November 2014

Mormons grappling with their history

November 24 2014 by Benjamin Hawkins, The Pathway/Baptist Press

Leaders within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) are speaking more openly about Mormonism’s controversial history and teachings.
Even as Mitt Romney’s presidential bid drew the national spotlight to Mormonism in 2012, leaders of the nearly 180-year-old religion expressed concern about its future.
“We’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy – like we’re having now,” Marlin Jensen, an official Mormon historian, told a group of Mormon students in Logan, Utah, according to a Reuters report. In response to one student’s question, Jensen admitted that Mormons are leaving the faith “in droves.”
Although the LDS church counts nearly 15 million members worldwide, estimates of the religion’s overseas retention rate are as low as 25 percent. Only half of the Mormons in the United States are active members, according to Reuters, and some sociologists report only 5 million active members worldwide. Additionally, young Mormons, especially, have begun to question the faith of their fathers.
“The problem for Mormonism is with the use of the Internet and with the persistence of many, many groups that have been very straightforward in promoting what Mormonism really stands for,” said R. Philip Roberts, director for international theological education with Global Ministries Foundation in Tennessee who also teaches adjunctively at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia. “They’re losing the battle.”


BP file photo
Several Southern Baptists pray at the gates of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City when the Southern Baptist Convention held its 1998 annual meeting in the city where the religion is headquartered.


LDS leaders have for decades held a posture of silence and secrecy concerning questionable aspects of Mormonism’s history, theology and practices, said Roberts, former director of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) interfaith witness department and former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Mormonism has everything to hide because they pretend to be a Christian organization,” Roberts said, noting that Mormons often use Christian terms while infusing them with unbiblical meanings.
But now, forced to address criticism widely available on the Internet, LDS leaders have begun – and only begun –to open up about controversial aspects of their faith. In recent articles posted on the LDS website (, leaders have admitted to Mormonism’s historically positive stance toward polygamy and the historical inaccuracy of some of its own scriptures.

Mormonism and polygamy

“Polygamy was a notorious doctrine and practice of the LDS since the time of Joseph Smith,” Tal Davis, who has served with NAMB’s interfaith witness department, writes in an article posted on the webpage of Marketfaith Ministries, an online worldview ministry with which he now works.
Smith had as many as 40 wives, including a 14-year-old girl and a woman married to another man. Although historians have known about Smith’s polygamy for more than a century, LDS leaders have until recently hesitated to admit this reality in a straightforward manner, Davis told Baptist Press.
Mormons aligned with LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City currently promote monogamy alone, in keeping with a canonized “declaration” of LDS President Wilford Woodruff in 1890 to achieve Utah statehood. But in their most recent statement on polygamy, LDS leaders never condemn polygamy, Davis said. Instead, they affirm that God has, in times past, commanded His people to practice polygamy. Smith himself claimed to have received a revelation from God that endorsed polygamy and condemned any who opposed its practice.
But LDS leaders also claim that God commanded biblical characters to practice polygamy. According to NAMB-certified apologist Rob Phillips, director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention, this claim is contrary to scripture.
“It is clear that God’s ideal is monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman,” Phillips wrote in a Nov. 12 article on Baptist Press. Additionally, he noted, various passages of scripture denounce polygamy or warn readers of “the danger of taking multiple wives.”
“This is precisely where we have an opportunity to urge our Mormon friends to revisit the Bible, which LDS theology and practice relegate to a back seat behind the Book of Mormon and other church documents,” Phillips wrote.

Historicity of Mormon scripture

Recent skepticism about Mormonism also has centered on the historicity of “The Book of Abraham,” a section of The Pearl of Great Price, which is one of Mormonism’s scriptures.
According to LDS lore, Smith translated The Book of Abraham from an Egyptian papyrus that he bought in the 1840s. For many years, the original Egyptian document was lost but was rediscovered in a museum in the 1960s.
Mormon leaders, in a recent statement on the LDS website, admitted what scholars have claimed since the rediscovery of the Egyptian document – that Smith’s translation in no way resembles what the original Egyptian text says.
Instead of repudiating Smith’s Book of Abraham, however, the LDS statement says that the Egyptian document wasn’t the textual basis for Smith’s translation. Rather, “the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri,” the LDS statement says.
The statement also asserts that The Book of Abraham presents valuable doctrine and “clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible,” such as the belief that Jesus Christ “led other spirits in organizing the earth” out of preexisting matter.

