October 2011

Apple, Google censoring religion, NRB says

October 4 2011 by Holly Naylor, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Apple, Google and other Internet giants are participating in religious discrimination and restricting free speech, according to a new report by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

“If Christian content and worldview programming are censored by new media platforms ... the Good News of the gospel could become one more casualty of institutionalized religious discrimination,” said Frank Wright, president of the NRB.

The report, released Sept. 15 in Washington, examined the policies and practices of Apple, Facebook, Google, Myspace and Twitter, as well as internet service providers Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

Twitter is the only corporation that did not show signs of religious discrimination, according to the report. Twitter refuses to monitor or remove content unless it interferes with the terms of service.

The ideal proposition for solving this problem, according to the NRB, is to persuade the individual companies to eradicate censorship voluntarily and abide by their obligation to protect free speech. If the suggestions are not taken into consideration, NRB said it is willing to respond with such actions as legislation, regulation or litigation.

NRB’s report included the following examples of discrimination or potential censorship:
  • Apple offers hundreds of thousands of iPhone applications, but removed two apps by ex-gay Christian ministry Exodus International. Consumers were denied access to these two apps because their Christian content was considered “offensive.”
  • Facebook’s decision to partner with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) could mean that “Christian content critical of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or similar practices will be at risk of censorship.”
  • Google initially refused to allow the Christian Institute of England to purchase advertisement space because of its information about abortion law. After the institute sued Google under Britain’s Equality Act, the internet conglomerate revised its policy, requiring the information to be “factual.”
These few giant corporations virtually rule the vast Internet world. The report, an effort of the NRB’s John Milton Project, says corporate leaders hold the power to ban content when they alone determine whether an application, website, article or viewpoint is considered “accurate” and “factual.”

A recurring theme when dealing with online censorship is the question of whether the First Amendment should apply to these privately owned and operated corporations. The right to free speech only pertains to public utilities; however, the Internet is a resource that is used as a public forum for discussion on a daily basis.

The report emphasizes the internet as an outlet through which individuals can address controversial issues to a “potentially unlimited audience.” It also says the freedom to express those opinions through this continually improving technological channel must be defended.

“I hope these companies, the good companies that they are, get the message that they may be coloring outside the lines here,” said Colby May, director of the Washington, D.C., offices of the American Center for Law and Justice. May spoke during a panel discussion after the release of the NRB report at the National Press Club. “Let’s do the right thing here.” NRB is a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators. It said it tackled the issue because it is “committed to representing Christian broadcasting wherever threats to religious freedom emerge.”

The NRB report can be accessed online at http://content.nrb.org/Webdocs/Legal/True%20liberty-in-a-New-Media-Age9-15-11.pdf.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Holly Naylor, a senior at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press.)
10/4/2011 8:09:00 AM by Holly Naylor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In India, villagers’ gardens yield hope

October 4 2011 by Susie Banks, Baptist Press

INDIA – The young mother rushes out to Saachi Sarkar* as she walks up the jungle path to the village. The mother is all smiles as the two embrace.

“It’s working,” the mother says, excitedly pulling the older woman to the vegetable garden. “See? We did everything just like you taught – and now there’s enough here to feed us and even some left over to sell.”

The pair walks the rows of flourishing tomatoes and beans, stopping to pluck off a dead leaf. It’s only been a few months since Sarkar taught the FAITH (Food Always In The Home) gardens workshop sponsored by the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, but it’s already taking root in this impoverished community in India. The goal of the program is to bring about transformation by teaching villagers to not only grow food for themselves but to also sell the excess in the market.

As Sarkar asks about organic fertilizer, she snuggles the young mother’s baby and notices a marked improvement in his health from her last visit. The sores on his body are gone; his hair is losing the orange-tint of malnutrition and he is energetic.

This in itself is a big sign that the nutrition lessons and growing their own healthy vegetables are taking hold. In India, UNICEF estimates more than 147 million children under age 5 suffer from malnourishment. Sarkar estimates every child in this village suffers, as well as the adults who gather around her.

