March 2019

N.C. surf pro shores up faith, family

March 4 2019 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Brett Barley has dreamed of being a surfer since he was 5 years old. Growing up in Buxton, N.C., he began competing as a young man in the Eastern Surf Association and progressed into larger surfing leagues within a few years, such as the Association of Surfing Professionals (now called the World Surf League).

Instagram photo

Now 30 years old and sponsored by O’Neill, a popular swimwear clothing line, Barley spends his time traveling the world surfing places from Pipeline to Iceland, but his favorite wave is in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When he is not spending time with his wife and family, he’s focusing on gathering surfing clips for his huge audience on social platforms and video sites.
Roman Gabriel interviewed Barley in his home town. What he found was a man committed to God, family and a passion for the sea. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Casual surfing fans don’t often think of North Carolina as a great surf destination, so what makes the Outer Banks special?

A: Cape Hatteras is the closest thing to the continental shelf on the East Coast, other than Miami, Fla. Our swell has a lot of power. We have really good sand bars and they set up for pretty epic days of waves.

Q: Who were the surfers on the East Coast that motivated you?

A: Growing up in Buxton, I was pretty isolated. For many years I just looked up to the local guys, like Jesse Hines, Noah Snyder, Matt Beachum and Billy Hume. They made a career of surfing in the Outer Banks at the time, and they’re my heroes.

Q: Can you tell me about your relationship with 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who is considered the greatest pro surfer ever?

A: When I was younger, surfing champions like Kelly Slater used to come the Outer Banks for great surf.
We were in Hawaii together once, chatting about his surf farm (Artificial Wave Facility) in Santa Clara, Calif., and he invited me to come surf. On my way home from surfing the Pipeline in Hawaii, I stopped in at his surf ranch and that was really special. It was really rad to get to see that place in person.

Q: How has your faith impacted your surfing and personal life?

A: I came to know the Lord at 12 years old. I just knew from the get-go, and the way He revealed Himself to me, that I never wanted to abandon Him or leave Him for anything.
As I got older and saw some of my friends start drifting away from the Lord, I still knew putting Him first was my goal. I never wanted to live life apart from him.
It brought me to a place where I was able to form a relationship with my now-wife. I have two children and it’s a place I never would have been had I not had a relationship with God.
At the time I could’ve acted based on my own selfish ambition, but I wanted to make sure I put God first. He has led me to where I am now, and I definitely would not have this life without him.

Q: How difficult is it to balance life as an elite surfer with a family?

A: It takes a lot. I have to make sure that before and after a trip I’m totally focused on my family. I need to be with them.
I will never let anything come between my relationship with my family. Balancing surfing and my family can sometimes be tough. My wife and I are on the same page in terms of raising our kids and the way we live our life.
For more information on Brett Barley, follow him on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @brettbarley.
(EDITORS’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit the Faith Family Sports website: Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at Visit his website:; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email:

3/4/2019 2:10:33 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Identity encapsulates theme of GO conference

March 4 2019 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

The fifth annual GO Conference focused on God’s character as a lens through which the 834 high school and college students should view their identity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) Feb. 15-17.
J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, kicked off the night by preaching about God as a Trinitarian Father found in Isaiah 9:6-7. 

SEBTS photo
William "Duce" Branch assistant professor of preaching and Bible at The College at Southeastern, led the Saturday morning session and performed at the Identity Flows concert as The Ambassador.

