March 2016

Bellevue security subdues ‘heavily armed’ man

March 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Roach

A “heavily armed” man was subdued and arrested at the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church Easter Sunday, the congregation’s director of security services told Baptist Press (BP).
Texas-based church security expert Jimmy Meeks told BP the incident serves as an example of “heads-up” response to a potential threat. The man – 31-year-old Marcus Donald – who was taken into custody remains under mental evaluation, according to media reports.


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Police were called to Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis after security team members detained a man with two guns and “lots of ammo.”

Bellevue pastor Steve Gaines said in a March 28 statement, “Saturday evening more than 75 people gathered to pray over every seat in Bellevue’s Worship Center – for hearts to be changed as thousands entered Bellevue’s campus on Easter.
“Following that time of prayer in the Worship Center, this group also prayed throughout the church campus for God’s hand of protection to be on each person who visited Bellevue. We believe those fervent prayers were answered in light of the events Sunday morning,” said Gaines, who will be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention president in June.
Just before Bellevue’s 11 a.m. worship service began March 27 with an estimated 3,500 attendees, greeter Kathy Jackson noticed a man entering the church with “a pistol sticking out of his pocket,” administrative pastor David Coombs told BP. She told a nearby ministerial staff member, who radioed security.
Andy Willis, Bellevue’s director of security services and a reserve officer with the Memphis Police Department, approached the man, identified himself as a police officer and escorted him into a hallway.
“I figured this was a guy with a [concealed] carry permit who just ... didn’t know that it was appropriate to hide [the weapon] if he’s going to carry it somewhere,” Willis said.
Donald appeared calm when Willis took his pistol – a .40-caliber Beretta according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal – and asked him to put the weapon in his car before entering the service, the officer said. Donald said he had the weapon because “Memphis is dangerous.”
Donald told Willis he had a permit to carry the pistol and did not have any other weapons. Donald then agreed to let Willis put the gun in a backpack Donald was carrying. When Willis opened the backpack, he discovered an automatic rifle and “lots of ammo,” Willis said. The Commercial Appeal reported the rifle was a .300 Blackout assault weapon.
“I, of course, quickly changed mode,” Willis said. “I dropped [the backpack]. I put my hand on my pistol – I didn’t draw it. And I yelled at him, ‘Get down on your knees,’ which he did.”
After another security team member arrived to assist, Donald rolled off his knees and ran toward the auditorium. Willis said he tackled Donald, and security team members handcuffed him and escorted him to an exit to wait for police. Donald was arrested for “emergency commitment” and underwent psychiatric evaluation, according to the Commercial Appeal.
“When I saw the rifle, I thought, ‘This guy’s coming to do terrible stuff. I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do. I’m stopping him,’” Willis said. When Donald ran, he “was not trying to get away. He was moving as if he was headed to complete his mission.”
Willis added he doesn’t know whether Donald intended to do harm. Coombs said Donald’s mother, who is a Bellevue member, reported he was “hyper-afraid of being attacked.”
The Memphis police and the FBI are investigating the incident. Additional information will be released later, Willis said.
Under Tennessee state law, guns are banned on church property only if the property is being used for a school event or if the church posts signs at entryways stating weapons are banned, the Commercial Appeal reported, noting a church spokesman was unaware of any such policy at Bellevue.
Meeks, a retired Hurst, Texas, police officer who trains churches across the U.S. in proper security procedures through what he calls Sheepdog Seminars, credited Jackson, the greeter who initially reported Donald.
“What a heads-up call,” Meeks said. “What a Joan of Arc, as we would call her at the seminar. My hat’s off to her because we’ve told people over and over: It’s not just a case of ‘Do you have armed security?’ She probably wasn’t armed. But she saw something. ... You’ve got to pay attention.”
Since 1999, there have been 625 violent deaths at houses of worship in America, Meeks said. To avoid additions to that statistic, churches of all sizes should form security teams trained to watch for suspicious behavior like individuals carrying backpacks or wearing large jackets in hot weather.
Depending on state laws and other factors, church security teams may or may not choose to be armed, Meeks said. He urged all security teams to train regularly, “just like the praise and worship team or choir does.”
Church security follows a biblical precedent, said Meeks, whose next seminar is April 2 in the Nashville area.
“Paul used armed security in Acts 23, if you’ll recall,” Meeks said. “His nephew told him, ‘Paul, there are 40 men who are going to kill you. They vowed to not eat until you’re dead.’ Paul said, ‘Well, go tell the police,’ and they put 475 armed guards on him. That’s how he got to Rome and how the gospel got all the way to Nashville and Dallas” eventually.
At Bellevue, security helped play a role in spreading the gospel as well. Under the protection of the congregation’s security team, 148 people made first-time professions of faith Sunday, the largest number of which occurred during the 11 o’clock service, Coombs said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

3/29/2016 9:15:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Roach | with 0 comments

Pakistani Easter bombing death toll rising

March 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

LAHORE, Pakistan – The death toll is rising from a suicide bombing targeting Christians in a crowded park on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan, with at least 75 dead and more than 368 wounded, 138 of them critically, based on reports from Morning Star News and CNN.
Already claiming responsibility for the evening attack and professing to have targeted Christians is the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar terrorist group, a splinter faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has professed allegiance to ISIS.


