May 2013

Islamic terrorism spree shakes Nigeria

May 17 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NORTHERN NIGERIA – A declaration of a state of emergency in three northern Nigerian states does nothing to address the root cause of a surge in Islamic terrorism against Christians and others, an expert in Islamism told Baptist Press.

Further, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s May 14 declaration is only a partial state of emergency because local governments in the northeastern states are still in place, said Adeniyi Ojutiku, a native Nigerian Christian and founder of Lift Up Now, a Christian nonprofit outreach to improve living conditions in his homeland.

“Nigeria is the number one country where Christians are killed. Nigeria tops that list,” Ojutiku said. “And it’s an ideological warfare. It’s a coup d’état. [Jonathan] wants to stem the tide of violence without really addressing the basic factors that are associated with Islamism.
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“What Jonathan did is an immediate measure that is only palliative. It’s really not addressing the fundamental issues of Islamic terrorism,” Ojutiku said. “What Jonathan has done is a show of brute force, state force.

“Unfortunately, what is going to happen is that these people are going to retreat for a while. They are going to regroup and restrategize.”

Within an hour of the state of emergency declaration, gunmen killed Faye Pama Musa, leader of the chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the state of Borno, following him home from the evening Bible study he led at his church, Morning Star News reported.

Last year, more than 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria because of their faith, accounting for more than 70 percent of Christians killed globally, and outpacing Christian casualties in Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined, according to Morning Star News.

In northern Nigeria, Ombatse militants May 7 stormed a prison in Nasarawa, killing 50 police officers and civilians, the Wall Street Journal reported, describing the Ombatse as extremists seeking to convert both Christians and Muslims to a quasi-religious organization. The Nasawara raid occurred on the same day Islamic extremists killed another 50 people in Bama, according to the Journal and Reuters news service.

Dozens of insurgents killed 53 people and burned 13 villages in central Nigeria’s Benue state May 14, BBC News reported.

Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name translates “Western education is forbidden,” has focused particularly on killing Christians in the northern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where Jonathan declared the state of emergency and sent troops to stop the violence. Boko Haram is blamed for killing more than 4,000 people since 2009.

Jonathan has been ineffective in battling Islamism, Ojutiku said, leading to the formation of other terrorists groups in Nigeria.

“For example, we know what the Islamists want. They want to Islamize Nigeria by all means, including violence, through legislative processes involving the establishment of a sharia federal system. That is their goal and they will not compromise,” Ojutiku said. “Because Jonathan has been unable to deal with Islamic insurgency, Islamic terrorism, other terrorist groups are rising up ... and are now posing a serious threat to the security situation in Nigeria. But we still at this point in time don’t know the connection between these new groups and the Boko Haram. It’s difficult to know the connection.”

Under the Nigerian president’s declared state of emergency, Ojutiku told Baptist Press, “the government is still in place in the state. The governor is still the chief executive officer of the state. The legislative branch is still there. The judicial branch is still there. So nothing has changed in terms of government functionaries.

“What has only changed is the security, the improvement of the security situation, and that ... is only temporary and it is, what I would consider, too little, too late.”

Ojutiku, who moved to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago, co-founded Lift Up Now in Nigeria to address political, economic and social challenges such as poverty, hunger, disease, war, religious extremism and terrorism. He works with a small core group in the U.S., managing a team of what he estimated as 2,500 volunteers in Nigeria, mainly Christian youth leaders available for mobilization as needed.

“Our goal is to work with the people in restoring their individual self-dignity and worth through improved work ethics as well as personal efforts at sustainable wealth creation,” Ojutiku said, “rather than continued reliance on dehumanizing welfare and ‘hand-outs.’”

He and his wife Elizabeth are longtime members of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
5/17/2013 2:07:19 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Trustees: ‘More churches’ is NAMB’s goal

May 17 2013 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – “We have to plant more churches,” North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell emphasized to NAMB trustees during their May 14-15 meeting in Alpharetta, Ga.

“The Book of Acts makes it very clear that this work never ends,” Ezell said. “We have a lot of work to do, and in 10 years my hope and my goal would be to stand here and say we have to plant more churches.”

Highlighting ministry areas within NAMB’s overarching Send North America strategy, Ezell reiterated that the mission board’s purpose is to mobilize Southern Baptist churches to penetrate lostness in North America. Send North America is NAMB’s church planting and evangelism strategy prioritizing Southern Baptist missions efforts on those areas of North America with the greatest spiritual lostness and the smallest number of Southern Baptist churches.
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Photo by John Swain/NAMB
Gary Frost, NAMB vice president for the Midwest Region, speaks to trustees about the importance of prayer as a foundation to NAMB’s efforts. “People are in darkness and while we need all these strategies, I believe the thing lacking is the power of prayer,” said Frost, emphasizing NAMB’s TenTwo prayer initiative. “You can’t penetrate darkness with good ideas.” NAMB’s board of trustees met May 14-15 in Alpharetta, Ga.


