September 2013

Survey: Prayer, Bible study & mental illness

September 19 2013 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – A third of Americans – and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist or born again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

The survey also found most Americans (68 percent) would feel welcome in church if they were mentally ill.

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said Christians care about those affected by mental illness.

He’s glad churches are seen as a welcome place for those with depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. But he worries some Christians see mental illness as a character flaw rather than a medical condition.

Christians will go to the doctor if they break their leg, Stetzer said. But some may try to pray away serious mental illness. “They forget that the key part of mental illness is the word ‘illness,’” he said. “In a typical evangelical church, half the people believe mental illness can be solved by prayer and Bible study alone.”

LifeWay Research asked four questions about mental illness as part of a telephone survey of 1,001 Americans conducted Sept. 6-10, 2013.

Thirty-five percent agree with the statement, “With just Bible study and prayer, alone, people with serious mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia could overcome mental illness.”

Responses are split by both faith and age.

Fifty percent of those 18-29 years old say prayer and Bible study could overcome mental illness. That number falls to less than 30 percent for those 55-64.

Evangelical, fundamentalist or born-again Christians (48 percent) agree prayer can overcome mental illness. Only 27 percent of other Americans agree.

Among other findings:
  • Just over half (51 percent) say someone close to them has experienced mental illness. That number drops to 37 percent for those over 65.
  • Fifty-four percent of Americans say churches should do more to prevent suicide. That number jumps to 64 percent among evangelical, fundamentalist or born again Christians.
  • Americans who never attend church services are the least likely to agree that churches welcome those with mental illness. Those who attend weekly see churches as welcoming.
Tim Clinton, president of the Forest, Va.-based American Association of Christian Counselors, said spirituality can play a crucial role in treating mental illness.

He called it “soul care.”

Clinton hopes more churches will become open to talking about mental illness. That means taking a holistic approach that deals with spiritual, emotional and physical concerns.

That can involve counseling and medication as well as prayer and Bible study.

“Churches need to be biblical communities of healing,” Clinton said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana writes for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
9/19/2013 4:31:52 PM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bolivia evangelicals fight against new law

September 19 2013 by Baptist Press/Morning Star News

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia – Evangelical leaders in Bolivia are trying to revoke a new law they say aims to “impose contrary beliefs” and “denies us the right to be a church.”

Asserting that Law 351 is unconstitutional, the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB) has announced it is filing suit against the law, carrying its case to the nation’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

Under previous law, all churches and other NGOs in Bolivia had to register with the governor’s office in their respective states to gain legal recognition. The new statute requires all churches and nonprofit organizations to re-register their legal charters with the government. This involves supplying detailed data on membership, financial activity and organizational leadership. The law also stipulates a standardized administrative structure for all “religious organizations.”

“This would force churches to betray their true ecclesiastical traditions,” Ruth Montaño, ANDEB legal adviser, told Morning Star News. “The measure deprives them of any autonomy to follow their original faith convictions.”

Churches failing to complete the re-registration within a two-year period would lose their legal right to exist.

ANDEB organized protest marches by an estimated 20,000 people on Aug. 17 in five cities throughout Bolivia to state their opposition to the policies of President Evo Morales’s administration. At the heart of the demonstrations was opposition to Law 351, which was passed in March.

“They want to control the activities of the evangelical churches,” Agustín Aguilera, president of ANDEB, told the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. “Article 15 [of the law] would force all religious organizations to carry out our activities within the parameters of the ‘horizon of good living,’ which is based on the [ethnic] Aymara worldview. This is an imposition of a cultural and spiritual worldview totally foreign to ours.”

President Morales identifies himself ethnically as Aymara, although he also claims to be a “grassroots Catholic.” Aymara-speakers form the second-largest indigenous group in Bolivia, after Quechuas.

Government officials are not granting legal status to newly formed evangelical churches, pending approval of regulations being formulated by the Registry Office of Worship, according to ANDEB leaders. The proposed statutes violate Bolivia’s constitution in terms similar to those of Law 351, they say.

Evangelical leaders assert that, taken together, the new measures grant the Bolivian government regulatory power over the internal affairs of churches to the point of defining what is and is not a church.

Ironically, Morales assumed office in 2006 with promises of greater religious freedom. The first indigenous Andean to be democratically elected president of Bolivia, he abolished the historic domination of the Roman Catholic Church over religious affairs.

The constitution of February 2009 established a “secular state” designed to be neutral in matters of faith and conscience. Bolivia’s Protestant population, which had long sought church and state separation, initially welcomed the new political order. They assumed a secular state meant the end of religious discrimination.

Protestant leaders now fear, however, that pre-Colombian animism is replacing Roman Catholicism as the official state religion. Morales’ administration routinely invites amautas (folk doctors) to bless government ceremonies instead of Roman Catholic priests as per traditional protocol.

