October 2012

SEBTS projects growth, adds new staff

October 18 2012 by BR and Southeastern staff

During their fall meeting Oct. 15-16, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Board of Visitors and Trustees heard reports of record enrollment, new staff and future plans for the seminary and its college.
This semester Southeastern has a record enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, reported Daniel Akin, the seminary’s president. If growth continues, he said, the seminary could see nearly 5,000 students by 2017.
“We believe that kind of growth is very attainable for the future of Southeastern Seminary, so we’re very thankful for that,” said Akin, during his presidential address Oct. 15 to the seminary’s Board of Visitors and Trustees.

New faces, new structure

To prepare to meet future needs and growth at Southeastern, trustees approved changes to its structure and elected new personnel.
Chuck Lawless will become dean of Southeastern’s graduate school and professor of evangelism and missions. He will leave his position as vice president of global advance with the International Mission Board (IMB). Before taking his role at IMB, Lawless was dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
James Dew Jr., associate professor of history of ideas and philosophy, will become the new dean of the College at Southeastern. Dew received his B.S. degree from Toccoa Falls College, his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern.
Kenneth Keathley, professor of theology and dean of the faculty, transitioned from his administrative position as senior vice president for academic administration to lead the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture.
Trustees also elected Bruce Ashford as the seminary’s provost. Ashford, associate professor of theology and culture, is the former dean of the College at Southeastern, and Fellow for the Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Ashford received his B.A. from Campbell University, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern.

Equipping the church

Akin also shared about a new effort where Southeastern is partnering with nearly 150 churches to help provide theological education on church campuses. Through the help of trained pastoral staff and online classes, Southeastern can provide theological training for those with a desire to stay on staff at the church they are serving.
One of those partner churches includes The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. The seminary and Brook Hills will jointly support Jim Shaddix, who will serve on staff at Brook Hills as pastor for teaching and training, while also serving as a professor of preaching for the seminary.
“Which means theoretically a person could come to Brook Hills and get their master of divinity degree and never have to move from Brook Hills to here,” Akin said.
“I’ve said for a long time … seminaries cannot teach everything [pastors] need to know,” he said. “Some of the things can only be learned in the furnace of the local church.”

No Calvinist agenda

During his report, Akin also addressed concerns by some critics of Southeastern, who contend the seminary has a “Calvinist agenda.”
“Calvinism is not an issue on this campus,” said Akin, who was invited earlier this year to serve on a 16-member Calvinism advisory team headed up by Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page. The team met in August and will meet again in November to discuss the development of a strategy “whereby people of various theological persuasions can work together in missions and evangelism.”
“The Great Commission is [an issue at Southeastern], but Calvinism isn’t,” Akin said. “I have no intention of building a Calvinistic school. It would be over my dead body.”
With that said, Akin added, “If there is a Calvinist who has a warm evangelist missionary heart who loves the Word of God … I’m more than happy to have those type of people on our faculty, and we do. …  Though we may differ on certain points of theology, we are in lockstep agreement on the major issues that hold us together within the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
“I think most Southern Baptists believe [Southeastern has] the right vision and the right mission.”

Cal Thomas

On Monday evening (Oct. 15) during Southeastern’s banquet, the seminary hosted Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist and panelist on the “Fox News Watch” show. Thomas has worked for NBC News in Washington, D.C., and hosted his own program on CNBC that was nominated for a Cable ACE Award in 1995.
Thomas asked banquet attendees, “What makes America unique in relationship to other nations and countries? American government says that rights and freedom are God-given and ideally, the government’s role is to protect these two things for the nation’s well-being.”
“My hope is not in the next election, but in the blood and death of Jesus Christ,” Thomas added.
True change, he said, would not come through a legislation of morality via the government. “True transformation is through God’s way and that is His gospel.”
10/18/2012 3:38:45 PM by BR and Southeastern staff | with 1 comments

LifeWay decides against Glorieta sale to Olivet

October 18 2012 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – LifeWay Christian Resources has “decided not to go forward” with the sale of its Glorieta, N.M., conference center to Olivet University, a San Francisco-based school which found itself in media crosshairs after the possible sale became public in July.

