September 2013

Orioles’ Davis strives for godliness

September 27 2013 by Joshua Cooley, Baptist Press

BALTIMORE – Three years ago, life was so different for Chris Davis.

The Baltimore Orioles’ slugger was adrift on a sea of uncertainty, searching for answers as swells of career failure buffeted him. Yes, baseball is just a game. But it was also Davis’ livelihood, and his ship was taking on water fast. Retirement by age 25 was a painfully realistic option.

Called up on Sept. 11, 2010, by the Texas Rangers for his third major league stint that season, Davis was struggling. His greatest asset – his power – was virtually nonexistent. In 14 games to finish the season, he totaled one home run, one RBI and hit .211, which actually raised his season batting average to .192. 

The Rangers, en route to the first of two straight World Series appearances, left him off their postseason roster. Ten months later, after another round of unmet expectations, Davis was traded to the Orioles, carrying with him the dreaded “4A player” label – a prospect who dominates Triple-A but can’t solve the big leagues.

What a difference a few years can make.

In a shocking transformation over the last two seasons, Davis, 27, suddenly has become one of the major league’s premier sluggers. Through Sept. 19, the left-handed first baseman aptly nicknamed “Crush” Davis was leading the league in home runs (51) and total bases (354) and was ranked second behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in RBI (134), slugging percentage (.641) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.013).

Last year, he led the Orioles to their first playoff berth since 1997 with what was then career highs in home runs (33) and RBI (85), and he has the team in the postseason hunt again this year with far greater production. He earned American League player of the month honors in April, became a first-time All-Star in July and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in August. This all raises the question: What happened? 

Todd Olszewski/The Baltimore Orioles
Chris Davis believes that making God a daily part of his life has also helped him refocus his game.

Davis, a soft-spoken Texas native, credits regular playing time as the driving factor behind his career resurgence.

“Just consistency,” he said. “Being in the lineup every day and knowing where I’m going to hit in the lineup, being at first base.”

Could it be that simple? Can the transformation from unwanted aging prospect to bona fide superstar really boil down to a couple hundred more at-bats a year? It seems so, considering Davis’ natural abilities that just needed to be unlocked.

But for a Christian like Davis, his remarkable career path also speaks to a sovereign God who has outlined a unique course for him, filled with tough, life-shaping lessons.

“Looking back, I’ve grown so much not only as a man but as a Christian, knowing that there are times when it looks like there’s no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, but if you continue to put your faith in God, He’ll never steer you wrong,” he said.

After being drafted by the Rangers in the fifth round in 2006, Davis immediately began bullying minor league pitching, hitting .302 with 74 home runs and 233 RBI in 275 minor league games over his first three professional seasons. He debuted for Texas in June 2008 at age 22 and clubbed 17 home runs with 55 RBI and a .285 batting average over the next 80 games. The future looked bright. 

But the 2009 season was a disaster. When he was optioned to Triple-A in early July, Davis was hitting .202 and leading the majors with 114 strikeouts in 80 games. For the next two years, he shuttled between the majors and minors at a dizzying rate. 

Davis, who doesn’t think he got a chance to prove himself in Texas, only played 45 games for the Rangers in 2010 and 28 in 2011. It was a frustrating time for a young player trying to make his mark.

Spiritually, Davis was floundering. He grew up attending First Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, and was baptized at age 6. But for a long time, Christianity was more ritual than relationship to him. He thought it was about church attendance and managing guilt. He didn’t fully understand yet the glorious realities of the gospel – that Jesus Christ died to free him from sin and striving.

But the Lord was mercifully working on his heart. A humbling trip to the Dominican Republic for winter ball after the 2010 season helped refocus his faith. So did getting engaged to his wife Jill and the friendly counsel of former Rangers teammates David Murphy and Josh Hamilton, who encouraged him to spend time with God every day.

“It was more of a daily routine, making sure I was in the Word and praying and knowing what it meant to walk with the Lord,” Davis said. “We’d have chapel on Sundays. We’d talk about what was going on [in their lives]. The fact that they were older gave me more perspective.”

When Davis hit .362 with a team-high five home runs and 18 RBI in 2011 spring training and still started the regular season in the minor leagues, he knew his time in Texas was limited. But by then, he had developed a different outlook on the fickle nature of the game. He had learned to trust God and not wring his hands over every at-bat.

“I got to the point where, when I was at the field, I was going to work hard and do everything I could to be the best player I could be, and when I went home, I was going to enjoy my time,” he said. “I was going to enjoy being around my friends, my wife, and really try not to think about what was going on in baseball. I think that was really the biggest point – knowing that it is a game.”

The trade to Baltimore gave Davis a fresh start. In his first full major league season last year, he exploded. As the Orioles made their long-awaited playoff push, Davis hit .320 with 10 home runs and 20 RBI in the final month of the regular season, including a playoff-clinching home run in a 1-0 win in Tampa Bay in the penultimate game of the regular season. 

