May 2015

Death penalty debate stirred by Boston sentence

May 29 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The death sentence of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, combined with four allegedly botched executions in the U.S. last year and an anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty this summer, has fueled debate among evangelicals regarding the legitimacy of capital punishment.
Nebraska became the 19th state to ban the death penalty, when lawmakers overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a capital punishment ban May 27.
Whether taking a convicted murderer’s life is just, whether the death penalty is applied fairly across all races and economic classes and whether the common execution method of lethal injection is humane are among the issues under consideration. Some states have experienced difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs because European manufacturers have refused to sell them based on moral objections to the death penalty.
A federal jury’s May 15 decision to sentence Tsarnaev to death for killing three people and injuring hundreds more in a 2013 terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon provoked a variety of responses among Southern Baptists.
“I certainly know many people who believe that in certain circumstances the death penalty, as a legal function of the state and as a deterrent to crime, is justified,” Neal Davidson, pastor of the Boston-area Hope Chapel in Sterling, Mass., told Baptist Press. “But I don’t believe there’s been any momentum in our state to try to reinstate the death penalty. It’s really quite interesting: you had a federal trial with the death penalty on the table taking place in a state that does not have the death penalty.”
Massachusetts is among the states that have abolished the death penalty for cases tried in state courts, according to Individuals convicted of federal crimes in those states may still be sentenced to capital punishment.
On one side of the debate, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) Daniel Heimbach told BP “it would violate the biblical ethic if our government did not apply the death penalty” in Tsarnaev’s case. On the other side, New Orleans pastor David Crosby said he would suspend capital punishment if he could and noted that death row inmates he ministered to said the term “capital punishment” derives from the fact that people with no capital receive the punishment more often than people of means who commit similar crimes.
Other evangelicals endorse the death penalty in a highly qualified manner or are undecided about it. Davidson told BP he is “not categorically opposed [to] or in favor” of capital punishment. He believes there is biblical warrant for employing it as a means of just punishment and a deterrent to crime. But he worries about the possibility of human error in death penalty cases and wants to “err on the side of grace.”
A 2000 Southern Baptist Convention resolution supported “the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.”
Other Christian groups that have affirmed capital punishment include the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the National Association of Evangelicals. The Assemblies of God has posted on its website a defense of capital punishment that acknowledges disagreement among members of Assemblies of God churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops all have opposed the death penalty.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that 61 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is morally acceptable. Support has dropped below 60 percent only once in the past 13 years, according to a ReligionLink report. Most other developed nations have abolished the death penalty.
Whether lethal injection is humane has been one focus of debate during the past year, with four allegedly botched lethal injections in the U.S. in 2014, according to National Public Radio. In Oklahoma, convicted murderer Clayton Lockett appeared to twist on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place his intravenous line properly, Reuters reported.
In Arizona, convicted double murderer Joseph Wood took nearly two hours to die and had to be administered 15 doses of the lethal drug, according to USA Today. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the current term on a case challenging Oklahoma’s method of lethal injection as a breach of the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Biblical arguments

Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at SEBTS, offered two reasons for “believing the Bible requires government to execute persons proven guilty of premeditated murder,” though he noted there are additional reasons.
“The first is because in Genesis 9:5 the Creator says that anyone guilty of murder forfeits his own life by doing so,” Heimbach said in written comments. “And, since the sanctity of life ethic comes from God, and derives from the Creator-creature relationship, this is a very strong argument. The second comes from the last part of Ezekiel 13:19 where God says sparing the lives of murderers is a moral lie contrary to the sanctity of life ethic He requires.”
Heimbach cautioned that governments should “never rush to judgment,” “never place retribution in the hands of private citizens” and “never demand killing anyone based on feeling self-righteous anger, hate or fear.” As with all humans, the debt murderers owe “can be truly satisfied only by the death penalty Jesus paid,” he said.
The Boston Marathon bomber’s trial illustrates how love and justice should both be considered during sentencing in a murder case, Heimbach said.
“Biblical love never lessens what biblical justice requires, and it is love for those whose lives were lost that demands the bomber forfeit his. Taking the bomber’s life cannot possibly pay for what he stole and should not be taken this way. But what it can do, and should do, is tell the world and God that the people the bomber murdered were deeply and truly loved, and that what he did was irretrievably wrong,” Heimbach said.
For Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, La., ministering to death row inmates in Texas helped solidify a developing conviction that the U.S. should abolish capital punishment. As a pastor in Texas, he led a weekly Bible study for death row inmates for six years at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville. Among the inmates he baptized and discipled was Karla Faye Tucker, a convicted double murderer whose highly publicized conversion to faith in Christ occurred just before she met Crosby.
Tucker’s 1998 execution by lethal injection marked the first time a woman in the U.S. had been executed since 1984.
“I remember the moment that I knew she was dead, but I did not witness the execution,” said Crosby, who discipled Tucker four years and moved to New Orleans shortly before her execution.
Crosby told First Baptist the following Sunday, “I am a citizen of this republic. This is participatory government – government of the people, by the people and for the people. And here’s one of the people who doesn’t want to kill these other people anymore.”
The death penalty, Crosby told BP, too often is unjustly administered and does not serve as a deterrent to crime.
“It’s pretty evident that given the same charges [and] the same conviction, poor people are more likely to be executed than wealthy people,” Crosby said. “Black people are more likely to be executed than white people. That’s just true statistically. It’s undeniable.”
The death penalty may be just in individual cases, Crosby said, but the racial and economic disparities of the system should provoke objections among believers.
During his doctoral studies at Baylor University, Crosby researched the death penalty as a deterrent to crime and found lower murder rates in jurisdictions without capital punishment. He also told BP it costs considerably less by most accounts to imprison a person for life than it does to fund extended court proceedings and the execution itself.
Though Scripture allows capital punishment, it is unclear how often it was administered in the Old Testament, and we no longer employ it, as Israelites were permitted to do, for offenses like adultery and rebellion against parents, Crosby said. Additionally, God’s decision to spare Cain’s life demonstrates that murder does not require the death penalty, he said.
Crosby cited the unjust executions of Jesus and Stephen in the New Testament as illustrations that systems of government can fail in the process of administering capital punishment.