BP photo

A woman in India picks tomatoes in a field prepared and cultivated through FAITH (Food Always In The Home) garden techniques. This test plot places the FAITH gardens technique next to the traditional farming methods so villagers can see the huge difference in yield.

“Are you eating your dark green, leafy vegetables?” Sarkar asks. In India, most mothers are anemic because they do not get enough iron.

A woman in the crowd answers, “Yes, we are doing exactly as you said.

“We even meet to pray now,” the woman continues, quickly glancing to the tree line not more than 400 feet away, where bands of terrorists live and roam. “Since we started doing that every day, there is much peace in our village.”

Sarkar nods her head in understanding. This area is known for terrorist activity. Even though she can’t see the men with guns and bombs, she knows they are watching. Not many outsiders venture this far into the jungle. The terrorist group allows her entry because she has something useful to teach – farming and nutrition.

“Hunger is a result of poverty and poverty is the main reason there are terrorists in this area. They join ‘the cause’ so their stomachs will be filled,” Sarkar explains. “With this program, we can change the fate of communities – physically, economically and spiritually. “FAITH gardens are a great tool God has given us so we may enter unreached areas like this,”

Sarkar says, explaining that as a result of sharing Christ’s love through caring for physical needs, more than 50 prayer cells have started. Sarkar’s team estimates they will reach more than 29,000 adults and children through 14 FAITH garden workshops this year. The World Hunger Fund, channeled through Southern Baptist humanitarian workers, helps with the $443 cost of supplies and starter seeds for each training session.

For just 21 cents per person, hunger and malnutrition are tackled at a grass-roots level, with one Indian teaching another to grow their own nutritious food and sustainable crops. Sarkar’s goals are for malnutrition to be a thing of the past and for families to earn enough money from their vegetable gardens to send their children to school – putting an end to the poverty/terrorism cycle in this part of the jungle.

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susie Banks is a writer/editor living in Asia. For more stories about the World Hunger Fund at work overseas, go to asiastories.com. For information about promoting or donating to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com. Oct. 9 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches across North America. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have fought the problem of hunger through their World Hunger Fund. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund is used to provide food to undernourished people all over the world – 80 percent through the International Mission Board and 20 percent through the North American Mission Board.)
10/4/2011 8:04:00 AM by Susie Banks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mohler: Bible not subject to modern science

October 4 2011 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – If believers allow modern science to tell them what they can theologically affirm, the logic does not end with a discussion of whether there is a historical Adam, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” Sept. 22.

“It continues throughout the entirety of the body of Christian truth. And that is a disastrous route,” Mohler said. “And frankly, you're either going to accept (or reject) that the Bible gives us the authoritative word concerning the entirety of our understanding of things relative to who we are as human beings, what God did in creating the world and what God did for us in Christ.

“If the Bible is not the authoritative source for that and instead has to be corrected by modern science, then the Bible is just there for our manipulation, and quite frankly, the gospel is there for constant renegotiation,” Mohler said. “It ends up being another gospel, the very thing the Apostle Paul warned against.”

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was part of a 30-minute discussion that included Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, on the continuing debate over the existence of a historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and as the solitary first human pair.

Harlow argued against a literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis, contending that the literary genre of early Genesis is divinely inspired story, not documentary history. Also, he believes Adam and Eve are not central to biblical theology.

“If Adam and Eve were central to biblical teaching, it would be a surprise to learn that they are not mentioned in the entire Old Testament after Genesis Chapter 3 and 4,” Harlow said on NPR.

“If Adam and Eve are at the heart of the Christian faith, then Jesus and the apostles missed that memo. If you read the Gospels and read the Book of Acts, which purports to give the apostolic preaching of the gospel, Adam, Eve and the serpent are not there.

“What is central to the Christian faith is the life, the saving death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Harlow said. “So we don’t need a historical couple tricked by a talking snake for the truth claims of Christianity to be true. What we need simply is a recognition of the reality of human sinfulness, that human beings are in the grip of sin, and that we need a savior because of that.”

Mohler, in his comments, said Adam is “a very important part of how the Bible explains the gospel. In particular, the Apostle Paul twice grounds the story of the gospel in the linkage between Christ as the second Adam, understandable in terms of why He came and what He did for us, with reference to the first Adam.