‘An enormous opportunity’

Roberts said LDS leaders are failing in their attempt to squelch criticism and retain members. But this situation creates an “enormous opportunity” for Southern Baptists “to share the real truth and the real gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“It is important that Mormons hear the truth,” Roberts said, “and they need to hear it not from another counterfeit religion, but from people who know the truth.”
To learn more about Mormonism, Southern Baptists can read Mormonism Unmasked, which Philips and Davis coauthored with Sandra Tanner. They can find other resources about Mormonism on, or on NAMB’s apologetics website,
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

11/24/2014 9:08:18 AM by Benjamin Hawkins, The Pathway/Baptist Press | with 3 comments

Obama’s action on immigration called 'unwise'

November 21 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

President Obama’s new executive actions to change immigration policy are unwise and threaten the growing consensus for reform, said the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist.
Obama announced in prime time Nov. 20 his actions, which include most controversially a plan to protect nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The president’s use of executive authority came after the Senate approved comprehensive immigration reform in the last Congress but the House of Representatives failed to do.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he disagreed with Obama’s unilateral act. Moore noted he supports immigration reform, but the president’s decision is an “unwise and counterproductive move.”
Writing in a post for Time magazine online, Moore said, “It’s because of my support for immigrants and for immigration reform that I think President Obama’s executive actions are the wrong way to go.
“On more than one occasion, I asked President Obama not to turn immigration reform into a red state/blue state issue,” he said. “People across the political spectrum support fixing this system, and it shouldn’t be a partisan wedge issue. I also asked him not to act unilaterally, but to work for consensus through the legislative process.
“My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the President’s actions here to be a pretext for remaining in the rut of the status quo.”
Obama defended his decision to act without congressional approval, saying he continues “to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass” a common-sense law. Until then, he has the authority to take steps “that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just,” the president said.
Flaws in both the immigration system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story will be updated at Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/21/2014 11:31:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Floyd releases ebook for prayer, revival

November 21 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd has released a motivational tool book to help pastors and churches across the SBC engage in concerted prayer for the next great awakening in advance of the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Floyd announced the release of his ebook in a press conference call Nov. 19, joined by Southern Baptist editors, writers and state convention leaders. The announcement also marked the release of the annual meeting theme, “Great Awakening: Clear Agreement, Visible Union, Extraordinary Prayer,” based on Romans 13:11, for the June 16-17 gathering.
During the conference call, Floyd highlighted several recommendations from his ebook: intercessory prayer for pastors on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings in advance of weekly sermons; a month of preaching on the subjects of repentance, extraordinary prayer, revival, awakening and teaching on God’s word; the dedication of a full Sunday morning worship service to congregational prayer; a day of prayer and fasting in May, and attendance at the Columbus meeting.


