March 2017

Friends, foes debate Gorsuch; Democrats to filibuster

March 27 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Proponents and opponents voiced their opinions of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on the final day of his hearing – the same day the Senate’s Democratic leader announced he would try to block a confirmation vote.

Neil Gorsuch



After three days of appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch was followed by witnesses who urged panel members either to vote for or against his confirmation. Among the witnesses were a religious freedom expert who endorsed Gorsuch’s confirmation and abortion and gay rights advocates who urged his rejection.
 
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, took to the floor of the Senate March 23 to say he would vote against Gorsuch and lead a filibuster effort to prevent the judge’s confirmation.
 
“My vote will be ‘no,’ and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” Schumer told senators. “He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation.
 
“I say if this nominee cannot earn 60 votes ... the answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee.”
 
The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote April 3 to send Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate, but it remains to be seen whether the 52 Republican senators can persuade at least eight Democrats to join in overcoming a filibuster. Sixty votes will be required to halt a filibuster and bring Gorsuch’s nomination to the floor for a confirmation vote. If the GOP falls short, it can still take the controversial step of holding a vote to change the rules and confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority.
 
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., responded by saying Schumer and the Democrats “have no reason to try to mount a filibuster.”
 
“Judge Gorsuch has an impressive record of interpreting the law without trying to legislate from the bench,” said Lankford, a Southern Baptist, in a written statement. “Adherence to the rule of law, refusal to legislate from the bench and dedication to the separation of powers are not extreme ideas. However, filibustering a Supreme Court nomination is.”
 
Schumer’s filibuster pledge came after Gorsuch patiently explained his judicial philosophy and defended his record during two full days of answering questions from 20 committee members. Gorsuch espouses originalism and textualism – interpreting the Constitution based on its original meaning and laws based on their text, respectively.
 
Southern Baptist legal and policy specialist Travis Wussow described Gorsuch’s hearings as “nothing short of remarkable.”
 
“We were encouraged by Judge Gorsuch’s responses and feel confident based on those responses and his record that he will be a powerful voice advancing a conservative jurisprudence on the Supreme Court,” Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in written comments for Baptist Press. “We now look for the Senate to do its job and confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Court, using the full extent of its constitutional authority if necessary.”
 
During the March 23 witness testimonies, Hannah Smith – senior counsel at Becket, a leading defender of free exercise for all religious adherents – said she reviewed all 40 religious liberty opinions involving Gorsuch, who has served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver more than 10 years.
 
“My assessment is that Judge Gorsuch, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, would be a jurist committed to protecting this vital freedom,” Smith told the committee. “None of his religious liberty opinions has ever been reversed by the Supreme Court.”
 
Gorsuch “has demonstrated repeatedly that he applies the law fairly to protect religious minorities and incarcerated persons, some of the most politically powerless in our society,” she said, citing his rulings in support of Native American and Muslim prisoners.
 
His record consistently shows Gorsuch rules “without regard to a particular ideological outcome,” Smith said. “His jurisprudence demonstrates an even-handed application of the principle that religious liberty is fundamental to freedom and to human dignity and that protecting the religious rights of others, even the rights of those with whom we may disagree, ultimately leads to greater protections for all of our rights.”
 
A gay rights legal specialist, however, told the senators Gorsuch “cannot be given a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
 
Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, said Gorsuch “has employed a dangerous brand of originalism that ignores the essential context and values of each case and the lives that they touch. His record and statements place him squarely in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently demeaned and denied the dignity of LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer] people from the bench.”
 
Scalia – whose death in January 2016 resulted in the vacancy that Gorsuch will fill if confirmed – was well-known as a proponent of originalism.
 
Warbelow criticized Gorsuch for his ruling against a man who transitioned into being a woman and was terminated from his job because he refused to use the men’s restroom.
 
“We need a justice who recognizes our basic equality and shared humanity,” Warbelow said. “Judge Gorsuch has never met this bar, and that’s why the Human Rights Campaign opposes his nomination to the Supreme Court.”
 
Though Gorsuch has yet to rule on abortion, Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman’s Health, told the senators the judge’s “positions raise concerns about his ability to be open-minded, fair and guided by the Constitution, and not his own ideology or personal beliefs.”
 
Miller – founder and chief executive officer of the group of clinics that performs abortions – said, “We need justices on the bench who oppose unnecessary obstacles to our constitutional rights. Neil Gorsuch is not that judge.”
 
Whole Woman’s Health, which last year won an important Supreme Court case involving regulations on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas, has joined 54 other organizations in a letter opposing Gorsuch, Miller said.
 
