May 2012

DOJ ‘actively’ working to see DOMA overturned

May 17 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) – When President Obama told the Justice Department in February 2011 to stop defending a key federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, it was widely assumed the department would take a neutral position and sit on the sidelines.

But with little fanfare since that announcement, the Justice Department has actually started filing legal briefs arguing that the law in question – the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – should be overturned because, the department says, it is unconstitutional.

It is a remarkable turn of events for a Justice Department that just 15 months ago was defending the law in court. Many of those same attorneys who were defending it now are urging courts to strike it down.

“Everybody thought they were taking a neutral stance. They did not indicate they were going to actively attack its constitutionality,” Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), told Baptist Press. ADF, a Christian legal group, has worked to defend the law.

It is no small legal matter. Passed by bipartisan support in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing gay “marriage” and also gives states protection from being forced to recognize another state’s gay “marriages.” In the 16 years since it became law, 30 states – North Carolina being the latest – have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Another dozen or so states have passed similar statutes.

Gay groups view DOMA as one of the remaining obstacles to legalizing gay “marriage” nationwide, and they now have an ally in the Justice Department.

Technically, the Justice Department is involved only in lawsuits that challenge Section 3 of DOMA – the section that prevents the federal government from recognizing gay “marriage.” But the legal arguments the Justice Department is making easily could be applied to all of DOMA, including the section that protects states, Schowengerdt said. President Obama, meanwhile, is supporting a bill in Congress that would overturn all of DOMA.

As an example of the Justice Department’s new stance, it argued in a December 2011 brief at a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania that passage of the Defense of Marriage Act “was motivated in significant part by animus towards gays and lesbians” – i.e., prejudice and hostility toward homosexuals. The brief asserted that gays and lesbians have suffered discrimination throughout history and – like minorities – “exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics.” Significantly, the Justice Department also said DOMA should be reviewed under “heightened scrutiny” – a standard normally applied to laws that impact, for instance, race and sex.

Supporters of DOMA argue that the law should be subject to what is called “rational basis,” which holds that as long as Congress had a rational reason for passing the law, it should stand. Under rational basis, the court begins with a presumption that the law is valid. Generally, under “heightened scrutiny,” the opposite is true.

The Justice Department’s argument could lead to a landmark ruling: Every appeals court that has considered the issue has declined to apply heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation, Schowengerdt said. Under heightened scrutiny, every law nationwide defining marriage in the traditional sense could be reversed.

The Justice Department legal briefs even have rejected the notion that children need moms and dads – an issue that Congress cited in 1996 as a reason for passage of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“There is no sound basis for concluding that same-sex couples who have committed to marriages recognized by state law are anything other than fully capable of responsible parenting and child-rearing,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.

DOMA, the Justice Department argued, “unconstitutionally discriminates.”

The Justice Department’s position on the law, Schowengerdt said, is important because courts weigh heavily what the department says.

“When it comes to defending a law that Congress has passed, that usually falls to the Department of Justice, and the courts rely on the Department of Justice to give those laws their best defense,” he said. “That’s how the system works. A system has to have advocates on both sides.”

The “silver lining,” Schowengerdt said, is that attorneys for the House of Representatives are doing a “fantastic” job defending the law. Republican leaders in the House last year voted to start defending the law after the Justice Department stopped defending it. A former solicitor general, Paul Clement, is leading the House team.

Last year in a brief defending DOMA, Clement’s team quoted research stating that “the optimal situation for the child is to have both an involved mother and an involved father.”

“[T]he experience of a child raised by a man and a woman may differ from that of a child raised by same-sex caregivers,” the House brief said. “The federal courts that have upheld DOMA all have recognized that encouraging child-rearing by a married mother and father is a legitimate governmental interest, and that DOMA furthers that interest.... Congress rationally could conclude that each child will benefit from having a role model of his or her own sex as a parent, and from being exposed within the family to how that parent relates to an adult of the opposite sex.”

The DOMA cases are different from the high-profile California Proposition 8 case, although each pertains to the issue of gay “marriage.” It is not clear which will be appealed first to the Supreme Court. The First Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a DOMA case in April but has yet to issue an opinion; the lower court had struck down Section 3 of DOMA. A panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Prop 8 in February, although supporters are appealing that decision to the full circuit for an “en banc” review. The Justice Department is not involved in the Prop 8 case. Prop 8 is a California constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
5/17/2012 2:13:55 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Page: Meeting Billy Graham was ‘gift from God’

May 16 2012 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

MONTREAT, N.C. – Billy Graham remains passionate for the Kingdom, Frank Page observed during a May 12 visit with the 93-year-old evangelist.

