March 2016

New book: Pro-life women are ‘pro-woman’

March 2 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A misleading concept prevalent about women is the focus of a new book from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s publishing arm.
 
“There is an idea out there that those who are pro-choice are pro-woman, and the rest of us do not care about women,” said Trillia Newbell, editor of Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved and Neglected.
 
“This, to me, couldn’t be further from the truth.”
 
The book features 16 female writers addressing a variety of life situations from a biblical, pro-life perspective. The topics include not only protecting unborn children and vulnerable women from abortion but helping pregnant teenagers, living as a single mother, and caring for widows, the elderly and those with special needs.

 
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“I wanted to get women who I knew were indeed pro-women and pro-life” to write about difficult issues in today’s culture, Newbell told Baptist Press in an email interview. “These women who contributed to Women on Life love women and want to see the unborn, toddlers, the mother to the grandmother prosper in the Lord. I knew they would share covered in grace and truth.”
 
Published by the ERLC’s Leland House Press in print and e-book formats, Women on Life was released in mid-January for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on Jan. 17 and the first Evangelicals for Life conference, Jan. 21-22 in Washington. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family were the primary cosponsors of the conference.
 
Among the contributors to Women on Life are Betsy Childs Howard, an editor with The Gospel Coalition; Jackie Hill-Perry, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records; and Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach for Focus on the Family.
 
“Holistically Pro-life,” a chapter by Newbell, serves as a big-picture perspective the other contributors apply to specific issues.
 
Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, writes that God calls Christians not only to love their spiritual brothers and sisters but to love all human beings, including their enemies.
 
“This means we love the 90-year-old woman in our congregation, the rambunctious and joyful child with autism, and the hostile non-Christian neighbor struggling with depression,” she notes. “All life matters because all life matters to God.
 
“Like Christ, we die to our own needs, our preferences and, in times of others’ needs, our very own bodies and goods to show love and compassion to others,” Newbell writes.
 
It is impossible to be “truly be pro-life without a great love for others. Our lack of compassion for the defenseless and hurting, ignoring the widow and orphan, and forgetting the elderly can be equated to selfishness and self-absorption, which is not love.”
 
To be pro-life holistically, Newbell said, is to take action, see others as God’s image bearers and apply the gospel of Jesus.
 
“[B]eing pro-life in all of life requires some sort of action,” she said. “I also believe that it’s essential to remember that all people are image bearers of God and therefore valuable and have worth. Finally, I believe that the gospel theme throughout the book is central and extremely important to grasp and understand in order to effectively love our neighbor and pursue pro-life ministry motivated by grace.”
 
Among the other topics addressed in the book are living a pure life, receiving forgiveness for sexual sin, teaching children about sex, assisting women with high-risk pregnancies and dealing with the challenges of adoption.
 
The book is available in print at ERLC.com and Amazon. The e-book version is available at ERLC.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore from Apple. The book is part of ERLC’s Leland House Press mission to publish books and pamphlets to inform and equip the church regarding ethics and religious freedom.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/2/2016 12:24:10 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Religious liberty violations recounted at NRB convention

March 2 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As followers of Christ in America experience increasing attacks against their religious liberty, Christian journalists have an opportunity to lay the groundwork for rights of conscience to prevail, an attorney and a Fox News commentator said at Proclaim 16, the National Religious Broadcasters’ (NRB) International Christian Media Convention in Nashville.
 
Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of legal advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said during an NRB panel discussion that ADF is contacted nearly every day by Christians whose religious liberty is being threatened because of their refusal to compromise spiritual convictions. Three such Christians joined Waggoner in a discussion moderated by Todd Starnes of Fox News and Commentary: a Washington state grocery store executive being sued for refusing to sell so-called emergency contraception; a Kentucky T-shirt store owner being sued for refusing to design shirts for a gay pride event; and a Washington state florist being sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

 
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NRB photo
Participants in a Feb. 25 NRB panel on religious liberty urged Christians to stand for freedom of conscience.

Starnes said “it is imperative” that Christian journalists tell the stories of believers like these whose religious liberty has been violated.
 
