March 2016

N.C. bathroom restrictions challenged by activists

March 31 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Despite a federal court challenge, social conservatives in North Carolina are defending a state law upholding religious liberty and requiring individuals in state government buildings to use restrooms based on the gender indicated on their birth certificates.
 
“North Carolinians are pretty fed up with their voices being clamped down and tossed out” regarding the defense of traditional marriage and religious liberty, said Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor running for U.S. Congress as a Republican. “... The citizens of North Carolina are determined their voices are going to be heard.”
 
A lawsuit filed in federal court March 28 by pro-transgender activists alleges North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. According to the lawsuit, the bill’s “requirement that transgender people be shunted into single-sex spaces that do not match their gender identity invades their privacy and exposes this vulnerable population to harassment and potential violence by others.”
 
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has defended the law, including in a document titled “Myths vs. Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren’t saying about common-sense privacy law.”
 
Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, said McCrory’s classification of the mainstream media is an accurate reflection of a “mammoth misinformation campaign” afoot among the cultural left.
 
Attorney General Roy Cooper, the governor’s Democratic opponent in his bid for re-election this year, has refused to defend the measure in court, calling it a “national embarrassment” that “puts discrimination into the law,” the Associated Press reported.
 
The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act was passed March 23 during a special session of the state legislature convened in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that would have taken effect April 1 barring discrimination in public accommodations based on “gender identity, gender expression” and “sexual orientation.” The ordinance deleted a section of the city code stipulating sex discrimination laws did not apply to “restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private.”
 
State lawmakers overturned the ordinance by establishing a state nondiscrimination law that preempts all local government laws. The new state law prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodation of individuals based on, among other factors, their “biological sex,” identified as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is defined on a person’s birth certificate.”
 
The law does not include an explicit ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
 
McCrory’s “Myths vs. Facts” document argues the law permits private businesses to allow anyone to use any restroom. It also permits transgender persons to use the restroom of their choice in state facilities as long as they have changed the sex indicated on their birth certificates – a change allowed in North Carolina only for those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery.
 
Republican state Rep. Paul Stam, speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives, said the lawsuit filed against the bill “reads like a novel.”
 
“If the courts follow the law, the lawsuit will be thrown out,” said Stam, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and a former trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “... This is a wild lawsuit.”
 
Among the suit’s claims:

  • One plaintiff’s “sex assigned at birth was female, as his birth certificate reflects, but that designation does not accurately reflect his gender identity, which is male.”

  • “Medical treatment such as the surgery required to update a person’s North Carolina birth certificate does not alter a person’s gender ... but rather merely brings a person’s body into alignment with the gender they have always been.”

Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, said the new state legislation is necessary to preserve the rule of law, safeguard religious liberty and protect public safety.
 
“We just did not need the risk of men in women’s restrooms,” Harris said. The Charlotte ordinance “said that transgender individuals simply could choose to go to whatever restroom they felt most comfortable with. It was based on what they felt. It didn’t even say they had to be presenting as a woman.”
 
Harris continued, “No one ever said that a transgender individual was more likely to be a predator on innocent children or women. However, the way this ordinance was written ... it certainly left the door wide open for people with less than positive motives to use this to be in a women’s restroom.”
 
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, said that restricting restroom use based on biological sex “is not just a safety issue, it’s also a modesty issue.”
 
Supporters of open access to restrooms should “talk to more women about this,” said Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There are some innate gender differences, and one of them is modesty ... My wife was just horrified [before the state legislature acted] at the prospect this [Charlotte] law was going to go into effect.”
 
Land added that religious liberty protection for wedding service providers who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds is an underreported aspect of the new state law.
 
“Religious freedom is a right that is not granted by the Constitution,” Land said, referencing its divine origin. “It is recognized. It is guaranteed by the Constitution. The idea of discrimination goes both ways. These laws are meant to protect citizens’ religious freedom. It’s to protect the faithful and their beliefs.”
 
State Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a co-sponsor of the measure, told BP pro-transgender activists in North Carolina should present their case directly to state and federal legislators rather than acting via local ordinances – which he classified as violations of the state’s constitutional principle that governing power is vested in the legislature unless the legislature delegates specific powers to local governments.
 
Adding to the list of groups legally protected against discrimination “is an argument you need to take to either Congress or to the state ... instead of trying to overreach and kind of go behind with a local municipality, which didn’t have the authority to do that,” said Jordan, a Republican and a Southern Baptist.
 
He added, “I would not want to add more federally protected classes. I’m not sure where that’s going to stop.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related Stories:
N.C. lawmakers convene early over LGBT ordinance
Christian political advocates target 2016 legislative sessions

3/31/2016 12:54:41 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Proposed S.C. refugee registry draws criticism

March 31 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Evangelical advocates for religious liberty and refugee resettlement are dismayed by proposed legislation in South Carolina that could penalize churches that aid exiles from other countries.
 
The South Carolina Senate passed legislation March 23 to require a sponsoring organization to register a refugee with the state’s Department of Social Services within 30 days after he or she enters the state. In addition, the sponsor would be “strictly liable” in civil court if the refugee commits an act of terrorism or another violent crime.
 
Senators approved the proposal in a 39-6 vote, with six of the chamber’s 18 Democrats in opposition. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the measure when it returns April 12 from its Easter recess.
 