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“We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter,” Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement the group released shortly after the bombing.
“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” he said, threatening that the attacks “will continue throughout this year.”
Killed were at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims, Morning Star News said, based on unofficial reports in the country where Christians comprise only 2 percent of an estimated 192.8 million people. Many of the victims were women and children, as the suicide bomber detonated at least eight kilograms of explosives near the children’s swings in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Morning Star News said.
Saeed Elahi, chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (Red Cross), told CNN in a live news report March 28 that the death toll had surpassed 75.
“The Red Crescent responded within five minutes, and the first ambulance reached there within four minutes,” he said, “but because the casualty was very high, we had to respond with doctors, paramedics and a large number of volunteers. So they provided them first aid and shifted them to the different hospitals.”
Businesses, schools and public parks are closed today in Pakistan and citizens are urged to donate blood for the injured. Dozens of women and children covered in blood were wheeled into hospitals, Morning Star News reported.
A family in the Christian neighborhood of Bihar Colony lost four family members in the explosion, a witness told Morning Star.
“What a brutal end to Easter celebrations,” Morning Star quoted Esther Murad. “Words cannot do justice to their pain.” A doctor at the Government Jinnah Hospital told Morning Star he feared the death toll would continue to rise, based on the number of critical injuries.
The attack was the deadliest in Pakistan since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in Peshawar. Pakistan is ranked as fourth on the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities have faced attacks from Islamist militants for more than a decade. Blasphemy there is punishable by death, and some Christians are imprisoned for their faith.
“The situation for Christians in Pakistan is getting increasingly dangerous,” a Christian rights activist who requested anonymity told Morning Star. “On one hand, the Taliban are saying that they will launch more attacks on Christians, while on the other hand the government is being pressured by Islamists who want to keep non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan subjugated through the blasphemy laws.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing and assured justice to families of victims, but the activist who spoke to Morning Star accused the government of lacking commitment to fighting terrorism and religious extremism.
“This is a war between two mindsets, and it is now up to the state to decide how many more innocent lives will be lost to religious extremism, which is eating up Pakistani society like cancer,” the activist told Morning Star.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

3/29/2016 9:10:46 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Georgia governor to veto religious liberty bill

March 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s March 28 announcement that he will veto the state’s religious liberty bill has provoked criticism from social conservatives, including Southern Baptists.
Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told Baptist Press that Deal, a Republican, “missed an opportunity to stand for Georgia values as opposed to Wall Street and Hollywood values. We certainly respect his right to make that decision, but we also respect the right to voice our disappointment with it.”


Screen capture from Georgia Office of the Governor
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced his intent to veto the Free Exercise Protection Act at a March 28 news conference.

House Bill 757 – the Free Exercise Protection Act – combined elements of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a First Amendment Defense Act and a Pastor Protection Act.
Griffin said explicit protections for wedding service providers like bakers and florists were removed from the measure’s final version, but one section stipulating no individual would be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding could perhaps be applied to for-profit businesses.
Homosexual rights activists and corporations, including Apple, Coca Cola, Hollywood studios and the NFL, had called on Deal to veto the bill. The NFL suggested adoption of the measure could disqualify Atlanta from contention to host a future Super Bowl.
Deal, in announcing his veto at a news conference, said “there has not been a single instance” to his knowledge of persons or organizations of faith in Georgia being forced to act against their consciences in ways referenced by the bill. He suggested the First Amendment and the Declaration of Independence are sufficient to protect religious liberty.
Griffin countered Deal by providing BP with a document listing 14 alleged “recent examples of religious discrimination in Georgia,” including denial of permission to begin a religious student club at an Atlanta middle school and a requirement in Ellijay, Ga., that organizers of a prayer chain obtain a permit before praying on the sidewalk. Griffin conceded that none of the 14 examples pertain to same-sex marriage.
Deal, a Southern Baptist, said of the bill, “This is about the character of our state and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
“For that reason,” Deal said, “I will veto HB 757.”
The governor criticized both “those in the religious community” who “have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character” as well as those in business who “have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state.”
To override Deal’s veto would require a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature – a mark of which the bill narrowly fell short in both the House and Senate. To override the veto prior to the 2017 legislative session, three-fifths of each house must vote to reconvene, Griffin said.
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted that Deal’s “sell-out to big business pressure on religious freedom [is] one more example of what serving Mammon does to the common good.”
Moore added Deal’s “veto of religious liberty protection is shameful.”
Ryan Anderson, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in an online commentary that Deal “bought into” nonsensical arguments from the cultural left “hook, line and sinker.”
“Protecting minority rights after major social change” like the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage is “a hallmark of American tolerance and pluralism,” Anderson wrote. “But Deal seems unwilling to do anything that might protect such people and their rights. And big business and special interests on the Left seem intent on doing everything to make sure people are coerced by the government into violating their beliefs.”
A March 21-24 poll conducted by Clout Research found two-thirds of Georgians agree with the Free Exercise Protection Act while just 27 percent disagree.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