“If you have read the stories the mainstream media has done on these folks up here,” Starnes said of the NRB panelists, you would think “they’re right-wing, homophobic bigots ... dressed in robes, in bedsheets with pointy hats.” But “we know that there’s another story, and we’re able to tell that story at Fox News. And I know that you’ll be able to tell those stories on your platforms as well.”
 
Waggoner underscored the point, saying Christian journalists are needed “to engage, to tell the stories in a winsome way – accurate but winsome.”
 
“Be a storyteller,” she said Feb. 25, “and tell the narrative, because we win when the truth gets out.”
 
Greg Stormans, vice president of Ralph’s Thriftway, a family grocery business in Olympia, Wash., said he believes spiritual warfare is involved in a lawsuit spearheaded by the state and Planned Parenthood attempting to force the pharmacy in his store to sell abortion-causing drugs despite his family’s religious objections.
 
“I never thought I would see [this] kind of dissension against our company within our community,” Stormans said. “It happened with the pickets that were outside our store, which resulted in us initially losing 30 percent of our business. We were denigrated on social media. We were left voicemails and threats. Even in high school, my kids would come home and say, ‘You know, my friends talk about this some and we’ve even had teachers comment on it very negatively.’“
 
The Stormans lost their latest round of appeals at a federal appellate court and are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case, Waggoner said.
 
Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, a T-shirt-making business in Lexington, Ky., said he will not change his mind about refusing to make shirts for a gay pride event because he’s bound by God’s laws.
 
After losing his case initially before a local human rights commission, Adamson won the right to remain true to his conscience in a Kentucky circuit court. The city has appealed to a state appellate court, Waggoner said.
 
“In His Word, God promises one thing – not that we like to talk about it – that we’ll suffer for His name’s sake,” Adamson said. “The Word hasn’t changed, so I can’t change on my position.”
 
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., said believers “need to stand up now” for religious liberty. She lost in court initially after being sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, and her case is being appealed to the Washington state Supreme Court, Waggoner said.
 
“It’s me today, but it will be you tomorrow,” Stutzman said. If believers do not defend their rights, “when our grandkids come and ask us why we don’t have a free America anymore, we [will] simply have to say we did nothing.”
 
Rather than despair at such attacks on religious freedom, Waggoner urged believers to be thankful they live in “such a time as this” – a reference to the biblical book of Esther – when they can make a difference by standing firm.
 
“How great is it that God trusted us enough to live now? In this unprecedented time in our nation, He trusted us to be here and to man our stations,” Waggoner said. “... You have a station. So I just want to encourage you: man it for such a time as this.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/2/2016 12:15:30 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Apologetic Cafe’ takes to radio airwaves

March 2 2016 by Caleb Yarbrough, Arkansas Baptist News

Baptists may say they love hearing God’s Word preached on Sunday mornings, but sometimes a sermon may raise more questions than answers, notes Arkansas pastor Joe Manning.
 
Manning, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ark., is a self-proclaimed apologetics junkie who holds a doctorate in the field from Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind. Manning first recognized the need for a time of open conversational dialogue about God and the Bible when he was pastoring a church in Hawaii.
 
“One of the things that (I) heard from a lot of people, especially from students when I was teaching Bible classes, was that, ‘We never have a chance to ask pastors questions. We leave the services sometimes more confused than when we came,’” Manning said.

 
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Photo by Caleb Yarbrough
Members of Bethel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ark., participate in “Apologetic Café,” a weekly 30-minutes radio program with the goal of creating an open dialogue regarding questions about God and the Bible.

Manning noted that the comments led him to begin meeting with folks at Starbucks. They called the group “Theology Cafe.”
 
“They would come with their questions from the Sunday message. Or they may have heard something on the radio or on television and they may have a question about it,” Manning said. “We would sit and discuss this for a couple hours.”
 
Manning said that upon becoming pastor of Bethel Baptist, members of the church began a similar group in Jacksonville. The group eventually evolved last August from a Bible study and discussion into a 30-minute radio program called “Apologetic Cafe,” which airs at 7 p.m. each Tuesday on FaithTalk 99.5 FM.
 
