October 2017

MLK taught as ‘Christian hero’ at SBC seminaries

January 21 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

When a white supremacist gunned down nine black worshipers at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., mission catalyst Bob Lawler knew he had to say something to the Baptist association he led in northern California.

So Lawler gathered the association’s 48 ethnically diverse churches for a joint worship service. When he stood to preach, Lawler harkened to the words of Martin Luther King Jr.
“In the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Lawler recalled telling the Redwood Empire Baptist Association, “not only did [King] say, ‘I have a dream. I have a dream.’ He also said, ‘with this faith’” repeatedly, “reminding us that it’s not just a humanitarian effort” to effect racial reconciliation. “It’s an effort based on the gospel.”
Lawler drew that King insight, he said, from his studies at Gateway Seminary.
It’s a feature of ministry training all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries are seeking to replicate: teaching King as a model for all students’ ministries, not just as a key figure in African American history.
Before earning a master of divinity at Gateway (then Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) in 1991, “I understood him to be kind of a black hero for the black community,” said Lawler, who is white. “The time at seminary ... helped me to understand” that “he was a Christian hero for humanity.”
Today, SBC seminaries are seeking to determine whether the treatment of King in their curricula is sufficiently robust to continue inspiring ministry like Lawler’s.

Studied and ‘celebrated’

Leroy Gainey, J.M. Frost Professor of Educational Leadership at Gateway, said every Christian minister needs to know about King.
“At least during my lifetime, there is no greater Christian or Baptist leader that I can see than Martin Luther King,” Gainey said, noting King also had sins and flaws, some potentially serious. “We tend to emphasize his civil rights movement, but he was an awesome preacher, an awesome Christian educator, an awesome pastor.”
During Gainey’s 32 years at Gateway, he said, King has been studied as an example in required courses on leadership, preaching and Bible teaching.
“There were several instances where [students] had their first contact with an African American professor and their first contact with an African American leader in Dr. King,” said Gainey, the second African American to join any SBC seminary faculty.
Other SBC seminaries told Baptist Press how they too include King in their core classes:

  • At Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, King “is celebrated” and “his life and contribution is taught, at the master’s level, in our church history and Baptist history classes,” provost Jason Duesing said in an email. “In Baptist history, for example, I classify him as one of seven ‘chief theologians’ in the Baptist tradition, particularly for his contribution as representative of the African American Baptist tradition (1845-1968) and advocacy for civil rights. As such, he is the feature of a lecture on this topic and students read selections from his writings and are encouraged to do further research and reading.”

  • At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a required master’s-level course on Baptist heritage studies King “in more depth” as one of Baptists’ “notable pastors,” Church history and Baptist studies professor Lloyd Harsch said via email. King also is covered in an undergraduate class on SBC life, the seminary reported.

  • At Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, King is incorporated into courses on church history, ethics, pastoral ministry and public theology, the seminary said, with an emphasis on King “as fundamentally a Baptist preacher.”

  • At The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where King spoke in 1961, he “is covered in a number of classes ranging from church history to Christian ethics,” the seminary said.

  • At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, King is covered in, among other courses, a class on the Bible and race and another on the Bible and moral issues, the seminary said. King’s famous speeches and writings, as well as his practice of civil disobedience, draw focused study.

‘An example’

Walter Strickland, Southeastern’s associate vice president for diversity, said seminary students must come to understand King primarily as a pastor who “was going to deacons meetings and preaching and doing hospital visits all throughout the civil rights movement.” Amid his pastoral ministry, King brought “biblical authority” to bear on a range of subjects.
Some mischaracterize King’s theological perspective based on papers he wrote in college during a phase of questioning “his father’s faith,” Strickland said. But King “returned to the authority of Scripture” and a belief the Bible “is the Word of God.”
Southeastern seeks to help ministry students model King’s reliance on Scripture when they address issues in the culture and in their personal lives, said Strickland, a two-time Southeastern graduate. Studying King has helped Strickland in both regards.
Personally, reading King’s response to the threats of white supremacists has helped Strickland with his own “bouts with worry,” he said. King’s frequent allusions to Scripture in speeches have helped Strickland as he speaks on race in secular settings, including university campuses.
“I’m having opportunities to speak in largely non-Christian environments,” Strickland said. King “is very helpful for me as an example of how to harken back to the best of the Christian tradition while engaging a contemporary issue.” He “gives me some boldness.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jan. 21 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.)

1/21/2019 5:18:52 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC boosts advocacy through training

January 21 2019 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is known for its advocacy work among the nation’s lawmakers on behalf of Southern Baptists, but its efforts do not stop there. ERLC staff members also advocate alongside Southern Baptists by equipping them to understand public policy and petition legislators independently.

ERLC photo by Karen McCutcheon
Panelists address breakout session attendees at the 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference on the topic “How to engage your elected official.” Pictured left to right: Michael Wear, former White House staffer and founder of Public Square Strategies; D.J. Jordan, director of The Pinkston Group and current candidate for a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates; Kevin Theriot, senior counsel and vice president of the Center for Life with Alliance Defending Freedom; and Daryl Crouch, pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Chelsea Sobolik, ERLC policy director, moderated the panel discussion.

