March 2018

Health care conscience protections return to Congress

March 13 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other organizations again are urging Congress to approve legislation to protect the conscience rights of pro-life health care providers.
 
The Conscience Protection Act (CPA) – one of the ERLC’s legislative priorities in its 2018 agenda – would bar government discrimination against health care workers and facilities that object to being involved in abortion, as well as health insurers that refuse to provide coverage of the lethal procedure. The bill will provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court in a first for federal laws to protect health care conscience rights.

Wikipedia photos
Key sponsors of the Conscience Protection Act are Diane Black in the House and James Lankford in the Senate.


Supporters of the bill are calling for inclusion of the CPA in a new omnibus federal spending bill, which could be voted on soon by the House of Representatives. The temporary spending resolution now in effect expires March 23.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) the CPA is necessary to protect freedom of conscience on abortion.
 
“It is completely unjust that any American doctor or clinic would be punished for holding to their beliefs on the sanctity of human life,” Moore said in written comments for BP. “My prayer is that members of Congress would stand up for human dignity and make clear that the federal government has no authority to dictate to the conscience.”
 
The CPA is necessary, according to the ERLC, because the Barack Obama administration refused to enforce the Weldon Amendment, a measure that protects conscience rights. The amendment, an annual rider since 2004 to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spending measure, bars funds for a federal program – or state or local government receiving federal funds – that “subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
 
The proposal would establish in federal law the Weldon and Hyde amendments, which now must be approved yearly as riders to spending bills. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding of abortion. The CPA also would enable a victim of discrimination to file a civil suit without submitting a complaint to HHS.
 
While the Donald Trump administration’s HHS has acted to protect freedom of conscience, supporters of the CPA contend the bill is still needed.
 
In a March 8 letter, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., sponsor of the legislation, led more than 100 fellow House members in urging the Republican leadership to include the CPA in the latest spending measure. Even state governments are practicing discrimination against conscientious objectors, Black and the others wrote. They cited a California order – as well as similar ones in New York and Oregon – that requires all insurance plans to cover abortion, including those of churches and religious charities.
 
Black also joined nurse Sandra Rojas in a March 9 opinion piece for The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that urged passage of a spending bill that would include the CPA. Rojas lost her job in 2015 after a new policy required her to provide abortion-inducing drugs and make abortion referrals. Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Ill., fired her after 18 years of service when she conscientiously objected to participating in abortion in any form.
 
Every American “should be free to live consistent with their beliefs without fear of government punishment,” Rojas and Black, who also has served as a nurse, wrote in The Hill. “While we may not all agree on abortion, we should agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of the medical profession due to their beliefs about abortion. Our commitment to ‘do no harm’ shouldn’t disqualify us from serving in health care.”
 
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., sponsor of the CPA in the Senate, tweeted March 7, “Congress should pass the Conscience Protection Act to ensure that #ProLife health providers have the right to defend their beliefs w/o fear of discrimination. Americans have very different views on abortion, but we should not force anyone to participate in it.”
 
Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, said the CPA “is a top priority for our organization and the pro-life community as a whole.”
 
“Protections for these conscience rights have been a longstanding source of agreement, and their increasingly common violation is a tragedy and outrage that needs to be remedied,” Wussow told BP in a written statement. “This is a critical issue that we are encouraging members of Congress to prioritize as they continue forward in negotiations.”
 
The House has approved the CPA in the past without the Senate providing approval. Representatives voted in support of the bill in 2016, then passed it in September 2017 as part of a consolidated spending package. The ERLC called for Congress in late 2017 to include the CPA in the spending bill.
 
President Trump has reportedly indicated his support for the CPA.
 
On Jan. 18, HHS announced the establishment of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division to protect freedom of conscience and religion more effectively. HHS issued in early October last year new rules to protect objectors to the abortion/contraception mandate instituted under Obama. A 2011 regulation to help implement the health care reform law required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

3/13/2018 8:54:30 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptists stepping up efforts to help Appalachia

March 13 2018 by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today

In the Appalachians, unemployment, poverty and drug abuse remain rampant. But Southern Baptists are stepping up their efforts to help residents impacted by the stark conditions.

Send Relief photo
A huge warehouse is being constructed by Send Relief on the property formerly owned by the Greenup Association of Baptists.


They are opening an Appalachia Ministry Center that will distribute food and other supplies throughout the central Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and southern Ohio.
 
Send Relief, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) North American Mission Board, is opening the Ashland-based Appalachia Ministry Center so that the SBC will have a base from which to get help to the needy in the region.
 