At Morales’s invitation, ANDEB leaders have been working since 2010 to formulate a law to guarantee freedom of religion. Their effort so far has gone unrewarded. Despite his repeated public statements that freedom of worship is a priority, Morales has yet to follow through on his promise to introduce the religious liberty legislation to parliament.

Nor has he responded to a letter ANDEB officials presented him last year asking for an audience to discuss the religious liberty bill. Instead, Morales signed the restrictive Law 351 over evangelical objections.

“Along with the suit to revoke Law 351, ANDEB attorneys plan to introduce the Law for Religious Liberty to the Plurinational Legislative Assembly,” Montaño said. “And we expect a positive response from congressional members.”

At the same time, ANDEB is initiating a national petition campaign and consultations with parliamentary representatives in every department (state) of the country, she said.

“Should all else fail, we plan to file an ‘abstract of unconstitutionality’ against Law 351 before the Constitutional Tribune in order to protect our rights,” Montaño said.

A landlocked country sandwiched between Brazil, Peru and Chile, Bolivia banned Protestant worship (similar to most South American countries) until about 100 years ago. Today evangelical Christians represent 16 percent of the country’s population of 10 million, according to Operation World.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared at Morning Star News, an independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)
9/19/2013 4:16:38 PM by Baptist Press/Morning Star News | with 0 comments

Preach scripture, not ‘Duck Dynasty’ or politics, Luter says

September 18 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Preaching the scripture, not politics or even “Duck Dynasty,” will bring revival to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the nation, SBC President Fred Luter said in his address to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) at its Sept. 16-17 meeting in Nashville.

Revival birthed through the SBC and its entities is still his heart’s desire, Luter said, drawing comparisons to what he termed the “sad story” of the prophet’s vision of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10.

“My ultimate goal is, prayerfully, that we can pray that God will send revival across America and particularly among our SBC churches,” he said, “because it’s so easy to get sidetracked. It’s so easy to get comfortable where we are. It’s so easy to rest on our laurels and all of the past things that we’ve done.


Photo by Morris Abernathy
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter addressed the SBC Executive Committee during its September 16-17 meeting in Nashville. “My heart’s desire is still that God will send revival through the churches, the seminaries, the colleges and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he told the gathering, referencing the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10.

“However, I am convinced that revival is still sorely needed among us, among our churches, among our denomination and particularly among the body of Christ,” Luter said. “My heart’s desire is still that God will send revival through the churches, the seminaries, the colleges and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s still my heart’s desire.”

Revival will only come if the body of Christ realizes its dry condition, hears and responds to the Word of God and is filled with the Spirit of God, Luter said in his sermon, “How to Revive Dry Bones.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us can identify with the children of Israel in our text, because many of us are like dead men walking. We’ve lost our vim, we’ve lost our vigor, and we wouldn’t know vitality if it slapped us in the face.”

“Oh, dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord,” Luter quoted Ezekiel 37:4.

“Pastors, the most important thing we can do on Sunday mornings in our pulpit is not to pull out the latest story from Reader’s Digest, not to pull out the latest story from National Geographic, not to tell the latest story on Duck Dynasty, but the best thing we can do ... is hear the Word of God.

“[Preach] not the latest in politics, not the latest in denominational issues during the preaching time, [but] the Word of God,” Luter said, “... words that bring nourishment to dry bones, words that bring strength to brittle bones [and] words that bring life to lifeless bones.”

An encouraging, stirring symphony of numerous scriptures drawn from both biblical testaments flowed from Luter’s lips.

“Psalm 1:1-2a: Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful, for his delight is in the law of the Lord.”

“Psalm 27:1: The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

“Psalm 34:19: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.”


Photo by Morris Abernathy
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter reads from Ezekiel 37 in delivering his sermon “How to Revive Dry Bones,” during the Sept. 16 plenary session of the SBC Executive Committee meeting. “Many of us are like dead men walking,” he told the crowd, encouraging the preaching of scripture as an antidote to dry bones, and a pathway to revival.

“Romans 8:32: If God is for us, who in the world can be against us?”

The scriptures blended overflowing love and encouragement with prescriptions for revival.

“John 15:7: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.”

“Acts 1:8: But you shall receive power after the Holy Ghost has come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”

“1 Corinthians 10:13: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able, but also with the temptation, also make a way to escape,” Luter said, “that you and that you and that you might be able to bear it.”

“Galatians 2:20: I’m crucified in Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ that lives in me. And the life that I live in the flesh, I live by faith of the son of God, who not only loved me, but he gave himself for me,” Luter said.

The sermon drew much applause and many amens and affirmations from Executive Committee members, SBC entity heads and other guests in the audience.

While his first 14 months as SBC president have taken him to a different location each week, Luter said, he’s made a commitment to be in his pulpit at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church every Sunday.

“One of the things that I’ve made a commitment to during these 14 months, that as busy as I have been, as many places as I have been, I’ve made a commitment that I’m in my pulpit every Sunday morning,” he said, thanking EC members for their encouraging prayers, letters, calls and emails.

