March 2017

IMB study to examine entity trustee fluctuations

March 23 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

While the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Committee on Nominations met March 16-17 in Nashville to discuss potential members of boards and standing committees, a subcommittee of the International Mission Board (IMB) was embarking on a study of trustee representation from states and territories with decreasing numbers of Southern Baptists.

Photo by Roger S. Oldham
The SBC Committee on Nominations met in Nashville March 16-17 to discuss potential nominees to the convention’s boards and standing committees, including the International Mission Board.


At the IMB – and some other SBC entities – states and territories lose trustee representation when their number of Southern Baptist church members falls below a threshold defined in the entity’s charter. States and territories that have never reached the defined threshold have no trustee representation.
 
The SBC Executive Committee (EC) has studied representation as well and will recommend an expansion of its membership to the SBC annual meeting in June through a proposed change to SBC Bylaw 18.
 
In the IMB’s case, the board’s charter indicates that achieving 20,000 Southern Baptist church members qualifies a state or defined territory for trustee representation. When a trustee’s region drops below the 20,000 threshold during his or her term and the threshold is not re-attained, a replacement is not nominated at the end of the term by the SBC’s Committee on Nominations – the body charged with suggesting potential members of the convention’s trustee boards and standing committees.
 
According to the 2016 SBC Annual, 10 of the convention’s 39 states and defined territories have fewer than 20,000 church members. The reported numbers used for calculating trustee representation each year are drawn from the Annual Church Profile submitted by local congregations.
 
Committee on Nominations chairman Jim Richards said “proportionate representation is ideal” for the IMB, according to the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal. “Hopefully, an equitable system can be proposed.”
 
IMB trustee chair Scott Harris told Baptist Press “in two years, there have been three [states or territories] that are losing” their trustee representation – Alaska, Utah-Idaho and the Hawaii-Pacific region.
 
Some other regions “with multiple seats will lose a seat also,” Harris said, referencing a provision in the IMB’s charter that states and territories obtain one additional trustee for every 250,000 Southern Baptist church members.
 
IMB trustee officers appointed an ad hoc committee March 1 to study the board’s composition. The study committee could report back to the full trustee body as early as June, noted Harris, missions minister at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church.
 
“We’re not even saying we necessarily want to modify” the standards for trustee representation, he said. “All we’ve said is: Let’s just take a look at this.”
 
A change in IMB trustee representation standards – which is permissible under the SBC’s governing documents – would require an amendment to the IMB’s charter that is successively reviewed and approved by the IMB’s full board, the Executive Committee and the SBC.
 
Texas IMB trustee David Fleming, who serves on the ad hoc study committee, told the TEXAN, “We certainly respect the guidelines but have concerns about churches and state conventions not having a voice on the IMB. The officers would like to have a subcommittee study the issue and bring any recommendations back to the board.”
 

The EC and other entities

The Executive Committee will recommend at the SBC annual meeting that four areas be granted EC representation even though they currently have too few church members to apply for EC representation under the provisions of SBC Bylaw 30.
 
The recommendation would amend SBC Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana as each being entitled to a single representative on the Executive Committee despite their inability to qualify for EC representation. All other states and defined territories have EC representation.
 
The EC discussed expanding representation from small states and territories at two previous meetings before adopting the recommendation in September by approximately a three-to-one majority.
 
Among questions raised by EC members during discussions:
 
– Could waiver of an objective numerical standard for representation set an unhelpful precedent?
 
– Should states with large numbers of Southern Baptists have their representation reduced to keep the committee at its current size?
 
– To what extent should the cost of additional members factor into consideration of expanding the EC?
 
Currently, EC representation for any state or territory is capped at five members, with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas having maximum representation. According to SBC Bylaw 18, when a state or territory reaches 250,000 church members, it qualifies to have a second EC member. Each additional 250,000 church members qualifies a state or territory for an additional EC member up to the maximum.
 
Bylaw 30 also sets a 15,000-church-member threshold for a state or defined territory to apply for representation on the Committee on Committees and the Committee on Nominations. A state or defined territory that gains representation on either committee does not subsequently lose it if the number of church members in that region fluctuates. Similarly, states and defined territories do not lose EC representation once they have obtained it.
 
Bylaw 30 sets a 20,000-church-member threshold to file for trustee representation at the IMB, the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources. A 25,000-church-member threshold applies to GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the six seminaries.
 
Individual entities may, with EC and SBC review and approval, set alternate standards for trustee representation to those imposed by Bylaw 30, and some have done so.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/23/2017 10:26:16 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gorsuch defends religious liberty ruling in hearings

March 23 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Neil Gorsuch steadfastly refused to provide judge-like commentary on such issues as abortion and assisted suicide in his confirmation hearings but was not reluctant to explain his ruling in a vital religious liberty case.

