September 2013

Q&A: ‘Finally Free’ of pornography

September 13 2013 by Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – “You don’t have to wait until heaven to be free from pornography.”

Heath Lambert sets forth his case for a pornography-free life in his new book, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace.

Lambert, a biblical counseling professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also is executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors.

Lambert was interviewed about the book by Matt Damico, book review editor for Towers, Southern Seminary’s news magazine.

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BP photo
Heath Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College at Southern Seminary, discusses his new book, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, which addresses the issue of pornography within today’s Christian culture.

Q: What’s the danger involved in viewing pornography?

A:
Internet pornography kills us softly and quietly. The women that you fornicate with on the screen are as silent as the grave. And a lot of times you don’t find out that someone you love has a problem until they are lost in the abyss.

Q: What’s at risk when people think they can maintain a life of Christian discipleship while continuing to view pornography?

A:
The lie of Internet pornography says, “I’ll do this little thing over here, and it’s nasty and ugly, but when it’s done I can cover it up and go back to the rest of my life.” The problem is that sin doesn’t stay covered up. You think you can control it, but you can’t. It will break out and it will ruin your life.

The worst consequences are the ones stored up over a long period of time. So the men who are doing this are sipping on poison that will eventually kill their ministry efforts and their marriage and family. They’re destroying their lives and effectiveness for Christ and they don’t even understand it.

Q: In the process of “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new, what are some of the thoughts, actions and attitudes that people struggling with pornography should seek to put on?

A:
One is gratitude. Men who look at porn are greedy for things they don’t have. That’s the logic of lust: I’m greedy for the things I don’t have. Gratitude is the antidote to that. Gratitude says, “Whatever the Lord has given me is what I’ll be thankful for.”

So as men grow and cultivate the fruit of gratitude, they grow in defeating the problem of pornography.

Another is humility. The only people who look at pornography are arrogant people. James tells us that selfish ambition leads to every vile practice. So, if viewing pornography is a vile practice, then viewing it stems from a heart that is selfish. It’s arrogance; it’s a prideful attitude of the heart. And one of the main virtues we can use to fight that is the fruit of humility.

Q: How are pastors particularly vulnerable to pornography?

A:
There’s a recent statistic that says 75 percent of pastors do nothing to make themselves accountable to anyone in regard to pornography. I think that, in this pornographic age, it’s reckless and irresponsible for ministers of the gospel to take no measures to insulate themselves from pornography. The reality is that pornography is looking for you.

Pastors who are really concerned to protect themselves, their families and their flock from this silent killer need to be serious about putting some kind of accountability measures in their life, whether it’s an accountability partner to be honest with and pray with, or Internet filters and protection for phone and devices.

Q: Ultimately, what hope do people have to overcome the struggle with pornography?

A:
Romans 6 says our old self was crucified so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. So, when you’re in Christ, porn is not your master. Jesus Christ is. Nobody’s going to be looking at porn in heaven, and the Good News of the gospel is that you don’t have to wait until heaven to be free from pornography. You have the Spirit right now who gives life to your mortal body so that you can walk in victory. In perfection? No. In victory? Yes.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The full interview of Heath Lambert with the Towers book review editor is available here.)
 
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9/13/2013 12:02:48 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pornography likened to temple prostitution

September 13 2013 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Russell D. Moore assessed the “weaponized epidemic of porn” during a chapel sermon at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 5.

Preaching from 1 Corinthians 6:15–7:5, Moore likened the present-day cultural saturation of pornography with the first-century pagan practice of temple prostitution.

“The temple prostitution of Corinth has been digitalized and weaponized,” the president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said of pornography’s modern-day onslaught, “and brings with it the kind of illusion and anonymity that the temple prostitutes could never promise.”

People often view their bodies like machines detached from spiritual consequences, Moore observed, warning those called to ministry to recognize the satanic powers in the world seeking to destroy families, ministries and gospel witness.

“The strategies of Satan have become so crafty that they are able to promise a cover of darkness, including to ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in a way that is able to communicate with alarming regularity ‘you shall not surely die,’” Moore said.
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SWBTS photo
“The strategies of Satan have become so crafty that they are able to promise a cover of darkness, including to ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in a way that is able to communicate with alarming regularity ‘you shall not surely die,’” said Russell Moore, the new leader of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 


“As you are headed out into the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ, if you are not arming yourself right now to recognize what is happening with this demonic strain of sexual immorality, you are not going to be able to stand.