LifeWay, in announcing its decision Oct. 17, cited a study by National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) representatives that LifeWay had initiated. Olivet had agreed to the inquiry, which focused on the theological compatibility between LifeWay, a Southern Baptist entity, and Olivet, a school with ties to Korean Christian leader David Jang who has weathered heresy accusations in Asia.

Olivet, however, in a subsequent statement to the media, stated it plans to engage in “continuing negotiations” with LifeWay to purchase the 2,100-acre property near Santa Fe which, according to LifeWay, has operated at a loss for 24 of the past 25 years.

Neither LifeWay nor Olivet released the NAE report to Baptist Press.

Photo by Brian Dunn

LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center

The full text of LifeWay’s announcement follows:

“LifeWay Christian Resources has reviewed the report from the National Association of Evangelicals, and decided not to go forward with the sale of Glorieta Conference Center to Olivet University. We are appreciative of our relationship with Olivet’s leadership, and indebted to NAE for their thorough work. We will now renew our pursuit of viable options for the sale of the property.”

The full text of Olivet’s response follows:

“Olivet University leadership has been made aware that Lifeway Christian Resources plans not to proceed with the transfer of the Glorieta Conference Center. Olivet intends to further discuss the decision of LifeWay Christian Resources’ leadership in moving forward and continuing negotiations in hopes an agreement can be reached regarding the purchase of the Glorieta Conference Center in Glorieta, N.M.”

Earlier this year, LifeWay offered to sell the conference center to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico (BCNM) for $1. Following a feasibility study, however, the state convention determined it would be too costly to renovate and maintain the property. The executive director of the New Mexico convention, Joseph Bunce, declined comment on this latest development in LifeWay’s effort to sell Glorieta, according to a BCNM spokesman.

The study of theological compatibility between LifeWay and Olivet primarily focused on accusations that Jang and/or his followers have promoted a heresy that he is the “second coming Christ.” Jang has both defenders and critics regarding his Christian orthodoxy.

According to a LifeWay statement in July, any potential sale of Glorieta to Olivet, in addition to a “comprehensive review of the theological compatibility” between LifeWay and Olivet, would have included:
  • “Significant protections for individuals and churches that lease land from Glorieta for houses and conference facilities
  • “Permission for LifeWay to continue using Glorieta for summer camps
  • “Accommodation of use by New Mexico Baptists
  • “Preservation of memorials associated with rooms and structures, and,
  • “Prohibition of re-selling the facilities in the future without LifeWay’s permission.”
Any sale also would require approval of LifeWay’s board of trustees.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)
10/18/2012 3:03:21 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: Young evangelicals at odds with their political parties

October 18 2012 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – A large majority of young evangelicals see a conflict between their faith and their political party – but Democrats grapple with this disconnect much more than Republicans.
So says a new survey from Sojourners, the progressive Christian group, which asked evangelicals under the age of 35 about their political views and civic engagement.
The survey – of mostly single, college-educated evangelicals – showed that 54 percent identified as Republicans, 26 percent as Democrats and 20 percent as Independents or something else.
Of the Republicans, 65 percent said their faith convictions frequently or sometimes conflict with the positions taken by the political party they usually support. That was true of 83 percent of Democrats.
“As a young Christian, I know no candidate or party ever lines up perfectly with my religious beliefs. But that doesn’t stop me from voting or engaging the political system,” said Tim King, a young evangelical who also works as a spokesman for Sojourners.
“Voting is always a choice between imperfect people. That’s why engaging in advocacy is so important – when politicians are missing important issues, we have the ability as voters to try and put those issues on their agendas,” King said.
Sojourners released “Young Evangelicals in the 2012 Elections” on Tuesday (Oct. 16) as a snapshot of the group as a political force.
Because the survey was based on only 161 respondents, Sojourners acknowledged that the survey gives more of an impression of the group than solid scientific data. The margin of error of the survey is a relatively high plus or minus 8 percentage points.
Among other questions, the survey also asked about the separation of church and state (47 percent agree or strongly agree that there must be strict separation) and the content of sermons they hear (55 percent had heard abortion addressed from the pulpit, and 73 percent had heard about poverty).

