March 2016

Canadian Christian wins religious discrimination case

March 14 2016 by Laura Finch, World News Service

In 2014, Bethany Paquette did what hordes of recent college graduates do: She worked an entry-level job while applying for more entry-level jobs. Paquette, who had more than three years’ experience as a river rafting guide, was making snow for a ski resort when she applied for the position of “assistant guide intern” with Vancouver wilderness company Amaruk.
 
Her credentials, and especially her degree, failed to impress Amaruk employees. In a series of bizarre emails, they asserted her affiliation with Christian liberal arts college Trinity Western University made her unwelcome at the company – because the college holds students to a Community Covenant prohibiting sex outside marriage.
 
On Mar. 2, Paquette won a religious discrimination case against Amaruk.

 
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In one email to Paquette, company representative Olaf Amundsen said just her affiliation with the school made her guilty of discrimination.
 
 “In asking students to refrain from same-sex relationships, Trinity Western University, and any person associated with it, has engaged in discrimination, as well as intolerance against other people’s beliefs, religious, and otherwise,” he wrote.
 
Paquette’s response noted the company’s hypocrisy.
 
“Considering Amaruk holds diversity so highly, I thought I should inform you that your disagreement with Trinity Western University, simply because they do not support sex outside of marriage, can in fact be noted as discrimination of approximately 76 percent of the world population!!!” she wrote. “Wow, that’s a lot of diverse people you don’t embrace.”
 
Paquette filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. After the case went public, other women came forward with stories of strange responses to job applications with the company.
 
While tribunal member Norman Trerise ultimately decided Paquette was not qualified for the position, he did award her $8,500 for the religious discrimination she experienced.
 
After the decision, Paquette told the Vancouver Sun she had heard of other Trinity Western grads facing the same discrimination. But at Trinity, she saw “no discrimination.”
 
 “It didn’t matter if someone was gay or bi[-sexual], or what country they were from, everybody cared about one another and they were treated as equals,” she said.
 
Trinity Western does not require students be Christian or hold to any statement of faith to attend, spokeswoman Amy Robertson said.
 
Paquette’s case was unusual because of its blatant nature, said Earl Phillips, executive director of Trinity Western University Law. When asked about public reaction to the case, Phillips said the final decision was unsurprising to Canadians, given the company’s stark responses to Paquette. Phillips, who has more than 30 years of experience dealing with employment and human rights issues, said it has been 20 years or more since he has seen a case of such blatant religious discrimination.
 
 “Most of the cases that come up … aren’t because you’re Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, but because you say you can’t work on a Saturday, for example,” he said. “How do we accommodate that? How do we accommodate a Sikh who needs to wear a turban and a hard hat on the job?”
 
In the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment.” After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last year, subsequent cases have focused mainly on accommodations for religious beliefs – such as whether to require provision of benefits or services in situations where doing so would violate the conscience of an employer or business.
 
Trinity Western has been embroiled in an ongoing battle against discrimination, which even threatened to prevent it from opening the country’s first and only Christian law school. Its latest skirmishes have been with Canadian law societies, some of which have refused to credential its law school graduates over the school’s stance on marriage. In December, the university won a case before the British Columbia Supreme Court, which ruled the Law Society of British Columbia must stand by its 2014 decision to recognize Trinity Western graduates.

3/14/2016 3:52:37 PM by Laura Finch, World News Service | with 0 comments



Missionary’s conviction highlights need for better vetting

March 14 2016 by Onize Ohikere, World News Service

A U.S. federal court has sentenced a former missionary from Oklahoma to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing children at a Kenyan orphanage. His arrest and conviction – one case among several recent instances of overseas abuse – highlights the need for more vetting procedures in international volunteering, experts say.
 
Prosecutors accused Matthew Lane Durham, 21, of sexual misconduct with children in Nairobi’s Upendo Children’s Home between April and June 2014. Durham had volunteered at the orphanage since 2012. A jury initially found Durham guilty on seven counts, but U.S. District Judge David Russell acquitted him in January of three of those charges. He also ordered Durham to pay restitution of $15,863.
 
“These were heinous crimes committed on the most vulnerable victims,” Russell said. “He was their worst nightmare come true.”

 
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The orphanage’s founder, Eunice Menja, read a statement in court in which she said Durham’s actions were a betrayal of the trust the orphanage placed in him.
 
“Matthew Durham defiled the children,” Menja said, as she fought back tears.
 
In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Durham’s misconduct will affect how other foreign volunteers are viewed in Kenya and elsewhere. His case follows a string of others. Last year, a U.K. court sentenced British national Simon Harris to more than 17 years in prison for abusing street children in Kenya between 1996 and 2013. Harris headed a charity that placed volunteers in Kenyan schools.
 
While some mission organizations don’t have plans to change their volunteer vetting processes, others say tighter controls are necessary. Shannon O’Donnell, author of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, said she has seen her share of ethical and legal loopholes in vetting volunteers.
 
