October 2016

Past elections: ‘dire’ Christian predictions not new

October 27 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

During the presidential campaign of 1800, Christian opponents of candidate Thomas Jefferson warned he “abhors the Christian system” and if elected, might send troops to seize Christians’ Bibles.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s election was thought by some Southern Baptist leaders to threaten fundamental American liberties. A century later, the presidential campaign elicited the Chicago Sun-Times headline “Southern Baptists Tell Why They Are Attacking Kennedy.“
These and other interjections into presidential politics by followers of Jesus have led a Baylor University church historian to note that Christians’ at times heated rhetoric surrounding the Clinton-Trump presidential campaign may not be unprecedented.
“Christians have routinely forecast the ominous consequences of the election of certain candidates throughout American history,” Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor and a blogger for The Gospel Coalition, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “The election of those candidates has almost never led to anything as dire as what people predicted.”
Through the years, Christians’ political rhetoric has been reasonable at times and unreasonable at times. Their predictions about the consequences of electing particular candidates have at times been accurate and at times inaccurate.
Yet a common theme through two centuries of presidential elections has been passionate opining by Christians of all denominational stripes – especially before the 1954 Johnson Amendment prohibited 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing or opposing candidates.

Jefferson & Lincoln

In 1800, Baptists widely supported Jefferson because they saw him “as the great champion of religious liberty,” Kidd and fellow Baylor historian Barry Hankins wrote in their book Baptists in America. But other Christians predicted, Kidd told BP, that Jefferson “would inaugurate anti-Christian terror like that seen in radical phases of the French Revolution.”
As Jefferson campaigned, one pastor called him “a confirmed infidel” known for “vilifying the divine word, and preaching insurrection against God,” according to historian Robert MacDonald’s book Confounding Father. For his alleged lack of church attendance and skepticism regarding some biblical accounts, other ministers denounced Jefferson as a “howling atheist” and among the “fraternity of infidels.”
Lincoln’s candidacy drew particular concern from Southerners, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s second president John Broadus. In 1893, Broadus recalled in his Memoir of James Petigru Boyce that at the time of Lincoln’s election, the candidate’s stated intention of restricting slavery “to the states in which it already existed” was “regarded as a menace, not only to the institution of slavery, but to state rights and the fundamental principles of American liberty.”
Leading up to the 1860 election, North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newsjournal rightly predicted, “A stormy time likely awaits the country.”

Al Smith

In 1928, the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith, who was defeated by Herbert Hoover, drew strong opposition from fundamentalist leaders, in part because of Smith’s Roman Catholic faith.
J. Frank Norris, also known for his harsh criticism of Southern Baptists, traveled full time during the summer and fall of 1928 campaigning against Smith, according to Hankins’ book Jesus and Gin. Seizing on anti-Catholic fears, Norris claimed Catholics would slaughter Protestants in the U.S. if they amassed enough political power.
Evangelist Billy Sunday said he was not opposed to Smith as a Catholic but denounced his opposition to prohibition, declaring in a sermon that “crooks, cork screwers, bootleggers [and] whiskey politicians ... shall not pass – even to the White House,” according to Hankins.
New York fundamentalist leader John Roach Stratton criticized the Democratic Party for nominating a presidential candidate whose position on prohibition ran contrary to the official party platform.
In nominating Smith, the Democratic Party made “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” Stratton said according to Hankins.


When Kennedy, another Catholic, became the Democratic nominee in 1960, many Southern Baptists voiced their objection.
Then-Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ramsay Pollard of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis said he could not “stand by and keep my mouth shut when a man under control of the Catholic Church runs for the presidency of the United States,” according to Daniel Williams’ book God’s Own Party.
Pastor W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas warned in a July 3, 1960, sermon that Kennedy’s election could begin a slippery slope to Roman Catholic control of America.
“The Roman Church wins most of its victories with the weapon of time,” Criswell said according to a transcript of the sermon at WACriswell.com. “Kennedy, in today, with strong [stated] emphasis ... on separation of church and state, and the door is open for another Catholic leader who gives the Pope, his ambassador, the church schools state support; and finally, recognition of one church above America.”
Among the concerns of some Southern Baptists was that Roman Catholic doctrine seemed to oppose full religious liberty and Kennedy might act in accordance with his church’s teaching, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Such concerns were voiced in sermons, Baptist state papers and informal discussions, the paper’s Robert S. Bird reported Sept. 25, 1960.
Leading up to the election, the SBC adopted a resolution that did not name Kennedy but seemed aimed at his candidacy.
The resolution expressed concern about any candidate for public office whose church “maintains a position in open conflict with our established and constituted American pattern of life as specifically related to religious liberty, separation of Church and State, the freedom of conscience in matters related to marriage and the family, the perpetuation of public schools and the prohibition against use of public monies for sectarian purposes.”
A month before the election, the Dallas Baptist Association adopted a resolution that echoed much of the same language, BP reported at the time.
Former President Harry Truman, himself a Southern Baptist, entered the fray and critiqued Baptists for opposing Kennedy. Under the Oct. 14, 1960, headline “Truman Blasts Baptists; Baptists Return Fire,” a BP story whose author was unnamed quoted Truman as saying those who voted for Kennedy’s opponent Richard Nixon “ought to go to hell.”
When President Lyndon Johnson ran against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Baptist Standard newsjournal of Texas solicited comments from each candidate on whether federal aid should be given to parochial schools. Johnson’s statement appeared to oppose such aid while Goldwater’s seemed to leave open the possibility.
The Standard printed both statements in its Sept. 9 issue along with an editorial arguing federal support for parochial schools was “the number one domestic issue in the November election.” Without specifically endorsing Johnson, editor E.S. James said offering aid to parochial schools “could well be the American Armageddon beyond which there will be no place to fall back.”