The first major initiative is planned for April 28, when volunteers will pack 100,000 meals to be distributed throughout Appalachia.
 
Appalachia Ministry Center Director Rob Allen said it will take about 500 volunteers, each working two-hour shifts, to accomplish the feat. Allen is reaching out to churches in the Appalachian region and beyond for manpower.
 
“It’s going to take a lot of people and we’re excited about it,” Allen said. “It’s something we think we can rally the community around.”
 
While working with area ministries, churches and community leaders, the Appalachia Ministry Center will serve as a central point to respond to disasters. As a central facility, the center can stage, store and route vehicles filled with supplies and food into communities that need them.
 
“This is a large-scale operation that can truly make a difference in the Appalachian region,” said Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood. “People in the mountains are dealing with dire circumstances and Southern Baptists feel compelled to come alongside them.”
 
The Appalachia Ministry Center will work from two massive warehouses. One is a converted gymnasium that also has a large kitchen, offices and overnight rooms. The other, an even larger one, is under construction.
 
Send Relief President David Melber said Ashland is a central location from which to quickly respond to distressed communities in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.

Photo by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today
Rob Allen is the director of the Appalachia Ministry Center in Ashland, Ky. The ministry will serve the surrounding Appalachia regions.


“You can get right on the interstate from the property,” Melber said. “It’s a great location.”
 
The twofold purpose of the ministry center is to engage the community and equip the church, marketing director Greg Teffertiller said.
 
“Every community is a little different,” he said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all model of ministry. But the reason we established the ministry center in Ashland was to continue a ministry to that region that already existed and to enhance it. We want to invite people into that context and learn how to serve more effectively in their own communities.”
 
Allen said it will be an “evolving ministry” that comes “alongside” churches in the community.
 
“We look forward to building great relationships with local partners in Ashland and throughout Appalachia,” he said. “Through connections with churches, schools, government, business leaders and the community, we’ll build a ministry that is designed around and for this area, not based on what we think the area needs. In that regard, the ministry will evolve as needs change.”
 
The Appalachian Ministry Center fits into some of the five areas where Send Relief puts emphasis: poverty, refugees and internationals, adoption and foster care, human trafficking and disaster response.
 
Send Relief already has a ministry center in Clarkston, Ga., that focuses on refugees and another in New Orleans that focuses on human trafficking. The organization is working on a ministry center in Puerto Rico as well, Teffertiller said.
 
Allen said the Appalachian region has been reeling from drug issues that have handicapped the area. But the promise of economic industry growth has spurred attitudes.
 
“Here in the region the hopelessness from a job standpoint has been dismal for 20 years,” he said. “There are some things economically right now that are exciting. It’s kind of a God thing that we’re here now.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Maynard writes for Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, where this article first appeared. Kentucky Today is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
 

3/13/2018 8:50:48 AM by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



NRB to resume 1940s-era fight against censorship

March 13 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A new National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) initiative represents a return to its mid-1940s roots to now protect freedom of religion and speech in a digital age, NRB President Jerry A. Johnson said in his report at Proclaim 18, the association’s International Christian Media Convention.
 
Johnson, speaking at NRB’s 75th annual meeting in Nashville, said Internet Freedom Watch seeks to curtail discrimination against Christian and conservative content on the internet. NRB unveiled the initiative at a December news conference in Washington, calling attention to censorship by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple.

NRB photo
Jerry A. Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, exhorts attendees at NRB’s Proclaim 18 annual meeting to take a stand for First Amendment freedoms against instances of online censorship by social media platforms Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Twitter.


“[I]f conservative and Christian content is taken off of social media, digital media, the gospel will be muzzled, the Word of God will be muzzled,” Johnson told the audience Feb. 27 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
 
It is the NRB’s job to protect First Amendment freedoms, and the association of Christian communicators “is uniquely positioned” to do so, Johnson said before quoting part of the U.S. Constitution’s initial amendment.
 
The First Amendment’s “first three elements – religion, speech and press – that’s NRB,” Johnson said. “This is our world, and I want to say to you: If not you, who? If not this, what? If not now – when we are being demonetized, blocked, taken off and censored – if not now, when will NRB stand for First Amendment principles?”
 
Internet Freedom Watch, Johnson said, marks a return to the reason for NRB’s founding, when Christian broadcasters met at Moody Church in Chicago in 1944 after the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches) convinced the national radio networks to adopt regulations that exiled evangelical communicators to independent stations with a limited audience.
 