“You are living in the kind of world in which there are digital harems of prostitutes, available and pushed upon every single population in the United States of America and increasingly every single population in the world,” Moore said.

Even the language Christians use, such as “pre-marital sex” instead of “fornication,” indicates a subversive tendency to cover over sin, Moore said, noting that the term “pre-marital” makes the act simply a matter of timing.

“Fornication is not simply a matter of timing, because the sexual act is not simply a physical act,” Moore said. “An act of fornication isn’t wrong simply because it has bad consequences – and it does – it is wrong because it preaches another gospel.”

For those involved in pornography and sexual immorality, Moore encouraged genuine repentance, not “sham repentance.” He challenged husbands and wives to work together in fighting sexual immorality because it strips away intimacy in the marriage relationship.

“In your marriages,” Moore said, “... if you are not together in this issue, including in the fight for sexual morality by cultivating your relationship with one another, by maintaining intimacy with one another, by identifying threats to that one-flesh union, you are not doing spiritual warfare.”

In the end, Moore said, no amount of willpower or empty promises will correct a pattern of sexual immorality; only the gospel can conquer sin.

Moore spoke in three different venues during his two-day visit to the seminary, including chapel, a “Grindstone” student question-and-answer forum, and a presentation on work and economics during a luncheon sponsored by the Southwestern’s Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement.

“In this context and in this culture, you are not being faithful to the gospel if you do not deal directly with the issue of pornography,” Moore said during the student forum. “This isn’t some niche problem that’s going on somewhere out there; this is something that is ravaging and destroying our churches.”

Moore addressed ways to minister to those in the church who struggle with pornography as well as ministry to homosexuals and transgendered persons, encouraging Christians to demonstrate the biblical balance between confronting sin and offering grace. Watch, listen to or download Moore’s three sessions at www.swbts.edu/MooreResources.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
 
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9/13/2013 11:45:35 AM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



BR’s tax-exempt status stays intact after IRS audit

September 12 2013 by BR staff

The Biblical Recorder has received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that calls for no change to its tax-exempt status.
 
The Recorder made headlines in May for being targeted by the IRS alongside two other North Carolina organizations – Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
 
The three organizations appeared in stories on the websites of Fox News, Baptist Press and other media outlets after the IRS admitted to targeting conservative political groups. Franklin Graham quickly released a letter accusing the IRS of also targeting religious groups. He pointed out that Samaritan’s Purse, located in Boone, and BGEA, based in Charlotte, were targeted around the time of the 2012 presidential election.
 
“I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence – or justifiable,” Graham wrote. “… I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.’”
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In the letter, Graham contended Samaritan’s Purse and BGEA were singled out for the stand he and his father Billy Graham have taken on traditional marriage and for encouraging evangelicals to “vote for biblical values.” Last year, the BGEA also ran full-page ads statewide voicing support for the marriage amendment in N.C. that defined marriage only between a man and a woman.
 
In September 2012, both Samaritan’s Purse and BGEA received notification that the IRS would review forms they filed in 2010.
 
An IRS agent arrived in October to conduct a review of both groups. They were later approved with no change to their tax-exempt status.
 
In March of this year, the Biblical Recorder received a notice for IRS forms they filed in 2010. K. Allan Blume, editor of the Recorder, admitted he was “curious” about the reasoning behind the audit.

The Biblical Recorder’s coverage of North Carolina’s marriage amendment vote drew criticism from advocates of same-sex marriage. The Recorder’s article on Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, who affirmed his support of traditional family values, went viral online. The mainstream media’s coverage of Cathy’s comments eventually resulted in former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee calling for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
 
The IRS agent later explained to Blume that the audit on the Biblical Recorder related to funding the publication receives from the Cooperative Program or what the IRS called “unrelated business income.”
 
“Once the agent understood the Southern Baptist way of giving and supporting mission causes, there seemed to be no serious concerns,” Blume said.
 
Blume added, “The IRS agent was courteous and professional throughout the audit. We did not experience any form of intimidation by the agent. As expected, he had some suggestions about procedures, but affirmed that our records were in good condition.”
 
The IRS agent completed his work with Blume and the Recorder’s attorney on May 9. Blume received a letter of approval in August.
 
