September 2013

Study: Too much religion can harm economy

September 4 2013 by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service

CANTERBURY, England – Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
 
The study of almost 190,000 people from 11 religiously diverse cultures is raising eyebrows among some of England’s religious leaders for suggesting Judaism and Christianity have anti-wealth norms.
 
Written by academics at University of Southampton in England and the Humboldt University of Berlin, the study found that religious people in religious cultures reported better psychological adjustment when their income was low.
 
The study cites the Bible to show how Judaism and Christianity turn upside down the belief that the highest possible income leads to the highest possible happiness and psychological adjustment.
 
It quotes biblical examples such as Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” from Matthew 5:3.
 
The academics conducted their interviews in 11 countries, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Turkey.
 
“What the great faiths condemn is the irresponsible use of wealth, not wealth itself,” said Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester in the Church of England. “The worship of money is the root of all evil and not money on its own.”
 
The authors said they received no financial support for the research authorship and/or publication of the article.
 
9/4/2013 2:47:22 PM by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Walmart extends benefits to same-sex partners

September 4 2013 by Baptist Pess

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Walmart will offer health benefits for married and unmarried same-sex partners of all full-time employees in the United States starting in January, the nation’s largest private employer has announced.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove defined same-sex couples as those “living together in an ongoing, exclusive, committed relationship – similar to marriage – for at least 12 months,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Though the company expects couples to continue to share a household indefinitely, the newspaper reported, Hargrove said Walmart will not require proof. The coverage also will include heterosexual couples in similar relationships.

“Naturally, [we’re] disappointed,” Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said of Walmart’s decision. “It validates a lifestyle which we think corporate America should discourage rather than promote.”

Observers expected the move, announced via postcards sent to employees Aug. 26, to impact other employers.
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“A company Walmart’s size, especially with its fairly conservative image, I think it sends a pretty strong signal that if Walmart is offering benefits to same-sex partners, maybe some other companies that have been hanging back will follow Walmart’s lead,” Alan Ellstrand, a professor in the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, told the Democrat-Gazette.

Hargrove said the change is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, which cleared the way for same-sex couples legally married in their own states to receive federal benefits.

Rather than have a different set of standards for employees in states where gay marriage is legal, Walmart “thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. to give them consistency in the various markets we operate in across the country,” Hargrove said.

The Wall Street Journal said Walmart previously had offered benefits to domestic partners of employees in states that required the company to do so by law. The Journal also indicated that Walmart had been under pressure from homosexual advocacy groups to expand coverage.

With 1.3 million workers, Walmart is the nation’s largest employer besides the federal government. Half of its employees are enrolled in its health care plans, but the company said it does not know how many will take advantage of the new options.

Chad Griffin, president of the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, told USA Today he worked at Walmart as a teenager and now celebrates the company’s “historic action.”

Walmart “has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people is the simplest of mainstream values, and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” Griffin said.

Research by the Human Rights Campaign shows 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offer domestic partner benefits, USA Today reported.

Hargrove said the move to include coverage for same-sex domestic partners is “one piece” of the company’s updated benefits package, which also includes a new vision plan and 100 percent coverage for some surgeries.

Forbes quoted a leaked internal memo obtained by a gay news blog in which Sally Welborn, Walmart’s senior vice president of benefits, told managers the change was a “business decision, not a moral or political decision.”

“Given the diverse world we live in today, a comprehensive benefits package that includes domestic partner benefits appeals to the contemporary workforce,” Welborn wrote. “Many companies, including most of our competitors, already offer spouse/partner benefits to their employees.”

Welborn cited the Publix grocery store chain as one competitor that does not offer such benefits.

“I honestly thought this would never happen,” Wayne Bell, whose same-sex spouse Daniel Bonner works for Walmart, told the Democrat-Gazette. “Walmart has always seemed to me like a right wing company, so this is a big surprise to me.”

