May 2014

Historical committee announces writing competition

May 8 2014 by Baptist State Convention

The Historical Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) announces its annual writing competition that seeks to recognize and reward excellent historical publications.
North Carolina Baptists may submit entries in the following categories: Church History; Association History (includes agencies and institutions); and Biography, Autobiography, Memoirs and Personal Reflection.
The Historical Committee seeks to encourage churches, associations, institutions and agencies affiliated with the BSC to preserve their historical documents, artifacts, correspondences and records.
In order to be eligible for the 2014 competition, entries must have been published in 2013 or 2014.
Deadline for submissions is June 30.
Winners will be recognized at the BSC’s annual meeting in Greensboro in November.
For more information contact Norma Jean Johnson at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5618, or
To submit entries, mail two copies to: Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Historical Committee, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC  27512-1107.
All competition entries become the property of the Historical Committee and will be added to the North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection at Wake Forest University.
For more information about the collection, visit
5/8/2014 11:28:06 AM by Baptist State Convention | with 0 comments

Multi-ethnic leaders intent on missions

May 7 2014 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

Leaders representing various language and ethnic groups told Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, they would like to be “incorporated” into the totality of Southern Baptist life, not merely “assimilated” as objects of ministry.

“We want to be a mission force more than a mission field,” Lennox Zamore, pastor of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, said during introductions at the newly-appointed Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.

Zamore’s comment drew numerous “Amens” from around the table and was restated by several other leaders representing African, Belarusian, Caribbean, Deaf, Ghanaian, Haitian, Intercultural, Jamaican, Messianic, Multi-Ethnic, Native American, Romanian and Russian Baptist fellowships across the United States.

The council is the fourth and final ethnic advisory council appointed to help the SBC Executive Committee, North American Mission Board (NAMB) and other SBC entity leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the nation and all nations with the gospel.


Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Members of the Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council gather with Frank S. Page of the SBC Executive Committee (front row, third from left) for the council’s inaugural meeting.

Page, in his opening remarks during the March 27–28 meeting in Atlanta, pointed to a great mandate (the Great Commission), a great method (that ministry is most effective when we do it together) and a great message (the doctrine of God’s amazing grace as revealed through the atonement of Jesus Christ) as three things upon which church leaders of every ethnicity, race and language can and should agree.

“We don’t have time to waste in this life,” Page said. “Our unity in diversity is not about ‘looking good’ culturally; it is about reaching every man and woman and boy and girl with the gospel.”

Speaking of his own conversion as a child, Page said, “I was not raised in a Christian home. ... But, someone knocked on our door and invited me to church.” Reaching other children and families such as his own is the common bond we have in Christ, he said.

Portique Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship Church in San Pablo, Calif., agreed. “The SBC is at a crossroads of opportunity,” he said. “The lostness of those men and women and boys and girls is the crossroad.” People need to see the SBC’s unity on this issue, Wilburn said.

In an open forum during the closing session, council members weighed in on some of the more pressing needs they see in their communities. These included:
  • “Quality, Gospel-centered (not merely moralistic) Bible study resources” in their respective languages.
  • “Entry-level theological training for God-called ministers” that will be transferable to accredited programs as their pastors pursue additional academic studies.
  • Assistance in finding places to establish language congregations with a view toward the churches moving beyond “mission” status to becoming autonomous congregations.
  • Developing an “online library of language-specific resources” that can be used by churches in different parts of the country.
  • Discovering, developing and promoting what Joseph Gaston, president of the Haitian Baptist Fellowship, called “extendables” – resources for language churches being planted in the United States that can be “extended” for use in new and existing churches in their native countries.
For example, with more than 7 million Russian-speaking people in the United States and Canada, Andrew Ryzhkov, pastor of Byelorussian Missions, Inc., in Cumming, Ga., suggested using innovative resources, such as a popular Russian-language comic-book-style “Good and Evil Bible” that is making an impact among Russian Jews in Israel.

Ben Mishin, pastor of Life Way Baptist Church in Philadelphia, added that while providing Russian-language resources may not be financially practical if looking only at stateside demand, when the worldwide Russian-speaking population is taken into account, it makes distribution issues less daunting.

Aric Randolph, Deaf pastor at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church, summarized networking, training and resources as the most pressing needs identified by all participants.

