah. Smokers of pot can repent and become followers of Christ.”
Southern Baptist and other evangelical Christian churches in Colorado are among those that face the challenges to and opportunities for ministry.
Colorado’s voters approved legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use by passing an amendment to the state constitution in the November 2012 election. The first of more than 300 stores to sell the drug – including in such products as cookies and candy – opened in January 2014.
Not all Colorado cities have approved the sale of marijuana. The city council of Colorado Springs has prohibited retail marijuana stores, but its smaller neighbor, Manitou Springs, has allowed a store to operate. Denver, meanwhile, has nearly 100 stores.
The impact of marijuana’s legalization is difficult to measure after barely a year, said Mike Routt, lead pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs.
Despite the lack of data, he can say “churches must now be more proactive in warning members, especially the youth of the church, of the dangers of recreational marijuana,” Routt told BP in written comments. “Churches must also be prophetic from the pulpit, addressing the issues of recreational marijuana in the communities where they are located.”
Routt, chairman of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, expects recreational marijuana’s legalization to spread to other states as a result of “the growing secularization of our culture and the marginalization of the Judeo-Christian ethic.” Efforts to oppose legalization “will become increasingly difficult” and result in escalating criticism, he said.
“As Southern Baptists and other evangelicals continue to condemn the sale and also use of recreational marijuana, secularists will look toward us with disdain, attack us as being irrelevant, criticize us for our failure to see the benefits to communities reaped from taxes from marijuana retail stores and assail us for our refusal to embrace what secular culture endorses,” Routt said.
“Yet, Southern Baptists and evangelicals understand that followers of Jesus are counter-cultural,” he said. “Our beliefs are not based on constitutional law, but are founded on certain and unchanging truths of the inerrant Word of God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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3/20/2015 12:16:57 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Bapt. college ‘ground zero’ in gay marriage debate

March 20 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Amid continued objections to American Baptist College’s invitation of same-sex marriage advocates to speak on campus, concerns have been raised that the historically black institution may be violating the governance structure established by its legal charter.
“For reasons only known in the heavenly realms,” American Baptist College has become “ground zero for this battle over same-sex marriage in the Baptist church,” Dwight McKissic, co-coordinator of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, said at a March 17 press conference in Nashville.
The fellowship is a coalition of pastors who minister at congregations in cooperation with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. (NBC USA), America’s largest predominantly African American Baptist denomination.
Other pastors present at the press conference alongside McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, were Robert White of Freedom Church in Bedford, Texas; Ronnie Goines of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington, Texas; Patrick McGrew of Higher Praise Family Church in Fort Worth, Texas; Calvin Barlow of Second Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville; and Randy Vaughn of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, fellowship co-coordinator.
McKissic, Goines and McGrew pastor churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention in addition to the NBC USA Inc.
The coalition of concerned pastors, which includes some 150 members, objects to American Baptist College’s speaking invitation to Yvette Flunder, an open lesbian and United Church of Christ bishop, Delman Coates, a pastor who led a campaign in Maryland to legalize gay marriage, and Allan Boesak, a South African minister and politician who urged the South African Dutch Reformed Church to affirm same-sex marriage.
Much of the objection seemed to focus on Flunder, a vocal advocate of the homosexual lifestyle.
Members of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors asked in a news release that American Baptist College President Forrest Harris rescind Flunder’s invitation; that NBC USA Inc. President Jerry Young release a statement expressing his position on Flunder’s invitation; and that Flunder’s addresses be moved from the college’s facilities.
Harris said previously that it is inappropriate to oppose homosexual behavior by employing “idolatry of the Bible,” which he defined as “when people say [the Bible] is synonymous with God and the truth,” the Tennessean reported. He added, “We can’t be guided by a first century worldview.”
American Baptist College trustees should either ask the NBC USA Inc. for permission to advocate the homosexual worldview, McKissic said, or they should fire Harris if they disagree with his statements and invitation of pro-gay speakers.
White noted the college’s long association with the convention.
“The American Baptist College has historically been connected to and supported by the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., an organization which on more than one occasion has addressed this very issue of same-sex marriage through statements affirming marriage as being between one man and one woman,” White said. “... The American Baptist College has no right or authority to teach or endorse a doctrine or position other than that of this convention.”
A statement by immediate past NBC USA Inc. president Julius Scruggs on the convention’s website states, “The National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated does not dictate to its constituent churches what position to take on issues because we believe in the autonomy of the local church. However, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. affirms that marriage is a sacred biblical covenant between a man and a woman.”

American Baptist College’s response

Harris’ media spokeswoman released a letter to Baptist Press in which Harris defended the speaking invitations to Flunder, Coates and Boesak by appealing to federal law and the college’s mission.
“Based on good advice from the college’s Board Chair, I have decided as president of the college not to respond to [the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors’] negative message as it would be counterproductive at this time,” Harris wrote. “I do, however, want to share ... the college’s vision of education in light of this negative document which has been disseminated around the country” – a reference to a press release distributed by the concerned pastors.
Harris said “the college expresses neither favor nor disfavor” with the various viewpoints to which students are exposed, “in accordance with state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination.” He noted that the college receives federal funding. Harris added that the lecture series which has drawn criticism is a “significant component of the college’s academic legacy.”
Harris also wrote, “The fact that the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. serves a conservative constituent base that renders a different view of education will not distract the college from its educational mission.”

