March 2019

Georgia pastor repents, church fires accused staff member

March 11 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Georgia pastor has confirmed the termination of a church staff member who allegedly “admitted to assaulting several young people years ago.” The pastor also apologized to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and SBC President J.D. Greear for having “failed my duty as a pastor in not taking action sooner.”

Photo from Google

“My greatest failure during this time has been to the God I serve who gave His Son for me,” Pastor Rodney Brown of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., said March 7 in a statement to Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index news journal. “This situation has greatly changed my thinking as pastor. I realize that friendship can never override the duties God has given me to protect those we serve in His name. My prayer is for God’s mercy and healing for the victims of these terrible [alleged] acts and for any churches affected.”
Trinity Baptist was among 10 churches named by Greear in a Feb. 18 report on sexual abuse to the SBC Executive Committee. Following Greear’s report, Brown told Baptist Press he felt “shock” and “disappointment” because Greear had not contacted the church before naming it publicly.
Brown also told BP following Greear’s report the church’s minister of music allegedly confessed in 2013 or 2014 he had molested a “young teen” decades earlier and had repented. In response, Brown “fired him right there on the spot.” The man continued to attend the church, Brown said, though he was never allowed to be alone with children. At church leaders’ request, the church reinstated the man as minister of music, Brown said, adding the church felt the man was gifted for ministry.
Brown also said following Greear’s report that Trinity performed background checks on volunteers and staff and was “doing everything we can” to protect children.
A week later, Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director Thomas Hammond released a statement alleging Brown had fired the staff member at issue.
Brown confirmed the termination in his March 7 statement and said the former staff member “was also asked to immediately resign his church membership, which he did. He has been directed not to return to Trinity.”
“Recently I have come to realize that I failed my duty as pastor in not taking action against an individual who had been accused of child abuse in the past at another church. This was because of my long-standing friendship with the accused,” Brown said.
“Other victims have now come forward naming this person and he has admitted to assaulting several young people many years ago. I now realize that what I first thought was an isolated incident was much more. I should have understood that earlier and not doing so was a great mistake on my part. I cannot apologize enough for my actions,” Brown said.
Trinity is not aware of any abuse committed by the staff member at issue while he attended the church, Brown said.
Still, alleged “victims of the accused” have said Brown’s actions “injured” them, the pastor stated. As a result, “I have spent much time before God repenting for my actions.”
Brown apologized to the alleged victims, Greear, the SBC and the Georgia Baptist Convention, stating he “acted irresponsibly” and feels “deep sorrow.”
“I pray we can heal and become stronger in the protection of our children,” Brown said.

3/11/2019 11:01:14 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Editors meet to ‘press on’ in Kingdom communication

March 11 2019 by Margaret Colson, Arkansas Baptist News

Members of the Association of State Baptist Publications (ASBP) learned from university professor and author Penelope Muse Abernathy during their annual meeting in Charleston, S.C.

Photo by Arkansas Baptist News
University professor Penelope Abernathy discusses community newspapers at the Association of State Baptist Publications annual meeting in Charleston, S.C.

The ASBP meeting “gives those who lead state Baptist newspapers and other publications the opportunity to discuss opportunities and challenges faced in today’s ever-changing publishing environment,” said Tim Yarbrough, editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News and 2018-19 president of ASBP, an organization founded in 1895.
With the theme, “Press On,” ASBP members also heard a number of reports from denominational leaders during their four-day meeting.

Community journalism

Abernathy, who holds the Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina, led three sessions: “How the World Has Changed/What We Know So Far,” “A New Model for Nurturing Community” and “What I’ve Learned and What I’ll Do Differently.” Abernathy, who has done extensive research on community newspapers, is author of the book Saving Community Journalism.
“It is critical that community newspapers survive,” she said, explaining that she uses the term “community newspaper” in a broad sense to include magazines, podcasts and “everything you have to tell your story.”
“It was refreshing to hear from researcher Penelope Abernathy, who states, ‘[W]hat is important is not the size of a paper’s print circulation, but rather the mission of the paper,’” Yarbrough said.
“Abernathy offered leaders of Baptist newspapers and publications strategies for improving their reach as they seek to compete during the digital age and inform, inspire and involve Southern Baptists in our ‘community’ of Kingdom work.”
In recent years, Yarbrough stated, “we have seen the mainstream media cast aside their responsibility of objective journalism, many times opting to bend the news to fit their own secular, humanist worldview. Baptist journalists have the responsibility to inform Southern Baptists about the work of their denomination so they can make informed decisions regarding funding, governance and missionary deployment.”