While the bill would affect all refugee sponsors, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and others expressed special concern for its potential impact on churches and religious adherents.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore called the bill “deeply misguided,” particularly in its threat of civil liability for those who serve refugees.
 
“The legislators are right that the government has a mandate to keep citizens safe,” Moore said. “The government does not have a mandate, though, to intimidate churches and religious citizens from freely exercising their religion” by ministering to people regardless of their country of origin.
 
“Whatever one thinks about refugee policy,” Moore said, “this bill is a step backward on religious freedom.”
 
Jenny Yang, World Relief’s vice president of advocacy and policy, expressed a similar sentiment. The legislation “creates a climate of fear” for people who help refugees, she said. World Relief is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.
 
“The language is so broad it could mean someone who teaches a refugee English or picks up a refugee for [a] church service acts as a ‘refugee sponsor’ who is then liable for any harmful actions that refugee commits later on,” Yang said in a March 29 email interview. “It’s punishing the Good Samaritan for acting out of good faith to help a neighbor in need for a harmful action that neighbor commits that is completely outside their control.”
 
Church volunteers might be “driven to not help at all for fear of being held liable for such actions,” Yang said.
 
Refugees already receive stringent vetting in the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, Yang said at a Capitol Hill discussion on refugees sponsored by the ERLC in December, noting that before placing a refugee with an agency, the U.S. government follows a 12-step process and takes 18 months to two years.
 
“Compassion does not have to conflict with national security.” Yang said. “The U.S. refugee resettlement program has embodied both values and continues to be a valuable humanitarian tool that should be supported.”
 
Under the legislation, the sponsor of a person in the federal Refugee Resettlement Program will be liable to an injured party if the refugee “acted in a reckless, willful, or grossly negligent manner, committed an act of terrorism ... or committed [a violent crime] that resulted in physical harm or injury to a person or damage to or theft of real or personal property.”
 
After a refugee is enrolled by a sponsor, the Department of Social Services must provide the information to the state’s Law Enforcement Division, which is required to confirm the refugee does not “pose a public safety risk.”
 
While some of the bill’s Senate sponsors are members of Southern Baptist churches, at least two-thirds of the South Carolina churches that partner with World Relief are Southern Baptist congregations, said Jason Lee, state director of the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.
 
Lee became director of World Relief’s South Carolina office in Spartanburg a year ago after nearly six years as pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in the same city. He previously served as a missionary with the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board.
 
The Senate-endorsed legislation is designed to severely limit refugee resettlement in South Carolina, one Senate sponsor said of the bill’s stated goal to protect the state’s citizens.
 
“We have de-incentivized the sponsoring of refugees in South Carolina,” said Sen. Kevin Bryant, a Republican representing Anderson. “We’re going to have very few refugees coming to South Carolina.
 
“I think we need to remember the refugees are not United States citizens,” Bryant said in an online video posted by The Charleston Post and Courier. “With the danger today of a terrorist infiltrating the refugee program, we have no other option than to enroll this information” in a registry.
 
World Relief, which has received approval to resettle 120 refugees in South Carolina this year, is concerned about the bill, Lee said. Lutheran Services, the only other resettlement agency in the state, has approval to resettle 220 refugees in 2016.
 
All of the refugee-sponsoring organizations that have worked with World Relief in South Carolina are either churches or Christian groups. Last year, 84 percent of the refugees who were settled in South Carolina through World Relief identified as Christians.
 
So far, however, no South Carolina churches partnering with World Relief or waiting to help refugees have expressed concern about continuing in the resettlement efforts, Lee said. “There’s been more dismay that [the state is] trying to create another level of government.”
 
World Relief hopes the House “will look to guard the religious liberty of our churches and try to help continue South Carolina being a welcoming place,” he said.
 
The legislation “has been debated as a way of keeping South Carolinians safe, but it’s real effect would be to make refugees unwelcome,” Yang said. “There is no due cause to believe that refugees are more criminal than any other individual.
 
“Putting refugee info in a database to be potentially tracked, for no other reason than one’s having arrived legally through the U.S. refugee program, stigmatizes refugees and runs counter to our most basic humanitarian commitments and priorities to treat war victims, who want nothing more than to start a new life in safe and welcoming communities, as criminals,” she said.
 
The South Carolina Senate action came barely a week after the ERLC promoted a March 15 prayer for refugees campaign. The ERLC joined with IMB, World Relief and other organizations in urging prayer for the more than 13.5 million Syrians who need humanitarian assistance as a result of the civil war in the Middle Eastern country. The refugee crisis, described as the worst since World War II, has resulted in more than 4.8 million Syrians being registered as refugees by the United Nations.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

Related Stories:

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3/31/2016 12:41:44 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Religious liberty focus of new study

March 31 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that the nation’s Christians face growing intolerance, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.
 
Those surveyed also noted American Christians complain too much.

 
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Those are among the findings of a new study of views about religious liberty from LifeWay Research. Researchers surveyed 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and September 2015 and then compared the results.
 
Two-thirds (63 percent) say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from half (50 percent) in 2013.
 
A similar number (60 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline, up from just over half (54 percent) in 2013.
 
Forty-three percent say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated, up from 34 percent in 2013.
 
“More Americans worry the U.S. has a hostile environment for religious liberty,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “As this perception grows, some approve of it while others speak up against it.”
 
Religious liberty has become an increasingly contentious issue in American culture – with disputes over birth control, same-sex wedding cakes, headscarves at work and prisoners’ beards.
 