Screen capture from C-Span
Judge Neil Gorsuch (center) arrives at the Hart Office Building to answer question from members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, March 21.


President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court answered questions about his role in supporting the free exercise of religion rights of Hobby Lobby March 21 as a member of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Gorsuch responded to questions about the religious liberty case from both Democrats and Republicans during 10 hours of questioning by the 20 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Gorsuch – who has served on the 10th Circuit Court for more than 10 years – freely offered his view of an opinion he participated in. He declined, however, several opportunities to comment on issues, including abortion and physician-assisted suicide, he has yet to rule on and may appear in cases before him in the future.
 
On April 3, the Judiciary Committee is expected to send Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate, where the central question would appear to be whether Republicans have enough votes to overcome an expected Democratic filibuster. The GOP majority has 52 members, but 60 votes are required to halt a filibuster and vote on confirmation. If the GOP falls short, it can hold a vote to change the rules and confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority.
 
The 10th Circuit Court, with Gorsuch writing a concurring opinion in the majority, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in 2013 in the arts and crafts chain’s challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. The mandate required employers to provide coverage for contraceptives that can potentially cause abortions. The next year, the Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court opinion, upholding objections by “closely held,” for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby, which is owned by the Green family.
 
In response to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Gorsuch agreed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 federal law at the heart of the case, protects individuals with minority religious beliefs as much as for-profit corporations owned by evangelical Christians.
 
RFRA – which requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening a person’s religious exercise – also “applies to Little Sisters of the Poor [a Roman Catholic order of nuns that serves the needy] and protects their religious exercise,” Gorsuch said.
 
In addition, the 10th Circuit “held [RFRA] applied to a Muslim prisoner in Oklahoma who was denied a halal meal,” Gorsuch told Hatch. “It’s also the same law that protects the rights of a Native American prisoner who was denied access to his prison sweat lodge, it appeared, solely because of a crime he committed, and it was a heinous crime. But it protects him too. I wrote the [opinion in the] Native American prisoner case and wrote a concurrence in the Muslim case.”
 
President Clinton signed RFRA into law after a broad coalition of religious freedom advocates – including the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, now the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) – pushed for the measure in response to a heavily criticized Supreme Court decision and following nearly unanimous approval by Congress.
 
Steven Harris, the ERLC’s director of advocacy, told Baptist Press (BP), “Judge Gorsuch has consistently demonstrated a robust and insightful understanding of religious liberty in America.
 
“Throughout his comments during confirmation hearings, I was encouraged by his willingness to address the issue head-on,” Harris said in written comments, “and I believe that such is indicative of his commitment to the laws of religious liberty that undergird our democracy.”
 
Some Democratic committee members challenged Gorsuch’s opinion – and that of the 10th Circuit majority – that RFRA protects the religious free exercise of for-profit businesses.
 
With RFRA, “Congress was dissatisfied with the level of protection afforded by the Supreme Court under the First Amendment to religious exercise,” disagreeing with the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in a 1990 case, Gorsuch told Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. As a result, Congress drafted – and approved – “a very, very strict law, and it says that any sincerely held religious belief cannot be abridged by the government without a compelling reason and even then it has to be narrowly tailored, strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard in American law,” he said.
 
“Hobby Lobby came to court and said, ‘We deserve protections too,’” Gorsuch recalled for Durbin. “We looked at the law, and it says any person with a sincerely held religious belief is basically protected. ... What does ‘person’ mean in that statute? Congress didn’t define the term. So what does a judge do? ... He goes to the Dictionary Act [a law that defines terms when they aren’t otherwise defined], and [in] the Dictionary Act, Congress has defined person to include corporation. So you can’t rule out the possibility that some companies can exercise religion.”
 
The Supreme Court agreed the federal government had a compelling interest, so the question became whether the Obama administration’s action was “narrowly tailored” regarding the Green family’s objections, he said.
 
“And the answer there the Supreme Court reached in precedent binding on [the 10th Circuit] now, and we reached in anticipation, is: No, that it wasn’t as strictly tailored as it could be because the government had provided different accommodations to churches and other religious entities,” Gorsuch said. “[T]he government had accommodated that with respect to other religious entities and couldn’t provide an explanation why it couldn’t do the same thing here.”
 
Gorsuch told Durbin, “Now Congress can change the law ... eliminate RFRA all together. It could say that only natural persons have rights under RFRA. It could lower the test on strict scrutiny to a lower degree of review if it wished.
 
“[I]f we got it wrong, I’m sorry,” he said. “But we did our level best, and we were affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.”
 