Floyd’s ebook, “Pleading with Southern Baptists To Humbly Come Together before God in Clear Agreement, Visible Union, and in Extraordinary Prayer for the Next Great Awakening and for the World to Be Reached for Christ,” is available for free download at,,, and other sites. Additional tools and resources to promote the call to prayer are available on, including sermons from SBC pastors, encouraging pastors to learn from one another, Floyd said.
“I believe pastors need handles,” he said of the ebook. “I think sometimes we operate in generalities, like you should do this, or you should do that. But I also believe there’s historical precedence set in the awakenings, of them coming to agreement about a certain thing.
“I mean for example, let’s just say that a few hundred of our churches would really try their very best to have a month where they’re preaching on matters like repentance, and revival and awakening and reaching the world for Christ, and fasting and those kind of matters,” he said. “I mean that makes a major difference.”
Southern Baptists need to be in prayer for their churches, for their pastors, Floyd said. He called for three minutes of prayer each Saturday evening and Sunday morning for the anointing of God to come upon pastors as they preach His Word.
“I think we’ll have less conflict if we learn how to pray together,” he said. “And we’ll have a greater force of the Holy Spirit and His power in our churches if we pray regularly. And the sunrise and sunset is an image; that’s all it is. It’s a reminder to pray, either one or the other, when people get up or when they go to bed at night.”
Floyd compiled the book in consultation with theologians and leaders across the SBC, and referenced such stalwarts as Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jeremiah Lanphier, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody and William Booth.
“Surely we can embrace with clear agreement that spiritual revival personally, spiritual revival in the church, and spiritual awakening in the nation are all needed so we can accelerate our pace in reaching the world for Christ,” Floyd wrote in the book. “Certainly we can deny ourselves, defer our own preferences, and visibly unite in extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ.”
At the multisite Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, where Floyd is pastor, he will reserve January and early February for sermons on repentance, extraordinary prayer, revival, awakening and reaching the world for Christ, as he is asking every pastor to do for one month between January and May, 2015.
“We will end that probably with our major prayer gathering on Sunday morning,” he said of Cross Church, “which we had one last October and it was incredible and blessed. And we will find a day, or we will just call our people to a day of fasting in the month of May.”
Floyd is accepting sermons from pastors and Christian leaders to post on the pray4awakening website. He also noted the June 16 evening service at the 2015 SBC annual meeting will be a nationwide prayer gathering, and he hopes to engage Southern Baptists in attendance in Columbus and at home.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/21/2014 10:41:21 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Duggars targeted by pro-gay petition

November 21 2014 by David Roach & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition asking the TLC network to cancel the popular reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” contending that its stars, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, use their fame “to promote discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering against gays and transgendered people.”
The Duggars have 19 children and are outspoken advocates of their Christian faith as well as pro-family public policies. Their television show debuted in 2008 as “17 Kids and Counting,” since which time they have had two more children. Speaking at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last year, the Duggars said they stopped using birth control pills after the drugs caused Michelle to experience a miscarriage years ago.
The petition to cancel the Duggars’ show was launched by Jim Wissick of San Jose, Calif., at the website and apparently stems from the Duggars’ opposition to a Fayetteville, Ark., ordinance that provides civil rights protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Fayetteville’s city council approved the ordinance in August, but opponents gathered enough signatures from city residents to place the ordinance before voters during a special election Dec. 9.


Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar


A counter-petition in support of the Duggars was launched Nov. 20 at According to that petition, “We need to launch a counter-attack, letting TLC know that the American people stand by the Duggars and their defense of traditional family values. Rather than being extreme, the Duggars represent the majority of people in state after state who have stood up for the traditional family. The real extremists are those who are demanding that a TV network penalize America’s beloved family because they support the truth about family, which they have always expressed in a loving, compassionate fashion.”
Prior to the city council’s approval of the ordinance, Michelle Duggar placed a robocall to northwest Arkansas residents warning, as quoted by Wissick, “The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes I said men – to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”
Duggar’s words “reek of ignorance and fear mongering,” Wissick wrote. “Just because someone is transgendered doesn’t mean they are a child predator or a rapist.”
Wissick added, “The Duggars have thrown massive amounts of money to repeal this law so business owners and land lords can evict and fire people solely over gender identity and sexual orientation! They need to be taken off the air!”
The Duggars’ oldest son Josh, who is executive director of the Family Research Council’s legislative group, drew criticism from Wissick for being employed by “a hate-filled, anti-gay organization.”
The Duggars’ Facebook page also has been the subject of criticism from gay activists, according to CBS News. Earlier this month Jim Bob and Michelle posted a photo of themselves kissing along with the caption, “God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime. God loves marriage and it is supposed to be full of love, joy, fun and romance. We challenge all married couples to take a happily married picture and post it here.”