The more recent LifeWay Research survey found faith plays a key role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.
 
Two-thirds of Christians (64 percent) and those of other faiths (65 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline. Self-identified evangelicals (71 percent) and those who attend worship at least once a week (70 percent) are most likely to agree.
 
Catholics (56 percent) and non-evangelicals (55 percent) are more skeptical. So are Nones (46 percent).

 
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“Christians are particularly sensitive to what they see as intolerance towards their faith,” Stetzer said. “But they share a common concern with people of other faiths – that religious liberty in general is declining. And this perception is growing rapidly.”
 
Age also played a role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.
 
Less than half (42 percent) of those 18 to 24 say religious liberty is on the decline. By contrast, 6 in 10 (62 percent) of those over 25 see a decline.
 
LifeWay Research also found non-Christians are less convinced that Christians face intolerance. Less than half of those from other faiths (43 percent) and Nones (48 percent) agree when asked if intolerance toward Christians has increased.
 
By contrast, most Christians (70 percent), self-identified evangelicals (82 percent) and Protestants (74 percent) see more intolerance. So do three-fourths (76 percent) of those who attend services once a week or more.
 
Researchers found some signs that Americans are tired of arguments over religious liberty. A sizable number of Americans believe Christians’ complaints about how they are treated are excessive.
 
Among them:

  • 38 percent of Christians

  • 39 percent of Americans of other faiths

  • 59 percent of Nones

  • 53 percent of those who rarely or never attend worship

American Christians face a challenge, as the nation becomes more secular, Stetzer said. Calls for religious liberty may fall on increasingly deaf ears in the future.
 
“Most people now believe Christians are facing intolerance, however, a surprisingly large minority perceives Christians to be complainers,” Stetzer said. “Both of those facts will matter as Christians profess and contend for their beliefs without sounding false alarms around faux controversies. It won’t be easy to strike that balance.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 14-28, 2015. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 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 3.6 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. Comparisons are also made to a LifeWay Research telephone survey conducted Sept. 6-10, 2013.
 
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

3/31/2016 12:31:43 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



‘Small’ Texas congregation plants 17 churches

March 31 2016 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Any given Sunday will find Vista Church’s congregation of 180 gathered for worship in the local elementary school in Heartland, a small bedroom community just off Interstate 20 outside Terrell, near Forney and Dallas. As members assemble for worship, they do so aware of a common bond with the 17 churches from Boston to Toronto to Seattle to Bangalore that Vista Church has helped plant since its own founding in 2007.
 
“For many in our congregation, church planting introduced them to something they would have never known. Now it has become part of our DNA,” said Kevin Cox, the church’s pastor. “‘When is the next one?’ people ask.”
 
Excitement about planting new churches has resulted in generous giving. A special offering the first Sunday in December 2015 brought in $35,000, Cox said, adding, “Our people have a kingdom mindset. Our giving [to church plants] will not expand our church numerically but will expand the kingdom of God.”
 
Cox’s commitment to planting churches solidified in 1997 when he and his wife started a church in Seattle. The Coxes returned to Texas nine years later, determined to make church planting a priority in whatever congregation they served. That chance came when Cox and five others sat around the family’s kitchen table in May 2007 to start Vista.
 
“We wanted to plan and multiply,” Cox said, noting that from the beginning, the six Vista members set aside 1 percent of their budget for assisting the first church plant. Within 14 months, the Vista congregation had grown, accumulating $2,500, which they used to assist a Southern Baptist church plant in Seattle.
 
“We started giving money to the Seattle church before our own grand opening in 2008,” Cox recalled.
 
Vista assists church plants in three-year cycles.
 
“We commit to three years of monthly giving to the churches we work with and partner with,” Cox explained. This January, Vista began supporting church plants in Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., in addition to continuing partnerships with churches in Bangalore, India, and the Texas communities of Rockwall/Heath and Mont Belvieu. Vista contributed $45,000 to partner churches in 2015 and will give the same amount again in 2016, Cox said.
 
This generosity comes from a young church in a commuter suburb of starter homes and young families. The average age of adult attendees at Vista is 32. Heartland is not even a town but rather a Municipal Utility District with a Forney zip code within the Crandall school district. Some 1,700 homes exist now; more than 6,000 are plotted.
 
Eventually Heartland will be a community of 25,000 with seven schools, possibly annexed one day by Forney or Crandall. For now, it is “really a gigantic HOA,” Cox said. Laws forbidding door-to-door solicitations make advertising church events or ministering to residents challenging, so Vista church has engaged the community through volunteering at local events and serving the elementary school where Cox’s wife, Kathy, teaches special education.
 
Vista is the only church in a community where, for many, Sunday is just another day.
 
“Out here off I-20, we are under the radar,” Cox said. “Many have gotten out of the habit of going to church.”
 
Meanwhile, Vista Church remains united behind sister congregations across the nation and world. Partner churches are chosen partly as an outgrowth of the church planter training Vista offers in a facility built for that purpose by a family in the church on 40 acres of private property.
 
“Teams come, stay for four days, and we work through the process of church planting with them,” Cox said, adding that Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, has assisted in the training.
 
Last Easter, 275 attended worship services at Vista. But across the world, more than 4,000 worshipped in the churches with which Vista had partnered.
 
“We want to grow, but we want to see the kingdom extended even more,” Cox said. “You don’t have to be big to partner with churches. Don’t wait till you are big to partner with another church. You can be small and still have a huge kingdom impact.”
 