3/29/2016 9:05:11 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Brussels attack leaves pastor thankful to be alive

March 29 2016 by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A Louisiana Baptist music minister is thankful to be alive after surviving a terrorist attack March 22 at an airport in Brussels, Belgium.
Jeff Slaughter, an interim music minister at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, told the Baptist Message he had just walked into the airport departure area to check-in for his return flight back to Shreveport when he heard the first explosion, just 200 feet away. Moments later, a second bomb exploded.

5-19-15_PrayerConf_WEB.jpgJeff Slaughter

CNN reported March 28 the death toll for the bombings – that also included a subway station – has risen to 35 and more than 300 were injured.
Slaughter recalled moments after the second explosion. “That’s when the ceiling tiles began raining down and all I could think was ‘get out,’” he recalled. “I was spared so much more than others were. I’m thankful for that but all the more aware of what others are going through.”
For the remainder of the day Slaughter said he felt numb and that the tragedy seemed surreal.
“It’s hard to believe that what I’m seeing on the television is what was behind the walls of the airport after I walked out,” he said. “It looks like a war zone – with smoke filling the room, debris all over the place, dead and injured littered about and children crying for their parents.
“It was a surreal experience,” he continued. “You know what’s happening but you just don’t believe it. I’ve learned since then that the God-given instinct of fight or flight keeps you from dwelling on anything but getting away from danger.”
Slaughter and his wife lived in Europe for 15 years, but since moving to Shreveport, he makes multiple trips a year to Europe for ministry-related activities.
The tragedy provided Slaughter a chance to minister to a member of a news crew covering the attack.
After Slaughter completed an interview, the cameraman told him he had survived a bomb explosion in Frankfurt, Germany, 25 years ago.
He complimented Slaughter for how well he was handling the Brussels situation and said he wished he had done a better job of handling his tragedy, Slaughter said. “He felt guilty for many years for taking photos of the bomb scene rather immediately helping the injured. I encouraged him a moment and felt that somehow my story had really connected with him.”
Slaughter, whose return date to Shreveport was not set, requested prayer for those families affected.
“Pray for the leaders of the nation, of the European Union, and the leaders of other countries affected,” he said. “This is not just a Belgian problem – it’s a European problem and not one with a clear answer. Pray that Jesus will be lifted high and draw all men to Him.”
He also asked for prayer for his ongoing ministry outreaches in Europe “that God will use them to encourage the church, evangelize the lost and equip the saints,” he said.
Reflecting on the tragedy, Slaughter said he was thankful that by the grace of God he survived.
“I am aware that my story could have been very different,” he said. “I could have entered a door further down or decided to run by Starbucks before going to weigh my luggage.
“Either decision – though seemingly minor – would have put me in the path of one or the other bomb,” he said. “All I can do is ‘thank God’ I was spared and be responsible with the life He has continued to allow me to live.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer with the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

3/29/2016 8:59:09 AM by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message | with 0 comments

Paralysis stirs Patti and her husband to compassion

March 29 2016 by Kevin Parker, Baptist New Mexican

A message about compassion resonated with David and Patti Waterman at New Mexico Baptists’ 2016 State Evangelism Conference.
The speaker, Sonny Tucker of Arkansas, had no idea the Watermans were in the audience as he told story after story of reaching out to people who many Christians avoid.
Patti is a wheelchair-bound paralytic.