“And the Apostle Paul, by the way, is not just telling us about biblical theology here and helping us to understand the gospel. He is also telling us how to interpret the Old Testament,” Mohler said. “And I think it’s a very important issue here that we recognize that what’s at stake in this discussion is not just, as important as it is, the historicity of the first several chapters of Genesis or the historicity of Adam and the fall.

“Those are absolutely, I believe, vital to orthodox Christianity, but also to the question as to whether or not the apostles get to tell us how we interpret the Old Testament. And I believe that’s a very important issue.”

Mohler said the argument against the historicity of Adam did not emerge until “all of a sudden, a person said science has a privileged word to say.” Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central fact of the Gospel story, yet there is no scientific basis for making that argument.

“Modern science, in terms of its naturalism and materialism, generally rules completely out of order even the question of supernatural events,” Mohler said. Harlow said at times human understanding of what the Bible intends to teach needs to be revised.

“Let’s be clear: The Bible is not an authority on scientific matters. It was written in a pre-scientific age. It’s not a science textbook. There’s a lot more knowledge about the world to be had,” Harlow said, adding that the gospel accounts of the resurrection “are fundamentally different in the type of literature they are from the early chapters of Genesis.”

Mohler said Christians have nothing to fear from legitimate science, but scientism and naturalism do pose a problem.

“I’m perfectly willing for science to tell me what the scientists are working on and how they believe the world is working. I cannot draw my conclusions about the Bible, about the gospel, from them,” Mohler said. “Instead, I have to say, ‘All right, I know they have their say. I respect that.’

“I believe that at the end of the day, there will be no final conflict between Christian truth revealed in the scriptures and true science. But in the meantime, it’s just not fair to say you have two different realms that don't overlap. It’s not just a how and a who. The claims of modern science go far beyond merely a how, and the claims of the scripture go far beyond merely a who,” Mohler said.

When the host asked Mohler whether students at Southern Seminary should be exposed to the line of thinking proposed by Harlow and other scholars, Mohler said, “Oh, absolutely, the controversy needs to be taught. And quite frankly, no one can be a well-educated and an intelligent person in the modern world without understanding the theory of evolution and its implications.”

Mohler said the arguments being made by the central proponents of evolutionary theory are not new.

“What is new ... is the fact that we’re now down to what I think is the key issue of our understanding. And that is, even given all the controversies that had been taking place amongst evangelicals over Genesis in times past, are we now at a place where it’s going to be legitimate to say that there was no fall, that there was no Adam, there was no Eve?” Mohler said.

“That is where the implications of this thought have taken us. And this is where the dividing line is going to happen. There is a serious and deep, perhaps irresolvable, divide between the scholars who would stand with Professor Harlow and those who would stand with me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To access the audio and transcript of NPR's “Talk of the Nation” segment on human origins, visit http://www.npr.org/2011/09/22/140710361/christians-divided-over-science-of-human-origins.)
10/4/2011 7:59:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB launches Send North America: NYC

October 3 2011 by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – The world is watching New York City. Home to Broadway, Wall Street, Times Square and Rockefeller Center, it is the epicenter of culture, fashion, media and finance in the United States – perhaps even worldwide.

In 2010, Forbes Magazine named New York the city with the largest global impact and influence in the world. With more than 8 million people in New York City and more than 22 million in the metro area, it is the largest city in the United States and the third largest metro area in the world. Imagine what the nation might look like if its most influential city found its greatest influence in Christ.

This is the motivation driving Southern Baptist church planters to reach New York City for Christ. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) launched its first Send North America city emphasis – Send North America: New York City ­– Sept. 30.

Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting in 27 cities throughout the United States and Canada. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help them become more hands on. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.

“Planting in New York City holds tremendous potential for impacting the advance of the Kingdom worldwide,” said Steve Allen, NAMB’s lead church planting catalyst for the NYC Tri-state area. “Church planting here enables us to reach people who influence the rest of the world. That’s huge for the spread of the gospel.”