Attendees of the 2019 Evangelicals for Life (EFL) conference, held Jan. 16-18 at McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C., had an opportunity to participate in two breakout sessions that discussed how to engage and what to expect in meetings with government leaders. Team members from the ERLC’s Washington, D.C. office also coordinated meetings for each participant with his or her state’s congressional staff.
Chelsea Sobolik, policy director for the ERLC, told the Biblical Recorder that many Christians are intimidated at the thought of meeting with elected officials, but she wants to empower Southern Baptists to engage their representatives on important issues. 
Brittany Salmon, a doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of The Well Church in Abilene, Texas, said the breakout sessions “gave us the tools” to build relationships and partner with government officials.
“It’s one thing to say that we’re pro-life,” Salmon continued, “it’s another thing to be equipped to go and advocate for these issues.”
While describing the EFL advocacy training, Sobolik referred to the adage about giving someone a fish versus teaching them to fish. 
“Governments are supposed to be for the people,” she said. “Legislators work for their constituents – at least they should. While they will listen to [ERLC staff], because we have relationships on [Capitol] Hill, they will definitely listen to their constituents.”
Sobolik previously worked on a congressional staff for three years, an experience she said helps her understand how other staffers think.
She emphasized to EFL participants that “a posture of service” was both appropriate for Christians and an effective way to advocate.
Another ERLC policy director, Steven Harris, briefed participants on the theological framework for the ERLC’s advocacy efforts.
“We are under no illusion here that anything we do replaces the work of the local church,” he said. “The local church is God’s ‘Plan A’.”
Harris also pushed back against the idea that Christians should stay out of politics. 
“While Caesar’s image is on the coin, it’s God’s image that is on Caesar,” he said, referring to Matthew 22:15-22, a well-known passage in which some believe Jesus speaks against political involvement.
“It is appropriate and right for the Christian in a democratic republic to make sure the witness of righteousness is appropriately realized and spoken in these arenas that are deciding how we are going to govern ourselves,” said Harris.
Lauren Konkol, ERLC team coordinator, and Jeff Pickering, associate policy communications director, outlined practical considerations for meeting with congressional staff, such as appropriate attire, punctuality, flexibility and how to initiate advocacy conversations.
“When we enter a congressional office – bearing the name of Christ, our church, our community – we want to do that in a way that is respectful,” Konkol said. “We, as the ERLC, advocate on behalf of Southern Baptists. We bear that responsibility with great pride.”
Joseph Thigpen, discipleship pastor at City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., attended meetings Jan. 19 with staff from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.
“It was clear to me that the ERLC’s D.C. team has taken the work of advocacy for Southern Baptists seriously,” said Thigpen. “We were able to see firsthand the fruit of their relationships in our nation’s Capitol. They have built key relationships which allow Southern Baptists to be a respected voice on life issues.”

1/21/2019 5:18:35 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Can NFL kickers be leaders?

January 21 2019 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Matt Stover played 13 seasons as a professional football place kicker for the New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. In 2009, he was the third most accurate kicker in the history of the National Football League (NFL), even bringing home a Super Bowl championship when he played for the Ravens. In 2011, Stover was inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

Contributed photo
Matt Stover was a kicker in the NFL for 19 seasons, most notably with the Baltimore Ravens. Stover was inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor in 2011 and is a two-time Super Bowl champion.

The mission of his organization, The Matt Stover Foundation, is to provide financial support to under-funded educational, religious and other charitable organizations. He is also co-founder of the Players Philanthropy Fund, an organization that enables athletes and others to create charitable funds for the causes they are passionate about.
Stover agreed to an interview with Biblical Recorder correspondent Roman Gabriel III about faith and leadership. What follows is edited for clarity and length.
Q: You were not only a great kicker and Super Bowl champion, but also a team leader. Is that rare for place kickers?
A: Roman, when you look back at my career over 20 years, one of the things I tried to do as a leader was know my teammates’ stories. I tried to know where they came from, so I could empathize. I could minister to them in different ways. These guys have struggles like everyone else, and you can be a beacon of hope for them in the locker room.
Q: Has that changed for you after football?
A: It’s what I do every day with the Players Philanthropy Fund. I’m helping and assisting them with their foundations if they don’t have one. They can come inside the Players Philanthropy Fund and operate as if they have one. There are hundreds of great athletes out there doing great work. It’s like that all the way across the league. To learn their stories and hear about their faith, family and football is very encouraging.
Q: Was your faith always strong over your entire career?
A: No. At the beginning of my career, my faith was very superficial. It wasn’t deep nor intimate. When I was kicking for the Browns, I was really caught up in the NFL career and needed to change my priorities. I decided to put God first. I was married, so my marriage and my faith came first over football. When I understood where the priorities should be, it gave me freedom.
I don’t think a lot of people understand that the freedom to fail is so empowering. It gives you the ability to perform at a level you would never think of. As an athlete, if your identity is tied up in your career only, and things don’t go well, you’re going to get paralyzed and you’re not going to perform. That’s where my faith and my family – my priorities – became such a big issue.

Contributed photo
Matt Stover meets Roman Gabriel III during media days at a recent Super Bowl.