“I don’t run orphanage volunteering specifically because so few of them actually run background checks on volunteers or require they have a history of social work,” O’Donnell said. “Anyone with money can volunteer on any trip they want with a lot of these organizations.”
 
Impact Nations International Ministries, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based Christian group that runs short-term missions and other sustainability projects, only requires volunteers to fill out lengthy applications and provide their pastors’ contact information. Often times, the nonprofit leaves the responsibility of background checks to the groups that send volunteers.
 
“Sometimes churches would send a whole group with us and they’ll vet the people on their team,” said Christina Stewart, director of Impact Nation’s journey teams.
 
Other organizations put the onus on volunteers, encouraging them to take responsibility for vetting the organizations they work with.
 
“Make sure your programs screen their volunteers and conduct background checks,” international travel organization Go Overseas recommends on its orphanage volunteer programs page. “Very rarely should you actually be allowed to interact directly with the children.”
 
But Better Care Network (BCN), an interagency research organization that focuses on global childcare policies, believes volunteers should have no contact with children in orphanages and other care homes. In 2013, BCN began the Better Volunteering, Better Care Initiative with Save the Children UK. The initiative conducts research and collects data to discourage international volunteering in residential care homes – a trend BCN director Florence Martin said would be unheard of in the United States.
 
“We feel as a global working group that no amount of vetting stops the harm of volunteering in residential care,” Martin said. “Not having a criminal record doesn’t mean there might not be safety issues.”
 
Beyond the possibility of sexual offenses, Martin said focusing only on orphan care encourages care homes to lie about the status of the children who live there. Ghana’s department of social welfare recently revealed up to 80 percent of children in local orphanages have one or both parents still living, and only 10 of the 148 orphanages in the country are licensed by the department.
 
BCN advocates volunteers go beyond orphanages and one-on-one contact with children to work with existing local groups that focus on building up families.
 
“What you’re doing is that you’re volunteering with community organizations that are really working with vulnerable families and children to enable them to care for their kids,” Martin said. “That, we think, is positive engagement.”

3/14/2016 3:47:07 PM by Onize Ohikere, World News Service | with 0 comments



Her landscaping displays God’s love at Ridgecrest

March 14 2016 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources

Seeds and soil and hanging baskets are waiting for Betty Reaves in the greenhouse at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
 
When she arrives in her motor home in early April, Ridgecrest’s master gardener will rev up her John Deere Gator and tour more than 100 acres, evaluating what winter has done to the gardens and making lists for her volunteers.
 
Soon she’ll have the volunteers pulling weeds, spreading mulch and making the grounds into a magnificent testimony at the LifeWay conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
 
“We try to make our gardens point only to God’s glorious creation,” she says, “and we try to have things blooming all the time.”

 
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Betty Reaves, master gardener at the Ridgecrest, tends to “God’s glorious creation” by propagating seeds, nurturing plants and growing flowers with the help of volunteers at the LifeWay Christian Resources conference center in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Gardening at Ridgecrest is a second career for Reaves, who retired nearly 20 years ago from Georgia Southern University. She and her husband George enjoyed traveling and volunteering together at Ridgecrest and other conference centers – she in the gardens, he in woodworking – until he died in 2006.
 
“When he was no longer here, I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I looked for a job and people told me I was too old.”
 
But Ridgecrest knew her gardening talent and invited her to join the staff, working from April until November each year. In winter she lives in Georgia near her children and grandchildren, with side trips to volunteer in other places, such as the Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Florida. By April, she’ll park her motor home in the campground at Ridgecrest and begin propagating seeds, nurturing plants and growing flowers.
 
“Ridgecrest has such a long, rich history of being a place where people’s lives are changed,” Reaves says. “We try to keep it eye-appealing so people will know God’s love is everywhere – we can see it in the landscaping.”
 
Her work saves Ridgecrest thousands of dollars, grounds crew leader James Shook says. Instead of purchasing costly plants from a nursery, she cultivates seeds and cuttings gathered from her own home or from acquaintances. She relocates displaced plants rather than discarding them. She requested a greenhouse to shelter plants in winter and nurture seedlings in spring.
 
“She’ll also find bushes out in the woods around campus, and she’ll put them in pots until they’re big enough to use in the landscaping,” Shook says. “It takes a lot of time to do that, and you have to know what you’re doing.”
 
Reaves had to learn new gardening techniques because of the climate differences between Ridgecrest, amid North Carolina’s mountains, and her native south Georgia, where she learned to garden from her father and grandmother.
 
With an intensive horticulture course in North Carolina, Reaves earned certification as a master gardener. She also met Beth Anderson, who now works part-time alongside Reaves at Ridgecrest. They jokingly call themselves the Grounds girls – Betty Grounds and Beth Grounds.
 