John Becker, of the LGBT blog The Bilerico Project, posted a photo of himself kissing his homosexual partner along with a message advocating gay marriage. The Duggars removed the photo and banned Becker from their Facebook page, CBS News reported.
On Twitter, Josh Barro, a reporter for a New York Times section called TheUpshot and an MSNBC contributor, wrote, “Anti-LGBT attitudes are terrible for people in all sorts of communities. They linger and oppress, and we need to stamp them out, ruthlessly.”
Evangelical blogger Samuel James responded at the Patheos website in a blog titled “The Salem Duggar Trials,” noting:
“So let’s lay all the facts out as simply as possible:

“1. The Duggar family has a popular television program that many Americans enjoy
“2. The Duggar family have personal beliefs about sex and religion that are shared by a very large number of other Americans
“3. According to Jim Wissick and the petition signees, the Duggars’ beliefs – and by extension, the beliefs of tens of millions of Americans – are evil.
“4. Entertainment companies like TLC have a moral duty to not give employment or platform to people whose beliefs about sex are evil.
“5. Therefore, TLC should behave morally and cancel the Duggars’ popular show in order to avoid spreading evil beliefs among the viewing public.

“Read over that sequence carefully, and then ask yourself: Who is trying to force their beliefs on others here?”
TLC has not commented on Wissick’s petition, according to the Huffington Post.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Art Toalston is BP’s editor.)

11/21/2014 10:22:13 AM by David Roach & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

‘Giving Tuesday’ & Mission:Dignity

November 21 2014 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

Giving Tuesday,” a global effort to support charitable giving following “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday,” can be an special opportunity to support Mission:Dignity, officials of GuideStone Financial Resources say.
Mission:Dignity is Southern Baptists’ ministry that provides financial assistance for retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows.


Giving Tuesday falls this year on Dec. 2.
The GuideStone ministry, which recently approved special $250 Christmas gift checks for each recipient, also increased its monthly assistance amount by 12 percent, effective in October. Mission:Dignity accepts gifts of any amount. Nothing is taken out for administrative expenses; an endowment funds Mission:Dignity’s operating expenses.
“We appreciate so much the faithful giving of churches, Sunday School classes, individuals and other groups that help underwrite this ministry,” said John Ambra, GuideStone director of financial assistance. “This ministry serves as Christ’s hand to so many of these ‘soldiers of the cross,’ allowing them to live in vocational retirement with a much-deserved sense of dignity and well-being.”
Many of Mission:Dignity’s nearly 2,000 recipients report that their monthly assistance means the ability to pay an electric bill, buy medicine or groceries, or even the ability to continue to live independently.
“More than 60 percent of the people we serve are widows – with one in four being a pastor’s widow over age 85,” Ambra said. “The book of James talks about serving orphans and widows as a sign of pure and undefiled religion. So many great ministries exist for orphans; Mission:Dignity is one of the few focused on the widows of pastors.
“We all love the Christmas season,” Ambra continued. “It is more blessed to give than to receive, so after taking advantage of the sales on tinsel and trinkets, we’re asking that our Southern Baptist family prayerfully consider remembering those pastors and their wives and widows who so often served in rural, out-of-the-way places, on Giving Tuesday and any other time the Lord may lead.
“These families went where the Lord led them, without regard to their salary or benefits,” Ambra said. “Now, they have reached vocational retirement with financial needs. Mission:Dignity is a way to serve as Christ’s hand extended to these faithful servants of His.”
Gifts to Mission:Dignity are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law and can be made online at
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

11/21/2014 10:11:07 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC, Ministry Grid partner to provide ethics training