Reiterating the “missions force, not mission field” motif, Randolph urged Page to let convention leaders know that ministries such as the deaf congregation he leads want to be “empowered,” not merely “enabled.” Noting that most deaf people only read English at a fourth-grade level, he urged consideration of more deaf-centric education, including seminary training, that makes use of visual and video resources so that deaf people can “see it in their heart language.”

Church planting at home and abroad dominated the last part of the meeting as leaders explored ways to link their ethnic church planting efforts in the United States with the current NAMB church planting strategy and internationally with IMB church planting efforts.

Page has appointed Tim Chavis, pastor, Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina, as chairman of the council. Other members participating in the Atlanta meeting were Jerry Baker, intercultural church planting and missions ministries, Georgia Baptist Convention; Mark Hobafcovich, NAMB, member of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Ga.; Matei Istudor, pastor, Gwinnett Romanian Baptist Church, Buford, Ga.; Charles Locklear, pastor, Calvary Way Baptist Church, Pembroke, N.C.; Pierre A. Marc, pastor, First Haitian Baptist Church, Burlington, N.J.; Wilner Maxy, pastor, Emmanuel Haitian Baptist Church, Miami; Ledtkey (Lit) McIntosh, pastor, Glorieta Baptist Church, Oklahoma City; Samuel Opoku, pastor, Abundant Life Baptist Church, Bronx, N.Y.; Delroy Reid-Salmon, pastor, Grace Baptist Chapel, Bronx, N.Y.; Joseph Ruberintwari, senior pastor, International Evangelical Church, Abilene, Texas; Rodney Webb, retired, NAMB, member, Briarlake Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.; Ric Worshill, president, SBC Messianic Fellowship, Lindenhurst, Ill. Members not in attendance were Jamal Bishara and Anatoly Moshkovshy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE (, the Executive Committee’s journal.)
5/7/2014 12:21:56 PM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mental Health Advisory Council named

May 7 2014 by Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee president Frank S. Page has named a 23-member volunteer advisory body of local church leaders and professionals in the mental health field to advise him on possible ways of better communicating with Southern Baptists about mental health ministry needs in their churches and communities as well as ministry resources to address those needs.

Kentucky pastor Tony Rose of LaGrange Baptist Church will chair the Mental Health Advisory Council.

In keeping with the advisory nature of other advisory groups named by Page, the mental health advisory group is designed to assist him and other SBC entity leaders by 1) reviewing current mental health ministries offered through SBC ministry entity, state convention, associational and local church initiatives; 2) assessing the best practices of such ministry initiatives; and 3) suggesting ways in which these ministry initiatives can or should be formalized through other means.

“The group’s goal is to consider ways to assist SBC entity leaders and local church leaders in their common task of reaching all people with the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ,” according to SBC LIFE, journal of the Executive Committee.


Tony Rose

SBC LIFE further noted: “The advisory group will neither launch nor execute official SBC ministries, although individual members may develop their own ministry affinity networks to further engage churches in ministries to individuals and families with mental health needs. Its role is to provide information, insight and counsel to EC staff concerning the special needs and concerns of persons and families experiencing mental health issues in the Southern Baptist network of churches.

“Since the advisory group is not an official committee of the Convention, no budgetary funds have been allocated for its meetings. It is comprised of a representative set of mental health providers, local church practitioners, and other ministry specialists who have agreed to serve as part of the advisory group and to meet at their own expense.

“The advisory group will issue a report to the EC president to assist him in framing these ideas into a presentation model for discussions about mental health needs with members of the SBC Great Commission Council and ministry leaders in state conventions, associations, and local churches, with a goal to leverage such discussions toward a more comprehensive mental health ministry strategy.”

The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, during its Feb. 17–18 meeting in Nashville, concurred with the spirit of a motion referred from the 2013 SBC annual meeting regarding mental health ministry. The EC voted to amend an annual ministry report form it solicits from the SBC’s entities to include questions asking appropriate entities what they are doing to assist Southern Baptist churches in equipping and ministering to people with mental health challenges.

The Executive Committee also voted to “continue to seek ways to work in cooperation with SBC entities and others to address the severe challenges imposed by mental illness.”

The Executive Committee was responding to a motion by Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, at last year’s annual meeting in Houston.