Related story

In debate, Obama promotes Planned Parenthood funding
10/18/2012 2:54:07 PM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

In debate, Obama promotes Planned Parenthood funding

October 18 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Planned Parenthood was among President Obama’s buzzwords during the second presidential debate Oct. 16 as the incumbent mentioned the nation’s largest abortion provider five times, using it to distinguish himself from Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

In discussions about tax cuts, workplace inequalities, differences between Romney and George W. Bush and earning votes for re-election, Obama found ways to underscore Romney’s pledge to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics, beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, in terms of how he pays for that,” Obama said at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., regarding Romney’s plan for reducing the nation’s $16 trillion debt while lowering tax rates.

Planned Parenthood, in the latest statistics available, reported performing 329,445 abortions in 2010 and received $487.4 million in government funds in 2009-10. In this election season, Obama launched a television ad campaign that made his pro-choice views a major theme. No previous Democratic nominee had ever made abortion a major general election theme in TV ads.

The debate, with a town hall format and CNN’s Candy Crowley as moderator, included a question about workplace inequalities, specifically regarding women.

In his response, Obama said women increasingly are the breadwinners in the family and therefore need advocacy such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill he signed into law.

“This is not just a women’s issue. This is a family issue,” Obama said. “This is a middle class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.”

The president noted “there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace: for example, their health care.”

“A major difference in this campaign is that Gov. Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making,” Obama said. “I think that’s a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just a health issue; it’s an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family’s pocket.”

Romney, Obama said, believes employers should decide whether a woman receives contraception through her insurance coverage. “That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Gov. Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care,” Obama said. “They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That’s a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country.

Romney, in his answer regarding workplace inequality, said Massachusetts when he was governor had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state because of special efforts he made to employ qualified women.

“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school,” Romney said. “She said, ‘I can’t be here until 7 or 8 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.’ So we said, ‘Fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.’”

Romney noted that 3.5 million more women live in poverty in the United States now than when Obama became president, and he said a strong economy will help women of all ages.

The president worked in another mention of Planned Parenthood when he was asked what he had done to earn re-election in 2012.

“Gov. Romney has made some commitments as well, and I suspect he’ll keep those, too. You know, when members of the Republican Congress say, ‘We’re going to sign a no tax pledge so that we don’t ask a dime from millionaires and billionaires to reduce our deficit so we can still invest in education and helping kids go to college,’ he said, ‘Me too,’” Obama said.

“When they said, ‘We’re going to cut Planned Parenthood funding,’ he said, ‘Me too.’ ... That is not the kind of leadership that you need, but you should expect that those are promises he’s going to keep,” Obama said of Romney.

Another discussion of family arose from a question on gun control. When asked what his administration has done to limit the availability of assault weapons, Obama said more enforcement is needed but also that law enforcement and faith groups should work to “catch violent impulses before they occur.”

Romney agreed, saying America needs to change its culture of violence through better schools and through parents.

“We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the benefit of having two parents in the home – and that’s not always possible; a lot of great single moms, single dads,” Romney said. “But ... to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone – that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will be able to achieve increase dramatically.

“So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system,” Romney said.

In the closing question, the candidates were given an opportunity to clear up misconceptions the American public may have about them based on their opponents’ campaigns.

Romney said he cares about 100 percent of the American people and wants everyone to have a bright and prosperous future.

“My passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God, and I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another,” Romney said. “I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I’ve sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times.”

Obama’s only mention of faith in his answer was about Romney.

“I believe Gov. Romney is a good man. He loves his family, cares about his faith,” Obama said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

Related story

Survey: Young evangelicals at odds with their political parties
10/18/2012 2:44:31 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Block NYC school policy, groups still urge

October 18 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court should endorse a permanent block on New York City’s prohibition of religious worship in public schools because the policy violates the First Amendment, the Southern Baptist Convention’s religious liberty entity and others have said in a legal brief.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined local and national religious organizations in an Oct. 10 friend-of-the-court brief calling for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to embrace a federal judge’s injunction. The brief, organized by the Christian Legal Society (CLS), says the NYC Board of Education policy barring churches and other faith groups from meeting in schools transgresses First Amendment clauses protecting the free exercise of religion and prohibiting government establishment of religion.