The gospel on death row

Regardless of their stances on the death penalty, Southern Baptists agree on the necessity of sharing the gospel with death row inmates – an emphasis highlighted by the 2000 resolution. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s program in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SWBTS) extension program in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Darrington Unit carry out such a ministry.
Ben Phillips, director of SWBTS’s Darrington extension, told BP two recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in biblical studies were on death row before having their sentences reduced to life in prison. Though Phillips believes the death penalty is a just punishment for willfully taking an innocent, defenseless life, he says Christians should love mercy and take the gospel to prisoners sentenced to death.
One SWBTS graduate who used to be on death row hopes to return to minister to inmates there, Phillips said.
“Rather than celebrate the application of the death penalty in general or any particular case,” Phillips said, “we need to love mercy and not only in a general sense hope that ‘those people’ will come to Christ, but actively work to share the gospel with them in a way that speaks to them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

5/29/2015 10:51:42 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Egyptian convert regularly abused, says attorney

May 29 2015 by Morning Star News/Baptist Press staff

TURKEY – Authorities in Egypt are regularly beating and dragging across a concrete prison floor noted convert Bishoy Armia Boulous, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, his attorney said.
Imprisoned by Egyptian authorities on trumped-up charges for photographing Muslim attacks on Christians and then held illegally after his sentence was complete, Boulous is beaten several times a week, said attorney Karam Ghobriel.
Prison officials also have forcibly shaved Boulous’ head, a punishment and harassment technique normally reserved for violent felons, he said.
The physical abuse has continued in addition to Boulous’ illegal detention, Ghobriel said. Boulous remains in Tora Prison despite completion of a one-year sentence that should have ended in December for a charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” of Egypt, he said.