Ellstrand, the University of Arkansas business professor, told the newspaper, “Often, Walmart has to make decisions that are not only motivated by what makes most economic sense, but also what might be perceived as building the image of Walmart.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.) 
9/4/2013 2:34:09 PM by Baptist Pess | with 0 comments



CP slightly above budgeted goal for year

September 4 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the SBC Executive Committee are 0.15 percent above the year-to-date budgeted goal and 1.36 percent below contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.

The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of August and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2012-13 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

As of August 31, gifts received by the Executive Committee for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget totaled $172,597,053.36, or 100.15 percent, of the $172,333,333.37 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $2,386,200.45 below the $174,983,253.81 received through the end of August 2012.

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Designated giving of $188,665,118.13 for the same year-to-date period is 1.23 percent, or $2,294,814.47, ahead of the $186,370,303.66 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

July’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $16,332,189.31. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $4,597,495.37.

The Cooperative Program (CP) is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention. 

State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.

The SBC allocation budget is distributed as follows: 50.2 percent to international missions through IMB, 22.79 percent to North American missions through NAMB, 22.16 percent to theological education, 3.2 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 

If the convention exceeds its annual budget goal of $188 million, IMB’s share will go to 51 percent of any overage in Cooperative Program allocation budget receipts. Other ministry entities of the SBC will receive their adopted percentage amounts and the SBC operating budget’s portion will be reduced to 2.4 percent of any overage.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.

CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at www.cpmissions.net/CPReports.
9/4/2013 2:24:13 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Same-sex marriage stances percolate in Ala.

September 4 2013 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Vastly different stands on same-sex marriage and marriage-like commitment ceremonies have placed two Alabama churches in the news this summer.

First Baptist Church in Pell City has changed its bylaws to state clearly its beliefs in marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman. In contrast, the pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, a congregation that formerly cooperated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC), has taken steps toward accommodating same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Meanwhile, a task force with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has developed potential wording for bylaws and policies that churches can consider to formally state their belief in traditional marriage.

The Birmingham church, led by pastor Sarah Shelton, voted earlier this year to withdraw support from the state convention as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and Birmingham Baptist Association (BBA).
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Mike McLemore, BBA executive director, confirmed the church had withdrawn from those affiliations prior to Shelton’s public move toward embracing same-sex unions.

Shelton told her congregation in a sermon Aug. 25 that she was reconsidering her previous policy of not performing marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples, according to news reports. She said the Baptist Church of the Covenant, which was founded on the basis of equality during the Civil Rights Movement, has kept at its core “the principal that there would not be second-class citizens.”

The Alabama convention, in a 2012 resolution, stated that “it is regrettable that homosexual rights activists and those who are promoting the recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ have misappropriated the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Marriage is a “covenant relationship and an institution established by God” for one man and one woman, the resolution stated, registering the convention’s opposition to “any attempt to frame same-sex ‘marriage’ as a civil rights issue.”

Rick Lance, executive director of the State Board of Missions (SBOM), said, “I am deeply disappointed to hear of a former Alabama Baptist church’s decision to endorse same-sex ‘marriage.’”

At First Baptist Church in Pell City, pastor John Thweatt said one reason the church changed its bylaws is to protect future generations from a paradigm shift.

“Our young people are increasingly changing their views toward homosexuality, and we wanted to make sure the bylaws of our church stated clearly what the Bible says in case the church ever had a move from within the membership or a pastor ... who might try to turn them away from a biblical view,” Thweatt said.

The church also wanted to safeguard itself against future lawsuits, the pastor said.

“We have always believed that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, but we never felt the need to state it – until now,” Thweatt said. “Our leadership felt it would be best to have a clear statement in our bylaws in case the laws of Alabama are trumped by the federal government and we are asked to allow a same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremony to be performed in our church.”

An SBOM task force unveiled suggested wording for “a potential marriage statement” during the Aug. 16 state board meeting in Montgomery. The statement is a starting point for churches interested in considering a bylaw change related to same-sex marriage concerns and “is not binding on local congregations, which are entirely self-governing,” SBOM officials noted.