Q: Who were the men that were instrumental as mentors for you during your football career?
A: Brian Hansen, who spent 18 years with the Cleveland Browns as a punter. I met him when he was 10 years into the league (32 years old). He had a family, and he gave me a beacon, a light to see what it was supposed to be. What a faithful guy he was, as a husband and father. And then I understood where my faith needed to go.
Q: Who showed you the way spiritually inside the football world?
A: I was very challenged at the beginning of my career by our team chaplain. He really showed me how to share my faith and connect with players. He modeled that in his life.
When I was with the Ravens, it was Joe Ehrmann. He showed me exactly how to do it. He was a mentor of mine for four years. He went on to be a great mentor,
to write several books to assist high school and college football coaches to be faithful in their training of players.
The best thing I could do at the time was walk around the locker-room and be exactly who I am, not trying to be somebody I wasn’t. In return, my teammates paid attention to how I lived my life.
Q: Can you think of an example where that played out?
A: Yes, my first time on Monday Night Football, I missed all three of my field goal attempts. We lost the game. I took it, then went back to work, and only missed one more field goal the whole year.
My teammates look back on that and say, “Wow, you showed me a lot about your faith” – the way I handled myself in a positive manner. Those are the stories you remember. Handle yourself in the right way, earn the right to speak and know the other players’ stories so you can speak truth into their situation. From there, you’ve got an opportunity to be influential for the rest of their lives.
Find out more about the Players Philanthropy Fund at PPF.org and the Matt Stover Foundation at MattStoverFoundation.org.
(EDITORS’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit the Faith Family Sports website: fspn.net. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit his website: soldout-tv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.)

1/21/2019 5:18:13 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Russell Moore at EFL: Dignity, gospel needed

January 21 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Human dignity and gospel mission should characterize the Christian voice at a time when people are treated like machines, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said at Evangelicals for Life (EFL) Jan. 17.

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, opened the second day of the annual Evangelicals for Life conference on Jan. 17.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), opened the second day of the annual conference sponsored by the ERLC. The two-day event at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., continued with a full day of addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions on such topics as abortion, adoption, disability, racial unity, immigration, Christian persecution and criminal justice reform.
Many EFL attendees planned to participate in the annual March for Life Jan. 18 on the National Mall.
Moore told the audience, “We march for life, but we march beyond that to eternal life.”
Jesus demonstrated truths about the dignity of human beings and the power of the gospel in Luke 18:31-19:10, which describes His encounters with two outcasts in the region of Jericho – a blind man and the tax collector Zacchaeus, Moore said.
The blind man was dependent and unproductive, he said. “When usefulness is the definition of whether or not one is worth something, then we have turned human beings into machines,” Moore said. “And when one stops being useful or is never considered to be useful in the first place, those people are discarded even as we would discard an outdated technology.”
The blind man, however, cried out to Jesus, calling Him Son of David – “language that everyone would have understood refers to the king that God is going to send to deliver His people,” Moore said. In so doing, the blind man was “able to see what the disciples of Jesus themselves were not able to see,” he said. The disciples did not comprehend what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, though He had just told them.
The crowd sought to silence him “because he’s a problem, he’s a burden,” Moore said. “[T]o silence him would be to make him imperceptible.
“[T]hat’s exactly what takes place in our own society when it comes to the people who are so vulnerable that we don’t want to recognize that they’re there,” he told the audience. To the unborn, immigrants, refugees, elderly and children in foster care, people can say, “We want to silence you,” Moore said.
Jesus, however, “sees beyond that social pressure; He sees beyond the identity politics,” Moore said. “And He sees the person, and He sees this person not as a thing, not as a machine. He sees him as someone created in the image of the God who is Lord over all things.
“He sees him and He reflects to him the love and the mercy of the gospel and of God.”
With Zacchaeus, Jesus “again defies all of the social pressure around Him,” this time by inviting Himself to the home of a despised tax collector who had used his power to extort money from people, Moore said.
Jesus fully knew controversy would break out because He was calling tax collectors to repentance and “willing to be in relationship with people He is calling to repentance,” Moore told the audience. Jesus is showing “God is not shocked by this sin, and God does not leave you in that sin,” he said.
Christ is calling Christians to live in the same way, he said. “We have to speak in a way consistent with the gospel so that we’re speaking a word of justice. God is just. God does not ignore what happens to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable and marginalized and the unborn and the elderly and the stranger.”
Followers of Jesus must hear women who are in crisis pregnancies and say to them, “God hears you, and we’re here with you,” Moore said. Christians also are to “hear the voices of unborn children who have no functioning vocal cords, who can’t speak for themselves, to say, ‘These lives are not inconveniences. These lives are children loved by God.’”
In addition, Christians should respond to the voices of children in foster care, refugees suffering persecution, and the elderly in nursing homes or their own homes, he said.
God “hears oppression, and God will bring to judgment the oppression of the weak,” Moore told attendees. That is not the only word, however, he said. Jesus also says, “Come to Me,” in a word of invitation to both the oppressed and the oppressor, he said.
Jesus is saying, “Come to Me through the cross of Christ where the judgment of God has already fallen and where the love of God is seen.,” Moore said.
“In an age of machines,” he said, “we have to be the people who are able to speak with confidence to those who are in power, ‘There is a God, and He sees you,’ and with mercy to those who are weak and forgotten ... to say, ‘Jesus loves you.’”

