March 2017

Chicago church sues over stalled building purchase

March 29 2017 by Meredith Flynn, Illinois Baptist

Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago has filed a federal lawsuit over the city’s enforcement of a zoning ordinance that won’t allow the congregation to purchase its building near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

Photo from Google
Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago has filed a federal lawsuit over the city’s enforcement of a zoning ordinance that won’t allow the congregation to purchase its building near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. The church contends the ordinance is in conflict with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.


The church contends the ordinance is in conflict with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
 
“Agonizing” is how Nathan Carter, the church’s pastor, described the decision to either seek other meeting space or file the lawsuit.
 
Immanuel Baptist, which is affiliated with the Illinois Baptist State Association, has met in its current location since 2011. The church was set to close on the purchase of the building last summer, but the lender would not close on the sale without confirmation from the city.
 
The main issue is parking; the Chicago zoning ordinance requires religious assemblies to have a certain number of parking spaces based on how many people they can seat. Immanuel needs 19 spaces to comply with the ordinance, but like many organizations in their neighborhood, the church utilizes street parking.
 
Immanuel and the law firm representing them, Mauck & Baker, are arguing that the ordinance violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by requiring stricter standards for religious assemblies than for other organizations.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a written statement to Baptist Press, “Time and time again we have seen government bodies large and small use coercive measures and double standards to silence religious freedom. In times like this, it is precisely the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that is often a church’s last line of legal defense.
 
“Situations like this are exactly why Baptists have long insisted that no government authority has the right to mute or impede upon religious speech or worship,” Moore said. “My hope is that this case will be settled quickly on this church’s behalf, and if not we look forward to being advocates for this church and all of our churches in the days ahead.”
 
Immanuel Baptist’s space at 1443 W. Roosevelt Road had been rented by another church previously. Churches are a permitted use in the zoning, and the city’s building department gave Immanuel an occupancy permit in 2011. City officials assured Carter the sale wouldn’t be blocked despite the church’s use of street parking.
 
Other city officials took a different stance in July 2016, informing Carter “the church still needed to meet the city’s parking requirements and that the city must determine if a religious assembly use is something it wants to promote on a commercial corridor such as Roosevelt Road,” according to a press release from Mauck & Baker.
 
The church’s ensuing lawsuit, filed in February, was a “last resort,” Carter said. “We’ve been courteous and kind throughout the process and not adversarial, seeking to bend over backwards to meet their demands. We have our alderman’s support.”
 
Plus, Carter said, “We have many of the same goals for the neighborhood as the city does. We’ve communicated that if they don’t fight it, then we won’t seek damages or fees. [The suit is] framed in such a way that they can admit they are bound by the letter of a current zoning ordinance, but then point out how that zoning ordinance is federally illegal [because of RLUIPA] by requiring more parking spots for religious assembly than it does for non-religious assembly uses that courts have determined are comparable.”
 
Carter referred to a sign on the door of his local library, which clearly states the library has no parking and patrons are to park on the street. City ordinances also state “live theater venues” with fewer than 150 seats need no parking, nor do libraries or cultural exhibits within the first 4,000 feet. Mauck & Baker is arguing Immanuel meets both of these requirements: Their building seats 146 people and has less than 4,000 square feet.
 
Carter said the church is praying they can settle the suit within the next few weeks, but if the city decides to continue to fight the purchase, the process could be a lengthy one.
 
Still, he said, the church sensed the Lord leading in this direction.
 
“Since 2005 our church has had a vision for being a long-term, stable gospel presence in our specific area of the city – a cluster of neighborhoods that surround the University of Illinois at Chicago,” Carter said. After meeting in four rented locations over the years and doing an exhaustive search of their community for other spaces, the purchase of their current building seems like a strategic decision.
 
“If the Lord closes this door, we have no doubt that He will open up another one,” Carter said. “But at the moment this was the only one that was cracked open, and there are scary lights coming from behind it, but we sensed the Lord wanted us to knock.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is an editorial contributor to the Illinois Baptist newspaper, a publication of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)
 

3/29/2017 9:27:08 AM by Meredith Flynn, Illinois Baptist | with 0 comments



Twenty-two states join fight for Alabama’s abortion ban

March 29 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Conservative states and pro-life groups are flocking to support Alabama’s effort to reinstate its ban on late-term dismemberment abortions, a law blocked by a federal judge last summer.
 