For more information on Vista Church, see their website at thisisvista.com.

3/31/2016 12:09:31 PM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Midwestern announces ERLC doctoral studies partnership

March 31 2016 by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) has announced a partnership with Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to equip doctoral studies students in becoming the next generation of Christian ethicists.
 
Beginning in May, certain modular-format seminars for Ph.D. and doctor of ministry degrees – both with an emphasis in Christian ethics – will be offered to MBTS students either in Nashville or Washington, D.C. In addition to MBTS’s ethics faculty, several courses will be taught by ERLC President Russell Moore.
 
“Few issues are being engaged so extensively in today’s popular culture like ones that are ethical in nature,” Midwestern President Jason Allen said. “In existing for the church, Midwestern Seminary offers, through these doctoral degree programs, an opportunity for students to study at the highest level in preparation to address head-on the ethical challenges facing Christians.
 
“It brings me great joy to have Midwestern Seminary partner with Dr. Moore and the ERLC staff in expanding our doctoral offerings to include these ethics emphases’ seminars. As the Southern Baptist Convention’s entity that deals in these issues day in and day out, their expertise and wisdom will provide crucial insight into the field of Christian ethics and into the issues needing to be addressed within the church and broader evangelical community.”
 
The 52-credit-hour modular Ph.D. biblical studies degree with an ethics emphasis includes courses such as Biblical Ethics, Worldview and Ethical Theory, Contemporary Issues in Ethics, Marriage and Sexuality and Bioethics.
 
For the doctor of ministry degree with an ethics emphasis, the core curriculum is rounded out by seminars such as Marriage & Sexuality, Bioethics and Worldview & Ethical Theory.
 
Commending the partnership with MBTS, Moore said, “The future of Christian ethics is the future of the church. The next generation of the church needs the next generation of ethicists to be equipped to fight the good fight of the faith in the public square. That’s why the ERLC is excited to partner with Midwestern Seminary on these exciting doctoral degrees.”
 
Phillip Betancourt, ERLC executive vice president, added, “The ERLC is excited to expand our SBC seminary academic partnerships with these new Midwestern Seminary degree programs. What is unique about the new Ph.D. degree offering is that it is our first partnership on a program specifically in the classic discipline of Christian ethics.”
 
MBTS students will have the first opportunity to take the “Contemporary Issues in Ethics” Ph.D. seminar (also available to D.Min. students) in Washington, D.C., May 23-24. The deadline to enroll is April 7.
 
“Partnerships like this represent the best of the cooperating nature of Southern Baptists,” said Jason Duesing, MBTS’s provost. “I am grateful our students will have the opportunity to join others from our sister institutions as well as receive instruction from Dr. Moore and the great work he is doing at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.”
 
For more information about becoming a doctoral student, or for questions about enrolling in the upcoming ethics seminar, contact the MBTS office of doctoral studies at docstudies@mbts.edu.

3/31/2016 12:02:07 PM by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS | with 0 comments



Court seeks new ideas on mandate accommodation

March 30 2016 by BP Staff

The U.S. Supreme Court has made an uncommon request of religious nonprofits and the federal government in an effort to resolve a disagreement regarding the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.
 
The high court issued an order March 29 calling for new briefs from both sides in an effort to determine if workers may be able to obtain birth control coverage through their nonprofit employers’ insurance companies without violating the conscience rights of those employers. The justices directed both sides to address whether the coverage can be gained “in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees.”
 
The justices’ action came less than a week after they heard oral arguments March 23 in the case, which involves an accommodation to the controversial mandate that many religious nonprofits contend violates their religious freedom by forcing complicity in providing potentially abortion-inducing drugs and devices.
 
GuideStone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, and the Roman Catholic order known as the Little Sisters of the Poor are among the ministries challenging the accommodation. GuideStone, and two of the ministries it serves, as well as three Baptist universities, are among the challengers to the accommodation.

 
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The order is an “important development,” tweeted Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, described the order as an “excellent development.”
 
“Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” Rienzi said in a written release. “We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters’ religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals.”
 
The Becket Fund is representing the Little Sisters, GuideStone and other nonprofits.
 
David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF], said in a written statement, “There is an easy solution: The government can offer these services to women who want them without forcing Christian schools, nuns, and priests to abandon their belief that life is sacred. We will confer with our clients to determine a response to the Supreme Court’s request.”
 
ADF is representing some of the other challengers to the mandate.
 
The high court actually offered a possible solution, writing in the order: “The parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds. Petitioners would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees. At the same time, petitioners’ insurance company – aware that petitioners are not providing certain contraceptive coverage on religious grounds – would separately notify petitioners’ employees that the insurance company will provide cost-free contraceptive coverage, and that such coverage is not paid for by petitioners and is not provided through petitioners’ health plan.”
 
Each side is to submit a single brief by April 12 and a reply brief by April 20.
 
The abortion/contraception mandate – a federal regulation issued to help implement the 2010 health-care reform law – requires employers to provide for their workers federally approved contraceptives, including ones with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. Those who refuse to abide by the requirement face fines in the millions of dollars.
 
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided an exemption to the mandate for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object.
 
HHS issued an accommodation for religious nonprofits, but many of those ministries or institutions contend it still makes them complicit in covering contraceptives and potentially abortion-causing drugs. HHS requires them to provide written notification they meet the requirements for an accommodation, which forces the nonprofit’s insurer or a third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage.
 