This year, he has upped his own ante. At the end of June, Davis was batting .332 with 31 home runs and 80 RBI in 81 games and appeared poised to challenge for only the second Triple Crown title since 1967 (Cabrera achieved it last year). A cold stretch in July nixed those plans (Davis is still a strikeout connoisseur), but he has produced a season for the ages. 

On Sept. 13, he hit his 50th longball of the season, tying Brady Anderson’s single-season franchise mark from 1996 and joining Babe Ruth (1921) and Albert Belle (1995) as the only players in major league history with 50 home runs and 40 doubles in a season.

It’s been quite a journey for the kid from Longview. But things look awfully promising for the late bloomer. He’s still in his prime years and surrounded by plenty of other young talent in Baltimore’s revitalized dugout.

Davis has taken his sudden stardom in stride. He has loftier goals than baseball fame.

“I just want to be known as a godly man,” he said. “That’s more important than any legacy on the field or numbers you leave behind. What will they say about me as a person? That’s been important to me for a long time. It’s not about what I can gain but, how can I give God the glory and shine His light in places where it hasn’t been shined?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joshua Cooley is a writer in Maryland. He has also co-authored two books, The One Year Sports Devotions for Kids (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011) and Playing With Purpose: Inside the Lives and Faith of the Major Leagues’ Top Players (Barbour Publishing, 2012). His third book, a children’s entry entitled Heroes of the Bible Devotional, is scheduled to be published by Tyndale in March.)
9/27/2013 11:46:06 AM by Joshua Cooley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hunnicutt withdraws from run for BSC 2nd VP

September 26 2013 by BR staff

Mark Hunnicutt has withdrawn from running for the office of second vice president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Hunnicutt is the associate pastor of ministries at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville.
In an email to the editor of the Biblical Recorder, Hunnicutt cited multiple personal concerns that led him to withdraw. He called it “a total timing issue.” He said his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years ago, and his father's illness has progressed rapidly in recent months. He said his family plans to dedicate more energy to caring for him at this time.

Contributed photo
Mark Hunnicutt, associate pastor of ministries at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, has withdrawn his name from the race for Baptist State Convention second vice president. He was running against Marc Sanders, senior pastor of Sandy Branch Baptist Church in Bear Creek.

Hunnicutt also added that he has been occupied with his own health issues in recent months. He said he continues to move forward after recovering from a successful battle with cancer.

“I feel 100 percent better,” Hunnicutt said. “I’ve hit the ground serving at Mud Creek Baptist Church.
“… I want to focus on some of my local church priorities and catch up with our growth over this past year. I feel completely at peace about my decision knowing that Marc Sanders is running for second vice president. He is a qualified candidate and will serve us well.” 
Hunnicutt expressed a desire to become more involved in “serving with North Carolina Baptists this coming year,” including planned mission trips to Cuba and Kenya.
Sanders, senior pastor of Sandy Branch Baptist Church in Bear Creek, now runs unopposed for the office of second vice president.
Hunnicutt’s departure from the race for the office of second vice president leaves only one other contested race for the office of president between C.J. Bordeaux, pastor of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham, and Bobby Blanton, pastor of Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville.
Timmy D. Blair Sr., this year’s current second vice president and senior pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church in Angier, plans to run for the first vice president spot. 
The Biblical Recorder hosted a BSC presidential forum between Blanton and Bordeaux in September. See video of the discussion.
9/26/2013 4:03:36 PM by BR staff | with 1 comments

Baptist chaplaincy rules consistent with military policy

September 26 2013 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – New guidelines from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) prohibiting Southern Baptist military chaplains from officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies and counseling same-sex couples reflect the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) most basic understanding of separation of church and state, Russell D. Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in an online video dialogue Sept. 19.

Moore’s dialogue with Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, came after several former military chaplains and a group of atheists criticized the new guidelines. Some said SBC chaplains should resign because they would be unable to fulfill their duties among all service members.

Moore, however, noted, “We have liberal Baptist groups who for many, many years have talked about religious liberty and separation of church and state now saying we need an established religion that says the sexual revolution is now codified and the government ought to enforce it.

“What essentially is happening is we’re calling for the separation of church and state, to be able to say chaplaincy isn’t a subset of the military,” Moore said in the dialogue posted at the ERLC website. “Instead, what the military is doing – having chaplains – is to enable people in the military to freely exercise their religion. It is not just a post of some kind of American civil religion. That is why we don’t just have a vague, generic, least-common-denominator chaplain.”

It is also why Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, Jews and Muslims have military chaplains, Moore said.

Photo by Roger S. Oldham
The unique role of military chaplains is evident in this bronze statue in the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center’s Chaplain Corps Prayer Garden at South Carolina’s Fort Jackson.

In addition to prohibiting participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies and counseling same-sex couples, NAMB guidelines now include explicit statements that Southern Baptist chaplains will practice ministry in light of the biblical definition of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” as described in the SBC Baptist Faith and Message.

The guidelines also state 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.”

Finally, Southern Baptist military chaplains 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.”