“We want to start a movement not an emphasis. Not a program,” Ezell said. “And the thing about a movement is you can’t control it. You set it free. You don’t try to hold on to it. Let’s stop holding on to things and let a movement of God take place.”


Mobilization & evangelism

Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president for mobilization and equipping, reported that 2,544 churches have been mobilized for missions engagement in the last two years and nearly 800 of those are directly connected to a church plant. Coe highlighted two upcoming events that will give Southern Baptists an opportunity to engage with the North American Mission field.

NAMB will host a free luncheon for pastors at the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference on Monday, June 10. More information is available at www.snaluncheon.com. NAMB’s Send North America conference July 29-30 will provide churches another opportunity to connect with the North American mission field. For information, visit www.sendconference.com.

Al Gilbert, NAMB’s vice president for evangelism, reported that NAMB is actively involved in preparation for Crossover, the evangelistic outreach preceding the SBC annual meeting in Houston. “We are doing Crossover this year like never before,” Gilbert said. “We’ll be a part of Crossover Saturday with 20-plus block parties and everything else going on with Loving Houston,” a long-term outreach by the Union Baptist Association there.

Gilbert also highlighted NAMB’s ongoing Bible distribution efforts to Southern Baptist churches (gps2020.net) as well as the launch of a new volunteer opportunities website (namb.net/volunteer-opportunities).

Carlos Ferrer, NAMB’s chief financial officer, reported to trustees that giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is 3.7 percent above budget for the year while Cooperative Program allocations are 1.5 percent below budget.

Emphasizing the need for prayer, Ezell introduced NAMB’s vice president for the Midwest Region, Gary Frost, who spoke to trustees about NAMB’s upcoming prayer focus.

“People are in darkness and while we need all these strategies, I believe the thing lacking is the power of prayer,” Frost said. “You can’t penetrate darkness with good ideas.”

Frost shared NAMB’s plans to emphasize the TenTwo Prayer Initiative at the upcoming SBC annual meeting as well as a convention-wide prayer focus on Oct. 2.

In other business, trustees:
  • re-elected their current officers for the coming year: chairman, Doug Dieterly, executive pastor of Plymouth Baptist Church in Plymouth, Ind.; vice chairman, Ric Camp, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Trussville, Ala.; and second vice chairman, Chuck Herring, pastor of Collierville First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn.
  • recognized five members whose terms will end in June: Randall Ingram of Alabama (2010-13); Donna Medcalf of South Carolina (2009-13); Michael Palmer of Idaho (2005-13); Richard Pudliner of Pennsylvania (2007-13); and Robert Roberts of Florida (2006-13).
  • authorized the purchase of missionary transitional housing locations in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Herriman, Utah, with the goal of acquiring properties in 12 of the 32 Send North America cities.
Closing the meeting, trustee chair Doug Dieterly echoed Frost’s comments about prayer.

“It seems to be human nature that when things are tough it drives us to our knees,” Dieterly said. “But when things are exciting and going well, it’s easy to forget about the importance of prayer. We need to stay committed to praying for each other.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)
5/17/2013 1:58:43 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pastors at SBC can hear mission challenges

May 16 2013 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Opportunities for pastors to deepen their churches’ missions involvement and leave a legacy will be highlighted during an International Mission Board (IMB) sponsored breakfast and luncheon in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Houston.

Both gatherings also will provide opportunities for fellowship and inspiration with IMB representatives.

At a luncheon June 11, IMB President Tom Elliff will share his vision for missions in this century. Also, attendees will hear from John Morgan, senior pastor of Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, where members are using legacy giving to help reach unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) with the gospel.

On June 12, pastors interested in taking their churches to a deeper level of missions involvement with a UUPG can attend a breakfast where Elliff will share his vision for the International Mission Board’s Embrace initiative and attendees will hear from others already involved in the effort.
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IMB file photo
Members of Sequoia Heights Baptist Church in Manteca, Calif., prayed for the Kisi people group of southern Tanzania for a year before sending a missions team. Just reaching that point was a stretch for the church with roughly 200 members, but three groups have now visited the Kisi to share the gospel and train new believers to do the same. 


Legacy planning

A few years ago, Morgan knew of only one person in the Sagemont congregation who had included missions and ministries in a will. But after attending a legacy planning luncheon at the 2008 SBC annual meeting, he invited PhilanthroCorp (a partner of the Southern Baptist Foundation and IMB) to speak to the congregation. As a result, families have bequeathed more than $20 million to church missions and ministry causes, both locally and internationally.

“Legacy planning enables people to meet genuine family needs and, at the same time, impact the world for the cause of the gospel – a legacy that will continue until Jesus returns,” says David Clippard, IMB associate vice president of development.

“Most sincere disciples consistently tithe from their current assets yet they fail to tithe their estates,” notes Jay Wolf, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Ala. Wolf partnered with PhilanthroCorp to craft a legacy plan to help provide for his family as well as to contribute to missions.

Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., worked through its state convention’s foundation to establish a legacy giving fund.