Denominational leaders

Throughout their Feb. 11-14 sessions, participants heard from Southern Baptist entity leaders, including Paul Chitwood, newly elected president of the International Mission Board (IMB).
Chitwood said he is taking time to “ask, listen and learn” as he settles into his new role. He acknowledged that in recent years the IMB has been challenged, because of downsizing and other factors, in its task of communicating God’s work in the world. He committed to “beef up” communications at the IMB and stated that he has hired Roger Alford from the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) as IMB communications vice president.
In answer to a question, Chitwood said the KBC decision to merge the historic Baptist paper, the Western Recorder, with the state convention’s communications office was largely a cost-saving measure as well as a move intended to expand the KBC’s ability to communicate with a larger audience.
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell spoke to the group, stating, “Everything we do is about the gospel.”
Ezell outlined NAMB’S church planter assessment process, saying that the mission board needs 4,000 church planter applications to send 1,200 church planters annually.
He described NAMB’S organizational leadership with four vice presidents, before introducing Johnny Hunt, the new vice president of evangelism and leadership. Hunt introduced the new evangelism initiative, “Who’s Your One?”, describing how one person who led him to salvation made an enormous impact worldwide.
The Who’s Your One? initiative is customizable by churches, associations and state conventions, Ezell said. As a part of the evangelism focus, leaders from NAMB plan to visit seven or eight states for evangelism rallies. “Evangelism rallies need to be evangelistic,” Hunt said. Ezell noted that NAMB leadership had “underestimated the need to encourage and beg pastors to be evangelistic.”
J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., spent about 40 minutes with the editors.
He recounted the six areas he is championing during his tenure as SBC president and also spoke to the sexual abuse issue in the denomination today, stating, “Now is not the time to defend ourselves,” but rather now is the time to “lament and mourn.” He further noted, “The safety of victims is priority over reputation of churches.”
Participants also heard reports from O.S. Hawkins, president/chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources; Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director-treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC; Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications for LifeWay Christian Resources; Shawn Hendricks, editor of Baptist Press; and Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Devotionals were led by Yarbrough; David Williams, editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist; and Kevin Parker, editor of the Baptist New Mexican.
Participants also heard a synopsis report on a recent state Baptist paper survey that revealed great diversity in how the papers accomplish their mission but a common commitment to the mission of communicating with Southern Baptists.

Business session

In the ASBP business session, members honored K. Allan Blume, who is retiring May 31 as editor of North Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder.
The group also remembered Jack Harwell, former editor of The Christian Index of Georgia and former ASBP president, who died in January.
In closing, Yarbrough passed the ASBP gavel to Williams, who will serve as the organization’s 2019-2020 president. Jennifer Rash, editor of The Alabama Baptist, was elected ASBP president-elect, to serve in 2020-2021. ASBP’s next annual meeting will be Feb. 10-13 in Tucson, Ariz.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Margaret Colson is a writer for the Arkansas Baptist News,

3/11/2019 10:55:48 AM by Margaret Colson, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments

Film evidences Moses’ authorship of Pentateuch

March 11 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Evidencing Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch takes filmmaker Timothy Mahoney on a journey connecting God’s creation of the alphabet to His design to spread His Word.
In making “Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy,” in theaters March 14, 16 and 19 only, Mahoney goes beyond his intended premise of discovering Moses’ authorship of the first five books of the Bible.

Unexpected in his research, Mahoney told Baptist Press (BP), was unearthing the importance of the alphabet to God’s relationship with humanity. He referenced John 1, where God describes Himself as the Word.
“I think that in order for us to understand who God is, we have to know His Word, and God is saying that ‘I am My Word,’” Mahoney said. “And words are made up of letters. And then what does it say (in John 1)? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Mahoney discovered “overwhelming evidence that the world’s first alphabet,” which he believes was given by God to the early Israelites, was used by Moses to author the first books of the Bible.
Non-evangelical scholars question Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch or Torah, purporting that he didn’t have the ability to write the books in Hebrew, that the events predate by centuries alphabetic writing, and that the Pentateuch was written years later by multiple authors, Mahoney said. The film seeks evidence such mainstream scholars are missing, and seeks to dispel growing assertions that would reduce the books to folklore.
“We’re basically showing that the connection between Moses’ authorship [and the Pentateuch] is the ability for Moses to have written,” Mahoney told BP. “This film connects this first writing system of these Proto-Sinaitic letters that were found. It builds a case that the history of the Israelites matches the history of this alphabet.
“The form of writing that became eventually Hebrew, I believe, points back to the Israelites and their ability to write.”
Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch is foundational to the gospel, the filmmaker said, referenced by Jesus and New Testament authors including Peter and Paul.
“If we get right down to it, for Christians, Jesus says ‘for if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me, but if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My Words?’” Mahoney said, referencing John 5:46-47. “If Moses didn’t write this, then what we’re dealing with now is – we’re dealing with Jesus. ... And then Jesus says, ‘Has not Moses given you the law?’ (John 7:19).”
The film is the second in Mahoney’s historical “Patterns of Evidence” series of documentaries that debuted in 2014 with “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus,” a 12-year project that garnered 13 “best documentary” awards. In prepping for the upcoming installments, “The Red Sea Miracle” and “Journey to Mt. Sinai,” Mahoney encountered scholars who questioned the historicity of the Pentateuch. The questions birthed the current documentary, strengthened by interviews with 15 leading experts in Egyptology, ancient Hebrew, religion and archeology. The film examines the earliest forms of text, including hieroglyphics and cave inscriptions found in the Sinai region.
“In my own research for the evidence, I had to ask myself if I believe the Bible because it’s true, or because it’s just what I believed because of my upbringing,” Mahoney said in a press release. “Since the rest of the Bible is based on the writings of Moses, the credibility of the exodus and the rest of the Bible is directly connected to the question of Moses’ authorship.”
Mahoney sees the alphabet as a divine gift central to God’s desire to communicate with humanity. In Deuteronomy, Mahoney points out, the Israelites are instructed to write the Commandments on their doorposts and to their children.
“It’s basically saying there was literacy with the Israelites,” Mahoney said. “It looks like common people were learning to write, and they could have been slaves that were the early Israelites. I believe literacy was a part of how God communicates Who He is.
The Moses Controversy is presented by Fathom Events and Thinking Man Films, and supported by partners including Answers in Genesis and Ratio Christi. Tickets for the G-rated documentary are available at Additional documentary information is available at