NAMB guidelines acknowledge that Southern Baptist 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” while treating all others with dignity, respect and Christ-like love.

Walker said in the video dialog that NAMB found it necessary to offer a more precise statement of its chaplaincy guidelines in a “post-DOMA” world created by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.

“We’re very concerned about our chaplains offering a proper witness – a Christ-like witness – that respects all individuals in the military but also holds firm to Southern Baptist doctrine,” Walker said.

Walker also said there is “nothing condemning about the regulations.” But not everyone agrees.

Critics of NAMB’s policy change argue that the new regulations will force Southern Baptist chaplains into indefensible positions with military leaders and into violating their pledges to serve in a pluralistic and multi-cultural environment.

On Sept. 16, Tom Carpenter, co-founder of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy and an elder with the Presbyterian Church (USA), wrote in an opinion editorial carried by Associated Baptist Press (ABP) that the NAMB regulations would force Southern Baptist chaplains to choose between “God or country.”

“Given that choice, as men (NAMB forbids women to serve as ordained chaplains) of God the only honorable course of action for most will be to resign their commissions and return to civilian ministry,” Carpenter wrote. He also encouraged SBC chaplains to seek the endorsement of “another denomination or faith group, one that truly endorses inclusion, collegiality and pluralism.”

On Sept. 23, ABP published another commentary from former military chaplains Paul Dodd and Herman Keizer Jr. Dodd served 31 years as a chaplain and also is co-chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. Keizer currently is co-director of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University.

Dodd and Keizer argue that faith communities can establish doctrines related to homosexual activity, and “while these faith communities are expected to endorse fully qualified chaplains who share their beliefs, these communities have also accepted the mandate that all chaplains must be able to work within the pluralistic and multicultural environment of the military.”

“Attitudes of religious hostility, which erect walls rather than build bridges, are incompatible with those pledges,” the two former chaplains wrote.

A group calling itself Military Atheists and Freethinkers also issued a statement that the NAMB guidelines place military chaplains in a “Catch-22” situation.

“They must defy military regulations and their duties or defy their denomination. They must either work with and for all service members without discrimination based on sexual orientation – or – they must avoid all cooperation even with those who affirm gays and lesbians,” the group said.

That understanding of military chaplaincy, however, is inconsistent with Defense Department regulations and the guidelines issued for military chaplains from NAMB.

When the Department of Defense officially ended its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuals serving in the military in September 2011, Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley issued guidelines allowing military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages.

Stanley wrote that chaplains could participate in or officiate private ceremonies, on and off military bases, “provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.” At the time, DOMA was still a part of federal law.

Importantly, the memorandum confirmed existing Defense Department doctrine on the duty of chaplains to either perform religious services or accommodate religious exercise through other means.

“Further, a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if so doing would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion and personal beliefs,” Stanley wrote in the memo in 2011.

Gary Pollitt, a spokesman for the Military Chaplains Association, told ABC News in 2011 that military chaplains conduct “religious ceremonies and rites in keeping with the canon [or beliefs, doctrines, practices] of the religious group that endorses the chaplain. Each faith group defines the parameters for religious rites and the clergyman’s individual discretion [if any] with those rites.”

The statements from Stanley and Pollitt are brief descriptions of still-existing policy within the military. In the Army’s manual on religious support (FM1-05), for instance, chaplains are said to be protected under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

“As credentialed religious leaders, who are themselves guaranteed the free exercise of religion, chaplains cannot perform religious support contrary to their faith tradition, tenets, and beliefs,” the manual reads.

Army Regulation 165-1 notes that chaplains, while performing their duties of facilitating free exercise of religion and religious services, “remain fully accountable to the code of ethics and ecclesiastical standards of their endorsing faith group. In some instances, this may restrict Chaplain participation in a command event, but it does not relieve the Chaplain from providing adequate religious support to accomplish the mission.”

The regulation also states, “Chaplains will not be required to perform a religious role (such as offering a prayer, reading, dedication, or blessing) in worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of practices of their faith. Chaplains will make every effort to provide for required ministrations which they cannot personally perform.”

Gen. (Ret.) Doug Carver, executive director of chaplain services for NAMB and a former chief of chaplains for the Army, told Baptist Press in a statement that he was grateful “for the leadership and partnership Russell Moore and the ERLC has provided as we help our chaplains navigate these issues.”

“We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our chaplains regarding the guidelines,” Carver said. “We’ve also heard from other denominations who have asked if they can use portions or all of our guidelines as they develop similar policies for their chaplains regarding ministry and same-gender relationships.”

Southern Baptists are not the first denomination to indicate its military chaplains would not be allowed to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. After “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in 2011, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services, said Roman Catholics, in accordance with church doctrine, would not perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Greg Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.)
9/26/2013 3:47:20 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

U.S. pastor marks 1 year in Iranian prison

September 26 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – As Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini marks one year in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison, his wife encountered Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, in a New York hotel lobby and passed along a letter from the prisoner to the president.