Manning, along with members of Bethel Baptist and guests, now meet each Tuesday evening at Ropers Restaurant in the Gravel Ridge neighborhood of Sherwood to produce and stream “Apologetic Cafe.” The program’s structure consists of a Bible study led by Manning interspersed with questions and interactions with the other individuals in attendance.
 
“We have been able to connect with some folks,” Manning said. “A lot of emails I get asked, ‘Can you go for an hour? A half-hour isn’t long enough.’”
 
Ede King, a member of Bethel Baptist, noted, “We have a 30-minute slot now because it was all that was available and all we could afford when we started. But now we have been doing it for six months, and we have talked about going to an hour.”
 
“The Lord has blessed the church with enough money to finance that,” King said. “So if people are listening and they want to continue on with it, we will.”
 
King said that the program is now live, which was a little difficult to get used to.
 
“It’s a little unnerving at first, but then you pick the mic up and I’m looking at the pastor and he’s going, ‘What’s your question?’ And then I’m not talking to the mic anymore; I’m talking to him,” King said. “That’s the way we do it at church. He (Manning) leaves it open-form like that.”
 
Manning said, “I’d love to get some pastors to come in and do this and work with us in this. It’s not something that we are doing just as Bethel Baptist Church. We just want to get the word out.”
 
“I would love to have more of them (pastors) involved so that we could get different perspectives out there,” he said.
 
For more information about “Apologetic Cafe,” visit bbcjville.org or twitter.com/apologeticcafe.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caleb Yarbrough is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, where this article first appeared.)

3/2/2016 12:07:55 PM by Caleb Yarbrough, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments



NOBTS professor leads evangelical preaching society

March 2 2016 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) preaching professor Dennis Phelps is serving as the 2015-2016 president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society (EHS).
 
EHS promotes the exchange of ideas related to instruction in biblical preaching, academic publication in homiletics and the effective communication of the gospel from a biblical-theological standpoint.

 
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Photo by Boyd Guy
Dennis Phelps, professor of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks to seminary students during weekly chapel services in the Leavell Chapel.

Phelps joined the NOBTS faculty in 2006 and occupies the J.D. Grey Chair of Preaching. He has 19 years in theological education, including 10 at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and more than 21 years in pastoral ministry. In addition to his teaching duties, Phelps also leads the alumni relations office at NOBTS.
 
Phelps is a frequent guest presenter at preaching conferences, including a pastors’ preaching and evangelism conference in Belarus, and has appeared regularly at the E-4 Preaching Conference, a collaborative expository preaching conference hosted by the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Seminary and Louisiana College.
 
EHS will mark its 20-year anniversary when it convenes in October at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Phelps assumed EHS’ presidency at last fall’s annual meeting in Fort Worth, having served the previous year as vice president.
 
Phelps was among the society’s founders. “Almost 20 years ago many of us gathered at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside of Boston to organize a professional scholarly society specifically for evangelical homileticians with a high view of scripture and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone,” he recounted.
 
“It has been fascinating to watch the group grow, to see the respected contributions made to national and international scholarship, and to encourage the next generation across several evangelical cultures,” Phelps said. “To serve as the current president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society is quite humbling and exhilarating.”
 
Phelps holds a Ph.D. in preaching from Southwestern Seminary, a master of divinity in pastoral ministries, theology and in biblical studies from New Orleans Seminary and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana College.
 
EHS produces the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. Membership is open to homiletics professors and instructors, pastors, evangelists and others committed to the organization’s goals. An associate membership is available for graduate students.
 
“Preaching and Politics” is the theme of the EHS conference Oct. 13-15 at Southwestern Seminary with special guests James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago; Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas; and Ralph West of The Church Without Walls in Houston. For information, visit ehomiletics.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is assistant director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

3/2/2016 11:59:49 AM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments



Refugees, churches & fear spotlighted in study

March 1 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

When it comes to helping refugees, Protestant churches and their pastors are often separated by faith and fear, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research.
 
Most pastors say Christians should lend a hand to refugees and foreigners, and believe caring for refugees is a privilege. But pastors say their churches are twice as likely to fear refugees than they are to help them.