1/21/2019 5:17:35 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sanctity of Life: Beware the distractions

January 18 2019 by J.D. Greear, SBC President

Today in our nation’s capital, thousands upon thousands of people will participate in the March for Life, the largest pro-life rally in the world. The march is built on the conviction that unborn babies are made in the image of God and, as such, they deserve the rights God has given to all people.

The conversation about abortion really should hinge on one question: Are the unborn human or not?
If so, then the reasoning behind the pro-choice cause falls apart. The arguments become “red herrings” – distractions that aren’t relevant to the issue at hand.
Here are some of the most common:
A. If you’re so pro-life, why do you only care about babies before they’re born?
This comes in a variety of forms, but the basic implication is that those who are pro-life are hypocritical: They say they don’t want women aborting babies, but they also won’t do anything to help those women or babies after birth.
For example, pro-choice advocates might say, “Are you willing to adopt all these unwanted kids you don’t want aborted?” The charge is both a logical fallacy and utterly inconsistent with the facts about pro-life advocates.
From the standpoint of logic, this is an attack on pro-life advocates, not on the pro-life view. If you imply that people aren’t truly loving, the honest person will say, “You’re right. I could do more.” But remember, it’s not an argument. The question of the humanity of the baby isn’t even addressed. It’s a red herring that diverts the discussion to moral judgmentalism.
But this attack also misrepresents the facts. Pro-life Christians do care, and not just in a don’t-get-abortions kind of way. Pro-life pregnancy centers, for instance, far outnumber abortion clinics. They provide parenting classes, clothing and adoption services. Pro-lifers adopt more often than pro-choicers. And they give far more to charity than their pro-choice counterparts. (1)
We want to promote a culture of life, and that means caring about life from the womb to the tomb. So if we aren’t caring for the poor and needy and marginalized among us, we need to repent. But that should never lead us to stop caring and fighting for the protection of the vulnerable and voiceless unborn.
B. Only women can speak on this issue.
This is often hurled at male pro-life advocates because the discussion touches on issues affecting women’s bodies, not men’s. But again, this is a logical fallacy: Whether it is right or wrong to intentionally kill someone depends on the person being killed, not the gender of the person making the argument. Remember: The central question is, “Is the unborn one of us?”
One appropriate response is to ask, “Which women?” What about the women who are aborted? Or the millions of pro-life women? “Women” don’t have one view on this. And, in fact, statistics show that women are more pro-life than men. Justice means speaking up for any who are voiceless, regardless of their gender or yours.
C. Shouldn’t we spend more time speaking out against the poverty system that creates the need for abortions?
There’s an element of truth here: Yes, we should work to fight the poverty that can create the despair that makes abortion feel necessary. But again, here’s the logical fallacy: Whether or not abortion is wrong is not contingent on the environment surrounding it. Imagine a slave owner in the South explaining why the economic system Northerners created demanded slavery. Even if that had been true, we’d nevertheless maintain that the practice of slavery was wrong.
If we truly love people, we should do everything in our power to help them. So we speak out against the poverty system and we speak out against abortion. It’s not an either/or.
D. If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.
This argument stretches the limits of the word “like.” We’re not talking about a preference (“Don’t like Pepsi? Don’t drink it!”). We’re talking about people’s lives. I don’t oppose abortion because it violates some preference of mine; I’m opposed because I believe it ends human life.
To imagine how absurd this statement is, change the variables in it: What would you think if someone said, “Don’t like slavery? Well, don’t own a slave!” or “Don’t like sexual assault? Don’t do it!”
E. I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think we should overturn Roe v. Wade.
The question to ask here is: Why are you personally against abortion? Is it because you know it is the wrongful taking of human life? If that’s what you think, are you really willing to sit back and do nothing while innocent people are murdered?
Again, try applying the logic with different variables. Would people ever say something like this about child abuse? “I’m personally opposed, but let’s not get the law involved.” No! Why not? Because no one’s “rights” includes the right to harm someone else. If the baby is a child, our right to make choices does not extend to taking its life.
F. Abortion needs to be legal so that it’s safe for mothers.
The narrative surrounding abortion rights goes something like this: Back in the 1970s, women were dying by the thousands in back-alley abortions. Now with Roe v. Wade, women are much safer. They’re going to do it either way, so we might as well make it safe.
The truth of the matter is that maternal deaths each year between 1942 and 1972 had been in steady decline – from 7,267 to 780. And of those 780 deaths, 140 were related to abortion, including spontaneous abortions caused by miscarriage. So the idea that abortion was overwhelmingly common – but dangerous – simply isn’t true. (2)
What we can be sure of is that the death rate for babies in abortion procedures is 100 percent.
G. What about situations of rape or incest?
The number of pregnancies that arise from the tragic instances of rape or incest may be small, but they are nonetheless painful. Our hearts go out to anyone in this situation. For you, we recognize that this question is less of a red herring and more a reflection of a heart-rending situation. We grieve with you.
The heart of this question is about the way we respond to pain and tragedy. A woman in this situation may be saying, “This baby came to be through the most horrific event of my life. Why should I be forced to bear the burden of something that only reminds me of that pain?”
The answer, in brief, is twofold: First, it’s actually not healing for the mother to pursue abortion. When faced with tragedy, the most healing path forward is not to push away any evidence of the pain. It is to bring that pain to God, allowing Him to heal us.
Second, this objection, like the others, shifts the debate. We aren’t debating whether rape is heinous. We agree that it is and that it leaves deeply wounded victims. But is the child at fault for how he got there? How do we, as a civil society, treat innocent human beings that remind us of painful events? We don’t help anyone by harming one human simply because he reminds us of another human’s sin. The question, once again, hinges on whether the unborn are human or not.
H. I have a right to my body.
No one is arguing against that. But does your right to your body include taking the life of another for the sake of convenience? Aren’t there competing rights at stake? What about the rights of the unborn child?
Advocates of slavery doubled down on slavery based on similar reasoning in the Dred Scott decision of 1857. They admitted that the slaves had a right to freedom. But they also argued that the slaveholders had a right to their property. The justices in the Dred Scott case reasoned, tragically, that the right to property superseded the rights of the slaves to freedom.
In the question of abortion, we also have competing rights – the right to privacy and the right to life. Are we going to follow Dred Scott and reduce people to property that can be disposed of?
The rights and safety of women are precious and important. But pregnant women aren’t the only people involved. And history will judge us – indeed, eternity will judge us – by how we respond to this moment. Will we turn a blind eye to violence because we value our convenience even more? Or will we be the people God has called us to be, defending the cause of the most voiceless people in society today?
I pray that the church would move forward with confidence that, regardless of the situation around us, God always defends the cause of justice. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “I am convinced that the Lord is on our side in this great struggle, for the Lord is always on the side of the right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation may be on the Lord’s side.... Lord, give us faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
(1) Much of the material in this section comes from Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet, 21 Days of Prayer for Life.
(2) Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, 102.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Jan. 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/18/2019 1:33:55 PM by J.D. Greear, SBC President | with 0 comments