“I started this journey wanting to help this church take a step of faith in their giving and living,” says Michael Cloer, Englewood’s pastor. “I was so encouraged in what God could and would do through this that I wanted my wife and me to be the first ones to make a will and establish a charitable trust where we could not only leave something to our posterity but also invest in God’s Kingdom.”


Embrace

Pastor Mark Mahaffie felt it was time to encourage his church to invest in God’s Kingdom by deepening their commitment to overseas missions involvement. For them, the next step was to choose a people group and work to present Christ.

Members of Sequoia Heights Baptist Church in Manteca, Calif., prayed for the Kisi people group of southern Tanzania for a year before sending their first missions team. Just reaching that point was a stretch for the church with roughly 200 members, but three groups have now visited the Kisi to share the gospel and train new believers to do the same.

“It’s unbelievable that God is allowing us to do this,” Mahaffie says. “Don’t say ‘no’ before you say ‘yes.’ Start with saying ‘yes’ and let God take care of all the no’s.... All of those no’s are just saying, ‘I don’t trust God.’”


Registration

Breakfast attendees will hear from pastors whose churches are already taking a direct role in “embracing” a UUPG. The breakfast will be held from 7-8:15 a.m. at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Grand Ballroom A, level 3.

The luncheon, hosted by Sagemont church and IMB, is from noon to 1:30 p.m. in Houston’s Hilton Americas Hotel, Americas Ballroom E/F, Level 2.

Both events are free of charge, but seating is limited and tickets are required for admission. To register for the breakfast, go to regonline.com/SBC_Breakfast. To register for the luncheon, go to regonline.com/SBC_Luncheon. For additional information on the luncheon, call (800) 999-3113, ext. 1405, or email lconnerley@imb.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the staff of the International Mission Board. Visit here for more SBC coverage.)
5/16/2013 3:41:01 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Groups: Block FCC from winking at indecency

May 16 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Leaders of 80 state and national groups concerned with morality have endorsed a letter asking Congress to block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from weakening the enforcement of the broadcast decency law.

The Parents Television Council (PTC) and Morality in Media drafted the letter asking key Congressional committees to oppose the FCC’s effort to allow television and radio stations to broadcast before 10 p.m. Eastern the type of nudity and/or expletives normally reserved for cable TV, according to Dan Isett, PTC director of public policy. Among the signers is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The FCC is considering permitting “isolated expletives” and isolated “non-sexual nudity” on broadcast TV, something that currently could draw a fine.
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“This is one of those issues that brings people together from across the aisle and all the way across the aisle,” Isett told Baptist Press. “I think that there’s an awful lot of people concerned about what’s happened at the FCC both in terms of the simple process of it and the change of policy that seems to have been implemented.”

The FCC has opened the issue for public comment, as required by law, and has extended until June 19 the comment period originally set to expire May 20. Isett encourages concerned citizens to comment.

“If the American people think that standards of decency mean something, that it’s important to protect children at certain times of day on the airwaves that we own, then they must file a public comment, and it’s really easy to do so on the FCC website,” Isett said.

While the FCC is seeking permission to change its standards in judging what is allowable for broadcast during hours targeting child viewership, Isett said the FCC has already invoked a new standard in dismissing about a million backlogged cases between September, 2012 and April.

The FCC dismissed the cases because, according to Isett, it followed the direction of outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski and deemed the cases not “egregious” enough to pursue.

According to an FCC public notice dated April 1, Genachowski “directed the Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) to focus its indecency enforcement resources on egregious cases and to reduce the backlog of pending broadcast indecency complaints.”

Having dismissed complaints that were “beyond the statute of limitations or too stale to pursue, that involved cases outside FCC jurisdiction, that contained insufficient information, or that were foreclosed by settled precedent,” the notice reads, “the Bureau is also actively investigating egregious indecency cases and will continue to do so.”

Isett said pursuing cases based on their “egregious” nature is outside the law and has not been approved by Congress, which has FCC oversight.

“The FCC has made these decisions unilaterally and in this particular case the FCC chairman acted unilaterally and made a policy change without any input from the rest of the FCC, or the public or Congress,” Isett told Baptist Press. “I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s certainly outside what the law says. And the law says indecent material can’t be broadcast. ... It doesn’t qualify it for a so-called egregious standard.

“There has been a law in place regarding indecent material broadcast over the publicly owned airways since the dawn of the medium, almost 100 years. And now you have a single FCC chairman acting unilaterally ... that has made de facto the case that there will be virtually no standard at all,” Isett said.

“That’s why Congress has to get involved to make sure the law they’ve passed, that’s been affirmed by the Supreme Court a number of times now, is in fact implemented,” he said. “It was necessary in this case both to make sure that Congress was aware that this had happened and to make sure that Congress had the ability to act in its oversight role to make sure that the law was enforced.”

PTC President Tim Winter led the list of signatures on the letter addressed to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“The FCC’s proposal to weaken the law’s enforcement by applying it only to ‘egregious’ violations is absurd, and it must be defeated,” Winter said in a press release. “In American jurisprudence, the scale of egregiousness for a violation of the law serves to determine the consequence for the violation. It does not define whether the law has been broken. The FCC should act consistent with legal doctrine.