“You will never have the identity that gives you the confidence to go until you understand Jesus as everlasting Father,” said Greear. 
Greear noted four broken representatives found in earthly fathers and juxtaposed them with how Jesus represents for all people a perfect, everlasting Father. These four categories included:
• the never-satisfied dad,
• the dad who is quick to anger,
• the emotionally-distant dad and
• the absent dad. 
“Stop viewing your heavenly Father through the lens of your earthly one,” said Greear. “Instead, evaluate your earthly father through the lens of your heavenly one.” 
Danny Akin, president of SEBTS, followed Greear’s message by teaching on God as creator, found in Colossians 1:13-23. 
“Nothing is more important, I believe, than that you understand rightly who Jesus is and what Jesus has done,” said Akin, explaining that this determines how the believer thinks about everything else. 
Akin noted five positional statements of Jesus’ lordship, found in the passage: that Jesus is Savior, Revealer, Creator, Leader and Master.
He explained how each of these positions denies various false beliefs in culture today. 
Speaking specifically of Jesus as revealer, Akin explained that because of Jesus, we have a glimpse into the character of God. 
“If you truly want to know what God is like, all you have to do is look to Jesus,” said Akin. 
William “Duce” Branch, assistant professor of preaching and Bible at The College at Southeastern, led the Saturday morning session, preaching through 2 Kings 5 on God as Savior.
Branch highlighted four key aspects of how the story of Naaman being healed of leprosy speaks to different aspects of salvation: the need, the source, the how and the response.
Branch explained that while Naaman was known for his greatness, he was plagued by sickness, which stands as a reminder of human limitation. 
Speaking specifically of the source of salvation, Branch noted how God providentially guided Naaman to the cure for his disease while ultimately leading him to his spiritual healing. 
“He’s navigating these things so that you run smack-dab into the God that saves you,” said Branch. 
Branch exhorted students to respond to the salvation God alone provides in gratitude and worship. 
“We respond not for salvation but from salvation,” said Branch. 
Following Branch’s sermon, a Pathways to GO Panel was hosted on the main stage where ministry leaders discussed mission trip opportunities for students ranging from one week to one semester.
Panelists included Zac Lyons, director of the office for Great Commission partnerships at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; Brad Russell, mobilization team leader for the SBC of Virginia; Tim Rice, director of missions mobilization for the South Carolina Baptist State Convention; Chad Stillwell, student mobilizer for the International Mission Board; and Derrick Rudolph, GenSend mobilizer for Send Relief at the North American Mission Board. 
Nineteen breakout sessions were held throughout the afternoon, including “A Frank Conversation about Pornography and Discipling People to Freedom,” led by Scott Hildreth, George Liele director of the Center for Great Commission Studies and assistant professor of global studies; “Loneliness and Community,” led by Julia Bickley, associate dean of graduate program administration and associate professor of ministry to women; “How to Share the Gospel with Your Neighbors,” led by Ronjour Locke, instructor of preaching and urban ministry; and “How Do We Engage Justice and Our City as Students,” led by Luke Hinson, a student at SEBTS who is studying a master of arts in ethics, theology and culture.  
Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, finished out the conference by preaching on God as Lord, found in 1 Kings 18:17-46. In the passage, which features the faceoff between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal to prove the true God, Merida provided three elements of this “showdown” that reveal God as Lord: the proposal, the purpose and the prayer-answering champion of the showdown. 
Merida spoke to the emptiness of false religion as he contrasted the frenzied worshippers of Baal to the power of the God of Elijah. 
“If you aren’t praying to the living God, it’s an exercise in futility,” said Merida, explaining that what set Elijah’s worship apart from the prophets of Baal was that of deep fellowship with God.
Elijah was the forerunner to Christ, the ultimate mediator, prophet and king who would sacrifice himself on behalf of sinners in order that they might know God, Merida noted.
“If you truly have a high view of the Lord God, you will follow Him in bold faith,” said Merida.
Next year’s GO Conference is scheduled for Feb. 7-8.
The Identity Flows concert following the Friday night sessions featured hip hop artists Legin (Nigel Anderson) and The Ambassador (Duce Branch).

3/4/2019 2:02:19 PM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

Jim Futral to retire as Mississippi convention exec

March 4 2019 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Jim Futral, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, has announced his retirement, effective Oct. 31 of this year.
Futral, 74, has led the Mississippi convention for 20 years, since Sept. 1, 1998.