Alabama outlawed the procedure in May, joining four other states attempting to ban “dilation and evacuation,” the most common abortion method used in advanced stages of fetal development. It requires abortionists to dilate a mother’s cervix, tear the baby apart bit by bit, and reassemble the pieces to ensure they’ve removed everything.
 
“It’s just as gruesome and just as horrible as partial-birth abortion,” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver told me.
 
Partial-birth abortion, banned nationwide by Congress in 2003, involved sucking out a baby’s brains through a hole in the base of its skull while it was still in the mother’s birth canal. The Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2007.
 
Alabama is asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court’s injunction against its dismemberment abortion ban. Staver filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Pediatricians in the hopes of convincing the court to rule in Alabama’s favor.
 
In addition, 22 states signed a second brief in support of Alabama’s position.
 
Randall Williams, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, one of the groups challenging the law, said he is “confident” U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s temporary restraining order will stand.
 
But pro-lifers remain optimistic.
 
“For me, it’s very promising to see these state attorneys general get together and say, ‘We agree that this law should be upheld and enforced,’”  Ingrid Duran, director of National Right to Life’s department of state legislation, told me. “To me, it’s a sign of hope.”
 
In response to his state’s decision to support Alabama, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said “respect for life and the protection of the innocent should always transcend politics.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he signed the brief out of “minimum respect owed to human life.”
 
Other states that signed the brief include Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
 
In Texas and Pennsylvania, bills that would ban dismemberment abortions have passed the state senate. Other states that have introduced similar legislation include Illinois, New York, Maryland, Rhode Island and South Carolina, along with Missouri, which has introduced previous dismemberment abortion bans that failed to pass.
 
Several states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia, have bans in place, while judges have blocked similar laws in Kansas and Oklahoma.
 
Staver said there is a “high chance” the Supreme Court will hear a dismemberment abortion ban case in the next few years. After the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart ruling to uphold the country’s partial-birth abortion ban, some pro-lifers hope to see a similar decision on dismemberment abortion.
 
“Everyone was just like, ‘No way, there is no way that this is happening,’” Duran said of the 2007 case. “We’re saying, please look at this method also.”
 
Dismemberment abortion bans would require abortionists to stop a baby’s heart before removing him or her from the uterus, either by injecting poison directly into the baby or injecting concentrated saline into the amniotic sac.
 
While highlighting the horrific nature of dismemberment abortion, Staver noted all abortion methods are brutal: “At the end of the day, whether you’re euthanizing, or ripping and tearing, or scalding by high concentrations of saline, you’re still taking an innocent human life at a late stage in abortion.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/29/2017 9:23:57 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Imprisoned Iranian believer in ‘urgent’ health crisis

March 29 2017 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, an imprisoned Iranian convert to Christianity, is in “urgent need of special care.”

Maryam Naghash Zargaran


An Iranian Christian media outlet, Mohabat News, reported March 24 that Zargaran’s health condition “deteriorated last week,” citing sources close to her family.
Zargaran suffers from multiple health issues, including ASD hole-in-the heart disease, “drastic” weight loss, weakness, depression and trauma, according to Mohabat News, online at mohabatnews.com/en in English.
 
Accused of participating with pastor Saeed Abedini in a house church in connection with her work at an orphanage, Zargaran has been in the women’s ward of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since 2013, according to World Watch Monitor, a news service that focuses on persecuted Christians. Abedini was imprisoned in Iran from 2012 to early 2016 when he was released as part of a reported prisoner swap in the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.
 
Zargaran, single and in her late 30s, is serving a four-year sentence, which also has taken a toll on her mother, now diagnosed with what Mohabat News described as “brain illness” due to stress stemming from her frequent visits to government prosecutors to inquire about her daughter’s case.
 
Zargaran is one of about 90 Christians who were “in prison, detained or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities” as of February 2016, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) last report, issued in April 2016. USCIRF reported that Iran’s Shiite regime also had imprisoned more than 150 Sunni Muslims and at least 80 Bahai’s.
 