3/11/2019 10:49:45 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New details of former SBTS prof’s resignation alleged

March 8 2019 by Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff

Nine months after The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) professor David Sills resigned for undisclosed reasons, a woman has released a statement of allegations including details of what she describes as sexual abuse by Sills, beginning while she was a Southern Seminary student.

David Sills

In a release to Baptist Press (BP) and others, Jennifer Lyell, now 41 and director of the books ministry area at LifeWay Christian Resources, alleges Sills initiated sexual contact with her on a mission trip in 2004. At the time, she was a 26-year-old master of divinity student, and the alleged relationship continued until she was 38, spanning a period in which Lyell moved from Louisville, Ky., to Chicago and then to Nashville, she told BP. She graduated from Southern with a master of divinity in 2006 and enrolled in an SBTS doctoral program for one year after that.
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told Baptist Press he could not disclose why Sills’ employment at the seminary ended. But Mohler confirmed that Lyell shared allegations with him in May 2018 and that Southern, as Lyell stated, “immediately took action.”
Lyell said in her statement, “The denominational institutions, the local church, and the missions agency [Sills led] ultimately believed me, supported me, and took the action for which they were responsible.”
Baptist Press reported Sills’ resignation in June 2018 based on reporting by North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder news journal, which cited a statement from the seminary affirming that Mohler “received the resignation of Dr. David Sills from the Southern Seminary faculty on May 23, 2018.”
It further stated, “Southern Seminary is committed to the highest standards of both principle and policy. Our policies and procedures are clear and are consistently applied. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.”
Sills, former professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern, did not respond to request for comment.
Part of Lyell’s reason for being "compliant at times" and remaining silent for as long as she did, she stated, was because she “became like part of [Sills’] family” and feared “the collateral damage that telling would cause for those around him.” In her statement, Lyell accused Sills of “grooming and taking advantage of his student.”
Lyell first disclosed the situation to a therapist in March 2016, she said. Just over two years later, she stated the allegations to then-LifeWay Senior Vice President Eric Geiger and Mohler.
“When I shared what had happened to me with my boss at LifeWay [Geiger] and then later with SBTS President Dr. R. Albert Mohler, I was quick to also share the responsibility I bore for being compliant at times, for not telling immediately and for so idolizing the idea of a whole family that I protected it despite what was happening within it,” Lyell said. “I am not a sinless victim. But I am a victim nonetheless.”
Geiger, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif., confirmed to BP that Lyell shared her allegations with him. Geiger told Lyell he was “responsible to share” the allegations with Southern and invited her to participate in the process, Geiger recounted to Baptist Press. The same day, Geiger and Lyell contacted Mohler, he said.
Mohler said his “encouragement from the start in any case such as this is that authorities be contacted” and that only law enforcement should judge whether laws may have been violated in such situations. Yet victims who are not minors must decide for themselves whether to contact authorities, he said. Lyell told Baptist Press she has attempted to contact the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Special Victims Unit.