The ERLC sponsored a letter Feb. 1 in which more than 50 Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders called for confirmation of Gorsuch. The signers said they believe Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy meets the thresholds of their “core social principles.” Those precepts include in the Supreme Court’s purview “the protection of the unborn, the strengthening of religious liberty, and a dedication to human flourishing – which we believe can only be accomplished by a biblical definition of marriage and family,” they said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

3/27/2017 10:52:54 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Student sues school over girl in boys’ locker room

March 27 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service

A high school junior is suing his Boyertown, Pa., school district after administrators told him he could either “tolerate” having a biological female share his locker room or withdraw and be homeschooled.
 
The lawsuit filed March 21 in federal court calls on the district to rescind its secretly implemented policy granting transgender students access to the private facilities of their choice.
 
Without notifying parents or students, administrators at Boyertown Area School District initiated the policy midway through last semester. The complainant, cited as Joel Doe in court documents, knew nothing about the plan when he began changing clothes for PE class in October. Undressed to his underwear, Doe realized a female student – wearing only shorts and a bra – was in the locker room with him.
 
“Humiliated” and “embarrassed,” he and several other classmates notified Assistant Principal Wayne Foley after class, according to the lawsuit. Foley allegedly told the male students to “tolerate” the situation and make changing in front of a female as “natural” as possible.
 
“There is a level of egregious, callous disregard for the students,” said Randy Wenger, the Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated attorney representing the unidentified male student and his parents.
 
Doe’s parents, listed as John and Jane Doe, filed the lawsuit on behalf of their minor child. Foley, Principal Brett Cooper, and Superintendent Richard Faidley are co-defendants in the case. The district has until April 4 to respond.
 
“We are committed and confident that working together we can reach a satisfactory resolution that is consistent with our mission ‘to enable all students to succeed in a changing world,’” Faidley said in a press release issued today.
 
Faidley reasserted the district’s commitment to the transgender policy, which he claims complies with “the law of the land,” and said the district is seeking guidance from the State Department of Education, the administration and school board.
 
In another recent Pennsylvania case, three male students who identify as female sued a school district for access to the girls’ restrooms. The judge ordered the district to allow open access to school restrooms while the lawsuit proceeds.
 
Wenger said that case is still pending, not precedent-setting, and not applicable to Boyertown, which involves locker rooms, not restrooms.
 
The Boyertown plaintiffs asked administrators to rescind their policy because it violated their son’s privacy and Pennsylvania state law requiring sex-segregated facilities on all school campuses. According to the lawsuit, Cooper said “he would not do anything because Joel Doe can simply change in the nurse’s office from now on if he does not want to change around people of the opposite sex.”
 
Wenger did not know whether the transgender student had been offered the same accommodation in order to avoid any conflict associated with using the boys’ locker room. But transgender advocates have refused similar suggestions in other cases, calling them discriminatory and a violation of the transgender students’ rights.
 
Following the locker room incident, Doe avoided using the boys’ restrooms all day for fear of encountering the female student. He also took a failing grade in PE class for each day he refused to dress out. Changing clothes in the nurse’s office did not remedy the situation because he still had to enter the boys’ locker room to store his clothes.
 
“Now he and the other boys are left without a boy’s room,” Wenger said.
 
Following multiple meetings with district officials, the Doe family was told “that the school was no longer going to discuss this issue with them or any parents,” according to the lawsuit. And Faidley allegedly told the parents that if using the nurse’s bathroom was not acceptable to their son, “he could just withdraw from school and be homeschooled.”
 
And that, Wenger claims, is a violation of Title IX. Typically used to defend women’s educational pursuits in publicly funded schools, the federal statute also protects teenage boys pushed from their designated sex-specific private spaces by a policy accommodating a student of the opposite sex. Last year, the Obama administration directed schools to interpret protections in Title IX to include gender identity. The Trump administration rescinded that directive last month.
 
Even without federal support, Wenger said local school districts continue to do “the wrong thing” by forcing students into untenable situations that push moral and social boundaries surrounding intimacy and personal privacy.
 
“The adults are putting these kids in a place where standing up to this is awkward,” he said, noting his client and the lawsuit are the talk of the school. “It’s hard enough to do school. Who wants to be that person everybody is talking about?”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett writes for WORLD News Service, a part of the WORLD News Group, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/27/2017 10:42:58 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



SWBTS launches Center for Early Christian Studies

March 27 2017 by Alex Sibley, SWBTS

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has launched a new center dedicated to the study of the ancient church – the Southwestern Center for Early Christian Studies (SCECS).