“If a broadcaster violates the law, then the egregious nature of that violation should help the FCC to determine an appropriate sanction – period.”

Joining Winter in signing the letter are Land, Morality in Media President Patrick A. Trueman, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Alliance Defending Freedom President Alan Sears and Focus on the Family Senior Vice President Tom Minnery, among others.

The letter urges Congress to make sure the FCC takes “seriously its duty to enforce federal law 18 U. S. C. 1464, limiting indecency and profanity on the publicly owned airwaves to times of day when children are much less likely to be in the audience.

“The FCC has been derelict in this regard under the leadership of its current Chairman Julius Genachowski, having executed no enforcement actions during his tenure,” the letter charges. “We strongly urge you to oppose the FCC proposed changes, outlined in a Public Notice of April 1, 2013, GN Docket No. 13-86, to its established indecency enforcement standard.”

Isett said Congress should also include questions regarding enforcement of the broadcast decency law when conducting confirmation hearings for Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman.

To comment, log onto the FCC’s electronic comment filing system website, http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs//, click on “submit a filing,” and type proceeding number 13-86 where prompted.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
5/16/2013 3:36:04 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gosnell waives appeal, avoids death penalty

May 16 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has waived the right to appeal his murder convictions in order to avert a possible death sentence.

Gosnell received three consecutive life terms without parole for the first-degree murders of three babies after their deliveries at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Judge Jeffrey Minehart sentenced Gosnell to two of the life sentences Tuesday (May 14) and the third Wednesday (May 15).

The longtime abortion doctor, 72, faced the possibility of capital punishment after the May 13 murder convictions. The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury that convicted Gosnell was scheduled to begin the sentencing phase of the trial May 21, but his decision to forego his appeal rights for life sentences made those deliberations unnecessary.
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Kermit Gosnell


The three babies Gosnell was convicted of murdering were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic marked by deplorable, unsanitary conditions, according to a 281-page report issued by a grand jury in 2011. Gosnell, who destroyed the records in most of those deaths, or a co-worker typically killed the living children by a technique he called “snipping” – jabbing scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord.

In a trial that began March 18, jurors also found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, instead of third-degree murder, in the 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, after an abortion. In addition, the jury convicted him of 21 of 24 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy and of 210 of 227 counts of transgressing the state’s 24-hour waiting period, according to The Inquirer.

Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates applauded Gosnell’s convictions, but pro-lifers – unlike the abortion rights defenders – contended his crimes were not isolated incidents.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “The grotesque atmosphere of Doctor Gosnell’s clinic stands as a graphic reminder of what is happening to our unborn and newly born citizens in similar clinics across America.”

Republicans in Congress are calling for investigations of abortion clinics and cooperation from states to prevent the kind of murderous and horrific practices described at the trial by former Gosnell employees and other witnesses.

The 2011 report by the grand jury said a “regulatory collapse” by Pennsylvania and city agencies enabled Gosnell to maintain what was described as a “house of horrors” for more than three decades. The state Department of Health provided only intermittent reviews from the time Gosnell’s West Philadelphia opened in 1979 until 1993. It totally halted inspections of abortion clinics for “political reasons” in 1993 under Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican, the grand jury reported.

A 2010 raid of Gosnell’s clinic in an investigation of prescription drug trafficking led to multiple charges and the closing of the facility. The grand jury’s report said federal and state authorities discovered the following during the raid:
  • The remains of 45 babies stored in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons and cat-food containers, with some in a refrigerator and others in a freezer.
  • The severed feet of babies in jars.
  • “Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room . . . “
  • Conditions in the clinic that were “by far, the worst” the investigators had ever seen, with blood on the floor and on blankets covering dirty recliners, a “stench of urine,” cat excrement on the stairs, “filthy and unsanitary” surgery rooms, dirty instruments and broken equipment.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
5/16/2013 3:31:16 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Minn. 12th state to legalize gay marriage

May 16 2013 by Baptist Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize gay marriage Tuesday (May 14), continuing a trend that has seen the number of states that have redefined marriage double within the past year.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, signed the bill Tuesday, one day after it passed the state Senate, 37-30. It had passed the state House, 75-59. Delaware and Rhode Island also approved gay marriage this year after voters in Washington state, Maine and Maryland OK’d gay marriage laws last year.

Passage of the Minnesota bill was particularly discouraging for traditional groups because a constitutional marriage amendment – which would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman – was defeated by voters last November, 52-48. If it had passed, gay marriage could not have been legalized. Minnesota would have joined 30 states that have similar constitutional amendments.

The bill will take effect Aug. 1.

“I want to thank the people of Minnesota who voted last year to defeat a very destructive constitutional amendment, and also to elect courageous legislators, who would support this monumental social advance,” Dayton said before signing the bill.

The bill’s passage became possible when Democrats took the legislature back from Republicans last November. Republicans had placed the marriage amendment on the ballot.