Jim Futral

At the time of his unanimous election by the mission board, Futral was the convention’s president and a pastor in Jackson. He also was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) and a member of the local Metro Baptist Association’s executive committee. Futral chaired the MBCB executive committee from 1993-96 and was a member the previous three years.
Futral had led Broadmoor Baptist Church since 1985, previously serving six churches in Mississippi and two in Texas dating back to 1964.
In a letter announcing his retirement, Futral stated, “While I was and am and always will forever be a pastor, it has been my joy to seek to shepherd the greater flock across our state.
“The decision to leave my church and come here to serve was one of the most difficult callings I had ever faced, but oh the joys I have received,” Futral wrote. “I love Mississippi. I love the people, and I have loved serving the churches and the people of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. I am so thankful. As I go, I look forward, not to retirement, but to whatever reassignment the Lord may have for my life.”
Although a native of Arkansas, Futral grew up in Mississippi, recounting to the mission board after his 1998 election to lead the state’s Baptists, “I would take you back, all the way back to Pheba (Miss.) Baptist Church where I was born again as a 9-year-old boy.”
“It’s like yesterday I met Jesus, and I haven’t gotten over that and I don’t intend to.”
Futral holds master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; an undergraduate degree from Mississippi’s Blue Mountain College; and an associate degree from the former Clarke College in Newton, Miss.
His longstanding Directions column often reflecting everyday observations and life lessons can be accessed at
Futral’s father, the late Guy Futral Sr., was a longtime Baptist preacher. Futral’s brother, Guy Jr., formerly was director of church minister relations for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Futral and his wife Shirley have three grown children and eight grandchildren.

3/4/2019 1:57:51 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Allegations against Hybels deemed ‘credible’

March 4 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Allegations of sexual misconduct against former pastor Bill Hybels are credible, an independent group of ministers commissioned to investigate the claims concluded in its final report Feb. 28.
Disciplinary action would be recommended were Hybels still pastoring Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), the Willow Creek Independent Advisory Group (IAG) said in its report. Since Hybels resigned his pastorate in April 2018, the IAG recommended no action against him, but recommended he seek counseling.

File photo/Screen capture from
Bill Hybels

“Allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by Bill Hybels in the context of his ministry and leadership of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association are credible,” the IAG said in a 17-page report. “The credibility of the allegations is not based on any one accusation or accuser, but on the collective testimony and content of the allegations.”
The IAG had no legal authority to accuse or convict Hybels of any crime or establish civil liability. The Willow Creek Elder Board, which did not have a seat on the group, explained IAG’s scope in an online letter accompanying the report.
“This was not a court of law or a legal proceeding,” the elder board said. “While the IAG members conducted scores of interviews, they did not have subpoena powers and could not place people under oath. They could not compel anyone to speak with them who refused to participate.”
Hybels never admitted to specific wrongdoing. When he resigned, he told his congregation he had been accused of many things he “simply did not do.” Some things were not perceived as he intended, and he at times made people uncomfortable without realizing the damage for far too long, Hybels told his congregation. He also apologized for responding with anger when accused.
Comprising the IAG, which has concluded its work, are Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Washington, D.C.; Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.; Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis; and Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Chicago.
The IAG also concluded it believes that Hybels “verbally and emotionally intimidated both male and female employees,” and that he at times blessed and then damaged the congregation he helped grow to a multisite megachurch.
“Some may choose to discount or discredit the past blessings of God on Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association, pastoral leadership, past elders and Bill Hybels because of specific words and actions in 2018 and before,” the IAG wrote. “Mistakes and sins should not be denied or forgotten, but neither should God’s blessings and the faithfulness of God’s people.
“The good accomplished is significant and long-lasting, and should not be minimized or discredited by allegations or disruptions,” the report said. “The good should be celebrated and perpetuated.”
The IAG was commissioned to conduct the study in August 2018, four months after Hybels resigned his senior pastorate amid allegations of sexual abuse and unwanted advances towards women he pastored and counseled. Hybels was never charged with a crime.
Among several preventive and corrective measures the IAG recommended are generally:

  • Hybels should seek counseling to address issues raised in the report, and should do so outside of the Willow Creek church and association;

  • The church should create criteria to provide financial assistance for counseling or other resources for women and men who were directly harmed by their interactions with Bill Hybels, minimizing their related personal expenses;

  • The church and association should establish written policies regarding appropriate and inappropriate language, jokes, relationships and use of alcohol by staff and volunteers;

  • The church should establish a written policy and procedure for biblical discipline and restoration of church leaders, with restoration not implying the disciplined person’s return to church leadership, and

The church and association should establish separate third-party hotlines to receive misconduct reports, and to review them as an ongoing agenda item.

3/4/2019 1:52:58 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sex abuse: SBC called to action

March 1 2019 by Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear detailed a prescription to battle sex abuse and its enablers at the SBC Executive Committee meeting Feb. 18 in Nashville.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., gave an address to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) Feb. 18 that outlined initial recommendations and resources from the presidential advisory group on sexual abuse.

The Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group was launched in July 2018 through partnerships with the EC and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Greear’s address came two weeks after a three-part investigative report was published by the Houston Chronicle on sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The report outlined roughly 700 cases of sexual assault or abuse over two decades by 380 offenders who were convicted, credibly accused or confessed to their crimes.
Greear’s address focused on 10 key areas:

  1. A call to “repent for decades of inaction;”

  2. The announcement of a series of 12 training videos called, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused;”

  3. The announcement that all six Southern Baptist seminaries, officers of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders and all Baptist state conventions have adopted three respective “Statement of Principles on Abuse” documents;

  4. A call for Southern Baptist churches, associations, conventions and entities to take immediate action to review policies and procedures relating to abuse;

  5. A call for the EC to make background checks a minimum requirement for Southern Baptist committees and trustee boards;

  6. A call for Southern Baptists to review local church ordination practices to ensure proper vetting;

  7. A call for state conventions and LifeWay to identify questions related to abuse that can be added to the Annual Church Profile;

  8. The announcement of programming at the SBC annual meeting that will address abuse among Southern Baptists, including a time of lament and an event hosted by the ERLC;

  9. The announcement that the advisory group is evaluating the possibility of creating a database of offenders, but Greear acknowledged the development of such a resource is “complicated” and “will take time to evaluate;”

  10. A statement that the study group “strongly believes” the governing documents of the SBC should be reviewed and amended regarding the definition of a cooperating church, so that churches demonstrating “wanton disregard for sexual abuse … are not in good fellowship with this convention.”

Greear said the EC had affirmed a proposed constitutional amendment and would exercise existing authority to review churches that “may well have already demonstrated a lack of good standing on this issue.”
He called the bylaws workgroup of the administrative committee to do due diligence in reviewing the standing of the following churches mentioned in recent media reports on sexual abuse to determine whether they have a “faith and practice which closely identifies” with the Baptist Faith & Message:

  • Arapaho Baptist Church, Garland, Texas

  • Bolivar Baptist Church, Sanger, Texas

  • Brentwood Baptist Church, Houston, Texas

  • Cathedral of Faith, Houston, Texas

  • Eastside Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.

  • First Baptist Church, Bedford, Texas

  • Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas

  • Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, Ky.

  • Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, Ga.

  • Turner Street Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.

Greear emphasized the initial goal of such action is “never disfellowship, but correction.” He also expressed gratitude for the Chronicle’s investigative report for “shining a light on the magnitude of this horrific sin.”
He said to Southern Baptists, “We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly. Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse. Our job is not to protect our reputation.”

Bylaws workgroup responds

Following a called meeting via extended conference calls Feb. 22 and 23, members of the bylaws workgroup released a statement to the full EC in response to Greear’s call to action.
The group said they asked for a “dossier” of information about the 10 churches that were “singled out” by Greear, which Greear provided Feb. 22. Upon their immediate review, they said only three churches warranted “further inquiry:”

  • Bolivar Baptist Church, Sanger, Texas

  • Cathedral of Faith, Houston, Texas

  • Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, Ky.