November 20 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethics and leadership training entities are partnering to help pastors and churches address ethical issues from a gospel perspective.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Nov. 6 a partnership with Ministry Grid, a service of Lifeway Christian Resources, to provide training for pastors and other church leaders. Ministry Grid is LifeWay’s year-old, web-based video service that enables churches of all sizes to train pastoral staff and lay leaders in customizable ways.
The first three ERLC courses provided through Ministry Grid offer training on sexual ethics, addressing such issues as marriage, homosexuality and pornography. Those courses are: “Embracing Sexuality in a Sex-saturated World;” “Ministry in a Sex-saturated World;” and “Family Matters in a Sex-saturated World.” Another course on sexual ethics is scheduled to be available early in 2015, according to the ERLC.
The videos feature training by ERLC President Russell D. Moore and members of the ERLC Leadership Network Council, such as J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, and Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas.
The ERLC is “delighted to work with Ministry Grid to produce high-quality, low-cost training to pastors and church leaders on sexual ethics,” Daniel Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications, said. “Our mission is to serve the church by helping leaders apply the gospel to moral and ethical issues in the culture. Ministry Grid is the best platform for allowing churches of all sizes to access this training.”
Todd Adkins, LifeWay’s director of leadership, said Ministry Grid is “excited to partner with Dr. Moore and the ERLC to provide much needed training to pastors and churches on some of the most important issues facing the church today. “
Ministry Grid already has about 400 courses (4,000 individual videos) on a wide variety of topics for churches to use in their training, Barnabas Piper said at a dinner introducing the service during the ERLC’s National Conference on marriage and homosexuality Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. Each course includes from four to a dozen videos, he told about 30 pastors and others attending the conference.
“We exist to serve churches by facilitating training and making it more accessible for every role in the church,” said Piper, brand manager for Ministry Grid.
Only one in four churches in the United States has some form of training or development, according to a LifeWay survey. Ministry Grid seeks to solve the problems that prevent churches from providing training, Piper said.
He said churches report that the major problems with conducting training are:

  • Leaders don’t know how to develop a plan for training.

  • Neither trainers nor trainees have time.

  • The perceived cost is prohibitive.

Ministry Grid addresses those concerns, Piper told the attendees, by providing skillful training through videos that can be accessed at any time by trainees while making it affordable through tiered pricing based on a church’s average weekly attendance. It also enables a pastor or church leader to customize the training for his church and to facilitate and supervise it, he said.
Such training is necessary, Piper said in citing Eph. 4:11-13, because God has uniquely gifted each Christian and given pastors and other church leaders the responsibility for equipping believers to carry out ministry. Also, training has “a direct impact on the health and the unity of the church,” he said. Trained members are better equipped and have a sense of both engagement and investment in the church, he said.
Information on Ministry Grid is available at
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/20/2014 12:28:50 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religion survey babble confuses 103% of readers. Here’s why.

November 20 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Reading religion surveys can seem like confronting the Tower of Babel: stacked questions, confusing terms, unscientific methodology.
It gets even crazier when results are contradictory. How does that happen?
Let us explain

Some surveys lean like the Tower of Pisa

The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example.
There’s almost always a flap over how many Americans do – or don’t – want the words “under God” kicked out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, On Nov. 19 a court in Monmouth, N.J., will hear the case of the American Humanist Association battling the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have schools edit out mention of God.
The humanists claim 34 percent of Americans agree with their view. But, wait. What about a survey conducted earlier this year by LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency? It found that only 8 percent would cut God from the Pledge.


Why four times the difference? Look to the poll language.
LifeWay asked: “Should the words ‘under God’ be removed from or remain in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America?” That’s a straight-up question with no preface.
The humanists’ survey, however, began with a bit of pointed Pledge history – before getting to the (loaded) question:
“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘. Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.
“Do you believe the Pledge of Allegiance should:

  1. Return to the unchanged version: ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘

  2. Continue with the changed version: ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘”

This is not kosher poll methodology, say experts.
“Always ask yourself why this group sponsored this survey,” advised David Kinnaman, president of the Christian research company Barna Group. “Read the questions and see if the responses are prompted. What is the information asking me to fear or to love? Are they trying to elicit one of those emotions from me?”

Watch the labels

Researchers on religion and politics are fascinated with the evangelical vote. Is it growing? Shrinking? Trending X or Y direction?
But “evangelical” is one of the slipperiest words out there. Since every survey group sets its own definition, results can confuse more than they enlighten.
This has long been true. In 1998, Gallup asked people if they were “evangelical or born again” and came up with 47 percent, says survey research veteran Conrad Hackett, a demographer at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
But University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith came up with 7 percent that same year. Smith counted as evangelical only Protestants who attend church regularly or say religion is extremely important in their lives and who choose evangelical from a list of possible identities including fundamentalist, mainline, liberal or something else, said Hackett.
Pinning down religious identity in an era when 20 percent are “nones” – people who say they have no particular faith brand – is like trying to climb a greased pole. Neither can you assume that a label reflects reality, or that identity, belief and actions align. Oy!
Speaking of “Oy”… Pew Research dealt with the complex question of “who is a Jew” by allowing people to define themselves by religion, culture and family ancestry. However, there’s no parallel spot for cultural Christians who have little or no commitment to Christian theology or religious practice.
No survey has a “Christian Lite” category. Maybe they should. When Kinnaman at Barna Group looked at the mix of belief and behavior and church involvement, his organization’s survey found that 38 percent of self-labeled Christians were essentially like nones in their political and cultural outlook.