Reaves’ joy in life is irrepressible, Anderson says. She walks around campus wearing big straw hats garnished with colorful ribbons, which also decorate her office walls. She jokes about Shook as their “bossy little brother.” She charms volunteers into cheerfully tackling tough work.
 
But her sense of fun is blended with determination, facilities manager Daniel Redding says. “She’s a go-getter. If she’s trying to get something accomplished and waiting on answers from the powers that be, she’ll keep coming back until she gets her answer.”
 
Reaves and Anderson have begun offering occasional tours of the Ridgecrest gardens and are working to develop a self-guided tour so more people can participate. They’re excited about a new Crown of Thorns plant they’ve added to the greenhouse, which they plan to highlight for Easter.
 
And in August, Reaves will turn 80 – a number she finds hard to fathom.
 
“You know, I don’t feel 80,” she says. “But I’m in very good health. I guess I’ll keep going until my body wears out or God calls me home. I’d like to go from Ridgecrest to glory.”
 

Meet Betty Reaves

Master gardener at Ridgecrest Conference Center

  • Age: 79

  • Home in winter: Statesboro, Ga.

  • Home in summer: Campground at Ridgecrest Conference Center from April to November

  • Before LifeWay: Retired in 1997 as secretary to vice president of Georgia Southern University

  • Family: Three children, seven grandchildren. Husband George died in 2006

  • On the side: Plays organ at First Baptist Church of Old Fort, N.C.

  • Garden glories: Can’t pick a favorite, but loves lots of color. “Let’s put zinnias and marigolds out!”

About Ridgecrest

  • 1,300 acres in them Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina

  • Can accommodate more than 2,000 guests at a time.

  • Hosts more than 64,000 guests each year

  • Offers housing, meeting space, recreation and food service for Christian conferences and events

  • Hosts summer camps for kids and teens, including Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls

  • Provides spiritual retreats and getaways for ministers, missionaries and families

  • On the Web at ridgecrestconferencecenter.org.

Volunteer at Ridgecrest

Ridgecrest Conference Center needs volunteers in a variety of areas, including carpentry, gardening, food service and hospitality. For more information, call 1-828- 669-3589 or visit ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/volunteer.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is managing editor of LifeLines, the employee magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/14/2016 1:16:38 PM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



GOP debate: Israel policy divides Trump, rivals

March 14 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A divide on policy toward Israel became evident between Donald Trump and his three remaining rivals during a March 10 Republican presidential debate in Miami.
 
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all argued the U.S. president should not remain neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but must stand with Israel. Trump said multiple times he is “pro-Israel” but argued the president should take a “somewhat neutral” posture toward the two groups “so we can maybe get a [peace] deal done” – a prospect Kasich and Rubio called impossible at present.
 
Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in violent conflict since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 over who should control the biblical Promised Land. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian National Authority, also known as the Palestinian Authority, was established as a Palestinian self-governing body to control the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank. One member of today’s Palestinian Authority coalition is Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.
 
A seven-minute discussion on Israel arose when Cruz criticized Trump for failing to adopt strong enough policies toward America’s enemies despite his “incendiary” rhetoric. As one of three examples, Cruz referenced the GOP frontrunner’s stance on Israel.

 
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Screen capture from YouTube.
U.S. policy toward Israel was among the topics discussed at a March 10 Republican presidential debate in Miami.

“On Israel, Donald has said he wants to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians,” Cruz said. “As president, I will not be neutral. And let me say, this week a Texan, Taylor Force – he was an Eagle Scout, he was a West Point graduate, he was an Army veteran. He was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist this week in Israel. And I don’t think we need a commander-in-chief who is neutral between the Palestinian terrorists and one of our strongest allies in the world, the nation of Israel.”
 
Trump responded “there’s nobody on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am,” citing his “massive contributions to Israel” and status as “grand marshal not so long ago of the Israeli Day Parade down 5th Avenue” in New York. He spoke of his Jewish daughter and two Jewish grandchildren and pledged to make protecting Israel “an absolute priority” as president.
 
Yet Trump said “a peace settlement” likely will require some degree of American neutrality.
 
“I would like to at least have the other side think I’m somewhat neutral as to them,” Trump said of the Palestinian Authority, “so that we can maybe get a deal done.” He classified the prospect, however, as “probably the toughest negotiation of all time.”
 
Rubio said it is “undeniable” the Palestinian Authority incites violent attacks against Israel and argued Trump was – perhaps unwittingly – advocating an “anti-Israel policy.”
 
“Maybe that’s not your intent,” Rubio told Trump, “but here’s why it is an anti-Israel policy: There is no peace deal possible with the Palestinians at this moment ... because there’s no one to negotiate with. The Palestinian Authority is not interested in a serious deal, and they are now in union with Hamas, an organization whose specific purpose is the destruction of the Jewish state.
 