Bishoy Armia Boulous

Ghobriel said he thinks the beatings were ordered from outside the prison and are meant to do one thing – break Boulous’ spirit.
“They’re beating him to humiliate him, hoping he will change his mind, hoping he will go back to the way he was instead of insisting on Christianity,” he said.
In response to the beatings and a host of other legal irregularities, Ghobriel filed a formal complaint earlier this month with Hasham Barakat, Egypt’s attorney general. The attorney identified Boulous’ main assailant by name and called on Barakat to protect Hegazy’s “rights and freedoms.”
“The accused ended his sentence on the second of December 2014 by law, and he is now being kept in prison illegally,” the complaint read. “In addition to that, he is being continuously beaten and dragged [over prison floors] in Tora Prison by Officer Ahmed Fauzy.”
Ghobriel, who visited Boulous twice last week in prison, said the guards had beaten him recently. The attorney said he finds the treatment appalling.
“According to the law and the constitution, any accused person should be treated in a respectful way as a human, because the law does not tell prison workers to beat them, drag them or torture them,” he said.
Egyptian authorities arrested Boulous on Dec. 2, 2013, at a café in Minya, about 160 miles south of Cairo, and accused him of working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. The government claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” of violence against Christians in Egypt.
The arrest took place during one of the worst waves of anti-Christian attacks in the history of the country. The spree of violence, documented at length by numerous journalists, included public kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground. Much of the violence took place in Minya Province.
From the start, human rights activists said the charges against Boulous were without merit. In another official complaint, filed with Barakat’s office in March, 18 different human rights groups from Egypt and around the world stated that the charges were “clearly related to his religious conversion.”
“Mr. Boulous’ detention, treatment, and prosecution blatantly violate Egypt’s recently established constitution, which clearly states that ‘freedom of belief is absolute,’” their complaint read. “His case is also a violation of international agreements to which Egypt has been party for decades.”
Internal documents from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) obtained by Morning Star News show that during the time of his arrest, the MOI was employing at least one informant to follow Boulous, who was identified as a convert. The same documents showed that when officials arrested Boulous, they also arrested three female journalists. All of them, like Boulous, were documenting “sectarian attacks.”
Unlike Boulous, however, all the other reporters were questioned and then released.
Boulous, 31, left Islam when he was 16 years old. In 2002, among other instances of persecution, he was jailed and tortured by the Egyptian government’s internal police, known as the State Security Investigations Services (SSI).
On Aug. 2, 2007, when Boulous was 25 and he and his wife, also a convert from Islam, were expecting their first child, Boulous filed a lawsuit to force the MOI to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian. Boulous said in 2007 he filed the case mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced.
In response to the lawsuit, some Islamic leaders in Egypt called for Boulous’ death, and he suffered through numerous attacks, including having his home set on fire by a group of militant Muslims.
In 2009, two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists sued Boulous for allegedly defaming Islam after he filed his lawsuit, which became highly public and controversial. The blasphemy charge was based on his accusers’ assertion that the very act of leaving Islam cast the religion into ill repute. The lawsuit was never settled and, according to Ghobriel, passed the Egyptian statute of limitations and became inactive.
Human rights groups in Egypt and around the world have complained that Boulous’ current case has been riddled with legal irregularities.
Six months after he was arrested, a judge on June 18, 2014 found Boulous guilty on three charges stemming from the 2013 arrest, sentenced him to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (U.S. $70) against him. Ghobriel immediately filed an appeal and petitioned for bail for Boulous, who remained imprisoned the whole time he was awaiting trial.
On July 20, 2014, a judge found in Boulous’ favor and ordered he be released on bail, but in the 24 hours that state prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, the SSI took Boulous into custody to be interrogated in Cairo for the 2009 charges.
On Dec. 28, while Boulous was in SSI custody, an appeals judge upheld the charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and sentenced him to a year in prison. He dismissed the two other charges against him.
Because Boulous had already spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and his appeal to be heard, he should have been immediately released at the conclusion of the appeal hearing, his attorney said. Instead, the SSI held him, officials said, because they were investigating the blasphemy charges filed against him – charges that the SSI itself revived. On Jan. 21, however, when the six-month time limit allowed under Egyptian criminal procedure to investigate the charges expired, the SSI still refused to release Boulous.
“The investigation into the charges finished a long time ago,” Ghobriel said. “And as his attorney, I am allowed by law to examine the charging documents before the case goes to court; however, the investigator in charge is refusing to let me see or copy the documents related to the blasphemy case.”
Safwat Samaan, chairman of Nation Without Borders and leading human rights activist in Egypt, said the persecution of Boulous shows the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government. Officials proclaim freedom in speeches and on paper, he said, while they deny rights in practice. The government speaks of religious freedom and equality while enforcing religious homogeneity upon the Egyptian people and stifling any religious dissent.
“Article 64 from the 2014 Constitution guarantees freedom of belief, freedom to worship, and the right to build places of worship for the ‘Heavenly Religions,’” Samaan said. “This is a right provided by the law, and we cannot discuss Hegazy’s case away from the Egyptian Constitution that was voted on in January 2014.”
The Constitution is higher than the government, but several government departments stand against Boulous’s case, “as if its role is to protect a certain religion and lead the citizens into paradise, ‘Al Janna,’ or throw them into hell,” Samman said. “Religion is an issue of individual conscience, and everybody in Egypt has the right to choose what religion to believe or not to believe. Belief in God cannot be enforced or organized by law.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared at Morning Star News,, a California-based independent news service focusing on persecution of Christians worldwide.)


5/29/2015 10:46:54 AM by Morning Star News/Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Retired SBF executive Faye Albright dies

May 29 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Faye Stringer Albright, who retired in 2011 as executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Foundation, died May 21 in Nashville after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 71.