But church planting in New York City is no easy task. The city is marked with diversity, as 36 percent of the population is foreign born. These people bring with them their own cultural and religious backgrounds. Though 83 percent of New Yorkers living in Manhattan are affiliated with some form of organized religion, only 3 percent regularly attend evangelical churches, according to a recent study by the Values Research Institute.

There is a disconnect from Christianity in New York City, and as a result, church planters face the difficult task of breaking into these diverse cultures and presenting the truth of Christ to a skeptical population.

“Receptivity toward the gospel is not lower in our region – just slower,” Allen said. “Church plants in the area will typically require more time to develop.”

Photo by Peter Field Peck

Through Send North America: New York City, church planters like Won Kwak will have a network of partners and support to come alongside them as they serve the city. Kwak, a North American Mission Board church planter missionary, launched Maranatha Grace Church last year.

This slower receptivity is perhaps the greatest challenge for planters in the Northeast. They have come to see that building relationships is the key to evangelism. In order for this to happen, however, planters have to make a more arduous commitment to dig in their heels and be patient in the slow process of church and community growth.

Freddy T. Wyatt, pastor of the growing Gallery Church, planted in 2006, echoes this sentiment.

“It’s tough. The Northeast often requires years of investment to draw the same size crowd that a really good mail campaign might draw in the South,” Wyatt said. “But on the positive side, this means that churches planted in the city are usually the result of solid evangelism and relationships – not marketing.”

Though the population is dense and the streets are crowded with people, there is a chronic sense of loneliness plaguing the city.

“People wake up alone, commute to work very early, work in a crowded office, and commute home late at night, only to repeat the cycle the next day,” Brooklyn church planter Nathan Tubbs explained. “Rarely do they find a deep, meaningful sense of community.

“The church in New York City has an opportunity to provide people with a place where they can build meaningful relationships,” Tubbs said. “Hopefully, they will no longer feel isolated but rather feel that they belong.”

Send North America: New York City is NAMB’s response to the growing need for solid evangelical churches and Christian community in the city. NAMB has established a partnership coalition made up of state, association and local leaders as well as pastors from other states to help lead the NYC initiative. NAMB’s leaders and coalition members recognize the potential of harnessing the influence of the area and working diligently to move the needle back to Christ.

“Dozens of SBC churches have already been mobilized to help plant churches in New York City,” said Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president of mobilization, “but many more are needed. “New York City is arguably the most strategic city on the planet,” Coe said. “It makes sense that Southern Baptists would have a significant presence in this city for the advancement of the gospel.”

Through Send North America: New York City, planters will find a network of partners and support to come alongside them as they serve the city. Established Southern Baptist churches are encouraged to partner with planters in the city and work with them as they strive to bring Christ into the hearts of New Yorkers.

Churches can partner with planters on a number of levels, from supporting them prayerfully or financially to sending teams to work in the field alongside them to multiplying the church by helping plant new ones just like it.

“You can be a church of any size and participate in planting a church in New York City,” said Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and chairman of the partnership coalition for Send North America: New York City. Wood and his congregation already are working alongside church planters in the New York metro area.

“A part of the beauty of Send North America is that it gives every church an opportunity to combine their resources with other churches to make a new church plant a reality,” Wood said.

Churches that want to partner with a planter through Send North America can start the process by visiting www.namb.net and clicking on “mobilize me.” Churches that sign up to participate in Send North America are taken through an assessment process and connected to the city coalition.

“This is not just a two-year or five-year emphasis for us,” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell.

“This is how we do our work from now on and if your church is ready to go to the city, we want to come alongside you and help you do it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related stories
‘Any size church’ can partner to reach NYC
Reach the world from NYC, planters say
10/3/2011 9:26:00 AM by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Any size church’ can partner to reach NYC

October 3 2011 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – While dozens of Southern Baptist churches are mobilizing via Send North America: New York City – which launched Sept. 30 – to plant new churches in the Big Apple and its greater metro area, Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., may be the most excited.

Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting throughout the United States and Canada.

Pastored for the last 15 years by Danny Wood, Shades Mountain Baptist is spearheading New York City area church planting under NAMB’s Send North America initiative.