Michael Whitehead – a Southern Baptist lawyer in Kansas City whose practice focuses on religious liberty and nonprofit organization law – said Democratic senators “seem to have ‘buyer’s remorse’ about RFRA.”
 
“A nearly unanimous Congress passed the bill, and it was proudly signed by President Clinton in 1993,” Whitehead, who was the Christian Life Commission’s general counsel at the time, said in a written statement for BP. “Today they act like they were tricked into adopting it, and they wish they could rewrite it to exclude firms like Hobby Lobby.
 
“As Judge Gorsuch instructed them, Congress made the law, and Congress can change the law, but the Supreme Court has now interpreted the law to include firms like Hobby Lobby, upholding the definition used by Judge Gorsuch and the 10th Circuit majority,” Whitehead said.
 
On abortion, Gorsuch declined to comment on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
 
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Gorsuch about the first time he met Trump before his nomination: “In that interview, did [Trump] ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?”
 
“No, senator,” Gorsuch replied.
 
“What would you have done if he had asked?” Graham said.
 
“Senator, I would have walked out the door,” the nominee responded. “That is not what judges do. They don’t do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue [at the White House] and they shouldn’t do it at this end [at the Capitol] either, respectfully.”
 
Regarding physician-assisted suicide, Gorsuch responded to questions about a book he wrote on the subject before he became a judge. The 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, argues against legalization of the end-of-life practices. He was speaking as a commentator, not a judge, at the time, he told committee members.
 
He agrees with the Supreme Court’s companion rulings in 1997 that left the legalization of assisted suicide with the states.
 
In his book, Gorsuch told Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., he was concerned what legalization “might mean for the least amongst us, the most vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly who might be pressured into accepting an early death because it’s a cheaper option than more expensive hospice care.”
 
Trump nominated Gorsuch, 49, to the high court in late January, nearly a year after the death of Scalia. Like Scalia, Gorsuch espouses a philosophy and record of interpreting the Constitution and laws based on its original meaning and their text, respectively.
 
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.)
 

3/23/2017 10:25:45 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Humanitarian emergency: Africa’s famine & drought

March 23 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Hunger and thirst often prevent members of Kamakowa Baptist Church in Kimusu, Kenya from attending worship, pastor Tom Ogalo Ngoya told Baptist Press (BP) in an appeal for aid to the country where drought is a national disaster.

CBS News 60 minutes screen capture
Josephine, a starving South Sudanese girl who weighed only 24 pounds at 7 years old, is among the millions facing famine and food shortages across large portions of the African continent.


“It’s [disheartening] to watch your children beg for water and food,” Ngoya emailed BP after Kenya’s government declared the drought a national disaster in February. Members of the congregation “are often not in the church due to lack of food and water for them to drink and for the animals. Children are malnourished due to lack of food to eat. Adults are helpless because they cannot feed their family.”
 
Kenya, where 2.7 million people are termed “food insecure” by the United Nations (U.N.), is included in large swaths of the continent suffering famine and food shortages, extending from the Horn of Africa south through sub-Saharan Africa and into South Africa, according to the U.N. and various humanitarian aid organizations including Baptist Global Response (BGR).
 
The U.N. has described it as the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N. in 1945.
 
“Famine is already a reality in parts of South Sudan,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Feb. 22. “Unless we act now, it is only a matter of time until it affects other areas and other countries. We are already facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe.”
 
South Sudan, where the U.N. said more than 7.5 million people need assistance, is perhaps the hardest hit. As many as 100,000 people there are facing starvation, CBS’ 60 Minutes reported March 19.
 
Among the most dire U.N. statistics, 20 million people are facing famine or “at the tipping point” of famine in northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, including 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition in those four countries combined. In Ethiopia, 5.6 million people are food insecure. Civil wars and terrorism are to blame for the crises in some of the areas.
 
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien appealed to the international community for help on March 10, reiterating Guterres’ plea.
 
“We stand at a critical point in history,” O’Brien told the UN Security Council. “It is right to sound the alarm early, not wait for pictures of emaciated dying children. ...”
 
While parts of sub-Saharan Africa have suffered cyclic droughts and hunger every five to seven years, the current drought is one of the worst in decades, Baptist Global Response CEO Jeffrey Palmer told Baptist Press.
 
“Part of the issue has to do with more intense El Nino effects and the other has to do with increasing populations and more concentrated population centers,” Palmer said.
 
BGR has helped drought victims by establishing several aid projects in Lesotho and in Madagascar, off Africa’s east coast. BGR, through its Global Hunger Relief (GHR) program, has provided aid in cooperation with partners already there and with teams of Southern Baptist volunteers from the U.S.
 