 
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Graphic by LifeWayResearch.com

“Pastors believe scripture tells Christians to care for refugees and foreigners,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Yet many admit their church is not involved in such ministry.”
 
The telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors, conducted in January, was sponsored by evangelical relief agencies World Relief and World Vision.
 
About 20 million people worldwide – including 4 million refugees from Syria alone – are refugees, according to World Relief, which has resettled refugees for decades. The United States plans to resettle 85,000 refugees in 2016, including 10,000 from Syria, reports The Wall Street Journal.
 
Researchers found widespread support among pastors for the idea of helping refugees.
 
More than eight in 10 (86 percent) agree Christians should “care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners.” One in 10 disagrees.
 
While 80 percent of pastors consider it a privilege to care for refugees, about one in eight (13 percent) disagrees.
 
Two-thirds (67 percent) say the U.S. can balance national security interests with compassion when assisting refugees. About a quarter (28 percent) are skeptical. Six percent are not sure.
 
Still, researchers found few churches have taken steps to aid refugees.

 
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Graphic by LifeWayResearch.com

One in five pastors (19 percent) say their church is helping refugees overseas. One in three (35 percent) have addressed the Syrian refugee crisis from the pulpit. More than four in 10 (44 percent) believe there is a sense of fear in their church about refugees coming to the United States.
  Among other findings:

  • Almost all pastors (98 percent) believe they are at least somewhat informed about the Syrian refugee crisis.

  • Many pastors have not discussed or heard about ways to help refugees locally (72 percent) or overseas (63 percent).

  • About one in 10 churches (9 percent) has decided not to help refugees locally. Seven percent have decided not to help refugees overseas.

  • Pastors are twice as likely to say their churches are helping refugees overseas (19 percent) as locally (8 percent.)

  • Pastors are four times more likely to say Christians should care for refugees (86 percent) than to say their church is helping refugees overseas (19 percent).

  • Churches are most likely to help refugees by giving money to relief organizations or praying (19 percent each). Fewer churches volunteer to help refugees locally (7 percent) or sponsor individual refugees (5 percent.)

“It’s encouraging to see the American church understands God’s call to serve and care for refugees and foreigners, but what’s needed now is action,” said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. “This is a test of the relevance of the church in our world.”
 
Pastors from different denominations disagree about how to respond to refugees, according to LifeWay Research.
 
Most Presbyterian (96 percent), Lutheran (85 percent) and Methodist (85 percent) pastors see caring for refugees as a privilege. Baptists (77 percent) and Pentecostals (68 percent) are less certain. Pentecostals (42 percent) are skeptical the U.S. can balance compassion and national security. Presbyterians (93 percent), Lutherans (73 percent), and Methodists (76 percent) are more confident.

 
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Graphic by LifeWayResearch.com

Around half of Baptist (56 percent) and Pentecostal (50 percent) pastors say there’s a sense of fear in their church about refugees coming to the U.S. So do a third of Lutherans (33 percent) and about three in 10 Presbyterians (29 percent).
 
White pastors (46 percent) are most likely to say their congregations are fearful of refugees than pastors of other ethnicities (33 percent). They are also more likely to have discussed the Syrian refugee crisis from the pulpit (37 percent) than other pastors.
 
More churches may get involved with helping refugees in the future, according to LifeWay Research.
 
Nine percent of pastors say their churches want to get involved in helping refugees locally. A similar number (10 percent) wants to assist refugees overseas.
 
“This important research affirms that church leaders broadly agree our faith compels us to care sacrificially for refugees, but also finds that relatively few congregations are actively engaged in doing so,” said Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief.
 
Methodology: LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches. The telephone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Jan. 8-22. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample is 1,000 phone interviews. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

3/1/2016 11:34:53 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Platt announces live streamed Q&A

March 1 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt will host a one-hour live streamed video session on the entity’s future at 11 a.m. Eastern Time March 3, answering questions and responding to comments submitted via Twitter under #IMBLive.
 
Platt has expressed a desire to move the conversation beyond discussion of the 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff members leaving IMB through a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) collectively aimed at balancing the entity’s budget.

 
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David Platt

Registration is available free online to the public at eventbrite.com/e/the-future-of-imb-tickets-21722715226.
 