Shades Mountain – which on Sept. 18 celebrated its 100th anniversary – is participating in Send North America: New York City in two ways. First, the church is a supporting church for Maranatha Grace Church in Fort Lee, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Second, Wood is serving as chairman of the partnership coalition of local and national Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders who will coordinate church planting in metro New York, which numbers some 22 million people.

Why are Wood and Shades Mountain Baptist interested in planting churches in New York and New Jersey? Don’t they have enough to do as one of the largest SBC churches in Alabama? Their reasons can be traced back to the fall of 2001 and Wood’s vision to take Shades Mountain to a higher lever of missions and ministry.

Photo by Peter Field Peck

Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., pastored by Danny Wood, is leading New York City area church planting under the North American Mission Board’s Send North America initiative. Wood serves as chairman of the New York City partnership coalition.

In 2001, we had only two families of eight people on the mission field,” Wood said. “Under our Share 2010 Vision, we wanted to have our members on mission serving in 24 time zones throughout the world. We wanted to plant churches in all 11 International Mission Board regions. We wanted to minister in all 50 states. Our goal was to plant five new churches in the United States, one in Canada and to adopt one of NAMB’s Strategic Focus Cities.”

Since the vision of Wood and his church was what they believed to be God-sized, he told his congregation, “New York is the largest city in America, so let’s tackle it.”

And tackle it they did. In 2004, Shades Mountain started supporting pastor Kevin Pounds to plant The Point Church at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Under Send North America: New York City, Shades Mountain has mobilized to partner with Maranatha Grace Church, a multiethnic, English-speaking congregation – running about 100 each week – pastored by South Korea native Won Kwak. That includes onsite missions work by Shades Mountain members as well as financial support of Maranatha by Shades Mountain.

Wood is the first to concede that not all SBC churches have the vision, priority and will to plant new churches. How did he persuade his members to jump on the church planting bandwagon?

“We just looked at the New Testament,” Wood said. “Look at what Paul, Barnabas and others did, how they traveled to plant new churches – usually in major cities. We have to plant churches in major cities. That’s how the multiplication of the gospel takes place.” Wood said Shades Mountain members quickly embraced church planting.

“We just showed them the statistics that a new church will evangelize more and grow more than a church more settled,” he said. “We now know that we can lengthen Shades Mountain’s reach by planting more churches.”

As Shades Mountain began planting new churches, Wood said members got excited and he would have the church planters come in and be a part of the church’s annual Global Impact Celebration each February.

“Our people would catch their vision and get even more excited. They began taking trips to the church plants. Our folks just fell in love with the planters and came to understand how difficult it can be to plant churches up in the New York area. They became anxious to help out.”

Wood said planting a church in a distant location takes missions to a higher level.

“When you go on a mission trip, you go, invest some time, and then you return home. It’s more meaningful to plant a church there. If you do that, you can work with that new church plant, invest in it and see the fruits of your labor that will continue on.”

And while Wood admits the size of a sending or supporting church is a factor, it’s not a prerequisite in measuring success in church planting.

“Any size church can be a sending or supporting church,” Wood said. “What’s so good about Send North America is the way the local coalition – like the one I chair in New York – is created to match up churches of all sizes that want to plant churches,” he said. “A small church can join in with other churches and pool resources to plant churches. At the same time, the local coalition matches up these sending churches with the church planters who are being identified, trained and validated.”

There is a role for every SBC church of every size under NAMB’s Send North America effort. The first step for any church to get involved in planting churches is to go to namb.net and click on “mobilize me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related stories
NAMB launches Send North America: NYC
Reach the world from NYC, planters say
10/3/2011 9:21:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reach the world from NYC, planters say

October 3 2011 by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – How do you help reach North America – perhaps even the entire world – with the gospel by planting one church? For church planters Won Kwak and Freddy T. Wyatt, it was simple: Start with New York City.

“I was struck immediately by the strategic nature of planting in New York City,” said Wyatt, pastor of The Gallery Church. “The scope of influence coming out of this city is incredible. When you plant the gospel in New York City, you have the potential unlike any other city to impact the whole world.”

Kwak echoes this sentiment, choosing to plant Maranatha Grace Church just across the Hudson River from upper Manhattan in Fort Lee, N.J.