Faye Albright

She worked for the foundation for 28 years, beginning in 1982, and was promoted to executive vice president in 2000.
Warren Peek, president of the foundation since 2007, remembered Albright for her friendship, faith, strong work ethic and professional competency.
“Faye’s favorite Bible verse was Micah 6:8, which asks the question, ‘What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’” Peek said at Albright’s May 24 funeral service. “If there was a verse that emphasized Faye’s life it was this. She always did what was right. She was kind to everyone and she loved the Lord and walked closely with Him every day. She was an example for all of us.”
After retirement, she continued as a consultant until 2014 to the foundation, an independent Southern Baptist firm committed to assisting individuals and ministries in discerning God’s Purposes for the resources He has entrusted to them, and maximizing the impact of the resources in estate and financial planning.
Albright grew up in Vanleer, Tenn., the daughter of the late Sally and Douglas Stringer, and graduated from Belmont University in Nashville. She was a longtime member of Covenant Baptist Church, formerly Concord-Grandview Baptist Church, in Brentwood, Tenn.
She is survived by her husband of 53 years, Levon Albright, their son Philip and several grandchildren.
“Faye was my friend,” Peek said, “but even more than that she was an example to all of us of a loving, faithful wife of 53 years and a mother who loved her son very much. She loved her family and talked about Levon, Philip and her grandchildren all the time.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)


5/29/2015 10:43:02 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Homeschoolers celebrate historic win on QuizBusters TV show

May 29 2015 by Jeff Koch, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press

Isaac Van Loh, 16, says his team’s victory on a Michigan quiz show helped to vindicate homeschooling and prove its rigor.


Facebook photo
The Lansing Homeschool Chargers post the first win by a homeschool team in the 26-year history of "QuizBusters," a show on PBS affiliate WKAR in Lansing.

The Lansing Homeschool Chargers’ late-April win was the first time in the 26-year history of “QuizBusters,” a show on Michigan PBS affiliate WKAR that a homeschool team garnered the championship.
“It shows that we’re not just sitting at home or going on field trips to the amusement park,” Isaac told the Lansing State Journal. “We’re actually learning stuff.”
The Chargers faced formidable opponents in the returning champion Okemos Chieftains, who had consistently dominated the 60-school tournament.
Both teams faced a gauntlet of questions ranging from particle physics and Scottish literature to botany and African geopolitics – a range of inquiry likely to panic most adults. Yet kids on both teams remained calm and collected, routinely buzzing in answers before host Matt Ottinger could even squeeze out the first few words of the question.
Chargers captain Lily Van Loh (Isaac’s older sister), 18, scooped up the first two answers. From there, the Chargers never looked back until the ending bell declared them the winners 390–310. Lily, though exhibiting focus and ease throughout the intense competition, said it had not always been quite so. Her first quiz competition during her freshman year also was on TV. She buzzed in without having any idea what the answer to her question was. Years of practice and hard work honed her skills and those of her teammates.
“We learned to play really good quiz bowl through trying and losing a lot of games,” teammate Derek Edwards told the Lansing newspaper.
The Chargers’ other secret was not to make quiz prep an obsession. Van Loh family dinners were not organized into complicated interrogations, nor were the teens subjected to midnight wakeups to probe their mastery of minutiae.
And, while many schools devote extra study and resources to quiz bowl preparation – strategically assigning spheres of knowledge to team players – the Chargers let their capabilities overflow from general study. Of course, playing quiz bowl made them quickly apply what they learned, resulting in what Lily termed a “beautiful cycle” of motivation. Quiz bowl “made my life a hundred times easier,” agreed Naomi Van Loh, Lily and Isaac’s mother.
Lily also credited the Christian faith of team members with keeping them grounded. QuizBusters creates an environment where kids can become “cocky and insufferable,” she explained, as adults heap compliments on them. The Chargers stood out by carrying themselves with humility, she said, while admitting that there were occasional struggles.
Lily laughed recalling whenever they entered a match exuding great confidence, they invariably suffered a sound beating. “That’s not just embarrassing on a physical level,” she said. “There are lessons to be learned on a spiritual level, too, that I won’t forget.”
Lily was excited at how her experience will help toward her goal of becoming a teacher since she now knows “how to get a kid to love to learn.” She acknowledged the hardest part of getting kids involved is their fear of being wrong. “You can’t let it crush you,” she said, “but you have to pick up and buck up and move forward.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Koch writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine,, based in Asheville, N.C.)


5/29/2015 10:38:17 AM by Jeff Koch, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Black Hawk Down’ ranger graduates from SEBTS

May 28 2015 by Ali Dixon, SEBTS Communications

Jeff Struecker, lead pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., and former ranger and retired chaplain for the United States Army, graduated this spring from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) with a doctor of philosophy in Christian leadership.