Patti Waterman

Baptist New Mexican staff encountered the Watermans, members of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, in the exhibit area on the last day of the Feb. 29-March 2 conference.
The table at the information services exhibit had a pneumatic cylinder, so, as the conversation turned serious, BNM staff lowered the table to accommodate Patti in her wheelchair for a microphone and recording equipment. The conversation turned into a spontaneous interview for an upcoming podcast.
Thirty-eight and a half years have passed since a motorcycle accident left Patti paralyzed from the chest down. Reaching 40 years from the accident “will be a great landmark,” she said.
“I praise God every day,” she noted, smiling and delighted to share her story. “Thank you for asking.”
In Elgin, Ill., she recounted, she had been a cheerleader through both junior high and high school. She also had run cross-country track during high school, something that made soon-to-occur events difficult to understand at age 17. Four months after her graduation, the motorcycle accident in which she was a passenger changed everything. She flew over 80 feet through the air, landing on her head and shoulder. The choices she made that day have shaped her life.
In the hospital, the medical staff told her family Patti likely would not awaken from her coma but, if she did, she would be little more than a vegetable. The doctors were being honest and sincere. Yet, Patti indeed woke up and was not a vegetable.
Doctors told Patti she would never leave the hospital. “They told me I should have died,” she said. Yet, she both lived and left the hospital, though struggling through the new experience of being a teenager in a nursing home filled with elderly people.
The journey of her recovery required resolve. People Magazine ran a story in May 1978 about a Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago chaplain who served Patti among her patients. Nina Herrmann briefly chronicled Patti’s struggle with patience after her 18th birthday.
“I’ve been arguing with nurses and doctors because I want to do things for myself,” she reported Patti saying. “If you can hang on to your patience,” Herrmann counseled Patti, “you have the key to discovering yourself and God.”
Thankfully, Patti had become a Christian at age 12 as her parents were going through a divorce. “I was able to find my strength in living,” she recalled.
After her accident, and as a former cross-country runner, Patti had asked God, “What’s up with this?” She recalled telling herself, as she sat in bed, that she would never be able to work or have a career. “I’m never going to marry. I’m never going to have kids. I’m never going to go to college. I’m never going to get a job. I’m never, never, never.”
Before then, Patti said she had been an optimistic person, positive and hopeful. Then, “All of a sudden my world fell apart, I saw no hope in living.”
Patti began to see some light in life because of her faith. Ultimately, she experienced all those things she thought were lost.
Her story and dramatic progress attracted the attention of television star Barbara Walters, who interviewed Patti in 1979 and released the inspiring story of her determination to a national audience.
After graduating from college with a degree in teaching, she taught in southeast Texas and northwest New Mexico, impacting kids. She also married and became a mother to two children.
Her husband recalled meeting some of the students she influenced and hearing their stories. David called the stories “glowing accounts,” and recalled one in particular of a young man who told of how Patti, unknowingly, kept him from committing a school shooting.
But Patti’s successful recovery from her motorcycle accident didn’t mean leaving hospitalizations in the past. During the ‘90s she had one surgery every year for seven years. Between 2007 and 2009 she spent another 18 and a-half months in the hospital with her life deteriorating. Despite the effects of serious infections and multiple surgeries, she survived again. Most recently, she’s suffered several additional injuries. Through it all, she trusts God. David describes her as “stubbornly optimistic.”

The impact of compassion

The evangelism conference message by Sonny Tucker, Arkansas Baptists’ executive director, resonated with Patti and David because they know what it’s like to need compassion, yet be avoided.
David recounted, “When I met her and started courting her, my friends would tell me I should look for a woman who could walk because I would be dealing with all the issues that ‘crippled’ people have.” They suggested he avoid her.
David, himself wheelchair-bound temporarily in the past, noted that “sometimes, in spite of the fact that society and the church really know very little about the life difficulties of the disabled, most really don’t want to know.” He believes that “the families of disabled people can be won by how we treat the disabled in our midst” – winning them to Jesus with compassion, just like Tucker was preaching.
Today, Patti sees her unique situation, surviving and living in a wheelchair, as creating opportunities rather than limiting them. Because she is disabled and coping both spiritually and emotionally, she was invited to help run a Bible study for disabled people called Living Hope through New Covenant Church not long after moving to Albuquerque.
Just before the opportunity arose, she had been asking God, “Where do You want to use me? Lead me.”
After spending 25 years in Farmington, N.M., she was new to Albuquerque, with few connections and few opportunities.
The Bible study role excited her, enjoying the activities of leading and helping others. “God has your life set up, that whatever ails you, whatever you feel nobody else has, God has a plan for everything. No matter what happens … it doesn’t go by without Him decreeing, ‘Yep, that’s OK; that’s fine; she’ll do fine or he’ll do fine; she can make it through that,’” she said. She knows. She’s been there.
The Bible study includes people in walkers, people with physical issues and people with various mental and emotional disabilities, each having encountered some debilitating obstacle in his or her life. Patti calls their obstacles isolating setbacks. “They are having a hard time getting over it and moving on,” she said. “God uses us with setbacks in life to move forward in the most beautiful way where He will be glorified.”
David thinks the biggest message his wife brings is that “by being there, they look at her and see that she went and got a teaching degree and did all of this stuff. Suddenly, people have this hope that starts to grow, ‘Hey, she did it; I can, too.’
“If we can show them that they have worth as Jesus sees them and that they can contribute to their family and their community, that gives them hope,” he said.
After telling about a recent injury stemming from her condition, Patti described “coming closest to God in her deepest pit.” She wants others to know they can find Him there, too. In such moments, she talks to God out loud. She feels His presence and knows she’ll be okay. And she hopes her struggles open doors for others to interact about the struggles of disabled people. God has given her the kind of compassion she and David hope others will discover as well.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Parker is editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.)