Johnson said the NRB declared at its founding: “We’re not going to take a back seat. We want a level playing field. We want a place in the public square. Let’s go to D.C. Let’s go to the Congress. Let’s go to the [Federal Communications Commission]. And in a few years, Christian broadcasters were back on Christian radio once again.
 
“We have to go back to that,” Johnson said, “and we have to say, ‘The new media today is digital media. It’s social media. It’s Facebook. It’s Twitter. It’s Google. It’s YouTube.’”
 
The NRB campaign 75 years ago “wasn’t a political question. It was a gospel question. It was a freedom of religion question. It was a freedom of speech question. It was a First Amendment question,” Johnson said.
 
“We have again private enterprise in the communications world discriminating against conservative and Christian content,” he stated, citing various examples of online censorship by private companies, some of which sparked a media flare-up and were resolved.
 
“Does it bother you that Dr. D. James Kennedy was taken off of the Amazon [Smile] gift program?” Johnson asked. “Does it bother you that a sitting member of the U.S. Congress, Marsha Blackburn, was taken off of Twitter when she announced her run for the U.S. Senate because she mentioned the sale of human body parts?
 
“Does it bother you that Dennis Prager’s videos – videos on Israel, for instance – have been blocked and taken down and demonetized by YouTube? Does it bother you that Todd Starnes has been taken off of Facebook? Marjorie Dannenfelser has been taken off of Twitter?”
 
The Amazon Smile program, against which the Kennedy ministry filed suit last August, enables consumers to specify the charities of their choosing to which Amazon will donate a percentage of the cost of their purchases. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., whose campaign announcement was blocked by Facebook, chaired the congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives that recommended the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood as a result of evidence that the country’s largest abortion provider took part in the trade in aborted baby parts. Prager U produces educational videos with a conservative perspective, 40 of which have been restricted by YouTube. Starnes is a Fox News Radio host and Dannenfelser is president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, both of whom have had social media posts blocked.
 
Johnson urged NRB attendees to join him in protecting First Amendment rights. “This isn’t a pleasure cruise,” he said. “We’re running a battleship here.”
 
Information on NRB’s new initiative is available at InternetFreedomWatch.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode, of Fredericksburg, Va., assisted with the coverage of the NRB annual meeting.)
 

3/13/2018 8:24:08 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Religious liberty ruled no basis for transgender policy

March 13 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Religious freedom provides no legal basis to discipline transgender workers who violate workplace gender policies, a U.S. appeals court has ruled in a groundbreaking decision.
 
The March 7 decision is the first to extend Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to transgender individuals charging discrimination based on sexual identity, and reverses a lower court ruling that had protected the workplace under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Google Maps photo
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, shown here at its Livonia, Mich., location, would be forced to allow transgender employees to dress as the gender of their choice under the latest court decision in a Title VII discrimination case.


Detroit-area R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes violated Title VII by firing Aimee Stephens after the worker decided in 2013 to begin identifying as a female and no longer wear the company’s male employee uniform, the appeals court ruled unanimously.
 
“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” the court said. “RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden [funeral home owner Thomas] Rost’s religious exercise.”
 
Southern Baptist commentator R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision’s interpretation reverses the intent of Title VII, adopted when biology at birth was a widely accepted gender identifier.
 
“That act only makes sense if we know what a man is and a woman is in order to say you cannot prefer one to the other in most workplace situations,” Mohler said in his Briefing podcast March 12. “This is a moral and legal mess but far more than that, it is a direct threat to religious liberty.”
 
The decision ignores RFRA, Mohler said, and strips the funeral home of its right to an “exemption on the basis of religious conscience and conviction.”
 
The appeals court remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the ruling against the funeral home.
 
Religious freedom watchdog Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the funeral home’s legal representative, said the court’s decision would require the funeral home to allow male employees to dress as women.
 
“Today’s decision misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming code policies,” ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb said in a March 7 press release. “The funeral home’s dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one. American business owners, especially those serving the grieving and the vulnerable, should be free to live and work consistently with their faith.”
 
The company’s sole corporate officer and majority owner Thomas Rost “is a devout Christian whose faith informs the way he serves customers with compassion during one of life’s most challenging moments,” said ADF, which is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
“Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law.” McCaleb said. “This opinion instead re-writes federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts.”
 