“During my travels these last 14 months ..., I have been honored to serve as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ve tried my best to represent you well, as the Executive Committee and the entity heads,” he said.

“Most of all I’ve tried to represent God well. If you’ll continue to pray for me, that’s what I’ll continue to want to do.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
Related story
EC not endorsing Scout-type civic group
9/18/2013 4:13:11 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

EC not endorsing Scout-type civic group

September 18 2013 by Art Toalston & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Less than three weeks after the Boy Scouts voted to permit openly homosexual youth as members, a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) moved that an alternative organization be sought.

The motion during the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting called for a special task force to explore “any available youth programs as well the possibility of offering a substitute program for those desiring to find an avenue for their boys to learn leadership skills and moral standards once offered by the Boy Scouts of America, seeing they have lost their way and lost their moral compass, the Bible.”

The SBC Executive Committee, however, declined to recommend creation of a task force to review or create a boys civic organization during its Sept. 16-17 meeting in Nashville.

The Executive Committee (EC) declined to recommend the creation of the task force sought by messenger Harold M. Phillips of Maryland, “believing it is not in the purview of the Southern Baptist Convention to create an alternative civic organization for boys or to have a task force expressly or tacitly endorse one scouting alternative over another.”

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee, reported to committee members on initiatives for continued strengthening of the Cooperative Program and ethnic involvement in the SBC. 


The EC response to the motion will be reported to the 2014 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore.

Supplementary materials provided to Executive Committee members recounted the existence of two longstanding Southern Baptist-based programs – Royal Ambassadors for boys in grades 1-6 and Challengers for young men in grades 7-12, both sponsored by the SBC auxiliary Woman’s Missionary Union. Both RAs and Challengers primarily focus on missions education and involvement but also entail the development of Christ-like character and have elements of outdoor recreation.

The Boy Scouts, at a national meeting May 23, opened their membership ranks to openly homosexual youth. In response, an independent organization called Trail Life USA rooted in Christian teachings is in its fledgling stages.

Frank Page on CP & ethnic involvement

Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee, reported to committee members on initiatives for continued strengthening of the Cooperative Program (CP) and ethnic involvement in the SBC.

Page said a “Great Commission Advance” is being developed by a group of SBC entity and state convention representatives “to promote Southern Baptist missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program.”

The Great Commission Advance will set forth strategies to “develop better and more innovative ways to share the message of cooperative missions,” Page said.

“So pray for that group of people – pastors, executives, national and state entity-level persons – as we ... work hard in sharing that great message.” Page said. “We want the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus advanced.”

The Great Commission Advance, to be launched at next year’s SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, will move forward from the “1% Challenge” led by Page the last two years asking churches to increase by 1 percentage point their allocation to the Cooperative Program, which undergirds missions and ministries by state Baptist conventions and by the Southern Baptist Convention nationally and internationally.

In ethnic involvement in the SBC, Page said, “We’re encouraging these churches into deeper involvement in our convention work at every level. We thank God for that which has happened but we believe we have a long ways to go.”

The African American Advisory Council and Hispanic Advisory Council both are in the second year of a three-year process, Page said.

An Asian American Advisory Council has held its first meeting, Page continued, and a fourth advisory council will begin this year involving representatives of 28 other ethnic fellowships in the SBC.

The ethnic councils “are helping us understand better the needs of our brothers and sisters, that we might be more sensitive and we might encourage them into deeper involvement,” Page said.

Page asked for prayer for his travels as “the CEO – the chief encouraging officer of the convention – to encourage our brothers and sisters in the work of the Lord. I do that everywhere I can.”

Through Thanksgiving, Page said he will be attending 32 meetings in 20-plus states.

“It’s going to be very intense, but it’s a great opportunity to touch many, many people with a word of encouragement,” Page said.

In other business, the Executive Committee:
  • addressed a motion from the Houston annual meeting for the SBC to withdraw fellowship from Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. The EC voted to report at the 2014 annual meeting that Lake Shore formally voted to sever its relationship with the SBC on Dec. 4, 2000, and has never rescinded that vote. The Houston motion was based on Lake Shore’s support of Planned Parenthood.
  • renamed its former Press Relations Policy to Media Relations Policy, primarily 1) to utilize the 2012 change in names for its committee and workgroup structure and 2) to turn from using “press” to “media” in the policy because some translation software often renders “press” as “push.” The updated policy is printed after this article.
  • approved a resolution of appreciation for Veryl Henderson upon his Dec. 31, 2013, retirement as executive director-treasurer of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
The Executive Committee commended Henderson on his achievements during nearly 11 years as executive director-treasurer, 25 years of service in various other capacities with the Hawaii convention and eight years with the Colorado Baptist General Convention.

“Known as an encourager, Henderson’s ministry has been marked by innovative and visionary leadership in assessing and meeting needs, tireless service to others, ministerial effectiveness in leading others, and genuine humility in relationships with others,” reads the resolution to be presented at the Hawaii-Pacific annual meeting.