“Every time that Israel has turned over territory of any kind, be it Gaza or now in Judea and Samaria, it is used as a launching pad to attack Israel,” Rubio said. “And that’s what will happen again. These groups are not interested in a deal with Israel. What they are interested in is ultimately removing the Jewish state and occupying its entire territory. So maybe in 30 years the conditions will exist” for a deal, “but they do not exist now.”
 
A president who forced Israel to the negotiating table, Rubio said, would embolden the Jewish state’s enemies.
 
Kasich appeared to go a step further than Rubio, saying there is no “long-term, permanent peace solution.”
 
“I think pursuing that is the wrong thing to do,” Kasich said. The “way to proceed in the Middle East” is to pursue “stability in that region by supporting the Israelis and making sure they have the weapons and the security that they need with our 100 percent backing.”
 
Kasich noted Hamas is attempting to attack Israel “from above” with missiles and from “under the ground” through tunnels.
 
At one point, Cruz appeared to accuse Trump of “moral relativism” and compared his stance with that of President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
 
“The reason we are friends and allies with Israel is they are a liberal democratic country that shares our values,” Cruz said. “They’re our strongest ally in the region.”
 
However, he continued, the Palestinian Authority “that Donald, along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, say they want to treat neutrally ... is in a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization. They pay the families of these terrorists who murder people. And this is exactly the moral relativism Barack Obama has.”
 
Part of an effective strategy to combat Hamas, Cruz said, is partnering with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in his efforts to stop Islamic terrorists.
 
Throughout the discussion, Trump appeared to hold out hope for a negotiated peace.
 
Trump said some of his friends who “happen to be Jewish and love Israel ... know it’s tough, but every single one of them wants to see if we would ever have peace in Israel. And some believe it’s possible. It may not be, in which case we’ll find out. But it would be a priority if I become president to see what I could do.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/14/2016 1:08:17 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Harvest America event sees 25,000 professions of faith

March 14 2016 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Overflow crowds swelled Arlington’s AT&T Stadium for Harvest America, a North Texas evangelistic event months in the making. Following an evening of worship and a call to follow Christ as Savior by California mega-church pastor Greg Laurie, more than 25,000 professions of faith were reported.
 
Hundreds of thousands in 123 countries also tuned in for the March 6 event via radio, television, Internet stream or remote broadcast at 7,200 host locations, crusade organizers reported, adding that 750 local churches were involved in bringing Harvest America to Texas. More than 350,000 attended or viewed it at a host location or via webcast.
 
Groups from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) churches joined the 82,000 in attendance inside the stadium and out to hear Laurie’s message of hope and salvation from scripture. SBTC churches also numbered among those providing nearly 5,000 counselors and volunteers that evening.

 
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Photo provided courtesy of Harvest America
More than 6,300 people made professions of faith inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, March 6, during Greg Laurie's Harvest America crusade.

With the stadium reaching capacity, hundreds milled around large screens outside to watch Laurie’s message and Christian entertainers Switchfoot, MercyMe, Lecrae and Chris Tomlin as events within the venue were streamed live on the plaza.
 
Event organizers reported that 6,300 in attendance responded to the gospel invitation issued by Laurie. Additionally, more than 18,000 professions of faith were made at host locations and 1,042 more were made through the online webcast, bringing the total number of professions of faith to more than 25,000.
 
Laurie’s message focused on John 3 but included personal illustrations of his childhood with his often-divorced mother and kindly stepfather.
 
Referencing Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Laurie explained that until her salvation, his mother was “the bad,” not unlike the woman at the well in Samaria. His stepfather was “the good,” an educated, moral professional who still needed Jesus. As for “the ugly,” Laurie explained that this meant, “you and me. You need Jesus.”
 
“The good, the bad, the ugly, that’s all of us because of sin,” said Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif.
 
“Everybody needs Jesus, and that means you,” he noted. “You need Jesus.”
 

“Everyone is lonely”

Alluding to the millennial generation as “increasingly lonely,” and referencing Pew Research Center findings, Laurie said millennials spend 6.5 hours a day on social media. “They have large numbers of friends but an increasing sense of loneliness.”
 
Affirming salvation through faith, Laurie underscored the insufficiency of religious beliefs for salvation. “Heaven is not for good people,” he said. “Heaven is for forgiven people. You don’t need a little religion. You need a lot of Jesus.”

 
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Photo provided courtesy of Harvest America
More than 82,000 people attended the Harvest America crusade inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, March 6, with an additional 268,000 watching across the country via host locations and webcast.

Laurie emphasized John 3:16, focusing on God’s love. “The thief on the cross was probably a murderer, a terrorist, planning to overthrow Rome,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It’s a gift.”
 
Laurie closed by presenting the plan of salvation and an invitation to the assembled crowd to confess their sins and acknowledge Christ as savior.
 