“I am so thankful to Southern Baptists and our convention for having the foresight to have a program such as Global Hunger Relief (GHR),” Palmer said. “GHR has allowed us to quickly allocate resources to some of the hardest hit areas by providing food as well as demonstrating the love of Christ to those in need.”
 
Micah Fries, pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., met recipients of food aid in Lesotho during a trip to finalize the adoption of his son Haddon in January, just months before the mountainous country’s rainy season.
 
“Where we were doing the food distribution was an extremely impoverished area,” Fries told BP. “They were ecstatic. They were relieved.”
 
The drought is unknown to many Christians in America, Fries speculated, and pointed to the gospel as the reason to help those in need.
 
“The drought that’s occurring or has been occurring for a couple of years across Africa is almost not on the radar at all for many, if not almost all, Americans,” Fries said, “and yet massive numbers of African people have been at risk because of it. For those of us who are pro-life, who care about the world and who care about the gospel, it ought to matter to us.”

To donate, visit gobgr.org/donate or call 866-359-2846. Gifts may be designated to “African Drought Relief.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

3/23/2017 10:25:08 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Wyoming gets first pro-life legislation since 1989

March 23 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed two pro-life bills into law on March 9, the first abortion regulation approved in the deeply red state in nearly three decades.
 
H.B. 182 requires abortionists to notify a woman she is entitled to see an “active ultrasound” of her unborn baby and, if possible, listen to the heartbeat. The bill makes exceptions for danger to the mother’s life.
 
H.B. 116 makes it a felony to sell, transfer or distribute tissue or cells from an aborted baby for the purpose of experimentation.
 
Although Republicans have controlled the state legislature and held the governor’s mansion in recent years, the last pro-life law signed by a Wyoming governor involved parental notification. It was enacted in 1989.
 
Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, applauded Mead’s decision to sign the legislation.
 
“Women should always have the choice to look at ultrasound images,” she said in a statement. “Withholding those images denies women important information that impacts their abortion decisions and an experience they can never recapture.”
 
She also hailed H.B. 116 as another victory for the pro-life movement: “A humane society does not dispose of unborn infants as trash or spare parts.”
 
Mead did not offer comments before signing the bills, which will go into effect July 1.
 
The new laws are part of a wave of state-level pro-life legislation introduced around the country. Among the laws already passed are Kentucky’s 20-week abortion ban and a bill requiring abortionists to show mothers an ultrasound before performing an abortion.
 
Not all pro-life bills have met with success: In February, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that sought to defund Planned Parenthood and redirect its state funding to community health centers that do not perform abortions.
 
Republicans in the U.S. House currently are deliberating legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, and part of their efforts include redirecting federal funding from Planned Parenthood, though some pro-life leaders fear the legislation could still funnel money to the abortion giant.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, part of the WORLD News Group based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

3/23/2017 10:22:50 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Wyoming judge censured for gay marriage opposition

March 23 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Proponents of religious liberty have expressed mixed opinions on the Wyoming Supreme Court’s censure of a judge for saying her religious beliefs would prevent her from performing same-sex weddings.
 
Judge Ruth Neely’s counsel from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) cited the court’s decision not to remove her from the bench as a recognition “that her honorable beliefs about marriage do not disqualify her from serving her community as a judge.” But Martha Lawley, a Wyoming attorney and former officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, told Baptist Press (BP) the ruling apparently “strips government officials of any religious liberty protections.”
 
Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention executive director Lynn Nikkel said the ruling “gives reason for concern for the overall cause of religious liberty” in the state.
 
At issue were statements Neely – a municipal court judge and part-time circuit court magistrate – made to a reporter in 2014. Asked whether she was “excited” to perform same-sex marriages, Neely replied, “We have at least one magistrate who will do same-sex marriages, but I will not be able to,” according to the Wyoming Supreme Court’s March 7 ruling. Neely performs marriages as a magistrate but is not authorized to do so as a municipal court judge.
 
Some 20 minutes after her initial conversation with the reporter, Neely, a Christian, called him back and asked if she could be quoted merely as saying, “When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made. I have not yet been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.” The Pinedale (Wyo.) Roundup printed both of her statements.
 
By a 3-2 majority, Wyoming’s high court ruled Neely’s statements violated state rules mandating “impartiality and fairness” among judges and forbidding “bias, prejudice and harassment.” The 32-page majority opinion repeated at least eight times that Neely was being disciplined for her judicial conduct and not her religious beliefs.
 
Neely “shall either perform no marriage ceremonies or she shall perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation,” Justice Kate Fox wrote for the majority.
 
Neely “is not subject to discipline merely because she has expressed her religious beliefs,” Fox wrote. “She has gone one or two critical steps farther than that to say that she will not impartially perform her judicial functions with respect to parties the United States Supreme Court has held have a constitutional right to be treated equally.”
 