“We must ... be careful that our righteous anger does not prevent a deliberate and thoughtful response,” the statement said.
The proposed SBC constitutional amendment that was approved by the EC said the criteria for triggering a review of a church’s standing is, “among other things,” the following four activities:

  • “employing a convicted sex offender,

  • “allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors,

  • “continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or

  • “willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”

In “virtually all” reported cases, they said, only a few individuals covered up misdeeds and the “church body rarely knew” the truth. On that basis, they said the EC should not “disrupt” churches with inquiries until there are indications the congregation “acted wrongfully.”


Reactions to the bylaws workgroup’s statement have been varied, including allegations the EC did not go far enough in combatting abuse to allegations Greear should have contacted the churches before listing them in an address to the EC.
Amid the discussion, Greear released a statement to Baptist Press Feb. 26 noting “mistakes” “made by Southern Baptist churches in the past ... should be humbly and transparently addressed, and these churches should assure the Convention that their current policies are not only up to date, but have been implemented in ways that ensure the maximum safety of all who attend.”
Greear added, “While we do not presume the guilt of any,” the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group led by Greear and the ERLC believes “the public nature” of some accusations made against churches in the media warrants “a public response.”
EC Chairman Mike Stone told Baptist Press in written comments, “While the [bylaws] workgroup intended to convey the strongest sense of the Convention’s revulsion toward sexual abuse, we are also keenly aware that the Convention has not given to us investigative authority.”
The bylaws workgroup’s release was criticized in both social and traditional media.
Among others, Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and abuse survivor who has worked with Greear in the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study; Megan Lively, a victim advocate; and Virginia pastor Brent Hobbs all either tweeted or blogged various criticisms of the report.
ERLC President Russell Moore told the Chronicle he stands “squarely behind J.D. Greear and the Advisory Group to do whatever it takes to battle this satanic scourge of the sexual abuse of children and other vulnerable people.
“I was not present for this bylaws workgroup meeting. I know this, though, the ultimate arbiter of our common witness and our mission together is that of the churches themselves. I sense that there is great urgency among the churches to deal with these issues definitively, for the sake of vulnerable people and for the sake of the holiness of the name of Christ.”
Baptist Press contacted churches listed in the Chronicle’s report after Greear’s address.
Among the six responses received, Arapaho Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, said via a statement by spokesperson Carolyn Alvey, “The church appreciates the leadership from Pastor J.D. Greear and the steps he outlined for change among churches within the Southern Baptist Convention. Arapaho Road welcomes conversation with Pastor Greear and the SBC to share what the church has learned and implemented.”
Rodney Brown, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., said the church’s minister of music 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.
“Church leaders came back to me and said, ‘Rodney, the man says he’s repented. We’re not his judge. We’ve not seen anything to indicate any of this at our church,’” Brown said, adding the church felt the man was gifted for ministry and reinstated him as minister of music, a position in which he continues to serve.
When Greear listed Trinity in his report without contacting the church first, Brown felt “shock” then “discouragement,” he said. “I thought the Southern Baptist Convention was there to support the churches that were a part of it. I kind of felt betrayed because no one had bothered to reach out to anybody in the church, me in particular as pastor, to allow us to verify or deny any allegations.”
The bylaws workgroup stated that based on the information Greear provided, “no further inquiry is warranted” regarding Trinity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was compiled from previous news reports by Baptist Press and Biblical Recorder staff.)

3/1/2019 1:22:15 PM by Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments

Court signals it may change church-state doctrine

March 1 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court gave hope Feb. 27 to at least some defenders of a 40-foot cross on public land that it might not only protect the memorial but clarify its doctrine on government establishment of religion.