The seminary has a long history of research and publications in early Christianity, but now it meets with a heightened focus. A new website, special lectures, patristic reading groups, regular graduate and postgraduate seminars and a group of faculty and students dedicated to researching the early church will all be features of the new initiative.
 
“In recent years, evangelicalism and early Christianity have been intersecting in new and exciting ways,” said Stephen Presley, the center’s director and associate professor of church history at Southwestern.
 
“Every month, it seems there are conferences surveying the life and thought of the early church, seminars retrieving early Christian thought or new publications engaging the early Christian world. As an institution, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is uniquely positioned to have an important voice in these conversations.”

Through its website – earlychristianstudies.org – the center “aims to facilitate concentrated research and teaching in early Christianity that recovers important theological voices of the past,” Presley said.

Stephen Presley


“This website will be a clearinghouse for patristics resources,” he said. “The features of the website will include discussions of current research in patristics, news about events and conferences related to the early church, regular updates about resources for early Christian studies, interviews and lectures on topics related to the study of the early church and much more.”
 
Southwestern’s patristics scholars – including Presley; D. Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the seminary’s school of theology; executive vice president and provost Craig Blaising; assistant professor of systematic and historical theology Dongsun Cho; and President Paige Patterson – have a range of specializations and research interests in the early church, including various doctrinal, hermeneutical, archaeological, cultural/historical and philosophical topics.
 
The confluence of these interests, Presley said, “will strengthen the contribution of the SCECS and help make Southwestern an exciting place to study early Christianity.”
 
The center will uphold Southwestern’s mission, vision and values by equipping students and ministers to make important contributions to the field of early Christian studies and recover the significant theological voices of the early church. In addition, the center will support local churches through providing resources for pastors and laypeople who want to learn more about early Christian life and thought.
 
“We are excited about this new initiative and the prospects it holds for future research and teaching at the seminary,” Presley said. “For any prospective students or researchers in early Christianity, I encourage you to check out our website and subscribe for regular updates.
 
“Most of all, through the work of the center, we will strive to read more old books and, in the words of [C.S.] Lewis, ‘keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.’”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Sibley is associate director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

3/27/2017 10:34:18 AM by Alex Sibley, SWBTS | with 0 comments



Court hears ACLU challenge to Kentucky ultrasound law

March 27 2017 by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today

A federal judge didn’t immediately rule after hearing arguments seeking a temporary restraining order against Kentucky’s new law requiring women seeking abortions to have a chance to see ultrasound images and hear a description of the images.

Steve Pitt, general counsel for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, is leading the defense of Kentucky’s ultrasound law.


U.S. District Judge David Hale is considering whether to grant the request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to block the law pending the outcome of the ACLU’s overall challenge to its constitutionality.
 
After the day-long hearing on March 23, Hale gave attorneys additional time to file supplemental briefs before rendering his decision.
 
The ACLU filed the suit shortly after Gov. Matt Bevin signed the legislation into law in early January. Bevin said at the time the law was constitutionally sound and would stand up to scrutiny in the courts.
 
Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, has taken the lead in defending the law, saying it is intended to provide women with information they need to make a better informed decision about whether to have an abortion.
 
Steve Pitt, general counsel for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, is leading the defense of Kentucky’s ultrasound law.
Proponents of the law believe that if a women gets to see their unborn babies they will likely opt against having abortions.
 
Pitt was the only attorney to speak in defense of the new law in the hearing. While Attorney General Andy Beshear sent attorneys to Louisville, they sat silently throughout.
 
The ACLU had estimated the hearing would last two days but Hale said he intended to finish it in one, and did so, working through the lunch hour.
 
In court documents, the ACLU contends the law forces physicians “to deliver a government-mandated, ideological message to patients in violation of the First Amendment, all the while causing harm to their patients.”
 
“It also compels women to listen to this government-mandated speech while lying captive on the examination table,” ACLU attorneys said in the lawsuit.
 
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of EMW Women’s Center in Louisville, its staff and patients and three physicians and their patients.
 
The law requires abortion providers to display the ultrasound images so the women can look at them if they want to. However, they have the option not to look.
 
The law provides penalties of up to $100,000 against doctors and other medical professionals for first offenses and up to $250,000 for subsequent offenses. Doctors also would be reported to the state licensure board for possible disciplinary action.
 
Kentucky lawmakers passed two new abortion laws in the first week of this year’s legislative session. The other, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, has not been challenged in court.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Latek is the Frankfort bureau reporter for Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, an online news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
 

3/27/2017 10:27:04 AM by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



Each Thursday, they ramp up their ministry

March 27 2017 by Scott Barkley, The Christian Index

For those with trouble getting a step ahead, this group of men provides a way up.