Harris funeral homes had hired Stephens in 2007 as an apprentice when his name was Anthony and he identified by his biological male gender, according to court documents, and had promoted him to funeral director and embalmer in 2008. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field suit on Stephen’s behalf and in 2016 had been unsuccessful in the lower court, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
 
Under RFRA, the government cannot force someone like Rost to violate his faith unless it demonstrates that doing so is the “least restrictive means” of furthering a “compelling government interest,” the Michigan court had said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/13/2018 8:20:11 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Scientology set to launch TV Network

March 13 2018 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

The Church of Scientology announced March 11 they’re launching the Scientology Network, which debuted March 12 on several streaming services.
 
“HELLO WORLD, and greetings from Scientology Media Productions in Hollywood, Calif., read a tweet from @ScientologyTV. “It’s TIME for us to tell OUR story …”
 
The religion begun by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard has been the focus of investigative projects such as the documentary film “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and A&E’s docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” The two projects take a critical look at Scientology’s practices and treatment of those who leave the organization.
 
The Church of Scientology was founded in the early 1950s and is based on Hubbard’s science fiction writings, particularly Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The religion has since become a multi-million dollar business and has been adopted by many Hollywood celebrities including Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
 
Scientology teaches that all of a person’s problems arise from negative subconscious impulses called “engrams” that build up over a lifetime or lifetimes (Scientologists believe in reincarnation). In order to rid themselves of “engrams,” Scientologists undergo expensive “auditing” sessions to attain a state of being called “Clear.”
 
The organization keeps a tight grip on its members, according to former Scientologists.
 
The North American Mission Board provides a brief background on Scientology, namb.net/apologetics/scientology, as well as biblical responses to the religion’s beliefs and practices.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources and writes for LifeWay’s Facts&Trends, factsandtrends.net.)
 

3/13/2018 8:16:21 AM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



State papers ‘have a future,’ Tennessee editor says

March 12 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In an era of shrinking newspaper readership, Baptist state papers retain a viable path forward as “niche publications” with strong online and print presence, state paper editor Lonnie Wilkey told the Tennessee Baptist Historical Society (TBHS).

Photo by David Roach
News Baptist state papers “report today is tomorrow’s history,” Baptist and Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey told the Tennessee Baptist Historical Society.


“The newspaper industry is declining, but Baptist papers still have a future,” said Wilkey, editor of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector news journal. That’s “mainly because we are niche publications ... If you want to read about Tennessee Baptists, the only source you really have is the Baptist and Reflector.”
 
Baptist papers in other states, he said, similarly serve as the main viable sources about Baptists there.
 
Wilkey made his remarks in a keynote address March 8 at the TBHS’s 20th annual meeting in Nashville. Held at the Southern Baptist Convention Building, the gathering also featured a business session and a panel discussion on the society’s first 20 years and the need for a new generation to pick up the mantle of preserving Baptist history.
 
State papers, Wilkey said, are key sources for preserving Baptist history because “the news we report today is tomorrow’s history.”
 
Nonetheless, newspapers in general “are dying,” Wilkey said, noting that from 2008-11, 166 secular newspapers stopped publication or shifted exclusively to online content. With the transition to online news content, he added, readers are spending less time consuming news articles.
 
Amid those realities, Wilkey suggested ways “to breathe new life” into Baptist state papers.
 
First, state papers must adapt by combining a “strong online presence” with continuing print publication, though perhaps with less frequent print editions.
 
For the Baptist and Reflector, Wilkey said, developing a website “has actually helped us become a better, more effective newspaper” by publishing stories as they break rather than waiting for the next print edition. At the same time, “we would lose a huge section of our readers” – especially in smaller churches – “if we stopped publication of print” editions.
 
State papers also must adapt by involving more young adults in their production, Wilkey said.

Photo by David Roach
The Tennessee Baptist Historical Society held its 20th annual meeting March 8 at the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville.


Seminary communications offices and state paper internships used to produce numerous young Baptist journalists, he said. But today “there are not that many young journalists coming along, so it’s up to the papers to go out and find people who will carry the banner.”
 
While innovative strategies for increasing revenue and readership are essential for state papers going forward, Wilkey said, their survival ultimately is a spiritual matter “in God’s hands.”
 
“If we continue to tell stories ... of how the churches are bringing Him glory and honor, our publication will succeed and will survive because we have to have someone to tell those stories,” Wilkey said.
 
The TBHS panel discussion featured retired Tennessee Baptist Convention executive director James Porch, retired Belmont University historian Albert Wardin and retired Middle Tennessee State University historian Fred Rolater, who received the Albert W. Wardin Meritorious Service Award during the meeting to honor his contributions to the TBHS.
 