Jennifer Lyell

Mohler commended Lyell’s courage in coming forward. “I stand behind her in [her public statement] and believe she is acting righteously,” he told BP.
The Louisville, Ky., church where Sills was a member, Lyell said, also “took action” following Sills’ resignation.
Louisville’s Ninth and O Baptist Church told BP it is the congregation referenced in Lyell’s statement. The church said it acted “swiftly and firmly” and that Sills is no longer a member.
Sills also served as an International Mission Board (IMB) trustee and a member of the IMB’s presidential search committee. He resigned from his trustee post, and as a result from the search committee, in May 2018.
Lyell decided to make her allegations public, she said, when she “learned that Dr. Sills had been appointed as a missionary with a non-SBC missions agency.”
“I now realize that despite SBTS handling the situation justly and as I asked – without stating the reason for his resignation – it led to the exact kind of scenario the SBC is now trying to prevent,” she said.
“If I were not to come forward with this [statement], a church or ministry who receives Dr. Sills’ [resume] and does an internet search for him would have no way to know the truth behind his resignation. There are plenty of reasons to stay silent in a situation such as this. But we must not be silent.”
Geiger said he contacted the other missions agency – which he identified as Global Outreach International – and they removed Sills from their employment.
In June, BP reported Sills also had resigned as president of Reaching and Teaching International Ministries, a missions organization that engages in discipleship and theological education internationally. Lyell is a former Reaching and Teaching International board member.
Reaching and Teaching International told BP in a statement that they are aware of a statement by Lyell regarding her allegations and “are committed to ensuring a culture of transparency and accountability.”
Lyell said, “It is my hope that my story, one in which a SBC entity and its leaders acted swiftly and justly ... but in which that same individual was also in a ministry position only months later, will also help to illustrate the need for some form of a reporting tool that can ensure that those who have victimized others from a ministry position are unable to ever do so again.”

(EDITOR'S NOTE – This story has been edited by Biblical Recorder staff.)

3/8/2019 4:00:43 PM by Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff | with 1 comments

Dean resigns after college blocks Chick-fil-A

March 8 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A dean has resigned from Rider University because the school used Chick-fil-A’s Christian views of LGBT lifestyles to block the restaurant from locating on campus.

The Lawrenceville, N.J., university’s decision is an affront to her Christianity and violates her conscience, Cynthia Newman said in resigning as dean of the College of Business Administration, a post she had held since June 2017.
“I am not willing to compromise my faith and Christian values and I will not be viewed as being in any way complicit when an affront is made to those values,” Newman said. “I endeavor every day to do exactly what Chick-fil-A puts forward as its overarching corporate value: to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to me and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with me.”
Newman’s decision, publicized March 5 by higher education watchdog Campus Reform, stems from Rider’s decision in November, 2018 to strike Chick-fil-A from a list of options surveying students’ preference for a new campus restaurant.
“Chick-fil-A was removed as one of the options based on the company’s record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ+ community,” the university said in a letter explaining its decision. Rider spokeswoman Kristine Brown, in Wednesday comments to CNN, said the decision was “not a judgment on religious values.”
Chick-fil-A did not respond to a Baptist Press inquiry by press time, but told CNN the restaurant is inclusive.
“We have no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda,” CNN quoted a Chick-fil-A representative. “More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand.”
The LGBT community’s disapproval of Chick-fil-A dates to 2012 comments by CEO Dan Cathy that he supports a biblical definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The development is the second time in recent weeks Chick-fil-A’s biblical views of sexuality have been referenced in a disagreement involving a university.
On Feb. 12, an LGBT advocacy group called Chick-fil-A “homophobic” and objected when the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) invited a Chick-fil-A executive to speak at a leadership symposium. The USAFA upheld its invitation to Rodney Bullard, Chick-fil-A vice president of corporate social responsibility and executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, citing the academy’s goal of presenting a diversity of viewpoints.
At Rider, Newman decided to resign after a month of conversations with school officials did not resolve her concerns. The school refused to apologize, and gave campus leadership a list of talking points to use when the subject arose.
“It was at that point, when I got those talking points, that I realized I could not, in good conscience, adhere to those,” Newman said in a Campus Reform interview March 5. “In the absence of the apology for the offense made to Christian values and other values ... those talking points were something I couldn’t say in good conscience.
“The implication is people who adhere to values similar to Chick-fil-A’s are not responsible citizens,” Newman said. “I couldn’t put myself in a situation where I would in any way seem complicit when an affront to my Christian values had been made.”
Newman will remain on faculty as a marketing professor, she said in her resignation letter.
Rider, granted university status in 1994, describes itself as having “nearly 4,100 undergraduate and 1050 graduate students representing 85 countries, 41 states, and two US territories.”

3/8/2019 3:12:56 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone declares ‘Year of the Harvest’

March 8 2019 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

After marking GuideStone Financial Resources’ centennial anniversary in 2018 and moving to new leased office space, the ministry continues forward, focusing on 2019 and beyond, GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins told trustees during their March 4-5 meeting.