“His focus is singular as it has always been on winning the lost for Christ,” Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said after meeting with Graham at the evangelist’s home in Montreat, N.C. “He is [physically] weak. But his mind is sharp as ever.”

Page visited Graham as the guest of Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Graham is a member. Page described the meeting as a gift from God.

“It was a great encouragement to me spiritually. When I left I wept with tears of joy because I felt I was in the presence of spiritual greatness,” Page said. “It is one of the things I’ve wanted my whole life. That was a great gift from God for me to visit this great man.”
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SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, after a personal meeting with Billy Graham at the evangelist’s home in Montreat, N.C., described the 93-year-old as ever fervent in his mission.


Page described Graham as a humble man who has led a life of “unquestionable integrity” and a mentor since Page’s earliest years in ministry.

“He really from a distance became a spiritual mentor to me; I told him that Saturday. He helped mentor me and shape me in ways he had no idea,” Page said. “He quickly said all praise goes to the Lord.”

Graham’s “piercing blue eyes” came alive when the two discussed ministry, Page said. Particularly, Page assured Graham of the Southern Baptist Convention’s support of the “My Hope with Billy Graham” initiative scheduled in November 2013 to commemorate the evangelist’s 95th birthday.

“Several times I saw those eyes come alive,” Page said. “I was able to tell him Southern Baptists will be a major part of that emphasis.” North American Mission Board leaders are exploring ways to support the outreach, Page said.

My Hope will encourage laypeople across America to host a meal for a few neighbors during a special Billy Graham television broadcast featuring music, testimonies and short messages from Graham’s international ministry over the years. The broadcast will give laypeople opportunities to share their personal testimonies and to encourage their neighbors to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Resources for the event are available at myhope2013.org.

Graham blessed Page, telling him that God has placed the SBC executive “in this position … for the cause of Christ.”

“This was on my bucket list,” Page said of the visit with Graham. “I’ve attended meetings with him and seen him at a distance, but [I had] never ever met the man.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
5/16/2012 1:59:24 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Online poker gambling could be legalized

May 16 2012 by Doug Carlson, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Predictably, the news cycles these days have been largely consumed with the unpredictable – the outcome of the 2012 presidential election and the future of the institution of marriage. This follows days of media showcasing the sensational – Secret Service prostitution scandals in Colombia and General Services Administration spending scandals in Las Vegas.

But almost entirely absent from media mention is a brewing scandal that combines aspects of these unfolding sagas.
 
Reeling from slowed business and smaller coffers in the wake of a 2006 law to clamp down on the illegal practice of online gambling, the gambling lobby is roaring back in an effort to convince the government to license and regulate betting on the niche game of Internet poker; all online games involving wagering are currently illegal.

Their renewed inspiration is a recent Justice Department opinion arguing that a major federal law on Internet gambling applies only to sports betting. Their rallying point is legislation introduced last summer by Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Texas). Cosponsored by 30 representatives, the “Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011” (H.R. 2366) would legalize online wagering of poker and place the cyber activities under government regulation.

While some might think the idea offers a winning hand, it’s a bad bet for America. The measure’s name itself is misleading. Contrary to its suggestive title, the Barton bill would not “strengthen UIGEA” – short for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which President Bush signed into law in 2006 – but instead weaken it.

The purpose of UIGEA, passed as part of a broader bill without objection in the Senate and with only two dissenters in the House, was to clarify that Internet gambling is illegal, reinforcing a 1961 law that banned gambling via wireless communication. It also went a step further: to put enforcement teeth to the law by requiring banks and financial institutions to block transactions between U.S.-based customer accounts and offshore gambling merchants, the biggest profiteers of the industry.

The effect of UIGEA on the online gambling industry’s bottom line was immediate and pronounced. Stocks in online gambling websites plummeted almost overnight. Some sites shut down altogether. Last year, others still in operation offshore suffered yet another blow. In an April 2011 raid that has been dubbed “Black Friday,” the government indicted the three biggest online poker profiteers – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – for bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling, freezing more than 75 bank accounts in 14 countries.
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The pro-gambling lobby, however, remains undeterred. As one example, the Poker Players Alliance spent $1.4 million last year lobbying Washington power brokers in support of Internet gambling initiatives such as Rep. Barton’s bill, the Roll Call newspaper reported. This alliance, along with multiplied other gambling special interest groups, shows no intention of stepping away from the table this year, either.