“The town is so strategic,” said Kwak, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter missionary. “They call Fort Lee the ‘Gateway to the Northeast’ and it is so true. Everyone going into the city on the Jersey Turnpike has to pass right through Fort Lee.”

NAMB launched its first Send North America city emphasis – Send North America: New York City – Sept. 30. Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting throughout the United States and Canada.

The call to plant in the metro New York area was clear for both Kwak and Wyatt. And both experienced difficulties in the early days of church planting.

Wyatt and his family moved from Tennessee to New York and immediately were faced with the challenges of moving from the suburbs to the city with small children and adjusting to a new environment, one staunchly different from the South.

Photo by Peter Field Peck

Church planters in New York City face the challenge of serving in the large and often impersonal environment of the city. Won Kwak, center, and his team at Maranatha Grace Church in Fort Lee, N.J., have worked hard to combat the loneliness so prevalent in New York City. Kwak, a North American Mission Board missionary, planted Maranatha Grace last year.

“The rhythms of life are radically different here,” Wyatt said. “From the way you travel to the pace you live at to how much you work – it can be grueling.”

The initial difficulties were different for Kwak. After working to plant a church in Rutherford, N.J., the church plant fell apart and closed its doors. Feeling slightly defeated, Kwak moved to Queens and began serving at the established and growing North Shore Church.

“I don’t think in the early days I really understood church planting or how important it is to have the gospel bear upon every aspect of your ministry,” Kwak said. “But while I was working at North Shore, I still felt the internal calling to plant another work in Jersey.”

Kwak couldn’t deny the Lord was moving and working to return him to the area. After much prayer and counsel, Kwak moved to Fort Lee and set about the work of starting Maranatha Grace. This time, he went with the support of North Shore Church who agreed to partner with Kwak and the team at Maranatha Grace.

Having a supporting church and other partners has made all the difference for both Maranatha Grace and Wyatt’s Gallery Church. Their partners provide not just essential financial support, but more importantly, the care, council and prayer planters need to continue the difficult work. Such partnerships have been vital to the success and growth of these churches.

Kwak and Wyatt also face the challenge of serving in the large and often impersonal environment of the city.

“Life is extremely fast-paced and the roads and living situations are always congested,” Kwak said. “This makes even the desire to do community tiresome and intimidating for some people because everything is so cramped.”

Kwak and his team have worked to combat the impersonal culture by implementing smaller community groups around the city.

Church planters in New York City like Wyatt and Kwak have to work a little longer to gain the trust of their neighbors and communities before they can see evangelism spread.

Greg Cruz lived in New York City for 11 years before setting foot in The Gallery Church. Having spent most of his time in the city living a lifestyle marked by sin, he came to The Gallery Church for one service during the Christmas season. He’s been attending ever since. “I was drawn in by the love of the congregation,” Cruz said. “And as I continued to come back, I was increasingly drawn to Jesus.”

With the help of Gallery Church members, Greg began to pursue the life and love found in Christ. He turned away from the alternative lifestyle he had grown accustomed to and made the decision to follow Christ. He was baptized on Easter with members of The Gallery Church by his side. Now he not only attends the church but also has grown in leadership, assisting in training mission teams that partner with the church that changed his life. Stories like Cruz’s are the reason The Gallery Church has continued to grow since its launch some five years ago.

“Our goal is to be a healthy church in NYC for the name of Jesus. We want to make our congregation disciples in their neighborhoods, networks and throughout the nations,” Wyatt said. “We are calling our people to embrace the city and challenge people to put down roots to reach the people in their neighborhoods, their jobs or on their regular commutes.”

Wyatt and the church’s leadership team hope to stretch this sending focus further by developing a church planting center through The Gallery Church. Here, they hope to train leaders and planters and connect them with church partners so they can start their own church planting journeys well supported and prepared.

Looking ahead, Kwak hopes to see the scope of influence at Maranatha Grace multiply as well. The church currently is focused on challenging the members of the congregation to missional living day in and day out.