The resolution notes that the number of Hawaii-Pacific churches grew from 113 to 152, or 34.5 percent, during his leadership as executive director, and the convention baptized 6,400 people, including more than 800 in the most recent year of record. In Cooperative Program giving, according to the resolution, the convention’s $1.2 million in CP contributions in 2012 had grown 35 percent in the previous decade.
  • responded to a referral from the Houston annual meeting that the SBC begin displaying on its website the names of all SBC-elected trustees, noting that the practice is already in place.
“SBC entity trustee information is routinely posted on the dropdown directory of services menu bar on the front page of Presently serving trustees are listed at the trustees link position immediately below the link to each SBC entity listed on the directory of services webpage,” SBC Executive Committee chairman Ernest Easley said.

“In the same format, they are printed in the SBC Annual containing the same information presented to the messengers of the SBC annual meeting at the time of [the trustees] initial election,” said Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

Also during the meeting, Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, presented checks to the Executive Committee totaling nearly $608,000 designated for the SBC’s two mission boards. The funds were mission offerings given this summer by more than 100,000 participants in LifeWay’s Fuge, CentriKids and World Changers ministries.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press; Diana Chandler is BP’s staff writer.)


Southern Baptist Convention (Adopted Sept. 17, 2013)

The sessions of the full Executive Committee are open and “on the record.”

It is understood by this that the actions and recommendations of the body may be reported by both the denominational and secular media.

It is understood also that public statements made in the full meeting of the Executive Committee are likewise “on the record.” Unless a speaker specifically requests that, for good and sufficient reasons, certain of his statements (specifically and publicly identified) are “off the record,” all public statements are subject to news reporting.

Though Committees and Workgroups of the Executive Committee are also open to the press, editors and reporters may attend these meetings on a “background rules” basis: (1) No direct quotation of any matter. (2) No attribution to any person.

It is to be understood that Committee and Workgroup discussions and recommendations are tentative and subject to the action of the full Executive Committee. These meetings are open to the press, however, to provide the necessary background for accurate, complete and well-balanced reporting of the sessions of the full Executive Committee.

It is further understood that the Executive Committee, its Committees, and Workgroups have the right and responsibility to conduct executive sessions in unusual circumstances, such as the consideration of certain delicate personality and personnel matters which could not be handled wisely in open session without unnecessarily embarrassing individuals.

The staff and members of the Executive Committee will provide every assistance possible to members of the media to enable them to do accurate, complete and well-balanced reporting.

This open policy of full cooperation with news media representatives is a recognition by the Executive Committee of its responsibility to keep Southern Baptists fully informed about the work they sponsor and support through the Southern Baptist Convention and its agencies.
Related story
Preach scripture, not ‘Duck Dynasty’ or politics, Luter says
9/18/2013 3:51:06 PM by Art Toalston & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay honors Dockery with HCSB Award

September 18 2013 by Baptist Press

LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer announced Sept. 13 that Union University President David S. Dockery is the recipient of the second Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Award, the highest honor that LifeWay bestows.

Rainer, speaking at a chapel service in Union’s G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel, read a letter from Selma Wilson, president of LifeWay’s B&H Publishing, in which she told him of the HCSB Award committee’s decision.

“The award recognizes biblical fidelity and an extraordinary commitment to teaching and preaching the Word of God,” Wilson wrote. “Our committee is highly selective in making this award. We have waited over four years before naming the second recipient of the HCSB Award.”

BP file photo by Robin Cornetet Bass/The Western Recorder
David Dockery, president of Union University, participates in a panel discussion in this 2012 photo. He was recently awarded the Holman Christian Standard Bible Award, the highest honor LifeWay Christian Resources bestows.

The first HCSB Award was given posthumously in 2009 to Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., who was shot and killed during a worship service.

Wilson said the award committee “recently evaluated several incredible leaders” as potential recipients of the HCSB Award, but that Dockery’s name rose to the top.

“His books on biblical authority and interpretation are seminal works,” she wrote. “His speaking and proclamation of the Word is uncompromising and challenging. His academic and statesman leadership is known around the world and admired by thousands.”

Dockery said the recognition was “incredibly humbling and most meaningful.”

“When Dr. Rainer made the announcement today, I was both completely surprised and quite overwhelmed,” Dockery said. “I am deeply honored by this recognition, and I want to express my genuine appreciation to Dr. Rainer and all of those at LifeWay who were involved in this decision.”

The recognition comes with an HCSB Bible, a plaque and a monetary award. LifeWay will formally present Dockery with the award during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Baltimore in June.
9/18/2013 3:38:37 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

San Antonio ordinance may affect conventions

September 18 2013 by David Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

SAN ANTONIO – A new San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance likely will prevent the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) from holding annual meetings in the city’s convention facilities, according to an attorney who represents both conventions, referencing the law’s requirement that contracting parties not discriminate on sexual orientation or gender identity.