The statement reads:

*Bylaws

“We believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following biblical principles (Gen. 2:19–24, Lev. 18:22, Matt. 19:4–6, Rom. 1:18–27, Eph. 5:22–23, Heb. 13:4). We believe that God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman, including civil unions. Therefore, this church sanctions only a ceremony compatible with those standards.”

*Policies

“1. Due to our belief in the biblical teachings about marriage, same-sex couples will not be married in any facilities or on any properties owned by the church.

“2. Ministers of (insert church’s name) Baptist Church will not perform any same-sex ‘marriages’ or civil unions whether on or off church-owned properties. Doing so would be grounds for termination.”

Lance said the task force statement “may serve as a starting point for discussions about reaffirming biblical marriage. Revisions to various churches’ bylaws and policies will vary, of course, because of local church autonomy, but we anticipate Alabama Baptists will stand strongly on the side of traditional marriage.”

Baptist leaders and legal advisers have expressed differing opinions about whether a bylaw change would help protect a church in court.

Jim Guenther, an SBC attorney, said there is no “magic language” that a church can use in its governing documents. He also said that current First Amendment protections should hold up on churches’ behalf in court.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. To download the Alabama State Board of Missions’ marriage statement model, visit www.alsbom.org/resources/a-potential-marriage-statement-for-churches/.)
9/4/2013 2:13:27 PM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



1 million Syrian refugee children gripped by bloodshed, upheaval

September 3 2013 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

DAMASCUS, Syria – “I am staying,” a Baptist pastor in Syria said. “They tell me to travel, to leave, to emigrate, but I tell them I am staying.”

He is one of several pastors who serve in Baptist churches throughout Syria caught up in civil war.

“I am staying for the church, to keep the message of Jesus as a light for the lost and frightened,” the pastor said. “I am staying because the harvest is plentiful. I am staying to serve the needy.”
 
The pastor, weeping, quoted the prophet Jeremiah, “‘Oh that my head was water and my eyes were pools of water, that I may cry for the dead of my people.’

“Even though we are living in difficult times, let us not stop being faithful to our Lord.”
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IMB photo
Syrian youth and children gather in a refugee camp in Jordan where the number of children exceeds 60 percent, hence its name “Children’s Camp.” Some of them lost their relatives, but others lost their parents. 


Every day the numbers rise as Syria’s crisis rages out of control and spills across borders into neighboring countries. There are now more than 2 million refugees, 5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 100,000 dead.

“This is an unparalleled challenge,” said Don Alan*, a senior missions strategist for the Middle East. “It is destabilizing the whole region.”

Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt struggle to cope with the escalating Syrian refugee situation. Within Syria, civilians are caught between armed rebels and government troops.
Over a period of three days in mid-August, 30,000 Syrians crossed the border into northern Iraq, overwhelming refugee camps. Drinking water and sanitation immediately became critical needs.

Typically 6,000 Syrians a day flee their nation, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The influx into Iraq nearly doubled that figure.

Hundreds of civilians were killed, meanwhile, and thousands wounded as a result of a chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus. Both sides in the conflict accuse the other of this violation of international law. Most of the world’s superpowers, however, suspect the Syrian government as the perpetrator and are considering punitive action.

A regional risk assessment consultant who advises Christian organizations said, “Analysts seem to believe that if such action does occur it will be a limited strike on Syrian government targets.”

He urged Christian workers in the region to be diligent, increasing their situational awareness, paying close attention to how they may be perceived by the local population and national governments.

The consultant said the possibility of punitive military action against Syria increases the risk.

“The whole region in the Middle East is suffering under oppression,” the Syrian pastor lamented. “Everything is under threat – our choices, lives and future. There is great pain and depression.”

Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said, “We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people.”

Half of Syria’s 2 million refugees are children; three-fourths of them are under the age of 11. Many are undocumented and easily fall prey to exploitation. They display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experience elevated levels of depression. 

“They are the hidden casualties of war,” a spokesman for Save the Children said.

“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents,” UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said. “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their future. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope.” 