No doubt there is money to be made in legalized online poker gambling. The gambling purveyors would rake in additional billions each year. According to the Barton bill, the government would collect “substantial revenue.” And a relative few players among millions would survive in the black, at least for a time.

But is there a greater price to be paid? The losers would far outnumber the winners. The most visible victims would include the countless people ensnared by the game one click at a time, unsatisfied with versions that offer no prospect of profit. Their addiction to the high stakes game in hopes of quick riches will devastate savings and divide marriages. Any revenue the government generates will be more than offset as we as a society have to step in and help pick up the pieces.

“God has given Christians principles for living in a proper relationship with Him and with each other,” says Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land. “They require us to worship God alone, remind us that He owns everything, warn us against greed, prompt us to love our neighbor, command us to work, admonish us to exercise our freedom in light of our witness, and instruct us in the proper role of civil government.”

“Gambling and its promotion violate these principles,” he adds. “It is my prayer that Christians will run from gambling in every form, for there is scarcely no greater act of disobedience and faithlessness than to cast your lot at the feet of some false idol, in this case, the gambling industry.”

To be sure, destroyed lives, broken families and financial ruin are all too often the unmasked face of Internet gambling. That’s why uncaging this shackled beast, even if restrained by government leash, is a losing wager for America. Too bad the media haven’t picked up on this scandal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Doug Carlson is manager for administration and policy communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Washington D.C. office.)
5/16/2012 1:52:33 PM by Doug Carlson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In Bangladesh, a ‘vast multitude’ envisioned

May 16 2012 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh – As youths, Qahir Hamad* and his Bangladeshi friends beat a group selling Bibles and Christian literature and threw the wares into a pond.
 
Consumed with guilt over what he’d done, Hamad hardly slept that night. Having secretly saved four books to read later, he found someone after weeks of searching to tell him what the books meant.

He learned about how Jesus would save him.

Now, Hamad is the pastor of a house church in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a vision to see Muslims in the city find lasting peace like he has found in Christ. Bangladesh, he believes, should be a Christian nation.

This is also the vision of Travis and Madison Strauder*, International Mission Board workers who minister among Muslims and Muslim background believers in Dhaka.

“Our vision is a vast multitude from Dhaka city knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ,” Strauder says.

Strauder sees Dhaka as a strategic place for outreach. Thousands of Bangladeshis move to the city of 15 million people looking for jobs, education and a better life.

“We’d like to see people from all over the country coming into Dhaka and hearing the gospel and then being able to take it back to the villages with them,” Strauder says.

Bangladesh, with roughly 158 million people, is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. It’d be the same as if roughly half of the population of the U.S. lived in Arkansas.

Strauder is helping equip Hamad’s house church to reach Muslims more effectively.

Hamad’s house church started with three people: Hamad, his wife and his daughter. Now, 35 people gather to sit on the floor of Hamad’s house to worship and learn more about God.
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Two Christians express their heart with raised hands during prayer in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Christians face threats and persecution but continue to worship openly in homes and buildings throughout the city.


These 35 believers are taking part in a church planting and discipleship training widely used throughout southern Asia.

In the training, believers are challenged to write down the names of people they can share what they learned that week. Many of the believers invite these friends to come to a house church with them.

“Our desire is that churches would start in their homes and that everything they learn through these trainings they would pass on to others and there’d be multiplication and that, soon, Dhaka would be filled with churches full of believers worshipping God,” Strauder says.

Their desire is being fulfilled. In December, Hamad baptized some 20 new believers in his bathtub – 19 of whom came to faith through the training Strauder and Hamad hosted.

“If we want to see the growing of Christianity, we have to build the leadership and delegate the leadership,” Hamad says. “If you don’t do this, Christianity will not grow.”

Recent statistics list Christians as 0.05 percent of the population of Bangladesh.

Investing in leaders and sharing the gospel has its consequences. Hamad and the new believers expect persecution.

“I am always ready for persecution because Jesus was also persecuted,” Hamad says. “When I took baptism, persecution came into my life.”

Hamad’s family has ostracized him. He was beaten and tied to the pillars of a mosque for selling Christian literature.

“If they [his friends] found me, they would kill me,” Hamad says.

Many Christians, however, are afraid to acknowledge their faith for fear of the repercussions from their Muslim communities, Hamad says.

As Bangladesh celebrates the 40-year anniversary of its liberation from Pakistan in 1971, Hamad and Straider are praying for Bangladesh’s next 40 years.

“In the next 40 years, you can pray for our nation,” Hamad says. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. You can pray for workers.”