Naghmeh Abedini, who lives in Idaho with the couple’s two children, was in New York to film interviews with Fox News, CNN and other outlets calling for her husband’s release. She happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Iranian delegation, in town for the United Nations General Assembly.

As Rouhani approached the elevators Sept. 23, Naghmeh Abedini gave the letter to one of his delegates, who promised to deliver the letter to the president, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing her, reported.

In the letter, Saeed Abedini recounts his plight and asks the Iranian president to initiate a review of his case, stating that according to Iran’s constitution “choosing the religion and participating in religious meetings and activities are totally legitimate in Iran, but staying in prison for me and other people like me is for sure illegal.”


Photo courtesy of American Center for Law and Justice
Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith for a year now, and his wife Naghmeh continues to advocate for his freedom. In New York, Naghmeh encountered the Iranian delegation to the United Nations and passed along a letter from her husband to Iran’s president.

Ahead of his first visit to the United States as Iran’s president, Rouhani wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post Sept. 19 reminding Americans that he ran on a moderate platform of “prudence and hope” and gained a “broad, popular mandate.”

“I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world,” Rouhani wrote, adding, “Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”

Also in his column, Rouhani wrote of the Middle East, “We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates.”

As Rouhani departed Iran for the United States, the Islamic Republic announced the release of 80 prisoners of conscience.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Pastor Saeed was not among those reportedly released,” Jay Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, said Sept. 23. “We can confirm that Pastor Saeed’s family in Tehran saw him today during regular visitation hours, and as of noon Tehran time, he was still imprisoned and the family has not been notified that his status has changed.”

Sekulow noted that Rouhani is “clearly seeking international approval.”

“If Iran’s new president wants the American people and the international community to believe he is a true reformer, he must release Pastor Saeed. As long as prisoners of conscience, including a U.S. citizen, suffer torment in Iranian prisons, President Rouhani’s claims of change will remain unsubstantiated.”

Abedini’s letter to Rouhani joins more than 80,000 such letters written on his behalf by concerned citizens around the world through Be Heard, a project launched in September by ACLJ for Abedini and other persecuted believers.

“Pastor Saeed is not the only Christian in chains for the gospel,” David French of ACLJ wrote Sept. 16. “He’s not the only Christian who faces mortal peril simply because of his faith.... Go to Be Heard, write a letter for Pastor Saeed, then stay and learn about the plight of Christians in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and beyond.”

Evangelist Billy Graham is among those who have written a letter to Iran’s president calling for Abedini’s release. Graham, who enjoyed a 50-year ministry as a spiritual adviser to American presidents, told Rouhani that Abedini’s case has received a substantial amount of attention in the United States, reflecting negatively on Iran.

Graham wrote that he fears “that the current publicity surrounding the continued imprisonment of Pastor Abedini, an American citizen, may further harm the already fragile relationship that presently exists between our two nations.”

If Rouhani would release Abedini, Graham wrote, such an action “might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions.”

While President Obama has yet to speak publicly about Abedini, Secretary of State John Kerry has twice released statements calling for his release.

Prayer vigils worldwide Sept. 26

To mark the one-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment for his Christian faith Sept. 26, thousands of people will attend prayer vigils in more than 70 U.S. cities – including Washington, D.C., and the Abedinis’ hometown of Boise, Idaho – and 13 countries worldwide to call on Iran to release the pastor and to pressure their own governments to take diplomatic action on his behalf, according to ACLJ.

More than 620,000 people worldwide have signed a petition demanding his release, underscoring the international attention his case has received.

In a blog post at Sept. 24, Naghmeh Abedini reflected on the spiritual strength she has gained during the past year because of a trial which she pleaded for God to remove.

“All I can remember about those first days are tear-soaked eyes and indescribable anxiety and grief. Evenings consisted of me holding my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son as they cried themselves to sleep asking for their daddy,” she recounted.

As she has learned to receive and endure the hardship for the glory of God, Naghmeh Abedini wrote, “Saeed and I always asked God for opportunities to share the gospel with the nations. We never anticipated it would be this way, but God has graciously heard and answered our prayers.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
9/26/2013 3:36:07 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marriage bill would guard religious liberty

September 26 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – New legislation designed to protect freedom of conscience regarding the definition of marriage should receive support even from legislators who favor same-sex unions, says Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 3133, would bar the federal government from denying tax exemption to, or withdrawing it from, individuals and institutions that define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), called for “all members of Congress, whatever their views on marriage, to vote for religious liberty” by supporting the bill.

“Skirmishes all over the country demonstrate that this bill is needed,” Moore told Baptist Press. “As Americans, we may disagree about sexual morality or even about the definition of marriage, but we have a First Amendment that guarantees freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion to everyone. We cannot allow the culture war to extinguish the natural right of religious liberty, a right for which our forebears fought so hard.”