Governing structure questioned

Who controls American Baptist College appears to be in dispute. “We don’t really know who owns the college,” McKissic said.
Monchiere Holmes-Jones, a spokeswoman for American Baptist College, said the school “is not directly correlated” with the NBC USA Inc. “even though they are associated by history and being next door” to the NBC USA Inc. offices.
The NBC USA Inc.’s website describes American Baptist College as “an independent college for the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” The school’s legal charter on file with the Tennessee secretary of state says, “The corporation shall be governed by a Board of Trustees, who shall be directors, and who shall be appointed by the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.”
Jim Guenther, an attorney for the Southern Baptist Convention, said the charter “is the primary controlling governing document” of an entity. The charter cannot be superseded by any other document unless the legal entity amends its charter, he said. Records on file with the secretary of state reflect no such amendment of the NBC USA Inc. charter.
“If a corporation has a board of directors inconsistent with the charter,” Guenther said, “then the corporation is fatally flawed and the actions of the board are null and void. ... If the charter says the convention elects the trustees, then the convention needs to elect those trustees.”
Jerlen Nelson, the NBC USA Inc.’s director of media and press relations, said American Baptist College’s board is in practice self-perpetuating and that the convention has not elected trustees in recent memory.
Pastors who are displeased with American Baptist College’s actions and believe the school is acting in violation of its charter could attempt several courses of action, Guenther said. Among them:

  • If the convention is not electing trustees as called for in the charter, a messenger to an NBC USA Inc. annual session could make a motion that the convention elect to the college’s board specific individuals sympathetic to the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors. If elected, those trustees would replace any improperly appointed trustees and govern the school.

  • A concerned pastor could file a complaint with either the Internal Revenue Service or the Tennessee attorney general, stating that the college is violating its charter.

  • A messenger to a convention annual session might have legal standing to challenge in court the seating of any unauthorized trustees by the college.

At the press conference, Vaughn lamented that the gay agenda “has already won support from organizations that are dear to our heart, like NAACP and the National Urban League – organizations that use the black church as human capital. And now this sin, this same-sex nonsense wants to preach in our holy place.”
Vaughn challenged the NBC USA Inc. to act.
“The National Baptist Convention has held its mouth in silence while allowing this sin to be publicized over our websites, in our national publications and using our national facility to house what we believe is a desecration of our temple,” Vaughn said. “So today we challenge our national leadership, our national president Dr. Jerry Young to make a declarative statement because silence is not an option.”
Young announced in January that he would appoint a resolutions committee to develop a position statement on same-sex marriage for National Baptists to vote on later this year, according to McKissic’s blog. Last year, the NBC USA Inc.’s Home Mission Board released a statement instructing board-endorsed military chaplains “not to participate in any activity that implies or condones same sex marriage or same sex union.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


Related Story:

Lesbian speaker at Bapt. college prompts protest

3/20/2015 12:03:04 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wingate University names new president

March 19 2015 by Wingate University communications

Wingate University called on one of its own as its new president.
On March 18 the university named Rhett Brown, Wingate’s current vice president for student life and enrollment services, as its next leader. Brown is a two-time graduate of Wingate. He takes over for Jerry E. McGee who’s retiring in May after a record 23 years at the school – the longest running college presidency in North Carolina.


Rhett Brown

“I am both deeply humbled and tremendously excited,” said Brown, 49, at a mid-morning news conference at Wingate’s Ballantyne campus in Charlotte. “I would like to thank President McGee for his years of visionary leadership to my alma mater. He has left a profound legacy, and I look forward to building on his great work.”

Brown has 26 years of experience in higher education. At Wingate, he’s served in numerous roles before being named in 2009 to his current position overseeing admissions, student life and marketing.

“Dr. Brown has been a highly respected member of Wingate University’s senior leadership team for many years,” said McGee. “I am confident the university will enjoy continued success during his tenure.”

During Brown’s time at Wingate:

  • Undergraduate enrollment jumped 65 percent in 10 years.

  • Net operating revenue from undergraduate enrollment increased while individual student indebtedness decreased.

  • The institutional marketing brand “Major in a Great Life” was launched.

Brown grew up in Pelion, S.C., southwest of Columbia. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Wingate in 1989 and master of business administration in 2001. He earned his doctor of education degree from The University of Alabama. Brown also served eight years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He spent active duty in Operation Desert Storm and served in Saudi Arabia in 1990-91 during the first Persian Gulf War

Brown’s wife, Nicci, is a graduate of The University of the South and The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently services as registrar, coordinator of institutional research and adjunct instructor at Wingate. The couple lives in Monroe, N.C., and has two children. They are members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Monroe.