Specifically, 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took VRIs, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took HROs in the plan to create a balanced budget for the organization that had operated with a $210 million deficit over the past six years by utilizing reserves and selling property. The VRI was offered to eligible retirement-age personnel and the HRO was available to everyone in the IMB.
 
When Platt announced Feb. 24 the numbers taking VRI and HRO, he said he wanted to focus on IMB’s future.
 
“In the days to come, I do want to begin … to shift the conversation to that future, a future that I pray will be marked by multitudes of Southern Baptist missionaries taking the gospel to the nations,” he said during a Feb. 24 press conference. “Amidst all the conversations about the number of missionaries who have left, I want to talk about the number of missionaries who are left.
 
“Thousands of missionaries, with thousands upon thousands of years of collective experience, still remain on the field through the IMB, in such a way that IMB remains the largest missionary organization of its kind in the entire world,” he noted.
 
Those missionaries are ready to conduct missions, Platt said.
 
“They are ready to stop talking about VRI and HRO and start putting all of our collective focus back on making disciples and multiplying churches for the most populated cities in the most extreme places in the world,” Platt said. “We’ve made significant changes to our infrastructure and systems in order to help them do that with greater excellence, effectiveness and efficiency.”
 
IMB will spread the gospel by continuing to support the approximate 3,800 international missionaries who remain in the field, while surrounding them “with students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the gospel,” Platt has said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

Related Stories:

Platt: IMB to handle added VRI, HRO costs
Nearly 1,000 missionaries leave IMB
IMB reduces, reorganizes communication team

3/1/2016 11:28:26 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Most Texas Christian colleges ban guns on campus

March 1 2016 by Melinda Taylor, World News Service

Starting in August, public universities in Texas must allow concealed guns on campus. Although conservative and, in some cases, Christian lawmakers championed the new “campus carry” law, most of the state’s private religious universities are opting out. So far, more than 20 private colleges say they will continue to ban guns on campus. At least two are still in the decision-making process.
 
Houston Baptist University (HBU) and LeTourneau University in Longview are submitting input from students, faculty and staff before making a decision. Officials at both schools have held forums and set up surveys to gather opinions.
 
“It’s not an easy decision,” said John Holmes, associate vice president of facility operations at HBU. “We got feedback that ran the gamut. This is not something we wanted to enter into casually.”

 
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Some of the state’s largest private schools – Baylor, Texas Christian, and Southern Methodist universities – already have said they will not change their gun policies. Baylor’s president, Ken Starr, called the new law “very unwise public policy.”
 
Texas lawmakers last year passed the “campus carry” law that requires public universities to allow concealed handgun license holders – who must be at least 21 years old – to bring their weapons into campus buildings and classrooms. Private institutions of higher learning, which often have religious affiliations and conservative beliefs, can decide whether to allow guns on school property.
 
Holmes said the most difficult aspect of the law for private schools is that they must determine on their own how to respond to it.
 
“This was dropped on the universities without clarity, and we have to figure it out,” he said, adding that the state’s school marshal program, put in place after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, was much more clear-cut.
 
HBU is located in an urban area and has its own armed police department. Holmes said many people believe the school already is well-protected but acknowledged gun rights are important to people in Texas.
 
“There are individuals who feel they may be the best caretaker of their own safety,” he said.
 
At least 20 states allow campus carry to some extent, but Texas is making it a right defined by state law. Some public school administrators and faculty, law enforcement and students strongly oppose the law, saying guns have no business in the classroom. University of Texas President Greg Fenves and the school’s system chancellor, William McRaven, who headed the U.S. Special Operations Command responsible for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, both disagree with the law.
 
“Private universities have made a statement that handguns do not belong in campus buildings. I agree. “Fenves said. “We don’t have a choice.”
 
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, who wrote the law, said he had to protect the public’s “God-given” right of self-defense on public property but also private rights.
 
At LeTourneau, dean of students Kristy Morgan said some factors that contribute to the school’s decision-making process might not be obvious to the general public. For example, the school would need to provide storage for weapons carried by students in the school’s aviation program.
 