The board’s policy – which prohibits religious groups from conducting “religious worship services” in public schools – not only bars religious free exercise, but it “requires the government to discriminate against a religious practice as if it were disfavored, rather than expressly protected, under our Constitution,” according to the brief. “At a minimum, it requires public officials and courts to entangle themselves in distinguishing between ‘religious worship services’ and other ‘religious speech and conduct’ and to discriminate among various sects in doing so.”

The Second Circuit ruled in 2011 that the city’s ban was constitutional, prompting a crisis for dozens of churches – including seven Southern Baptist congregations – that used public schools for their worship services. Some moved their meetings to other facilities, but a federal judge’s February ruling enabled others to continue using school buildings.

In her February opinion, Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York blocked enforcement of the ban while the case was proceeding. The Second Circuit upheld the injunction five days later but urged her to release a final ruling by mid-June.

Preska announced her decision June 29, ruling the ban violated both religion clauses of the First Amendment and making the injunction against it permanent. On appeal, the case is back before the Second Circuit.

In the brief, the CLS, ERLC and other religious groups say the school board’s policy does not even pretend to be neutral on its face.

“The Board’s policy openly and notoriously singles out ‘religious worship services’ for exclusion from the public space that is otherwise available for other social and civic functions,” the brief says.

The policy empowers the government to define when a particular action constitutes worship and when it does not, the brief says.

A social function that includes the same attributes as a religious worship service – such as singing, praying and speaking on “moral” topics – would not violate the policy, according to the brief. “But once these activities are part of a religious event, they suddenly become outlawed.”

“To accord to the state the power to decide what does and does not qualify as a ‘worship service’ is to inject it into ecclesiastical decisions from which it must be walled off,” the brief says.

In addition to the ERLC and CLS, others signing onto the brief include the National Association of Evangelicals, American Bible Society, National Council of Churches, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Anglican Church in North America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York, Council of Churches of the City of New York, Brooklyn Council of Churches and Queens Federation of Churches.

The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode, with reporting by BP assistant editor Erin Roach.)
10/18/2012 2:34:56 PM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Prayer leaders pledge cooperation, ask SBC to elevate prayer

October 17 2012 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

More than 400 feature films and television shows have used the North Carolina coastal town of Wilmington as a backdrop, and with filming underway for anticipated blockbusters such as “Iron Man 3,” the scenic port city does not seem to be in jeopardy of losing its “Hollywood East” nickname anytime soon.
Although Wilmington’s movie tours, historic landmarks and close proximity to beaches make it a popular vacation destination, it’s also home to a population that is about 65 percent unchurched.
“It’s a city that needs to be won for Christ,” said Dennis Long, Wilmington Baptist Association director of missions, during the annual PrayerLink meeting of state and national Southern Baptist prayer leaders. “To reach this city, we must start with prayer.”
During the Oct. 11-13 PrayerLink meeting, leaders visited and prayed for Wilmington, nearby Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Southport and Oak Island – strategic ministry areas with thousands of tourists flocking each year to North Carolina’s coast.

Photo by Melissa Lilley

Chris Schofield, right, director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s office of prayer for evangelization and spiritual awakening, speaks about the need for prayer for Wilmington and surrounding coastal areas during the annual PrayerLink meeting of Baptist prayer leaders. With Schofield are Dennis Long, center, director of missions for the Wilmington Baptist Association, and Charles Carter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Island, N.C.