Clinton vs. Trump

Half a century later, at least some evangelical leaders have begun to articulate a different message regarding elections. Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore warned in an Oct. 24 lecture against “the sort of apocalyptic language that presents every presidential election as an Armageddon, from whence one cannot recover.”
“Religious conservatives will need a robust religion and a sense of what is in fact to be conserved,” Moore said according to Christianity Today. “This will mean abandoning the idea of a moral majority or a silent majority within the nation and building instead collaborative majorities, often issue by issue. It will mean institutions which have the vision and the financial resources to play a long game of cultural renewal and persuasion, not driven merely by the populist passions of the moment.”
Kidd offered counsel for voters in 2016 in light of the historical record.
“Obviously, Christians will bring serious moral concerns into the voting booth with them, wanting to choose candidates with integrity, and candidates who support the right to life, religious liberty and other important issues,” Kidd said. “But we should also remember that no candidate or political party will do the church’s work for it, and that the Lord remains sovereign regardless of who wins.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/27/2016 8:21:12 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Doctors, states oppose HHS transgender mandate

October 27 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Thousands of healthcare providers and eight states are challenging a new federal rule that requires doctors to perform gender transition procedures or treatments even on children.
The latest transgender directive from the Obama administration mandates physicians carry out such gender-altering measures even if they believe they could prove harmful or would violate their religious and ethical beliefs. Healthcare providers who refuse to abide by the regulation might face imposing fines and the loss of their jobs.
The transgender mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) follows a May directive from the Departments of Education and Justice that instructed public schools and universities to permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex. While that guidance does not have the authority of law, it implicitly threatens the loss of federal aid if a school does not obey.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who opposes the transgender school directive, expressed opposition to the HHS mandate as well.
“Though confusion over gender and sexual identity is real and should be met with compassion, it would be a travesty for the federal government to steamroll consciences in the name of ideology,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“My hope is that this federal mandate is repealed, and neither children nor their doctors are made pawns of a political ideology,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.
A Christian association of more than 10,000 physicians and a Roman Catholic hospital system asked a federal court Oct. 21 in Wichita Falls, Texas, to block enforcement of the HHS regulation, an implementation of the 2010 health-reform law that became effective July 18. They joined with the eight states in the motion for the court to issue at least a preliminary injunction against the rule.
In their motion, the challengers contend the HHS regulation violates the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause, and federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The rule “forces doctors and hospitals to perform controversial and potentially harmful medical procedures that purport to permanently alter an individual’s sex – even when doing so would violate a doctor’s religious beliefs and medical judgment, and even when the government’s own programs exclude the procedures as potentially harmful,” they say in the motion.
HHS exempted the federal government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs from the regulation’s requirement because its panel of experts said the literature “is ‘inconclusive’ on whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria refers to the discomfort a person may feel with his biological sex.
The rule applies to all private doctors, healthcare providers and health insurance plans that accept federal funding, including Medicare and Medicaid, but does not provide a religious exemption to conscientious objectors. It apparently would affect more than 900,000 physicians and virtually all hospitals. Foes of the regulation estimate it will cost citizens and healthcare providers nearly $1 billion.
As it did in its guidance to schools, the Obama administration redefined “sex” in the HHS rule to include gender identity, which it describes as “an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth,” according to the motion.
By redefining sex to include gender identity and declaring it is sex discrimination to refuse to perform gender transition procedures, “Thus, with a single stroke of the pen, HHS has created massive new liability for thousands of doctors unless they cast aside their convictions and perform procedures that can be deeply harmful to their patients,” the motion says.
Lori Windham, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a written release, “It is absurd for the government to think it can better decide what is best for a child over parents or a medically trained professional. Doctors should be free to use their best medical judgment and do what is in the best interest of a child, free from political agendas and interference by bureaucrats.“
The Becket Fund is representing the rule’s challengers, which consist of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations; the Franciscan Network, a group of Catholic hospitals; and the states of Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas and Wisconsin.
More than 45 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent an Oct. 6 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell expressing their concerns about the regulation and asking her to reply to a dozen questions.
The Human Rights Campaign – the country’s largest gay and transgender rights organization – applauded the rule. President Chad Griffin said in a written statement the regulation “is critical to help end discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people in healthcare and insurance.”
A new website started in opposition to the HHS rule – transgendermandate.org – reports two studies show overwhelming numbers of children who report gender dysphoria grow out of that discomfort and live healthy lives despite not having surgery or life-long hormone treatments. One study showed this to be true in 77 to 94 percent of children and another in 73 to 88 percent of children.
On Oct. 18, federal judge Reed O’Connor, who serves in the Wichita Falls, Texas, district, declined to narrow a nationwide injunction that he issued against the Obama administration’s transgender directive to schools.
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
Moore is a member of the Becket Fund’s board of directors.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/27/2016 8:19:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Barrett Duke begins in January as new Montana executive