Photo by Richard Eckler
Among First Baptist Church’s ramp building team are (from left) Jim Stevens, Sam Pagett, Asbury Dunn, Robert Whitworth, Kyle Branan and Bill Palmer.


Richard Eckler experienced it himself. Having undergone eight knee surgeries, including two replacements, he knew what it was like having trouble getting around.
 
However, he healed. In fact, he moves well enough now that he’s helped construct more than 120 accessibility ramps since 2014 for homes in Elbert County, Ga., as part of Elberton First Baptist Church’s ramp building team.
 
People need the ramps for different reasons. They’ve grown older. They lost a foot to diabetes. They had a life-altering surgery akin to Eckler’s. Whatever the case, a basic set of steps out their front door becomes a danger.
 
“We’d been building ramps for church members and others for a few years, then the Rotary Club asked if we could take on their requests [for ramps],” Eckler recounted. The number of those needing a ramp grew from there, as individuals and local churches also heard of the ministry.
 
The ramp building team consists of 16 men, most in their 60s and 70s, with one member in his 80s.
 
“It’s a lot of fun,” Eckler said. “We pick at each other while building and have a lot of fellowship and camaraderie.”
 
And even though they’re retired, they keep busy. Thursdays have been designated for their projects. Generally, around 10 members show up.

Photo by Richard Eckler
When smaller ramps such as this one are requested, First Baptist Church’s ramp building team can sometimes build two in one day.


“Our goal is to start at 8 in the morning and finish in time for lunch at Wendy’s,” Eckler laughed.
 
On the serious side, Eckler, whose 32-year teaching career included 27 at Elbert County High School, said, “It amazes me how there are so many people living on the edge” from what he’s learned through pre-construction visits at a potential work site. His group can’t keep up with the demand; so, while trying to take the requests as they’re received, time and need also factor in. For instance, the beneficiary of one ramp had her completion date moved up because of knee and hip replacement surgery.
 
“Some just can’t get in and out of the house. They’re held hostage by their own homes,” said Eckler, who teaches a Sunday School class at First Baptist. “It breaks your heart that someone who’s worked hard all their life and paid for their home and property can’t even leave.
 
“We’ve had instances where people had to crawl from their house to the car. That should not be.”
 
Ramps are built according to specifications in the American Disability Act and funded largely by donations, like the man who recently gave Eckler a $100 bill when told about the ramp building team. A lady donates an entire dividend check she receives periodically. As one who had received a ramp, she wanted to pay it forward.
 
Other ramp recipients donate what they can, maybe $10, but it’s not expected of them to do so. Lake Russell Building Supply in Elberton provides a sharp enough discount that basically the company provides the materials for every seventh ramp, Eckler said.
 
The finished product provides its own witness to others, he added.
 
“Neighbors will come over and ask how much [the ramp] costs. We’ll say it was free or from donations. We’ve been blessed by the Lord and want to bless others. We’ll hand out Bibles donated by other churches. Donations come in from churches whose members we’ve built ramps for.”
 
Eckler’s own prior hurdles have helped get the word out. Going through those knee surgeries led to a lot of time with physical therapists. When those same therapists now have a patient needing a ramp, they know whom to suggest. Soon for that patient, the challenge of simply trying to make it through the front door doesn’t loom so large.
 
“The recipients sometimes cry. They can’t believe how nice the ramps look, especially if we’ve replaced an old ramp that had fallen into disrepair,” Eckler said. “They’re very emotional and appreciative.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is production editor for The Christian Index, christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)
 

3/27/2017 10:05:23 AM by Scott Barkley, The Christian Index | with 0 comments



Princeton Seminary reverses decision to honor Keller

March 24 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Princeton Theological Seminary’s reversal of its decision to give an award to New York pastor Tim Keller has drawn criticism as shameful and contrary to the seminary’s theological heritage.

Tim Keller


Princeton Seminary, the flagship institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), had announced Keller as the recipient of its Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, a $10,000 award. But in a March 22 letter to the seminary community, President Craig Barnes said the decision had been reversed in order to “not imply any endorsement” of Keller’s “belief that women and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] persons should not be ordained.”
 
Houston Baptist University President Robert Sloan, a 1973 master of divinity graduate from Princeton Seminary, said the decision not to give Keller the Kuyper Prize is “a terrible shame.”
 
“It seems to be an indication of ... pretty narrow and dogmatic thinking first to offer and then under pressure to retract the offer of an award to a theologian and pastor ... as distinguished as Tim Keller,” Sloan told Baptist Press (BP). “They knew Tim Keller’s views before they made the offer of the award.”
 