“I’m glad we can close this chapter of our history,” he said after receiving the letter.
 
When the books were shut, the audit cost the Recorder more than $15,000 in legal fees. While the IRS did not require the publication to hire legal counsel, Blume said it was necessary in order to navigate the process.
 
“Considering the intimidating climate that the current administration has fostered against Christian organizations, we felt it was essential to have legal counsel to guide us through the process,” Blume said.
 
“Our attorney specializes in non-profits and proved to be extremely valuable to us. We grieve the fact that we had to spend so much money in a defensive posture against a federal government whose job is to protect and defend us,” he said. “Sadly, this is happening too frequently to average Americans.”
9/12/2013 4:34:02 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



At inauguration, Russell Moore roots ERLC mission in gospel

September 12 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The mission of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is not primarily to declare biblical morality but to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, Russell D. Moore said upon his inauguration as the entity’s new president.

Moore was inaugurated Sept. 10 in a ceremony at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, about six months after ERLC trustees elected him in March to lead the commission. He took office in June.

Members of Congress, at least one Obama administration official, religious leaders, advocacy organization representatives and most of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) entity heads participated or observed as Moore received encouragement and challenges from speakers in a service marked by hymn singing, Bible reading and prayer.

The ERLC addresses moral, social and church-state issues – and their public policy implications – on behalf of Southern Baptists, but Moore said in his inaugural address the gospel is the focus of the entity’s charge.

The mission of God’s people and the ERLC, Moore said, “is not simply to speak about what the law of God has revealed. It is not simply to speak of the ethical norms that the scripture has given to us. It is to speak primarily with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Satan “is more than happy to have a world in which there is no pornography, in which there is no abortion, in which there is no malaria, in which there is no trafficking, in which there is no poverty as long as there is no cross,” Moore said. “[W]e cannot be longing for Mayberry. We must have a voice that speaks to the conscience, a voice that is spattered with blood.”
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Photo by Tom Strode
Russell D. Moore tells guests at his Sept. 10 inauguration in Washington the ERLC’s mission is “to speak primarily with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 


The Kingdom of God, Moore said, is “not made up of the moral. The Kingdom of God is made up of the crucified.”

In an address based on Luke 4:14-30, Moore also delivered words of caution for American Christians. “[F]or too long we have assumed that the church is a means to an end to save America,” he said. “America is important.

“But the end goal of the gospel is not a Christian America. The end goal of the gospel is redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language” dwelling in the new Jerusalem, Moore told the audience.

“We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight for liberty, and we will fight with our forefathers for all of those things that have been [guaranteed to us] by the Constitution as Americans, but we will also remember that we are not Americans first,” he said. “We belong to another kingdom.”

Baptist Christians “can no longer pretend that we are a moral majority in this country,” Moore said. “We are a prophetic minority who must speak into a world that is not different” than other historical eras.

The message Jesus shared, and His followers should share, is one of judgment and of hope, not fear, Moore said.

“The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy,” he told inaugural guests. “We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion.”

Engaging the culture, however, requires the church of Jesus to be transformed from within, Moore said.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s name reflects “the fact that we were founded, at least partly, to justify man-stealing and kidnapping, slavery and lynching,” he said. “We stand here only by God’s grace and mercy.”

Regarding sexual ethics, Southern Baptists “need to see the ways in which we have already capitulated to the culture that we rail against,” Moore said.

“[T]he red line that we set keeps moving further, further, further, further down,” he said. “That cannot stand.”

Moore’s wife Maria and their five sons attended the inauguration.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Robert George, in their remarks, both commended Moore’s qualifications and the timing of his ascendancy to the ERLC presidency.

“I believe that the providence of God is today demonstrated in the intersection of a man and a moment” in Moore’s inauguration, said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“He is not a self-made man, but he is a man well-made for these times,” said Mohler, who called Southern Seminary’s former dean of the school of theology an “ethicist by reflex, by training and by experience.”

George, a Princeton University professor and the new chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described Moore as “the right man in the right place at the right time.”

It is a time when every foundational principle – the dignity of every human being, the union of a man and a woman as the only understanding of marriage, and religious liberty – “is in peril and is under assault,” George said.

George expressed gratitude “on behalf of the larger Christian community to the Southern Baptist Convention” and the ERLC that selected Moore.