God already is answering that prayer, with a volunteer team venturing in December from the couple’s home church in Tennessee as part of a partnership with them and the city of Dhaka. The volunteers hosted Christmas parties and ministered alongside the Strauders, Hamad and other Bangladeshi partners.

From the Strauders’ and Hamad’s prayer list:

– Pray for the gospel to spread among Bangladesh’s growing population.

– Pray that God would call out national believers in Dhaka who have a vision for the city.

– Pray for unity among believers.

– Pray that the Strauders would see God’s purpose and plan and act in His strength.

– Pray for wisdom as the Strauders and Hamad train others to spread the gospel.

– Pray for boldness for Hamad’s house church members in their witness for Christ.

– Pray for courage for Muslim background believers to share their faith.

– Pray for more godly leaders.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is a writer based in Southeast Asia.)
5/16/2012 1:43:00 PM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.C. Baptists chosen to serve SBC

May 15 2012 by Baptist Press & BR staff

NEW ORLEANS – Appointments to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Committee on Committees have been announced by SBC President Bryant Wright. Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., announced the appointments.

The Committee on Committees will assemble in New Orleans just prior to the SBC annual meeting, June 19-20, to nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who, in turn, nominate trustees to serve on boards of the various entities of the SBC.

The Committee on Committees has 70 members, two from each of the 35 state or regional conventions qualified for representation on boards of SBC entities.

North Carolina will be represented by Joel Stephens of Westfield Baptist Church and Aaron Wallace of Hephzibah Baptist Church, Wendell.

Other N.C. Baptists will serve the SBC in a variety of ways if elected by the messengers to the annual meeting.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE – Ed Yount, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover, will replace Al Gilbert, former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, who resigned. Gilbert is currently working for the North American Mission Board. Nominated for term to expire in 2014 is Terry H. Montgomery, layperson and member of First Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., replacing Joan M. Mitchell, Durham, N.C., who resigned.

GUIDESTONE FINANCIAL RESOURCES – One of the nominees with term to expire in 2016 replacing members ineligible for re-election includes John R. Morris, layperson and member of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, replacing Barry D. Hartis of Greensboro.

INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD – Nominated for term to expire in 2016 is Roberta N. (Bobbi) Ashford, layperson and member of Coats Baptist Church in Coats, replacing Elizabeth B. (Beth) Harris, Charlotte, N.C., who declined to serve a second term.

NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD – Nominated for term to expire in 2014 is Cynthia E. (Cindy) Bush, layperson and member of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, replacing Todd W. Garren of Lincolnton, who resigned. Nominated for second term is Bruce L. Franklin of Henderson.
 
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES – Nominated for second term is Jesse W. Messer, Asheville, N.C.

SOUTHWESTERN SEMINARY – Nominated for second term is Travis C. Tobin, Garner, N.C.

SOUTHEASTERN SEMINARY – Nominees with term to expire in 2017 replacing members ineligible for re-election include Thomas S. Mach, layperson and member of Dayton Avenue Baptist Church, Xenia, Ohio, replacing William J. (Jack) Homseley, Cornelius, N.C.; Charles H. Cranford, layperson and member of Carmel Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., replacing James David (Jim) Goldston III, Raleigh, N.C.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This list only includes those representing N.C. Baptist churches. For a complete list, see the full story on the Committee on Committees and the full story on the other entities at Baptist Press.)
5/15/2012 1:07:18 PM by Baptist Press & BR staff | with 0 comments



NAMB to link churches & mission field

May 15 2012 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Dean Sisk is bringing four men to Georgia in July from Belle Aire Baptist Church hoping they gain new vision and new connections for expanding their reach.

“We came to a conclusion that our primary focus in missions needed to be on planting churches,” said Sisk, who has led the Tennessee congregation in assisting a half-dozen church starts across North America.
 
Belle Aire began seeking out ways to engage its people in reaching out locally and globally a number of years ago. This led the Murfreesboro church into sponsoring new churches and sending out its people to start new works.

“I grew up in a generation whose concept of missions was giving and praying,” Sisk said. “The personalized concept of missions has caught on and we’ve had hundreds of people go on dozens of mission trips.

“But we also want to be strategic in sending people and resources long-term to the places with the greatest needs,” the pastor said.

Sisk and the other Belle Aire leaders will join hundreds of leaders in an effort to refine their strategy for the difficult, heavily populated areas of the continent.
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This could mean sending members or it could mean supporting a missionary already working in a critical area.