Jeff Struecker

Struecker was one of the heroes of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993 – portrayed by the film “Black Hawk Down.” He was decorated for bravery above and beyond the call of duty for any ranger, special operations warrior or soldier that resulted in saved lives.
He retired from the Army after 22 years of service and received several awards, commendations and decorations throughout his military career.
Struecker was drawn to SEBTS because of President Daniel Akin’s passion for the gospel and desire to train spiritual warriors to go to dangerous places.
“I am convinced that Jesus’ church is desperate for great leadership today,” Struecker said. “I’m equally convinced that [Southern Baptist] seminaries do a great job of educating people to be effective theologians, preachers and church historians, but I think more emphasis should be placed on leadership at the same time.”
“Jeff’s skills as a leader have been on full display in his superb work in our Ph.D. in Leadership program,” Akin said. “It is an honor to have him as one of our graduates. As he excelled as an Army ranger, he has continued to excel as a pastor and a student at Southeastern.”
Struecker views Christ as the ultimate leader. “The study of God is the study of leadership,” Struecker said. “In order for Jesus’ church to confront sin and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth it will require men and women who are courageous leaders with a bold vision for God’s glory. God alone can make a man or woman into the leader the church needs them to be.”
Larry Purcell, associate professor of leadership and discipleship and associate dean of ministry studies, also shares a passion for leadership. “I was honored when he came to me and asked that I be his major professor,” Purcell said. “We both share the experience of the military and combat.”
At Purcell’s request, Struecker shared his testimony from Black Hawk Down in class. He stated that after washing away the blood of comrades he went back into the “kill-zone” numerous times.
“He seemed fearless,” Purcell said. “This opened the door to many Army rangers hearing the gospel and coming to salvation after the fire fight.”
Struecker holds a master of divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and undergraduate degrees from Troy University in Troy, Ala.
He was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman when he was 18. His combat experience includes the invasion of Panama, Operation Desert Storm, The Battle of Magadishu, and more than a dozen combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Struecker has been awarded medals for valor in combat and many others for his service in the U.S. Army.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ali Dixon writes for the communications department of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Biblical Recorder staff added to this story.)


5/28/2015 1:32:16 PM by Ali Dixon, SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Page disappointed in Obama’s comments about evangelicals

May 28 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

President Barack Obama’s suggestion that evangelicals often devote more resources to fighting abortion than caring for the poor reflects ignorance concerning denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Frank S. Page said on a national radio broadcast.


Frank S. Page, president of SBC Executive Committee

“We are involved” in fighting poverty, Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee said May 16 on the “Washington Watch” radio program’s weekend edition hosted by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “So there was both arrogance and ignorance involved in his comments. It bothered me deeply. We care about people.”
Page was referencing comments made by Obama at a May 12 panel discussion on poverty hosted by Georgetown University. The president acknowledged that some conservatives “deeply care” about the poor and “exhibit that through their churches.” But later, he said poverty relief “is oftentimes viewed” by churches “as ‘nice to have’ relative to an issue like abortion” in discussions of “the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians.”
Obama specifically referenced “the evangelical community” among the referents of his comments.
Page said he has “met with President Obama many times,” “heard his personal testimony” and served on an advisory council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “So I was deeply disappointed to hear what he said,” he said. “To be honest with you, President Obama owes evangelical Christians an apology.”
Page estimated at least 40,000 of the approximately 46,000 churches in cooperation with the SBC have ministries aimed at helping the poor. First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., where Page served as pastor for nine years, offered a free medical clinic six days a week and “dozens” of after-school programs, he said, citing the church as illustrative of what many other congregations do.
Southern Baptists “have the third largest disaster relief ministry in the world,” Page said. “Who do you think is involved right now in Nepal? Well, we are. We were there before the government was. When the government leaves, we’ll be there. We were involved in Hurricane Sandy.”
President George W. Bush once told Page he was flying over New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and asked, “Who are all those people with yellow hats and yellow shirts?” The reply came, “Mr. President, those are Southern Baptist volunteers.”
Southern Baptists operate feeding stations for the Red Cross following disasters, Page said, and give 20 times more money annually to disaster relief and a global hunger fund (Global Hunger Relief) than to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the convention entity charged with advocating, among other things, pro-family legislation in Washington.
“When you look at the actual work of the 46,124 local churches, then you’re including billions and billions of ministry dollars” spent on helping the poor, Page said.
Obama’s comments reflected “ignorance” of evangelical views, Page said, because the president does not often visit churches, especially evangelical ones. The comments reflected “arrogance” because President Obama “dared tell us what we should focus upon.”
The remarks about evangelicals point to “a bigger issue,” Page said. “It’s part of trying to silence Christians who are strongly pro-life. And it is part of a bigger [attempt] to keep us quiet, to put us in the corner, to ostracize us, to alienate us and to make us seem like uncaring, hurtful people.”
Evangelicals “do believe in protecting the unborn. We are unashamed of that,” Page said. “We also know that we’ve got to take care of the born, and the vast majority of our resources [devoted to community ministries] go to protecting the born and helping the born.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)


5/28/2015 12:01:25 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Procter retiring from Alaska convention

May 28 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Michael Procter is retiring effective May 2016 after more than five years as executive director/treasurer of the Alaska Baptist Convention and as executive director of the Alaska Baptist Foundation, he announced May 4.