3/29/2016 8:51:03 AM by Kevin Parker, Baptist New Mexican | with 0 comments

ISIS recruiting appeals to those searching for meaning, purpose

March 28 2016 by Anna K. Poole, World News Service

As Islamic State militants blasted their way into international headlines again with the March 22 attack in Brussels, U.S. officials are underscoring their determination to quash the terror group as soon as possible.
“No attack will affect our resolve to accelerate the defeat of [ISIS],” said U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.


But not everyone within U.S. borders wants to see Islamic State (ISIS) defeated. The terrorist group is increasing its ideological appeal to some Americans, wooing sympathizers with a slick social media campaign promising glory and purpose. In recent weeks, U.S. federal courts have charged two American ISIS sympathizers: one for attempting to recruit and provide material support for the terror group, and the other for attempting to join it.
What are American officials doing to catch these potential homegrown terrorists or stop them before ISIS recruits them?
“It depends on local law enforcement to identify people vulnerable to Islamic radicalization within their jurisdiction and to provide off-ramps for these individuals,” said Matt Mayer, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) who works on homeland security, counterterrorism, and domestic preparedness and response issues. He said robust systems like the Los Angeles Police Department collaborate with mosque leaders in the area to detect ISIS-wannabes, based on suspicious behavior and social media posts.
Islamic State recruiters are sophisticated in leveraging social media to attract and inspire. Recruitment propaganda is short and flashy, often targeting a vulnerable audience with the promise of being swept up in a grand, glorious global cause – or a way to belong.
“For somebody searching for meaning and feeling disconnected, that’s a very powerful message, and difficult to resist,” said John Cohen, a criminal justice professor at Rutgers University and the Department of Homeland Security’s former counterterrorism coordinator.
Last week, the U.S. federal court in Rochester, N.Y., sentenced Mufid Elfgeeh, a New York pizza shop owner, to more than 22 years in prison for trying to recruit for ISIS. Elfgeeh, a naturalized Yemeni-born American citizen arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in May 2014, pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
“The defendant showed use of social media, through various aliases, to support ISIL and help encourage other members,” said U.S. Attorney Brett Harvey. “The defendant worked to send three people to Syria to fight with ISIL, and though he did not fight on the ground, he considered himself a fighter to help form the Islamic State and impose Shariah Law.
In an unrelated case, Joseph Farrokh of Virginia pleaded guilty last week to a federal terrorism charge and admitted he was attempting to fly to Jordan to join ISIS. In conversations recorded by the FBI, Farrokh said he wanted to die a martyr.
House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., recently cited two dozen ISIS-inspired plots in the United States since 2014, including last year’s San Bernardino attack and the stabbings at Merced’s University of California campus.
The best way to counterattack the ISIS social media blitz is with the truth, Mayer said.
“Fight propaganda with accurate facts and images. Show the truth behind ISIS and al-Qaeda, in a way that repels rather than attracts,” he advised.

3/28/2016 10:57:56 AM by Anna K. Poole, World News Service | with 0 comments

Will NFL interference block Georgia’s religious liberty law?

March 28 2016 by Bonnie Pritchett, World News Service

“If you build it they will come,” whispers the prophetic voice in the sports movie classic, Field of Dreams.
But it wasn’t a disembodied voice that urged Georgia lawmakers – and by extension the state’s taxpayers – to build Atlanta’s new $1.4 billion football stadium. Now that same voice, echoing from the headquarters of the National Football League (NFL), is demanding more obedience at a price some lawmakers are not willing to pay.
In its continuing effort to quash religious liberty legislation across the nation, the NFL last week threatened Georgia with the loss of a Super Bowl bid if Gov. Nathan Deal does not veto the recently passed Free Exercise Protection Act. This marks the fourth time in two years the NFL (whose teams are worth an average of $1.97 billion each, according to Forbes) has threatened to pick up its ball and multi-million dollar economic windfall and go elsewhere if a state enacted conscience protection laws.