James Guenther, general counsel for the SBC and SBTC, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, “The likelihood is that if there is any ambiguity in the minds of the conventions as to what it is they’re agreeing to, [the] city will simply be bypassed. Or at least the city-owned facilities will be bypassed.”

The ordinance, passed by an 8-3 vote of the San Antonio City Council on Sept. 5, also provides for the removal of city officials from office if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and it forbids businesses in the city, with few exceptions, from discriminating based on their opposition to homosexuality. An earlier draft of the ordinance that would have made it illegal to demonstrate “bias by word or deed” was removed in the final version in favor of the term “discrimination.”

Violation of the law by businesses or property owners is a Class C misdemeanor.

Multiple groups have announced plans to file legal challenges to the ordinance, and efforts are underway to recall Councilman Diego Bernal, the measure’s author, and Mayor Julian Castro, who supported it. Elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R.-Texas, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, have raised concerns as well.


BP file photo by Joe Westbury/Christian Index
Two North Carolina natives talk about the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in this 2010 file photo. Johnny Hunt, right, is former Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., converses with J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham. Both were in San Antonio in early 2010 to prepare a report for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Because of a new law in San Antonio, meetings like this among Baptists may no longer be allowed in the city limits because of the Convention’s stance on homosexuality.

It’s not clear how the new ordinance would apply to a convention leasing the city’s facilities, Guenther said. One possible interpretation is that no official statement of the convention would be allowed to denounce homosexuality. Another interpretation is that the convention would only be barred from denying seating to homosexual messengers.

Either interpretation is problematic, Guenther said. Neither SBC nor SBTC governing documents specifically exclude homosexuals from being messengers, he said, but they forbid churches that affirm homosexuality from sending messengers.

The SBC last met in San Antonio in 2007 in a city-owned convention hall. The SBTC met in San Antonio last year but at Castle Hills First Baptist Church.

The SBC constitution, Article III, states, “The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention.” It goes on to specify, “Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”

The SBTC constitution, article IV, states, “The SBTC will not consider for affiliation or continued affiliation any church that has taken action affirming, approving, or endorsing the practice of homosexuality. Such actions include but are not limited to the licensure or ordination of homosexuals, marriage or blessing of homosexual relationships, and endorsing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.” The document only allows affiliated churches to send messengers to annual meetings.

Whether either convention “discriminates” against homosexuals is a “nuanced” and complicated issue, Guenther said.

“If someone walks in off the street and is not a messenger but is known somehow to be homosexual, he’s still welcome [at an annual meeting],” Guenther said. “Obviously if he misconducts himself, then he’s not welcome. But we do not, to my knowledge, bar the presence of persons who are homosexual in the meeting.”

But “if a church sent a person as a messenger and that person was known to be one who himself was homosexual or one who championed homosexual causes, that would raise the question of whether the church is in friendly cooperation. And if the church is deemed to be not in friendly cooperation, as evidenced by the church’s selection of that messenger, then the convention could act to deny the seating of that messenger,” Guenther said.

Other cities have nondiscrimination ordinances but neither the SBC nor SBTC has been forced to sign a contract for an annual meeting promising not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Guenther said, adding that the San Antonio ordinance is particularly problematic.

“When one reads the San Antonio ordinance, I think one would conclude that the [city’s] convention commission, or whoever operates the convention center that [a religious body] wants to lease, would have no authority to execute a contract unless it contained this provision,” Guenther said.

The SBC and SBTC are “very sensitive” to the development of nondiscrimination ordinances and will “take care on the first occasion” that a contract is presented barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Guenther said.

“We have discussed this development with both conventions, and those officers who make convention arrangements are sensitive to them,” Guenther said. “We’ll simply have to wait and see how these ordinances get interpreted.”

Under the law, according to Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values, wedding-related businesses such as photography studios and bakeries could be targeted for legal action if they refuse to participate in homosexual commitment ceremonies, for example. Printing businesses also could be cited if they refuse to print literature or articles of clothing for gay pride events.

“Primarily, you’re going to see small businesses targeted,” Saenz predicted. “They don’t have the type of support or financial ability to withstand any type of attack or challenge on these types of issues.” Saenz recounted that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates testified at a recent city hearing that if the ordinance became law, they would protest businesses that oppose the homosexual lifestyle. “They’ll boycott them. They’ll have people call them. They’ll have people on social media bombard them on these issues,” Saenz said.

City officials received 11,000 opposition emails in the weeks leading up to the vote, and five City Council meetings on the ordinance drew hundreds of residents who expressed their opposition. In an Aug. 28 meeting, city officials appeared confused about the measure’s legal consequences, as the city attorney struggled to answer questions and expressed concerns that he was embarrassing himself.

Last-minute amendments clarified that the measure does not require businesses to allow transgendered persons to use restrooms or locker rooms intended for people of the opposite sex – a change that angered some of the ordinance’s supporters.