Michael Procter

He has held the posts since January 2011 and has served in Southern Baptist ministry for 45 years, 30 of them in Alaska.
“Over the 45 years the Lord has allowed me to serve Him in ministry, there have been so many blessings that they are innumerable but one that rises to the top is His blessing me with the privilege of serving Him in Alaska,” Procter said in his resignation letter. “… Over the years, there have been challenges and disagreements however there has also been victories and blessings as we witnessed God working in our midst.”
Among the former posts Procter referenced in his letter are his “pastorate at Glacier Valley Baptist Church in Juneau and the church planting ‘circuit riding’ in Southeast Alaska, to moving to Anchorage to become the [d]irector of [m]issions for the Chugach Baptist Association, to becoming a part of our state staff, first as the [d]irector of [m]issions and [c]hurch [p]lanting and, for the past 5 plus years, as your [e]xecutive [d]irector-[t]reasurer.”
Procter will turn 66 in 2016, as well as celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary to his wife Rebecca.
“I remember when I was young and submitting my resume for ministry opportunities, only to be told that I needed more experience and that a person who was older was called. It was a frustrating experience and I must admit that I wondered why those ‘old guys’ just did not retire and make room for the younger guys who had ‘new ideas,’” Procter wrote. “Now I am one those ‘older guys’ and there are those who, while it has not been voiced to me, are probably thinking, why doesn’t that ‘old guy’ retire and make room for the next generation?”
Procter holds doctorate and master’s degrees from International Theological Seminary in El Monte, Calif., and a bachelor’s degree from California Baptist University in Riverside. In addition to pastoral positions in Alaska, Nevada, California and Germany, he has served as an adjunct professor at Alaska Baptist Native School of Theology and Alaska Baptist College.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)


5/28/2015 11:52:59 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Chinese missionaries face cultural challenges

May 28 2015 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

EAST ASIA – Chinese believers could be the next missions sending force, following the Western and Korean Christians who’ve gone before them. They pray, give and go, sacrificing everything to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the nations.


IMB photo by Luke In
Phil Wardell,* a Southern Baptist worker, baptizes a believer from Southeast Asia. Wardell and his family served in this country for many years, and he says it was a blessing to baptize a local believer on their recent return trip.

But sacrifices come with costs. Chinese cross-cultural Christian workers say they struggle with discouragement and loneliness. Those in Southeast Asia welcomed encouragement and counsel from Southern Baptist workers Phil and Ruth Wardell,* who have provided training for believers.
Zhao Chang Pu,* Zhao Hui Fang* and their two daughters moved from China to minister in Southeast Asia. They say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done.
Just like Westerners, Chinese workers experience culture shock and struggle to adapt to a new environment. The Zhaos have shared cultural stresses with the Wardells, who once served in Southeast Asia.
The Wardells now serve in a different area of Asia and have led ministry training for Southeast Asian believers who partner with the Zhaos.
The Zhaos told the Wardells they are adjusting to being away from family. But their parents don’t understand why they took their granddaughters away.
“Why did you choose this silly country?” their parents asked. The Zhaos tried to explain God’s calling on their lives, and they can’t ignore the thousands of people dying daily without Jesus.
“Since the Lord brought us here, I believe God will change the hearts of my parents,” Chang Pu said.
They call home once or twice a month. Chang Pu said they don’t call more often because they don’t want to create a dependency. They are trying to condition themselves to be away. He asked his parents not to visit until they get settled.
“It’s a very painful process,” Chang Pu said. “All the failures I’ve encountered are not equal to three months of suffering.
“I have to depend on the Lord. No one on the mission field can really help you, only God can help you.”

IMB photo by Luke In
A Southeast Asian trainee practices sharing the gospel with a fold-out evangelism card before going out to the street. Believers are trained not only how to use the tract themselves but how to share it with others.