“[The NFL] told Georgia, ‘If you build a new stadium, the Super Bowl will come. If you build a new parking complex, the Super Bowl will come. If you give five certain tax breaks, the Super Bowl will come. And now, if you’ll veto the religious freedom bill, the Super Bowl will come,” said an exasperated state Rep. Kevin Tanner, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The law handily passed both chambers of the state Assembly on March 16. It is now before Deal, who can sign or veto it. If he does neither, the law goes into effect May 3, three weeks before NFL owners meet to consider which of the four prospective cities, including Atlanta, will host Super Bowls in 2019 and 2020.
Threats of economic ruin, though vague, have been effective. In the past two years, the NFL, NCAA, and other businesses have threatened to leave Arizona, Indiana and Texas over legislation deemed discriminatory to gays and lesbians. Arizona and Indiana lawmakers buckled. But in Houston, voters rejected economic threats to repeal a gay-rights ordinance – and the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four and 2017 Super Bowl will still be played there.
For an organization with no skin in the game, the NFL has a lot of “political swagger,” said Samuel James, communications specialist with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Atlanta Falcons pay state and local taxes, whereas the NFL demands tax breaks in its quest for host cities.
“So what you have is a corporate body that profits from Georgia’s and Arizona’s stadium subsidies and local media deals, but then turns around and tells taxpayers that their politics may make them undesirable,” James said.
Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is funded, in part, by a 30-year hotel-motel tax. It is due to open in mid-2017.
NFL critics said the league’s attempt to claim the moral high ground by espousing policies of “tolerance and inclusiveness” falls flat. In a recent column, James noted the NFL’s on-going moral failings, including accusations of withholding information on concussion risks and turning a blind eye to reports of domestic violence.
Georgia state Sen. Greg Kirk, another of the bill’s sponsors, also was quick to point out the blatant hypocrisy of the NFL’s demand Deal veto religious liberty legislation. Of the four potential Super Bowl host states, Georgia is the only one without a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or similar law. Louisiana and Florida have long-established religious freedom protections.
“That tells me this has not been well thought out,” Kirk said.
Or, perhaps, the misunderstanding is rooted in the fact that the bill’s opponents have not read the law, as Kirk and Tanner suspect. Despite claims to the contrary, the law would not permit a restaurant owner to refuse to serve gay customers. But it would allow that same restaurant owner to decline to cater a gay wedding reception because of the owner’s religious convictions about marriage.
As it was passed in February, the House bill (then called The Pastor Protection Bill) provided legal cover to clergy who refused to solemnize gay weddings. Amendments applied in the Senate extended the same legal coverage to faith-based organizations and business owners who, standing on religious conviction, refuse to provide services for or hire individuals whose religious beliefs or practices are not in accord with the faith-based organizations’ sincerely held religious beliefs. Those changes, and the threat of economic repercussions, prompted state Rep. Beth Beskin to vote against a bill she originally sponsored.
Beskin said she knows many gays who are “sincere Christians.” The final version of the bill “says they are not wanted in certain faith-based places, and I think that is hurtful,” Beskin said.
The opposing viewpoints of Christians within the Georgia Assembly are a microcosm of the highly contentious conflict pitting religious liberty against so-called LGBT civil rights. Tanner said, as a Christian and a lawmaker, he was compelled to help strike a balance within that paradigm.
James said the disagreement stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about people of faith.
“A lot of people, especially secular progressive types, just don’t understand why anyone’s religious belief would lead them to make choices that could possibly alienate them from others,” James said. “This isn’t so much animosity towards religious people as it is a fundamental inability to empathize with people who genuinely believe in transcendent moral norms, even at personal and political cost.”

3/28/2016 10:50:56 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, World News Service | with 0 comments

Utah could be first to declare porn a health crisis

March 28 2016 by Kiley Crossland, World News Service

A resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis landed on Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk in mid-March after unanimously passing the state House and Senate.
The bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 9 (SCR9), marks the first time a state has called pornography a “public health crisis,” language more often used for smoking, drunk driving, and epidemics like Ebola. Although the non-binding resolution does not change law, experts say the bill is part of a concerted effort to start framing the issue as not merely a “moral” crisis, but one that affects entire communities.