“The spiritual darkness can be overwhelming, and ministry difficult, in resort areas,” said Chris Schofield, director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Prayer for Evangelization and Spiritual Awakening. “There is a great need for ministry efforts to be encouraged and enhanced, and Kingdom prayer is the key.”
The PrayerLink gathering allowed prayer leaders to network, share resources and spend significant time in prayer. Throughout the conference one theme surfaced again and again: the desperate need for spiritual awakening.
Claude King, co-author of Experiencing God and discipleship specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, lamented that more and more Christians have fallen in love with temporal, worldly pleasures and are not in love with Jesus Christ.
“We are distracted from our first love. When we get distracted, our obedience is lacking and the sense of God’s power and presence is lacking,” King said. “That affects our evangelistic outreach and our influence in the world.”
This year’s PrayerLink meeting proved strategic, as prayer leaders focused on how to help elevate the importance of prayer for spiritual awakening in local churches and among Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities, adopting the following three statements:
  • Seek God: Recognizing that our only hope is a God-given spiritual awakening, we acknowledge God is calling His people to seek Him through wholehearted love, righteous living and fervent, united prayer.
  • Elevate prayer: Furthermore, recognizing that prayer is essential for personal, corporate, community, national, and global spiritual transformation, we recommend to the SBC Executive Committee that prayer, as a prioritized focus, be elevated as an SBC entity ministry statement.
    Pledge cooperation: PrayerLink leaders pledge themselves to be available as co-laborers to assist churches, associations, state conventions, and the SBC in mobilizing Kingdom prayer in cooperation with the assigned entity and other Great Commission partners.
  • Rick Shepherd, prayer/spiritual awakening team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention, said the statements help summarize what PrayerLink leaders regard as priority, with the first statement representing how they already see God at work. “This is the activity of God that is bubbling up,” Shepherd said.
PrayerLink leaders believe that with an SBC entity providing leadership, prayer for spiritual awakening could be elevated to a convention-wide emphasis, with King noting that the three statements would help “build momentum for the focus on the importance of prayer.”
PrayerLink leaders’ sense of urgency to help bring people back to prayer is not unlike a national prayer core team that was established in the late 1980s.
“They believed God had given them an assignment to call the convention to prayer,” King said.
That prayer core team, guided by leaders such as T.W. Hunt, Henry Blackaby and Avery Willis, helped add a prayer emphasis to the Bold Mission Thrust global evangelization initiative at the time and began providing training for state convention prayer leaders, while continuing to lead conferences and provide resources for praying toward spiritual awakening.
When Bold Mission Thrust ended in 2000, state and entity leaders continued meeting each year for equipping and resourcing under the banner PrayerLink. An annual PrayerLink meeting has been held each year since, with state conventions and SBC entities taking turns hosting the gathering. This year’s sessions were held at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell on Oak Island.
Over the years, PrayerLink leaders also have assisted with the prayer room during the SBC annual meeting, hosted special prayer events and called Southern Baptists to prayer through special prayer emphases.
“You are my resource,” said Mike Jackson, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ Office of Leadership and Church Health. “I make PrayerLink a priority. I am renewed spiritually and I come away ready to take on the tasks before me.”
During PrayerLink, Jackson shared that Alabama Baptists are preparing for a 60-day prayer emphasis that will include prayer at each of the state’s 67 county courthouses.
Similar prayer emphases are being coordinated in other state conventions. In the Dakota Baptist Convention, evangelism strategist Fred MacDonald is assisting with “Praying across the Dakotas.” Churches are encouraged to adopt their county and at least one other county in prayer.

North Carolina Baptists are engaging in a 30-day prayer emphasis in October as they prepare for the state convention’s annual meeting in November with the theme of spiritual awakening.
“We want to join God in the eternal work He is doing to redeem a lost humanity,” Schofield said. “Our Lord is saying to us that we must wake up. God’s time is at hand.”

The next PrayerLink will be held Oct. 10-12, 2013, at LifeWay’s headquarters in Nashville.
10/17/2012 3:27:30 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

McCreery Christmas CD features LifeWay song

October 17 2012 by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – “Christmas in Heaven,” a song written by two LifeWay Worship songwriters, is on Scotty McCreery’s new Christmas CD.

Christmas in Heaven, by Paul Marino and Jeremy Johnson, is one of 11 holiday songs McCreery performs on his second album, “Christmas with Scotty McCreery.”