October 27 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Barrett Duke will begin in January 2017 as the new executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC) after his near unanimous election to the post.

Barrett Duke

“We are very excited about the opportunity the Lord has opened up for us in Montana. The convention confirmed for us what we believed God’s call to be with a very strong vote. And we’re in preparation now to be on the field and beginning the new position on Jan. 1,” Duke told Baptist Press (BP) of himself and wife Denise. “As we look at what God is doing in Montana, we are extremely optimistic about what we believe we will be seeing happening in our churches.”
Messengers to MTSBC annual meeting Oct. 6-7 in Missoula elected Duke to succeed retiring executive director Fred Hewitt by a vote of 87 to 3, search committee chairman Bruce Speer said.
“Fred Hewitt left our state convention in excellent condition financially and spiritually,” Speer told BP. “And Barrett is coming to take us to the next level to accomplish a couple of key things … planting more churches and revitalizing churches that are stagnant.”
Duke, former vice president of the Washington, D.C., office for Public Policy and Research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and director of the ERLC Research Institute, said this is “a good time to be a Montana Southern Baptist.”
There is an influx of people coming into the state, he noted, the convention is making progress in church planting and the state of Montana is poised to have for the first time a representative on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee by a recommendation coming before messengers to the SBC 2017 annual meeting in June. The recommendation, approved at the Executive Committee (EC) September meeting, would amend SBC Bylaw 18 to exempt Montana and three other regions/states – the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin – from Bylaw 30’s requirement that territories have 15,000 members in cooperating Baptist churches to qualify for EC representation.
“If approved by messengers at our (SBC 2017) annual meeting,” Duke told BP, “we’re looking forward to sending our first representative [from Montana] to the Executive Committee.”
Duke will lead the convention of about 135 churches in the state where less than 1 percent of adults are Southern Baptists and 38 percent of adults never or seldom attend church, according to the Pew Research 2015 Religious Landscape Study. Duke will serve as the MTSBC chief operating officer, the treasurer and chief financial officer, the official director of MTSBC work and ministries, the director and supervisor of MTSBC staff and North American Mission Board missionaries in the state and the editor of the Montana Baptist electronic newsletter.
“Montana Baptists have been led by some very gifted men and the state is benefitting from their superb leadership,” Duke told BP. “I’m looking forward to coming alongside a very dedicated and godly group of men and women to do my part in what God has in store for us in this next chapter of Baptist life in Montana.”
During his leadership of the ERLC’s advocacy arm, Duke communicated Southern Baptist convictions to elected and public officials, including President Obama, Congress and their staffs to encourage sound public policy. Duke was a founding fellow of the ERLC Research Institute, where he oversaw research on pressing moral and religious liberty issues, and worked with a group of 70 distinguished fellows.
In August, ERLC trustees awarded Duke the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award that recognizes excellent service to God’s kingdom. A former pastor, he is also active as a teacher, preacher, speaker, writer and editor, and holds a Ph.D. in religious and theological studies from the joint doctoral program of the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. He and his wife have three grown children.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

10/27/2016 8:19:30 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pakistan bans honor killings, support for murderers persists