“There are very few of us who are truly original thinkers, and often a mission strategy will be the result of putting together bits and pieces of lots of conversations,” Sisk said, noting what he sees as a key need to interact with leaders and planters. “I think the relationships are a big part of what makes the mission effort work.”

And relationships are a key ingredient to the Send North America Conference July 30-31.

Designed to draw leaders interested in partnering to reach North America, the North American Mission Board’s Send North America Conference at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., will feature leading practitioners in church planting and other key ministry areas.

Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize Southern Baptists to share Christ and start churches in 29 major cities and elsewhere throughout North America.

The Send North America Conference will provide a new focus for leaders who have attended the Church Planting Missionary Forum and Summer State Leadership Meeting in the past, and will engage a broader range of lay leaders.

“We hope this gathering will inspire and inform leaders who are seeking to plant healthy, evangelistic Southern Baptist churches,” said Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president of mobilization and equipping. “When you can get key people under one roof for a few days praying, learning and networking together, God can work in some pretty big ways. And not just for church planters but for anyone who wants to plug into this strategy.”

Among the keynote speakers at the conference: David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Ala.; Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church, Las Vegas; Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock; Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research; Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church, Atlanta; Matt Redman, Dove Award-winning songwriter and worship leader; and Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB.

A schedule of workshops will include breakout sessions on church planting, evangelism, leadership, effective partnerships and role-specific training.

“This year’s conference will also seek to involve people from all walks of SBC life, including pastors, churches, church planters, missionaries and denominational leaders,” Coe said. “If a church is thinking about planting a church or has already committed to doing so, this conference will provide the next steps in the church planting process.”

The Send North America Conference is the first in a series of gatherings planned for 2012-13 to train, equip and involve Southern Baptists in the Send North America church planting strategy.

For more information, visit namb.net/SNAconference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE  – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

Related story
Ezell introduces missionary development plan
5/15/2012 12:51:10 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ezell introduces missionary development plan

May 15 2012 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Having enough missionaries to support the Southern Baptist effort to impact lostness in North America will require intentional missionary development.

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), addressed that need during his monthly webcast with Baptist directors of missions and church planter catalysts May 1.
 
Ezell signaled a missionary development system that will begin in 2013 to provide a way for high school, college and seminary students interested in ministry to gain experience through summer/semester missions, internships and apprenticeships for hands-on experience in North American missions.

“We’re re-doing the summer mission program so [summer missionaries] actually do missions activities,” Ezell said. “They’re not just answering phones.

“We had some tell us they typed pastors’ sermon notes the entire summer,” Ezell added. “That doesn’t give them a very good impression of missions or how they can help penetrate lostness themselves for a summer. We want them to have some mission experience so we can develop missionaries.”

After serving as a summer missionary, a student wanting to pursue ministry in missions could apply to become an intern. These would be one-year paid positions for more focused ministry experience working directly with a pastor, church or associational leader.

Internships could lead to an apprenticeship for those who qualify and want to move further toward planting a church. These would be one-year paid positions specific to a city in which the apprentice works directly with a church planter and gains hands-on church planting experience.

“The reason we’re doing that is to hopefully protect churches and associations and states as they invest in [church] planters,” Ezell said. “We would rather a planter be on the field, see if he’s actually going to fit and that it’s the right fit for him. Then the compensation for being a church planter and the investment churches might make would start the year later. This also means that the planter would get on the field without the worry that he has to start immediately developing something because time is running out.

“So we’re very excited about developing a farm team that will hopefully help produce hundreds and hundreds of missionaries every year,” Ezell said in the live webcast for the 1,200 directors of missions and church planter catalyst missionaries who serve throughout the United States and Canada. Participants have the opportunity to email or text questions in before or during the webcast. Afterward, an archive version of the program can be viewed online and shared.

Strategies
Responding to a question, Ezell said NAMB’s church planting strategy fits “very easily” with state or associational church planting strategies.

“In every one of our Send [North America] cities, we go to the association and the state and say, ‘What is your church planting strategy for this city?’ If they don’t have one, we ask them if [they] would come up with one overall master plan,” Ezell said.

Ezell stressed that these 10-year strategies place a greater emphasis on need than on available funding.

“In the past, typically, we look and say ‘Okay. How much money do we have? Now what can we do with this money?’“ Ezell said. “That’s a spending plan. What we want is a strategy of what really needs to be accomplished. Forget the resourcing. What needs to be accomplished? And then let’s prioritize.”

Missionary relocation
Ezell addressed another question regarding how NAMB plans to transition missionaries to under-reached and underserved areas of North America.