Hawkins frames each year with a verse of scripture and a theme, declaring 2019 as GuideStone’s “Year of the Harvest.” Hawkins spoke from Matthew 9:36–38, which says, “When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.’”
Hawkins told trustees that when it comes to GuideStone’s potential, it must look outward and see that the harvest is plentiful. And it must look inward to see that the Southern Baptist entity is limited, and it must look upward to see the priority that it’s the Lord’s harvest.
“We have undertaken so many things as we seek to live out our vision to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security,” Hawkins told trustees.
“Just like a farmer works the ground and tends to his crop,” he noted, “he ultimately must harvest his crops, and we must take the products and services we’ve created for our participants and harvest those in the pipelines to bring in the economies of scale we need for the benefit of all of our participants.”
Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones opened his presentation by showing a video featuring two former Mission:Dignity recipients – Ed Enriquez and Caleb Goodwin, both who are now deceased. Jones told trustees that the two men are indicative of the thousands of retired pastors whom GuideStone has served through its relief efforts since its founding in 1918.
“Ed Enriquez literally gave the shoes off his feet to a migrant farm worker who had never owned a pair of shoes,” Jones recalled from the video. “Caleb spent decades in local church ministry to Southern Baptist congregations without regard to his pay or his retirement needs. GuideStone, through Mission:Dignity, comes alongside these pastors and serves them in their declining years with a measure of financial dignity.”
Mission:Dignity, Jones emphasized, remains GuideStone’s heartbeat. 2018 witnessed several records in giving for the ministry: More than 8,000 individuals gave to the ministry, and more than $8.3 million was raised in all of 2018. More than $1 million was given each month for three consecutive months: November and December 2018 and January 2019. Hawkins’ devotional and outreach book The Christmas Code sold more than half a million copies in 2018; all author royalties and proceeds from the Code series of books benefit Mission:Dignity.
The ministry, which provides financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows near the poverty line, relies on the gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes, churches and other organizations. Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program gifts. One hundred percent of all gifts to Mission:Dignity goes to provide financial assistance. Administrative costs are covered by endowments established years ago for that purpose.
Turning to pastors and churches today, Jones said the GuideStone commitment is steadfast with regard to serving today’s ministry leaders.
Pointing to a prototypical bivocational pastor, Jones said that thanks to efforts in the last 12 months to lower fees in the MyDestination Funds – the Target Date Funds default investment option in GuideStone’s retirement plans – as well as to offer a new, lower-cost health care plan (Secure Health 3000), those pastors are better able to provide for their families and their future needs. This allows them to be more effective in the ministries they have received from the Lord.
“Thanks to Secure Health 3000, which provides nationwide access to the Blue Cross Blue Shield network, this pastor and his family don’t have to worry about unexpected medical bills,” Jones said. “Thanks to the efforts of our team in reducing expenses in the MyDestination Funds, his retirement investments continue to grow so that when he reaches that place of vocational retirement, he may not have to rely on assistance.”
Chief Business and Marketing Officer John T. Raymond told trustees that the ministry was continuing to focus on stewardship of participants’ and investors’ assets, products and services.
“This is why we exist, to best help those we serve achieve their long-term financial goals,” Raymond said. “And the proof is in our surveys, which show we have about the highest client satisfaction rates in the industry. Ninety-eight percent of our clients are satisfied with the work we do on their behalf.”
Raymond told trustees that GuideStone continues to make better use of data to help the organization make business decisions that benefit the participants served.
Jones reported on strong results from the move from GuideStone’s home of 29 years in Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood to new leased offices in Dallas’ Midtown development. The move nets GuideStone savings of more than $4 million annually, which were used to reduce the fees in the MyDestination Funds. See related Biblical Recorder story.
“The thing that so many of us love about GuideStone: Our focus is on the bottom line of the pastor at the crossroads,” Jones said. “It’s imperative that we continue to zero in on the needs of those we serve in this Year of the Harvest.”
Trustees in other business re-elected John Morris (North Carolina) chairman and Renée Trewick (New York) vice chair.

3/8/2019 2:58:31 PM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments

Planned Parenthood, allies challenge HHS pro-life rule

March 7 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Planned Parenthood and its allies are not going down without a fight to protect the tens of millions of dollars the country’s No. 1 abortion provider receives in family planning money from the federal government.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the American Medical Association and more than 20 states are among the parties that filed lawsuits March 4 and 5 to block the Trump administration’s new rule that eliminates family planning funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final regulation Feb. 22 that bars the use of Title X money “to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.” The rule requires “clear financial and physical separation” between Title X programs and non-Title X programs in which abortion is promoted as a method of family planning.
PPFA and the American Medical Association led a coalition of organizations that filed suit March 5 against HHS Secretary Alex Azar, urging a federal court in Eugene, Ore., to strike down the rule as unconstitutional. In other challenges to the rule:

  • 20 states, led by Oregon, and the District of Columbia sued March 5, also in Eugene.

  • California filed suit March 4.

  • Washington State announced Feb. 25 it would sue.