Floyd’s motion asked “that the messengers of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention ... request that the Executive Committee and the Bylaw 14 entities of the Southern Baptist Convention work in cooperation to assist our churches in the challenge of ministry to those suffering from mental health issues, and that each entity in their written annual ministry report inform the messengers what they have done, are doing, and will do annually to assist our churches in equipping and ministering to the people in our churches and communities who suffer with mental health challenges.”

Bylaw 14 of the SBC constitution names as entities the International and North American mission boards, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics & Liberty Commission and the SBC’s six seminaries.

Messengers to the 2013 SBC annual meeting also approved a resolution on “Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God,” affirming the “immeasurable value to God” of those with mental health concerns, committing to “affirm, support and share God’s love and redemption with those with mental health concerns” and opposing “all stigmatization and prejudice against those who are suffering from mental health concerns.”

The resolution affirmed messengers’ support for “the wise use of medical intervention for mental health concerns when appropriate” and “research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”

The resolution affirmed that “those in Christ cannot be separated from the eternal love of God that is in Christ Jesus” and asked Southern Baptists and their churches “to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families.”

In addition to Rose, the Mental Health Advisory Council will include Debby Akerman, Ocean View Baptist Church, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Kay Arnold, Village Chapel, Nashville, Tenn.; Will Bacon, Dogwood Church, Tyrone, Ga.; Kelly Campbell, The People’s Church, Franklin, Tenn.; Kent Choate, The Church at Battle Creek, Broken Arrow, Okla.; Ray Cleek, First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Daniel Darling, First Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, Tenn.; Ronnie Floyd, Cross Church, Springdale, Ark.; Chuck Hannaford, Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, Tenn.; Eric L. Johnson, LaGrange Baptist Church, LaGrange, Ky.; Ian Jones, First Baptist Church, New Orleans; John R. Jones, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Dallas; Pepper Pratt, Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn.; Shannon Royce, Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, Va.; Ken Sartain, First Baptist Church, Hughson, Calif.; Matthew S. Stanford, Antioch Community Church, Waco, Texas; Belva Weathersby, Simeon Baptist Church, Antioch, Tenn.; Lennox Zamore, Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church; Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Four from North Carolina were named to the group:
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and member of Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church in Raleigh
Doug Carver, interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Matthews and executive director for chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board
Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham
Sam Williams, an elder at North Wake Church in Wake Forest and professor of counseling at Southeastern Seminary

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from a report in SBC LIFE (, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

5/7/2014 12:12:02 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

German homeschoolers still claim persecution

May 7 2014 by Baptist Press

One year after an appeals court denied their request for asylum in the U.S., a German homeschooling family still maintains that they faced religious persecution in their homeland and should have been protected under American law.

In May 2013, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals that Uwe and Hannelore Romeike were not persecuted in Germany even though they faced fines and the threat of losing custody of their children for failing to attend public school. 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.

But Uwe Romeike told Morning Star News that German officials seemed to display animosity toward the family’s evangelical Christian faith.

“They didn’t always [exhibit animosity] openly, but they would at least call us bigoted,” Romeike said. “Also, you have to understand that most Germans would consider themselves Christians. That means they wouldn’t necessarily show animosity toward Christianity but rather call us ‘extreme religious’ or fanatic. Most times homeschooling families are portrayed in the media as extreme Christians, fundamentalists, fanatics, alienated from the modern world, even dangerous.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Romeikes’ appeal, making deportation appear likely. But a day later the Obama administration said it would not deport the family and would grant them “indefinite deferred status,” which means they may stay in the U.S. permanently unless they violate the terms of that status.


 The Romeike family

The Romeikes live in east Tennessee, where the parents and five oldest of seven children are members of First Baptist Church in Morristown. Uwe serves as a deacon as well as the church pianist.

The Romeikes said they are satisfied with the outcome of their case but wish it could have set a helpful precedent for other persecuted homeschoolers around the world.

Persecuted in Germany

The textbooks used in German public schools conflicted with the family’s Christian values and gave them no choice but to disobey the government’s homeschooling prohibition, they said. The Romeikes believe that threatening to take away their children for living out their faith was tantamount to persecution.

In the textbooks, “children were, for example, taught disrespect toward parents, teachers and adults in general, and witchcraft and devil worship was portrayed favorably,” Romeike said. “The Christian faith was ridiculed.”