In its first day on the market, Oct. 16, McCreery’s CD ranked No. 3, while the LifeWay song stood at No. 124.

LifeWay Worship is a church worship resource provider and song publisher within LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

McCreery, a North Carolina native and member of First Baptist Church in Garner, came to national fame after winning the 10th season of “American Idol” as well as prestigious industry awards such as New Artist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and Best New Artist at the American Country Awards. He also was ranked No. 1 on Billboard’s list of Top New Country Artists for 2011.

“These are exciting days for us at LifeWay Worship,” said Craig Adams, manager of creative development and publishing for LifeWay Worship. “[W]e want to generate songs of faith that will last for countless generations. We strive to raise up songs that impact culture for Jesus Christ.”

Adams expects Christmas in Heaven to become a new perennial Christmas favorite because of McCreery’s talent and the message of the song.

“It’s the hope of heaven at Christmas,” Adams said.

“For many people, Christmas can be a time of pain,” he said. “This could be a song of healing. It comes from the perspective of someone whose loved one has passed away. As the person takes in the sights and sounds of the Christmas season, they wonder what must it be like to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on earth from heaven.”

Adams noted, “Great songs always find their way. [Christmas in Heaven] will filter down through other artists, groups, churches, schools and choirs, even into other languages around the world.”

McCreery told American Idol that his goal for the Christmas album was to create a body of work that makes people feel good and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

“I just wanted it to be holly and jolly and really lift people’s spirits in the Christmas season because it’s supposed to be a happy time,” McCreery said. “But I also wanted to get across the real reason for the season. Christmas in Heaven is my favorite song on the album and it really speaks to that.”

McCreery is slated to appear Oct. 18 on LifeWay Worship’s monthly web TV show, “The Choir Room.” Viewers can watch the show here.

LifeWay Worship’s song publishing efforts date back to 2004. Since then the team has worked with artists and songwriters such as Nicole C. Mullen, Aaron Keyes, Brian Free and Assurance, Shelley E. Johnson and David M. Edwards.

Since signing with LifeWay, Johnson’s songs have been recorded by Steve Green, Michael W. Smith, Elliott Yamin (American Idol finalist) and Brian Free and Assurance. His music has been featured in more than 200 choral and print projects. Three of his songs were included in the 2008 Baptist Hymnal.

Marino has penned 16 Top 10 singles. He was also named LifeWay songwriter of the year for 2010 and 2011. As a performer, he has sung with the vocal trio River for 20 years, serving as the group’s producer, vocalist and primary songwriter.

Together, the songwriting duo worked with LifeWay’s Vacation Bible School team to write three of the five songs for the 2013 VBS theme, all performed by Dove Award-winning artist Jamie Grace.

“Without Paul and Jeremy there would be no Christmas in Heaven,” Adams said. “They were our first two exclusive songwriters and this was one of the first songs they wrote for LifeWay Worship from their pen.”

To learn more about the music ministry of LifeWay Worship, visit LifeWayWorship.com.

Christmas with Scotty McCreery is available at McCreery’s website, iTunes, Amazon and music retail stores across the country.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention)

Lyrics to Christmas in Heaven (by Jeremy Johnson/Paul Marino):

December hasn’t changed
This town looks the same
They still light that tree in the city square
There’s red, white, and green shining everywhere
And I wish you were here
And I wonder—

Is the snow falling down on the streets of gold
Are the mansions all covered in white
Are you singing with angels, “Silent Night”
I wonder what Christmas in heaven is like

There’s a little manger scene
Down on Third and Main
I must’ve walked right by it a thousand times
But I see it now in a different light
‘Cause I know you are there
And I wonder

Are you kneeling with shepherds before Him now
Can you reach out and touch His face
Are you part of that glorious, holy night
I wonder what Christmas in heaven is like


© 2007 Van Ness Press, Inc. (admin. by LifeWay Worship Music Group) (ASCAP).
All rights reserved.