The new HHS regulation would cut about 10 percent of the government money that goes annually to Planned Parenthood, which reportedly receives $50-$60 million yearly through Title X. The Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA) and its affiliates collected $563.8 million in government grants and reimbursements and performed more than 332,757 abortions in the most recent year for which statistics are available.
PPFA showed net assets of $1.88 billion at the end of the latest fiscal year.
Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the new HHS rule came as no surprise to Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other pro-life leaders.
“We know this profit-driven industry, which devalues human life and exploits families, will do everything in its power to maneuver around this rule as they seek to use taxpayer dollars for abortion,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), after the final rule was announced.
“Without abortion, there would be no Planned Parenthood because, according to their own president, it is their ‘core mission,’” he said.
PPFA President Leana Wen called the rule “unethical, illegal and harmful to public health” in a news release announcing her organization’s lawsuit.
“[W]e will fight the Trump administration in the courts to protect everyone’s fundamental right to health care,” said Wen, who also charged the rule with forcing health-care professionals to withhold information from patients.
Pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser said Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses “have treated the Title X program like their own multimillion-dollar slush fund” for years.
“Now, Planned Parenthood’s allies are running to court to ensure taxpayers are forced to continue filling the coffers of the abortion industry,” said Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, said the rule “denies patients access to critical healthcare services and prevents doctors from providing comprehensive and accurate information about medical care. President Trump treats women and their care as if this were 1920, not 2019.”
The new HHS regulation does not prohibit nondirective counseling regarding abortion, but it ends the requirement that Title X recipients must provide abortion counseling and referral. It also does not reduce Title X funds.
In order for Planned Parenthood and other abortion performers to receive Title X funds, they must comply with the financial separation requirements within 120 days and with the physical separation mandates within a year.
The Reagan administration issued similar regulations in the 1980s, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld them in 1991. The Clinton administration rescinded those rules, however.
As the federal government’s family planning program, Title X serves about four million Americans – those of low income in particular.
The states that joined Oregon in the lawsuit were Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Messengers to the 2017 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for defunding of Planned Parenthood at all levels of government and denouncing the organization’s “immoral agenda and practices.” One of the ERLC’s priorities in its 2019 legislative agenda is the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

3/7/2019 10:00:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Truce ends Jack Phillips’ religious liberty battle

March 7 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) and Christian cake baker Jack Phillips are ending a six-year legal battle over whether Phillips can refuse business projects that violate his religious beliefs.

Alliance Defending Freedom photo
Cake baker Jack Phillips and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission are ending a six-year legal battle over whether Phillips can refuse business projects that violate his religious beliefs.

But the truce leaves unanswered the larger question of whether the First Amendment frees proprietors to limit their business to dealings that honor their religious beliefs, Phillips’ attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told Baptist Press (BP) March 6.
In yesterday’s truce, the CCRC dropped its latest discrimination charge against Phillips, and Phillips in turn dropped a 2018 religious bias lawsuit against the commission.
The CCRC approached ADF March 4 with the possibility of dropping the charges against Phillips, ADF senior counsel Jim Campbell said, following the discovery of audio recordings that highlighted potential CCRC prejudice in the case. It’s not clear whether the two developments are related.
“Just late last week we uncovered a recording,” Campbell said, “with two of the current [CCRC] commissioners ... publicly stating their agreement with anti-religious comments that the Supreme Court expressly condemned.” There’s “evidence of this anti-religious hostility and how that might have impacted the state’s decision to settle this and to drop its case,” he said, “because we were starting to find a lot of information that was showing that hostility.”
The truce ends the 2018 case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis, the latest case involving Phillips and the state.
“This really just has a huge impact on Jack’s life,” Campbell said, “because it gets the state to back off him and hopefully allows him to get on with his life, and get back to focusing on his cake art and serving his community and doing all the things that he used to do before he got tied up in over six and a half years of legal battles.”
Kristen Waggoner, ADF senior vice president of the U.S. legal division, discussed the audio recordings in an ADF press release.
“A Colorado state legislator recently disclosed that he spoke in November 2018 to a current commissioner who expressed the belief that ‘there is anti-religious bias on the Commission,’” Waggoner said. “And just last week, ADF attorneys uncovered statements from a 2018 public meeting in which two commissioners voiced their support for comments that a previous commissioner, Diann Rice, made in 2015. Those comments, which the U.S. Supreme Court sternly condemned in its ruling in favor of Phillips last year, called religious freedom ‘a despicable piece of rhetoric.’”
In the latest case, Phillips had sued the CCRC after it charged him with discrimination for refusing to bake a birthday cake celebrating a transition from male to female identity. The customer, transgender attorney Autumn Scardina, ordered a pink cake with blue frosting. In January, the U.S. District Court of Colorado limited Phillips’ bias lawsuit against the CCRC, stripping him of the right to pursue compensatory damages against most of the defendants.
Phillips’ battle with the CCRC dates to the 2012 case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018. The high court ruled partially in Phillips’ favor, saying the CCRC showed anti-religious bias against the baker. But the court left open the larger issue of whether businesses can invoke religious objections to refuse work that promotes an LGBT lifestyle.
“But there are a number of other cases that are quickly working their way up to the Supreme Court that raise these broader religious freedom questions,” Campbell said, including “the issue of whether creative professionals who serve all people can decline requests for custom creations that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with their faith.”
Similar cases involving Southern Baptist florist Barronelle Stutzman in Washington State, Telescope Media Group in Minnesota, and Hands On Originals apparel company in Lexington, Ky., all have the potential of reaching the Supreme Court, Campbell said.
The CCRC has not agreed to honor Phillips’ freedom of conscience, Campbell said, but only agreed to drop the latest case.
“We’re hopeful it is something that will be permanent and that the state will respect Jack in the long term,” Campbell said, “but in terms of the agreement, it does not apply to anything beyond this one prosecution.”
Because of the CCRC’s 2012 action against Phillips, he no longer bakes wedding cakes which comprised 40 percent of his income.
“It’s our belief that he can go back to creating wedding cakes,” Campbell said, although the 2018 Supreme Court ruling didn’t clearly clarify the question. “At this point Jack has not yet gotten back in the wedding industry, and he has to cross some logistical hurdles before he can do that.”