Keller, a bestselling author and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, will still lecture at Princeton Seminary April 6 as planned, Barnes said.
 
In a previous letter to the seminary community, Barnes noted protests of Keller’s scheduled visit and said Princeton Seminary “stand[s] in prophetic opposition” to Keller’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and to “many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of the Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations.”
 
While the PCA’s “Book of Church Order” – which all the denomination’s pastors must uphold – limits the office of pastor to men and defines marriage as “between one man and one woman,” Religion News Service noted Keller “is not known for pushing hot-button culture war issues.”
 
Southern Baptists who hold Princeton Seminary degrees expressed disappointment with the seminary’s action.
 
According to the seminary’s reasoning, Sloan said, Kuyper himself apparently would be ineligible for the prize bearing his name because he believed in male leadership within churches and homes.
 
Keller’s “views are not outrageous,” Sloan said. “His views represent very respectable, well thought out views on the nature of personhood, on the nature of marriage, on the nature of family. The attempt to suppress these kinds of views is not representative of clear thinking or argument. It’s just sheer political force and power.”
 
James Leo Garrett, a former theology professor at both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP, “As a graduate of Princeton Seminary ... I would register my regret that the seminary would have declined the honor to be accorded to Pastor Tim Keller.”
 
Garrett, who earned a master of theology degree from Princeton Seminary in 1949, said the institution has changed since the 19th and 20th centuries, when “a stream” of Southern Baptists studied there, including Southern Seminary founders James P. Boyce and Basil Manly Jr. in the 19th century. In the 20th century, Princeton Seminary graduates included Cecil Sherman, who pastored in Texas and North Carolina, and James Langley, who served as executive director of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
 
“We have a different situation today,” Garrett said. “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has made its stand on a number of issues such that [Princeton Seminary] is no longer under evangelical leadership.”
 
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Princeton Seminary began to shift in 1929, when it reorganized to reflect the so-called “modernist” perspective in the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century.
 
The “theological diversity that is championed at Princeton” today “does not include the very theology that Princeton was established to contend for,” Mohler said March 23 on his podcast The Briefing.
 
Noting “it’s hard to imagine any evangelical minister nicer than Tim Keller,” Mohler said “Keller’s demeanor and character were not why he was rejected.... What was rejected is the theology represented by Tim Keller and the denomination of which he is a part. So even in the supposedly post-theological age, here you have the left making very clear what we’ve been saying all along. Theology matters. It always matters.”
 
Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote in a March 22 blog post that by Princeton Seminary’s logic, theological “giants” from the seminary’s history like Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield “would not be qualified” to receive the Kuyper Prize.
 
Burk added that if the seminary’s reasoning were followed consistently, “no faithful Christian would ever be qualified to win this award. Why? Because it is impossible to be a faithful follower of Christ while rejecting what Christ teaches about sexual immorality. And rejecting Christ’s teaching on this point is apparently a prerequisite of the award.”
 
Others to oppose Princeton Seminary’s decision not to give Keller the Kuyper Prize included Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Owen Strachan and Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a group that seeks renewal in mainline Protestant denominations.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/24/2017 10:35:17 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Dearborn’s Arab-Americans receptive, seminarians say

March 24 2017 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

In Dearborn, Mich., home of the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States, students from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) learned about praying for and sharing the gospel with local Muslims during a three-day visit to the city.

SBTS photo
M.Div. student Josh Hildebrand, center, reads from the Gospel of John with two Arab-American men, right, at a local bakery in Dearborn, Mich.


Led by faculty member Ayman S. Ibrahim, the team interacted with a number of the 100,000-plus Arab Americans who comprise at least 45 percent of Dearborn’s population.
 
The 13 students from Southern Seminary and its undergraduate school, Boyce College, visited local Arab bakeries and restaurants, starting conversations with Muslims and discussing the Christian faith. The team also visited the Islamic Center of America, which was one of the largest mosques in the United States when it was built in 2005.
 
Several students received contact information for the Dearborn residents they met, aiming to have follow-up conversations about the gospel.
 
“Evangelism is not impossible, beginning a conversation with Muslims is not impossible, and people are ready to listen,” said Ibrahim, regarding lessons the students learned from the Feb. 22-24 trip. “It’s completely worth it when you see you’re opening eyes and changing minds.”
 
The team not only saw the religion of Islam close-up when they visited the mosque but also spoke with practicing Muslims face-to-face, applying in real-time what many of them have learned in class with Ibrahim, director of Southern Seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam and the Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies.
 