Wardin, author of a 700-page history of Tennessee Baptists, encouraged Southern Baptists to learn not only the history of their own denomination, but of other Baptist groups as well.
 
“We don’t realize the history and the past relationship to other Baptist groups,” Wardin said, “and why there have been divisions.” Those divisions have “made what we are today.”
 
Porch, who holds a doctor of theology degree in church history, said Baptist historians, like Baptist journalists, need to develop a new generation to carry on their work.
 
“If we could develop a core” group from younger generations who understand “the importance of our history,” Porch said, “it would be one of the best things that we could do.”
 
See related story on state Baptist newspapers.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/12/2018 11:06:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Billy Graham legacy honored by historic pulpit at NOBTS

March 12 2018 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS

The faded pulpit at the front of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Leavell Chapel during the first week of March seemed out of place. Out of place unless one saw Billy Graham’s signature scrawled on its top.

NOBTS Photo
The pulpit used by Billy Graham during his 1954 crusade in New Orleans preserves the signatures of Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, and others. In 2006, during a two-night crusade in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Graham’s son Franklin and grandson Will signed the pulpit.


The time-worn, battered pulpit is the one used by Graham during his 1954 New Orleans crusade. From Oct. 3-31, 1954, Graham preached the gospel to crowds at Pelican Stadium and Tulane Stadium in the Crescent City.
 
According to The Times-Picayune, 4,411 people committed their lives to Christ during the crusade. Leaders at NOBTS placed the pulpit in Leavell Chapel for campus revival week and preview weekend to honor the gospel-focused legacy of Graham, who passed away Feb. 21.
 
“Billy Graham proclaimed the gospel and extended an invitation to more people than any other person in the history of the church. He did this from behind pulpits all over this country and in most of the nations of the world,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We honor his legacy of powerful, fruitful evangelistic preaching by using [it] in our chapel this week.”
 
While the historic stadiums where Graham preached in 1954 are long gone, the pulpit remains. J.D. Grey, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, asked Graham and his ministry team to sign the pulpit during the successful crusade and he kept it. The names – including Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows and others – were etched into the surface and preserved with a wood-burning tool.
 
When NOBTS built the J.D. and Lillian Grey Mission Apartments and Library building on campus, Grey donated the pulpit for use in the Grey Library.
 
For years, the building has served as a temporary residence for countless International Mission Board missionaries during stateside assignment.
 
The pulpit gained some of its scuffs and marks during another famous event in New Orleans in August 2005 – Hurricane Katrina. When the levee failures in the aftermath of Katrina sent flood waters spilling onto the NOBTS campus, the pulpit was not spared.

NOBTS Photo
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) professor Preston Nix preaches in Leavell Chapel March 1 behind the pulpit Billy Graham used during his 1954 New Orleans crusade. NOBTS used the pulpit during the first week of March to honor Graham’s legacy as an evangelist and gospel preacher.


“One can’t help but notice the visible effects of time and a battering by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina on the pulpit,” Kelley said.
 
“Nothing stops the progress of the gospel, not even the death of Billy Graham,” he noted. “Simple, distinctive and battered, the pulpit is silent, yet still it speaks, an echo of the greatest evangelist who ever lived.”
 
Campus security officials, including Barry Busby, chief of campus police with Hurricane Katrina hit, rescued the pulpit from Grey Library as waters rose. Busby noted that the pulpit was floating upside down in two feet of water when he found it.
 
When Graham returned to New Orleans with his son Franklin in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the pulpit was used again during a special service for area pastors held at First Baptist Church in New Orleans. Graham also spoke during a two-night crusade at the New Orleans Arena during that trip. These were some of Graham’s last public sermons. Franklin signed the pulpit during the 2006 event.
 
The first person to preach behind the Billy Graham pulpit in Leavell Chapel March 1 was Preston Nix, professor of evangelism and evangelistic preaching at NOBTS. Nix has a special connection with Graham which began in Katrina’s aftermath.
 
A newly elected NOBTS faculty member in August 2005, Nix had just moved to the city and much of his personal library sat in boxes in his on-campus garage when the campus flooded. Nix lost everything – his home, his books and 30-plus years of sermon notes.
 
Nix’s sister, Amber Pendleton, wanted to do something special for her brother during his time of loss. Knowing her brother’s high regard for the work of Graham, Pendleton contacted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association seeking an autographed copy of one of the evangelist’s books.
 