Evangelicals for Life opens with Platt, Chapman

January 18 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jan. 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
Obedience to the Great Commission leads Christians "inevitably to treasure the sanctity of human life," David Platt told the audience at Evangelicals for Life Jan. 16.

Obedience to the Great Commission leads Christians “inevitably to treasure the sanctity of human life,” David Platt told the audience Jan. 16 at Evangelicals for Life.
The opening session of the fourth annual conference – sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) – featured a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman to benefit the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
The two-day conference at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., continued with a full day of addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions Jan. 17. Evangelicals for Life (EFL) participants will be able to attend the annual March for Life today on the National Mall.
Platt – former president of the International Mission Board and now pastor-teacher of the host church – said the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the sanctity of human life have everything to do with each other.
“For into a world that devalues children,” Jesus gave the commission for Christians to make disciples, baptizing and teaching them, Platt told attendees. “The Great Commission was clearly and definitively not a call to sit back and stay silent in a world of evil.”
Jesus commanded His followers “to run to need, not away from it; to engage a world in need, not to turn a deaf ear to it,” Platt said. If it is not careful, the church – “instead of discipling Christians in the world” – can be “disinfecting Christians from the world,” he said.
The gospel that baptism portrays in the Great Commission empowers people to treasure human life, Platt said. 

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
The opening session of the fourth annual Evangelicals for Life Jan. 16 featured a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman to benefit the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC's ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.

“The first and most fundamental way we can work for the unborn is through proclamation of the gospel to see hearts changed to want what God wants,” he told the audience. “The power of the gospel message in and of itself possesses a dynamic charge that detonates the heart’s desire for abortion.”
Baptism not only is a new Christian’s initial public declaration of faith in Christ, but it also is a Christian’s public identification with a community, the church, Platt said. “God has uniquely designed and equipped the church to care for children and their mothers.”
As Christians begin to obey the Great Commission, they begin to see slaves, immigrants and refugees as God sees them, he said. The Great Commission compels Christians to “decry all forms of oppression, exploitation” and to work to overcome the racial divide in this country, he said.
Chapman – who has won 58 Dove Awards, the most of any artist in Christian music – shared the stories behind some of his songs before performing them, including “I Will Be Here,” “Fingerprints of God” and “When Love Takes You In.”
His songs during the last 32 years reflect his faith journey, he said. His family and he have learned through this pilgrimage, including the adoption of three girls from China, “God is inviting us deeper and deeper into knowing Him,” he said.
Chapman and his wife Mary Beth founded Show Hope in 2003 to help families adopt. Show Hope has assisted more than 6,200 families in adopting children from more than 60 countries.
EFL is a gathering to celebrate “God’s heart for everybody that He purposes and creates and knits and weaves together so fearfully and wonderfully,” Chapman told the audience. It is an opportunity to “lock arms and encourage each other and go out and keep telling” God’s story in the ways the participants already are doing, he said.
“This is an honor to stand with you, and so to get to encourage you is such a blessing,” Chapman said.
After the concert, Nathan Lino told the audience how the Psalm 139 Project had assisted the mission operated by the church he pastors, Northeast Houston Baptist Church. Flood waters from Hurricane Harvey destroyed the ultrasound machine of the pregnancy resource center in the church’s mission in 2017. The Psalm 139 Project and Focus on the Family’s Option Ultrasound Program collaborated to provide a new machine. The new machine was operational in eight weeks, and it has helped save hundreds of babies in the last 15 months, he said.
Lino asked attendees and viewers of the conference on live stream video to pray about giving to Psalm 139.
Since 2004, the Psalm 139 Project has helped provide ultrasound equipment for centers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available at psalm139project.org.
The ERLC and Focus on the Family launched EFL in 2016 as an effort to help increase awareness among evangelical Christians of the March for Life and motivate them to participate in it. Focus partnered with the ERLC to host the event in its first three years.
More than 600 people had registered before Wednesday night’s session. The ERLC offered free conference registration to federal and contract workers affected by the partial government shutdown.