“I could go on and on about [places where] we do not have any – zero – full-time NAMB missionaries,” Ezell said. “So what we are trying to do is to ... move some of those positions.”

In some cases, that could mean relocating a missionary from a position in the South to a position in an under-reached region.

“If a missionary is in one particular area and ... meets the qualifications for what we’re seeking in, say, a Connecticut or a Maine, then they’ll have the opportunity to shift, to move and to be a church planter catalyst, say, in Maine,” Ezell said. “We’ll make those positions open, available and transition them where we can.”

Not every missionary would be qualified for a new role or necessarily fit with work in another state, Ezell acknowledged. “But obviously, we want to go to our missionaries and if they qualify and they really want to accomplish that task in that particular state, then we absolutely would love for them to do that and be a part of that process.”

Send North America
Responding to another question, Ezell said NAMB’s Send North America strategy is not only about church planting. While his first 18 months at NAMB were spent bringing more focus on church planting, he said the mission board also continues to assist Southern Baptists in other evangelistic efforts, including God’s Plan for Sharing, disaster relief and Love Loud ministries.

Ezell also emphasized the evangelistic nature of Southern Baptist church planting.

“When I say church planting, I’m saying evangelism. We’re not talking about church splitting here,” Ezell said. “We’re wanting to reach people. When you go to a Boston or you go to a Connecticut or a Rhode Island ... you’ve got to reach people, and when we say church planting that’s what we mean.

“Every mission effort we do in North America and internationally should ultimately be to reach someone so they come to know Christ,” Ezell continued. “It’s an evangelistic focus and strategy. You reach someone, they’re discipled and they become a part of a local body of believers.”

Bivocational pastors
The final question Ezell addressed involved NAMB’s support for bivocational pastors, whom Ezell described as key to the future of the church in North America.

“In order for the Southern Baptist Convention to see a real movement of church planting and a real movement of evangelism, we’re going to have to get out of the mindset that it’s going to have to be by a full-time church planter. It’s absolutely going to happen through bivocational ministers, bivocational pastors.”

Ezell said NAMB is working with some schools about a pilot program with educational opportunities for bivocational pastors that NAMB would help fund. He said he will share more detail about this and several other opportunities during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, where NAMB will spotlight bivocational work and the men who tirelessly reach their communities while leading a family and working in another career.

“We’re going to honor them because honor is due,” Ezell said. “These are the true iron men of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

A full version of the webcast and previous webcasts can be viewed namb.net/webcast.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

Related story
NAMB to link churches and mission field


5/15/2012 12:46:30 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mayan calendar draws spotlight; a troubled culture struggles

May 14 2012 by Emily Pearson, Baptist Press

QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala – Because the ancient 5,125-year Mayan calendar will end on Dec. 21, 2012, global interest in Mayans has skyrocketed in recent years.
 
Some New Age philosophers predict the beginning of a new era of enlightenment for mankind. Others say it’s a countdown to the end of the world. Although many scholars dismiss these claims, tourists from around the globe are flocking to Mayan ruins in Latin America. The calendar itself has been the subject of many books, movies, news specials and college lectures.

But most Mayans aren’t concerned about the ancient calendar, according to International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries who work among Mayan people groups. In fact, the real Mayan story isn’t about the calendar at all, they say. It’s about the Mayan people.

Jeronimo, for example, is one of nearly 5 million Mayan descendants living throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. He was an alcoholic before IMB workers with Guatemala’s Tajumulco Mam people group came with a message that changed his life.

Jeronimo accepted Christ as his Savior, and soon his wife and children did the same. Later he started the first evangelical church in his community. Then he began sharing Christ and planting churches in other villages. He also translated parts of the Bible and other Bible storying materials into the local language so others could hear the gospel.
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IMB photo by Warren Johnson

At a worship center in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, people of Mayan descent pay homage to San Simon (Saint Simon), also known as Judas Iscariot. Worshippers offer cigars, tortillas, liquor and candles in exchange for forgiveness of sins.


Despite success stories like Jeronimo’s, many Mayans remain trapped in a spiritual darkness drawn from old traditions, said Gary Stone, IMB missionary among the Tajumulco Mam.

“The Tajumulco Mam have always been known as a fierce and warlike people,” Stone said. “Villages feud between each other and land wars are never ending. The culture is broken, and there is much darkness in daily life. Incest, stealing, lying, alcoholism, multiple partners, greed and other sins keep the Mam people in darkness.”

Like many Mayan groups, the Mam cling to their heritage and live in small rural villages of between 50 to 100 families. They depend on crops like potatoes, beans, corn and peppers to survive. Most still wear traditional handmade Mayan clothing.