While the proposal affects only federal tax law, recent events in various states have demonstrated religious freedom rights are under threat in the face of the expanding legalization of same-sex marriage. For instance:
  • The New Mexico Supreme Court rejected Aug. 22 the religious free exercise arguments of Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, a Christian couple who operate a photography business, and ruled they violated the state’s ban on sexual orientation discrimination by refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony.
  • Aaron and Melissa Klein closed their Oregon bakery Aug. 31 after a lesbian couple filed a complaint with the state government because the Kleins declined to bake a wedding cake and invoked their Christian beliefs as the reason. Protests from gay marriage advocates followed the Kleins’ refusal, and the state is conducting an investigation of the couple, who moved the business to their home.
Like Moore, the bill’s sponsor – Rep. Raul Labrador, R.-Idaho – rejected any idea the measure is politically partisan.

It is not a “Republican or Democrat issue,” Labrador said upon introducing the bill Sept. 19.

“Regardless of our ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America,” Labrador said in a written statement. “Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

Some same-sex marriage proponents did not agree such legislation is needed.

“Our Constitution and laws already strongly safeguard” religious liberty, said Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Herwitt charged the bill’s purpose is “simply to let federal employees, contractors and grantees refuse to do their jobs or fulfill the terms of their taxpayer-funded contracts because they have a particular religious view” about legally married, same-sex couples.

The fate of religious liberty with the ascendancy of same-sex marriage has been a topic of debate for years; but the threat to freedom of conscience became more of a reality in June, when the Supreme Court struck down a section of a federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. In that 5-4 opinion, 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. Since then, the Obama administration has been making changes to clarify gay married couples will be treated the same as heterosexual married couples for purposes of such things as taxes and Medicare coverage in nursing homes.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which has 62 cosponsors, will make certain the federal government will not, according to Labrador’s office:
  • Withhold or nullify tax exemption under Sec. 501 of the IRS Tax Code. Most religious institutions are 501 (c) organizations;
  • Reject a tax deduction for any charitable gift to or by an individual;
  • Refuse or withhold a federal benefit, or
  • Bar an individual from receiving “any federal grant, contract, loan, license, certification, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status.”
In addition to the ERLC, other organizations endorsing the bill, according to Labrador’s office, are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and Heritage Action.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, has written an analysis of the bill that can be accessed online at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief.)
9/26/2013 3:25:42 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Blackaby surgery ‘could not have gone better’

September 26 2013 by Baptist Press

ATLANTA – Southern Baptist Bible teacher Henry Blackaby’s quadruple bypass surgery “could not have gone better” Tuesday (Sept. 24), and his prospects for future ministry look good, according to a statement from his family.

“Henry Blackaby is out of surgery this morning. The surgeon indicated the quadruple bypass surgery could not have gone better. Henry has been living with blocked or 70 [percent] blocked arteries for several years,” said the statement, posted on the Blackaby Ministries International website.

“The doctor claims he will feel much better once his recovery is complete. Please pray for his recovery and that there will be no complications. He may be transferred home in Atlanta by this weekend,” the statement said. “The family cannot thank you enough for your prayers and kind wishes. We believe God has some special tasks remaining for Henry to do and we know he will be eager to undertake them as soon as he is better!”

Blackaby, 78, suffered a heart attack while driving in Atlanta, becoming confused and traveling for 29 hours before police found him Sept. 20 in Tifton, Ga., 150 miles southeast of his home.

BP photo
Henry Blackaby, 78, is recuperating from a quadruple bypass surgery. Family said the surgery was successful and that Blackaby very quickly was able to be moved to a regular bed and was off the respirator and talking.

In a Facebook update posted to the Blackaby Ministries page Sept. 25, son Mel Blackaby wrote, “Dad update: off respirator last night. All drainage tubes out already this morning. Being moved to regular bed. Talked to me. Amazing!”

The Blackaby family said in an earlier statement describing their father’s condition, “He has from 70 [percent] to 100 [percent] blockage. The doctor also says one area is not functioning and might have been damaged by an undetected heart attack as much as five years ago. It is amazing how God has preserved Henry and enabled him to continue ministering with his heart functioning far below what it should be....

“If he had not experienced this recent heart attack, doctors might not have been alerted to his condition,” the statement said.

“He has been empowered by God,” Blackaby’s son Richard said Sept. 23 on Twitter of his father’s perseverance in ministry. The previous day, Richard Blackaby tweeted, “He’s in good spirits, joking with staff.”

Blackaby had been missing since Thursday, Sept. 19, around 4 p.m. from his home in Rex, Ga., in metro Atlanta. He was on his way to pick up his wife Marilynn from an appointment when he suffered the heart attack and became disoriented, according to a statement posted Saturday on the Blackaby Ministries International website.

“He did not have his cell phone with him nor insulin for his diabetes,” the statement said. “As a result, his blood sugar rose and his kidneys began to struggle as well. The family was able to track his movements as he used a credit card to make occasional purchases. The police assigned a detective group to monitor his movements and to track him down. Hundreds of volunteers, many from his church at First Baptist Church Jonesboro, GA drove all over the city looking for him.”