SBC President Fred Luter said he has no doubt Moore “will stand boldly and speak loudly” to the issues because the new ERLC president is a man of conviction, compassion and courage.

“[T]he churches of the Southern Baptist Convention will stand with you,” Luter told Moore during the service.

Richard Land, the ERLC’s president emeritus and its president from 1988 until his retirement earlier this year, urged Moore “to challenge us to ever greater orthopraxy, right practice, to match orthodoxy, right belief. Challenge us to be the salt and the light that our Savior has commanded us to be and our world so desperately needs for us to be.”

After Land set forth the significance of the Baptist Faith and Message, Moore signed the SBC’s confession of faith.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R.-Okla., told inaugural guests the Bible makes it clear God “is concerned about government and about what happens in our culture.” Lankford said he reminds people “over and over again that Washington, D.C., reflects our culture; the church affects our culture.”

Lankford, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate and former director of Oklahoma Baptists’ Falls Creek Youth Camp, told Moore he looks forward “to the partnership and to working together to reinvigorate the church to affect” the culture.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, challenged Moore to be a giant-killer like David of the Old Testament.

“We need leaders,” Page said. “Persecution is coming, and we need someone to stand strong. ... As families are falling apart all over the land, we need somebody to be a giant-killer. When racism raises its ugly head, we need somebody to stand in the gap.”

Gene Taylor, who was a U.S. representative from Mississippi for 22 years, said Moore had “uncommon wisdom well beyond his young years” when he worked for the congressman beginning as a teenager.

Among others attending the inauguration were Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Melissa Rogers, special assistant to President Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
 
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9/12/2013 4:00:49 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC adds 5 new staff members

September 12 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) have approved three executive staff members to serve alongside the ERLC’s newly inaugurated president, Russell D. Moore.

In their annual meeting Sept. 11, trustees voted in support of Phillip Bethancourt as executive vice president, Daniel Patterson as chief of staff and Dan Darling as vice president of communications. Their approval came the day after Moore was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., as the ERLC’s eighth president.
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Photo by Tom Strode
Joining ERLC President Russell D. Moore, second from right, after their approval by trustees are new executive staff members, from left, Dan Darling, Daniel Patterson and Phillip Bethancourt.


The ERLC also announced the appointment of two other new staff members: Joe Carter as director of communications and Trillia Newbell as consultant for women’s initiatives.

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. He holds both master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southern.

Bethancourt “has demonstrated a truly amazing track record for innovation and creativity, along with a deep burden to see the Kingdom of God transform people, families and churches,” Moore said.

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.

A lifelong Southern Baptist, Patterson “is a convictional leader, with the organizational genius to carry out vision to reality,” Moore said.

Bethancourt and Patterson joined the ERLC staff when Moore became president in June but awaited trustee approval to the executive staff.

Darling, a Chicago-area pastor and well-known Christian communicator, has written for Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, HomeLife and Focus on the Family. The author of five books, he also maintains a popular blog among evangelical Christians.
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Contributed photos
At left, Trillia Newbell, has joined the ERLC as a consultant for women’s initiatives. Joe Carter, right, joins ERLC as director of communications.


Darling “understands the old-time religion and the new media landscape,” Moore said. “He cares about the Kingdom vision God has given us here at the ERLC, and I can’t wait to unleash his dynamic skill on our task of articulating old truths to a new day.”

Carter has served, and continues to serve, in a variety of communications roles among evangelical Christians. He is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and senior editor at the Action Institute. An author, Carter also is a popular blogger for The Gospel Coalition and has served as web editor for First Things and director of communications for both the Family Research Council and the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Carter has “a long track record of thoughtful engagement with the most crucial issues facing our world and the church,” Moore said. “Joe Carter is a man with Gospel in his heart, his gut and his spine.”

Darling will work from the ERLC’s Nasvhille office while Carter will work out of the Washington office.

Newbell, formerly a freelance journalist with The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, is a popular writer at various evangelical websites. The author of two books to be published in the next two years, she is lead editor of Karis, the women’s channel of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website. Newbell also contributes to the Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition sites.