Poverty and lack of jobs sometimes force them to find work elsewhere.

“Many [Mam] travel to the U.S. to make their fortunes,” Stone said. “Instead of finding the riches they desire there, many of them come back to Guatemala with addictions, venereal disease and broken relationships.”

The traditions that give Mayan groups their unique identity often are a barrier to the gospel, missionaries say. Many groups have adopted Catholicism in name only and still worship Mayan spirits linked to the names of Catholic saints.

“The primary religion is animism with a veneer of Catholicism overlaying it,” said Alan Lyons, a strategy leader for IMB work among Mayans. “There are obvious examples of animistic, indigenous practices, like sacrificing chickens on the steps of the church. Many church members have difficulty explaining what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and in times of crisis, they often revert back to animistic practices instead of trusting Jesus.”

Many Mayans do not read and only speak one of the 69 Mayan languages. Stone and other missionaries are working with national believers to present the gospel in the groups’ heart languages through oral Bible storying, gospel recordings and drama.

Stone hopes that the current upward trend in education will also help, as young people stay in school longer and learn to read.

Despite these difficulties, God has been moving among Mayan people groups.

“When we arrived to work with the Tajumulco Mam, they were considered an unreached people group,” Stone said. “Through the work of missionaries ... the gospel has been liberally sown among the villages. Today, by God’s great grace and mercy, they are no longer unreached.”

God also has been working among the K’ekchi’ people, a Mayan group in Guatemala, where IMB missionary David White has served for five years.

“During our time with the K’ekchi’, we have been blessed to see several new groups and missions started,” White said. “When a K’ekchi’ person is saved, they use the word ‘pabanc.’ It means ‘to believe and obey.’ This combination helps to solidify their faith in Christ. They know that to publically accept and follow Christ is to not only believe, something you do privately, but also obey, something that will be lived out publically.”

During the past decade, the K’ekchi’ have experienced a church-planting movement – a rapidly multiplying increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.

The K’ekchi’ also take up an annual offering to support their 18 national missionaries who are spreading the gospel to other indigenous groups.

“The K’ekchi’ have a heart for prayer and evangelism that is foreign to many believers,” White added. “Weeping over spiritually lost people and faithfully witnessing is at the forefront of the K’ekchi’ church.”

White also said the K’ekchi’ are committed to studying God’s Word, despite being nonliterate.

“K’ekchi’ believers do an incredible job of memorizing Scripture,” he said. “The majority of the people still cannot read or write. Each Sunday they take the memory verse very seriously. They will repeat the verse until everyone is satisfied they know it.”

Through their faith in God and understanding of scripture, the K’ekchi’ have moved beyond traditional Mayan religion. Now, instead of praying to spirits for a good harvest season, the K’ekchi’ attend a worship service before planting day – trusting God with their survival.

IMB missionaries among Mayans asked Southern Baptists to pray that other Mayan groups will follow the K’ekchi’ believers’ example.

“Pray God will break down the walls of tradition that keep so many Mayan peoples from knowing Him,” one missionary said. “Pray that He will raise up local [Mayan] pastors, church planters and missionaries to other Mayan groups who have yet to hear [the gospel].”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Pearson is an IMB writer serving in South America.)
5/14/2012 1:09:37 PM by Emily Pearson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



AZ defunding of P. Parenthood continues trend

May 14 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Arizona has become the latest state to bar funds to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law May 4 legislation that prohibits state family planning money from going to organizations that perform abortions. The new law, the Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act, gives priority in family planning funding to health providers that offer comprehensive care for women.

A 2011 effort by the U.S. Congress to eliminate federal funds for Planned Parenthood failed, but legislative or administrative actions last year in nine states reduced money for the country’s largest abortion provider by more than $61 million, according to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List.

“The nation is wising up state by state to the shenanigans of Planned Parenthood,” Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said.

Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a biomedical and life issues consultant for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commended Brewer “for eliminating state funding for an organization that has proven itself to be more ideologically driven than to be truly serving women’s health needs. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund abortion in any state.”
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Courts are considering challenges to, and have blocked enforcement of, those cuts in some states.

In the latest court action, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled May 4 that Texas cannot enforce a ban on state funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers while a lawsuit goes forward before a federal judge.

In signing the Arizona measure, Brewer, a Republican, described it as a “common sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortion, whether directly or indirectly.”

The SBA List and the Alliance Defense Fund drafted model legislation on which the new law is based.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the measure “recognizes that women deserve whole-woman care, not abortion.”