In spite of a law in Germany forbidding homeschooling, the Romeikes began homeschooling their children in 2006. After they refused to pay fines for their children’s absences, the school principal met with them and asked what they would do if police enforced the law. The Romeikes dismissed it as an empty threat until police showed up the next month and took three children to school, which was “quite traumatic” for the kids then ages 9, 8 and 6, Romeike said.

When police showed up the next day, four adults and seven minors from the Romeikes’ homeschool support group intervened, and police departed, unwilling to use force, according to court documents. The state continued to fine them – a total of 7,000 euros (roughly $9,000) by the time they left Germany.

The Romeikes did not want to leave Germany – Uwe, a piano teacher, and his father had built a custom home in Bissingen with a music studio on the first floor – but they sensed they had no choice.

“Had we stopped teaching them at home and sent them back to public school, where we knew they would be taught against the Christian faith, we would have violated our conscience,” Uwe Romeike said. “This might not be physical persecution, but it is mental and spiritual persecution against us parents as well as against our children who at all times wanted to be homeschooled.”

They learned what was happening to other families homeschooling for other reasons: a 15-year-old girl was put in a psychiatric clinic and foster home; one couple lost custody; another was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

“We also consider it to be persecution if parents constantly live in fear of losing their children to the state, when they daily have to expect the child protective service to come and take the children and custody away from them,” Romeike said. “Since that happened to several homeschooling families in recent years, this is not an empty threat. Because we couldn’t live with this fear, we fled Germany.”

Seeking asylum

The family set up home in Tennessee while their asylum application took two years to make its way to immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman, and on Jan. 26, 2010, he agreed with the Romeikes. In a 28-page ruling, Burman granted them asylum after determining that homeschoolers were a persecuted social group in Germany, that the Romeikes had religious motivation, and that Germany’s persecution of homeschoolers would restrict the exercise of their faith.

Their attorney, Michael P. Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said the ruling hit media on every continent.

“The decision was an extraordinary recognition of the fundamental importance of the right of parents to raise their children according to the dictates of individual conscience,” Donnelly wrote after the ruling. “Judge Burman noted that the rights being denied the Romeikes were ‘basic human rights that no country has a right to violate.’”

The U.S. Government Agency for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), however, soon filed an appeal arguing that U.S. law recognized the “broad power of the state to prohibit or regulate homeschooling,” and that this along with other considerations should negate asylum. ICE argued that Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers amounted to prosecution, not persecution, that sanctions had been meted out in a “limited number of circumstances” and that the Romeikes had failed to “make any effort to locate an acceptable alternative school.”

Those claims had been argued in the first hearing on the case and were shown to be false, Donnelly said.

Nevertheless, in 2012 the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) overturned the ruling. The BIA argued that religious homeschoolers face no special threats, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit last year upheld the reversal.

“The BIA/6th Circuit essentially ruled that the Romeikes were prosecuted, not persecuted,” Donnelly told Morning Star News. “BIA also found that homeschoolers in Germany were not a ‘particular social group.’”

In 6th Circuit Appeals Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s opinion for the three-judge panel, he stated that Germany had not singled out the Romeikes or homeschoolers in particular for persecution.

“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,” Sutton wrote. “... There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law.”

In his summary opinion, Sutton noted that the Romeikes were trying to meet the religious persecution criteria not on what had already happened, but on claims that the German government would persecute them if they returned.

Little is known about how or why the Department of Homeland Security opted to indefinitely extend the family’s deferred immigration status, with attorney Donnelly saying only, “DHS said that in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, they were granting indefinite deferred action status to the Romeikes.”

The BIA and 6th Circuit’s rulings that Germany’s homeschooling laws did not constitute religious persecution showed that they disregarded the faith-based and personal conscience concerns, Romeike said.

“This administration’s position unfortunately seems to be the same as Germany’s,” he said. “Homeschooling is considered to be a privilege rather than a fundamental human right.”

He added that he and his wife have tried to do what’s best for their children even if it was not the easiest path.