First Liberty photo
The U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal Feb. 27 to save a 40-foot-tall veterans' memorial cross in Bladensburg, Md., that could clarify legal precedent regarding the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The justices heard oral arguments in the appeal of a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a Latin cross in memory of World War I soldiers promotes Christianity, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment under a nearly 50-year-old test. The American Humanist Association (AHA) challenged the constitutionality of the Bladensburg, Md., cross, which was completed in 1925 to memorialize 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County, Md.
It is the latest in a long line of cases in which the high court has sought to interpret a much-debated clause that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The cases have included such considerations as Ten Commandments displays on public property, school prayers and government prayers.
Members of the Supreme Court acknowledged in the Feb. 27 arguments they have not followed their own 1971 test in recent decades while appeals courts have often continued to apply it. While a majority of the justices appeared likely to support the memorial in this case, some also proposed it was time to move on to another test to provide guidance for lower courts.
Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) the justices “should see through this attempt to amend the Establishment Clause to mean what [James] Madison did not write.”
“A judiciary that finds an illusory pathway in the Constitution to establish a secularized state hostile to faith is dangerous,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments. “As we submitted in our brief to the court, maintaining a nearly century-old memorial is hardly an official declaration in law for Christianity.”
Other proponents of the constitutionality of the Bladensburg cross predicted the high court will provide a way forward on Establishment Clause cases.
“One thing that was probably the most clear of the day is how confused and troubled the law is right now, and that the justices are all aware of that, and that they’re ready to do something about that,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and chief counsel of First Liberty Institute, in an interview with BP outside the court building. “They obviously were going back and forth with how to do that, but I think it’s clear they know something needs to be done and the law needs to be clarified.
“That gives us a lot of hope,” Shackelford said, “because No. 1, if we clear things up, we can stop a lot of these attacks upon veterans’ memorials and religious symbols across the country.”
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, told reporters outside the court after the arguments he thinks the justices demonstrated “enough concern to jettison an unworkable test and create an entirely new test, so there’s clarity as to whether words like ‘In God We Trust,’ nativity scenes on public property, crosses or memorials are constitutional or whether they violate the Establishment Clause.”
In its 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion, the Supreme Court articulated a three-prong test for determining whether a law violates the Establishment Clause. The Lemon test, as it became known, says a law must have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion.”
Since then, justices have offered a variety of tests. In a 2013 decision regarding legislative prayers, the court suggested Establishment Clause challenges must be viewed by reference to historical practices and understandings.
During the Feb. 27 oral arguments, the high court’s newest associate justices – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – questioned Monica Miller, lawyer for the AHA, about the validity of the Lemon test.
“Is it time for this court to thank Lemon for its services and send it on its way?” Gorsuch asked.
“No, your honor, I do not think so,” Miller responded.
Kavanaugh asked her if Lemon is still useful “when we haven’t used it in the most important cases that are on point here” during the last 40 years. “And to Justice Gorsuch’s point, the lower courts need some clarity,” Kavanaugh said.
Miller told the justices finding a better test is difficult, “and I think that’s why the court hasn’t come up with [a] singular test, because the cases are complex. That’s the Establishment Clause.”
Each case about a cross “is evaluated with its specific facts,” Miller said. “And I know that is not the best answer you want to hear, but the reality is no one has come up with a better test than Lemon.”
Michael Carvin – who argued on behalf of the American Legion, a veterans’ organization that appealed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court – told reporters afterward he thought “there was almost uniform consensus on the court on all sides that the current state of affairs can’t remain the way it is.” 
During oral arguments, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, a member of the high court’s liberal bloc, seemed especially sympathetic to the argument that the Bladensburg cross demonstrates the “history that this is how soldiers were memorialized in World War I” in America and Europe.
Carvin argued the justices should adopt a coercion test like one proposed in their 2013 decision on legislative prayers.
Though the Bladensburg cross “should be upheld under any sensible Establishment Clause analysis, we submit the court should analyze it under the [2013] coercion test, which prohibits tangible interference with religious liberty, as well as proselytizing,” Carvin told the court.
Jeffrey Wall, acting solicitor general for the United States, acknowledged in response to Kagan the cross is “the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity.”
“The question is whether it’s also taken on a secular meaning, because to say the cross has only that religious meaning I think would condemn every cross” in the public arena, Wall said.
Neal Katyal – arguing for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission – disagreed with seeking to change the test now.
“The easiest way to resolve this case ... is to say, in the wake of World War I, crosses like this one have an independent secular meaning,” Katyal told the justices.
The park commission owns the Bladensburg cross, which is located with monuments to veterans of other wars in Veterans Memorial Park.
Miller told the court that those arguing for protection of the cross are “telling Jews, telling Muslims, telling humanists that the cross honors them, when they emphatically say it does not.”
Shackelford, whose organization is representing the American Legion in the case, told BP the answer “is going back to the Constitution itself and what the founders were intending by the Establishment Clause, which was not sort of a religious cleansing of our landscape of any sort of religious monuments or memorials.”
The founders “didn’t want the government coercing anyone with regard to their religion,” Shackelford said. “They wanted people to be free in exercising their faith, and that should be the guiding principle.”
Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, told reporters afterward, “Honoring veterans does not require altering our country’s commitment to religious liberty, a commitment that demands government neutrality among different religious traditions.
“We don’t need the government to promote our faith,” said Hollman, whose organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief with other religious organizations in support of the AHA.
The ERLC’s friend-of-the-court brief with several other religious organizations said a government action almost always “does not violate the Establishment Clause unless history confirms that the founding generation understood that action as an establishment of religion outright or as a legal attribute of a religious establishment.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling before its term closes in late June or early July.