Zargaran was one of four imprisoned Iranians who received attention in Amnesty International’s July 2016 report “Iran: Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons.” Her case was detailed in a section titled “Hunger strikes and reprisals.”
 
Zargaran engaged in two hunger strikes in mid-2016 over her medical treatment, the first spanning 11 days, the second 27 days. Each time, she received temporary medical leave for home care, which government authorities cut short of doctor recommendations, according to Amnesty International.
 
The human rights group reported that Zargaran recounted that “the prison doctor had harassed her and sworn at her the [first] time she was on a hunger strike and accused her of ‘lying’” about it.
 
Amnesty International, recapping Zargaran’s medical issues, stated that she “seems to suffer from several serious medical conditions. She has a heart problem known as atrial septal defect (ASD) for which she underwent surgery several years prior to her arrest. The problem has since required ongoing monitoring and follow-up with a cardiologist but it appears that, since her imprisonment in 2013, she has not had regular access to such care.
 
“Over the past year, she has also experienced severe numbness in her hands and feet, and chronic pain in her joints. Amnesty International understands that it took several months and multiple rounds of visits to the prison clinic before she was finally examined by a specialist. The specialist provided an initial diagnosis of a herniated disc and arthritis, and advised that she must start receiving physiotherapy immediately. The Office of the Prosecutor, however, refused to comply with the opinion of the specialist doctor and to transfer her to a medical facility outside prison. Human rights groups have reported that [Zargaran] also suffers from several additional health problems, including acute earache, severe anaemia, persistent dizziness, diabetes and dyslipidaemia (abnormal amount of lipids in the blood), all of which seem to have worsened during her imprisonment.”
 
The section of the Amnesty International report focusing on hunger strikes noted, “Political prisoners suffering from deteriorating health have often felt that they had no choice but to go on a hunger strike to compel the authorities to provide them with medical care. The authorities have usually responded with initial indifference followed by half-hearted promises. Sometimes they have transferred the hunger striker to a hospital or granted them short-term medical leave, but have then forced them to interrupt their treatment after a brief period and return to prison against medical advice.”
 
According to Mohabat News, Zargaran’s sentence has been extended by 45 days to match the time she was away from prison for temporary medical leave.
 
Describing the circumstances facing Christians like Zargaran in Iran, analyst Henriette Kats of the Open Doors advocacy organization for persecuted Christians told World Watch Monitor: “Of all different types of Christianity in Iran, it is especially those with a Muslim background who are suffering for their faith. However, Persian-speaking Protestant Christians are facing hardships as religious minorities as well, especially when they are active in spreading their faith. ... Hate speech against them by imams, or in multimedia material published by the government, increased during the past year.”
 
Kats said the Iranian regime has “intensified its campaign to remove Farsi-speaking [Persian-speaking] Christians from the country. During past years, many churches have been shut down, confiscated or forced to cancel their church services in Farsi. Their leaders were also often arrested. Congregations who still gather in churches are not allowed to accept new members with a Muslim background and their current members are aging. Severe surveillance on house churches leads to increasing fear among those attending. Evangelism, Bible training and the publishing and importing of Bibles in Farsi are all illegal.
 
“Also non-Protestant Christians, such as Assyrian and Armenians, face disadvantages because of their faith, such as harassment and discrimination in their workplace, both by state and private-sector employers,” Kats said.
 
A call for postcards and letters to Zargaran is part of a Facebook page devoted to her plight: “Free Maryam Naghash Zargaran Nasim” (her full Iranian name).
 
“Your words and letters to Maryam will not be wasted if you write,” the Facebook page states. “The postcards and letters you write will make a big difference to Maryam, letting her know that she has not been forgotten.”
 
Correspondence should be addressed to:
 
Maryam Naghash-Zargaran - Nasim
Evin Prison
Saadat Abad
Tehran
Islamic Republic of Iran
 
“Please continue to pray for Maryam, and for those who have the power release her,” the Facebook page states.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

3/29/2017 9:20:20 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



200 killed in Christian areas of Nasarawa, Nigeria

March 29 2017 by Morning Star News, Nigeria Correspondent

 
Armed attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian communities in Nasarawa state this year have left more than 200 people dead and destroyed homes and farms, sources said.
 