The statement added, “It is clear that God heard and answered the prayers of His people! Thank you to everyone who prayed and helped in the search.”

An earlier statement posted on the Blackaby Ministries International Facebook page Sept. 20 around 9 p.m. announced that Blackaby had been found.

“The Blackaby family would like everyone to know that Henry has been found and is safe,” the statement said. “His health concerns are being addressed and we will keep everyone posted with the news. We wish to express to everyone our appreciation and gratitude for the prayers and concern over the last 29 hours. Henry has taught us that we can experience God in the good and the bad times. We thank God that we have experienced his grace, peace, and faithfulness in these times.”

Blackaby’s credit card purchases indicated that he was six miles from his home by mid-morning Friday and in Perry, Ga., 90 miles southeast of his home around 5:30 p.m., Richard Blackaby’s tweets said.

On Friday morning around 8, Richard Blackaby first disclosed that his father was missing via Twitter, stating, “Please pray. Henry Blackaby has been missing since 4 p.m. Thursday. He is in black Lincoln without his diabetic medicine in Atlanta area.”

At the website of Blackaby Ministries International, a notice stated: “Henry Blackaby’s family deeply appreciates the outpouring of prayers and support people have shown as they have sought to locate Henry. He was last seen at 4 p.m. Thursday and has not been seen since. He is a Type 2 diabetic and may be disoriented and unable to find his way home. Please pray for the volunteers who are searching for him and for his wife Marilynn and family who are trusting the Lord for his safe return.”

Prayers for Blackaby were circulated by various Southern Baptist leaders and over the PrayerLink network of Baptist workers who lead intercessory prayer initiatives. And a report of his disappearance has been on local TV in the Atlanta area.

Blackaby is best known for the “Experiencing God” Bible study he coauthored with Claude King. The discipleship resource, first published in 1990, has sold more than 7 million copies in 45 languages. Blackaby is retired from the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board but has continued to lead prayer and spiritual awakening conferences internationally. His ministry began as a pastor in his native Canada. He later became president of the forerunners of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College and the Canadian National Baptist Convention.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
9/26/2013 3:14:40 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘America’s Got Talent’ showcased his smile

September 26 2013 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

SALINE, Mich. – It was meteoric, the way Sean Panikkar’s summer unfolded.

One minute he was teaching a biblical worldview class for the youth at his church, Fellowship Baptist in Saline, Mich., and the next he was competing in the finals of the hit TV show “America’s Got Talent.”

The tenor opera trio Forte – of Panikkar, Josh Page and Fernando Varela – came in fourth in the competition, which ended Sept. 18. They finished their run on America’s Got Talent with a finals night performance alongside pop-opera star Josh Groban, who said the group has a “bright future.”

The group garnered positive fan feedback from the first audition, with audiences drawn to their vocal harmony and backstory. The fact that they were of different backgrounds – Panikkar, Sri Lankan; Varela, Puerto Rican; and Page, a New Yorker – intrigued viewers.

“This group means something more than just singing, that when you see people from different backgrounds creating harmony, that’s what the world needs right now,” Page said in an interview on the show.


IMB photo by Kristina Sherk
Sean Panikkar, a member of the tenor opera trio Forte on “America’s Got Talent,” is ready to showcase his faith amid unfolding opportunities after Forte finished fourth in the TV competition. Panikkar is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church in Saline, Mich.   

Panikkar agreed that what they have been able to do “has transcended notes on a page.” What’s incredible, he said, is to see how God’s hand has guided their success.

Panikkar sees his new limelight as a clear opportunity to radiate Christ.

“None of this would be possible without God, and all this started happening after I accepted Christ,” Panikkar said.

Many fans commented on how he smiles while singing – a sign of something deeper, a marker of the joy he’s been given, Panikkar said.

He’s grateful that it shows. After all, a good smile is the way he met Jesus in the first place – a smile on the face of Jane Arvidson, a fellow member of the University Choir at the University of Michigan.

She radiated the joy she had in Christ, and “I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of her. The thing that struck me was that she was always really happy,” Panikkar said. “I finally got up the courage to introduce myself to her ... and I sent her a follow-up email telling her how refreshing it was to see somebody who smiled all the time.”

She responded with a short email that simply said she smiled because Jesus loved her.

“I immediately thought she was a Jesus freak,” Panikkar said.

But as he got to know Arvidson, and as she backed up her convictions with solid answers to his questions, Panikkar said his false ideas of who Jesus was began to crumble.

He even went to church with her at Fellowship Baptist – and saw other people there who smiled like she did.

Finally over Christmas break of his sophomore year, Panikkar sat in his apartment and opened a children’s tract she had given him.

“I opened it and I just broke down,” he said. “After all the debates and the different books, this little tract explained how simple it was to accept the free gift of Christ. I knelt down and accepted Christ into my heart.”

That’s when things began to change, Panikkar said.

“Shortly after that, I started to be recognized more and more for my singing ability and I began to feel led in that direction,” he recounted. “Doors began opening for me, and even though I had never dreamed of pursuing music, I began to be given opportunities.”