Minnesota for Marriage, which supported last year’s constitutional amendment, called it the bill’s signing a “sad day” for the state.

“This bill not only upends our most foundational institution of marriage, redefining it as genderless and declaring mothers and fathers as ‘neutral’ in Minnesota – it also fails to protect the most basic religious liberty rights of those who believe based on their faith that marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman.

The group added, “The only religious freedom protections provided in this bill will protect clergy and religious institutions – declaring that people of faith can only practice their beliefs about marriage inside the four walls of their church. The same-sex ‘marriage’ bill effectively dictates that people of faith must violate their deeply held religious beliefs about marriage in violation of their God, or stop practicing their profession or business.”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, also expressed concern over the new law.

“The people of Minnesota did not vote for gay marriage in 2012,” Brown said. “They voted to maintain traditional marriage by maintaining the status quo. Our opponents bought a victory by claiming that marriage was not under threat of redefinition, but in fact they always intended to redefine it at the soonest possible moment. Legislators who voted to redefine marriage were foolish to do so. They cast a terrible vote that damages society, tells children they don’t deserve a mother and a father, and brands supporters of traditional marriage as bigots. We predict that this vote will be career ending for many legislators in Minnesota.”

Illinois likely is the next political battleground for gay marriage. A bill has passed the state Senate but has yet to receive a vote in the House.

Six states have legalized gay marriage in the past year, all of them doing so following President Obama’s public support for marriage redefinition. Obama’s change in position eventually led to dozens of Democrats in the House and Senate supporting gay marriage.

“It, quite simply, changed everything,” Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House senior adviser, told ABCNews.com. “So much is dramatically different just a year later. It really shows the power of the presidency and the power of a presidential endorsement, especially in the very personal and moving way that this president did it.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told ABC News that Obama’s support for gay marriage “absolutely” has had an effect, but Perkins also noted that 30 states still have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

“You look at the scoreboard, it’s 30-10,” Perkins said. “We’re clearly far from a tipping point as a nation.... And the fallout from this will become more and more evident. It’s not just about the marriage altar. It’s about fundamentally altering our society.

“I’m not saying all the cultural trends are positive. I’m just saying it’s too early to call the game,” Perkins said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
5/16/2013 3:28:09 PM by Baptist Press | with 2 comments



James Smith taking role at Southern Seminary

May 16 2013 by Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Veteran Southern Baptist journalist James A. Smith Sr. has been named seminary executive editor and chief spokesman of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
Smith, executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, told board members May 9 he will leave by July 31 to take on his new role at the Louisville, Ky., campus. He has served as executive editor of the Witness since 2001. The seminary announced Smith’s hiring Wednesday (May 15).
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James A. Smith Sr.


“Jim Smith is one of the most respected journalists and writers in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a man of great gifts and tremendous experience,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary. “I have known Jim Smith for many years and I have seen the evidence of his work and leadership up close.”

Smith previously served at Southern Seminary from 1997-2001 as news director and later as director of public relations. From 1995-97 he was news and information director at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and from 1989-95 he was director of government relations for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

In the new position, Smith, 48, will oversee the editorial content of the seminary’s publications, supervise the seminary’s news operations and lead public and media relations.

“I am so thankful for Jim Smith’s commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention and to the cooperative work of our denomination,” Mohler said.

“He will bring a wealth of experience to this new position. Furthermore, he is passionately committed to the development of a Christian worldview and to the equipping of the church. We welcome Jim and Linda Smith back to Southern Seminary.”

Smith said he has been “blessed abundantly by serving as executive editor of Florida Baptist Witness. My time here has greatly shaped me, making me the minister I am today. Members of the Witness board have been unfailingly supportive. I’m particularly thankful for the godly counsel and direction I have received from each board chairman.”

Smith said he is grateful for the support from Florida Baptist leaders, including John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention. He noted “producing the Witness is heavily dependent on a capable staff, which I have been blessed with over the years. I’m appreciative of the hard and dedicated work of the Witness staff, especially Joni and John Hannigan.”

In Smith’s 12 years at the Witness, the official newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention, he has emphasized coverage of missions, theology and moral concerns. The Witness website (gofbw.com), established in 2002, has gained readers across the Southern Baptist Convention and is watched closely by reporters of Florida newspapers.

In 2011-12, Smith served as president of the Association of State Baptist Publications, the fellowship of state Baptist newspaper editors.

Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz and chairman of the Witness board of directors, said in a May 13 statement it was with a “mixture of joy and sadness” that the board announced Smith’s departure.

Whitten said the board has joy in the knowledge that Smith will be able to work for the institution he loves. “He is not only a graduate of Southern but his love runs deep for Dr. Al Mohler and the entire staff; and like Florida Baptists, he will serve them well,” Whitten said.

“Our sadness is that for 12 years Jim Smith and Florida Baptists have been talking to one another through articles, editorials and reports,” Whitten said. “And we will miss his conservative mind, theological heart, his political views and gifted pen.”