Josh Hildebrand, an M.Div. student in Islamic studies who has studied Arabic at the seminary, said it was “really encouraging to have learned things in class about Islam and use that [in conversation]. Having the class definitely made me feel a lot more credible and a lot more respected.”
 
The trip gave students a more balanced perspective on Muslims, said Ashley Ulrich, a 2013 graduate of Southern Seminary with an M.A. in education. Most Muslims know very little about Christianity and likely have never talked at length with a Christian, she said, noting that American Christians should not equate all Muslims with ISIS or other terrorist extremists but recognize them as fellow humans created in God’s image and in need of the gospel.
 
“Muslims are just people. We build relationships with them in the same exact way that we build relationships with anybody. You find out the superficial stuff first and then you go a little bit deeper,” Ulrich said. “That’s how I get to know every other nationality of people; why would I treat them any differently just because they come from a different religious context?”
 
Engaging Muslims in conversations about the gospel in Dearborn gave her the confidence to share the gospel anywhere in the world, said Lenny Hartono, who is pursuing an M.A. in biblical counseling at Southern. Hartono is from Indonesia, which has the largest number of Muslims by raw population of any country in the world, according to the Pew Research Center.
 
“From this trip, I feel the Lord has equipped me to be a better evangelist when I go back to my country,” Hartono said, saying she thought Muslims with Mideast homelands who populate the Dearborn area would be much harder to connect with than her fellow Indonesians. “I thought the Muslims from the Middle East would be violent, not as open, scared of Christians and hate Christians. But they’re so open!” she said. “My own people – whom I know so well – will be even more open. After this trip, I will be able to be more courageous to share with my own people.”
 
The interactions in Dearborn required patience, Hartono said, since the students’ primary goal was to challenge Muslims to think about Christianity differently and begin to build relationships. Contrary to how most Westerners perceive Middle Eastern Muslims, she said they were welcoming, friendly and open to having deep conversations about religion.
 
Hartono added that the trip has given her more confidence to share the gospel with all non-Christians, not only Muslims.
 
“This trip was a good springboard. Muslims are the people in my head that are the most difficult, the most resistant, the most unwelcoming,” Hartono said. “So if the people I thought would be resistant are actually open, this can give me confidence that the Lord can use this to equip me to evangelize anybody He wants me to share the Good News with.”
 
For Ulrich, the trip also underscored the importance of prayer in evangelism. While visiting a restaurant, a member of Ulrich’s team reminded her she needed to pray for each conversation as it took place. She found herself praying for three different conversations going on simultaneously, even forgetting to eat her own dinner. The necessity of prayer in evangelism before, during and after a conversation became clear to Ulrich during the trip.
 
“I’ve never thought about [prayer] that way before,” she said. “... [T]he fact that God allows me to be a part of that because of His love and He invites us into relationship with Him ... that’s kind of a big deal.”
 
More information about Southern Seminary’s Jenkins Center, which seeks to establish a scholarly Christian understanding of Islam, is available at jenkins.sbts.edu.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

3/24/2017 10:34:23 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments



‘Jumping genes’ further debunk evolution

March 24 2017 by Julie Borg

A discovery by Swiss scientists assigns a purpose to previously misunderstood portions of human DNA and evidences the work of complex, precise design in the universe.
 
Within the human body are millions of mysterious little pieces of genetic material called jumping genes. For a long time, scientists considered these little hoppers to be useless bits of junk DNA. But the recent discovery in Switzerland shows these far-from-useless jumping genes, scientifically called transposable elements or TEs, play a vital role in human physiology.
 
The researchers hail their discovery, published in the journal Nature, as evidence of an evolutionary process of “previously unimagined complexity and elegance in genetics.”
 
But Cornelius Hunter, author and professor of biophysics and computational biology at Biola University, says the complexity and elegance that evolutionary scientists keep discovering points to precise design in our universe, not random evolutionary processes.
 
Scientists call TEs “jumping genes” because they jump around and seem to randomly insert themselves into the human genome, the map of our DNA that contains all of the instructions for our genes. Although scientists suspected these little acrobats might play a role in regulating genes, the question of how and why remained a mystery.
 
The Swiss researchers discovered a specific family of 350 different human proteins, called KZFPs, that partner with TEs to form a vital, precise, and fine-tuned network that regulates turning genes off and on throughout human development and in all human tissue. These networks “likely influence every single event in human physiology and pathology,” Didier Trono, head of the research lab, said in a statement.
 
Even more surprising to the researchers, this regulatory network is unique to humans. “This paper lifts the lid off something that had been largely unsuspected: The tremendous species-specific dimension of human gene regulation,” Trono said.
 