Moore described Newbell as “a walking testimony of the power of the gospel to transform.” Since her conversion to Christ as a pro-choice advocate for abortion rights, “God has used her phenomenal writing and journalistic gifts to speak out for the lives of the unborn, for a Christian sexual ethic, and for those who are trafficked, abused and exploited,” Moore said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
 
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9/12/2013 3:26:50 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



1,000 former missionaries on Ready Reserve

September 12 2013 by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – They had been back in the United States for two years. They were comfortably settled in South Carolina, running a tourism company, working in their church and caring for their grandchildren. 

Then an urgent email arrived. A Southern Baptist teacher who directed an English-language center in North Africa and the Middle East had died unexpectedly. Three months had passed and no one was there to keep the center running.

Charles and Laura Kingman*, former International Mission Board (IMB) workers, had interacted with many people during their six years as regional volunteer strategists for North Africa and the Middle East. The email asked if they knew someone who could direct the center and teach English until new personnel could be appointed and trained.

It ended with the notation: “It would be really nice if it were you.”

“I could do this,” Laura thought. “I have the background. I’m a retired English teacher.”

But it was only a passing thought, and she began thinking through who else might fill the position. 

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IMB photo
Former IMB personnel who make up Ready Reserve are available to help with short-term needs overseas. They have the skills and experience that allow them to fill in quickly when critical needs arise.

Charles prayed about the opportunity but decided that uprooting their lives and moving didn’t fit God’s current plan. They already had a trip to the Middle East scheduled with one of their tour groups. Committing to work at the center would mean three extra months abroad.

But a few days later, he’d changed his mind, believing that God wanted them to go. 

They called the team strategy leaders and said they would come. 

In February, the Kingmans took their tour group overseas. By March they were at the center, teaching and directing the work.

The Kingmans are members of IMB’s Ready Reserve, a volunteer partnership between IMB and former field personnel. 

The Ready Reserve includes a database of former personnel who can be called upon to fill immediate short-term needs on the field or to serve in the U.S. in advocacy and mobilization.

In this case, there was no time for new personnel to be trained to run the center and current workers had other responsibilities.

“[The teacher’s] absence left a huge void in the school where she taught,” said Doug Floyd, IMB director of personnel relations. “That particular ministry was in danger of closing because of the lack of personnel.” 

But Ready Reserve held the answer. 

The Kingmans already understood the culture and environment. They arrived on a Saturday and started work the following Monday.

“All the orientation we got was how to get from our apartment to the school, how to get to the grocery store and maybe a restaurant,” Laura said.

IMB President Tom Elliff announced the Ready Reserve at an emeritus missionary celebration in Ridgecrest, N.C., a year ago. The reserve is by invitation only, with all emeritus missionaries invited to participate. Other former personnel are invited on an individual basis.

Currently about 1,000 former personnel are in the Ready Reserve, with more personnel continually being added.

“These are people who are heavily invested in the IMB,” Floyd said. “Even though they’ve retired and gone back to their home churches and the U.S. ... they still have that missionary call and want to stay close to what we are doing.”

When an urgent need arises, field leaders can look at the database and go directly to the Ready Reservist, asking him or her to fill that need until someone can take the position permanently.

The Kingmans kept the language school running through the semester, giving IMB time to train a new couple during the summer.

“Ready Reserve is exactly what it says,” Laura said. “We’re ready to go, shortly.”

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O’Hara is an IMB summer intern.) 
9/12/2013 2:56:38 PM by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gay rights vs. religious rights: 7 issues to watch

September 11 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

NEW YORK – The rights of religious groups or individuals that object to same-sex marriage continue to clash with those pursued by gay rights advocates. Now, the fight that started at state ballot boxes and in courtrooms has moved to floral shops, bakeriesand photo studios.

As churches are concerned about the potential of facing lawsuits, some are changing their bylaws to explicitly reflect their views on traditional man-woman marriage.
 
A bakery in Gresham, Ore., owned by a Christian family, under investigation by state officials for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, decided to close its doors. “This fight is not over,” they wrote on a sign in the shop window. “We will continue to stand strong. Your Religious Freedom is becoming not Free anymore.”
 
Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that photographers could not refuse to shoot gay wedding ceremonies even though the state does not officially recognize gay marriage. The court ruled that declining to photograph a gay wedding was similar to declining to work at an interracial wedding, with Justice Richard Bosson saying, “There is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.”
 
Many of the legal skirmishes are not directly tied to federal recognition of gay marriages after the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of the Defense of Marriage Act. Instead, the fights largely revolve around state and local anti-discrimination ordinances that include protections for gays and lesbians.
 