A dissenting opinion authored by Justice Keith Kautz argued the case was, in fact, about Neely’s religious beliefs.
 
She “did not deny marriage to anyone, nor did she say she would deny marriage to anyone. Rather, she said that because of her religious beliefs, she would not perform same-sex marriages herself, but would assist couples in finding a judge who would,” Kautz wrote.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court “did not establish any law about who must perform” same-sex marriages, “but only said they must be available on the same terms as accorded to other couples,” Kautz wrote, a right he said Neely upheld.
 
The state Supreme Court concluded Neely should receive “public censure” for her conduct.
 
ADF senior counsel Jim Campbell seemed to suggest the decision to leave Neely on the bench was a victory for religious liberty.
 
“The court rejected the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics’ recommendation that Judge Neely be removed from office for expressing her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Campbell said in a statement. “The court also stated that removing her would have ‘uncecessarily circumscribe[d] protected expression’ and thus violated the Constitution. Judge Neely looks forward to serving her community for many years to come.”
 
Still, Lawley said the ruling has negative ramifications for religious liberty.
 
“Most troubling to me is that the ruling is based on comments made by Judge Neely, not an actual refusal to conduct a same-sex wedding,” said Lawley, a member of the SBC Executive Committee from 2004-12. “The reason this is significant is [that] when ruling on a hypothetical situation, there are no facts to consider as to whether someone else was available to perform the ceremony who had no moral objection and whether Neely’s religious rights could be protected without undue hardship.
 
“The ruling doesn’t even attempt to balance the different interests at play and thus, in my opinion, creates a religious test for government officials. We should always look to accommodate religious beliefs if at all possible. The failure of this ruling to do so is cause for concern,” Lawley said in written comments.
 
Nikkel told BP the ruling seems to subject judges to “a religious objection test” and leave “the door ... open for the same test to be applied to other governmental position duties.”
 
“The non-removal of Neely from her judgeship – while encouraging – is far overshadowed by the court’s decision that her religious convictions are not allowed to determine her decisions concerning performances of gay marriages,” Nikkel said in written comments.
 
The ruling against Neely seems to coincide with “a growing number of legislators, and obviously judges, that have a much more liberal view” on social issues than do average Wyoming residents, Nikkel said. While “the majority of Wyoming voters traditionally vote very conservatively,” an “increase of liberal legislators and court rulings” may stem from “inattention” to social issues “by voters on local elections.”
 
Though Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed two pro-life bills into law March 9 – an ultrasound bill and a ban on distributing tissue from aborted babies for experimentation – Nikkel said there is “substantial support in the legislature, and now the courts,” for “things like gay marriage, along with the lottery, legalization of marijuana and other social issues that once would never have seen the light of day.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
 

3/23/2017 10:20:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gorsuch affirms independence, refuses opinion on Roe

March 22 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Neil Gorsuch defended his judicial independence and refused to express his opinion on U.S. Supreme Court decisions – including Roe v. Wade – during the first two days of hearings on his nomination to serve as a justice.

Screen capture from C-Span


In his opening statement March 20 and in responses to questions March 21, the nominee to the high court assured the Senate Judiciary Committee of his willingness to rule against President Trump, who nominated him. The hearings will continue March 22, with a committee vote scheduled April 3.
 
As the process continues in the Senate, the primary question appears to be whether the judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver will receive enough votes to overcome an expected Democratic filibuster. The Republican majority has 52 members, but 60 votes are required to halt a filibuster and vote on confirmation. If the GOP falls short, it can hold a vote to revise the rules and confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority.
 
Trump nominated Gorsuch, 49, to the high court in late January, nearly a year after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, Gorsuch espouses a philosophy and record of interpreting the Constitution and laws based on its original meaning and their text, respectively.
 
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore described Gorsuch as “an outstanding nominee for the Supreme Court. His high regard for the Constitution makes him a fitting continuation of the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia.
 
“As confirmation hearings continue, my hope is that what will be on display and under discussion will not be partisan politics but rather Judge Gorsuch’s eminent qualifications and his judicial philosophy,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments for Baptist Press. “I look forward in due time to seeing him confirmed as the next justice of the Supreme Court.”
 
When asked about judicial independence March 21 by committee chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, Gorsuch said, “I have no difficulty ruling for or against any party” in a case. Later, he told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, “I will apply the law faithfully and fearlessly and without regard to persons.”
 
Judicial independence, Gorsuch said, equates to the judicial oath he took “to administer justice without respect of persons, to do equal right to the poor and the rich, and to discharge impartially the duties of my office.”
 