One such attack on a worship service on March 19 in the central Nigerian state’s Oshugu village killed two Christians and displaced hundreds from the Loko Development Area of the Nasarawa Local Government Area (LGA), a survivor told Morning Star News.
 
“The attack on our village occurred this morning while we were in the church,” the survivor, identified only as Ittah, said on March 19. “Our village head and one other person died, and many were injured. The sad thing is that these Fulanis have been attacking our communities, and no one is doing anything about it.”
 
Both Christians killed were members of the local congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All.
 
A petition to Nigeria’s National Assembly by the Nasarawa-based Ajiri Afo Development Association on March 16 stated that since January armed herdsmen have killed more than 200 people and injured 500 others. The petition cites “killings, rapes and kidnappings of our people.”
 
“We are in pain and distressed, we are dying as a result of this destruction to our economic activity in our lands,” Aminu Suleiman, president of the association, stated in the petition. “Most of our farms and villages are now deserted due to insecurity.”
 
He reported continual attacks and kidnappings by Fulani herdsmen on Ajiri Afo farmers and villages in Nasarawa LGA, Kokona LGA, Agwada, Udege and Loko Development Areas.
 
“The herdsmen with their cattle would forcefully invade a farm land, eating up and destroying it,” he reported. “Any form of protest by farmers results in attacks. These attacks have left more than 200 dead and 500 with several wounds, while most of the surviving victims are suffering from emotional stress.”
 
The herdsmen attacked Udeni Magaji, Ogeni, Oshugu, Odeni Gida, Odu, Oseni, Ogufa, Ogapa, Gwende and Ajaga, according to the petition.
 
“We want the government to also ensure the security of the affected communities against further attacks,” Suleiman stated.
 
John Kennedy, a spokesman with the Nasarawa State Police Command, told Morning Star News that police are working toward curtailing the attacks.
 
Fulani herdsmen have long attacked Christian farmers in Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba and Adamawa states, but recently analysts have begun to see ties between the assailants and Islamic extremist groups keen to exploit longstanding ethnic, property and religious conflicts.
 
On Aug. 24, 2016, Muslim Fulani herdsmen hacked a 60-year-old Christian farmer to death with machetes as he worked on his farm outside of Andaha town, Nasarawa state.
 
Herdsmen from Nasarawa state and Islamist mercenaries from outside Nigeria have attacked villages in neighboring Benue state, killing five Christians in December 2014. The Fulani herdsmen from Nasarawa state, with mercenaries from Chad and Niger, razed several villages, destroying homes and church buildings in the predominantly Roman Catholic Agatu Local Government Area and forcing hundreds of Christians to flee. In a massacre in February 2016, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed an estimated 300 Christians in Benue state.
 
The Muslim population of Nasarawa state could be as high as 32 percent, with Christians making up as much as 65 percent, Christian support organization Open Doors estimates. Of Nigeria’s overall population, Christians make up 51.3 percent, while Muslims account for 45 percent.
 
Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)
 

3/29/2017 9:15:12 AM by Morning Star News, Nigeria Correspondent | with 0 comments



Ties bind local church to community school

March 29 2017 by Stephanie Boone, BGCO

Crutcho School, located at the corner of Sooner Road and N.E. 23rd Street in Oklahoma City, Okla., for more than 100 years, is a single-site, pre K-8th grade school in a low-income district. All of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, and the district is primarily Section 8 housing.

Contributed photo
Former Oklahoma Sooner and NFL Chicago Bear fullback J.D. Runnels speaks to students about the importance of dressing for success.


Justin Ford, senior pastor at Oakdale Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., recognized a need in the nearby Oklahoma City-area community in 2008. The church began to partner with the school, and the relationship still flourishes today.
 
“When we had the opportunity of participating in an impactful ministry to young boys, we knew we couldn’t pass it up,” Ford said.
 
Crutcho hosted its first Tie Day Feb. 14, where local businessmen were invited to come and invest time with male students by teaching them how to tie a tie and the importance of being successful, productive men in society.
 