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Photo provided by Alliance Defending Freedom/Baptist Press
A recent ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court found that Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin were in violation of the State’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. See story.

Upcoming battles include whether religious opposition to same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender and/or marital status; and what happens when a discrimination claim bumps up against an individual’s or institution’s religious freedom.
 
Many cases are still being resolved:
  • The lawyer who represents the owners of a Colorado bakery say they could face a year in prison for refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding.
  • A Kentucky county commission sided with a gay rights group in a discrimination complaint last year after a Christian printer declined to print T-shirts for a gay pride festival.
  • A florist in Richland, Wash., who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding launched a countersuit against the state attorney general, who sued her for violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
The Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act applies to federal benefits, but many have been watching to see whether it holds further implications for religious groups or individuals. For instance, employers in states where gay marriage is legal will be required to provide Family and Medical Leave Act leave to employers with same-sex spouses, even if their state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
 
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based religious freedom law firm, notes that since DOMA was enacted in 1996, six states and Washington, D.C., have adopted same-sex marriage through the legislative process with conscience protections for those with objections to same-sex marriage.
 
Ahead of the court’s decision, the Becket Fund issued a brief on areas where religious freedom could be impacted by the DOMA ruling, outlining seven areas to watch:
 

Public accommodation laws 

Many religious institutions provide services beyond their congregations that are considered “public accommodation,” such as health care, counseling, child care, education, wedding facilities and adoption services.
 
For instance, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts organization, which does not permit gay leaders, is a place of “public accommodation.” Some fear that a lack of explicit conscience protections could open the doors to lawsuits.
 

Housing discrimination laws

Courts in some states have required landlords to allow unmarried cohabitating couples as tenants despite the landlords’ religious objections. A federal recognition of marriage would give same-sex couples a strong standing to access housing under anti-discrimination laws.

In a 2001 case, a New York court sided with two lesbians, saying they had a valid claim of discrimination after Yeshiva University declined to provide housing benefits to unmarried couples. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in New York, a similar case could be considered marital discrimination.
 

Employment discrimination laws

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; most state laws include an exemption for religious organizations. A federal law to make anti-gay discrimination illegal nationwide has lagged in Congress for 20 years.
 
Now the question is: If a gay man or lesbian is fired for being gay, and that person’s marriage is now recognized by the federal government, does anything change? Does a federally recognized marriage offer greater protection in discrimination claims?

After the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington stopped offering spousal benefits to any new employees.
 

Government facilities access 

Access to government facilities, such as schools, parks and other spaces, could become challenging for some who oppose same-sex marriage. For instance, the Boy Scouts have lost leases to campgrounds, parks and a government building headquarters and lost the right to participate in a charitable payroll deduction program. Public university student groups could face scrutiny. The University at Buffalo suspended an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group after it asked a gay member to step down as treasurer.
 

Maintaining licenses or accreditation 

As many governments would require all state marriages to be treated equally, some worry about loss of licenses or accreditation. Many cite the case where Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco shut down adoption services because the agencies refused to comply with anti-discrimination laws and place children with same-sex couples.
 
Religious colleges and universities also fear loss of accreditation if they oppose same-sex marriage. The American Psychological Association threatened in 2001 to revoke the accreditation of some religious colleges, partly for “codes of conduct that prohibit sex outside of marriage.” It later decided to keep a religious exemption.

Government grants and contracts qualifications and tax exemptions

As many religious institutions seek grants and contracts for services, some see a tension between providing services and receiving government funding. Illinois Catholic Charities shut down rather than comply with a requirement that they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples for foster care or adoption.
 
Some are also concerned about the possibility of state or local tax exemption challenges, or the ability to apply for government funding. If discrimination standards apply to sexual orientation, religious school leaders fear they could be denied government programs, such as scholarships and grants.
 

Educational and employment opportunities

The decision could continue to impact government workers and students at public universities.
 
Julea Ward, a master’s in counseling student at Eastern Michigan University, told her professors that she could not help gay and lesbian clients with their same-sex relationships. She was expelled for violating the school’s anti-discrimination policy and given $75,000 in a settlement.
 
At least 12 Massachusetts justices of the peace have resigned because they declined to facilitate same-sex marriages.
9/11/2013 4:24:45 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Abortion clinic closings on rise in U.S.