3/7/2019 9:55:30 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay Research looks for new faces in the pews

March 7 2019 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources

Many churches are not seeing new faces in the pews, according to a new study from Exponential conducted by LifeWay Research.
Six in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance, according to data released March 6. More than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.
Exponential is a Virginia-based organization focusing on resources for church planting and multiplication.
“Growth is not absent from American churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But rapid growth through conversions is uncommon.”
The research gives a clear picture of the state of Protestant churches in America today. Most have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday (57 percent), including 21 percent who average less than 50. Around 1 in 10 churches (11 percent) average 250 or more in worship.
Three in 5 (61 percent) pastors say their churches faced a decline in worship attendance or growth of 5 percent or less in the last three years. Almost half (46 percent) say their giving decreased or stayed the same from 2017 to 2018.
More than 2 in 5 churches (44 percent) only have one or fewer full-time staff members. Nearly 9 in 10 pastors (87 percent) say their church had the same or fewer number of full-time staff in 2018 as they had in 2017, including 7 percent who cut staff.
In 2018, 32 percent of churches were involved in some form of planting a new church; 3 percent added new multi-site campuses. Around 1 in 10 (12 percent) say they were directly or substantially involved in opening a new church in 2018, including 7 percent who were a primary financial sponsor or provided ongoing financial support to a church plant.
“The primary purpose of this study was to obtain a set of objective measures on churches’ reproduction and multiplication behaviors today as well as to understand their core context of growth,” said Todd Wilson, chief executive officer of Exponential. “By combining these measures, we can help churches think about multiplication.”

Declining, plateaued or growing?

Twenty-eight percent of Protestant pastors say their church has seen worship attendance shrink by 6 percent or more compared to three years ago.

Another 33 percent say their church has remained within 5 percent, while 39 percent say their congregation has grown by at least 6 percent since the first quarter of 2016.
More than half of 18- to 44-year old pastors (55 percent) say their church is growing, while 33 percent of pastors 45 and older say the same.
Evangelical churches are more likely to be growing (42 percent) than their mainline counterparts (34 percent).
Less than a quarter (23 percent) of churches with an average worship attendance of fewer than 50 say they are growing, while most churches with 250 or more in attendance (59 percent) are growing.
Among denominations, Holiness (56 percent) and Baptist (45 percent) pastors are more likely to say their churches are growing than Methodists (33 percent) and Lutherans (25 percent).

Church conversions

The lack of growth in worship attendance in most churches is matched by a lack of new commitments to Christ last year.
Fifty-four percent of pastors say fewer than 10 people indicated a new commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior in 2018, including 8 percent who had none.

In some ways, however, those numbers mask deeper evangelistic concerns. When evaluating churches based on the number of conversions per 100 attendees, 67 percent had fewer than 10 per 100 people attending their church. Around a third (35 percent) had fewer than five new commitments for every 100 people attending their worship services.
Among churches of 250 and above, 18 percent say they had 10 conversions or more for every 100 in attendance.