Several previous amendments attempted to calm the swell of opposition. Thanks to one amendment, a “religious corporation, association, society or educational institution” may limit employment to members of the same religion. Another amendment added the qualifier, “Nothing herein shall be construed as requiring any person or organization to support or advocate any particular lifestyle or religious view or advance any particular message or idea.”

“The San Antonio issue is not anywhere close to being over,” Saenz said. “I think you’ll see more people engaged in the local elections the next time around, and you’ll likely see more people wanting to run for office and challenge [incumbents] because of this issue.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. This article is adapted by reports in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
9/18/2013 11:10:27 AM by David Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC budget set at $3.19M

September 18 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) approved new staff and a new budget that reflects new strategies in their first annual meeting with Russell D. Moore as president.

Meeting in conjunction with Moore’s inauguration, trustees authorized the hiring of three executive staff members and endorsed a $3.19 million budget that demonstrates an updated approach to communications for the entity. Moore was inaugurated as the eighth president of the ERLC Sept. 10 in Washington, D.C., and the trustees met at a Washington-area hotel Sept. 10-11.

The board elected Phillip Bethancourt as executive vice president, Daniel Patterson as chief of staff and Dan Darling as vice president of communications. During the meeting, the ERLC also announced the appointment of Joe Carter as director of communications and Trillia Newbell as consultant for women’s initiatives.

The newly approved budget, which is about $70,000 less than the previous year’s, reflected an earlier decision to end the For Faith & Family radio program. Last year, the ERLC allotted more than 10 percent of its overall budget to For Faith & Family, which aired its last broadcast in July. The new budget has no money for broadcast airtime.

The new budget also confirmed the decision to halt publication of the ERLC’s magazine, Faith & Family Values, by almost totally eliminating funds for print resources.

The change to new media, trustees were told, enables the entity to measure the effectiveness of its communications and frees money for use in other areas.

Because of “additional technology,” Moore said, “[W]e can track: Where is this going? Who is using this? What are they using it for?”

The ERLC’s newly designed website, which went live Sept. 10, provides an effective means of packaging content in the form of audio, video and text, Patterson told the trustees. The website is “fully exportable to any number of platforms,” such as mobile devices, podcasts and RSS readers, he said.

Moore said, “The good thing about where we are right now with media is that using these newer forms of media also ... can be transferred over” to older forms.

That ability to bridge the newer and older means of communication came into play after the U.S. Supreme Court announced a barrier-breaking decision in late June, striking down a section of a federal law that defined marriage as only the union of a man and a woman. The win for the same-sex marriage movement came less than four weeks after Moore took office June 1 as ERLC president.

The ERLC wanted to help all Southern Baptist churches know how to respond to the decision, but “what we had to do is to try to communicate with churches that are vastly, vastly different in the way that they operate,” Moore told trustees.

Working in advance, the ERLC designed a two-sided document that could be distributed by churches in multiple ways, Moore said. When the court announced its ruling, the quickly released document told what had changed and what had not changed as a result.

“We wanted our people in our churches to get ready and to understand this is what has changed and this is what this means,” he said. “We also wanted to explain what has not changed. ... The most important thing is Jesus of Nazareth is still alive.”

Some churches distributed it as a bulletin insert, some placed it on their website, and some sent it as a text message, Moore said.

In his report to the trustees, Moore pointed to same-sex marriage as the first of several issues he had addressed since becoming ERLC president. Others included the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, a case in the new term of the Supreme Court regarding prayers before legislative meetings, and threats to the religious freedom of military chaplains.

Regarding the same-sex marriage opinion, he told trustees, “What was shocking to me was not that the Supreme Court decided the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. What shocked me was the language that was used, that there is no reason at all for anyone to be opposed to same-sex marriage except for hostility and animus toward gay and lesbian people.

“[I]t is impossible to see how, based upon the language that is used in this decision, that the court will not at a later time expand that into a constitutional right in all 50 states,” he said.

“I think there are massive religious liberty concerns that come along with same-sex marriage, and there are a lot of our own folks who are not prepared for these religious liberty issues at all.”

Trustees approved Robert George to receive the 2013 John Leland Religious Liberty Award.

George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, is the newly elected chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and has been an outspoken advocate for the protection of religious liberty on such issues as same-sex marriage and the abortion/contraception mandate.

“I think nobody is more fitting right now than Robert George,” Moore said.

The board also endorsed David Dockery as recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award. Dockery is retiring after 17 years as president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Dockery “has transformed [Union] into the kind of university that is ... on the cutting edge of thinking through issues with a Christian worldview,” Moore told trustees.