Ruth, who has experienced similar challenges as a Southern Baptist worker, cried as she listened to the Zhaos share candidly.
“We’re not that much different,” Ruth told them. “I assure you that what He calls us to do, He will enable us to do … we learned the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”
The Wardells came 15 years ago in the midst of a coup. Both sets of parents weren’t believers when the couple first came. Now, their parents are believers and are supportive.
The Zhaos left China because they both dreamed the Chinese would be the ones to bring the gospel to other Asian countries. Chinese workers who came before them started four churches using the strategies Southern Baptists taught them, and they have key local partners extending the gospel’s reach.
Chinese Christians are what Southern Baptists in Asia call a “tidal wave” in missions. Sources estimate there are 300 Chinese workers serving internationally and the numbers continue to rise.
The Zhaos say “the vision from the Lord” motivates them on hard days.
“I was saved because someone shared the gospel with me,” Chang Pu said. He wants to share the gospel with others so they can have the eternal hope he has.
“We have a responsibility to push back the gospel,” Phil told the Zhaos and other Chinese and Southeast Asian believers during a morning training session. This responsibility is why many Chinese believers left the comforts of home.
“God has called us to this work,” Phil told them. “We can’t abandon the work when it gets difficult.”
The Wardells’ oldest daughter was sick for the better part of three years. “If you love me, why do you keep me here?” Phil said their oldest daughter asked. “We never felt so hopeless in our life.”
The Zhaos have also had medical issues. A dog recently bit their youngest daughter. And doctors initially weren’t able to diagnose an illness that plagued their oldest daughter.
The Zhaos didn’t make the decision to move without their daughters’ input. They told their older daughter the decision was also hers to make.
They prayed fervently for her to agree. After a while, she did.
“We need to go fast, before she changes her mind,” Chang Pu said while laughing, remembering their relief.
The Zhaos are still adjusting to the local food. Ruth told the Zhaos her daughters grew to love eating crickets, a local snack.
Hui Fang and Ruth learned how to cook from scratch with unfamiliar ingredients. Hui Fang sends her husband to do the shopping because of safety concerns. Their apartment was recently burglarized. A non-profit worker and her daughter were murdered in a robbery gone wrong.
The lack of independence has required much adjustment, Hui Fang said. The Zhaos live in a shared space in a ministry center that houses training, discipleship and church meetings.
Their daughters share one bed. They’ve found schools to educate their children on a shoestring monthly budget of $80 to $100. Their oldest daughter attends a school run by Korean Christians. She doesn’t speak English, Korean or the local language, but she’s learning.
Though it’s been a difficult three months, the Lord is rewarding the Zhaos’ obedience. Chang Pu recently baptized a believer and Hui Fang led a woman to Christ.
One evening the Zhaos attempted to order milk tea and struggled to communicate their order. A Southeast Asian man stepped in and helped them order. He studied Chinese because he works in a Chinese factory. He attends church and goes to a Buddhist temple.
Chang Pu encouraged him to “believe 100 percent in Jesus.” He plans on following up with him.
The Zhaos came to Southeast Asia first to learn methodology of missions. Since there is a nearby ministry center that serves as a base for Chinese cross-cultural workers, the Zhaos get hands-on experience with people who are farther along in the journey.
“We came here to start the journey,” Chang Pu said. They are studying English – something they’ll need when they move to South Asia.
The Zhaos said the call and vision the Lord gave them keeps them going when they want to quit.
“When God calls you, He doesn’t take back your call,” Phil said. “God honors the sacrifices that cost us the most.”
*Name changed.


5/28/2015 11:48:37 AM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Global uncertainty re-emerges 70 years after World War II

May 28 2015 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe came and went in May with relatively little fanfare.