“For years people have been discussing the issue of pornography from a moral perspective – right and wrong,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), the organization that drafted the bill. “But while that is still important, what’s changed now is there is a plethora of research showing pornography has long-lasting and deep impacts psychologically, developmentally and socially on the individual using it and on society as a whole.”
Every sentence in SCR9 is footnoted with studies to back each claim. The bill calls for changes in education, prevention, research and policy to address the “pornography epidemic” harming Utah and the nation. A 2009 study tracking subscriptions to online porn sites ranked Utah No. 1 in the country. The bill lists several potential dangers from pornography use, including detrimental effects on brain development and functioning, biological addiction, the normalization of sexual violence and abuse and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships.
 “When the text of this bill went public, I was almost immediately inundated with criticism on social media,” state Sen. Todd Weiler, the bill’s sponsor, told the Standard Examiner. But Weiler added, “as more and more people have learned about how much research there is regarding this issue, a lot of the criticism has ebbed.”
Some remains. California psychologist Carl Shubs said calling pornography a public health crisis is “way off on so many levels.” He maintains people can use pornography in healthy ways, and it is up to parents to make sure their children don’t access it.
But critics say pornography’s apologists have bought into a lie.
The pornography industry “is able to succeed on the myth that pornography is just harmless fun,” said Donna Rice Hughes, president and CEO of internet safety group Enough is Enough. But Hughes insists new research is undeniable and notes anti-porn organizations in the last few years have been rallying to raise the issue to the level of a public health crisis.
“Now we have an entire body of peer-reviewed science that shows the harms psychologically and medically across the board with children and adults,” she said. “We really need to start pounding this.”
Hughes believes legislative action like Utah’s resolution is helpful, especially if it pushes states to begin aggressively enforcing obscenity laws already on the books. But she warned prevention is a three-legged stool, a shared responsibility between the legal community, corporations, and the public. All three need to step up or the stool will topple.
At least eight other states have asked NCOSE to draft resolutions for them, Hawkins said.
“We expect this to sweep through the country,” she predicted.
Herbert has publicly supported the bill and said he plans to sign it.

3/28/2016 10:41:49 AM by Kiley Crossland, World News Service | with 0 comments

Pediatricians: Transgender kids need help, not new hormones

March 28 2016 by Julie Borg, World News Service

The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) has issued a statement urging educators and legislators to reject all policies that encourage chemical or surgical gender reassignment for children. The ACP is a socially conservative, national medical association of pediatricians and health care providers not affiliated with the larger American Academy of Pediatrics.
The ACP has been inundated with emails from professionals supporting its stance, said the group’s president, Michelle Cretella. But liberal, LGBT-supporting publications such as Think Progress, have accused the ACP of being a hate group attacking transgender youth.
“We are not encouraging hate,” Cretella insists. The ACP statement reflects its members’ concern that parents and schools are inflicting harm on gender-confused children by encouraging them to seek medical interventions that often place them on lifelong, risky hormone treatment and starts them on a path that eventually leads to mutilating their otherwise healthy bodies to re-assign gender.


Instead, Cretella believes, gender-confused children should be treated for the underlying problem of gender dysphoria, a diagnosable condition listed in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
“These children are coming to health care providers for help and we should be looking at the underlying foundational matter, not reinforcing their disconnect from reality. To ignore that is, in a sense, criminal,” Cretella said.
Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, believes it is never appropriate to put young people through sex-change surgery.
“We can help them if we begin to explore with them and their families what they’re fearing about development, what they’re fearing about being a young boy, a young adolescent appropriate to themselves,” he told Fox News.
According the the ACP statement, gender re-assignment for children involves the use of puberty-blocking hormones that inhibit growth and fertility, essentially inducing disease.
But puberty is not a disease, Cretella explained. It is a critical time period of physical development, bone growth, and brain maturation. If doctors arrest puberty hormones for any amount of time, it robs the child’s brain of normal hormonal exposure during a critical period. Scientists have no idea what the long-term implications of that could be, she said. And children who eventually go through gender reassignment will require lifelong use of cross-sex hormones, either testosterone or estrogen.
It’s too early for longitudinal studies to speak to the long-term safety of these medications, but the risks, such as high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and cancer, are well-documented in their use treating other conditions.
“We have no idea what the risks are in giving these hormones to children for the rest of their lives. We are using these children as an experiment,” Cretella said.
According to a well-known 2011 Swedish study, not only are adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery at significantly greater risk for cardiovascular disease, and possibly cancer, but the rates of suicide are 20 times greater for these individuals than their heterosexual peers. LGBT groups attribute the increased suicide risk to society’s negative attitude toward them, but Cretella doesn’t believe that’s a factor because the study was conducted in Sweden, one of the most LGBT-affirming countries in the world.
And often, no treatment is necessary. According to the ACP, gender confusion in childhood usually rectifies itself. As many as 98 percent of gender-confused boys, and 88 percent of gender-confused girls, will accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty, the pediatricians wrote.
“Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” the statement said.

3/28/2016 10:31:56 AM by Julie Borg, World News Service | with 0 comments

Baptists, others await ruling on mandate accommodation

March 25 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists now wait with a host of other religious adherents for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could decisively affect their ministries after justices questioned a federal contraceptive policy during oral arguments March 23.
Lawyers for GuideStone Financial Resources, the Roman Catholic order known as the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries told the high court an accommodation for religious nonprofits to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate violates religious freedom rights by coercing complicity in providing potentially abortion-inducing drugs and devices.