September 11 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – For Abby Johnson, the closing of a single Planned Parenthood center demonstrated her dramatic reversal from abortion clinic director to leading pro-life advocate.

But for pro-lifers throughout the United States, it marked another exhibit in a hopeful trend – abortion centers are shutting down at an unprecedented rate. The total so far this year is 44, according to a pro-life organization that tracks clinic operations.

None was more telling for Johnson than the mid-July closing of the Planned Parenthood center in Bryan, Texas. It came less than four years after Johnson, burdened by her involvement with abortion, walked out of that clinic as its director and into the offices of the Coalition for Life.

“Knowing that the former abortion clinic I once ran is now closing is the biggest personal victory of my life,” Johnson said in a written statement after the announcement of the shutdown. “From running that facility, to then advocating for its closure, and now celebrating that dream ... it shows that my life has indeed come full circle.”

Since her celebrated conversion from Planned Parenthood director, Johnson has started a ministry to help workers leave the abortion industry. She has pledged, as she said in July, to “fight until every abortion clinic in this country has shut its doors.”

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Photo courtesy of 40 Days for Life and Coalition for Life
The sign outside Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, comes down in late August, marking another of 44 abortion clinic closings so far this year.  

This year, 42 clinics that provided surgical abortions have shut their doors, and two that offered chemical abortions by drugs also have closed, according to Operation Rescue, which monitors closings and health and safety violations by clinics nationwide. That number far surpasses the 25 surgical clinics shutdown last year and the 30 in 2011, by Operation Rescue’s count. While others estimate a smaller number of closings, the pattern is clear.

Some of the shutdowns have been of major clinics. For instance, Virginia’s No. 1 abortion provider closed, The Washington Post reported in July. NOVA Women’s Healthcare in Fairfax, Va., shut down after state and local governments enacted regulations the abortion provider appeared unable to meet. The northern Virginia clinic performed 3,066 abortions in 2012 and 3,567 in 2011.

The reasons given for the upswing in closings are varied even among pro-lifers. They include:
  • the increasing state regulation and oversight of clinics;
  • a growth in pro-life opinion and activity, and 
  • a decline in the abortion rate.
In some cases, clinics have shut down when abortion doctors retired or were no longer licensed.

State legislatures enacted 69 pro-life laws this year, according to a report released Sept. 5 by Americans United for Life (AUL). In all, 48 states considered about 360 such proposals in 2013, AUL reported.

The legislative action this year continued a recent trend in states: 70 “life-affirming measures” became law in 2011 and 38 in 2012, according to AUL.

Some measures have targeted making the procedure and clinics safer for women, and have helped escalate the number of clinic shutdowns. This year, states such as Alabama, North Carolina and Texas passed varied laws either requiring abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards as outpatient surgical centers, or authorizing the state to enforce such requirements. Also, in 2013, North Dakota and Wisconsin joined Alabama and Texas in mandating abortion doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

While pro-lifers assert the laws are for the protection of women, abortion rights advocates argue their purpose is to stop abortion. Regardless, the result appears to be abortion clinics are being held accountable in ways they have not been previously.

“Considering the growing body of medical evidence confirming the health risks of abortion for women, abortion cannot be left in the hands of an unmonitored, unregulated and uncaring industry feeding off fear and federal subsidies,” AUL President Charmaine Yoest said in a written statement.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization affiliated with the abortion rights movement, charged in June such laws “are a solution in search of a problem, a cynical ploy to advance an agenda that seeks to make it more and more difficult for women to obtain an abortion, with the ultimate goal of eliminating U.S. women’s access to safe and legal abortion.”

The increased state government oversight of clinics is a response to pro-lifers spotlighting abuses by abortion providers, and to the scandals uncovered in recent years, said Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor. Her research has produced disciplinary action against various abortion doctors.

Foremost among the scandals was that of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell and his Philadelphia clinic. The regulatory failures in Pennsylvania appear to have made an impression on officials in other states.

Gosnell received three consecutive life sentences in May for the first-degree murder of three born-alive babies. Those children were only three of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic criticized for its unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

A 2011 grand jury report criticized the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of State for failing to oversee the clinic properly. Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected since 1993 despite many complaints, according to the report.

While the actions of state legislatures and agencies appear to have contributed to clinic shutdowns, the growing activism of pro-lifers also has been an important ingredient, said the national director of 40 Days for Life.