October 27 2016 by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service

This week in Lahore, Pakistan, a court freed a Muslim man charged with double murder after he forgave himself and his two accomplices. Leveraging a longtime Islamic tradition, Faqueer Muhammad claimed family pardon and legal “forgiveness” for himself, along with his son and nephew, for the so-called “honor” killing of his daughter and her lover.
“The deceased, Kiran Bibi, was my real daughter,” Muhammad said in court. “I have forgiven the accused persons in the name of Almighty Allah, and have no objection to their acquittal. I also waive my right of [retribution] and [blood money].”
Muhammad’s self-acquittal came days after Pakistan enacted the Anti-Honor Killing Law, which prohibits the use of family pardon to absolve criminal punishment. But since Muhammad’s crime took place in 2014, the law does not apply to his case, according to the court in Lahore.
“There is no chance of conviction at all,” the judge assured Muhammad, demonstrating the difficulty of changing attitudes in the deeply conservative Islamic society.
After a year of parliamentary bickering and verbiage tinkering, Pakistani lawmakers finally passed the bill to toughen penalties for men who murder women—often their wives or sisters—in the name of family honor.
“Honor killings are a cancer in our society. This law is being presented against this cancer,” said Naveed Qamar, a member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party.
In Pakistani society, family honor is closely linked – if not synonymous – with a woman’s perceived virtue. If a Muslim woman is suspected of indecent behavior, which can include offenses such as marrying a Christian, committing adultery, or sitting down too near another man, Islamic tradition allows for her murder. Under Sharia law, the killer may be “forgiven” and acquitted of criminal punishment.
Last year alone, about 1,100 Pakistani women and girls were victims of honor killings, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission. Like rape, honor crimes are woefully underreported, and the actual number likely is much higher.
“It may not change much overnight, but [the Anti-Honor Killing Law] is certainly a step in the right direction,” wrote Pakistani activist Sharmeen Obaid.
Obaid’s Oscar-winning film, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which tells the story of an honor crime survivor, caught the eye of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, perhaps sparking the new bill’s parliamentary success.
The law still allows for Sharia-styled forgiveness – but only if the killer receives a death sentence. If pardoned by the slain woman’s family, the convicted honor killer would escape execution and serve a 25-year prison sentence. Pakistani lawmakers added the forgiveness provision as a concession to Islamic parties, who complained the law granted women too much freedom.
“They are trying to impose Western culture over here,” Senator Hafiz Hamdullah told the Associated Press. “We will not allow [it]. We will impose the law that our holy Quran and Sunnah [tradition] say.”
Hardline Muslims also expressed frustration that the government refused to consult the conservative Islamic Ideology Council before incorporating the new policy into national law. The group recently criticized a domestic abuse reporting law as “un-Islamic,” and leaked a statement saying Pakistani men have religious license to “lightly beat” their wives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anna K. Poole writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

10/27/2016 8:19:02 AM by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Doug Hodo, former Baptist university president, dies

October 26 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Edward D. (Doug) Hodo Sr., second president of Houston Baptist University (HBU), died Oct. 10 at his home in Boerne, Texas, after a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.
Hodo led HBU from 1987 until his retirement in 2006, when he was named president emeritus. The university has scheduled a memorial service for Hodo at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11, in Belin Chapel on the HBU campus.

Doug Hodo

Robert Sloan, Hodo’s successor at the 3,100-student university, said he and “the entire HBU family … give God thanks for his faithful service and strong witness for Christ.”
“Dr. Hodo was instrumental in continuing and strengthening the core scriptural commitments of HBU,” Sloan said. “Much that we are able to do today we owe to him and many others like him among the trustees, faculty, and staff who have gone before us.”
An HBU news release noted that Hodo’s tenure included the expansion of academic programs and campus facilities, including the Hinton Center, named for HBU’s first president, W.H. Hinton, which houses the schools of business and education, graduate school, classrooms and meeting rooms; a dining hall and student life area; and campus apartments. In 2006, construction began on the first phase of the Morris Cultural Arts Center, which was dedicated in 2007.
Hodo also was instrumental in establishing The Bible in America Museum in 1997 (now Dunham Bible Museum located in the Morris Cultural Arts Center), beginning with the purchase of an Indiana entrepreneur’s 30-year collection featuring first editions of significant 18th and 19th century American printings of Scripture.
The number of HBU alumni rose from 4,917 to 14,004 during Hodo’s presidency and endowment rose from $30 million to more than $75 million, Baptist Press reported in 2006.
Hodo was a former chairman of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools (now the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities).
HBU honored Hodo and his wife Sadie in 2013 by naming a residence hall the Sadie and Doug Hodo Residence College.
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), described Hodo as a “true friend to the SBTC.”
“Doug Hodo was the consummate Christian gentleman,” Richards said. “He was courageous in his convictions while being kind to all. His leadership enabled Houston Baptist University to establish a ministry relationship with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We will all miss his gracious presence until we see him again at Jesus’ feet.”
Hodo regularly led a prayer meeting each Tuesday in HBU’s Moody Library, according to the HBU news release, and was a Bible study teacher for 60 years, including Castle Hills Church in San Antonio, Second Baptist Church in Houston and at First Baptist Church in Boerne, also serving as a deacon with each congregation.
“Dr. Hodo’s faith in Jesus Christ was the center of his life,” the HBU release stated, “and he even led his nurse to faith in Christ in his last days on earth. His life was a testimony of the grace, mercy and love of God.”
A native of Armory, Miss., Hodo served in the U.S. Army from 1954-1956 then earned four degrees from the University of Mississippi – bachelor’s in business administration; master of education in personnel guidance; master of science in banking and finance; and doctor of philosophy in economics and finance. While at the University of Mississippi, Hodo received a commendation from then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy for his role in the integration of the university.
Hodo taught economics and finance at Nicholls State University in Louisiana and Middle Tennessee State University, where he was director of the Center for Research on Business and Economics. He served as dean of the college of business at the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1972 until 1987 when he was elected as HBU’s second president.
In addition to his wife of 57 years, Hodo is survived by three children, Allison Hodo Clements of Floresville, Texas, Edward Douglas (Doug) Hodo Jr. and Patrick Gunter Hodo, both of Boerne; and 10 grandchildren.
Hodo’s funeral was Oct. 13 at First Baptist in Boerne. The family has asked in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Doug and Sadie Hodo Endowed Scholarship at HBU, the Hill Country Pregnancy Care Center in Boerne or the nonprofit Faith Comes by Hearing audio Bible organization.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. Keith Collier, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, contributed to this report.)