“Students are climbing into airplanes every day,” she said. “We would need storage for people to disarm so that they can do some of the work they would need to do on an airplane or in a lab. Some of the equipment is pretty sensitive.”
 
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he’s not surprised many schools are opting out of the requirement to allow guns on campus. “I don’t know why colleges are fixated with this. I think it makes campuses safer,” he said.
 
But Holmes said the decision requires time for “thinking and praying.”
 
“As a person with adult children – they’re adults but they’re still my kids – we don’t want to have any accidental victims here,” he said. “The idea that we would in any way be less than thoughtful and prayerful when we’re dealing with the safety of people’s children is an anathema to what we are and what we do.”

3/1/2016 11:24:14 AM by Melinda Taylor, World News Service | with 0 comments



Canada contemplates closing its Office of Religious Freedom

March 1 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service

Groups representing Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are urging Canada’s new Liberal government to renew the country’s Office of Religious Freedom and the position of ambassador for religious freedom, which is set to expire at the end of March.
 
Andrew Bennett, a Catholic professor, has served as the country’s ambassador for religious freedom since its inception in 2013. His tenure was set to expire Feb. 18, but Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion extended it to March 31, according to National Post.
 
That gives the government time to weigh “how best to preserve and protect all human rights, including the vital freedom of religion or belief,” said Dion, one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet ministers.

 
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Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, promised to create the office while campaigning in 2011, CBC reported. His government opened the Office of Religious Freedom on Feb. 19, 2013, with a mandate to protect and advocate for threatened religious minorities, “oppose religious hatred and intolerance,” and promote pluralism and tolerance abroad.
 
In January, Dion noted religious freedom was not “disconnected” from other human rights, fueling concerns the office would be eliminated and prompting letters from a Catholic rights organization, an evangelical organization, and the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim representatives also signed on to the CIJA letter.
 
The organizations argued that as persecution of religious minorities increases globally, the office remains necessary. CIJA’s letter praised the office for “raising our country’s profile as a world leader in human rights promotion on the international stage” and for its aid to persecuted groups.
 
“Now, more than ever, Canada ought to present a strong voice for religious freedoms globally,” said Christian Domenic Elia, executive director of Canada’s Catholic Civil Rights League. “I say this as we are witnessing particularly gruesome acts of violence against Christians in Iraq, Syria, and other places in the Middle East and Africa. Elsewhere, where less blood is being shed, worshippers nonetheless cannot practice their faith in the open and all of this is appalling.”
 
But even with Bennett’s temporary extension, concerns remain.
 
“I will choose to be optimistic, but unfortunately there have been too many indications from high-ranking members of the current federal Liberal government and their aides, that the Office of Religious Freedom will indeed be closed down,” Elia said. “Still, I welcome at least the longer period that organizations like ours, the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), will have in order to lobby for its renewal.”
 
Elia’s skepticism stems from the “more radical secularism being espoused by the Trudeau government and their view that religious beliefs or beliefs informed by religion ought not to share space in the public square …”
 
Still, the ambassador’s temporary extension “encouraged” Bruce J. Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC).
 
“The government has not confirmed they were renewing the mandate and recent government statements were interpreted by many to indicate that the government was planning to close the office,” Clemenger said. “Perhaps this extension signals that they are still considering a renewed mandate. At the very least, they recognize the importance of having an ambassador to run the office until a final decision is made.”
 
Canada’s fight over its religious freedom office mirrors last year’s battle in the United States over its religious freedom ambassador. U.S. lawmakers reauthorized the office without making proposed changes many believed would lead to the post’s eventual demise.

3/1/2016 11:18:32 AM by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service | with 0 comments



With stains removed, he returns to the streets

March 1 2016 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

David Holland says his single mom raised him right. He went to church and knew about God. But when he got older, he “branched out into different areas.” Soon, he was mired in a life of crime and addiction.
 
Between the ages of 21 and 40, Holland estimates he spent eight-plus years incarcerated for short-term sentences on a range of charges, such as cocaine possession with intent to sell and domestic violence.

 
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David Holland (right) and his pastor Shaun Pillay celebrate a baptismal service for Cornerstone City Church in Norwich, Conn. Holland, the first person to come to Christ through the church plant, now is Cornerstone’s community outreach organizer.
 