He doesn’t believe in “litmus tests for judges,” Gorsuch replied to a question from Grassley.
 
“I wasn’t about to become party to such a thing,” he said, adding no one representing the Trump administration in the nomination process “asked me for any commitments, any kind of promises on how I would rule in any kind of case.”
 
“I have offered no promises on how I would rule on any case to anyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who’s doing the asking.”
 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s lead Democrat, expressed particular concern about Trump’s promise he would select pro-life judges who would overturn Roe, the 1973 opinion that legalized abortion throughout the country. She had described Roe as a “super-precedent” in her opening statement March 20.
 
She asked Gorsuch March 21, “Do you view Roe as super-precedent?”
 
He replied, “It has been reaffirmed many times.”
 
Earlier, Gorsuch acknowledged Roe is a precedent of the high court that was reaffirmed in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion and in several other cases. A precedent is a ruling that sets a legal standard for the future.
 
In assessing precedent, a judge asks, Gorsuch said, among other questions, “What about the doctrine around it? Has it been built up over the years” or “Has it become an island?”
 
“You start with a heavy presumption in favor of precedent” and “in a very few cases you may overrule precedent,” he said.
 
On religious liberty questions, Gorsuch again commented broadly but not about potential cases he might rule on.
 
Leahy asked if a blanket religious litmus test for entering the United States is consistent with the First Amendment.
 
“Senator, we have a free exercise clause that protects the free exercise of religious liberties by all persons in this country,” Gorsuch said. “If you’re asking me how I would apply it to a specific case, I can’t talk about that for understandable reasons.”
 
When asked about a religious test to enter the military, Gorsuch said, “That is against the law.”
 
In his opening statement March 20, Gorsuch told the committee, “[T]hese days we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially. But if I thought that were true, I would hang up the robe. The truth is I just don’t think that’s what a life in the law is about.
 
“If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk,” he said. “And those who came to court would live in fear, never sure exactly what the law requires of them except the judge’s will.”
 
Trump was able to select Gorsuch only after the Republican-controlled Senate refused to act on President Obama’s selection last March of another appeals court judge, Merrick Garland of the District of Columbia Circuit. During the hearings, Democratic members have criticized the GOP leadership for refusing to consider Garland.
 
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.
 
During his time on the 10th Circuit, Gorsuch agreed with others on the court that the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate violated the free exercise of religion rights of Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor among other religious groups. He wrote a 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, before becoming a judge that argues against legalization of the end-of-life practices. Based on his judicial philosophy, however, Gorsuch has pledged to apply the law rather than his beliefs.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

3/22/2017 10:10:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



FBC Statesville moves concert because of fire

March 22 2017 by BR staff

First Baptist Church in Statesville moved a March 7 concert to another local church after an afternoon fire damaged its facilities.
 
“There are so many people to thank and so many blessings for which to be grateful,” said Senior Pastor Nelson Granade in a letter posted March 8 on the Statesville Record & Landmark website. “Our congregation is united in moving forward with our mission to know and love Jesus Christ and to make Him known.”
 
Statesville fire fighters responded to the kitchen fire in the church’s Family Life Center (FLC) just after 4 p.m. on March 7.
 
A Record & Landmark article reported the same day that 20 people were evacuated. The report said the fire was under control within 30 minutes.

The Tennessee Tech University Chorale Concert was moved to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church that evening.
 
While the power was out through part of March 8, the church was able to host its regular Wednesday night activities and a couple of preschool classes were able to go on a scheduled field trip as well. The preschool was closed for the day but reopened March 9.
 
Assistant Fire Chief Gary Styers said the kitchen sustained significant damage, as did rooms that were near the fire. The FLC, which is in an annex on the east side of the building, is two stories.
 
No injuries were reported. In a Record & Landmark story March 8, investigators said the blaze was accidental, caused by the improper disposal of cooking materials.
 
Mike Billings, the Statesville fire marshall, estimated the damage at $250,000.
 
In a letter to the paper’s readers, Granade said the church had enough facilities that it will be able to continue its regular ministries on site with some adjustments.
 
He thanked the community for its offers of help.

He said he hopes the church’s insurance will cover the cost of replacing the kitchen, which was declared a total loss, as well as the cleaning and repair of nearby rooms that sustained damage.  
 

3/22/2017 10:03:22 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments



U.S. needs to act on IS genocide, critics say

March 22 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The United States finally needs to act in keeping with its designation a year ago that the Islamic State’s (ISIS) murderous campaign against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is genocide, religious freedom advocates said.
 
The calls for action came on the occasion of the first anniversary of then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s classification of ISIS’ atrocities in Iraq and Syria as genocide. Neither the United States nor the United Nations have followed up that March 17, 2016, designation by Kerry – who served in the Obama administration – with suitable justice for the terrorists or humanitarian assistance for their victims, critics said.
 