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.
 
The ERLC and two other SBC entities – the International Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – filed a friend-of-the-court brief in January that urged the high court to rule the accommodation violates religious freedom.
 
The case is Zubik v. Burwell.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/30/2016 11:39:13 AM by BP Staff | with 0 comments



Southeastern partnership with Brazilians sees first fruits

March 30 2016 by Harper McKay, SEBTS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – As 23 men and women walked across the stage to receive their master of theological studies (MTS) degrees, their friends and families witnessed Brazilian Baptist history in the making. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) President Danny Akin joyfully greeted the first graduating class in an ongoing partnership between SEBTS and Brazilian Baptists.
 
This cohort of students is part of SEBTS’s Global Theological Initiative (GTI), which seeks to enhance theological education in at least 15 different locations around the world through strategic partnerships. The invitation-only cohorts are for students who are proven leaders and teachers in their national contexts.
 
“Southeastern loves its Great Commission partnerships around the world. None brings me more excitement and joy than the one with have with Brazilian Baptists,” Akin said. “Our vision and passion for theological education, personal evangelism and world missions is one. We are true partners in building God’s Kingdom. What a blessing!”

 
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Photo by Fernando Brandão
SEBTS president Danny Akin joyfully greets the first graduating class in the Global Theological Initiatives partnership between Southeastern and Brazilian Baptists.

In Brazil in particular, SEBTS partners with the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s international and national mission boards in cooperation with the International Mission Board (IMB). Representing SEBTS at the graduation in Rio de Janeiro in addition to Akin were John Ewart, the seminary’s GTI associate vice president, and professor of counseling Sam Williams.
 
“This MTS endeavor has demonstrated Baptist cooperation at its highest level,” said David Bledsoe with the IMB in Brazil. “Southeastern offered the program and strived to do so in a contextual manner. IMB offered a missionary professor to assist in the coordination ... [and] the Brazilian mission boards provided much of the logistic assistance to pull off the program on Brazilian soil.”
 
The first graduating cohort encompassed executive and regional leadership in Brazilian Baptist entities, including pastor Fernando Brandão, president of the Junta de Missões Nacionais, or the Brazilian Baptist National Mission Board, reflecting a primary GTI goal of training the trainers to spread their knowledge to other pastors and teachers, multiplying the reach of sound theological education.
 
“It would be hard to overestimate the historical as well as missiological importance of this first cohort working through this degree,” Ewart said. “They literally talk about how this degree has transformed the way they see and do missions and how that impacts the nations around them. We hope that this spreads to all of South America.”
 
Students who graduate from the GTI program in Brazil complete a 48-hour MTS degree, with 24 hours of core classes, 18 hours of missiologically-focused electives and a six-hour thesis. Classes are structured as distance learning courses with occasional face-to-face intensives with SEBTS professors, IMB personnel and Portuguese-speaking adjunct professors. Students complete the entire degree in their native Portuguese.
 
For the cohort students, the thesis projects are based on real-life issues they face in ministry. Each student writes a 10-page journal article that is put to immediate use for educating other Christian leaders in Brazil.
 
Williams travels to Brazil often to teach the cohort classes. Along with attending the first graduation, he taught an intensive for the second cohort during the trip. “The MTS in Brazil was a glorious culmination of [many] years of partnership with Brazilian Baptists,” he said.
 
During the mid-February trip to Brazil, Akin and Ewart participated in strategy meetings with IMB personnel and Brazilian leaders to discuss the future of their partnerships. Akin also took the opportunity to visit schools and strategic neighborhoods in Rio with IMB personnel to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
The first GTI cohort began in Brazil in 2011. Classes for a second cohort of Brazilian Baptists are already underway with plans to possibly begin a third in the near future.
 
Williams, commenting on the value of such partnerships, said, “Cooperation works, not just for us in our own convention, but also with Baptists around the world that share our passion for God’s Word and mission.”

3/30/2016 11:29:07 AM by Harper McKay, SEBTS | with 0 comments



PrayerLink repurposes ministry objectives

March 30 2016 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

Phil Miglioratti opened the winter leadership meeting of PrayerLink asking whether Southern Baptists are more interested in developing prayer guides (booklets and other resources about prayer) or prayer guides (individuals in congregations who help guide church members to be prayer warriors in the house of God).
 
Drawing his lesson from the purification of Jesus recorded in Luke 2, Miglioratti pointed to two individuals in scripture who serve as prayer guides for 21st century believers – Anna and Simeon.
 
These two relatively obscure characters in the overall narrative of scripture were “led by the Spirit to step up at just the right moment to announce God’s redemptive moment,” said Miglioratti, prayer consultant for the Illinois Baptist State Association and national coordinator of Loving Our Communities to Christ.

 
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Noting that we know nothing about them beyond this single instance, Miglioratti observed that Anna and Simeon both frequented the house of God and were devoted to the Lord in prayer.
 
“It is interesting to note that Luke 2:40 follows Luke 2:22-39,” he added.
 
Luke 2:40 states that Jesus grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.
 
“We cannot underestimate the power of prayer on people’s lives,” Miglioratti noted, urging the PrayerLink leadership team to focus its ministry objectives on creating “Luke 2:40 followers of Jesus” – those who grow strong in the Lord, who are filled with the Spirit, and who reflect the grace of God in how they live their lives.
 