“I believe the increase in closures is due to record numbers of Christians praying for an end to abortion, and getting actively involved in pro-life efforts where they live – recognizing that change is not going to come from politicians in Washington, D.C., anytime soon,” David Bereit wrote in a statement for Baptist Press.

Since 2007, 40 Days has conducted its semi-annual campaigns of peaceful prayer vigils outside abortion clinics in more than 500 cities nationally and internationally. More than 575,000 people have participated, and 40 Days reports 39 clinics have closed permanently after their campaigns.

Both Bereit and Sullenger believe even more clinic closures are in the offing.

“The momentum is shifting dramatically in the pro-life direction, and as even more people answer the call to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ and ‘rescue those being led to the slaughter,’” Bereit said, citing verses in Proverbs 31 and 24, respectively, “I believe we will see many more abortion centers closing in the near future.”

Sullenger said in a written statement, “We do anticipate an increase in the number of abortion clinics as new laws are enacted and inspections increase. Enforcement of laws on the books has always been the key. We simply have never found an abortion clinic that complies with the law on all points.

“Couple that with a downward trend in abortion numbers and increased pro-life sentiment, [and] the abortion industry is in financial trouble,” she said before adding a caveat. “However, an influx of money from the government via [the 2010 health-care reform law] and private sources could artificially keep some clinics open.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
9/11/2013 3:44:09 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC unveils new website & logo

September 11 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – With the inauguration of Russell D. Moore as its new president, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has unveiled a new website and logo.

The ERLC’s newly designed website went live Sept. 10, the same day Moore was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., as the entity’s eighth president. The trustees elected Moore to lead the ERLC in March, and he took office in June.

The website’s goal, Moore says in a video on the site, is to equip Southern Baptists and other Christians “to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

Some of the things Jesus as king has commanded and called His followers to do “are very easy” and some “are hard to think through, especially in a confusing culture and time like ours,” Moore said. 

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“So on this website, you will find audio and video and print resources meant to equip your church and your family to think through: What does it mean to follow Christ in the workplace? What does it mean to follow Christ in my living room or at my dining room table? What does it mean to follow Christ when conversing with my neighbors who disagree with me on issues? And what does it mean to follow Christ when we’re making decisions about voting – tough national, international questions?”

The website includes the ERLC’s new logo, which features images of a crown at the center, an open book below and three stars above. The crown symbolizes the Kingdom of God; the book signifies the Bible; and the stars stand for the state or government. The number of stars, three, represents the entity’s emphases: Kingdom, culture and mission. 

The site has four channels: Life; liberty; family; and culture. It includes pages that provide biblical perspectives, news articles and resources on such moral, social and religious freedom issues as adoption, homosexuality, human trafficking, persecution, pornography and race.

The design is intended to make the site friendly to users and to include timely updates on developments in the fields of ethics and religious liberty, according to the ERLC. The site also includes the ERLC’s Twitter feed.

The website is accessible at erlc.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.)
9/11/2013 3:00:02 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mars Hill College changes name

September 11 2013 by Mars Hill Office of Communications

Mars Hill University officially changed its name Aug. 15. In its 157-year history, this is the second time the institution has changed its name.
 
Mars Hill was established in 1856 by a small group of Baptist families in Madison County as French Broad Baptist Institute. Two years later, the trustees chose the name Mars Hill, for the site in Athens, Greece, named in Acts 17, where the Apostle Paul so persuasively used logic in his defense of the Christian faith.
 
According to President Dan Lunsford, the move to university status is one that has been contemplated and discussed by the administration and the current Board of Trustees for about a decade. Recently, the college’s expansion, both in terms of enrollment and variety of offerings, has increased, setting the stage for the move to university status.
 
“We believe that changing the designation from college to university is one that positions the institution to be recognized for what we really are,” Lunsford said. “The name university denotes a greater variety of offerings, and it indicates the opportunity to obtain undergraduate and graduate education in selected fields as part of the Mars Hill experience.”
 
Beginning in summer 2011, Mars Hill added a master of education degree. The next program set for implementation is a master of public administration, and other graduate degrees are currently being explored for implementation in the future. Mars Hill also opened another site for classes in Asheville. 
9/11/2013 2:44:46 PM by Mars Hill Office of Communications | with 0 comments



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