People fib

Raise your hand if the weight listed on your driver’s license is correct – or ever was. Well, we fib on surveys, too.
When Philip Brenner, a University of Michigan research fellow with the Institute for Social Research, examined hundreds of surveys and time diaries, he found Americans over-report their church attendance by 10 percent to 18 percent.
Why? We give answers that fit our self-image, Brenner said. We reframe the question to be: “Are you the sort of person who attends religious services?” Sure we are.

Methodological madness

We’re all bombarded with online opportunities to answer surveys. Fun – and totally unscientific. Put no credence in the results because they’re in no way representative of anyone except people who are online (no surveying the Amish) and who may have a point of view to promote.
4chan, the anonymous online forum that delights in provoking mischief, recently upended Time magazine’s fourth annual “word banishment” online poll by encouraging people to hate on the word “feminist.”
The magazine editor later apologized for including the word “feminist” – but not for employing a survey method that’s a gateway to troll heaven.
The old-fashioned randomly dialed phone survey is biting the dust. Why? For one, consider whether you even use your smartphone for phone calls anymore. And if you’re under 30, start by Googling “landline.”
So major research firms are moving to elaborately devised panels of people drawn randomly to represent American diversity who are willing to reply online or by mail to surveys. Pew Research devised an American Trends Panel, carefully assessed so everyone isn’t the same age or inclination.
There’s a hitch, however. You can’t track change over time in surveys if the researchers changed methodology, too.
Pew Research recently released a panel-based survey on online and offline religion that found 46 percent of U.S. adults say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.
Is that a greater number than five years ago? We can’t tell. Earlier surveys about religion and online behavior were phone surveys.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

11/20/2014 12:18:07 PM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Missions ‘just got personal’ for pastor Tony Mathews

November 20 2014 by Kate Gregory, IMB/Baptist Press

Tony Mathews had thought international missions wasn't for everyone, that as a pastor his focus should be on the local church.

North Garland Baptist Fellowship, where he has served for 22 years, supported Southern Baptist missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program. Members of the Texas church had gone on international missions trips, which the pastor had supported – from a distance.

That changed in 2012 when he went on his first missions trip to help lead activities for children of Southern Baptist missionaries in Africa.


IMB Photo by Elijah Wilson
Pastor Tony Mathews is leading North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Texas to greater involvement in missions, by partnering with IMB missionaries to reach people groups in Madagascar and Ecuador, as well as supporting them collectively through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program.

Trying to fathom what it was like for them to live away from the comforts and familiarity of home, Mathews asked one of the children if she wanted to live in the United States again to have closer access to places like restaurants and theme parks. The 9-year-old girl said no. When he asked why, she responded: Because my best friend here doesn't know the Lord.

Hearing that clarity of purpose from one so young impacted Mathews. While he was still in Africa, he rewrote North Garland's new members packet to re-emphasize missions, "to build it into our DNA, not just in the church but within each member: 'We do missions.'"

Talking with the children's parents, the missionaries, face to face also changed how Mathews saw the world, and himself.

"I was overwhelmed hearing the missionaries' stories – hearing about the lives they've touched and going places where others didn't go," Mathews said. Through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, "our pennies, our nickels, our dollars enable them to share. And through that, we're a part of what they're doing."

International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Adam Hailes showed the pastor photos of a people group in Madagascar and told him about the opportunities and challenges of reaching them. It was the same people group, the Antandroy, that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth had recently adopted. Mathews' church in Garland, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, decided to partner with the Hailes to reach the Antandroy and send ministry teams to Madagascar.

When Mathews returned from Africa, he made it his mission to enlist other African-American pastors in missions trips, knowing from personal experience how enriching a pastor's personal involvement in international missions could be to a local church.