A few months after Katrina, the organization sent an autographed copy of Graham’s classic work How to be Born Again. And despite Graham’s continuing health problems, he and his staff chose a selection of books from his personal library to send to Nix.
 
“I restarted my library with a signed copy of How to Be Born Again and some of Billy’s own books,” Nix said at the time. “I’m so grateful.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

3/12/2018 11:03:03 AM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS | with 0 comments



Mississippi nears earliest abortion ban in country

March 12 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Mississippi stands on the verge of enacting the earliest ban on abortions in the United States.
 
The state’s House of Representatives approved in a 75-34 vote March 8 a bill that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation. The legislation – which the Senate passed 35-14 March 6 – will go to Gov. Phil Bryant, who has indicated he will sign it.
 
The measure will lower Mississippi’s ban on abortions by five weeks from its current 20-week restriction.
 
Southern Baptist ethics leaders commended the legislature’s action.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he is “proud of Mississippi for being proactive in protecting vulnerable children.”
 
“The abortion industry hides from scrutiny and accountability and preys on women in crisis,” said Moore, a native Mississippian, in written comments for Baptist Press (BP). “I am thankful that Mississippi lawmakers have taken real steps to combat this industry of death and look forward to this bill being signed into law. My prayer is that Mississippi would continue to lead the way for other states in standing up for the unborn, women and communities.”
 
Kenny Digby, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Christian Action Commission, told BP the Senate and House votes demonstrate the state is “concerned about babies who are totally unprotected, and I’m proud of our legislature for putting action to their words.”
 
With enactment of the new ban, Mississippi “will be the vanguard at being pro-life,” Digby said. The Christian Action Commission is an agency of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
 
If the bill is enacted, the fate of Mississippi’s 15-week ban will rest with the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled directly on the constitutionality of 20-week abortion bans enacted in about 20 states. Since viability of the unborn child is considered to come after 20 weeks, gaining support for a 15-week prohibition from a high court that has protected abortion until fetal viability would appear to be an uphill climb.
 
Diane Derzis, owner of the state’s only abortion clinic, told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger she plans to file suit if the ban is enacted. Her clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, performs abortions about 18 weeks into pregnancy, she told the Associated Press.
 
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the country’s leading abortion provider, criticized the Mississippi legislation. Mississippi politicians “are trying to impose their beliefs on everyone and control women’s bodies, no matter how many people it hurts,” said Dawn Laguens, PPFA’s executive vice president, in a written statement.
 
One basis for changing the abortion ban from 20 weeks to 15 is the number of babies that would be saved, Digby told BP. About 200 unborn babies a year are aborted in the state between the 15th and 20th weeks, he said.
 
In addition, the earlier restriction is “definitely making it safer for the mother,” Digby said, citing “drastic increases in complications with the mother from the 15th week to the 20th week.”
 
He also pointed to evidence that unborn children feel pain by the mid-point of pregnancy as a reason for a 15-week ban.
 
While a biblical worldview supports the belief life begins at conception, the Supreme Court’s expansive 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion means “we take what we can get” as pro-lifers, Digby said.
 
Mississippi’s proposed ban permits two exceptions – one for a threat to the life of the mother or “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother. The other is for a “severe fetal abnormality” that “is incompatible with life outside the womb.”
 
Abortion doctors often use a technique known as dismemberment or “dilation and extraction” abortion from about 14 weeks of pregnancy into the third trimester, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). In the method, a doctor uses instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child’s body.
 
In the Mississippi bill, the legislature said the intentional performance of such a procedure in elective abortions “is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession.”
 
Mississippi’s 20-week ban is based partly on the capability of the unborn child to feel pain by that point in gestation. Sixteen states have enacted pain-capable abortion bans based on model legislation by the NRLC. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho’s law in 2015.
 
The U.S. Senate rejected a 20-week, pain-capable ban in January after the House had approved it and the White House had indicated its support for the measure.
 
Ohio and Tennessee have enacted bans for any unborn baby who is determined to be able to survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance. The measure requires a viability test beginning at the 20th week of pregnancy and establishes a state presumption of viability at 24 weeks since the mother’s last menstrual period.
 
In January, Americans United for Life (AUL) ranked Mississippi seventh in its 2018 Life List of the most pro-life states in the country. The list – which is based on the AUL legal team’s analysis of various protections for life from conception to natural death – rated Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas and South Dakota ahead of Mississippi.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/12/2018 11:00:09 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Faith group regains campus status after suing college

March 12 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A Christian student group dispelled from a public university for requiring chapter leaders to be Christian has been readmitted. But attorneys say the school’s change of heart is hardly adequate.
 