Incarceration, Holland now believes, was God working to rescue him from his addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine. His brother remembers him as looking like a dying HIV patient during that time.
 
“A lot of my friends are dead,” said Holland, of Norwich, Conn. “If they aren’t dead, they probably wish they were because they are crippled, paralyzed or addicted to drugs.”
 
Violence claimed the life of one of his closest friends, gunned down by rivals in broad daylight. The friend’s death gripped Holland with fear, so he went home and destroyed all of his drugs and related paraphernalia, then started praying.
 
“I just started praying to God, and it was scaring me more because I knew He was hearing me,” Holland said. “I knew He was answering me.”
 
The answer started with a carpet-cleaning job. One of Holland’s first assignments was to clean the carpet at a Southern Baptist church plant, Cornerstone City Church. While struggling to clean a pesky stain, he was approached by pastor Shaun Pillay.
 
“You know that stain you keep trying to get, we have them in our heart too,” the church planter said. “Sometimes when we try to get rid of them we can’t. But Jesus can.”
 
Pillay gave Holland a Bible and pointed him to Psalm 46:10, with its instruction to be still as God does His work in and through a person’s life.
 
Pillay, an Asian Indian who grew up in Durban, South Africa, had come to Norwich to start an inner-city church. The launch was upcoming on Easter Sunday, April 7, 2009, and he invited Holland. During the service’s invitation, Holland responded.
 
“It was like God took everything off of me,” Holland said. “My socks, shoes, and shoestrings. It was like I was stripped naked.

 
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David Holland is a former drug dealer who now serves as the Cornerstone City Church’s community outreach organizer in Norwich, Conn. He drives the church van on Sundays, returning to former haunts to invite and drive people to church.

“I was reborn that day in that church. We have those stains in our heart that only Jesus can clean.”
 
Pillay not only gained the church’s first convert, he gained a person of peace who connected Cornerstone to the city.
 

The Rose of New England

Norwich, in southeastern Connecticut, has a rich history of manufacturing and shipping. The city played a significant role in the American Revolution with its production of ships and munitions. Today, it has about 40,000 residents and is called “The Rose of New England.”
 
The city’s heritage had little effect on Holland. By the time he was in high school, his reputation as an athlete was beginning to gain him favors – playing with older students who started giving him drugs.
 
The last of five children, Holland kept his newfound habits from her. When she finally figured out what he was doing, she was deeply hurt. Holland’s mom was the first of many who would be hurt.
 
By 21, he met someone who offered him the opportunity to make money selling drugs.
 
“It seemed good, but it never was good,” Holland said. “It was nothing but total chaos. Not one bit of it was fun.”
 
Those years are painful to remember, but Holland now understands that his previous drug use was a boot camp for his current ministry as Cornerstone City Church’s community outreach organizer. He’s like a one-man fire department, on call 24 hours a day to respond to emergency calls from addicts, homeless and others.
 
“We are the number one church called to do anything,” Holland said of Cornerstone’s reputation in the region.
 
His old haunts are now his mission field.
 
Shortly after his conversion, Holland started street witnessing. The pastor knew that Holland needed mentoring and discipleship first. For the next few years, they met regularly for that purpose. And they intentionally met in different places around Norwich because wherever they went Holland knew people.
 
“He has had significant growth in Christ,” said Pillay, who is also a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst. “All the people that he used to sell drugs to he was intentional to go back and reach them.”
 
Holland’s transformation has been evident beyond Cornerstone. He and Pillay have visited with Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy on several occasions, and he has connected with the ministries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich. And he received a Connecticut NAACP Humanitarian Award for 2015.
 
Holland also serves the Baptist Convention of New England as a board member.
 
As Terry Dorsett, BCNE’s executive director, recounted, “When David was asked to be on the board of directors, his first response was that he did not know much about being on a board, but was willing to serve the Lord in any way he could.
 
“I remember telling him that that was exactly the kind of heart we were looking for in board members and he responded by saying, ‘You can count on me.’”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist living in Atlanta.)

3/1/2016 11:00:51 AM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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