Despite the United States’ use of the genocide label, no ISIS member has so far been tried for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, religious freedom advocates said. In addition, the United Nations (U.N.) has yet to designate ISIS’ campaign as genocide, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International.
 
Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims have been prominent targets of ISIS’ terror campaign, which has included execution, rape and sexual enslavement. Other ISIS atrocities cited by religious liberty advocates include torture, mass graves, assassination of religious leaders and the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries.
 
“Unfortunately, one year later nothing about ISIS’ ruthless mission throughout the Middle East, and the world, has changed,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., wrote in an opinion piece published March 17 in The Hill. “Their efforts have been impeded and numbers are smaller, but they still wage a sick ideological war against innocent people, simply because of a perverted anti-religious hatred.”
 
Kelsey Zorzi, U.N. counsel for ADF International, said in a March 16 statement. “Recognizing and condemning the ongoing genocide of Christians, [Yazidis], and other religious minorities was an important first step. As a signatory to the Convention on Genocide the U.S. is obliged to act fast to stop the genocide and prosecute the perpetrators. The U.S. and the international community have failed to act.”
 
A 1948 United Nations convention, or treaty, defines genocide as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
 
The critics of the lack of U.S. and U.N. action offered proposals to remedy the failure.
 
Lankford, a Southern Baptist, called on the Trump administration to address the genocidal campaign “through advocacy for religious freedom, the provision of humanitarian aid, the pursuit of justice against perpetrators, and assistance with economic revitalization.”
 
In addition, he urged the administration to make a priority of nominating an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
 
The Genocide Coalition – a collection of religious liberty and human rights organizations – also called on the Trump administration to fill the international religious freedom post, as well as such positions as the special envoy to promote religious freedom for minority faith groups in the Near East and South Asia and the National Security Council special advisor for religious freedom.
 
The coalition also recommended the administration and Congress safeguard and restore the homelands of the minority groups that the Islamic State group is seeking to eradicate in northern Iraq. National security and law-enforcement agencies should do everything possible to bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice, the coalition said.
 
A bipartisan group of congressional members wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to ask for an update on U.S. actions in the wake of Kerry’s genocide designation. Included among the signers are the sponsors of the resolutions approved last year that named the Islamic State’s violence against religious minorities as genocide.
 
The March 17 letter called for Tillerson and Haley to pressure the U.N. Security Council to approve a formal investigation into genocide by ISIS. Congress has designated funds for investigations and trials of ISIS members, according to the letter.
 
While liberation from Islamic State control is coming to towns in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq, the future living conditions of Christian and Yazidi survivors remain uncertain, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
 
“The next six months will be the moment of truth for them,” Shea said in a March 17 opinion piece for Fox News.
 
“This period will determine whether these ancient communities ... will be able to leave the squalid refugee camps and displacement shelters to return home,” she wrote. “It will determine whether they can rebuild their shattered lives in the lands their families have lived in for millennia.”
 
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the number of professing Christians in that country has declined by death and displacement from about 1.4 million to less than 300,000, according to estimates.
 
The Yazidi sect has a patchwork of religious beliefs and practices.
 
In late 2015 and early 2016, Russell Moore – president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – wrote President Obama or Kerry either as an individual or as part of a corporate effort to urge them to designate the Islamic State group’s campaign against Christians and others as genocide.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/22/2017 10:02:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



App expands VBS impact for LifeWay

March 22 2017 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources

The excitement and learning that takes place at Vacation Bible School (VBS) can happen anywhere now, thanks to the LifeWay VBS Galactic Starveyors app.


For the fourth consecutive year, LifeWay Christian Resources has released an app connected with its latest VBS material.
 
The app provides churches and parents numerous opportunities to reinforce biblical lessons from VBS, according to Melita Thomas, VBS and kids’ ministry specialist at LifeWay.
 
“The app is a wonderful tool for connecting church and home,” Thomas said. “It also provides churches with an additional easy follow-up tool.”
 
LifeWay VBS Galactic Starveyors app includes:
 
– Interactive games (puzzles, memory verse game, etc.)
 
– Digital coloring pages of the Bible story pictures
 
– Music (VBS theme song plus all five daily VBS songs)
 
– Bible stories designed for each age group
 
– Choreography videos
 
– Family devotions
 
– “Takin’ It Home” audio (interactive “radio drama“)
 
– Plan of salvation/Gospel presentation
 
– Stellar Family Fun (list of activities families can do together)
 
Instead of simply asking their children what they did at VBS, the app places parents in an active role in their child’s spiritual development, Thomas noted.
 