As a result, Mathews and a group of other Dallas-area African-American pastors began partnering with IMB missionaries Johnny and Donna Maust to reach Afro-Ecuadorians along the South American country's coast.

Again, it was that personal connection with a missionary that made missions real for Mathews.
"Just getting to know Johnny and to see his heart for the Afro-Ecuadorians is encouraging – he'll go anywhere and talk with people about the Lord," said Mathews, realizing that willingness is what embodies missions.

"Now, I desire that everyone craves to be a part of it," Mathews said. "I want to show my people that God is not only their personal God, but He is also a global God and we need to be there to share that news with others."

Read related story "Reaching 'the people of the thorns' in Madagascar" here.

Watch Pastor Tony Mathews discuss his church's involvement with missions around the world:

(EDITOR’S NOTE -  This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Nov. 30-Dec. 7 with the theme of "One Sacred Effort Find your place in God's story" from Matthew 28:19-20. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $175 million.)

11/20/2014 12:05:38 PM by Kate Gregory, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Warren at Vatican: be ‘winsome under attack’

November 20 2014 by Baptist Press Staff

Christians must defend marriage by facing opponents winsomely and demonstrating that God’s plan of one man and one woman for life promotes human flourishing, Rick Warren told international religious leaders at the Vatican Nov. 18.
Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in the Los Angeles area, said he supports God’s unchanging model for marriage and opposes gay marriage because “the only way to always be relevant is to be eternal. What is in style goes out of style. But no revolution lasts. Every lie eventually crumbles under its own deception. Cultures rise and fall. Cultures come and go. It isn’t necessary to be on the right side of culture. It is necessary to be on the right side.”
Along with Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Warren provided an evangelical Protestant viewpoint on the complementarity of man and woman during the second day of a Vatican-sponsored colloquium on marriage. About 350 religious, academic and civil society leaders from 23 countries and various world religions gathered at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church for the Nov. 17-19 event.
Warren said he planned to speak on “Why Marriage Matters” but changed his topic to “What Must We Do?” after the 27 speakers on the program before him explained thoroughly the importance of traditional marriage. He outlined action steps for leaders to take in defense of marriage following the Vatican gathering. Among them:


Rick Warren (bottom right) was among 350 international religious leaders gathered at the Vatican Nov. 17-19 to discuss the defense of traditional marriage.


Believe what Jesus taught about marriage.

Male-female marriage is God’s idea, not man’s, and sex was created for marriage, Warren said.
“Even if you disbelieve the Bible, every human body, every living person, is a witness and testimony to God’s intended purpose for sex,” Warren said, according to his manuscript. “Sex was not created for recreation, but for the connection of a husband and wife and the procreation of life.”


Celebrate healthy marriages.

“We will convert more opponents by being winsome and positive about the beauty and joy of marriage than by being negative about immorality,” Warren said.
Churches should encourage people with happy marriages to share their testimonies, he said. Highlighting the benefits of marriage is also important, including healthier children, increased safety for women and greater economic stability, Warren said.


Engage every media to promote marriage.

“Right now, the church is being out-marketed by opponents of marriage,” Warren said. “The minority view is getting the majority of media attention. Right now, Christians are known more for what we are against than for what we are for. Whichever side tells the best stories wins.”
To stem the cultural tide in favor of gay marriage, Christians should promote “tasteful” movies and television shows that celebrate marriage, Warren said. Media produced by marriage proponents should portray “the joys and benefits of healthy marriages and the hard work it takes to maintain a great marriage.”
Social media should be used “to mentor the next generation” regarding marriage, he said. Warren personally uses nine social media channels, he said.


Face attackers with joy and winsomeness.