Speaking on behalf of the board and Florida Baptists, Whitten told Smith he will be greatly missed.

“We pray God’s best for you and Linda as you begin a new chapter in Louisville, Ky.,” he said, referencing Smith’s wife. “They will love you as we have. Thank you for your devotion to the Lord, the accuracy of your writing, and your heart that always came through in your editorials. You will be greatly missed.”

Smith earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary in 1999 and also is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University. He and his wife are parents to two adult children.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by reporting from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and the Florida Baptist Witness.)
5/16/2013 3:21:31 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Franklin Graham cries foul over IRS audits; BR remains ‘curious’

May 15 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

In response to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) acknowledging last week that they targeted conservative, nonprofit political groups, Franklin Graham released a letter May 14 voicing his own concerns to President Obama. The letter focused on the IRS auditing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, both based in North Carolina, last fall.
 
The letter also leaves Allan Blume, editor of the Biblical Recorder, “curious” about an IRS audit with the Recorder in recent weeks.
 
On May 10, the IRS publically acknowledged that they had targeted groups with names that included “Tea Party,” “Take back the Country,” “Patriot” and other descriptions associated with conservative nonprofits. In Graham’s letter to the president, he contended the investigations by the IRS were not limited to conservative, political groups.
 
“Indeed, it extended to religious charities – Jewish and Christian – as well,” Graham wrote in the opening paragraph of his letter.
 
“In light of what the IRS admitted to … and subsequent revelations from other sources, I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence – or justifiable,” he wrote. “… I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.’”
 
Graham went on to imply that the two organizations were singled out, for the stand he and his father Billy Graham have taken on traditional marriage and encouraging evangelicals to “vote for biblical values” last November. Last April, the BGEA ran full-page ads statewide voicing support for the Marriage Amendment in N.C. that defined marriage only between a man and a woman. Later that fall, the BGEA ran ads in newspapers around the country that encouraged voters to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.”
 
In September 2012, both Samaritan’s Purse, headquartered in Boone, and the BGEA in Charlotte, received notification that the IRS would review forms they filed in 2010. An IRS agent arrived in October to conduct a review of both organizations.
 
“Our returns were accepted as filed,” Graham said. “Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices.”
 
Similarly, the IRS inquired about forms filed in 2010 by the Recorder. Earlier today on Fox News’ website, an article referenced all three audits with concerns that the IRS had also targeted conservative, religious groups.

The IRS notified Allan Blume, the Recorder’s editor, in March that the publication was being audited. An IRS agent visited the publication and conducted an interview with the editor and the organization’s attorney. The IRS agent completed his work with Blume and the BR’s attorney on May 9.
 
Blume remained cautious about making too many assumptions.
 
“We have no evidence that we were directly targeted by the IRS,” Blume said. “We were told there were questions about three consecutive years of what is called ‘unrelated business income.’ Attention seemed to be drawn to this item because much of our income comes from Cooperative Program gifts.” 
 
“Once the agent understood the Southern Baptist way of giving and supporting mission causes, there seemed to be no serious concerns.”
 
Blume said, “The IRS agent was courteous and professional throughout the audit. We did not experience any form of intimidation by the agent. As expected, he had some suggestions about procedures, but affirmed that our records were in good condition. We are waiting for the agent’s official letter on the results of the audit. Such a letter typically takes up to six weeks.”
 
With that said, Blume added, “We are curious.”
 
“Last year the Biblical Recorder took a clear stand for family values throughout North Carolina’s marriage amendment vote,” he said. “We would like to know if the Biblical Recorder showed up on the IRS’ radar ... because of our stand on biblical values.”
 
Blume also referenced the Recorder’s article on Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy last year that went viral online. In the article Cathy affirmed his support of traditional family values.
 
“The story gained national attention, after some media outlets distorted Mr. Cathy’s comments,” Blume said. “Our web traffic and national attention skyrocketed.”
 
Franklin Graham’s full letter to the president:
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
As an American, the recent admission by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that it had targeted not-for-profit organizations with “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names for audits is chilling. However, I write today to inform you this profiling by the IRS was not limited to conservative political organizations; indeed, it extended to religious charities—Jewish and Christian—as well.
 
Last April, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headquartered in North Carolina, ran full-page ads statewide supporting the Marriage Amendment in North Carolina. We believe marriage between a man and a woman to be a moral, biblical value to be upheld. And last fall, our ministry ran newspaper ads nationally encouraging voters to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” The ad concluded with these words: “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God.” (These ads were purchased with designated funds given by friends of our ministry for this purpose.)
 
To my surprise, on September 6, 2012, both Samaritan’s Purse (headquartered in Boone, NC) and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (headquartered in Charlotte, NC) received notification from the IRS that a review would be conducted for tax year ending 2010. An IRS agent arrived October 15, 2012, to conduct a review of Samaritan’s Purse; and an agent arrived on October 29, 2012, to conduct a review of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
 
In light of what the IRS admitted to on Friday, May 10, 2013, and subsequent revelations from other sources, I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable. Yesterday you said, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that’s outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions…” Mr. President, the IRS has already publicly acknowledged it operated in a less than neutral and non-partisan way. We also now know that the target of their improper actions was much wider than political or Tea Party organizations. Will you take some immediate action to reassure Americans we are not in a new chapter of America’s history—repressive government rule?
 