1/18/2019 1:33:54 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Boyce College adds communications program

January 18 2019 by The Southern Baptist Seminary Staff

Boyce College has announced a new bachelor of science (B.S.) degree in communication, extending the mission of the school to new academic territory, said Matthew J. Hall, dean of Boyce College.

Boyce is the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“As we explored the next stage of Boyce College’s academic development, the degree program that immediately came to the fore was something in the field of communication,” Hall said, noting that the college extensively researched the program’s viability in both general demand for students with skills related to the field of communication and employment outlook for such graduates.
“The program seemed to be immediately and naturally consistent with our institutional mission and philosophy of education,” Hall said. “We are hopeful that the major will continue the vision that we’ve had for all of our degree programs – that students would have expanded opportunities to discern their vocation and to be well-equipped for wherever God would send them in the world.”
The program will take an interdisciplinary approach to studying influential communication techniques and concepts, with 42 hours in their major and 30 hours of biblical training. Students with this degree will be equipped for a number of fields in a diverse and complex world: Christian ministry, business, public relations, marketing, sales and government service. The curriculum will include a series of communication courses including mass media, intercultural communication and communication theory. The program also will include a concentration in “strategic communication,” which focuses on the business side of communications.
“I really cannot think of a degree better suited to meet the needs of the 21st century, to help to give a rising generation of young Christians critical skills in very important dimensions of communication,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary and Boyce College. “In the secular world, in the international arena, in the church and everywhere you look, skills in communication are becoming more and more necessary. This degree program is going to equip a new generation of Christians to be effective and faithful communicators in a world that desperately needs not only skills in communication, but needs to hear the gospel, biblical truth, communicated.”
The B.S. in communication is a continuation of Boyce’s mission, Hall said. All degree programs at Boyce – including business, education, philosophy, politics and economics – offer students an extensive education in biblical and theological studies.
Students who graduate from the communications program will get a premier classical theological education, Hall said. “It’s the same core curriculum that’s in every one of our majors, but they’ll also get with that a cutting-edge education in the field of communication studies that will allow them to take timeless truth and apply it to the 21st century wherever God takes them.”
Leading the program will be Jason Leverett, who will be associate professor of communication and program coordinator.
Leverett joins the college after nearly a decade of teaching experience in the field, most recently as assistant professor of strategic communication at Liberty University in Virginia. He holds a doctor of philosophy and master of arts in communication from Regent College in Virginia Beach, Va., and an undergraduate degree from Liberty. Leverett and his wife Heather have four boys.
“As we explored what this program should look like and the way it would best serve our mission and our students, it became exceptionally clear early in the process that the Lord was leading us to Jason Leverett,” Hall said. “Dr. Leverett is a proven teacher with ample experience. His research and scholarship in the field is highly respected, and he brings a unique awareness of what this major needs to look like in the 21st century for a school like Boyce College. He’s an innovative thinker, a passionate teacher, and he’s a gracious and kind Christian gentleman with a wonderful family.”
The announcement of Boyce’s communications degree comes shortly after its business program added multiple new emphases: financial and accounting management; nonprofit management; and entrepreneurial management. The communication program will launch in the fall 2019 term. More information is available at boycecollege.com/academics. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Spurgeon College also is launching a communications degree. See bachelor-of-arts-in-communications-degree.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this digest.)

1/18/2019 1:33:26 PM by The Southern Baptist Seminary Staff | with 0 comments

Christian women targets for persecution: Open Doors

January 18 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Targeted Christian persecution tailored to hurt women is trending globally, Open Doors reported in its 2019 World Watch List of 50 countries most dangerous for Christians to practice their faith.

IMB file photo
Targeted Christian persecution tailored to hurt women is trending globally, Open Doors reported in its 2019 World Watch List of 50 countries most dangerous for Christians to practice their faith.