In other action, ERLC trustees:
  • Re-elected Richard Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Ark., as chairman and elected Chris Slaughter, a lawyer in Huntington, W.Va., as vice chairman and Kenda Bartlett, executive director of Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C., as secretary.
  • Passed a bylaw change to enable the annual board meeting to be in Washington, D.C., as well as in Nashville, Tenn.
  • Ratified a bylaw change to authorize the board’s executive committee to approve the hiring of ERLC executive staff members between trustee meetings.
  • Approved a response to a motion at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting that commends churches with ministries to those who suffer with mental health issues and says the ERLC will expand its resources on the subject by establishing at its website “an issues awareness section specifically devoted to helping individuals and churches understand mental health challenges.”
  • Endorsed a response to another motion at the 2013 SBC meeting that says the ERLC will continue to refrain from saying it represents all Southern Baptists but will communicate the views expressed in annual resolutions regarding issues, including immigration reform.
The new staff members come to the ERLC with these backgrounds:
  • Bethancourt previously served as associate vice president of enrollment management and student life at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and remains an assistant professor of Christian theology at the Louisville, Ky., school.
  • Patterson formerly was executive assistant to Moore in his capacity as senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary before becoming ERLC president. Patterson also served as assistant editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology at the seminary.
  • Darling, a Chicago-area pastor, has written for leading evangelical Christian magazines, authored or co-authored five books and maintains a popular blog.
  • Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and senior editor at the Action Institute, as well as a popular blogger.
  • Newbell is a popular writer at various evangelical websites and lead editor of Karis, the women’s channel of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
9/18/2013 10:55:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone plans to fight contraceptive mandate

September 17 2013 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – GuideStone Financial Resources has renewed its vow to fight the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate and is now looking to court action alongside efforts in Congress and before federal agencies.
The need to fight arises from the Obama Administration’s requirement that all employers who provide health benefits also must cover contraceptives. The mandate covers all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause early abortions.
“Our plans have strict prohibitions against the coverage of any of these abortifacients that are out there,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins told members of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Sept. 16. “And yet, [the Obama Administration] wants to tell us that we not only have to provide [abortifacients], but without cost to anybody that wants them.
“But the truth is, we’re not going to do it. We’re in a fight.”
Hawkins told Executive Committee members that litigation is the latest front in GuideStone’s three-pronged fight to protect church health plans. More than 1 million pastors and church workers depend on church plans for their health benefits. GuideStone also has been working with a broad coalition of religious denominations on both the regulatory and legislative fronts.
Advocacy on the regulatory front yielded the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for churches and church auxiliaries but it did not go far enough, Hawkins said. The contraceptive mandate offers a narrow exemption to churches and church auxiliaries – including most Southern Baptist boards and seminaries – but not other ministries such as colleges and charities.
On the legislative front, Sen. Mark Pryor, D.-Ark., introduced the Church Health Plan Act of 2013, which would help church health plans regain some protections lost under the health care reform law.
Republicans, however, have expressed reluctance to pass legislation that would offer technical fixes to the health care reform law as they say they are working to repeal it, Hawkins said.
“We have a huge challenge preserving church health plans as we have known them for over 100 years,” he told the Executive Committee.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is senior manager of editorial services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
9/17/2013 5:23:57 PM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

FBC East Flat Rock increases CP gifts, retires debt

September 17 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

When Brent Thomas became pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) East Flat Rock in June he inherited a situation every pastor desires – a debt-free congregation.

“We burned the [mortgage] note my third or fourth Sunday as pastor. It’s an awesome situation that I walked into,” he said.
Thomas credits the previous pastor and the congregation’s generosity for their debt-free status, which will allow the church to expand ministry efforts in the community and abroad.  
“There’s a freedom of being able to do exactly what God has called you to do without the worry of this debt hanging over your head,” he said. “It frees up a lot of possibilities with what you can do in regards to ministry.”
Three years ago FBC East Flat Rock, just a few miles south of Hendersonville, was burdened with nearly $400,000 in debt. But the church committed to retire the debt by setting aside $46,000 a year in the annual budget toward debt repayment, and through a fundraising campaign.
In addition, the church made a commitment to give 10 percent of the funds collected through the fundraising campaign to missions – eight percent to the Cooperative Program and two percent to the local association. 
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” Thomas said. “We give percentages from the annual budget to the Convention and local association, but in addition to that, the congregation tithed on the money they raised through the building program.”
In three years the church raised more than $240,000 through the fundraising campaign and paid the remainder of the debt through its annual budget. In the process, East Flat Rock also tripled its annual gifts to the Cooperative Program. 
Thomas believes the ability to retire debt and simultaneously increase financial support for missions illustrates God’s faithfulness.
“God honors those who give back. He blesses us individually and I believe He blesses us as a congregation,” he said.