“Today is the day of salvation. Now is your time,” he said. “Acknowledge that Jesus died for you. Repent. Change your direction. Hang a U-turn in the road of life, and go to God.”
 
Those receiving counseling and prayer also received Bibles from Harvest America staff and volunteers. Among volunteers and those in attendance from SBTC churches, were Prestonwood Baptist in Plano and First Baptist Dallas.
 
Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano supplied nearly 1,000 volunteers as decision counselors, choir members, ushers, security staff and parking attendants in addition to contributing more than $100,000 to help cover Harvest America expenses before the event.
 
“Harvest America was exceedingly more than we could have asked for or expected,” said Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham after the event. “To see thousands streaming down to the field at AT&T Stadium after the invitation is a sight that will be etched in our memories forever. My prayer is that Harvest America will be a catalyst for a renewed commitment to evangelism by churches all over the world.”
 
Graham noted, “As for Prestonwood, our involvement and preparation for months leading up to March 6 were truly a blessing as they led us to become even more evangelistic in our approach to everyday ministry.”
 
“Harvest America has come and gone,” Graham said, “but the harvest is still plentiful in North Texas and there is much to do as the Church.”
 
Smaller churches were engaged as well. First Baptist Church of Bullard brought eight adults and 24 youth, one of whom made a profession of faith.
 
“We were surprised by the turnout,” said Tony Shafer, First Baptist Church’s youth pastor. “We arrived an hour before the event and barely got seats behind the black curtain. We watched the evening on the Jumbotron. This did not ruin the evening at all. Just being there, bringing students from a small town, seeing [82,000] people worshiping God, made a huge impact. The message was spot on. God touched us and moved us. I know the evening will have an impact on lives moving forward.”
 
Amy Fullen, who attended as a volunteer from First Baptist with her daughter, a high school senior, echoed Shafer’s enthusiasm. “It was wonderful to be in the mass of Christians like we’ve never seen and good to see the diversity, too,” she said. “People came from all walks of life. The message was just what our group needed.”
 
SBTC Director of Evangelism Nathan Lorick said Harvest America “was a great example of how God uses churches working together for the common goal of the gospel being proclaimed.”
 
“I am convinced that God will continue to use SBTC churches in the same way across Texas,” he said, “as we work together to see one million homes reached with the gospel.”
 
Watch the archived webcast at harvestamerica.com/texas-2016/home.html.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

3/14/2016 12:56:39 PM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Love God by loving others, NAAF symposium urges

March 11 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A cross-cultural group of Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders received spiritual edification and practical knowledge about racial reconciliation, politics and personal holiness at the National African American Fellowship’s (NAAF) Kingdom Symposium in Memphis, Tenn.
 
The March 2 meeting at Kingdom Center Ministries, the pastorate of Robert West, Sr., sought to encourage pastors and leaders in personal holiness and equip them to deal with contemporary issues from a gospel perspective.
 
NAAF President K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, has long promoted obedience to the Lord’s greatest commandment as a foundation of implementing the Great Commission.

 
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Photo courtesy of Kenecia Harris, Life Through Lens Photography
At the National African American Fellowship Kingdom Symposium, NAAF president K. Marshall Williams, left, shares a laugh with Mississippi Baptist Convention missions director Dennis Landrum (center), and Mark Croston, LifeWay Christian Resources national director of Black Church Partnerships.

“Our theme, ‘Loving God by Loving Others’ is a clarion call, in its essence, that God will pour out His Spirit like a mighty purifying fire of deep conviction, confession, [and] spiritual brokenness with genuine fruits of repentance,” Williams said, “so that we as kingdom citizens can continue to cultivate and passionately pursue an unprecedented Greatest Commandment revival, exemplifying loving and implicit unity in the church, that will usher in a spiritual awakening in the land.”
 
About 50 attended the symposium which included sermons, seminars, prayer, praise and worship and fellowship. Theme scriptures were Micah 6:8, Matthew 22:37-40, and 1 John 3:14. NAAF held its spring board meeting the previous day.
 
“Our nation and our world are suffering from a plethora of systemic satanic strongholds,” Williams said, “so we are fasting and praying, seeking the Lord for His power and wisdom, so that His love, mercy and justice will rule in our polity and practicum, enabling us to fulfill the Great Commission as instruments of righteousness pushing back the darkness of this world.”
 
Speakers were NAAF Executive Director Elgia Wells, pastor emeritus of Simeon Baptist Church in Nashville, who presented “Personal Holiness: Practicing the Presence of God;” Mark Croston, national director of Black Church Partnerships for LifeWay Christian Resources, who presented “Racial Reconciliation and Beyond,” joined by Dennis Landrum of Hernando, Miss., director of missions of the X-tended Mission Network of the Mississippi Baptist Convention; Dennis Mitchell, pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., who spoke on marriage and the family; and Steven Harris, director of advocacy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who presented “The Gospel and Politics.”
 