“The data proves conclusively that Christian women are the most exploited group on the face of the earth today,” Open Doors President David Curry said in a Jan. 16 press conference in Washington announcing the list. “While not minimizing the incredible violence against men, women are doubly persecuted. They’re exploited for their vulnerability as females, and also for their faith.
“And the shame culture within many of these regions of the world,” Curry said, “makes sexual violence victims very cautious of how they rebuild their lives within these shame cultures.”
In Nigeria, the 12th country on the persecution list, Boko Haram captured 15-year-old Esther, killed her father and raped her repeatedly for a year because she refused to denounce her faith. The captors released her to her home when she gave birth to a girl.
“What does the future hold for Esther in northern Nigeria? What does the future hold for her daughter?” Curry posed. “I also wonder if she were your daughter or your sister, what you would be willing to fight for.”
Esther’s release was not happenstance, said Helene Fisher, global gender persecution specialist for Open Doors International.
“She was returned because actually there is more damage in having her return and having to live with that shame, having her family have to live with that perceived shame,” Fisher said. “There is a generational impact and it is intentional. This is not a byproduct that nobody thought of.”
Elisha, a persecuted Christian from India whom Open Doors introduced at its press conference, spoke with Baptist Press (BP) by telephone in advance of the Washington event. She fled India with her daughter for safety in 2017, but returns months at a time to help her husband operate a secret ministry to educate and empower women. In India, the 10th most dangerous country for Christians, most women are denied an education and are left to learn only what their husbands tell them at home.
Christian men in India are more insulated from attacks than Christian women, Elisha told BP, because cultural customs make a woman’s religion more obvious.
“Not only the community throws her out, but even she also falls from the family,” Elisha said in broken English. “And for the children – if they are living in the community, they are also discriminated [against].”
Sexual attacks, forced marriage, domestic abuse, denial of inheritance and murder, all with impunity, were noted especially in the top five countries of persecution, Open Doors said, naming North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.
In North Korea, sexual violence against all women has become so commonplace it’s considered a part of everyday life, Human Rights Watch has reported. But Christian women and girls are particularly subject to such abuse, Open Doors said.
Persecution varies among the 50 countries on the watch list but is widespread and increasing.
“Religious persecution is not gender blind. Religious persecution is firmly gender specific,” Fisher said. “It is the easiest and most effective means of religious persecution.... There will not be a court case. There will not be another post in the #MeToo campaign. It will be accepted and understood.”
Open Doors provides education, trauma care and micro loans to help survivors rebuild their lives, and encourages churches to become active in relief efforts.
“We’ve been called to inform ourselves. We’ve been called to pray. We’ve been called to say this is part of who we are and this ought not to be done,” Fisher said. “Because when an individual is targeted, it is not done just to hurt an individual, but it is done to destroy a community.”
While women are targeted sexually, men are targeted economically and are not immune to sexual harassment.
“Persecution targeting minority Christian men and boys in the five worst 2019 (World Watch List) countries is characterized by severe physical violence and socio-economic ostracism,” Fisher wrote in a report supplemental to the list. “Analysis of the situations in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan exposes the use of physical violence, including torture and death, against minority Christian men after their faith is discovered.”
Read Biblical Recorder’s Jan. 17 story on the World Watch List here and BP’s story here. Fisher’s report is available at OpenDoorsUSA.org.

1/18/2019 1:33:06 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prohibition and Baptists 100 years later

January 18 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jan. 16 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”)

When the 18th Amendment was ratified 100 years ago and prohibition became law of the land, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called it “the greatest victory for moral reform in America since the Declaration of Independence.”
The convention’s jubilance came in part because Southern Baptists had worked at least three decades to secure legal prohibition. They saw the 18th Amendment as a culmination of their labor. They also had come to view prohibition advocacy as a defining mark of Baptist identity.
Still, Southern Baptists wondered whether the anti-alcohol effort that helped bring about prohibition would persist.

A ‘sin against God’

Prominent Southern Baptists led state and national campaigns for prohibition since at least the 1880s. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founder B.H. Carroll headed an 1887 Texas campaign for prohibition. In 1896, Baptist layman Joshua Levering – who chaired Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustee board – was nominated by the Prohibition Party for president of the United States.
Beginning in 1890, the SBC “supported prohibition at every annual meeting” until it became law, wrote Bill Sumners, retired director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, in a 1975 master’s thesis. The convention also appointed a permanent Committee on Temperance in 1910.
Greg Wills, professor of church history at The Southern Seminary, said “a Christian duty to avoid consumption of alcohol” was “the fundamental issue” for Baptists, “not whether our states and municipalities would prohibit [alcohol’s] manufacture, sale and consumption.” Southern Baptists “believed you would be hard pressed to identify any other single factor that caused so much widespread suffering, injury and damage as the widespread abuse of alcohol.”
One of the SBC’s strongest statements against alcohol came in 1896, when it called “the policy of issuing government licenses” for “the liquor traffic” a “sin against God and a dishonor to our people.”
“We furthermore announce it as our conviction that we should by all legitimate means oppose the liquor traffic in municipality, county, State, and nation,” the convention stated. “Furthermore, we announce it as the sense of this body that no person should be retained in the fellowship of a Baptist church who engages in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors.”
North Greenville University history professor Brendan Payne wrote in his 2017 doctoral dissertation, “With this official declaration, prohibition advocacy had become a defining issue of Baptist identity.”
At its first annual meeting following the 18th Amendment’s ratification, the SBC adopted a report stating, “Thus dawns the date for which we have labored and prayed.... It is the greatest victory for moral reform in America since the Declaration of Independence.”
The report also asked whether Baptists could “now cease or slacken our efforts” to combat alcohol. The answer was “an emphatic negative.”