10/26/2016 2:50:00 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study: Halloween is time for outreach, pastors say

October 26 2016 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

This Halloween, millions of Americans will carve pumpkins, dress up in costumes, decorate their yards, and gobble down a lot of candy. And America’s preachers hope they’ll also consider coming to church, a new study shows.

Two-thirds of Protestant pastors say they encourage church members to ask their neighbors to a church-related event like a fall fair or trunk-or-treat, according to a new phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research.
Half tell their church members to befriend those who trick-or-treat at their doors. Nearly one in 10 tell church members to skip Halloween altogether.
Most pastors see Halloween as an opportunity to reach out, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“This is a time when your neighbors literally come to your doorstep,” he said. “Pastors don’t want their church members to waste that chance to make a connection or invite someone to church.”

A major holiday

Halloween has become a major social and retail event in American culture. Seven out of 10 Americans (69 percent) plan to celebrate Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The average American consumer will spend about $83 on candy, decorations and other goodies. That’s up from $74 in 2015.
LifeWay Research found most pastors want church members to take part in the season’s activities as well.
Two-thirds (67 percent) encourage church members to invite friends and neighbors to a fall festival, trunk-or-treat, or judgment house. Pastors at bigger churches (those with 250 or more in attendance) are most likely to ask church members to invite their neighbors (86 percent) to an event at the church. Those from small churches (50 or less in attendance) are least likely (48 percent).
Holiness (82 percent), Baptist (77 percent), Pentecostal (75 percent) and Methodist (73 percent) pastors are more likely to ask their members to invite friends to an event. Lutheran (56 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (55 percent) are less likely.

Little enthusiasm for gospel tracts instead of candy

Only about a quarter of pastors encourage church members to hand out gospel tracts at Halloween, according to LifeWay Research.
In fact, pastors are twice as likely to encourage members to befriend neighbors who trick-or-treat (52 percent) than to tell members to hand out gospel tracts (26 percent). Pastors at larger churches (63 percent) are more likely to want their members to build relationships with trick-or-treaters. Pastors at smaller churches (42 percent) are less likely. Mainline pastors (15 percent) are less likely to ask church members to hand out tracts than evangelical pastors (32 percent). Baptist pastors (47 percent) are most likely to want church members to hand out gospel tracts.
Few pastors (8 percent) want church members to skip Halloween completely. Older pastors (those 65 and over) are more skeptical of Halloween (13 percent) than pastors under 45 (4 percent). African-American pastors (23 percent) are most likely to want church members to avoid Halloween. White pastors (7 percent) are least likely.

Few Americans spooked by Halloween

A 2015 LifeWay Research study found about 6 in 10 Americans say Halloween “is all in good fun.” But about a third say they either skip Halloween altogether (21 percent) or avoid its pagan elements (14 percent).
Self-identified evangelicals are most likely to either skip Halloween (28 percent) or skip its pagan elements (23 percent). Nones – those who claim no religious affiliation – are most likely to say Halloween is all in good fun (75 percent). Few Nones skip Halloween (11 percent).
The more people go to church, the more skeptical they are of Halloween. Less than half (44 percent) of those who attend religious services at least once a week say Halloween is all in good fun. Most Americans who only go to church on religious holidays say Halloween is all in good fun (82 percent).
Most Christians tend to embrace the fun side of Halloween – dressing up in costumes, handing out candy or carving pumpkins – while avoiding its darker elements. So it’s not surprising some churches have turned it into a chance to invite people to church, McConnell said.
With so many people celebrating Halloween, this one day has more interaction among neighbors across America than any other day,” McConnell said. “People actually want to see each other at their doors. So it’s only natural that pastors encourage their congregations to invest in these relationships.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 22 to Sept. 16, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

10/26/2016 8:38:26 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

One-day meeting expands Utah-Idaho attendance

October 26 2016 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

The Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention (UISBC) conducted business, worshipped and heard messages over a day’s time in what would have taken two days in previous years.