“We know other families that suffer the same kind of persecution because of homeschooling in Germany as we did – many even more, because they lost custody, possessions or face jail time,” Romeike said. “But the outcome of our case upholds the 6th Circuit Court’s decision, which in essence doesn’t recognize Germany’s treatment of homeschooling families as persecution because one can choose not to homeschool in order to be left in peace. They completely disregard the fact that parents do this because of their faith and can’t just quit and thereby violate their conscience permanently. This is not satisfactory for a country that claims to uphold religious freedom.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from Morning Star News (, a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)
5/7/2014 11:59:02 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Willy Rice announced as Pastors’ nominee

May 7 2014 by Baptist Press

Willy Rice, pastor of the Tampa-area Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, according to an announcement by fellow Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins.

Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, stated in a May 5 announcement to Baptist Press: “It will be my great privilege to nominate my friend, Dr. Willy Rice as president of the Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention. Willy has served as the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., since 2004. Under his leadership this historic congregation has experienced renewed health and significant growth in every area. Calvary averages more than 3,500 people attending multiple services on two campuses. Calvary is annually recognized as one of the leaders in missions, giving and baptisms in the state of Florida. Outreach magazine has listed Calvary as one of the 100 fastest growing churches in America.”

Rice, 50, led Calvary Baptist Church through a complete relocation from its historic campus in downtown Clearwater to its current location in east Clearwater. The church has a second campus in East Lake just to the north.

Scroggins said Rice “understands and rejoices in the rich history of the SBC, but Willy pastors in a major metropolitan area and his church embodies the racial and socio-economic diversity required for Southern Baptists to be a Gospel force in the future.”

The Pastors’ Conference, which features messages from key leaders and inspirational music and worship, will be June 8-9 in the Baltimore Convention Center preceding the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 10-11 annual meeting there.

Columbus, Ohio, will be the site of next year’s Pastors’ Conference and SBC annual meeting.

Rice, 50, led Calvary Baptist Church through a complete relocation from its historic campus in downtown Clearwater to its current location in east Clearwater. The church has a second campus in East Lake just to the north. Rice served previously at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., for seven years.

Rice served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention from 2006 to 2008 and is the author of two books, “Discover Dynamic Life” and “Before You Go: What Every Parent Needs to Say and Every Kid Needs to Hear.”

Before serving in Pensacola, Rice had been pastor of Gladeview Baptist Church in Anniston, Ala.; Cypress Lake Baptist Church in Tampa; and Bethel Baptist Church in Dora, Ala.

Rice earned an undergraduate degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and a master of divinity and doctor of ministry from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Rice and his wife Cheryl have three children.

“I believe Willy Rice will strike exactly the right tone as President of our Pastors’ Conference,” Scroggins said. “I also believe that Southern Baptists from all walks of life will be challenged and encouraged by his leadership. I look forward to placing his name in nomination at our meeting in Baltimore.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)
5/7/2014 11:52:08 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tornadoes destroy, Baptist Men help rebuild

May 7 2014 by Staff, press reports

The April 25 tornado outbreak left great damage to the North Carolina towns of Elizabeth City and Washington.
More than 35 volunteers from North Carolina Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) worked April 27 in both Elizabeth City and Washington to help homeowners clean up from the storm damage.

Baptists on Mission Facebook photo
Extensive damage April 25 in Elizabeth City and Washington has spurred recovery efforts through Baptists on Mission (or North Carolina Baptist Men).

Volunteers from Elm Grove Baptist and Ross Baptist churches were in Bertie County to provide assistance because of the help they received from others two years ago.

On April 16, 2011, more than 25 tornadoes were reported in 33 North Carolina counties. Twenty-four people were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands were damaged. Eighteen of those 33 counties were declared disaster areas.
Preston Jernigan, pastor of Elm Grove Baptist in Colerain, said that many housing structures were damaged from Edenton to Elizabeth City.
Most of the contributed service from Elm Grove and Ross Baptist was chainsaw and cleanup work of debris on homes and roads in the area, Jernigan said.
Due to the extensive damage, there is a need for trained and untrained volunteers. Baptist Men can provide lodging and meals at local churches and they have on-site disaster relief coordinators at both locations.
Workers have given more than 1,000 volunteer hours and more than 30 clean up jobs have been completed with more to go. In addition, two people came to Christ. 
To sign up to help, go to
5/7/2014 11:43:54 AM by Staff, press reports | with 0 comments

Prayers at town meetings okay, justices rule

May 6 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled prayers at a town’s legislative meetings are constitutional.

In a 5-4 opinion, the high court overturned Monday (May 5) a federal appeals court, which ruled that the prayer policy of the Greece, N.Y., Town Board violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City had reversed a federal judge by deciding Greece’s prayer practice “had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity.”