One Christian worker in Beirut, Lebanon, said the presence of refugee children from Syria is overwhelming. In addition to the trauma they have experienced fleeing their country, many of the children have no place to live or go to school, no income or food to eat. For most, they are not welcomed and are even despised.

“The hurt is real,” the worker said. “We’re talking about kids who have seen horrific murders, heard stories of rape and torture, kids who have not only seen what bombs can do, but have felt them.

“These are kids who can’t even comprehend peace anymore,” she said, “and they’ve tragically lost every ounce of hope. Most of them just want to stay alive, and some days they don’t even want that.”

But there is hope, said Alan, the missions strategist, even though the situation seems hopeless – and it’s not just hope for the children.

“I think there is an incredible opportunity in the midst of unparalleled challenges,” Alan said. “People fleeing the war and atrocities are desperate for hope and purpose beyond what the world can offer.

“Every family has a tragic story to tell of their journey that got them to where they are. May we learn to weep with those who weep and listen carefully and obediently to what God is calling His servants to do,” he said.

Alan urged Christians around the world to respond to both the physical and spiritual needs of Syrians, whether they are refugees or are living in Syria.

“Give and pray,” he said.

Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR), said BGR and its partners have provided more than $750,000 in relief goods for those suffering in the crisis.

Assistance comes in the form of emergency food packets, hygiene kits, materials to construct basic shelters and small amounts of medicine.

“It is a small amount compared to the ongoing need,” Palmer said, “but we have been able to direct what we have to some key areas and through some key partners.”

The majority of the displaced are families, and most of them are women and children, Palmer said, adding, “Husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles stay behind to protect their precious resource, unfortunately many times in vain.”

“May we be broken not just by the sadness and terrible stories we are hearing,” Alan said, “but may we be broken at the lostness and darkness that makes such brutality possible.”

Alan added, “This is a spiritual battle. The pressure on us is how to respond in a way that meets needs and shares the hope that is within us.”

In a plea to Christians and churches around the world, the pastor in Syria said, “Pray for the churches in Syria.” He asks that God would help them minister to those who are displaced and have no shelter, that they might help those who are wounded and need medical attention, that they may care for children who are traumatized by the war.

“Pray that the Lord will help us speak with all boldness and with signs and wonders,” the pastor said, “that souls may come to Him with mouths filled with praise.”

*Name changed for security reasons.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe. For more information about Baptist Global Response’s Syrian relief efforts, go to http://www.baptistglobalresponse.com/projects/view. To view video stories of children traumatized by the Syrian conflict, go to https://vimeo.com/73452439 and https://vimeo.com/73444691.)
9/3/2013 10:58:53 AM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NAMB military chaplain guidelines address same-sex unions

September 3 2013 by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has issued new guidelines for Southern Baptist military chaplains in light of the U.S. military’s recognition of same-sex marriage. The guidelines reiterate Southern Baptist doctrine and the expectation that SBC chaplains will not participate in or attend wedding ceremonies for gay members of the military.
 
“Our chaplains want to uphold the authority and relevancy of Scripture while continuing to serve in a very diverse setting,” said Doug Carver, the retired Army major general who leads NAMB’s chaplaincy efforts. “We believe these updated guidelines will help them do that while still sharing the love and the hope of Christ with everyone.”
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Retired U.S. Army Major General Doug Carver, North American Mission Board executive director for chaplaincy services, was interviewed about the changes to military chaplain guidelines. Listen to podcast.


The updated guidelines are being issued in response to the military’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolishment of the Defense of Marriage Act. The U.S. military requires all chaplains to be endorsed by a recognized denomination. NAMB serves as the endorsing entity on behalf of Southern Baptists.

The updated guidelines address four specific areas:

Doctrine – Chaplains will be expected to conduct their ministry in harmony with Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000: “All ministries regarding human sexuality will reflect the historic, natural and biblical view of marriage as God’s lifelong gift of ‘the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.’”