The researchers claim they can trace the origin of KZFPs back to a fish that evolved 400 million years ago. But Hunter believes their discovery actually demolishes the theory of evolution in at least three ways.
 
First, the study shows how precisely our world is designed. Evolutionists say the universe arose by chance and many genetic mutations are just happenstance occurrences. For that reason, evolutionists expect many things in the world not to work very well, Hunter wrote on the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News. But what these researchers discovered shows how explicitly our world is designed. TEs “are exquisite, finely tuned, highly functional molecular machines that contradict evolutionary expectations,” Hunter wrote.
 
Second, the study demonstrates adaptation cannot account for all of the complexity in nature. The researchers state TEs and KZFPs evolved independently of one another. But that does not explain how they could form the network necessary to regulate genes because neither TEs nor KZFPs would have served any adaptive purpose in the beginning. Yet, they persisted and became vital to human life. “Simply put,” Hunter wrote, “evolution must have created evolution in a most unlikely … set of circumstances. That’s serendipity, not science.”
 
Third, this study contradicts the theory of evolution’s assertion that all living organisms arose millions of years ago from one common ancestor. The researchers admitted they had not expected to find that KZFP-TE networks were specific to humans. For those networks to evolve from a common ancestor and then become specific to humans, proteins and genetic elements would have had to evolve from random mutations and then construct an entirely new set of instructions for genetic regulation in humans, Hunter explained. “This is astronomically unlikely, no matter how many millions of years are available,” he said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Borg writes for WORLD News Service, a part of WORLD News Group, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/24/2017 10:31:32 AM by Julie Borg | with 0 comments



Africa drought victims ‘family’ to Kentucky volunteer

March 24 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Residents of drought-stricken Lesotho, Africa, became like family to 64-year-old Karen Smith of Shepherdsville, Ky., the first time she took them food.

Kentucky Baptist Convention photo
Disaster relief volunteer Karen Smith of Shepherdsville, Ky., has bonded with the people of LeSotho, Africa, where a drought has created severe food shortages.


“You go with expectations of doing a job and it quickly becomes more than a job. It becomes personal,” Smith, volunteer feeding coordinator for the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), told Baptist Press (BP).
 
“That first little boy that came and sat in my lap, it stopped being a job. It began to be personal, because then I met moms and dads and just got to know the families.”
 
Smith served on two of the six disaster relief teams the KBC has sent to southern Africa since 2016 in response to a drought affecting large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa. The U.N. has described the drought and famine, which extends into South Sudan and the greater Horn of Africa, as the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.
 
KBC Disaster Relief works in sub-Saharan Africa in coordination with Baptist Global Response partners and with International Mission Board workers there, KBC Disaster Relief director Coy Webb said, distributing a million meals to thousands of families in 2016 through 20-day food rations.
 
“It was almost a complete crop lost last year. Many of the people in the mountains … basically had no food,” Webb said. “The situation could have been life-threatening for many. … There is no other place to turn when the crops fail. They have no food.”
 
A six-member KBC team returned March 20 from a food distribution trip to Zimbabwe, where about 4.1 million people were expected to need food aid through March, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. Kentucky volunteers distributed 75,000 meals in Zimbabwe, Webb said.

Kentucky Baptist Convention photo
Lesotho residents receive 20-day food supplies during a Kentucky Baptist Convention disaster relief outreach to the drought-stricken country.


The trips also provide opportunities to share the gospel, said Sammy Hammons, a disaster relief chaplain from Kirksville Baptist Church in Richmond, Ky., who made the Zimbabwe trip and also traveled to LeSotho in June 2016. In Zimbabwe, he traveled 1,200-plus miles to villages to share the gospel and distribute food. Churches receiving food put the needs of surrounding communities ahead of their own as an avenue of sharing the gospel, Hammons recounted.
 
“Many of the churches in the villages used this to reach the people around them with the gospel by keeping 25 percent of the food for themselves and giving 75 percent to the people around them,” Hammons said, “inviting them to come and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, then giving them food. There were four people saved that week with many seeds sowed.”
 
Hammons sees the food distribution as a Great Commission opportunity to speed revival in what he describes as “the most unlikely place. ... Doing international food distributions to famine-stricken villages and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is meeting the physical and spiritual needs of a lost world that needs salvation.
 
“The village children [of Mberengwa, Zimbabwe] put on a singing for the mission team,” Hammons said, “then asked us to sing to them and give testimonies of our faith, then to share the gospel one more time please.”