Cooperation for the Kingdom

Thomas said the church’s gifts to state and local missions reflect their desire to glorify God through stewardship and through cooperation with other believers to advance God’s Kingdom.
“Our folks are incredibly loving and generous, but their greatest qualities are their passion for Jesus and their willingness to do their part in furthering the gospel,” he said. 
Churches often encourage individuals to tithe, but Thomas said churches can do better when it comes to planned giving and good stewardship.
“We talk about tithing individually, but we as a church need to give back through our budgets,” Thomas said. “The Cooperative Program is a great way we can do that and connect with other churches to further the gospel.”
In 2011, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page urged all Southern Baptist churches to accept the 1% Challenge, an initiative that encourages churches to increase their giving to the Cooperative Program by 1 percentage point of their budgets. On the state level, an additional $6 million would be raised annually if every North Carolina Baptist church increased their Cooperative Program giving by 1 percent.
Thomas believes every church can participate in the 1% Challenge, regardless of size or financial need. In some cases, churches may need to shift funds from inward focused ministries to help support missions abroad. 
“I think the problem with many churches is an inward mentality that says ‘we are the Church; this is who we exist for.’ But the Cooperative Program helps us understand that it takes all of us working together.”
Thomas encourages church leaders to inform their congregations about the Cooperative Program and prayerfully consider how they can increase their annual support.
“The Cooperative Program enhances ministry and furthers God’s Kingdom,” he said. “That’s the key – furthering His Kingdom and not our own.”
To learn more about the Cooperative Program visit
9/17/2013 10:57:37 AM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

I Am a Church Member paints hopeful picture

September 17 2013 by Micheal Pardue, Book Review

 I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer (B&H Publishing, 2013)

It seems there have been few, if any, recent studies that have reached positive conclusions on the overall health of churches. By and large they have painted a bleak outlook on the direction of God’s chosen vessel of the Great Commission. Thom Rainer paints a different picture of what might be in I Am a Church Member.
Working from the obvious premise that overall church health is a byproduct of the health of its members, the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources presents six commitments that church members must make if they are to function as biblically focused church members. These are not simple doctrinal affirmations or even the written statements provided at the end of each chapter. For most they would require a deep and lasting change of heart and mind. They constitute a change in belief and action.
Rainer’s first pledge is: I will be a functioning church member. For Rainer, biblical church members “give abundantly and serve without hesitation.”
These two commitments come from the idea that church members have the love of Christ dwelling within them and it guides their life. It is a natural reaction to the knowledge that as members of a church we are part of a body. We are brought together to function as one in Christ, even with our distinct gifts and characteristics.
The second pledge is: I will be a unifying church member. No church can claim vitality without unity.
Church members must put to death gossip and other negative talk. These have no benefit for the mission of the believer. These are replaced with forgiveness. Forgiveness breeds unity. Rainer writes, “church unity is torn apart when members refuse to forgive, when any member is too prideful to grant forgiveness.”
The third pledge is: I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. I often tell folks in my church that God does not really care what they think. He definitely does not care about the preferences of their pastor. Much of the disputes and upheaval in the local church begins with the phrase “I want” or “I think.” These are a poor substitute for “thus says the Lord.” Rainer encourages us to take on the roll of a servant, making our minds and attitude that of Christ’s. In the end, church is not about us, and all about Him.
Rainer’s fourth exhortation is: I will pray for my church leaders. I have worked in churches where I was the only minister. There have been other times when I worked with a team of folks serving together. However, in both situations I have still found plenty of time to be lonely. Serving as God’s under-shepherd requires long hours, precious time away from family, and carrying the burdens (often alone) of many of the people in your care. Pastors need prayer. Rainer encourages his readers to pray for pastors and their families, pray for their protection, and pray for their mental and physical health. I do not know how often I have been to the breaking point only to find someone praying for me. Just the knowledge that they have taken my name before our Heavenly Father has reenergized my outlook. 
Part of being a biblical church member is leading others to do the same. Rainer considers this with his fifth pledge: I will lead my family to be healthy church members. The family and the church are really inseparable. Therefore, we must pray together, worship together, and fall deeply in love with Christ together. Rainer writes, “as I grow more deeply in love with my church, I will do all I can in God’s power to bring my family with me. We will pray for our church leaders together, we will worship together. And we will serve together.”
In many ways the sixth pledge serves to tie the others together: I will treasure church membership as a gift. So often we treat church membership as something we are entitled to because of our goodness or lineage. However, being a member of the church of the living God is a wonderful and marvelous gift – a gift that demands a response. Rainer writes, “when we receive a gift with true appreciation, we naturally want to respond to the Giver.  We, therefore, see service to God as a natural outflow of the joy of our salvation and the consequent joy of our church membership. We consider it a privilege to serve the King, so we look for those opportunities at the church where we serve.”
I have served six Baptist churches in various ministry capacities since I was 17 years old. They each have had different struggles. They have each had struggles common to all churches. After reading I Am a Church Member, I have concluded that the struggles of each congregation were tied up to a commitment problem in one or more of these areas that Rainer lays out before us. If we are to love and treasure the church of the Living God in a similar fashion to Christ – He gave Himself for her – we must all make the commitment: I Am a Church Member.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard in Connelly Springs.)
9/17/2013 10:45:18 AM by Micheal Pardue, Book Review | with 0 comments

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