Brown was selected after a nationwide search with nearly 200 candidates being considered for the position. He will take over as president on June 1, 2015.

3/19/2015 12:33:48 PM by Wingate University communications | with 0 comments

Frank Page offers mental health hope to Gardner-Webb

March 19 2015 by Gardner-Webb University communications

After Gardner-Webb University (GWU) alumnus Frank Page lost his daughter to suicide, he discovered a calling to help save others who are battling mental health illnesses. Page, now president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, visited Gardner-Webb on March 17 to encourage students, local ministers and community members who are dealing with their own psychological challenges and the trials of others.


Frank S. Page

When his daughter, Melissa, took her own life in 2009, Page faced the immense grief that suicides cause for thousands of American families, marriages, churches and friends each year. In the past year, he’s begun to talk about his trials by making public appearances, sharing his family’s story on the radio and in a book, and chronicling the comfort he gleaned from scriptures.
“My daughter’s death is a way to minister to others,” Page shared with the GWU community during his visit to campus. “Christ is the only source of hope there is. My daughter committed suicide five years and four months ago, and the Lord has never left me.”
Quoting John 16:33, Page reminded listeners that the Bible says people will face tribulation in life, but that God will provide the ultimate peace in all situations. He urged people facing mental health issues and thoughts of suicide to seek help. “This University has many people who love you and will help you,” he told students. “Please seek godly counsel from people who will point you toward a Savior who will love you unconditionally for the rest of your life.”
Page, a 1973 GWU graduate who majored in psychology, also led a discussion of suicide prevention and response strategies with dozens of ministers, chaplains, divinity school students and others during his visit to GWU. He advised churches to help comfort individuals battling mental health illnesses by refuting bad theology that preaches incorrect doctrine about what happens to people who commit suicide. He also stressed the importance of teaching ministry leaders to be sensitive in counseling and providing a place of unconditional love.
A pastor for 37 years himself, Page implored ministers to nurture their own mental health, the well being of their children and families, and to find the right balance of personal and pastoral responsibilities. “Suicide and mental health are real, and they cross all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds,” he asserted. “There are cultures who struggle to talk about it. We need churches that are places with people who are extra sources of grace.”
A link to the message audio is available at

3/19/2015 12:08:29 PM by Gardner-Webb University communications | with 0 comments

Trustees: Make 2015 ‘year of efficiency’

March 19 2015 by Timothy E. Head, GuideStone Financial Resources

GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins told trustees during their meeting in Dallas that the organization is challenging its employees to make 2015 a “year of efficiency.”
Trustees also heard reports from chief operating Officer John R. Jones and from the executive officers of GuideStone. Jones updated trustees on the program areas of GuideStone, including investments, retirement, financial assistance and development initiatives.
In remarks to trustees, Hawkins drew from Joshua 6:1-10, which tells of the Israelites’ conquest of Jericho, to emphasize that the people of Israel were given three primary tasks by God during their march around Jericho: watch, be perceptive; walk, be persistent; wait, be patient.
“Sometimes, people want to use effectiveness and efficiency interchangeably,” Hawkins said during the March 2-3 meeting. “In fact, they are different. Effectiveness is important; it speaks to the ability to achieve our objectives. But efficiency is different; it speaks to the ability to achieve our objectives with minimal time and resources. We want to be effective in our work amid all the new opportunities we have at our doorstep, but we must be efficient with the resources we have.”


Jones told trustees, “We wrapped up a phenomenal year in 2014. Total GuideStone assets ended the year at another all-time peak of $13 billion.”


O.S. Hawkins

Jones said 2014 was a challenging year for actively managed investments, like those offered by GuideStone Funds, but ratings agencies continued to give GuideStone high marks. Ratings firm fi360 ranked GuideStone Funds 46 of 241 mutual fund families, putting it in the top 20 percent of all mutual fund companies for the 16th straight quarter – four consecutive years. By comparison, only six other mutual fund companies have been able to achieve that level of recognition.
Additionally, Jones reminded trustees that 2014 marked the third year that GuideStone was honored by the Lipper Fund Awards. GuideStone Funds was honored in 2012, ranked No. 1 out of 182 fund families with assets up to $40 billion as the Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S., for its performance over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2011. In 2013, the MyDestination 2025 Fund was ranked No. 1 out of 92 similar funds for its performance over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2012. In 2014, the Extended-Duration Bond Fund was ranked No. 1 out of more than 50 eligible funds as it was honored as the Best Fund Over 3 Years and the Best Fund Over 5 Years in the Corporate Debt A-Rated Funds category for its performance ending Nov. 30, 2013.


Moving to GuideStone’s retirement business, Jones said retirement contributions were up 10.7 percent from 2013.
“The expanded ministry opportunity set continues to fuel the majority of our growth,” Jones said, “but we continue to see significant growth in our Southern Baptist business, as well.”
Total participation in the retirement plan was up 3.5 percent from 2013.