The UISBC’s three-session, 11-hour (with time out for two meals) annual meeting Oct. 21 took place at First Baptist Church of West Valley City, Utah, where layman Rob Rowbottom is leading while awaiting a pastor. “Standing in the gap” was the theme, from Ezekiel 22:30.
“We have pastors here who could never come to be a part of their convention when our meetings were two days in the middle of the week,” Utah/Idaho Executive Director Rob Lee told Baptist Press. “But to get a Friday off, for many of them, that’s doable.
“That’s the greatest thing I’ve seen from going to a one-day annual meeting,” Lee continued. Unchanged were “the spiritual refreshment of being together, having meals together, hearing reports and being encouraged and challenged by the messages.”
A 1 percentage point increase in Cooperative Program giving was one of two notable financial announcements. The new budget of $1,765,574 – up $35,842 from last year – includes sending 27 percent of CP receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee for dispersal to SBC global causes, up from 26 percent last year. The remaining 73 percent will be utilized in Utah/Idaho for its missions and ministries.
At the 2015 annual meeting, Lee had said, “The last five years have been challenging but now is not the time to retreat but to move forward. God is blessing.”
Now, Lee noted to the convention, “[W]e took a step of faith and adopted a plan to raise our CP percentage by 1 percent a year, to 30 percent by 2020. We have been ahead of budget all year long for the first time in 10 years.”
The budget anticipates $670,574 in Cooperative Program receipts from Utah-Idaho churches – up $35,109 from last year’s anticipated $635,465 – plus $95,000 from the York-Dillman State Mission Offering; $940,000 from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for church planting; and $60,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources.
The other big financial news came from NAMB’s SEND Salt Lake missionary Travis Kerns.
NAMB, beginning this year, is calculating the average giving for the previous three years to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and returning to the state convention for church planting the amount given that year that exceeds the average, Kerns said. NAMB this year returned $8,565 to UISBC.
Kerns also provided statistics to show the need for and effect of church planting in Utah over the last three years.
“Five of the 20 most unreached metropolitan areas in the nation are in Utah,” Kerns said, listing the Salt Lake City, Orem/Provo, Layton, Ogden and St. George metro areas as the five.
In 2013, Kerns continued, there was one church in Utah for every 44,000 people. In 2014, that dropped to one church in Utah for every 40,942 people. In 2015, it was one church for every 32,699 Utahns, according to NAMB research, Kerns said.
“When we started our Vision 2020 challenge three years ago we had 148 churches, missions and church plants,” Lee said. “We are up 29 from that time,” he said, taking into account a couple of churches that have closed and a plant that ceased this year.
The subject of church planting came up again in the evening session, when Mike Palmer, director of the Utah/Idaho Church Planting Network, presented his report.
“Just a few years ago we were celebrating five church planters in Utah and Idaho,” said Palmer, who also is pastor of Salmon Valley (Idaho) Baptist Church and Lemhi Cowboy Church in Tendoy, Idaho. “This year there are 23.” Next year he anticipates 40 to 50 in what he senses is a church planting movement.
“One of the coolest things is non-funded church plants,” Palmer said, recounting that a Nevada rancher liquidated his holdings to plant an Idaho church while a businessmen from elsewhere has sold his business and is moving to Idaho where he plans to use his proceeds to start a church.
Richard Nevarez, pastor of Rupert (Idaho) Bilingual Baptist Church, discovered about 200 Hispanic families living in Minidoka, Idaho, 13 miles northeast. He prayed about it and decided to start a church there and even received permission to use a community building at no cost from local officials, Richard Dugger, a NAMB church planting catalyst missionary, told the annual meeting attendees at Palmer’s request.
But no one came, two weeks in a row, Dugger recounted. The Lord impressed Nevarez that no one came because they didn’t know him. He noticed a bin of watermelons at a store and told his wife to buy the lot. Nevarez got to know people by knocking on their doors and offering to share a watermelon with them.
The first couple who invited him into their home put their trust in Christ and today 10 people participate in weekly worship at this new church plant, Dugger said.
“Door-to-door evangelism doesn’t work, if you don’t do it,” Dugger said his seminary evangelism professor told him.
In all, 108 messengers from 24 Utah churches and 17 Idaho churches, and 29 guests, registered for the UISBC annual meeting, up from 99 last year.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, was among the guests. He thanked Utah and Idaho Southern Baptists for the $581,000 they gave last year to missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program.
“The Cooperative Program is part of the Acts 1:8 strategy,” Page said. He gave updated stats: Southern Baptists have 51,200 churches, missions and church plants, and one out of five – 10,695 – are ethnic. “I want to see ethnics represented at every level of Southern Baptist life,” Page said.
Utah and Idaho Southern Baptists minister at the present time to 12 language groups, Lee said: Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chin, Karin, Navajo, Blackfoot, Russian and Urdu, with Iraqi refugees soon to arrive.
UISBC officers all were re-elected, each by acclamation: president, David Kite; first vice president, Michael Waldrop; second vice president, Mike Pless; and recording secretary, Chauna Sidwell. Kite pastors four cowboy churches in Idaho; Waldrop pastors Desert Ridge Baptist Church in St. George, Utah; Pless pastors Good Shepherd Fellowship (formerly First Southern Baptist Church) in Bountiful, Utah. Sidwell is a member at First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
In committee reports, Dinosaur (Colo.) Bible Fellowship was voted into the UISBC, making for a total of 177 churches, missions and church plants in the convention. The sole resolution expressed appreciation to First Baptist Church in West Valley City, lay leader Rob Rowbottom and members for the hospitality given to messengers and guests of the UISBC.
A 3 percent cost-of-living increase was given to all staff, with an additional 2 percent for administrative support staff, since no cost-of-living increases have been given the UISBC staff for the last three years, the administrative committee reported.
A celebration honoring Rob and JeQuita Lee’s 25 years of ministry in Utah/Idaho followed adjournment of the 2016 UISBC annual meeting.
“In some ways it feels like the first day,” Lee said in comments to Baptist Press, but then he noted “the relationships.”
“How we have grown and strengthened!” he said. “The people are just wonderful. God’s sent the greatest here, and the indigenous who have become part of this convention are incredible.
“There’s such a family feeling in our convention,” Lee said. “Being small, we go through the challenges and the celebrations together.”
The 2017 annual meeting is scheduled Oct. 20 at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, with the annual sermon to be delivered by Bryan Catherman, who is planting a church in Rose Park, on the west side of Salt Lake City. Eddie Hancock, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Caldwell, Idaho, is the alternate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