‘A total failure’?

Nonetheless, prohibition was repealed in 1933. Some historians came to view it as a ludicrous public policy. Church historian Martin Marty told The World and Everything in It podcast Jan. 16, “Total prohibition was a total failure.”
But Don Cole, president of the Kentucky Ethics League, a partner organization with the Kentucky Baptist Convention that opposes alcohol, said prohibition helped America by initiating regulation of the alcohol industry.
“Everybody says prohibition didn’t work, but it did,” Cole said. “The advantage of prohibition was that we got regulations on alcohol.” The continuing regulation of alcohol begun by prohibition “saved many lives” and “has kept people from being injured.”
The SBC’s Social Service Commission noted in 1934 that “motor car accidents” and resultant fatalities decreased during prohibition. The commission presented tables and statistics to support that claim and said “economic sanity and moral welfare” took a “backward step” with the repeal.
Despite prohibition’s repeal, the SBC reaffirmed in 1934 “its unchanging devotion to the principle of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages as the only safe and sane course of conduct for the individual and to the principle of prohibition of the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages by the government as the only economic and righteous policy.”
Baptists recognized the difficulty of enforcing prohibition, Wills said. But they “remained committed to seeking all helpful means to reducing the consumption of alcohol.”
Since 1934, the SBC has adopted at least 35 statements opposing alcohol, the latest in 2006.
Yet some wonder if concern about alcohol abuse is waning among Southern Baptists. They cite the lifting of alcohol bans at schools friendly to the SBC and statements by some Southern Baptist pastors indicating they consume alcohol.
Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, wonders if Baptists’ thinking on recreational marijuana use could follow a similar trajectory as their thinking on alcohol.
“In this day of antinomian attitudes in some evangelical circles, the idea of prohibition is frowned on, but ... the record reveals that prohibition was generally good for the average American,” said Duke, a former public policy vice president at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“We’re seeing a similar thing occur today with marijuana. Those who want to smoke it can find it. Many politicians are deciding that they might as well legalize it and try to wrest it away from the criminals,” Duke said in written comments. “Taking it out of the hands of criminals is a good idea, but we are already seeing communities that legalized marijuana reeling from the impact. Crime and health problems are increasing in communities with legalized marijuana. In addition, with the stigma of marijuana erased, we will see more people use it who otherwise would have left it alone.
“Marijuana should remain illegal, but I’m afraid that train has left the station,” he noted. “America will loosen its laws against marijuana even more before it realizes the price we’re paying for it.”

1/18/2019 1:32:11 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay to reduce ‘brick-and-mortar channel’

January 17 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Rainer wrote in a Jan. 15 email to all LifeWay employees, “We prayed and hoped that our investments in and commitments to the LifeWay stores would prove fruitful. That just has not been the case. To the contrary, we not only continue to see an erosion in the brick-and-mortar channel, we have seen an accelerated rate of erosion in recent months. It was our hope that greater traffic would result in greater sales, and that with our expense reductions and product cost savings, we would be able to offset sales declines. That hope has not been realized with the declines we have seen since September.
“In simple terms, a strategic shift is required for moving more and more of our resources to a dynamic digital strategy,” Rainer wrote. “We will be transitioning many of those resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels. The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.”
LifeWay operated 174 stores in 2017, according to the latest figures published in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annuals. In 2018, LifeWay launched a new vision for its stores, seeking to make them places where people could “connect, learn and grow,” Baptist Press reported in February 2018.
The last time LifeWay’s sales exceeded its total operating expenses was 2009, when LifeWay reported a $3 million increase in “unrestricted net assets from operations,” according to financial reports published in SBC Annuals. Since then, total operating expenses exceeded sales each year. The margin by which operating expenses exceeded sales grew from $2.3 million in 2010 to $35.5 million in 2017.
Still, LifeWay’s total assets increased over the same period, from $407 million in 2009 to $452 million in 2017. During that timeframe, LifeWay sold its Glorieta Conference Center in 2013 and its 14.5-acre Nashville campus in 2015. LifeWay financial statements show $20 million of net cash provided by operating activities in 2017. That resulted in a $44 million increase in unrestricted net assets for 2017.
LifeWay’s financial report for 2018 has not yet been released.
Amid the growth of online booksellers, other Christian and secular bookstores have had to close as well. Two years ago, Family Christian Stores – which called itself “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise” – announced the closure of 240 stores across 36 states.
“Our strategy for the future,” Rainer, who announced plans to retire from LifeWay in August 2018, wrote, “will be a greater investment in digital channels and in events and services. We will have a smaller footprint for our brick-and-mortar stores. At this point, we are evaluating all our stores, so we cannot say how many stores will remain in this new era.”
While “these challenges can bring pain and disruption,” he wrote, changes at LifeWay “also introduce tremendous opportunities and hope. The world is flat and everyone is connected. It is an incredible time for LifeWay to get the message of the gospel to the world and continue to offer biblical solutions for life.”

1/17/2019 9:37:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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