James Noble, vice president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Memphis, preached the evening service focused on God’s love displayed in John 3:16. Willie McLaurin, a TBC strategist for leadership development and Southern Baptist Seminary Extension, preached the morning devotion after a prayer service.

 

Gospel and politics

Harris addressed the growing polarization of the U.S. political system that increases the Christian’s difficulty in choosing candidates and political parties.
 
“What comes with progressivism also comes the moral ethic and it’s not distinctly Christian,” Harris said. “Just like what comes with conservatism, as conservatism is articulated today, comes a whole host of interests that I don’t think are Christian as well.
 
“So don’t let the Christian mantle be captured by either one of those sides,” he urged. “I think that what you have is two flawed systems that are clamoring for your allegiance, so the Christian really has to do some honest thinking and reflection ... to make the best decision.”

 
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Photo courtesy of Kenecia Harris, Life Through Lens Photography
Pastors and leaders pray in groups at the National African American Fellowship Kingdom Symposium.

Harris encouraged Southern Baptists to let the gospel drive their political perspective, but to realize the differences between the two.
 
“Your Christian identity and your biblical convictions ought influence your political preference, but don’t conflate the two,” he said. “And that’s what you see happening now. If I don’t agree with you on a particular policy, exactly the way you see it, if I don’t agree with a candidate exactly the way you see it … you have some folks say, ‘Well I don’t know if you’re a Christian.’ Are you that certain that he’s the Lord’s man, that you’re going to put my Christian identity on who you think should be commander in chief?”
 
Harris promoted a comprehensive Christian worldview that extends beyond one or two issues.
 
“What happens during election season, particularly presidential election season, is that people go to their political ideological corners, and they take their Christianity to their corners, and then you have the vitriolic debate about whose Christianity is right,” he said. “I think both of them are wrong. Sometimes I wish Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. And when He comes, He’s not taking sides; He’s taking over.”

 
Marriage and family

Pastors should make strengthening marriages and families a priority in ministry, Mitchell urged in his presentation, “Pursuing God’s Agenda for Marriages and Families: Travelling the Road Less Travelled.”
 
The deteriorating health of marriage and the family is a growing crisis that greatly impacts the church, Mitchell said, and strengthening marriages and families is a biblical mandate that offers an opportunity to reach the community through educational outreach and in turn grow the church. Strengthening marriages is not an option for the church, but a mandatory part of discipleship, he said, because a failed marriage can weaken the Christian’s testimony.
 
Unhealthy marriages lead to unhealthy families and unhealthy churches, weakening the church’s impact in communities and the Lord’s kingdom, said Mitchell, a father and grandfather married 41 years. An unhealthy marriage can destroy a person’s hope, he said, even causing division within the church.
 
“When people lose hope, that opens the door for Satan to do what he does best,” Mitchell said, “create that confusion and the chaos, and that doubt and the deceit in their lives. Unhealthy marriages will impact your church.”
 
He encouraged pastors, at a minimum, to shift the emphasis on marriages and families from a program emphasis to a discipleship priority, and to affirm God’s definition, boundaries and standards of marriage. He presented the major shift in societal norms regarding marriage, gender identity and gender attraction as symptoms of the abandonment of God’s agenda for marriage and the church.

 

Personal holiness

Using the book The Practice of the Presence of God by Nicholas Herman (Brother Lawrence), Wells encouraged pastors and leaders to practice personal holiness by integrating their daily lives with God’s presence.
 
He referenced the story of Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 33:12-16 to emphasize that God’s presence is essential. He urged pastors and leaders to be conscience of their dependence upon the Lord.
 
“Without His presence, you and I are just operating on our own strength,” he said, “and it’s not going to amount to very much.”
 
While God is always present, Christians must cultivate an awareness of that presence at all times and enjoy an intimacy with the Lord that flows from the heart. The heart speaks to God, he said, in an intimacy that transcends physical expression.
 
“My time of business is not different with me than my time of prayer,” Wells quoted Herman, who was assigned to monastery kitchen duty as a lay Carmelite monk in 17th century Lorraine, France. “In the noise and the clatter of my kitchen, while several people are at the same time calling for me for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were on my knees.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

Related Story:
‘Embedded racial inequity’ described at NAAF

3/11/2016 11:28:19 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Budget shortfalls hamper 3 in 10 churches surveyed

March 11 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

When it comes to finances, the new normal for many American churches seems to be “just getting by.”
 
A third of Protestant senior pastors say their church’s giving was under budget in 2015, according to LifeWay Research.
 
One in five saw their finances decline.

 
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Overall, about half of pastors say the economy has negatively affected their churches.
 
Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, says pastors are still uneasy about their church’s finances.
 
“Wages grew in 2015 and inflation and unemployment remained low,” McConnell said, “yet the financial picture for many churches did not improve.”
 