It’s something he never would’ve imagined as a shy kid whose parents accused him of lip synching in choir concerts – they had never heard him sing. “I was embarrassed to sing, so to avoid practicing at home, I just had a voice lesson every day,” Panikkar said.

Eventually he was accepted to the University of Michigan’s music program as a dual major in music and civil engineering – his lifelong dream was to own a construction company.

But after he met Arvidson and opened the door of his heart to Jesus, Julliard came knocking, too – as well as the Manhattan School of Music and the Academy of Vocal Arts.

Panikkar turned them all down to stay and get his master’s degree at the University of Michigan – and stay near Arvidson. Not too long after, the two were married, and eight years later they have two children – Maria, 5, and Mark, 1. Jane is the music director at Fellowship Baptist.

Whenever Panikkar performs, Jane prays the words of a hymn over him – “Take my voice and let it be consecrated Lord to thee,” substituting his name in the lyrics.

“My wife has been my prayer warrior from the beginning,” Panikkar said. “Every time I open my mouth to sing, I pray that God would be glorified and that I would give my best for His glory, not my ego.”

He said his relationship with Christ has enabled him to sing to glorify God rather than focus on himself. That’s helped as he’s been thrust even more in the limelight through America’s Got Talent.

Panikkar had just gotten home from singing “La Boheme” in Texas when he got a “very strange” email that a crossover tenor group on America’s Got Talent was interested in him. The trio, Forte, had advanced to the next round at their audition then learned one of their members was ineligible to compete because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

They found Panikkar while scouring the Internet, and he flew to New York to meet them.

“This was about a week before the second round of America’s Got Talent,” he said. “They invited me into the group, but I waited to fly home and pray with my wife before eventually saying yes.”

After praying about it, he and Jane believed it would put him in a position where he could influence more people for Christ, so he said yes.

Panikkar was “invited to be a part of a very large stage, which happens to be cast with shadows and darkness,” pastor Bert Spann of Fellowship Baptist said. “I believe that is strategically where the Lord wants the brightest lights. Sean is a mouthpiece, a voice, for the Savior He loves.”

With the competition over, Forte is planning to tour and work on an album while the three tenors maintain their personal careers. In the days following the finals, the group has been posting clues on their Facebook and Twitter about what their next move will be, with an announcement pending.

For more information, visit or follow him on Twitter at @seanpanikkar. You can follow Forte at @fortetenors.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton, assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, covered Sean Panikkar and Forte’s appearances on “America’s Got Talent” for the Baptist Beacon, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.)
9/26/2013 3:00:41 PM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

N.C. Baptists join Colorado relief, recovery efforts

September 25 2013 by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board

LONGMONT, Colo. – Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers from at least four states – including North Carolina – have already joined fellow Baptists in Colorado to provide aid to survivors of destructive flooding in Colorado’s Front Range. The combination of steep mountains and heavy rains created torrents that washed out homes, bridges and roads from Estes Park to Boulder and beyond.
Communities as far east as Greeley and Dearfield also suffered flood damage from rain that began Sept. 10. The storm peaked on Sept. 12 when Boulder received more than nine inches, double the previous one-day record, according to the National Weather Service.
Authorities attribute six deaths to the flooding. At one point as many as 1,400 people were unaccounted for in the state. That number dropped to 200 by Thursday as power and cell phone service were restored across much of the region.

NCBM photo from Facebook
Flooding in Colorado has damaged as many as 16,000 homes as well as roads throughout the state. N.C. Baptists are part of the recovery effort.

“Things are going well as we are gearing up for clean up and recovery,” said Eddie Blackmon, North American Mission Board (NAMB) SBDR coordinator. Blackmon is serving in Longmont with Colorado Baptist Disaster Relief Director Dennis Belz. A NAMB mobile command center was headed to Longs Peak Baptist Church in Longmont to serve as the overall incident command center. NAMB is also dispatching a recovery unit and a semi load of supplies.
A North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief Incident Management Team left Sept. 21 for Colorado and is responsible for site coordination in Greely, Colo.
“They are assessing the damage and developing a plan to help homeowners affected by the devastating flood,” said the NCBM Facebook page, which also indicated that the government estimates more than 16,000 homes were damaged during the flooding. “Please keep praying for the survivors as they adjust their lives to a new normal. Pray also for the leadership as they seek ways to help those in need.”