3/1/2019 1:14:45 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

WMU Foundation: $500K to support national WMU work

March 1 2019 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

WMU Foundation recently gave more than half a million dollars to national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), a gift earmarked to help the organization carry on its missions work.

WMU Foundation recently gave more than half a million dollars to national Woman's Missionary Union to help the organization carry on its vital missions work. Pictured are, left to right, David George, WMU Foundation president; Linda Cooper, WMU national president; Sandy Wisdom-Martin, WMU executive director-treasurer; and James Wright, WMU Foundation board chair.

The foundation presented national WMU with grants totaling $512,354 from 14 different funds and endowments during the entity’s board meeting Jan. 13. The funds will support a wide variety of WMU ministries and projects from women’s leadership development to WMU ministries like WorldCrafts and Christian Women’s Job Corps.
WMU Foundation announced it plans to give more over the course of 2019. David George, WMU Foundation president, said gifts like those are why the foundation exists.
“Since the inception of the WMU Foundation in 1995, our objective has been to provide financial support to all of Woman’s Missionary Union and her missions effort,” he said.
Dellanna O’Brien, former national WMU executive director, started the foundation with a clear purpose, George said – to be a “significant supplement” to national WMU’s funding in addition to supporting state WMU organizations, offering scholarships for children of missionaries and giving to other missions-related causes.
James Wright, chairman of the WMU Foundation board, said they’ve made “good progress” in their goal. The foundation consistently grants more than $500,000 each year to national WMU in addition to another $1 million given collectively to other recipients. Last year, the foundation’s gifts to national WMU totaled more than $614,000.
“While we are excited about what we have been able to provide over the last 25 years, we realize there is so much more that is needed, and we want to continue to increase our support,” he said. “Our ability to meet the needs of WMU is critical to the future – not the future of the organization but the mission of WMU.”
WMU is part of God’s overall mission to bring the world to Himself, Wright said. “We must do our part for WMU to be able to fulfill their mission. I hope others will join with us in this eternal effort.”
Cindy Walker, vice chairman of the board, noted, “WMU is changing lives throughout the world because of its many ministries, and the foundation works hard to increase our level of financial support each year.”
For more information on how you can support WMU Foundation, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala.)