“We are called to be missional – in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods,” he said. “We are the church, not the place where we worship. Our hope is to be more than just the church gathered. We want to be the church scattered among the metro New York area and beyond.”

The challenge now for planters like Wyatt and Kwak and so many others working in the metro area is to push forward with the arduous work of planting in such a diverse and disconnected area.

“You get a sense that you are really a part of fulfilling the Great Commission just by evangelizing in New York City,” Wyatt said. “God calls us to reach the nations, and in this city over 800 of those are represented. What a place to start.”

With the launch of church planting efforts like Send North America: New York City, there is a new buzz in the air among evangelicals in the city, a fresh hope and renewed dedication to see Christ’s name made famous in the most famous city in the world.

Churches that want to partner with a church planter through Send North America can start the process by visiting namb.net and clicking on “mobilize me.”

Wyatt said he was excited about the potential behind Send North America: New York City. “It’s energizing to be rallying around this clear mission to reach New York City for Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related stories
NAMB launches Send North America: NYC
‘Any size church’ can partner to reach NYC
10/3/2011 7:33:00 AM by Sara Shelton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Supreme Court to weigh churches’ hiring rights

October 3 2011 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Oct. 5. will hear one of most important religion cases in decades, centered on the degree to which religious institutions should be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

The case started at a Lutheran elementary school in Michigan where a teacher claimed she was fired in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The question before the justices concerns the “ministerial exception,” a 40-year-old legal doctrine that protects churches and other religious institutions from government interference in their employment decisions.

Few would dispute that a religious congregation should be unfettered when it chooses to hire or fire clergy. But what about other church employees?

“Advocates for the ministerial exception argue that religious institutions, in their hiring and firing, should be regulated as little as possible,” said Ira C. Lupu, a professor at The George Washington University School of Law who specializes in church-state cases.

“On the other side are those concerned that a particular group is cast outside the various protections of civil rights laws.”

Cheryl Perich taught secular subjects and religion at Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran School in Redford, Mich., and signed a contract as a “called teacher,” charged with advancing the religious doctrines of the congregation that operated the school.

Her dispute with the school, which is now closed, began after she fell ill in 2004, and took several months off to treat a chronic sleep disorder. The congregation hired another teacher to take her place, and asked Perich to resign. Perich, who had permission from her doctor to return to work, threatened to sue and the congregation then voted to fire her.

That employment decision was its prerogative, said attorney Luke Goodrich, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the church.

“The purpose of the ministerial exception is to protect the right of religious institutions to choose their religious leaders,” he said.

Because Perich was charged with imparting religious doctrine to her students as a “commissioned minister,” the ministerial exception applies, he said.

Perich lost her first suit in federal court in 2008, but the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor last year. Now the Supreme Court will consider the case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which co-wrote a brief supporting the government’s side in the case, hopes the justices will narrowly interpret the ministerial exception.

“While faith communities surely have the right to set religious doctrine and decide which ministers best advance their religious beliefs and practices, they shouldn’t get a blank check to discriminate or retaliate against their employees,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Perich should not fall under the ministerial exception, Mach said, because her primary job was as a school teacher, not a minister.

“There’s ample evidence in the case that Perich was fired because of her disability and the assertion of her legal rights – and not for any religious or doctrinal reasons,” he said.

One of the toughest questions facing the court, experts say, is whether the government should be allowed to decide which employee duties are “religious,” and which are not.

The high court has never ruled on the ministerial exception, and its decision will guide lower courts on whether to weigh more heavily the rights of religious institutions or their employees.

“I’ll tell you what makes this case really interesting,” said Lupu. “The last time the Supreme Court heard a case about internal church disputes was more than 30 years ago. This makes for a certain amount of unpredictability.”

Lupu said he’ll be watching the court’s three female justices, who he says are not likely to favor a broad interpretation of the ministerial exception because it could adversely affect the many women who teach at religious schools. The church, then, would have to convince five of the six male justices to see the case its way.

“A new and narrow interpretation of the ministerial exception is certainly possible,” Lupu added. “That would alter employment relations in virtually every religious institution in the U.S.”  
10/3/2011 7:29:00 AM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Displaying results 71-77 (of 77)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 >  >|