After the election, we did receive official notice that our organizations continue to quality for exemption from Federal income tax, and that our returns were accepted as filed. Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices. I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical—indeed some would call it “un-American.”
 
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
Franklin Graham
5/15/2013 3:56:16 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



German homeschoolers denied asylum

May 15 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

CINCINNATI – A German homeschooling family has been denied asylum in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures that the United States Constitution prohibits. But it did not,” the judges wrote in releasing their ruling May 14.

Instead, asylum laws apply only to those who have a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” and the Romeike family did not make a sufficient case, the judges ruled.
05-15-13german.jpg

Romeike family


The Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 because of mounting fines and the threat of losing custody of their children unless they attended public school in a country where homeschooling is illegal. In 2010 they were granted asylum, but the Obama administration appealed the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals and won.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), representing the Romeike family, had argued that the right of parents to direct the education of their children, including homeschooling, is a fundamental human right that the government must protect.

“We believe the Sixth Circuit is wrong and we will appeal their decision,” Michael Farris, founder and chairman of HSLDA, said in a statement. “America has room for this family and we will do everything we can to help them.” 

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s director of international affairs, said Germany continues to persecute homeschoolers. 

“The court ignored mountains of evidence that homeschoolers are harshly fined and that custody of their children is gravely threatened – something most people would call persecution. This is what the Romeikes will suffer if they are sent back to Germany,” Donnelly said. 

The judges said there is a difference between “the persecution of a discrete group and those who violate a generally applicable law. As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution.”

As stated in the opinion, the Romeikes feared that the public school curriculum in Germany would “influence [their children] against Christian values,” and the government imposed fines for each unexcused absence. At the time they fled Germany, they owed the government roughly $9,000.

The 6th Circuit upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals’ reasoning that homeschoolers are not protected by immigration laws because they “lack the social visibility” and “particularity required to be a cognizable social group.”

Furthermore, the Romeikes, the judges ruled, “have not claimed on appeal that the German government has persecuted them in the past; they claim that the government will persecute them in the future if they return.”

The court agreed with the board that there is no indication that German officials “are motivated by anything other than law enforcement,” which would amount to appropriate administration of the law, not persecution.

The board, the judges wrote, “convincingly showed that the record simply did not support two ‘findings’: that Germany selectively applied the law to faith-based homeschoolers and disproportionately punished them for violations.”

The court pointed out that the United States “has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment, treatment that our laws do not allow. That the United States Constitution protects the rights of ‘parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control’ does not mean that a contrary law in another country establishes persecution on religious or any other protected ground.”

Quoting an earlier opinion by then-Judge Samuel Alito, the judges wrote that “the concept of persecution does not encompass all treatment that our society regards as unfair, unjust, or even unlawful or unconstitutional. If persecution were defined that expansively, a significant percentage of the world’s population would qualify for asylum in this country – and it seems most unlikely that Congress intended such as a result.”

The question is not whether Germany’s policy violates the American constitution, the judges said, or whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether it’s a good idea. The question is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim – a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground. The Romeikes, they concluded, have not met this burden.

In a separate concurring opinion, one of the judges wrote that their role is not that of an international court adjudicating Germany’s obligations to other countries in respect of its own citizens.

“Instead we sit as a court of the United States, enforcing statutes that implement some of the international obligations of the United States to other countries in respect of asylum applicants,” he wrote.

Two of the panel’s judges were nominated to the appeals court by President George W. Bush, and the third was nominated by President Clinton.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
5/15/2013 1:50:02 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Gosnell verdicts become fodder for both sides of abortion debate

May 15 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike applauded the jury verdicts for Kermit Gosnell but sharply disagreed on what should be learned from the convictions of the Philadelphia abortion doctor.

Pro-lifers said the case demonstrates the injustice of maintaining legalized abortion, as well as the need for stricter regulations on the practice. Pro-choicers said it shows the injustice of regulating abortion. And in making their case, leading abortion rights defenders failed to mention a whole class of victims in Gosnell’s crimes: The children he killed.

A jury found Gosnell guilty May 13 of the first-degree murder of three babies who were alive outside the womb at his West Philadelphia abortion clinic. The 12-person jury, which had deliberated since April 30, acquitted the abortion doctor of first-degree murder in the case of one other child.

Those babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic described as filthy, according to a 281-page report issued by a grand jury in 2011. Gosnell, who destroyed the records in most of those deaths, or a co-worker typically killed the living children by a technique he called “snipping” – jabbing scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord.

Jurors will begin the sentencing phase of Gosnell’s trial May 21. With the first-degree murder convictions, Gosnell, 72, could receive either the death penalty or life in prison.