10/17/2012 3:09:11 PM by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone offers ‘Retirement:Now’ resources

October 17 2012 by Baptist Press

GuideStone Financial Resources has announced its plans for Retirement:Now, a one-week event to coincide with National Save for Retirement Week (Oct. 21-27).

Retirement:Now “will help employers create a retirement-focused interactive, learning environment for the benefit of their employees,” according to a GuideStone news release.

All Southern Baptist and evangelical churches and institutions served by GuideStone are invited to take part in the free seven-day event. To participate, organizations will simply download ready-to-use resources that they can make available to employees throughout the week. There will be resources that are applicable to all employees regardless of how far or near they are to retirement age.

“As part of our core mission at GuideStone, we’re always looking for ways to enhance the financial security of our participants and their employees,” said O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone president. “Retirement:Now pushes this mission forward by giving employees essential resources that can help them achieve a better prepared financial future.”

Retirement:Now resources can be accessed at http://www.guidestoneretirement.org/Promotions/RetirementNow.aspx.
10/17/2012 2:58:49 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abortion mandate’s legality debated by panel

October 17 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Is the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate constitutional?

It depends on which religious liberty/public policy expert was speaking at a recent panel discussion in the country’s capital.

Southern Baptist ethics and religious freedom specialist Richard Land joined three others in an Oct. 3 forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The panelists responded to the question: Are religious institutions and individuals being treated like second-class citizens?

The controversial abortion/contraception mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was a focus of the discussion. The rule, which has been challenged on religious liberty grounds in more than 35 lawsuits, requires employers to provide workers with health insurance that covers contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. Critics of the mandate’s religious exemption have decried it as insufficient to protect religious hospitals, schools and social service ministries, as well as some churches.

The mandate is unconstitutional, said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and religious freedom litigator Jay Sekulow.

Law professor Marci Hamilton, however, described it as “clearly constitutional.”

Public policy specialist William Galston, meanwhile, said he is uncertain about its constitutionality, although he believes it was a mistake politically and policy-wise.
The abortion/contraception mandate – with its lack of an adequate religious exemption – is perhaps the most recent example of the attack in this country on the First Amendment’s protection for religious free exercise, Land told a standing-room-only audience.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that we’ve come to the place in America where unless the HHS [mandate is] rescinded or unless [it loses] in court – and I do predict [it] will lose in court if it comes to that because the federal judiciary is still more familiar with the Constitution evidently than some of our congressmen and some of the people who work in the executive branch are – that people will be forced to subsidize that which they find unconscionable or pay a fine for not having health insurance for their employees or for themselves,” Land said.

Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, described the mandate as “one of the greatest attacks on religious freedom that our country has ever seen.”

The mandate “was a mistake politically, was incorrect constitutionally and is bad public policy,” Sekulow said. “It’s bad public policy because it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t advancing a position that is constitutionally required.”

“[I]t’s hard for me to believe that the government of the United States can condition a position to the Catholic Church that is so contrary to their teaching and doctrine that they’d have to pay penalties or forego funding – funding that is primarily given to neighborhoods in desperate need,” Sekulow told the audience.

Evangelical Christian institutions, as well as Roman Catholic ones, have brought suit against the mandate.

Sekulow expressed grave concern if the mandate survives its legal challenges, noting, “[I]f the government can do this, I shudder to think where it could end up.”

Acknowledging she disagreed “with everything that’s just been said” by her fellow panelists, Hamilton said the legal challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate is “the most extreme request ever made under free exercise [of religion].”

“This is not a request that involves someone saying that I can’t practice my religion,” said Hamilton, professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City. “It’s not a request that says that I can’t believe what I want to believe. This is a request that says, ‘I should not have to put into a fungible pile of money money that individuals who don’t believe what I believe will use in ways that I don’t approve of.”

She said, “They want to favor their own fellow religious believers or deter non-believers from working for them so the whole world will reflect their religious values. That is balkanization.”

Galston, a former policy adviser to President Clinton and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said about the mandate, “If I had been in the Obama White House, I would have argued vehemently for an interpretation of the Affordable Care Act very different than the one the administration eventually chose. But having said that, the issue is not one of second-class citizenship for religious believers and faith-based institutions. It is rather how best to interpret and apply our shared vision of constitutional citizenship....”