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates still benefit greatly from federal, state and local governments – having received $487.4 million in grants, contracts and reimbursements in 2009-10, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

That money helps support an organization that performed 329,445 abortions in 2010. That was more than one-fourth of the lethal procedures in the United States for the year.

The Fifth Circuit Court’s order came in a case involving a new Texas law that prohibits the state from contracting under a health program for low-income women with organizations that “perform or promote elective abortions or affiliate with entities that perform or promote elective abortions.” The ban reportedly affects only Planned Parenthood. More than 1,000 health-care providers certified for the program reportedly are not affiliated with abortion clinics.

The Obama administration announced it would not fund the program under the law and is considering making direct grants to Planned Parenthood. The federal government provides about 90 percent of the money for the program.

Gov. Rick Perry has said he plans for the state to make up the difference in the program left by the federal government’s withdrawal.

In papers filed with the Fifth Circuit, the state said it would shut down the program if it were ordered to include Planned Parenthood.

PPFA, which has been plagued by various scandals in recent years, is the target of a congressional investigation. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R.-Fla., who is leading the probe by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, has requested Planned Parenthood audits, documentation, policies and procedures regarding such issues as improper billing, segregation of federal funds from abortion services and reporting of suspected sex abuse and human trafficking. Although federal money does not go directly to pay for abortions, pro-life advocates contend the millions of dollars in federal money frees up other contributions to Planned Parenthood for the promotion and performance of abortions.

Secret investigations by pro-life organizations have uncovered PPFA workers demonstrating a willingness to aid self-professed sex traffickers whose prostitutes supposedly are in their early teens, seeking to cover up alleged child sex abuse and agreeing to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.)
5/14/2012 12:59:19 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Vanderbilt BCM to decline registered status

May 14 2012 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist & Reflector

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – Even though Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) was approved as a recognized student organization on the campus of Vanderbilt University, the BCM will decline that status.

Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC), informed members of the TBC Executive Board of the decision to not accept the recognized status in a letter e-mailed to them May 7.

Originally, the Vanderbilt BCM planned to seek the recognized status and remain a registered organization on campus though many other religious organizations said they would not seek to be registered on campus after the policy was announced.

The issue surrounds the decision announced by Vanderbilt earlier this year that the university intends to enforce its non-discrimination policy and a new all-comers policy. The all-comer policy means that any student at Vanderbilt is entitled to become a member and to seek a leadership position in any registered student organization on campus.

In a nutshell, if a non-Christian wanted to seek leadership in the BCM at Vanderbilt, he or she could do so under the university policy.

In his letter to the board, Davis wrote that he was originally supportive of the decision to seek recognized student organization status at Vanderbilt.

Davis noted that the Vanderbilt BCM applied as it has over the years and was accepted.

“However, on April 22, it came to my attention that the application included our representatives signing the revised non-discrimination policy,” he wrote. “It is our understanding now that ‘to abide by,’ means ‘to accept without objection’ and ‘to accept as our own.’”

Davis noted that signing onto the policy would require the BCM “if the occasion should ever arise, to open the leadership to those who were not Christian. Perhaps we should have known this earlier, but we did not,” he wrote.

The BCM, Davis said, has for many years ministered on the Vanderbilt campus in a non-discriminatory manner. “Anyone who walked through the doors was welcomed.”

But he stressed in the letter that after “understanding the full extent of this new policy, we have no choice but to ask our local leadership to remove us from the status of recognized student organization. I have reached this decision after much prayer and wise counsel,” he shared with board members.

Davis noted that Bill Choate, collegiate ministries coordinator for the TBC, and Thom Thornton, BCM director at Vanderbilt, are supportive of the decision.

“Bill and Thom have tried very hard to preserve relationships that have made effective ministry possible in the past and will continue to do so.”

In his letter, Davis noted “there have been no winners in the hurt, confusion, division and pain that have been caused by this policy.

“The Vanderbilt BCM has been active on and good citizens of that campus for well over 80 years,” Davis wrote.

“Make no mistake about it. We are not leaving campus. We will continue to have a vibrant ministry there. Our mission has not changed.”

Choate told the Baptist and Reflector newspaper, “We have and will continue to make an effort to have an impact for the gospel at Vanderbilt University.”

The Tennessee Baptist Convention owns the BCM building which is located in the middle of the Vanderbilt campus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector newspaper.)

Related story
Anti-religion campus policies targeted by ADF
5/14/2012 12:42:04 PM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist & Reflector | with 0 comments



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