3/1/2019 1:11:38 PM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Cuba ramps up religious persecution after election

March 1 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Cuban pastors fear the government will further restrict religious freedom after clergy actively opposed the nation’s new constitution, a religious liberty advocate said Feb. 28.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), tracking religious persecution in Cuba and 20 other countries, said the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) is fearful of pastors because they sway public sentiment.
“We’ve seen the churches, particularly the Protestant churches, mobilize in a way they never have since 1959 in the past few months against the constitution and they’ve become very vocal,” Anna Lee Stangl, CSW joint head of advocacy, told Baptist Press (BP).
“That’s always something the government has feared. They’re aware of the role religious groups played in the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe for example,” she said. “And so they’ve always tried really hard to divide the churches, to shut them up, to really scare them.”
The government does not use physical violence against pastors, Stangl said, but has detained pastors for hours and used various methods of intimidation to force pastors to support the communist party, such as threatening to limit educational opportunities for their children.
The new constitution, approved with 86.6 percent of a nationwide vote Feb. 24, remains largely symbolic, Stangl said. Laws dictated through administrative codes are oftentimes not available to the public. Codes are used to restrict the practice of religion, requiring churches to register with the government and to hold church events only after securing permits, which can be delayed for years.
“I think nobody expected things to change drastically with the new constitution,” Stangl said. “But just the fact that the Cuban government found it important enough to weaken the language even further is indicative to us that they intend to go in an even harsher direction.”
The government is likely preparing an intense wave of Christian persecution, Stangl believes.
“I think me and a lot of other people I know who observe religious freedom in Cuba are expecting some sort of major crackdown,” she said, “because the government does not want the churches to be united in the way they are.”
A cross-denominational group of Christian leaders, led by the Methodist Church of Cuba and Assemblies of God, was ignored when it called for changes to the proposed legislation in advance of the election, and the government pressured pastors to support the referendum.
Pastors campaigned to amend constitutional language that defined marriage as between “two people,” as opposed to one man and a woman. But the government responded by dropping the clause entirely. Likely, legal codes affecting families, “family codes,” will be used to usher in gay marriage, Stangl said.
The new constitution drops the state’s recognition of “freedom of conscience and religion” and no longer recognizes an individual’s right to change their religious beliefs or to profess a religious preference. Instead, the constitution simply “recognizes, respects and guarantees religious freedom,” according to a CSW press release. Also, the new constitution states that religious and state institutions both have the same rights and responsibilities.
In its reports today of harassment and persecution, CSW named three pastors who were detained for hours in the days before and after the Feb. 24 election. Christian literature was described as “against the government” and confiscated from two high-profile pastors in the Apostolic movement, CSW said. Hired drivers employed by the government were fired for giving rides to church members, and the government has withdrawn permits required for church events where foreign missionaries were scheduled to speak.
Baptist pastor Sandy Cancino, an outspoken opponent of the new constitution, was blocked from voting at the Cuban Embassy in Panama despite having the proper identification and documentation, CSW said.
“It’s horrible what is happening in our country,” CSW quoted another church leader, who said the government has become paranoid. “A friend in my church was fired from his job. A 16-year-old student was questioned on how she was going to vote and because she said ‘no,’ they issued a pre-arrest warrant against her and took the case to the municipal level.... There are many other [similar] stories.”
Cuba is already a USCIRF Tier 2 “country of particular concern” for religious liberty violations noted in the USCIRF 2018 Annual Report. The CCP threatened to confiscate church property, repeatedly interrogated and detained religious leaders, prohibited Sunday worship and controlled religious activity, USCIRF noted.
Only 5 percent of Cuba’s 11.147 million people are Protestant, according to the U.S. Department of State. As many as 70 percent are Roman Catholic, mixed with traditional African religions including Santeria, the State Department said. A quarter of Cubans are religiously unaffiliated.

3/1/2019 1:07:55 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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