What is PrayerLink?

PrayerLink was established in the 1980s to come alongside the Southern Baptist Convention’s Bold Mission Thrust initiative. Initially composed of several SBC entity prayer leaders, it was called the Bold Mission Thrust Prayer Committee.
 
The committee championed establishment of prayer coordinators in each state Baptist convention to help equip churches and church leaders in developing focused prayer ministries in their congregations.
 
When the Bold Mission Thrust initiative ended in 2000, the committee, in concert with SBC entity leaders, deemed it wise to continue the ministry.
 
Changing its name to PrayerLink, members have held an annual meeting for the past 15 years, meeting to pray, network, and share information and exchange resources about “best practices” of prayer ministries in their respective states.
 

Repurposing for ministry

At its January 11–12, 2016, meeting in Chicago, the PrayerLink leadership team proposed the first major restatement of its ministry purpose and composition since 2002, capping a three-year review of its ministry role with Southern Baptists.
 
In 2012, PrayerLink members established three goals to launch its repurposing process. Those initial goals included asking the SBC Executive Committee to create a prayer resources web page connected with the SBC.net website (see InAllThingsPray.net) and an urgent call for spiritual awakening.
 
The following year, PrayerLink voted to expand its annual meeting format to include a local ministry component in the host state. More than a dozen members conducted workshops, taught and preached in churches along the Front Range in Colorado in 2014. In 2015, PrayerLink members continued the local ministry initiative, touring three church ministries in the greater Anchorage metropolitan area and, facilitated by Alaska Baptist Convention staff, hosting two prayer gatherings in the region.
 
If approved by the full PrayerLink group in October, the new purpose statement will clarify that PrayerLink’s primary aims are

  • “to foster a Great Commission prayer mindset among Southern Baptists and other Christ-followers” and

  • to “promote Great Commission prayer ministries woven throughout the entirety of the Southern Baptist family – local churches, associations, fellowships, affinity groups, state conventions, SBC entities, and the SBC when in session” through a fourfold strategy: to work collaboratively with associations, state conventions and SBC entities to assist churches by

  1. facilitating concerts of prayer,

  2. producing and promoting prayer resources,

  3. helping identify and empower congregational prayer champions, and

  4. encouraging development of a loose-knit Great Commission Prayer Network.

The 10-20-30 prayer experience

In planning the PrayerLink gathering for October 2016, host member Miglioratti has enlisted local associational leaders, pastors, and the Send City coordinator for Chicago. Following PrayerLink’s annual meeting on Wednesday evening and Thursday in October, PrayerLink will host a prayer gathering at Broadview Baptist Church on Friday, October 8, followed by a prayer tour of the Chicago area on October 9.
 
PrayerLink leadership team chairman Darrell Webb said, “We would like to invite SBC entity and state prayer coordinators and prayer leaders from across North America to participate in the meeting this October.” Webb, who serves as regional missionary with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, added, “We are praying that we will be able to cast a new vision and purpose in leading Southern Baptists to prioritize prayer during this prayer gathering.”
 
Prayer leaders from across the greater Chicago area and beyond are also invited to the day-long prayer experience and prayer tour, he said.
 
The prayer gathering will be divided into five one-hour seasons of prayer using a “10-20-30” prayer model and following the missions and ministry structure of Acts 1:8.
 
Each hour-long season of prayer will include 10 minutes of scripture reading, public leadership and worship, followed by 20 minutes of sharing prayer concerns in small groups related to the session focus, followed by 30 minutes of guided and conversational times of individual, group and corporate prayer. The one-hour 10-20-30 format is designed to serve as a model that can be replicated and used in a local church setting.
 

You shall receive power: the Acts 1:8 challenge

The five hour-long prayer sessions will begin with a time of personal renewal and then radiate out in concentric circles of ministry as follows:

  • You shall receive power: personal focus (you)

  • You shall receive power: interceding for family, friends, local church, neighborhood (our Jerusalem)

  • You shall receive power: beseeching the Lord of the Harvest for church revitalization and church planting initiatives (our Judea)

  • You shall receive power: interceding for the brokenness of our nation, from racial tensions to the moral darkness that grips our country (our Samaria)

  • You shall receive power: praying God’s Kingdom purposes with a global focus (the uttermost)

In written comments after the draft restatement of purpose had been finalized, Eleanor Witcher, prayer team leader with the International Mission Board, wrote, “I am blessed by the purpose expressed in this document. With change happening all around, it is encouraging to know that our God is ever the same and He continues to ‘walk and talk’ with us in prayer.”
 
Other members of this year’s PrayerLink leadership team are Neal Hughes, North American Mission Board; Gordon Fort, International Mission Board; Claude King, LifeWay Christian Resources; Glenna Heidt, Canadian National Baptist Convention; Chris Schofield, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; and Jerry Dixon, Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE.)

3/30/2016 11:23:07 AM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Church leverages Boomers for Kingdom impact

March 30 2016 by Stephanie Heading, Southern Baptist TEXAN

America’s Baby Boomers are aging. In 2014, the last of the Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – crossed the threshold into their 50s; and whether they liked it or not, they received their first invitation to join AARP and entered the ranks of “senior adults.”
 
Aging Boomers present new challenges for churches, who now must balance ministering to younger Boomers, who often do not consider themselves to be seniors, and their Builder Generation parents, many of whom are still active and involved in the same churches and ministries as their own children.