Kentucky Baptist Convention photo
Sammy Hammons, a volunteer disaster relief chaplain with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, distributes food in LeSotho, Africa, where half of the population is in need of food aid because of a drought.


Current OCHA numbers from Zimbabwe include only rural communities, OCHA said, but the country also is addressing the drought’s impact on urban areas. With 42 percent of the rural population needing food there, increased malnutrition and limited access to clean water have been reported. In LeSotho, more than 200,000 people require emergency livelihood support, OCHA said, included in nearly a half-million who will need “life-saving and livelihood protection interventions” through October. A full half of LeSotho’s rural population will need food aid through April, OCHA said.
 
Webb, who coordinates seven-to-10 international disaster relief mission trips a year from Kentucky, pointed to Southern Baptists’ Global Hunger Relief fund as an efficient way to help those in need.
 
Families receiving help are very appreciative, Smith said.
 
“I know here in the United States it takes us a while to create relationships, but they happen really quick there,” she said. “When I went back the second time – I was only there less than two weeks the first time – but some of the people greeted me like a long-lost relative.
 
“That’s just part of my family now.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

Related articles:
Humanitarian emergency: Africa’s famine & drought
 

3/24/2017 10:31:16 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What’s driving Muslim refugees to Christianity?

March 24 2017 by Julia A. Seymour

Hundreds of Muslim refugees have converted to Christianity across Europe in recent years, according to church leaders, but motives vary.
 
In Austria, the rolls of Catholic churches swelled with Muslim immigrants, leading to new guidelines for baptism to ensure sincere faith. Other churches in Lebanon, Germany, and England also report growing numbers of Muslim refugee converts from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Bangladesh, and Eritrea.
 
Bishop George Saliba of Beirut, Lebanon, told Public Radio International (PRI) he has baptized about 100 Syrian refugees since 2011. In another Beirut church, a pastor meets with Syrian refugees to teach them “Christian doctrines” from scripture. He requested anonymity out of fear of Islamist reprisals but said dozens of Bible study groups for Syrian refugees now meet in Lebanon.
 
No national statistics exist, but many local churches across Europe attest to the influx of Muslim refugees seeking to become Christians. Still, they remain a small fraction of the millions of Muslims in Europe.
 
According to The Guardian, European mosques turned away many homeless and impoverished Muslim refugees seeking assistance. They found help and a warm welcome in churches.
 
Reasons for conversion vary, from “heartfelt faith,” to gratitude to the Christians assisting them, to hope that it could boost their chances for gaining asylum, The Guardian reported. One Muslim in Germany admitted to National Public Radio (NPR) he might convert in order to avoid deportation back to Afghanistan, where his “life will be in danger.”
 
But others appear sincere. A 25-year-old Iranian Kurd now called Silas told NPR studying Islam brought disillusionment. Reading the Bible for the first time in a camp on Germany’s border with Poland prompted questions.
 
“When I started to read the Bible, it changed me,” Silas said. “I had a lot of questions and Pastor Martens said I should come to class and ask my questions. At first, I didn't want to be a Christian, I just wanted to understand it. But the more answers I got, the more I wanted to stay, and I realized I was finding God.”
 
Rev. Gottfried Martens leads the evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church near Berlin, where hundreds of primarily Persian refugees have converted. His church holds services in Farsi, which is illegal in Iran.
 
“By getting baptized we have to say goodbye to our home country because we can never go back. But we accept this. The Muslim god in Iran was angry and strict, but Jesus accepts us as we are,” an Iranian named Medhi told Germany’s Der Spiegel.
 
Medhi belongs to the refugee community at Alpha and Omega Free Church, which baptized 200 people in just two months last year. The trend has “federal implications” for asylum claims, since converts in Iran are severely persecuted, Der Spiegel noted.
 
Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, England, holds a Persian service attracting 100-140 people, The Guardian reported. Rev. Sally Smith told the newspaper the conversion trend has spread to St. Mark’s Church in Stoke-on-Trent, where a mix of Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis, Bangladeshis and Eritreans gather. Some convert to help their asylum chances, but according to Smith, those instances are rare.
 
Conversion in Europe is not without danger. Many who abandon Islam for Christianity face family and community estrangement. One former Muslim in Lebanon was stabbed in the street after attending church. Rev. Martens of Berlin told the Daily Mail that Muslim translators intentionally misquote Iranian and Afghani converts in order to sabotage their asylum requests.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julia A. Seymour writes for WORLD News Service, part of the WORLD News Group, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/24/2017 10:22:09 AM by Julia A. Seymour | with 0 comments



Displaying results 21-30 (of 50)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5  >  >|