LifeWay Research has polled Protestant pastors about their churches and the economy since 2009. During that time, pastors reported the sluggish economy’s toll on their churches has lessened.
 
In October 2010, most pastors (80 percent) said the economy negatively impacted their church. That number dropped to 64 percent in 2012 and then 56 percent by 2014.
 
The most recent telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors found 51 percent said the economy is hurting their church – the lowest total since LifeWay began researching the topic. One in 8 (13 percent) say the economy had a positive effect on their church.
 
About 3 in 10 pastors (32 percent) say their church failed to make budget. That’s an improvement over 2010 (46 percent), according to LifeWay Research, but an increase over 2012 (22 percent) in budget shortfalls.
 
In the most recent survey, larger churches fared better than smaller churches. About a third of churches with 100 or more people (32 percent) saw their offerings exceed budget expectations. Among churches of fewer than 100, 1 in 5 (21 percent) had higher than budgeted offerings.

 
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LifeWay Research also asked pastors if offerings at their church increased, remained the same or declined over the past year.
 
For the most part, pastors say giving remained steady. Offerings went up in 4 of 10 churches (41 percent). Three in 10 (29 percent) saw no change. One in 5 (21 percent) saw a decline.
 
LifeWay Research’s report echoes the findings of other studies. The Giving USA report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found giving to churches and other religious causes has lagged in recent years. While charitable giving overall increased by 5.4 percent in 2014, according to Giving USA, giving to religious causes like churches grew by less than 1 percent.
 
Giving to churches and other faith-based causes now makes up about a third of charitable giving (32 percent) in the U.S. – down from 56 percent in the 1980s, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
 
A recent Faith Communities Today report found the median church budget fell from $150,000 in 2009 to $125,000 in 2014.
 
McConnell said not all the financial struggles churches face can be blamed on the economy.
 
“Many factors affect a church’s finances,” he said, citing such factors as attendance trends, spiritual growth and good stewardship.
 
Methodology: The telephone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Jan. 8-22, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor or minister 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. Comparisons are also made to the following telephone surveys using the same methodology: 1,000 pastors conducted Oct. 7-14, 2010; 1,002 pastors conducted Jan. 17-27, 2011; 1,000 pastors conducted May 23-31, 2012; and 1,000 pastors conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/11/2016 11:23:04 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Floyd decries murder of nuns, 12 others in Yemen

March 11 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd is among Christian leaders decrying the murder of four nuns and 12 others at a retirement home established by the late Mother Teresa in war-torn Yemen.
 
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the horrific murder of four Catholic nuns – and 12 other innocent people – who had dedicated their lives to serving the poor in Yemen,” Floyd said. “There is a legitimate attempt at genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East and I call upon the United States government and other world leaders to respond more forcefully and immediately to protect these terribly endangered people.”
 
No organized group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of today, March 10. At least four gunmen entered the facility March 4 on the pretext of visiting their mothers, and moved from room to room, handcuffing victims and shooting them in the head as two other gunmen stood guard outside, it was widely reported.
 
Among those killed were four Missionaries of Charity nuns, four local nurses, four security guards, and three cleaning staff, Al Jazeera reported. Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news service, said the nuns included two from Rwanda, one from Kenya and another from India. Years earlier in July 1998, a gunman killed three nuns from the same order as they left a hospital in the city of Al Hudaydah.
 
In the latest attack, a priest identified as Indian native Tom Uzhunnalil was kidnapped and remained missing, Agenzia Fides said. Eighty residents lived in the home, and at least one nun survived the attack by hiding in a storeroom freezer, according to news reports.
 
Pope Francis called the victims martyrs and victims of “indifference, of this globalization of indifference, that does not care,” CNN reported. The Pope “prays that this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue,” Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin was quoted.
 
Others speaking out against the massacre include representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Believers Church of India, CNN reported.
 
In a statement days after the massacre, Al-Qaeda-linked militants Ansar al-Sharia denied any responsibility.
 
“Our honorable people of Aden, we Ansar al-Sharia deny any connection or relation to the operation that targeted the elders’ house,” CNN quoted the group. “This is not our operation and it’s not our way of fight.”
 
Yemen was the site of the December 2002 killing of three and the wounding of one, all Southern Baptist missionaries, when a lone gunman attacked the Jibla Baptist Hospital about 160 miles inland from the site of the Catholic retirement home.
 
Killed in 2002 were hospital administrator William E. Koehn, business manager Kathleen A. Gariety, and physician Martha C. Myers. Pharmacist Donald W. Caswell was injured. The gunman was suspected to have ties to Al-Qaeda.
 