Property and casualty

GuideStone Property and Casualty, in partnership with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company for the fourth year, continues to provide churches and ministries with property and casualty coverage. Jones reported a new bound premium of $3.9 million and $11.4 million in renewal business. GuideStone renewed nearly 100 percent of its existing business and had a close rate of 47 percent of new business.
“The close rate reflects a much higher close rate or win ratio than the industry as a whole, which is around 25 percent,” Jones said. “It is indicative that the market has gotten much more competitive in Texas and Alabama, where we have our agencies for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.”


Calling 2014 a banner year for Mission:Dignity, Jones reported nearly 1,800 new donors. Gifts grew by nearly 15 percent. In December, more than a million dollars was given for the first time to the ministry that provides financial assistance to retired pastors and their widows. The ministry is provided through gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes, churches and, increasingly, through estate gifts, Jones said. No Cooperative Program funding is used for Mission:Dignity.
For more information about Mission:Dignity, contact GuideStone at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) or go to

GuideStone funds available to church members

John Raymond, chief business and marketing officer, reported to trustees about the ongoing efforts to market the GuideStone Funds to investors, with a target of Southern Baptist and other evangelical church members.
Between May 1 and Dec. 31, 792 new accounts totaling $35.5 million in assets were opened. Five accounts totaled more than $1 million in assets and 92 accounts included more than $100,000 in assets.
Marketing and public relations efforts continue, including ads in print and online publications and local radio stations. Media interviews with targeted financial publications are ongoing, as well as event marketing.
To help spread the news about GuideStone investment opportunities, new social media channels have been launched. To learn more about all of GuideStone’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+, visit
Raymond added that investors who prefer to work through established financial advisor relationships are able to do so. GuideStone Funds are available on major platforms where advisors access funds for their clients’ investing needs.

Trustees honor executive retirees

Trustees honored Rodney R. Miller, longtime GuideStone general counsel, and Rodric E. Cummins, longtime GuideStone chief investment officer, upon their respective retirements. Both will continue to consult with GuideStone over the coming months.
Additionally, Matt L. Peden, a 19-year veteran of GuideStone Capital Management, LLC, who has served closely with Cummins in developing and overseeing GuideStone’s investment process, was elected chief investment officer.
Also during the meeting, chief financial officer Jeff Billinger announced his retirement, effective in March 2016. Trustees elected Kim Walthall, currently chief services and operations officer, to fill the role of chief financial officer. She will oversee a combined division of Financial Services and Operations.
At the March 2 evening dinner, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd spoke to the trustees about calling the Convention to prayer during the upcoming annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Also, trustees honored trustees Danny H. Coker Sr. (Arizona), Joseph D. Fail (Mississippi) and Thomas A. Seel (Indiana), whose terms of service end in June.
Trustees meet again in July in Nashville.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy E. Head is the executive officer for denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources.)

3/19/2015 12:00:31 PM by Timothy E. Head, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

Abortion advocates stymie anti-trafficking proposal

March 19 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Legislation to bolster efforts to combat human trafficking has fallen victim to abortion rights advocates in the U.S. Senate.
The Democratic minority defeated an effort to bring an anti-trafficking bill to the Senate floor March 17 because of its opposition to language barring federal funds for abortion. The Senate twice voted 55-43 to invoke cloture, as it is known, which would directly open debate on the floor for action on the legislation.
The vote came on legislation that would enhance penalties for such crimes as slavery and trafficking, as well as sexual exploitation of children. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, S. 178, would also increase restitution for trafficking victims and fund services for child pornography victims.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), a long-time advocate for pro-life and anti-trafficking policies, decried the Senate action.
“Stopping human trafficking is too important a priority to be held hostage by the abortion lobby’s culture-warring,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in a written statement. “I urge the Senate to think about vulnerable women and children in peril, rather than about the political maneuvers of the abortion-industrial complex.”
All but four Democrats voted against bringing the bill to the Senate floor. Democrats voting for cloture were Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The only Republican to vote against cloture was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. His “nay” vote was required for him to bring the measure up for a future vote.
The legislation appeared to have no chance of defeat until a week before the March 17 cloture votes. It had 13 Democratic co-sponsors upon introduction and gained unanimous approval from the Judiciary Committee. Democrats suddenly began criticizing language that bars funds made available in the bill from being used for abortions. The ban, known as the Hyde Amendment, first became law in 1976 and has since been applied widely in federal programs. The prohibition has exceptions for a threat to the life of the mother and in pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
Abortion-rights advocacy organizations such as NARAL Pro-choice America and the National Organization for Women criticized Republicans for including the language, and Senate Democrats joined them. NARAL described inclusion of the Hyde language as “another manipulative attempt by extremists.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada charged Republicans with choosing “to manufacture a political fight.” He declined a GOP offer to vote on an amendment removing the Hyde language and told the Senate March 12 Republicans “need to just take abortion politics out of this bill.”
The legislation’s lead sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said in a March 17 written statement, “It is becoming increasingly clear that Democrats are perfectly content to play politics with the most apolitical issue – stopping human traffickers and helping their victims.”
Democrats will have another opportunity to vote to bring the bill to the floor, McConnell said March 18. “Democrats owe these victims, not lobbyists, help,” he told the Senate. Before the March 17 votes, McConnell urged the White House to become involved in advancing the bill through the Senate.
Reid has called for the GOP leadership to bring the nomination of Loretta Lynch as attorney general to the floor for a confirmation vote, but McConnell has said the Senate will address the anti-trafficking measure before dealing with Lynch.
Other anti-trafficking bills have been proposed in Congress. Included is the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn. The proposal, already approved unanimously by the Foreign Relations Committee, would establish a centralized effort to thwart trafficking and slavery at a time when an estimated 27 million people are enslaved globally. It would create a Washington, D.C., nonprofit foundation designed to use federal, foreign and private sector funds to reduce slavery by a measurable 50 percent.
The ERLC and other anti-trafficking advocates are strong supporters of Corker’s bill. The Southern Baptist entity has been a leading advocate for policies to combat human trafficking since the move to address the problem resulted in the first anti-trafficking law in 2000.
The U.S. State Department categorizes slavery – which exists in the United States and more than 160 other countries – as sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor or child soldiers.
The ERLC is supporting several pro-life measures in this congressional session, including the:

  • Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36, which would ban abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the bill Jan. 22, but the GOP leadership canceled the roll call after about two dozen Republicans expressed concerns about the legislation. The House passed the same bill in its previous session. The switch by the GOP drew criticism from pro-life proponents, including Moore, who called it an “act of moral cowardice.”

  • No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, S. 582 and H.R. 7, which would institute a permanent, government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion and require consumers be informed whether abortion is covered in health insurance plans. The House approved its version in a 242-179 vote Jan. 22, when the GOP leadership substituted a roll call on this bill for one on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

  • Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, S. 404 and H.R. 803, which would criminalize transporting a minor across state lines to circumvent parental involvement laws in her home state.

  • Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, S. 48, which would outlaw abortion based on the sex of an unborn child. The ERLC is seeking inclusion in the legislation of a ban on race-selection abortion.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/19/2015 11:32:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Registration opens for SBC ‘Great Awakening’

March 18 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Registration for messengers and local hotels has opened for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio’s capital city.


The June 16-17 sessions, to be led by SBC President Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, will be themed “Great Awakening: Clear Agreement, Visible Union, Extraordinary Prayer.”
Registration for the Columbus meeting once again will offer an online opportunity for churches to register their messengers at
Through online registration at the website’s Messenger tab, each messenger will receive an eight-digit registration code to present at the annual meeting’s Express Registration lane in Columbus, preferably a printout of the church’s credential. The code will be entered into a computer at the SBC registration area and a nametag will be printed. The appropriate church-authorized representative must complete all online registrations.
Registration also is open for preschool childcare and children’s and youth programs in conjunction with the annual meeting.
Floyd, in preparing for the Columbus annual meeting, has said it will be “a national gathering of Southern Baptists to pray for the next great move of God in America and to reach the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Distinctive facets of the annual meeting will include:

  • a Tuesday evening session to be permeated by prayer, building on the convention’s Great Awakening theme.

  • a Wednesday morning “church and missionary sending celebration” of Southern Baptists’ work toward fulfilling the Great Commission – and a call to heighten their efforts even more to reach the nations for Christ.

  • a Wednesday afternoon panel discussion on “The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches for the Future.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, has released an ebook to provide spiritual preparation for the annual meeting. Titled Pleading with Southern Baptists To Humbly Come Together before God in Clear Agreement, Visible Union, and in Extraordinary Prayer for the Next Great Awakening and for the World to Be Reached for Christ, the ebook is available for free download at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/18/2015 11:49:36 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Church plants: 5% gain in 2014

March 18 2015 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB President

Southern Baptists planted 985 new churches in 2014 – a 5 percent increase over 2013 church starts.
This is very good news as we work toward diminishing the church-to-population deficit that steadily grew larger over the last century in the United States and Canada. It is also good because new churches, on average, reach people for Christ at a higher rate than existing churches.

NAMB photo by John Swain
Sioux Falls, S.D., church planter Jonathan Land preaches at a Connection Church worship service. The church is part of the North American Mission Board’s church plant class of 2014, having launched on Easter last year.

These are churches like Mosaic in Alberta, Canada. They launched on Easter 2014 and have already seen 200 people give their lives to Christ, with 40 of them being baptized. They started giving to the Cooperative Program shortly after they launched.
Southern Baptists also saw 208 new churches affiliate with our convention in 2014. In all, that means 1,193 new congregations were added to the SBC.
And there are good reports in regions outside the South where Southern Baptists have not traditionally been as strong:

  • In Ohio 37 churches were planted in 2014, up from 17 in 2013.

  • In New York 42 churches were planted, up from 20 in 2013.