10/26/2016 8:32:58 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

U.S. missionary kidnapped in Niger

October 26 2016 by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service

Gunmen kidnapped an American missionary from his home in central Niger and killed two other people. The incident is the first reported kidnapping of an American in the region.

Facebook photo
Jeffery Woodke

On Oct. 14, the attackers stormed into Jeffery Woodke’s home in the town of Abalak, killing his guard and housekeeper, Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement the following day. The armed men, driving a white Toyota Hilux pickup truck, took Woodke and headed across the desert toward Mali.
“Our forces are on their trail,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said. “The president of the republic is personally following the situation and our forces are fully mobilized to capture them and put an end to this disastrous affair.”
Woodke, a 55-year-old native of McKinleyville, Calif., has lived in Niger since 1992. He worked with JEMED, a local partner of U.S. non-profit Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  The Nigerien charity group helps Tuareg herdsmen who are battling disease, drought and lack of education.
Woodke served as an instructor at The Redwood Coast School of Missions, a ministry run by the Arcata First Baptist Church in Arcata, Calif. His biography on the mission’s website describes him as having a “passion in providing humanitarian aid to those who are among the poorest in the world, coupled with his desire to see God’s kingdom advanced in a largely Muslim world.”
The Sahel region faces attacks from al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups, Nigerian-based extremists Boko Haram, and other criminal gangs. Armed attackers have targeted and kidnapped Europeans, demanding huge sums of money in ransom. An Australian doctor kidnapped in February in Burkina Faso and a Swiss woman kidnapped in Mali both remain in captivity. Woodke’s kidnapping is the first of any American in Niger. In 2009, suspected extremists attempted to kidnap U.S. embassy personnel from a hotel in the town of Tahoua.
“We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Niger,” a State Department official said after the abduction. “The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Onize Ohikere writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

10/26/2016 8:30:38 AM by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Boko Haram attacks after freeing 21 Chibok girls