Wayne State University (WSU) recertified InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as an official campus student group two days after InterVarsity filed a lawsuit against WSU, the university said in a March 8 statement to media.

Becket photo
A recent InterVarsity Christian Fellowship fair at Wayne State University, which had challenged InterVarsity’s right to limit leadership positions to Christians.


InterVarsity’s legal representative the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said the university should also reimburse InterVarsity the near $3,000 the group has paid in rental fees after losing its free use of university space for meetings and other activities.
 
“It’s good that Wayne State saw the light after it felt the heat,” Becket senior counsel Lori Windham said in a March 8 press release. “But after putting these students through the runaround for months, a last-minute change of heart is hardly enough.
 
“This kind of official religious discrimination should never happen again,” Windham said. “And Wayne State needs to return the thousands of dollars it charged the student group.”
 
WSU has not officially addressed the reimbursement, but will likely not object to refunding the fees, WSU Communications Director Matt Lockwood told Baptist Press (BP) March 9.
 
“I’m sure that will be taken care of,” Lockwood told BP by telephone. In its official statement released to the media, the university said it values student groups as an integral part of campus life and co-curricular learning.
 
“After a review of the situation and communicating with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organization, Wayne State has decided to recertify the group as an official student organization,” the university said. “The InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and the university will not intervene in the group’s leadership selection.”
 
InterVarsity had operated at WSU as a Christian student group for 75 years when in 2017 WSU cancelled InterVarsity’s official campus group status, accusing InterVarsity of discrimination for requiring group leaders to be Christian, Becket said in a March 6 lawsuit against WSU. But WSU is the one practicing discrimination, Becket said.
 
“Wayne State’s attempt to tell InterVarsity how to define its faith and select its leaders is anti-religious discrimination that violates clearly established federal and state law,” Becket said in its lawsuit. “Simply put, Wayne State is unconstitutionally targeting InterVarsity because of InterVarsity’s religious beliefs.”
 
An InterVarsity member said it was good to be back on campus.
 
“Being part of our school community has meant the world to us, and we’re so glad that Wayne State is letting us back on campus,” Cristina Garza, a chapter former president and current member, said in Becket’s press release.
 
WSU’s decision came after Becket told WSU the legal firm would seek an emergency court order to have InterVarsity reinstated. Although Becket said the reinstatement was “at least” temporary, the university told BP the reinstatement is permanent.
 
InterVarsity and Becket are reviewing the school’s decision to determine their next steps, Becket said.
 
See March 9 story on the plight of Christian ministries on college campuses.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/12/2018 10:55:25 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hope shining in East St. Louis

March 12 2018 by NAMB staff

East St. Louis is the home – and mission field – of Kempton and Caryn Turner.
 
A native of East St. Louis, Ill., Kempton Turner grew up on the streets where he now serves as a church planting missionary and pastor of City of Joy Fellowship. The church was launched on Sept. 18, 2016, with one mission: restoring hope to the city through Jesus Christ. It currently rents space at the local Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.

NAMB Photo
Kempton Turner participates in a baptism at City of Joy Fellowship Church in East St. Louis, Ill. Turner planted the church to reach, baptize and guide the broken to Jesus Christ.


“Because I was raised here, I’ve got a real heart for the people,” Turner said. “It’s a small city. It’s a dangerous, poor place, 85 percent fatherlessness. The houses, the buildings and the roads show the desperate place that East St. Louis is in. The people know struggle.”
 
A drive around the city reveals abandoned buildings. The public library, the McDonald’s Turner visited as a child, family-owned restaurants – all closed now. Recent years have seen the numbers dwindle from around 60,000 to 26,000.
 
“Jobs and police officers have left this city,” Turner said. “Downtown is kind of like a ghost town, but it’s ripe for the gospel. The Lord hasn’t forgotten this city.”
 

Faith on the rise

On Wednesdays at 6 a.m., you can usually find a group of men from City of Joy Fellowship worshiping with an acoustic guitar.
 
“As the psalmist looked around at the tragic condition of the people in his city,” Turner said, “it appeared as though God was unaware, inactive or asleep. So, he prays, ‘Arise, O Lord.’ Likewise, we cry out in one way or another every Wednesday morning.”
 
The prayers ring out over a people facing poverty, gang violence, environmental contamination and continued decline. Turner, Caryn and their five children believe that change is possible. They are working side by side with other believers to show their neighbors that love is real and hope is alive.
 