More than 150 men were involved with Tie Day, and hundreds of ties were donated for the event.
 
Carlos Robinson, one of the men who spoke at the event, said, “It’s about showing people that I’m going to put my best foot forward today. In order to be a man, they need to see a man, so that’s the difference we’re trying to make in our community.”
 
According to the National Center for Fathering, children in a home where a father is not present are almost four times more likely to be at poverty level. Fatherless children are also at a greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. This makes mentorship opportunities like Tie Day imperative.

Contributed photo
Brian Williams works with a student on his tie.


J.D. Runnels, former Oklahoma Sooner and Chicago Bears fullback, spoke to students about the importance of doing your best. Runnels, now a business owner and entrepreneur, grew up in Midwest City and attended Carl Albert High School, which is a short drive from Crutcho.
 
Teresa McAfee, superintendent of Crutcho School said, “We had more ties and men than we needed. We had representatives from the Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s department, police department, pastors, congressmen, educators, NFL players and more. You never know when that one moment will be the moment that makes a difference for a child.”
 
Through the relationship established between Oakdale Baptist Church and Crutcho, the congregation has been able to share the gospel and teach the students the importance of having a relationship with Christ.
 
“Since Oakdale formed a partnership with Crutcho School eight years ago, the leadership at Crutcho has made it clear that they believe our church efforts have a direct and positive impact on students that are often in significant need,” Ford said. “Over the years, Oakdale has been allowed to provide volunteer staff, work days, prayer support for school staff, meals for PTA meetings, tutors and even birthday cakes for each student on their birthday.”
 
Through Tie Day and just one hour a week, volunteers have built relationships with the boys at Crutcho that have appeared to impact not only the boys, but the volunteers as well. Those involved in the effort believe a tie could open a door to a promising future filled with Christ’s love.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephanie Boone is a communications assistant Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This article first appeared in The Baptist Messenger baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the BGCO.)
 

3/29/2017 9:07:44 AM by Stephanie Boone, BGCO | with 0 comments



Alabama lawmaker wants to nix marriage licenses

March 28 2017 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

Alabama is considering a law that would abolish marriage licenses in the state.
 
The proposed bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Greg Albritton, amends Alabama law to remove any requirement that couples obtain marriage licenses or have marriage ceremonies.
 
Albritton said the law would protect the religious liberty of probate judges and clergy who have moral objections to signing same-sex marriage licenses while also avoiding likely litigation.
 
“It keeps the state from making the decision of who can and cannot get married,” Albritton said. “It prevents the state from that gatekeeper position.”
 
Instead, under the proposed bill, couples would file signed affidavits with a probate judge, who would be required to record, but not authorize or condone, marriages. The notarized affidavit would ask each party to declare they were old enough to marry, not currently married, not related and voluntarily desire to marry. The bill also would remove any requirement that a ceremony take place.
 
Some conservative opponents argue the bill threatens the sanctity of marriage. Two Republican state senators spoke against the bill during the Senate hearing, arguing the state should have a role in authorizing marriage and that removing marriage licenses and ceremony requirements would reduce marriage to a contract between two parties.
 
“To take it and reduce it to a contractual arrangement like a mortgage or a deed feels a little concerning,” Republican Sen. Phil Williams said during debate.
 
But Albritton maintained the “state does not make things sacred.”
 
He said his goal with the bill was simply to resolve a judicial controversy. Eight Alabama counties still refuse to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
 
“I am not changing marriage. I am not changing the definition of marriage,” Albritton said. “The courts have already decided, both local state courts and federal courts. … I am just changing the procedure.”
 
The bill cleared the Alabama Senate by a vote of 22-6 earlier this month and is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
 
This is the fourth time Albritton has introduced the bill since a federal judge struck down an Alabama law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman in early 2015. Albritton’s bills have always cleared the Senate but failed in the House.
 
During a special session in September 2015, the bill came up for a vote before the whole House of Representatives. A majority of representatives voted for it, but it failed because it did not get the two-thirds majority required to pass in the special session.
 
Albritton said he anticipated the bill would pass out of the House Judiciary Committee and hoped it would get a vote before the whole House this session.
 