Volunteers from the Missouri Baptist Convention and Texas Baptist Men will staff incident management teams in Longmont and Loveland respectively, Blackmon said. Oklahoma Baptist SBDR volunteers are in route to man another management team in Boulder. The host churches are Orchards Baptist Church in Loveland and East Boulder Baptist Church. SBDR volunteers from other states are standing by to serve.
Colorado Baptist SBDR volunteers were preparing meals for distribution to survivors. Colorado volunteers are also manning aid stations at Colorado State Disaster Assistance Centers.
“They are ministering to the families and survivors of the floods,” said Blackmon. “They are taking job requests that we hope to begin fulfilling soon. Some of the best news today is that Lyons, the community that was an island, was opened today for residents to return.”
Blackmon said the spirit of cooperation from both city and county officials has been encouraging. He added that the positive reaction from government officials has even surprised some volunteers.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit Other ways to donate are to call (866) 407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.” Through N.C. Baptist Men, send donations to: P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512. Call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599. Visit or like the organization on its Facebook page.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Biblical Recorder Assistant Managing Editor Dianna L. Cagle contributed to this report.)
9/25/2013 5:06:23 PM by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

Nairobi mall terror witnessed by missionaries

September 25 2013 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

NAIROBI, Kenya – As sporadic gunfire continued to echo through sections of Nairobi and smoke hovered over Westgate Shopping Mall, the International Mission Board (IMB) announced that all its personnel were accounted for.

“All of our folks, including spouses and children, are now safe,” IMB spokesperson Wendy Norvelle said. “Please pray for them, though, since some were caught up in the tragic events of these past four days.”

Militants of the Somali-based al-Shabaab organization seized the mall on Sept. 21 in retaliation for what they called Kenya’s interference in internal Somali affairs. They used automatic weapons and hand grenades to seize hostages and take control of the modern upscale mall. The militants also set fires inside the mall to distract Kenyan security forces.

Sub-Saharan African Peoples photo
This photo of smoke rising from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, was shared via social media on the Sub-Saharan African Peoples page on Facebook. It is the view from an International Mission Board couple living in Nairobi. Social media is one way urgent prayer requests can be shared. Visit here.

“Non-Muslims were lined up and shot – even children,” one IMB missionary said.

The death toll now approaches 70, including six Kenyan security forces, with over 150 wounded. Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared three days of national mourning.

An IMB missionary family of seven was trapped in the mall and separated as gunfire raged around them and bodies fell. They managed to escape within the first few hours of the siege. Another family lives a block away, and for four days they heard gunfire and explosions and the sounds of helicopters, ambulances and military vehicles moving in and out of the area. From their windows they saw smoke billowing from the mall.

Peace and calm are yet to come as security forces seek to flush out the last remaining militants holed up in the mall. The Kenyan president announced Sept. 24 that the mall was under control but gunfire erupted earlier today (Sept. 25). So far five militants have been killed and 11 captured.

For many who experienced the horrors of the last four days, a personal peace and calm may be some time off. “After a few weeks we might be able to better evaluate how this tragedy has impacted individual lives and ministry,” an IMB missionary said.

Another added, “Thank you so much for continuing to lift Kenya up to the Father as people heal from this ordeal. Pray that even as people’s thoughts ran to God during the crisis, they would continue to run to God as daily life resumes.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is an IMB writer based in Europe.)

For updates and prayer requests visit Pray for Nairobi.
9/25/2013 4:48:32 PM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Catholic chaplains given marching orders barring service to gay couples

September 25 2013 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS).
The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”
But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.

RNS photo by Robert Cohen/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Air Force Capt. Mike Carey, a chaplain at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, prepares his final Sunday sermon before deploying for Afghanistan.

Broglio cited an interpretation from the National Catholic Bioethics Center explaining that Catholic commanders can morally facilitate benefits for gay couples in their command if there was no other way to avoid it without jeopardizing their career.
“This is also contingent on the commander making known his/her objection to being required to … participate, as well as on attempting through legal channels to continue to accomplish changes in policy consistent with the historic understanding of marriage and family as based on natural moral law,” said the statement from the bioethics center.
Broglio promulgated the rules in response to the military’s repeal of the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy for service personnel and the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to strike down a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The new policies were expected and follow similar guidelines issued recently by the Southern Baptist Convention for its chaplains.

But they came out just a day before the release of a groundbreaking interview in which Pope Francis said the church was “obsessed” with issues like gay rights and called for a “new balance” in its public witness.
There are 234 priests serving as active duty chaplains in the Army, Air Force and Navy for about 275,000 Catholic military personnel. About 25 percent of all personnel in the armed forces are Catholic, and eight percent of military chaplains are Catholic. Southern Baptists have nearly 1,500 endorsed chaplains serving in the U.S. military, more than any other denomination or faith group.
In his statement, Broglio said the new federal policy on gay marriage and gay rights for military personnel “makes it necessary to reiterate with clarity the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality.”
He said that same-sex couples account for less than half of one percent of couples in the armed forces and “such a small group cannot be allowed to mandate policy for all.”
“A clear disservice is rendered if the truth of the gospel is confused by the actions of those ordained to disseminate that truth,” the archbishop said, adding that chaplains should also “never forget that it is the sin that is hated and never the sinner.”
The new rules also reiterate that “anyone who is known to be in a sinful relationship is excluded from ministries” such as serving as a lector, catechist, altar server or from giving out Communion.
Last year, Congress approved conscience protections for military members that allow them to express their personal beliefs without fear of punishment.
9/25/2013 4:35:26 PM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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