Pastoral care – The guidelines remind chaplains that Southern Baptists view all sexual immorality as sin that violates God’s biblical standards for purity and that “Responsible pastoral care will seek to offer repentance and forgiveness, help and healing, and restoration through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial gift of love on the cross,” the document states.

Restrictions – The guidelines state that “NAMB-endorsed chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union, assist or support paid contractors or volunteers leading same-sex relational events, nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off of a military installation, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing. This biblical prohibition remains in effect irrespective of any civil law authorizing same-sex marriage or benefits to the contrary.” Chaplains also are prohibited from participating in jointly-led worship services “with a chaplain, contractor or volunteer who personally practices a homosexual lifestyle or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”

Pluralism – The guidelines acknowledge that SBC chaplains serve in a pluralistic setting but expect, under U.S. Department of Defense guidelines, that the rights and freedoms of chaplains will be protected so they may “preach, teach and counsel in accordance with the tenets of their denominational faith group and their own religious conscience.” In addition, chaplains are expected to: “Treat all service members, regardless of rank or behavior, with Christ-centered dignity, honor and respect while assisting the institutional leadership in its religious mission requirements and responsibilities as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“We are confident that our chaplains are already conducting their ministries with sound doctrine and in accordance to Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” Carver said. “These guidelines simply provide clarification on specific issues and give our chaplains the freedom and protection for their ministry. We are also obligated to communicate to U.S. military officials about the expectations we have for our chaplains.”

NAMB President Kevin Ezell expressed support for SBC military chaplains and emphasized the need for Southern Baptists to remember them in prayer.

“For many members of our military – especially those deployed around the globe – our chaplains are the only pastors they have. That’s why it is so important that they uphold sound doctrine while showing everyone the love and forgiveness Jesus offers. We all need to be committed to praying for them in these challenging days.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For a podcast about the new chaplain guidelines, click here.)
9/3/2013 10:48:31 AM by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Feds grant marriage benefits to gay couples

September 3 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has begun making certain that legally married same-sex couples will reap benefits from a historic ruling earlier this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two departments of the federal government announced Aug. 29 homosexual couples who are legally married will be treated the same as heterosexual married couples for purposes of taxes and Medicare coverage in nursing homes. 

In both cases, the new rules apply to same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they reside – even if that state has not legalized such marriages.

The Department of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service, said such gay couples will be considered married when it comes to all federal taxes, including income, estate and gift taxes. As a result, legally married same-sex couples must file their federal income tax returns as either “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), meanwhile, announced that a person enrolled in a private Medicare plan will be able to benefit from equal coverage for care at a nursing home in which a same-sex spouse resides. 

While landmark in nature, the new regulations came as no surprise after the Supreme Court struck down in late June a section of a federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. In that 5-4 opinion, the justices said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The ruling opened the way for same-sex couples to access federal benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said his department’s ruling “provides certainty and clear, coherent” guidance for married same-sex couples. It also assures such couples “they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change,” Lew said.

Other rules changing federal marriage policies are sure to follow those from Treasury and HHS. For her department, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the guidance “is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law.”

Pro-family advocates decried the new regulations, especially their impact on states where same-sex marriage remains illegal.

“State family policies have been undermined today by the Obama administration,” said Chris Gacek, senior fellow for regulatory policy at the Family Research Council. “[We] are displeased to see the Obama administration’s lack of respect for state marriage laws.”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, charged the Treasury Department with “grossly overstepping its authority.”

“The Obama administration is intent on forcing same-sex ‘marriage’ on an unwilling public,” Brown said in a written statement. “Congress alone has the responsibility of determining federal tax law.”

Gay marriage supporters applauded the administration and called for other federal agencies to follow suit.

“No family should have to worry about losing important federal rights and benefits, simply because they live in a state that doesn’t recognize them as equal under the law,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. The campaign is the country’s largest organization advocating for rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Under the new rules, a same-sex couple can marry in a jurisdiction where such a union is legal and still receive the benefits if they live in a state or move to a state where gay marriage is illegal. For instance, two lesbians who live in Virginia, which has not legalized same-sex marriage, could have a wedding in Maryland, which has legalized such unions, and still gain the federal benefits in their home state. 