  • In the Northwest Baptist Convention, which includes Oregon, Washington and some parts of Idaho, 27 churches were planted, up from three in 2013.

We celebrate when a new church is planted anywhere, but increases in these areas are especially encouraging.
More than 58 percent of the churches Southern Baptists started in 2014 were non-Anglo. This must continue as our society grows more diverse – especially in and around large cities where more than 80 percent of North Americans live. Our churches must reflect the communities they serve.
There is much more work to be done. We need many more churches and we must continue to make our existing churches healthier and more outwardly focused. My prayer is that the growth we saw in 2014 will be the starting point for a Southern Baptist church planting wave and that more churches and individuals will become personally involved in this effort to evangelize North America.
(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

3/18/2015 11:31:55 AM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB President | with 0 comments

The real St. Patrick: ‘incredible’ missions zeal

March 18 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Emphasizing missions may be a more fitting way to observe St. Patrick’s Day than wearing green and hailing Irish culture. That’s because the March 17 celebration marks the traditional death date of Patrick of Ireland, the fifth-century Christian who was instrumental in spreading the gospel to the Irish.
Patrick’s “incredible understanding of the Great Commission and his passion for mission and evangelism” were “in western Christianity in the fifth century almost completely unique,” said Michael Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Some Patrick scholars actually go so far as to say it is unique.”
When William Carey launched the modern mission movement in the early 19th century by setting out for India, he cited Patrick’s work in the British Isles as one of his inspirations, according to Haykin’s book Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.
W.A. Criswell compared Patrick in a 1958 sermon to pastor Charles Spurgeon and evangelist D.L. Moody. Though Criswell differed from Haykin in his depiction of some details in Patrick’s life, Criswell and Haykin agree that Patrick possessed a unique missionary zeal.
Patrick “had a missionary, strategist intuition,” Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said according to a sermon transcript at “If he could win the king and the chief and the head of the clan, he’d win the whole country! And that’s exactly what Patrick did. He went to the king’s court, he went to the chief clansman, he went to the head of the tribe, and he preached the gospel in power, and they were converted! And all through the life of Patrick, there are recorded baptisms by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands!”


St. Patrick

Who was Patrick?

Historians don’t know the precise date of Patrick’s birth, but they believe it occurred in the late 300s to an upper-class Christian family in Roman-controlled Britain.
When Patrick was 16, Irish raiders took him into captivity and sold him as a slave in Ireland. Though he had heard the gospel growing up, he finally understood it and trusted Christ for salvation during his captivity, according to Patrick’s autobiographical work “Confession.” His devotion to Christ increased as his captivity progressed.
“In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night,” Patrick wrote, “and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me – as I now see, because the Spirit within me was then fervent.”
After six years as a slave, Patrick had a dream in which a voice told him, “Soon you will go to your own country.” Prompted by the dream, he travelled 200 miles to find a ship that could take him home to Britain across the Irish Sea, according to Haykin’s book.
Back home, Patrick experienced another unique dream – this time calling him back to Ireland to preach the gospel to a nation with little Christian witness and steeped in animistic religion, including human sacrifice, ceremonial bestiality and idol worship. After pursuing theological training for several years, he returned to Ireland.
Knowledge of the native Old Irish language gleaned during his captivity contributed to Patrick’s evangelistic success as he saw thousands of former pagans commit their lives to Christ as Lord and Savior. Patrick became bishop of Ireland and spent some three decades preaching, baptizing and discipling Irish converts. He died during the mid to late fifth century.
Thanks to Patrick’s influence, the Irish Christians – known as the Celtic Church – led the way in evangelizing Europe for a hundred years following his death. By the end of his life, Patrick could write, “In Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God.”
Not until the 1800s did St. Patrick’s Day become an official feast among Catholics, Anglicans and other Christian groups. In the mid-1900s, the Republic of Ireland began using St. Patrick’s Day to showcase Irish culture.
Among the fictional legends associated with Patrick are that he rid Ireland of snakes and that he taught about the Trinity using a shamrock – though he did emphasize the doctrine of the Trinity, Haykin said. The true legacy of Patrick is evangelism and orthodox Christian teaching.
Patrick’s passion for the Great Commission “gets passed down into the DNA of the Celtic Church,” Haykin said. “The Celtic Church is without a shadow of a doubt the most evangelistic body in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.”