Since Yemen erupted into civil war in March 2015, more than 6,000 people have been killed, 28,000 injured and 2.5 million internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

3/11/2016 11:19:42 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Democrats debate SCOTUS, Cuba, Clinton’s character

March 11 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Supreme Court, immigration, human rights in Cuba and Hillary Clinton’s character were among the topics discussed during a March 9 Democratic presidential debate in Miami featuring the former secretary of state and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
 
Co-sponsored by Univision with some questions asked in Spanish, the debate saw no mention of same-sex marriage or abortion until the evening’s final question drew a promise from Clinton to nominate Supreme Court judges who support abortion rights.
 
In nominating justices, Clinton said, “you look for people who are not only qualified on paper, but have a heart, have life experience, understand what these decisions mean in the lives of Americans and understand the balance of power that their decisions can disrupt one way or the other. So clearly, I would look for people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and the Citizens United [a ruling on campaign finance reform] needs to be overturned as quickly as possible.”

 
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Screen capture from uspresidentialelectionnews.com
A March 9 Democratic presidential debate in Miami included some questions in Spanish and an extended discussion of immigration reform.

Clinton said she “fully support[s] President Barack Obama’s intention under the Constitution to nominate a successor to [the late Justice Antonin] Scalia” and believes “we should not tolerate” Senate Republicans’ attempts to block a nomination.
 
Sanders attempted to state an opinion on the Supreme Court but was prevented from doing so by a commercial break.
 
On immigration, both candidates supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who otherwise obey the law. In response to a question from a Guatemalan woman who was left alone in the U.S. with her five children after her husband was deported, Sanders and Clinton said they would reform immigration policies to keep families together.
 
“The idea that a mother is living here,” Sanders said, “and her children are on the other side of the border is wrong and immoral. A number of months ago, I talked to a young man who was serving in the United States military and while he was serving in the military, his wife was deported. That is beyond comprehension and should not be allowed to exist.”
 
When discussion turned to Cuba, Sanders and Clinton said normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist island nation is an effective way to encourage protection of human rights there. In response to a decades-old video clip in which Sanders appeared to argue then-dictator Fidel Castro helped the Cuban people in some ways, Clinton took issue with her opponent.
 
“I think in that same interview, [Sanders] praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves,” Clinton said. “I couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”
 
Sanders said he was not defending the Cuban government’s human rights record but arguing against U.S. attempts to overthrow Castro.
 
“Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America, we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine,” Sanders said. “And that said the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America.
 
“... I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get[ting] involved in regime change,” he said. American intervention in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile, for instance, “brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments.”
 
On three separate occasions, moderators pressed Clinton on questions related to her character. Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post cited a poll that found “only 37 percent of Americans consider [Clinton] honest and trustworthy” and asked her to respond. Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked Clinton about claims she lied regarding the motive of a 2012 attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, and questioned her about her use of a personal email server as secretary of state.
 
Clinton said perceptions she isn’t honest are not “fair or founded” but added she “take[s] responsibility” for the fact some Americans feel that way. When Ramos asked whether she would drop out of the race if indicted over her email practices, Clinton refused to answer and said, “That’s not going to happen.”
 
Sanders declined to comment on Clinton’s email except to say, “There is a process underway” to investigate, “and that process will take its course.” He suggested Clinton should release transcripts of paid speeches to Wall Street executives to reveal whether her public denunciations of Wall Street corruption are consistent with her private comments.
 
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for April, though a specific time and place have yet to be determined.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/11/2016 11:15:23 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC conference to spotlight cultural engagement

March 10 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Gospel-centered cultural engagement will be the theme of the third national conference sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
Onward,” the ERLC’s 2016 National Conference, will be held Aug. 25-26 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville.
 
The event will focus on helping Christians apply the gospel of Jesus to interaction with various aspects of a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to that message while remaining faithful to the Bible. Conference topics to be addressed will include the arts, politics, sports, race, sexuality, marriage, parenting, millennials and everyday life.

 
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President Russell Moore said in a March 8 news release the ERLC wants “to equip Christians to apply the gospel to everyday life.”
 
“That’s why we have invited an amazing lineup of speakers to cover an ambitious set of topics,” he said. “In an increasingly complex world, we must prepare Christians to engage the culture without losing the gospel.”
 
The conference’s title corresponds to that of Moore’s latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, which is also the subject of his address at the August event.
 
Among the other speakers will be Matt Chandler, leading teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas Metroplex; Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today and author; Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California’s Silicon Valley; Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas; Andy Stanley, founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta; Jackie Hill-Perry, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records; Darren Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis; Gregory Thornbury, president of The King’s College; Alissa Wilkinson, chief film critic at Christianity Today; and Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African-American Network.
 
The conference’s speakers will address topics in plenary addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions.
 
The first ERLC National Conference, which was held in 2014, focused on applying the gospel to homosexuality and marriage, while the 2015 conference was about the gospel and politics.
 
Registration and further conference information is available at erlc.com/events/nationalconference2016.
 
The main sessions of the conference will be live streamed at erlc.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/10/2016 11:45:06 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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