GuideStone, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, and two of the ministries it serves, as well as three Baptist universities, are among the challengers to the accommodation.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion before the end of its term, which normally is in late June.
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, who attended the arguments, encouraged prayer for the court afterward.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to make our case before the High Court and pray for wisdom for the justices and favor in the outcome,” Hawkins said in a written release. “We are thankful for the prayers of so many in our Southern Baptist and broader evangelical family; this is the time to continue praying for these men and women who will render the verdict.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), pointed to the pending decision’s importance for the church and the country.
“Religious liberty shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “It matters to every single American, both to people of faith and to people of no faith, that the government not be empowered to force citizens to act contrary to their conscience.
“A state that can intrude on the beliefs of some people is one that can steamroll the rights of all,” he said. “That’s why this case matters, and that’s why getting it right is so important, not just for the church but for the country.”
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 have found it unacceptable. They 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.
While the ideological split between the court’s conservatives and liberals seemed to break evenly during oral arguments, lawyers supporting the religious ministries challenging the accommodation observed some encouraging signs inside the courtroom.
Some of the liberal associate justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – expressed either uncertainty on where to draw lines on protecting religious freedom or an understanding of the difficulty for the religious organizations, said lawyers for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Meanwhile, justices in the ideological middle or other end of the court – Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and even perennial swing vote Anthony Kennedy – “indicated they understood this is an easy case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said Adele Keim, counsel for the Becket Fund.
The justices are seeking to determine if the accommodation violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the federal government from substantially burdening free exercise of religion unless it can demonstrate it has a “compelling interest” and is using the “least restrictive means” to further that interest.
The federal government “just has no case,” since it has exempted plans covering one in three Americans, including its own Tricare plan for military families, Keim told BP outside the Supreme Court building.
“If the government is content to let the wives and daughters of service members go without this coverage, why is it trying to force this coverage on the Little Sisters of the Poor, GuideStone, Truett-McConnell, Reaching Souls, the other courageous ministries that have taken a stand against this mandate?”
Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International – two entities served by GuideStone – joined in challenging the accommodation. GuideStone is exempt from the mandate and accompanying fines, but it serves ministries that face massive penalties for failure to obey the rule. Other Baptist institutions involved in appeals before the high court are Oklahoma Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University.
Given the justices’ uneasiness with the difficulty for religious ministries, ADF Senior Counsel Steven Aden said, “I think where the conversation should turn at that point is: Granting this is a substantial burden on religious belief and exercise, has the government shown that it has a compelling interest not just in ensuring access to contraceptives generally but specifically ... a compelling interest in forcing religious employers to utilize their own provided coverage, their own health plan to provide access to abortion pills to their employees?
“I don’t think that the government can make that case very well,” Aden told BP outside the Supreme Court building. “I don’t think they made it very well today. And I’m hopeful that in the end the decision will be in our favor and will turn on that failure by the government to make that case for why they have to do it to religious persons in this way” when it has made accommodations for millions of others.
The challenge to the accommodation follows by two years the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
The nonprofit challenge to the accommodation is a “much easier case” than Hobby Lobby, said Keim, a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington.
“[I]n Hobby Lobby and really on down the line, the government said, ‘Well, of course, we recognize that groups that are religious nonprofits have religious freedom,’” she said. “And in this case, the groups that are standing before the court and asking for relief” – such as Little Sisters of the Poor and GuideStone – “there’s no question these folks have religious freedom.
“And what you saw inside today was you saw the government’s lawyer admitting, ‘Yeah, [the ministries] believe they’re complicit in sin [under the accommodation], and they believe that our system makes them complicit in sin, and we just think that we should be able to force them to do that,’” Keim said. “And I just don’t think that they’re going to be able to maintain the four votes that they had in Hobby Lobby.”
ADF’s Aden pointed to the distinction between the GuideStone/Little Sisters of the Poor case and the Hobby Lobby case while expressing his wish the court would have focused more on that distinction.
“It’s different, right, because a large corporation does not necessarily hire employees on the basis of their religious belief,” Aden told BP. “A religious organization typically does. A religious school typically does.
“And so they select those with whom they minister on the basis of their shared commitment to that ministry, and I just wish that I heard more about that in the arguments today from the justices, more acknowledgment of that.”
As has been the case since the mid-February death of conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the high court heard oral arguments with only eight members sitting. It appears the court could split 4-4. If so, the appeals court decisions would stand, leaving only the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals with a ruling in favor of the nonprofits’ religious freedom rights.
If a deadlock exists, the case could receive a rehearing by the high court after a ninth justice is confirmed.
The ERLC and two other SBC entities – the International Mission Board and 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 that the accommodation violates religious freedom.
Among the organizations filing friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the federal government’s accommodation was the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which once represented the SBC in Washington on church-state issues. The committee’s brief contends the accommodation is not a substantial burden on religious exercise because contraceptive services are delivered with separate funds and communications through secular insurance companies.
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.)

3/25/2016 8:00:08 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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