Patrick’s legacy

Nik Ripken, a Christian author and international missionary, said Patrick serves as a reminder that a faithful gospel witness can lead to multitudes being saved, even in countries dominated by non-Christian worldviews. He compared the gospel’s victory over non-Christian religions in Patrick’s day with its battle to deliver people from Islam today.
“The only places where Muslims are not coming to Christ are places where we are not going,” Ripken said. “... We can’t reap what we don’t sow.”
Like the Irish came to Christ and abandoned their brutal practices, even terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can be saved and delivered from their sin, Ripken said. To work toward that end, Christians must pray for social stability in Muslim lands, create a “right” to be heard by serving Muslims and then proclaim the scriptures.
But western Christians have not yet laid the foundation for evangelistic work among ISIS, he said.
Someone who tries to witness to ISIS terrorists today “is just going to get killed when they get off the plane,” Ripken said. “We don’t have the stability there to do what St. Patrick did in Ireland.” ISIS is “out of control.”
Winning entire families to Christ in Muslim lands like Iraq and Syria will lead to an organic, indigenous network of Christian witness that could permeate the population and eventually reach ISIS, Ripken said.
Even if terrorists do not come to Christ in mass, a gospel witness in unreached nations will help prepare believers there for persecution, Ripken said, like Patrick’s witness helped Irish Christians remain steadfast in their faith amid the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic tribes in the fifth century.
“Anytime we have a break in the chain of witness and being obedient to Jesus’ command to go to all the nations, then we do not prepare ourselves for times of persecution,” Ripken said.
Jason Duesing, provost of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed that Patrick should inspire missions.
“The relevance of Patrick of Ireland for modern missions lies in a sacrificial heart motivated by the Great Commission and burdened for the lost,” said Duesing, who has written on Patrick.
“In his ‘Confession’ Patrick shares that he went in response to the call of God to ‘come to the Irish people to preach the gospel ... so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.’ This selfless motivation is as timeless as the Apostle Paul’s desire to become all things to all people that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), and as relevant for the 21st-century family from Bolivar called to live among the people of Bhutan,” Duesing said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/18/2015 11:15:04 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Churches feed hungry, share love of Christ

March 18 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist churches of various sizes and in various settings are feeding the hungry in the U.S. And a sizable number of Americans remain in need of such help. Nearly 50 million Americans, or nearly one in six, live in “food insecure households,” according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of two hundred food banks.

Local church ministries

Many people turn to churches in their need. More than two in 10 Americans (22 percent) say their family has received help from a church-run food pantry, LifeWay Research reported in November 2014.
Southern Baptists staff and stock thousands of local church and community-wide faith-based hunger ministries across the nation. Some have in-house food pantries. Some cooperate with community food banks. Some work with local ministries or agencies. Some provide after-school meals. Some place food in school children’s backpacks for the weekend. Some assist with community gardens.

Global Hunger Relief

In addition, the Southern Baptist Convention created a fund, Global Hunger Relief (GHR), through which Baptists (and others) can contribute to hunger needs in North America and around the world. Gifts to GHR annually fund numerous hunger projects, with 80 percent going to overseas hunger needs, administered through the International Mission Board, and 20 percent going to North American hunger needs, administered through the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, 100 percent of GHR funds help relieve hunger, with none used for administrative costs.


Photo by Angie Kretschmar
Pictured are some of the 80 elementary-age children from a nearby school who receive snacks daily through Heaven's Windows at New Seasons Church.

Last year, more than 1,000 ministries in North America – mostly local churches with active food ministries – received hunger funds through NAMB.
Meeting hunger needs opens doors for volunteers to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has encouraged Southern Baptists to participate in GHR “not simply as an act of charity, not simply as an expression of our love, certainly not as a bare humanitarianism, but because we are a gospel people who as we feed and as we clothe are speaking and preaching a message that Jesus is Himself the Bread of Life.”
Whether receiving funds through NAMB or not, Southern Baptist churches are feeding the hungry. Here is a look at how three churches help relieve hunger in their communities:


New Seasons Church

New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., uses a nonprofit ministry on its property to distribute tens of thousands of meals each year to people in its poor neighborhood 11 miles east of San Diego.
The multi-ethnic church, which averages about 700 in attendance, was already running an active food ministry when it established the non-profit, Heaven’s Windows, in 2009. Its outreach to the hungry consists of:

  • A five-day-a-week food pantry that served more than 12,000 households in 2014.

  • A monthly community distribution that provided food for about 5,000 households last year.

  • A child nutrition program at 13 sites after school and during the summer. About 80 students from a nearby elementary school receive snacks daily at the church. New Seasons Church in El Cajon feeds about 125 children a day. Heaven’s Windows served nearly 75,000 meals or snacks to children last year.

  • A hot meal each Wednesday for community residents, many of whom are homeless. About 2,500 were fed last year in this outreach.

  • A hot meal that is delivered each Thursday to the homebound and disabled. More than 2,000 such meals were provided in 2014.

  • A block party – known as Season of Love – on the Saturday before Thanksgiving that welcomed 3,600 guests last year and gave away 700 turkeys and 20,000 pounds of food.

New Seasons Church, which is about 50 percent African American at its two campuses, provides funding for Heaven’s Windows, which also receives donations and grants, said Angie Kretschmar, the ministry’s executive director. The food pantry receives many items from two San Diego food banks through a federal government program, as well as fresh produce, milk, eggs and bread donated by such retailers as Walmart, Big Lots and Sprouts Farmers Market.
Of the people whom Heaven’s Windows serves, some “aren’t saved; they don’t know any churches,” she told SBC LIFE. “When they go through a crisis, they’ll remember that church, and that opens a door for ministry.
“I can make you a long list of volunteers I have now that came to volunteer [before they were saved and joined the church],” Kretschmar said. “They got baptized. [They’re] in church. [They’re] in ministry.”
A. B. Vines, New Seasons’ senior pastor, said the hunger ministry builds “a bridge to the community.”
“Once [people] see the love of Christ is real and there’s no gimmick,” they are receptive to hearing the gospel, said Vines, former president of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship.