“Parents say they feel responsible for their child’s spiritual growth but can feel ill-equipped to do that,” she said. The app can “help parents take on those God-given roles and responsibilities.”
 
Thomas said the app’s usefulness extends before and after VBS. With many unchurched families attending VBS, the app can have an eternal impact. “Kids also enjoy reliving VBS over and over again,” she said. “The app lets them engage with VBS long after the event is over.”
 
It can also help churches in their preparation.
 
“While your average lay leader may have to wait a few more months to get their planning material and curriculum,” Thomas said, “they can go ahead and get the app for themselves and get a jump on learning the music and the motions, studying the Bible stories and getting excited for VBS this year.”
 
The LifeWay VBS Galactic Starveyors app is currently available for Apple and Android devices for $2.99. Find more VBS resources at LifeWay.com/vbs2017.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay communications.)
 
 

3/22/2017 9:53:29 AM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



ERLC ‘unity’ statement praised by Gaines, Graham

March 22 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An extended statement by Russell Moore and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) executive committee, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” has drawn praise from Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Steve Gaines and former SBC President Jack Graham among others.
 
Meanwhile, Christian worldview analyst John Stonestreet said in a radio interview that controversy surrounding Moore, the ERLC’s president, gives Southern Baptists an opportunity to “model what it looks like to have deeply held differences ... on political issues” yet “keep the main things the main things and move forward in a way that improves the reputation of the gospel.”
 
The March 20 statement by Moore and the six-member ERLC executive committee acknowledged criticisms of Moore surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Moore apologized in his portion of the statement “for failing to distinguish” in some instances between supporters of Donald Trump who appeared to compromise core Christian principles and those who did not.
 
The ERLC executive committee, drawn from among the commission’s 34 trustees, said Moore “has taken appropriate measures to address” criticism and will continue to lead the ERLC “with the confidence of our support.” See related article here.
 
In response to the statement, Gaines told Baptist Press (BP) the SBC should put division over the ERLC “behind us” and more forward in support of the Cooperative Program (CP), Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
 
“I am grateful for the statement from Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC executive committee,” Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said in written comments. “They have been assigned with a very difficult task. Indeed it is impossible to please everyone regarding issues of conviction and conscience. I know Dr. Moore to be a very godly servant of Jesus Christ. He has preached at Bellevue Baptist Church and he did a wonderful job.
 
“Regarding his work at the ERLC, I have agreed with most of his statements, especially those regarding the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of heterosexual, monogamous marriage and religious liberty,” Gaines said. “However, I have disagreed with some of the statements he made during the election and I especially disagreed with the tone with which he made some of those statements. I have discussed all of this privately with him. He has genuinely apologized for his mistakes and that is good enough for me.
 
“I believe all of us who are recipients of grace and forgiveness should grant him the same forgiveness that we desire from the Lord. It is high time that we put all of this behind us. None of these matters will prevent Bellevue Baptist Church from continuing our support of the Cooperative Program, the ERLC and Dr. Moore. It is time to move ahead and work together to double our efforts to take the gospel to our nation and the nations,” Gaines said.
 
Shortly after the ERLC’s statement was released, Graham tweeted, “This is a gracious and unifying statement from [Moore].”
 
Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, where Graham is pastor, announced in February it would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Graham had complained previously of alleged “disrespectfulness” by Moore toward evangelical supporters of Trump.
 
Other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities, according to reports received by the SBC Executive Committee (EC).
 
EC President Frank S. Page told BP following release of the ERLC’s statement, “I stand ready to assist Dr. Moore in any possible way, and I’m praying for him as he connects with our convention’s various constituencies. I deeply appreciate his intentionality in building relationships within a convention which is truly diverse in many ways. I certainly do and will pray for his receptivity, as he holds such a prophetic role in our convention.”
 
In related news, Stonestreet analyzed the controversy surrounding Moore in a March 17 interview on WORLD Radio’s The World and Everything In It.
 
Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said the concern of some Southern Baptists was that Moore at times failed to distinguish “between those who were cheerleaders for Donald Trump and those who were essentially voting against Hillary [Clinton] because they didn’t see any other good way forward.”
 
Moore “is responsible to reflect the opinions of Southern Baptists in the political and policy space,” Stonestreet said, acknowledging the difficulty of that task because “Trump has divided religious conservatives in a pretty powerful way.”
 
Moving forward, Stonestreet said, Southern Baptists can continue to hold different opinions on “this particular crazy election year” while maintaining common worldview principles.
 
“The reputation of the gospel” is not going to be harmed simply because Christians disagree on some matters, Stonestreet said. “But how we handle those disagreements ... really matters.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/22/2017 9:49:52 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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