Forecasting how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule when it weighs in on the mandate will not be easy, Sekulow said. It will “present a very different dynamic” than the normal free-speech cases regarding religion, he said.

To those who think it is constitutional, they will present the mandate as a funding case, Sekulow said. “[T]o those of us who think it’s unconstitutional, it is going to be a free-exercise case. That is where these are much more difficult to predict where [the court is] going to go.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
10/17/2012 2:41:25 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

State-by-state advocacy of U.S. religious liberty launches

October 17 2012 by Anne Reiner, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Representatives from nine state legislatures have announced the formation of state-level religious freedom caucuses in a new nationwide effort to combat religious discrimination.

Tennessee, with its state capitol in Nashville, is one of nine states whose legislatures are forming religious freedom caucuses in a new nationwide effort to combat religious discrimination.

“There is a renewed interest in religious freedom in the country, and this growing attention is bringing together people of all religious faiths and political ideologies,” Tim Schultz of the American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP) said during a teleconference Oct. 9.
“Freedom of religion is a right that all lawmakers, and this includes state legislators, have a role in protecting and defending.

“This is not an issue just for the courts,” Schultz noted.

With the assistance of a bipartisan group of more than 120 lawmakers – 16 were present for the teleconference – ARFP plans to inaugurate religious freedom caucuses in all 50 states by the end of 2013. The current states with caucuses are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The formation of these caucuses is based on two ideas, Schultz said: 1) Religious freedom is important to the majority of Americans from all faiths, and these individuals oppose “state-sponsored injury to religion” and 2) the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right that is foundational to all freedoms and must be protected by state lawmakers.

Schultz – state policy director for the AFRP, which is an initiative of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center – explained how the caucuses will function:
  • Even though these are the first state caucuses with a religious freedom agenda, they will work in a manner similar to other legislative caucuses.
  • Each caucus will consist of lawmakers who come together to discuss various public policy issues pertaining to freedom of religion both in their state and throughout the country.
    There will be a multi-state information-sharing component to connect the caucuses across the country. This will help build legislative expertise beyond that of a single caucus in one state capital.
  • State Rep. Stephen Precourt of Florida said during the teleconference, “Religious freedom caucuses – that is, legislators of all political and religious affiliations working together – can work to help ensure the courts do not end up being the sole recourse for violation of religious freedom and, even better, to prevent the courts in the first place from being a means to push religious discrimination.”
Ron Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, which is affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism, meanwhile expressed some skepticism about the effort in comments to Baptist Press.

“Freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, and any effort to strengthen that right should be welcome,” Lindsay said. “Unfortunately, ‘freedom of conscience’ and ‘religious liberty’ are sometimes improperly invoked by those who seek to impose their religious views on others, directly or indirectly. Whether the American Religious Freedom Program will help strengthen the right to freedom of conscience or subvert this right largely depends on the understanding of religious liberty that will guide its activity.”

Specific religious restrictions discussed in the teleconference were the removal of crosses from cemeteries in Tennessee and the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

In 2009, Tennessee passed its version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stipulating that the state must have a compelling governmental interest and has chosen the least restrictive option before passing a law that may infringe on an individual’s religious freedom. As new attacks on religious freedom appear, it is the state lawmakers’ duty to take the lead in battling these grievances, Tennessee Rep. Brian Kelsey told Baptist Press.

“We would hope that there would be no need to form a religious freedom caucus, but unfortunately there have been attacks on religious freedom that have stepped up in recent years, and that is the reason we are forming this caucus at this time,” Kelsey said.

In early January Tennessee’s seven inaugural caucus members – four Democrats and three Republicans – will meet to discuss their goals for the upcoming session.

“My hope is that we would get to a point where we wouldn’t have to fight these battles on a yearly basis,” Kelsey said. “I believe that all Americans cherish our right to exercise religion freely and want to protect that right as much as possible.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)
10/17/2012 2:27:04 PM by Anne Reiner, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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