The panel also found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, instead of third-degree murder, in the 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, after an abortion. In addition, the jury convicted Gosnell of 21 of 24 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy and of 210 of 227 counts of transgressing the state’s 24-hour waiting period, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land joined other pro-life leaders in seeing Gosnell’s crimes as more than isolated incidents. 

“This verdict is one more step in the direction of an increasingly pro-life America affirming the personhood of the unborn,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The grotesque atmosphere of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic stands as a graphic reminder of what is happening to our unborn and newly born citizens in similar clinics across America.”

Christians “must renew our efforts to stop the wholesale sacrifice of our unborn children to the false gods of social convention, convenience and arbitrary standards of normality,” Land told Baptist Press (BP).

Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-life Union, was “elated,” she told BP.

“Kermit Gosnell is a heinous killer of children, and I am so glad that the jury saw him for the murderer that he is,” Gardner said, adding she hopes there will be “more regulations and restrictions in place [on abortion clinics] that will help to save the lives of children and women.”

“Abortion clinics are horrible, bloody places that make money on high volume,” Gardner said. “They shuffle women in and just as hurriedly shuffle them out.”

Gardner, who sat in the courtroom two or three days a week for five weeks of the trial, had criticized Gosnell, also African American, for the way he took advantage of poor, minority women in his clinic. During the trial, she described him as “a racist of the worst kind” and “the poster boy for black-on-black crime.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the “greatest tragedy” is Gosnell is “not alone.”

“Exploitation of women and complete disregard for their health and well-being are problems endemic to the entire abortion industry,” she said in a written statement.

“Abortion is a brutal, painful procedure, both for the child that it kills and the woman that it wounds,” Dannenfelser said. “We must protect children both inside and outside the womb who experience unspeakable pain from abortion.”

Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., commended the convictions, saying Gosnell’s crimes “stand as a stark reminder that there is no such thing as a safe abortion.”

Black is sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would bar federal family planning funds from going to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and other abortion providers.

“While Gosnell’s actions were especially egregious, we should remember this is what happens each time an abortion is performed – a beating heart is stopped and an innocent human life is ended,” Black said in a written statement. “Gosnell’s crimes also are incredibly revealing about the true nature of the big abortion industry that profits daily off the murder of children and willfully even sacrifices women’s health at the altar of choice.”

PPFA and NARAL Pro-choice America – two of the country’s leading abortion rights organizations – commended the jury’s verdicts without commenting on the victims Gosnell was convicted of murdering.

Eric Ferrero, PPFA’s vice president for communications, described Gosnell’s crimes as “appalling,” saying the verdict “will ensure that no woman is victimized by Kermit Gosnell ever again.”

“This case has made clear that we must have and enforce laws that protect access to safe and legal abortion, and we must reject misguided laws that would limit women’s options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell,” Ferrero said.

NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said justice “was served” in the verdicts and Gosnell “will pay the price for the atrocities he committed.”

“Now, let’s make sure these women are vindicated by delivering what all women deserve: access to the full range of health services including safe, high-quality and legal abortion care,” Hogue said in a written release. 

“We hope that the lessons of the trial do not fade with the verdict: Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell,” Hogue said.

The 2011 report by the grand jury, however, described a “regulatory collapse” by Pennsylvania and city agencies in monitoring Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic under the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and state regulations. The state Department of Health provided only intermittent reviews from the time Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society opened in 1979 until 1993. It totally halted inspections of abortion clinics for “political reasons” in 1993 under Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican, the grand jury reported in 2011.

A raid of Gosnell’s clinic in an investigation of prescription drug trafficking in 2010 led to multiple charges and the closing of the facility.

In light of testimony in the Gosnell trial and other reports, Republicans in Congress are calling for investigations of abortion clinics and cooperation from states to prevent the kind of murderous and horrific practices described by former Gosnell employees and other witnesses.

GOP members of both the Senate and House of Representatives have called for Congress to investigate and remedy “abusive, unsanitary, and illegal abortion practices.” Leaders of two House committees, meanwhile, have written attorneys general and health department officials seeking information on the regulation of abortion clinics in all 50 states.

The grand jury’s 2011 report said federal and state authorities discovered the following during their 2010 raid of Gosnell’s clinic:
  • The remains of 45 babies stored in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons and cat-food containers, with some in a refrigerator and others in a freezer.
  • The severed feet of babies in jars.
  • “Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room....”
  • Conditions in the clinic that were “by far, the worst” the investigators had ever seen, with blood on the floor and on blankets covering dirty recliners, a “stench of urine,” cat excrement on the stairs, “filthy and unsanitary” surgery rooms, dirty instruments and broken equipment.
At trial, Gosnell initially faced seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable babies outside the womb but Judge Jeffrey Minehart of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court dropped three of the counts after the prosecution rested its case.

The trial began March 18, and the prosecution closed its case April 18 after five weeks of testimony, much of it from former Gosnell employees who recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the clinic. Attorney Jack McMahon called no witnesses in Gosnell’s defense.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
5/15/2013 1:42:32 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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