 
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Photo courtesy of FBC Vidor
At First Baptist Church in Vidor, Baby Boomers and members of the Builder Generation remain active in ministry, service and worship.

In his 21 years of ministry to seniors at First Baptist Church of Vidor, Phil Burnaman has seen huge changes in senior adult ministry.
 
For years, senior adult ministry was a “silo” ministry, according to Burnaman. “All our ministries – preschool, children, youth, adults and senior adults – were separate and competed for people, time and budget.
 
Our senior adult ministry was activity- and fellowship-centered. It was set up like a youth ministry for 60-70-year-olds.”
 
However, about 10 years ago, FBC Vidor rewrote its mission statement and shifted how it does ministry in all areas, including senior adult ministry.
 
“Here, we eliminated ‘silo’ ministries,” Burnaman said, adding, “All our ministries (now) work together as a team.” Part of the shift included changing the name of senior adult ministry to “Encore Adults” – saving the best for last.
 
That reorganization, in addition to the dynamic of having both Boomers and Builders involved in senior adult ministry, fueled a significant change in how FBC Vidor views ministry to and by older members. “Our senior adult ministries don’t focus on activities but on how Boomers and Builders can be effective in serving and in growing in our walk,” Burnaman said.
 
Burnaman also noted that everything in the Encore Adult ministry has been brought into alignment with the church’s ministry statement: “First Baptist Church of Vidor exists to make disciples who worship God, grow in Christ, serve others, and impact the world.” Every activity of Encore Adults must fall under one of the four tenets of this church mission statement.
 
For example, The Glory Singers, a choir of Builders and Boomers, minister inside the church and fall under the worship component of the mission statement, while The Glory Band, comprised of younger Builders and Boomers, goes into the community to minister, so it is part of the church’s impact strategy.
 
Even as Encore Adult activities support the mission statement, they are also grounded in the church’s small group program. Currently, 145 Baby Boomers are enrolled in Life Groups, which are divided by age and stage of life.

 
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Photo courtesy of FBC Vidor
At First Baptist Church in Vidor, Baby Boomers and members of the Builder Generation remain active in ministry, service and worship.

With the structure firmly in place, Burnaman is then free to minister to both Baby Boomers and the Builder Generation, striving to meet each group’s unique needs. “If you want to be effective, you have to be creative and strategic to provide ministry opportunities for two different generations,” he said.
 
“Baby Boomers do not want to be called ‘seniors.’ Baby Boomers are not interested in doing the same things as their parents. The main thing with Boomers is how they serve, impact society and socialize.”
 
The Builder Generation, on the other hand, is more interested in clubs, game nights, day trips and luncheons, but these activities are not priorities for Baby Boomers.
 
“Boomers couldn’t care less to get together for a program,” Burnaman said. “They like large group meetings for a cause. They also like conferences or forums with things to help them enjoy life better, such as ‘how to be a better caregiver.’”
 
Boomers are also facing additional challenges that don’t plague Builders. Boomers are “the sandwich generation” – caring for their elderly parents while many continue to raise their own children. Due to the number of single parents raising children alone, Boomers are also being called on to help raise the next generation.
 
“Many are focusing on taking care of their grandchildren,” Burnaman said.
 
While Builders and Boomers are both considered “seniors,” Burnaman has also noticed that Boomers themselves can be divided into two groups – those who grew up in the church and those who did not.
 
“Boomers who grew up in the church have been mentored and see the importance of long-term projects and are willing to mentor long-term,” he said. Therefore, Encore Adults is currently involved in a spring mentoring program for students in grades 1-12, teaching them how to become godly young people.
 
On the other hand, Boomers who grew up outside the church see everything from the point of view of the “Me Generation,” according to Burnaman.
 
“They are willing to do short-term projects but want freedom to fulfill their social needs,” he said. “They will participate in projects, such as mentoring young people, if it’s worth their time and is self-satisfying, making them feel good.”
 
Over time, Burnaman noted, these Boomers can move away from their “Me Generation” upbringing and learn to worship, grow, serve and impact their communities.
 
“We have to be patient with Baby Boomers who did not grow up in church,” he said. “They are at a stage of life where they are thinking about spiritual things. However, they see things through their anti-establishment filter. You must earn their trust, and once they accept Christ as their Savior, they put everything into it. They are a valuable asset.”
 
As Boomers age and people in general live longer, their impact on the church will continue to be felt for some time.
 
“Baby Boomers have had an impact on the world,” Burnaman said. “They bring that experience to the local church. Boomers have vast experiences that will help the younger generation, if they will listen.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephanie Heading writes for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at www.texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this story first appeared.)

3/30/2016 11:16:49 AM by Stephanie Heading, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Judas documentary critiqued as heresy, revisionism

March 30 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A BBC documentary suggesting Judas Iscariot wasn’t purely a traitor has drawn criticism from evangelicals as, among other things, “an attempt to undermine the Christian gospel.”
 
“This is nothing new,” said Jerry Vines, a former Southern Baptist Convention president who has written and preached on Judas. He noted attempts since the second century to portray Judas more favorably than he is presented in scripture – as a traitor who delivered Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver.
 

Revising Judas

The BBC documentary, Vines said, appears to be “an attempt to undermine the Christian gospel, actually. This idea that you’re a sinner is not real popular with culture. So if you can turn the so-called notable sinners in the Bible into just misunderstood men and scapegoats, it kind of minimizes the fact that men are sinners and need a Savior.”