Alabama will be the first state with such a law if the bill passes. Oklahoma tried and failed to pass a similar measure in 2015.
 
But Albritton says this is not a new idea: “I am only going back to the way we were doing things about 100 years ago,” he said, noting that until Alabama initiated marriage licenses in the early 20th century, marriages were conducted and then recorded in the probate office, exactly as his bill would require.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/28/2017 9:15:27 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 1 comments



Volunteers needed for Crossover

March 28 2017 by Tobin Perry, NAMB

The goal of this year’s Crossover is to “Engage Phoenix with the Gospel” through a partnership with Harvest America.

NAMB graphic


North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Arizona Southern Baptist Convention leaders are praying for more than 5,000 salvation decisions through this summer’s Crossover activities prior to the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
 
But for that to happen, they need the help of Southern Baptists to come and serve as volunteers, according to Eddy Pearson, evangelism director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.
 
This year’s Crossover efforts will center on a June 11 Harvest Crusade led by Greg Laurie. Prior to that, organizers need volunteers to help local churches conduct door-to-door visitation across Phoenix, engaging residents in gospel conversations and extending personal invitations to attend the crusade.
 
“We can’t do this if Southern Baptists don’t show up,” Pearson said. “We are not having the typical 50 or more block parties [for Crossover], but we are focusing on inviting the community to Harvest America and sharing the gospel as the Lord provides opportunities.”
 
Pearson said they need 4,000 to 6,000 volunteers to fully staff the evangelistic outreach event. Many of those volunteers will come from Arizona churches – both Southern Baptist and other churches – but not all of them will.
 
In addition to Friday night training and Saturday outreach, volunteers will participate in a variety of roles at the Harvest Crusade on Sunday evening, including decision follow-up workers, prayer support, security and ushers. Volunteers must sign up through the Harvest Crusade online portal (see below). Once they sign up, they will receive instructions for training in preparation for the crusade.
 
Organizers hope more than 50,000 attendees will participate in the crusade. Pearson says Harvest Crusades typically see 8 to 10 percent of attendees make professions of faith.
 
The crusade will be simulcast online and include a gospel message by Laurie and music by top-name Christian artists, including Needtobreathe, Trip Lee and Phil Wickham. According to the event’s website, the crusade will focus on “bringing the cross over into people’s lives.”
 
More than 100 Southern Baptist seminary students will take part in on-the-ground evangelism in the area around the crusade the week prior to the event. Pearson hopes these students will invite 20,000 homes to the crusade during the week.
 
The crusade marks one of the most significant shifts in the history of the Crossover outreach efforts. Crossover began with an Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution in 1983 that urged Southern Baptists to plan an evangelistic outreach to coincide with the 1989 annual meeting in Las Vegas. Since that year Southern Baptists have annually led city-wide evangelistic celebrations in the host cities of the SBC annual meeting. Co-sponsored by the North American Mission Board and the local SBC association, the event has typically included local church outreaches like block parties and service projects. June 2017 will mark the 29th consecutive year Southern Baptists have hosted Crossover events.
 
“I think people see the great potential of this crusade,” said Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism. “In years past we’d have 300, 400, or 500 people come to faith in Christ. With this crusade, we could have 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 people come to faith in Christ.”
 
Greg Laurie, who serves as senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., has been leading Harvest Crusades since 1990. More than 5.7 million people have attended Harvest Crusades since that time.
 
Those who come to faith through this summer’s crusade will be connected to local churches for follow up. Each participating local church will have a follow-up coordinator who will lead the congregation’s follow-up efforts.
 
Every person who makes a commitment to Christ will be connected with a person to pray and follow up with them that night. They will receive a new believer’s Bible and a copy of their commitment to Christ.
 
The Harvest America team will process all the decisions that night and mail the information to churches the next morning. Once local churches receive the information, they will follow up with new believers through e-mail, a phone call and possibly a visit.
 
Monty Patton, who serves as NAMB’s city missionary for Phoenix, says the spiritual need is significant in Phoenix. According to the North American Mission Board, only 12.6 percent of Phoenix residents are affiliated with evangelical churches.
 
Patton says that new church plants in the central and west sides of the city are particularly excited about the potential of new believers coming into the congregations through the event.
 