“Culture has accepted two lies: that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must hate them or are afraid of them [and] that to love someone means that you must agree with everything they believe or do,” Warren said. “Both are nonsense.”
Citing the Bible’s commands to “overcome evil with good” and “bless those who curse you,” Warren said, “Attackers are not the enemy; they are the mission field. Jesus died for them.”
To “stay winsome under attack” believers must be willing to face ridicule for the truth and remember that they “live for an audience of one,” he said.
Traditional marriage advocates must also give people hope that a biblical marriage is attainable and teach the purposes of marriage, Warren said. He listed among marriage’s purposes eliminating loneliness, channeling sexual expression and multiplying the human race.
But the deepest purpose of marriage is to illustrate “the mystery of Christ’s love for His bride and body,” the church, Warren said.
“No other relationship, including the parent-child relationship, can picture this intimate union,” he said. “To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray. We cannot cave on this issue.”
Warren concluded, “The church must never be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by applause, frustrated by problems, debilitated by distractions or intimidated by evil. We must keep running the race with our eyes on the goal, not on those shouting from the sideline. We must be Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused so that we cannot be bought, will not be compromised and shall not quit until we finish the race.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/20/2014 11:49:22 AM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

First believer opens door to gospel among people group

November 20 2014 by IMB Staff

Jon Gerwig* was discouraged – it had been 16 months of sharing the gospel, but not one person had put their faith in Jesus.
Gerwig, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, came to East Asia in 2004 to work with the Iron Pea* people group, which had no known churches and only a handful of believers. He and his coworkers use a new method of ministry called “Scripture planting,” which integrates Bible translation with real-time church planting, evangelism and discipleship.
Although they used resources such as a chronological gospel story and Bible recordings, “it didn’t seem like anyone was interested,” Gerwig said.
In 2006, Gerwig took a team of Southern Baptist volunteers to share the gospel in an Iron Pea county – but the first day, no one responded. The next morning, the team prayed together and set out into a new area.
As they walked along a mountain path, they met a man named Solomon.* He asked the group what they were doing, and Gerwig told him they were just climbing the mountain and learning about his people’s culture.


IMB photo by Laura Fielding
A man and woman work in their fields in an ethnic minority area of East Asia. Many of the Iron Pea* minority group live secluded in the mountains, where their poverty level is high and their education level is low, to eke out a living as farmers. Many Iron Peas, particularly women and children, do not speak the trade language.


“He looked at us straight away and said, ‘That mountain behind me is boring, and besides, I think you came here to see me,’” Gerwig recalled.
Solomon invited the group into his home, and there they shared the gospel story – and he immediately believed in Jesus. Solomon then shared his own story.
“[Solomon] knew that there was a most high God, but he didn’t know who He was,” Gerwig said. “So every day for 20 years he had been praying, ‘God, send somebody to me to explain who you are.’
“And he looked at me and he said, ‘And God answered that prayer today when he sent you to me.’”
As they talked, interested neighbors crowded around to see the visitors. Solomon did not waste time – he told the crowd, “This is my friend from America. Now, look at me. I have a story I want to tell you,” Gerwig recalled, and Solomon shared the gospel.
Over the next several months, Solomon led his wife and one of his children to faith in Jesus, and by the beginning of 2007 there were eight believers in his village. But the village’s witch doctor saw these changes as a threat. 
“He told Solomon that if he didn’t stop sharing [the gospel], within three days he was going to put a curse on him, and Solomon would die,” Gerwig said. “Solomon didn’t stop sharing.”
On day four – after he should have died – people in the village asked Solomon, ‘What do you know that we don’t know?’ Again, Solomon shared the gospel, “this time with more power,” Gerwig said, and 80 people believed in Jesus.
On day five, people from a nearby village came to Solomon and asked the same question. Again, Solomon shared – and 60 people believed.
Over the next nine months, Gerwig and his team trained these new believers in a basic discipleship plan and, in September 2007, the first church among the Iron Pea people was started.
Since then, the gospel has spread throughout Iron Pea communities. Multiple “second-generation” churches, which are churches started by Solomon’s church, and several third-generation churches have been started. Today, there are 28 churches and approximately 3,000 believers among the Iron Peas.
“The power of the gospel was apparent in the life of Solomon,” Gerwig said.
*Name changed


For the Iron Pea* people, hearing worship songs and Bible stories in their heart language can be a powerful experience. $1,000 helps provide a radio program that speaks to the hearts of the Iron Pea peoples. Give here.

11/20/2014 11:39:08 AM by IMB Staff | with 0 comments

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