The narrow decision was the latest in a long line of important Supreme Court opinions providing guidance on the relationship between church and state. Advocates for the freedom of religious expression in public meetings applauded the ruling.

Russell D. Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious liberty spokesman, said he is “very thankful the Court did the right thing in refusing to allow the government to take on the mission of the church and in refusing to allow the government to establish a state-ordered civil religion that crowds out the most basic rights of freedom of speech.”

“This is a victory for all of those who believe in the freedom of speech, including religious speech, as a prized part of our God-given religious liberty,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a written statement. “Prayer at the beginning of a meeting is a signal that we aren’t ultimately just Americans. We are citizens of the State, yes, but the State isn’t ultimate. There is some higher allegiance than simply political process.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the town of Greece, said the justices’ decision was another affirmation “Americans are free to pray.” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said in a written release, “In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs; we don’t silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe. Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced.”

In writing the majority opinion, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy relied on the country’s history and Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of chaplaincy prayers in the Nebraska legislature

“The prayer opportunity in this case must be evaluated against the backdrop of historical practice,” Kennedy wrote. “As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

In determining what is constitutional in the church-state arena, the justices “must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the [the Constitution’s framers] and has withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change,” Kennedy said.

“That the First Congress provided for the appointment of chaplains only days after approving language for the First Amendment demonstrates that the Framers considered legislative prayer a benign acknowledgment of religion’s role in society,” he wrote.

Kennedy, who maintained his frequent role as the deciding vote on a deeply divided court, struck a blow in his opinion for robust religious expression in a pluralistic society. He noted Greece’s board did not review the prayers prior to meetings nor did it offer guidelines for their content.

“To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact,” he wrote.

“Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy,” Kennedy’s opinion said.

“The tradition reflected in [the Marsh opinion] permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing references to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition,” he wrote.

“A number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes, as by celebrating the changing of the seasons or calling for a ‘spirit of cooperation’ among town leaders,” Kennedy said.

The Greece board’s prayer policy is not coercive, and it does not violate the First Amendment by virtue of most of the city’s congregations being Christian, he said.

Joining Kennedy in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The court’s four more liberal members – Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – dissented.

In her dissenting opinion, Kagan wrote, “When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.”

Moore addressed Kagan’s point in a blog post for Time magazine May 5, writing, “[T]his is itself a religious claim, that faith is simply a private personal preference with no influence on our public lives. That’s a claim that millions of us, whatever our religious beliefs, reject.”

The ERLC and other defenders of Greece’s board said in friend-of-the-court briefs its prayer policy provided a forum for private citizens to offer prayers that were constitutionally protected. They also said the Second Circuit’s opinion would require judges to make theological decisions regarding the acceptability of different prayers.

Michael and Jonathan Whitehead, Southern Baptist lawyers who wrote the ERLC brief, praised the high court’s opinion for its common sense.

“Sometimes court opinions are convoluted and indecisive. It is an answer to prayer that this decision is clear on the right of ‘we the people’ to pray in public meetings,” Michael Whitehead, Jonathan’s father, said.

“The Supreme Court has left the parsing to the parsons. Let each minister pray according to his or her faith or belief,” he said in a written release. “This does not establish a particular religion, but establishes religious freedom and mutual respect.”

The Whiteheads are lawyers in private practice in the Kansas City, Mo., area and are members of Abundant Life Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo. Michael Whitehead was general counsel from 1990 to 1995 for the ERLC (then the Christian Life Commission) and serves now as general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Three Southern Baptists were among 10 theologians who signed onto another friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Greece prayer policy. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and James Hamilton, associate professor at Southern Seminary, joined in a brief filed by the Liberty Institute.

The Obama administration argued on behalf of Greece before the high court, seeking to defend the practice of congressional prayers.

Greece, which is a suburb of Rochester in western New York, is a town of about 96,000 people on the shore of Lake Ontario.

The opinion came in the Greece v. Galloway case.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
5/6/2014 11:55:04 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CP tops $109 million through 7 months

May 6 2014 by Baptist Press

Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee exceeded $109 million dollars through month seven of the SBC’s fiscal year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.