Trace Creek Baptist Church

Trace Creek Baptist Church in New Johnsonville, Tenn., ministers to the needy in a town of fewer than 2,000 people about a 90-minute drive west of Nashville.
Trace Creek, which averages about 150 in Sunday worship, helps with the county’s church-run food pantry and stands ready to provide food when the pantry cannot, said pastor Mark Warren.
The church also cooperates in a weekend backpack ministry with four other churches. The combined effort provides snacks and other food items for students whom teachers have identified as likely having a need for nutrition. The backpack ministry serves about 60 elementary and junior high students, Warren estimated.
The church’s Wednesday night Awana ministry also has resulted in feeding needy children. A significant portion of the 80 to 90 children who participate in Awana during the school year are unchurched, Warren told SBC LIFE. After learning some children arrived at Awana without eating dinner, the church now feeds about 70 children each Wednesday evening.
Hunger ministry is “an obedience thing more than anything, because there’s probably not a lot of fanfare with it. ... [Y]ou don’t want to bring embarrassment to people through it,” Warren said.
A note goes to families whose children are part of the backpack ministry to inform them churches are cooperating to provide the food. “So naturally, to those families who are affected, it shows we care and aren’t just about getting you into our building,” he said. “We want to be obedient to need.”

The Summit Church

The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area primarily meets hunger needs as part of its multi-pronged outreach approach. The church has many members it can mobilize – attendance at its eight campuses averages around 8,000 each weekend.
While the church’s benevolence pastors help with emergency food needs, The Summit’s five outreach initiatives – the homeless, orphans, prisoners, unwed mothers, and disconnected youth – focus on relationship-building that enables those who are receiving ministry to recognize what God is like.
“The church is God’s demonstration community,” said Matt Mig, The Summit’s pastor of local outreach. “So He’s putting on display His feeling, His desire for them, and His character through how our people act.”
The Summit tends to feed the hungry and do other ministry “through the infrastructure or framework” of organizations that excel in meeting needs, he told SBC LIFE.
For instance, providing meals happens through the work of Summit teams at homeless shelters in both Durham and Chapel Hill. Some of the ministry to disconnected youth involves providing food in backpacks.
“The local schools will organize it and say they need help doing it,” Mig said. “We get our teams out there and help them pull it off.”
This kind of relational approach to ministry, Mig said, can be a “first step” for many, who ask: “How am I going to go outside my comfort zone right here where I already live and intentionally engage someone whose path I wouldn’t have otherwise crossed, unless I was pursuing them, because the gospel changed my life?”


How to start a hunger ministry

Preparation is vital for churches that want to launch a hunger ministry, say those with expertise in feeding the needy.
“It’s a lot more than just handing out food,” says Angie Kretschmar, executive director of a thriving ministry to the hungry based at a Southern Baptist church in San Diego County.
Here are some recommendations gleaned from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Kretschmar for congregations considering hunger ministry:

  1. Recognize the need. This includes discovering which churches and organizations already are feeding the hungry. A cooperative effort with others may be best. “The key is commitment to serve others in the name of Jesus,” according to NAMB.

  2. Find the food. Locate the sources of food for the ministry. Check out food banks. Investigate the availability of surplus food, possibly from supermarkets or government agencies. Determine how much food can be provided through the church.

  3. Identify the volunteers. Discover how many people are able to serve. A hunger ministry requires a “very, very reliable volunteer base,” Kretschmar says.

  4. Select a ministry. Decide what kind of hunger ministry the church should initiate. It might be food pantry distribution, after-school feeding, weekend backpacks for students, or another approach. Some choices require a place for storage and a plan for distribution.

  5. Plan for the Gospel. Resolve what the practice will be in sharing the Good News of Jesus. NAMB’s steps for starting a hunger ministry are available at

It’s possible, however, that God may drop a hunger ministry on a church. That’s what happened to Trinity Church, a church plant in Portland, Ore.
Trinity’s planter/pastor, Clay Holcomb, was visiting one day in the office of the elementary school that would be home to the church’s worship services. School officials were discussing Backpack Buddies, a program to provide meals for needy children, but were uncertain who would conduct it, since the school could not.
“We hadn’t even had our first service yet, and I said, ‘Well, we’ll do it,’“ Holcomb recalled in a NAMB video. He is NAMB’s SEND city coordinator for Portland.
Trinity provided food for the backpack ministry for three years, serving 100 to 125 students in that time.
“The ministry helped build into our church a vision for the community,” Holcomb told SBC LIFE, “and it helped us build credibility in the eyes of the people involved in the school.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

3/18/2015 10:54:38 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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