While there are no major differences between evangelical and mainline churches in terms of new converts, denominational differences do exist.
A majority of Pentecostal pastors (57 percent) say they saw 10 or more new commitments to Christ in their church last year per 100 attendees. The next closest denominations are Lutherans (39 percent), Holiness (38 percent) and Baptists (35 percent).
A quarter of Methodist (25 percent) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (23 percent) say they had 10 or more new commitments to Jesus in 2018 per 100 attendees. Half of Methodist pastors (50 percent) had fewer than five new commitments last year.
“Much work has been done to go deeper on measuring church health,” said McConnell. “But it is still helpful to look at the observable factors of ‘noses, nickels and new commitments.’ Strategies, programs and rules-of-thumb work differently depending on the trajectory of a church.”
Methodology: A phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted by LifeWay Research Jan. 14–30, 2019. The calling list used a random sample stratified by church size, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used to maintain the correct proportion of each church size. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

3/7/2019 9:39:43 AM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Moore examines paradoxes in scripture & ministry

March 7 2019 by SBTS Communications

The church’s integrity, or internal stability, is maintained by understanding and articulating key paradoxes in the Bible, Russell Moore said in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) Norton Lectures.

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The church’s integrity, or internal stability, is maintained by understanding and articulating key paradoxes in the Bible, Russell Moore said in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Norton Lectures.

While the word “integrity” often is used regarding moral character, it really represents the “holding together” of something, like a building or institution, Moore said during the Feb. 26-27 event.
This integrity is critical to the church in the 21st century, and it is expressed in scripture primarily through paradox, said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and former dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology whose three lectures were titled “The Mystery of Integrity: The Quest for Congruence in a Culture of Conformity.”
Numerous paradoxes in Christian theology are held in tension, Moore said, such as the deity of Christ and the humanity of Christ, or the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of human beings. Another important paradox, when it comes to Christian ministry, is the tension between “personal” and the “communal,” Moore said. The personal nature of the Christian life, he said, must go hand-in-hand with a desire for growth in community.
“The reason that the personal and the communal have to constantly be held together is because you and I are living in a time when both are collapsing,” Moore stated, describing the cost of the collapse to both the individual and community as “incredibly high.”
People have not been created “for life in a hive or in a pack, but for life within a kingdom – life within a church,” he said regarding its New Testament centrality.
Yet the core paradox in Christian ministry, Moore continued, is that of “mystery” and “intelligibility” in proclamation of biblical truth. As the apostle John put it in his Gospel, the abstract and pre-incarnate word (mystery) is made clear to human beings in a narrative as the “Word made flesh” (intelligibility).
Most people do not form opinions because of logic or reason, Moore noted, but because of intuition, then finding reasons to support those intuitions. This is consistent with a biblical worldview, especially for the apostle Paul, Moore said.
In Romans 1-2, Paul argues that God has intuitively revealed Himself in every human person made in His image, but that intuition has been twisted by sin. Human beings in a fallen world are not morally neutral creatures who must be reasoned with, but rather are intuitively sinful beings who invent reasons to support their flawed intuitions.
“The word that we have been given from God is a word that addresses the rational, but in a way that is able to transcend reason itself,” Moore said.
Christians can communicate this word by being conversant in narrative and literary structures, Moore said. The Bible is not a collection of propositional truth, but a grand narrative that cannot be preached as a theological or doctrinal treatise, Moore said, and it cannot be preached without a robust knowledge of the story of scripture.
“For much of the 20th century, there was a market-driven, mostly a-theological character to American evangelicalism,” Moore said. “What I would encounter in students at Southern Seminary and other places ... were people who have very strong convictions about the nature of the atonement as penal and substitutionary, but didn’t know the difference between Jeroboam and Rehoboam. There were theological understandings rooted mostly in controversies – of the Reformation era or the current era – but not a deep familiarity with the narrative of scripture itself.”
This attention to literary structures is indispensable for teaching the Bible in Christian ministry, Moore said, not only because Christians need to know how to read texts, but because they need to read people.
“What you’re going to find as you move forward into the mission field is that you are going to encounter people desperately in search of personal narrative,” Moore said. “If ... you don’t understand how the Bible as a story and as a text works, the problem is not just that you won’t interpret the Bible rightly, but that you won’t be able to interpret people rightly.”
Moore explained that a “plot” is the telling of a story with the observation of causality, and Christians must pay attention to the plot of scripture so they can explain it to another person who is looking to make sense of their own life’s narrative.
“The central apologetic of the Christian faith is that everyone has to live as though life has a plot in order to find meaning,” Moore said. “And the scripture tells us why: life is, in fact, plotted and it only makes sense in light of a coherent story of a life embedded in a coherent story of the universe.”
Christians preach a message of mystery, but not a mystery that is entirely unknowable, Moore said. They speak the gospel with intelligible, reasonable words, but in a way that speaks to the deepest longings and desires of the human soul.
“The human heart has a need for narration, logic and meaning, but it can only be a meaning that happens within the fabric of what God has given to us in intelligibility and mystery.”
Audio and video from the Norton Lectures and of chapel are available at Moore also spoke in chapel on Feb. 26 on the topic of integrity, which can be accessed at

3/7/2019 9:30:46 AM by SBTS Communications | with 0 comments

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