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, but the Aug. 29 rulings also cover ceremonies performed in U.S. territories or foreign countries. The rules apply only to marriage, not to domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Same-sex couples may file claims for refunds for tax years back to 2010, according to the Treasury Department.

The new rules may prompt some states where gay marriage is illegal to make changes, a tax lawyer said. 

“Most state income tax regimes begin with federal taxable income as the starting point,” Marvin Kirsner of the law firm Greenberg Traurig told The New York Times. “These state taxing authorities will have to figure out how to deal with a same-sex married couple who file a joint income tax return for federal tax purposes.

“We will need to see guidance from each non-recognition state to see how this will be handled,” he said.

In its DOMA ruling June 26, the Supreme Court affirmed lower court decisions that struck down only Section 3 of the law signed by President Clinton. Section 3 defined marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits and barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The 12 states that have legalized same-sex marriage are Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
9/3/2013 10:44:05 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



John Kerry calls for Iran to release pastor

September 3 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – With a new president in Iran vowing to improve international relations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Aug. 28 called on Iran to release an Iranian-American pastor held captive for his faith.

“The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help U.S. citizens Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini to return to their families after lengthy detentions,” Kerry said in a statement.

Levinson went missing in Iran in 2007 and Hekmati has been detained on espionage charges for two years. Abedini was arrested last September and sentenced to eight years in prison, with a Tehran court days ago denying his appeal.

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Saeed Abedini


Kerry noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in June to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “has shared in his speeches and interviews over the past few months his hope and vision to improve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship with the world.”

“We urge the Iranian Government to release Mr. Hekmati and Mr. Abedini and to help us locate Mr. Levinson so that they may be reunited with their families as safely and as soon as possible,” Kerry said.

“These men belong at home with those who love and miss them.”

The statement marks the second time Kerry has spoken on behalf of Abedini. In a statement in March, Kerry said he was “deeply concerned” about the pastor and was “disturbed by reports” that he was suffering physical and psychological abuse in prison. 

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a key advocate for Abedini’s release, described Kerry’s statement as an important diplomatic step in the effort for Abedini’s freedom.

“We welcome this renewed involvement and effort initiated by Secretary Kerry to bring Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen imprisoned for his faith – back home to his wife and young children,” Sekulow said. 

“... This statement from America’s top diplomat reaffirms that despite the devastating legal decision in Iran, the fight for Pastor Saeed’s freedom is far from over. It is a critical time to reengage Iran, to use all diplomatic avenues to secure his release,” Sekulow said. 

Abedini’s wife, Idaho resident Naghmeh Abedini, said Aug. 29 she is thankful for Kerry’s statement but “I still expect my president, President Obama, who has remained silent thus far, to speak out on this very critical human rights issue and let the Iranian government and the world know that religious freedom is still a top priority for our government.”

“President Obama must demonstrate that America will not stay silent in the face of religious persecution, nor will it let an American citizen waste away in an Iranian prison simply because he chose to follow Jesus,” Naghmeh Abedini said. 

Abedini was sentenced in January for threatening “national security,” which is a catch-all phrase often used by Iranian courts to imprison converts from Islam for various sorts of evangelistic activities. Upon his arrest, he was taken to Evin Prison in Tehran, known for its particularly harsh treatment of prisoners.

During his months in prison, the pastor has been placed in solitary confinement at least twice and has endured repeated beatings by prison officials who have attempted to force him to recant his faith in Jesus. For months he was denied medical treatment for internal bleeding caused by the beatings.

Abedini’s response, he wrote in an earlier letter, is Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ.

“The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives,” Abedini wrote. “Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Prayer vigils for the pastor are being planned worldwide for Sept. 26 to mark one year since his arrest, to call attention to his plight and to intercede on his behalf. More information about the vigils can be found at SaveSaeed.org, where more than 600,000 people have signed a petition for his release.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
9/3/2013 10:32:05 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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