“The biggest challenges we face are hardness of heart and lack of zealous evangelistic consistency,” Turner said. In 1989, on the way home from Clark Jr. High School, he was held up at gunpoint by a gang leader with a reputation for pulling the trigger.
 
“Amazingly, I ended up escaping that situation,” he said, “and as I look back on it, I realize it was God’s grace, but that was the last straw for my father and my family. They had had enough of the violence and the crime, so we moved to Houston, Texas. Little did I know 25 years later, God would give me the privilege to come back to my hometown and preach the Good News of His Son to the people of East St. Louis.”
 
Recognizing that teenagers there are in need of community, and a safe place to gather, Turner and the team at City of Joy host a youth night on Tuesdays. There, they train young people how to serve others and hold down a job.
 
The church also goes to the places where youth already gather during the week – schools and community centers – to establish relationships and consistency. Their desire is to show teens that they care and are invested in their well-being and future.
 
“A young lady named Allison came to our church rejecting Jesus,” Turner said, “After a few months of hearing the gospel and spending time with a few women one-on-one, she surrendered her life to Jesus. She is the real deal, zealous about spreading His gospel and love!”
 
Turner names a long list of men and women who have moved to the area to help with the youth: Matt and Hannah, who moved their young family from Missouri; Staricia, who came from Indiana to work in the school system; Lydia, a nurse who has a heart for young people; Joel, a skilled basketball player and coach who uses the sport to connect with the youth; and Zach, who started a Bible study for the youth in his home that has already outgrown the space. The list goes on and on.
 
“These precious believers are a picture of Jesus, coming out of comfortable suburbs, moving into the heart of a 99.9 percent African American city with danger, poverty and fatherlessness,” Turner said. “They’re moving because Jesus is sending them as a reflection of His heart for this city, and God is blessing their efforts. It’s amazing.”
 

Building the future

Home renovation is another practical way City of Joy is connecting with their community. Hammers and nails, primer and paint – these are the tools that are allowing believers to build a relationship with people who live near the church.
 
“All we need is a way to start a conversation,” Turner said. He is training the members to intersect with nonbelievers, meet needs and share their personal stories of redemption.
 
Dubbed R3, the outreach ministry is focused on community development, house restoration, business restoration and employment. The outreach goal is to work corner by corner and house by house throughout the city until each square foot has been covered in both repairs and improvements as well as prayer.
 
In their business revitalization program, they work on providing local businesses with the resources to launch or relaunch. They also strive to connect young men and women from the youth program with job opportunities in these local businesses as a way to benefit the local economy and foster the sense of community.
 
As more people come to know Christ, City of Joy is celebrating more baptisms. And it all started with a special one that healed a broken relationship from the past.
 
“The first baptism at the church was my birth mother who did not raise me,” Turner said. “Praise the Lord!”
 
Indeed, the church is appropriately named. With prayers, planning and consistent efforts, they are working toward bringing that same kind of joy into every home in East St. Louis. They want people to not only remember this place but to invest in it.
 
“Some of the neediest places in America are in the inner city,” Turner said. “We’re excited to join the momentum of what God is already doing in this city with so much potential. Acts 8:8 – that’s our hope and prayer for East St. Louis: that the Lord will fill the city with joy.
 
“Gifts through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering are going to help us rebuild the community of East St. Louis,” he said. “We want to see God spiritually invade this city. We want to see a supernatural awakening in this city turning multitudes of souls to Jesus Christ.”
 
Turner explained that they are praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers. The vision for change is great – and so is the need for ministry partners.
 
“Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.’ And so, the Lord is the builder,” he noted. “The church is not about bricks and mortar and boards. He redeems His people and puts them in front of others in houses, on street corners, in Sunday School classes and in large- and small-group gatherings. The Lord builds His people through the Word. And our vision is that the Word of God would so transform East St. Louis that multitudes of souls are saved and established in faith, families are restored, children can have a mom and dad in their house again, prevailing cultural brokenness – like drug addiction and gang violence – would be healed and churches would be started near and far.
 
“Our house renovation ministry is just a small echo of the thunderclap of spiritual renovation that we see God doing – one soul, one house, one block at a time in my hometown,” Turner said.
 
Learn more about the Turners at AnnieArmstrong.com.
 
Watch a video about the Turners here:
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The North American Mission Board communications team provided this story.)
 

3/12/2018 10:47:45 AM by NAMB staff | with 0 comments



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