The $109,130,246.98 received by the Executive Committee for the first seven months of the fiscal year, Oct. 1 through April 30, for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget represents 97.69 percent of the $111,708,333.33 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America.

The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of April and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2013-14 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

The total is $633,701.27 or 0.58 percent less than the $109,763,948.25 received through the end of April 2013, and is 2.31 percent less than the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget goal for the current year.

Designated giving of $130,745,155.58 for the same year-to-date period is 1.73 percent, or $2,299,337.68, below the $133,044,493.26 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund) and other special gifts.

April’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $14,771,222.53. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $12,040,184.49.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.

State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.

The SBC allocation budget goal for 2013-2014 is $191,500,000, an increase of 1.86 percent over the $188,000,000 budgeted goal for the previous year, and is distributed as follows: 50.41 percent to support more than 4,800 overseas personnel with the IMB, 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through NAMB, 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.

CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at
5/6/2014 11:45:43 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Faw to nominate McGill for N.C. Pastors’ Conference president

May 6 2014 by Press report

Cameron McGill will be nominated in November for president of the North Carolina Pastors’ Conference by R. Scott Faw, pastor of Moon’s Chapel Baptist Church in Siler City.

Cameron McGill

“Cameron is a loyal Southern Baptist and a leader among leaders,” Faw said. “Cameron is a champion for the inerrancy of scripture just like the current leadership of this convention.”
McGill has been pastor of Dublin First Baptist Church (FBC) for 14 years. He is also a graduate of Emmanuel Baptist University. McGill currently serves as the second vice president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). He has also served on the board of directors, executive committee and the nominating committee. In the Bladen Association, he has served in many capacities including  moderator and numerous committees.
He has led FBC to partner with a New York Baptist church and a church in Moldova through the office of Great Commission partnerships at the BSC. 
5/6/2014 11:38:55 AM by Press report | with 0 comments

Embrace teaches leadership through service

May 6 2014 by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications

As women from churches across North Carolina gathered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on April 11-12 to participate in the Embrace Leadership Training, they learned about leadership from a unique perspective.
This year’s conference theme, “Serving as Designed,” was based on 1 Corinthians 12:8 and placed a special focus on how Christian leaders can serve others by recognizing and utilizing their unique, God-given spiritual gifts.
Embrace is the women’s ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and is directed by Ashley Allen. This year, women’s ministry leaders from 18 different churches in North Carolina attended the Embrace Leadership Training. Embrace has held these training sessions biannually since 2010 – the sessions include keynote speakers and breakout sessions, a time of worship and fellowship and the opportunity to serve others.
Throughout the training, speakers encouraged the participants to know that as Christians, they have been given specific spiritual gifts and these gifts have a purpose in God’s Kingdom. Allen reminded those in attendance that regardless of what God has called them to do, He has equipped them to do it.
Carolyn O’Neal, the conference’s keynote speaker and the director of women’s ministry at First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, spoke from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and shared the importance of choosing to enjoy every season of life; to know that God does everything for a reason; and He will be glorified in every situation.
“Even in the darkest days, the sun still shines. And it might not be the sun, but it might be the Son,” she said.
O’Neal also spoke from John 15:16 – she encouraged the participants to realize that God chose them and appointed them to bear fruit that will last. She reminded the audience that God will use them when they step out and use the spiritual gifts He has given them.
She also asked the audience to write two letters: a letter to God and a second letter written as though it were from God. She urged participants to write what they felt God was speaking to them in the second letter. These letters were collected to be mailed to the women in the next few months.
The leadership training also included time for the women to attend breakout sessions. The sessions offered training in three stages of ministry: sketch, model and masterpiece. They concentrated on ways in which women of different generations can work together, including how older women can help equip younger women for leadership and how younger women can take on a leadership role.
In addition to this time of personal growth, Embrace also provided participants with distinct opportunities to serve others. One of these opportunities was a time of prayer for women who work in red-light districts. The participants prayed that these women would stop the life they are living, yield to God and move forward on His path for their lives.
Women at the conference also had the chance to physically serve others by participating in mission projects in the Wake Forest community. Participants were assigned to seven different mission projects.
Deborah Brogden, a member of one of the missions team, said that the group’s actions at a local gas station had an impact on a Muslim man. “He said, ‘You’ve blessed me by being here,’” she said.
Contact or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5559.
5/6/2014 11:24:06 AM by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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