 
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Image from Wikimedia Commons
Judas Iscariot, depicted here leaving the Last Supper to betray Jesus, is the subject of a BBC documentary.

In the Footsteps of Judas” aired March 25 on BBC One and features Church of England vicar Kate Bottley, who also appears in the British reality show “Gogglebox.” She argues Judas should not be defined by his most notorious act and, according to The Telegraph, suggests “Judas was a dedicated revolutionary who saw Jesus as a reluctant political messiah and hoped that by handing Him over for arrest he could trigger an uprising against Roman rule in Judea.”
 
Bottley says in the film’s closing scene that Judas was “a real man with shortcomings and failings not that different from my own.”
 
She continues, “If only Judas could have heard those words that Jesus said from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ There’s no reason to think that those words don’t extend to Judas too.”
 
In conjunction with the documentary, other British clergy and theologians have expressed their support for a revised portrait of Judas.
 
Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines wrote in the magazine Radio Times, “Judas had invested himself in the revolutionary leadership of Jesus of Nazareth ... only to find himself let down. Trying to force the hand of the messiah didn’t work, and, instead of provoking the ultimate uprising against Roman rule, the glorious leader simply let Himself get nailed without resistance. No wonder Judas got upset.”
 
Similarly, Katie Edwards of the University of Sheffield wrote in the Daily Mail, “Despite centuries of [Judas] denunciation, the biblical text itself is more ambiguous than we might expect.”
 
Vines disagrees.
 
“You go by what scripture says, not by these outside, extraneous views,” said Vines, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. “Jesus called Judas the ‘son of perdition’ in John 17, and then almost uniformly he’s referred to as ‘the traitor.’
 
“When I preached on Judas, which I did many times through the years, I certainly felt sorry for him,” Vines continued. “You’re sorry he became such a tragedy, but he made his own decisions and according to Acts, he went ‘to his own place,’” a reference to hell.
 
Vines added that Judas demonstrates the balance in scripture “between divine sovereignty and human responsibility” because he “made his own choices” while also playing a role in God’s sovereign plan. “When you overemphasize one [of these realities] to the exclusion of the other, that’s when you get out of balance.”
 

Judas in scripture

David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “From a biblical perspective ... there’s no question, number one, about [Judas’] character and, number two, about his eternal destiny. The scripture is actually quite clear on both counts.”
 
Judas was not “an unwitting player” in a political or cosmic drama, Allen said.
 
“It’s very clear that Judas made a personal choice to betray Jesus,” Allen said. “It’s very clear that Satan exploited that choice. And it’s very clear that Judas realized what he had done ... realized the gravity of it. It’s also clear that when he died, he went to hell.”
 
Allen cited Matthew 26:24 and Acts 1:25 as evidence Judas died without repenting of his sin and trusting Christ for salvation. He noted the Greek word used to describe Peter’s repentance from denying Jesus (metanoeo) is different from the Greek word used to describe Judas’ expression of regret in Matthew 27:3 (metamelomai).
 
Nineteenth-century New Testament scholar Richard Trench argued that while “no rigid line of discrimination can be drawn” between the meanings of the two Greek words, “a predominant use” of metanoeo is to indicate true repentance while metamelomai tends to indicate “a disliking of the thing with its consequents and effects.”
 
Allen said attempts to “sanitize Judas” seem to occur “within the purview of liberal theology, where we don’t want to say that anyone is damned.”
 
Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed Vines’ assessment that attempts to portray Judas in a favorable light stretch back two millennia.
 
In the second-fourth centuries, Durst said, a heretical Gnostic sect known as the Cainites “venerated Judas” and taught he “was the enlightened disciple who acted for the redemption of humanity through the death of Christ.” The Cainites were condemned by patristic apologists Irenaeus, Tertullian and Epiphanius.
 
The third-century theologian Origen, described by Durst as “ever creatively odd,” wrongly argued “Judas committed suicide by hanging to seek Christ in the nether world and beg His pardon.” On a more orthodox note, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan and Augustine all spoke of Judas as evil and condemned during the fourth and fifth centuries.
 
In the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ attempted to portray Judas as Jesus’ friend and was made into a movie.
 

Preaching Judas

For preachers, the biblical story of Judas is more powerful than a manufactured narrative, Allen and Vines said.
 
Allen said “from an application standpoint, preachers can point out that if Judas could sin against Jesus in His very presence, then how much more are we prone to deny the Lord like Peter did or to even betray Him into the hands of false doctrine or false teachers if we’re not careful.”
 
Judas demonstrates that supposed followers of Jesus can “have an outward profession but not have an inward possession of genuine salvation,” Allen said.
 
Vines’ 1981 book Interviews with Jesus drew on Judas to extend an evangelistic invitation.
 
Had Judas truly repented of his sin, Vines wrote, “I fully believe that the Lord Jesus Christ would have reached out His arms of mercy, forgiveness and love, and brought Judas into the very family of God. But Judas didn’t do it, and it is too late for Judas today. Judas sits upon a throne of fire in hell today, and the epitaph over his throne in hell reads, ‘Judas Iscariot, the traitor.’
 
“Too late, but it is not too late for you,” Vines wrote. “... There is time for you. You can repent. You can come to Jesus. You can quit hiding behind your religiosity and your church membership. You can come to Jesus Christ and let Him save you.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/30/2016 11:02:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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