“Phoenix has not seen this kind of crusade or a gathering of like-minded churches since I’ve been here,” Patton said. “It’ll be great.”
 
North Phoenix Baptist Church will host a “Day of Evangelism” on June 9 at 7 p.m. to help train Christians in evangelism and prepare them for the June 10 evangelistic blitz of the city preceding the next day’s crusade.
 
Pearson asks that Southern Baptists would pray that “God’s Spirit would permeate the city of Phoenix.”
 
“Pray that we have boldness,” Pearson added. “Pray that we share about this where we live, work and play.”
 
For information about volunteering for the Sunday crusade, visit harvestamerica.com/serve. For information about outreach opportunities on Friday and Saturday, visit harvestamerica.com/pre-events.
 
For more information about Crossover and how you and your church can be involved, visit harvestamerica.com/crossover-events.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
 

3/28/2017 9:14:52 AM by Tobin Perry, NAMB | with 0 comments



Assisted suicide bills faring poorly in 2017

March 28 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Bills that would legalize assisted suicide have failed to advance in eight of 24 states considering them this year, with pro-life victories in Hawaii and New Mexico drawing media focus.
 
No state has passed assisted-suicide legislation thus far in 2017 after 2016 saw Colorado and the District of Columbia legalize the practice and California enact a bill passed the previous year.
 
Assisted-suicide bills “have done very poorly” this year, said Rita Marker, executive director of the Patients Rights Council (PRC), a group that opposes assisted suicide. “That has been a shock to those who are in favor of it because they thought that all of the sudden the dam had burst and everything would happen for them.”
 
Legislation to legalize assisted suicide looks to have suffered final defeat this year in Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Tennessee, Marker told Baptist Press. Bills have failed to advance but could be brought back up in Hawaii, Maryland, Utah and Wyoming, she said.
 
Legislation is pending in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the PRC website.
 
Marker said assisted-suicide proponents introduce legislation annually in states unlikely to pass it because they regard the ensuing debate as an opportunity to win support for their cause.
 
In Hawaii, a House of Representatives committee decided March 23 by unanimous consent not to advance a proposal that would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal drugs the same day a patient was diagnosed as terminally ill.
 
Rep. Della Au Bellati, chair of the House Committee on Health, said assisted suicide has divided the state, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Other lawmakers said the legislation under consideration was flawed and couldn’t be fixed before this year’s legislative session ends in May.
 
Eva Andrade, president of the Hawaii Family Forum, wrote in a blog post that Hawaiians should “say a prayer of thanksgiving” while remaining vigilant in their opposition.
 
“Although this may seem like the battle is over, please be advised that the battle is not over until the last day of session,” Andrade wrote. “And even then, the bill is still alive for next session. Even now, proponents are most likely regrouping to see what they can do to keep the bill alive for this session.”
 
New Mexico lawmakers made news March 15 when the state senate voted 22-20 against a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for those expected to die within six months, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans in the vote.
 
Dauneen Dolce, executive director of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, told the American Family Association’s One News Now that similar legislation likely will be introduced next year because the vote was so close.
 
Assisted suicide opponents must remain “actively involved in some way,” Dolce said, by “educating yourself, or giving support to the organizations that are educating others, or [being] involved in the political arena. If you don’t do that, you are handing over our state [and] our laws, and the culture of death will come to us – and that’ll be from apathy.”
 
Marker echoed the call for continued vigilance, noting the importance of talking with neighbors about the dangers of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. She added that those who oppose assisted suicide must work together across ideological and political party lines.
 
“Those who are promoting [assisted suicide] want to make it seem as though the only people who oppose this are doing so out of religious opposition or right to life [advocacy],” Marker said.
 
“That’s not true. In fact, some of the most effective [assisted-suicide opponents] are from the disability rights community.”
 
In all, 36 states and the District of Columbia have considered assisted suicide bills since 1994, according to PRC data. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
 
A LifeWay Research survey last year found 67 percent of Americans believe it is morally acceptable for terminally ill patients to ask their doctors for help in ending their lives.
 