October 26 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

As many as 83 Nigerian soldiers are missing after Boko Haram attacked a military base in northeastern Nigeria and destroyed a village bordering Chibok just days after the negotiated release of 21 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has downplayed the continuing strength of Boko Haram as the jihadists continue to attack and capture remote towns north of Borno State, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) Nigeria leader said in an interview published on ReliefWeb, a news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Senior Nigerian army officers, their identity undisclosed because they were not authorized to give information to reporters, said Boko Haram was better armed militarily than the soldiers in the Oct. 17 attack on the military base in Gashigar village, AP reported Oct. 23. The Nigerian military soldiers fled and 83 were still missing, the officers told AP. Some soldiers were feared drowned after jumping into a nearby river on the border of Niger and Nigeria, but others were rescued by military forces in Niger.
One day later on Oct. 18, Boko Haram gunmen invaded the village of Goptari about six miles from Chibok, looted food and livestock and set the village ablaze, the French news agency AFP reported.
“They attacked the village around 8 p.m., firing heavy guns which made people flee into the bush,” the AFP quoted Samson Bulus from nearby Kautikeri village. “The Boko Haram raiders looted homes and shops, taking along food supplies and livestock before burning the entire village.”
The attacks in Goptari and Gashigar came a week after the Nigerian government announced the negotiated release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls the jihadists had held two and a half years. Negotiations are said to be continuing for the release of 197 Chibok girls who remain missing, although 100 of those girls have told the government they are too embarrassed to return home for fear of discrimination and rejection, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
In an Oct. 19 interview posted on humanitarian information website ReliefWeb, HRW Nigeria leader Mausi Segun said Boko Haram is still very active, despite Nigerian President Muhummadu Buhari’s declaration of a “technical” defeat of the jihadists in December 2015.
“The conflict is not over. Though the intensity of the war has reduced, Boko Haram continues to attack and control areas, especially in the north of Borno State,” Segun said in the interview conducted by Heinrich Boll Stiftung (The Green Political Foundation). “The Nigerian government deliberately understates the (humanitarian) crisis because it does not want any observers on the ground to find out what is really going on.”
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 25,000 people, including many Christians, in northeastern Nigeria since 2009 in its attempts to establish strict Sharia law across the country. An estimated 2.6 million people have also been displaced in violence that has created a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, described by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and former Congressman Frank R. Wolf in July as the “gravest” in the world.
“The narrative of the government is that the conflict is actually over,” Segun said in the interview, “but for many people this is not so because they continue to be exposed to the attacks of Boko Haram.“
Many internally displaced persons have not been counted and are not receiving humanitarian aid, Segun said.
“Only 8 to 12 percent of refugees are in the camps. The bigger problem is the host communities and villages that have absorbed the almost 2 million refugees who are not living in the camps,” Segun said. “The villagers often do not know about humanitarian aid, and the aid organizations have no knowledge of the refugees in those locations. There seems to be no mapping, or central register. Here the lack of coordination in reaching IDPs in host communities is serious.“
An 8,600-member regional, multinational military force formed in 2015 has recaptured territory Boko Haram once held. And Buhari declared victory on the grounds that Boko Haram’s attacks had been reduced to suicide bombings instead of village takeovers.
In April 2014 when Boko Haram was in the process of establishing caliphates in northeastern Nigeria, the fighters kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in the mostly Christian town of Chibok. More than 50 managed to escape, but 220 had remained missing.
Bring Back Our Girls, an international group still advocating for the girls’ release, expressed lament Oct. 24 over Boko Haram’s latest attacks. The advocacy group urged the Nigerian government to better arm the military to defend itself, reported Today.ng, a news service of Today Digital News and Media Limited.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

10/26/2016 8:23:06 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Student sues Iowa university over harassment policy

October 26 2016 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

An Iowa State University (ISU) student sued the school Oct. 17 after an administrator told him failure to agree with campus harassment policies could cost him his diploma.
The suit claims ISU officials told Robert Dunn, a Christian and the leader of a politically conservative student group, that his graduation would be placed on hold if he did not comply with university “harassment” policies, including those prohibiting words that “annoy or alarm” another student, noting even “First Amendment protected speech activities” could constitute harassment, “depending on the circumstances.”
The ISU Office of Equal Opportunity sent an email to all students in early August requiring them to take an online training on “the university’s non-discrimination policies and procedures” and certify that they “read, understood, and will comply with” the procedures. The policies state students can be punished for speech based on their “tone of voice,” whether speech is “recognized by peers as a legitimate topic,” and “the degree to which the expression was necessary to the discussion of the subject matter,” effectively limiting any speech that might be perceived offensive by another student. The policies acknowledge the regulations go beyond the legal definition of harassment but argue they are important in order to create a “welcoming environment that is free of harassment and discrimination.”
But Dunn and his attorneys disagree.
“These ISU policies operate as an unconstitutional speech code that chills protected student speech by prescribing punishment of students on the subjective reactions of listeners,” the lawsuit states. “[Administrators] have now mandated that every student pledge compliance with these unconstitutional policies or face sanctions, including a hold on their graduation.”
Prior to August, university faculty and administrators warned Dunn that advocating for conservative views that offend others on campus might be deemed a violation of university policies. In advance of an on-campus speech by conservative writer David French, one professor told Dunn expressing opposition to same-sex marriage could be called harassment.
After receiving the training email, Dunn contacted the Office of Equal Opportunity to ask what would happen if he did not agree to its stipulations. He said a staff member warned his graduation would be placed on “hold” and he would be put on a list for “review” by the dean of students. Dunn decided to sue.
“These are anti-speech policies masquerading as harassment policies,” said Casey Mattox, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Dunn. “They’re not befitting an institution of higher education, especially when Iowa State demands that students agree to them under the threat of withholding the ability to graduate.”
In both 2013 and 2014, ADF sent letters to ISU offering to help it remedy the unconstitutional portions of its policy. In 2014, ISU administrators said they were reviewing the policies. New updates released in 2016 have not remedied the defects, according to ADF.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Southern Division, requests ISU suspend the policies immediately and asks the court to issue a declaration that the university violated the First and 14th Amendments.
“No university policy can trump the First Amendment,” Mattox said. “Iowa State thinks it knows better than the First Amendment, making other student’s opinions about the value of a student’s speech, instead of the Constitution, the test for whether speech is protected.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

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10/26/2016 8:16:25 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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