Perhaps the milestone passed quietly because fewer people personally remember the largest armed conflict in human history. The last U.S. president to serve in the military during World War II, George H.W. Bush, now 90, left office more than 20 years ago. Barack Obama wasn’t born until 16 years after the war ended. Of the 16 million veterans who helped win the war – and lift America out of the Great Depression and into global leadership – fewer than 1 million are still alive. They are dying at a rate of nearly 500 per day.
But we all live with the consequences of World War II, whether we realize it or not. It forged the modern world in fire and blood along with its horrific predecessor, World War I. The “Great War” of 1914-18 destroyed old orders and empires, set the stage for revolutions and economic upheaval and led to far greater devastation two decades later. Before World War II ended in 1945, more than 60 million people had died, an average of 27,000 per day. Many of them were civilians caught up in the fighting – or deliberately massacred.
“Within the vast compass of the struggle, some individuals scaled summits of courage and nobility, while others plumbed depths of evil, in a fashion that compels the awe of posterity,” writes World War II historian Max Hastings. “Among citizens of modern democracies to whom serious hardship and collective peril are unknown, the tribulations that hundreds of millions endured between 1939 and 1945 are almost beyond comprehension.”
For all its suffering, however, World War II unleashed economic energies that would lift entire nations from poverty to prosperity in the postwar era. It ushered in a new age of technological and scientific progress. It hastened the end of European colonialism. It sparked a Cold War with Soviet communism that the West ultimately would win, spreading political freedom far and wide.
And it opened vast areas of the globe – especially in Asia – to the Christian gospel. Western missionaries streamed into ravaged countries after the war, bringing help and hope. The disciples they made helped turn Christianity into a truly global movement. Its expansion has continued in the generations since, bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to new areas of Africa and Asia, to the post-communist world, to previously unreached peoples.
Postwar chaos eventually gave way to order and development in many parts of the world. But it’s become increasingly clear that the era of relative global stability that followed the war – albeit guaranteed for long periods by the weapons of superpowers – has come to an end.
“To put it simply, a vast swath of the Eurasian landmass (understood to be Europe and Asia together) is in political, military and economic disarray,” says George Friedman, chairman of the Stratfor global intelligence analysis agency. “Europe and China are struggling with the consequences of the 2008 [global economic] crisis, which left not only economic but institutional challenges. Russia is undergoing a geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and an economic problem at home. The Arab world, from the Levant to Iran, from the Turkish border through the Arabian Peninsula, is embroiled in politically destabilizing warfare. The Western Hemisphere is relatively stable, as is the Asian Archipelago. But Eurasia is destabilizing in multiple dimensions.”
In Friedman’s view, forces have re-emerged that the old postwar order cannot control.
“After every systemic war, there is an illusion that the victorious coalition will continue to be cohesive and govern as effectively as it fought,” he noted. “After World War I, the Allies (absent the United States) created the League of Nations. After World War II, it was the United Nations. After the Cold War ended, it was assumed that the United Nations, North American Treaty Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other multinational institutions could manage the global system. In each case, the victorious powers sought to use wartime alliance structures to manage the postwar world. In each case, they failed, because the thing that bound them together – the enemy – no longer existed. Therefore, the institutions became powerless and the illusion of unity dissolved. This is what has happened here.”
The only thing that seems certain is uncertainty. Will Europe collapse as an economic and social entity? Will the Middle East descend into all-out regional war? Will a new Cold War break out between East and West?
History has shown that such times are risky for the church, but productive for God’s mission. Risky, because Christians will face increasing persecution as societies crumble, and increasing danger as they take the gospel worldwide. Productive, because people seek truth when everything else they have relied upon falls away.
The chaotic period during and after World War II, when the world Christian movement truly went global, is a case in point.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)


5/28/2015 11:23:30 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ireland will not force churches to wed gays

May 27 2015 by Baptist Press staff

IRELAND – On May 22 Ireland became the first country to hold a public vote amending its constitution to allow gay marriage, but the change will not force houses of worship to perform the unions.
Instead, gay couples will be able to enter in “civil marriage,” a separate institution from but affording all the legal benefits of “religious marriage,” according to the Yes Equality civil group that spearheaded the drive for the constitutional change.
“No religious institution can be forced to marry a lesbian or gay couple against their beliefs,” the group’s website reads. “Churches will be able to continue with religious ceremonies and will not be required to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.”
Ireland’s Justice Department plans to draft a marriage bill this week that will permit those taking vows in civil ceremonies to choose either to be “husband and wife” or “spouses of each other,” satisfying the demands of religious groups including Catholics, Protestants and Muslims that no church will be required to perform gay marriage in the country, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
With 62.1 percent of the vote, Ireland approved a referendum to the nation’s 1937 constitution stating, “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” According to official results announced May 23, votes in favor of the change totaled 1,201,607, while 734,300 voted against it.
Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton, who called the vote a “magical, moving moment,” said she expects the bill to become law by early July, AP reported. The first gay marriages in Ireland are expected to happen as early as the fall of 2015, since civil marriages require a minimum three-month notice.
Ireland is the second country this year to approve gay marriage, following Finland, and is the 20th country to approve gay marriage to date, according to the Pew Research Center. However, Ireland is unique in being the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote.
The referendum failed in only one of the country’s 43 parliamentary constituencies. Groups opposing the referendum graciously conceded defeat.
“This is their day, and they should enjoy it,” CNN quoted the group Mothers and Fathers Matter. “Though at times this campaign was unpleasant for people on all sides, nobody who involves themselves in a campaign does so with anything but the good of their country at heart. There is no better way to resolve difference than the way we are using today.”
In addition to Finland, other countries allowing gay marriage are Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England/Wales, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay, according to Pew. Gay marriage is legal in 37 U.S. states and D.C., and in certain parts of Mexico.
The Roman Catholic Church was a strong opponent of the referendum in Ireland where more than 84 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. Northern Ireland is the only part of Britain where gay marriage is still illegal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)

5/27/2015 10:55:22 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

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