At least four Southern Baptist Convention resolutions have opposed assisted suicide since 1992. Most recently, a 2015 resolution “on the sanctity of human life” noted the legalization of “physician-assisted suicide in several states” and “affirm[ed] the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/28/2017 9:14:26 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Canada harvesting the organs of euthanasia patients

March 28 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

A recent push in Canada to encourage euthanasia patients to donate their organs appears to be working.
 
In Ontario, the first province to report data, 26 people who died by lethal injection decided to donate tissue or organs since the Medical Aid in Dying Act (MAID) came into effect last June, according to the National Post. A total of 388 people have chosen to die by lethal injection in Ontario, over half of the 744 total Canadians who have been euthanized.
 
Proponents of linking organ harvesting to euthanasia point to the shortage of organ transplants readily available and the lower cost associated with euthanasia than with end-of-life care.
 
Canadian ethicists Julie Allard and Marie-Chantal Fortin encouraged the joining of euthanasia with organ harvesting in an article in December’s Journal of Medical Ethics.
 
But even supporters acknowledge the potential unintended consequences. Allard and Fortin warned in their article that encouraging organ harvesting could put pressure on those diagnosed with terminal illness to consider assisted suicide as an alternative sense of purpose.
 
Jennifer Chandler, professor of policy and ethics at the University of Ottawa, said linking euthanasia with organ harvesting “might create pressure to continue with the MAID” and make it hard for terminally ill people to change their minds about taking their lives.
 
“The people in the euthanasia lobby want people to think of it as a social good,” Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said. Once people accept euthanasia, the logical next step is organ harvesting, Schadenberg noted. He pointed to the worldwide push for organ harvesting not hours or minutes after someone’s heart stops, but while their heart is still beating.
 
The practice – which supporters argue will allow the organ to better graft into recipient – is being considered in Belgium and is legal in the Netherlands if patients are brain-damaged and their death seems imminent.
 
“This is the future in the dark world of euthanasia that we have – euthanasia by organ donation,” Schadenberg said.
 
He added that this should come as no surprise: “The horrible thing is that we’re killing people. That is absolutely devastating to our culture. But the fact that you’re doing organ donation with it too, is only a natural outcome of the concept of killing people.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

3/28/2017 9:13:47 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Year after Pakistan Easter bombing, suffering lingers

March 28 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Families are still struggling a year after a suicide bomber killed more than 70 people and injured hundreds others in an attack targeting Christians at Easter in Lahore, Pakistan, International Christian Concern (ICC) noted on the event’s March 27 anniversary.

BP file photo
March 27 marks the first anniversary of the deadly suicide bombing that targeted Christians during an Easter celebration in Lahore, Pakistan.


At least 21 Christians were killed and 45 Christians injured when an Islamic State terrorist denoted a suicide vest, killing an estimated 75 people and injuring about 340 others during an evening Easter celebration in a public park.
 
“The Easter day bombing left me alone,” Tariq, a bombing survivor who was injured and lost his brother in the blast, told ICC. “My brother always supported me in difficult times; however, after his death I was extremely depressed.” Added Tariq’s sister Sumbal, “I will never forget my brother.”
 
The 3.9 million Christians who comprise only two percent of Pakistan’s population continue to live in danger in the country that Open Doors ranks as number four of its 2017 World Watch List noting the most severe persecution of Christians.
 
“Pakistan continues to be a deadly country for Christians to live and practice their faith,” ICC Regional Manager William Stark said in a press release. “Christians not only face deadly attacks … but they must also endure social discrimination and blasphemy laws.”
 
The anniversary comes at a heightened period of terrorism against various sectors of Pakistani society, with half a dozen bombings one week in February alone killing more than 125 and injuring several hundred, the Washington Post reported Feb. 18. In the most deadly February attack, at least 88 were killed and 250 injured during a religious gathering in the courtyard of a Sufi Muslim shrine in southeastern Sindh province, the Post said.
 
In response to the series of attacks, the Pakistani government placed security forces on high alert and pledged to “liquidate” all terrorists, the Post said. More than 100 suspected Islamist militants were hunted down and killed, authorities reported. But Pakistani citizens have accused the government of complacency.
 
In the Easter 2016 bombing, 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 after the tragedy.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/28/2017 9:13:19 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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