September 2014

Airstrikes may worsen refugee crisis

September 30 2014 by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press

Airstrikes now underway in northern Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will worsen an already heart-breaking refugee crisis, a Christian worker in the Middle East says.

During just three days last week, at least 130,000 new Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey because of an ISIS offensive in their hometowns. More than 3 million officially registered refugees have been driven out of the country amid the four years of crisis in Syria.


BGR photo
Airstrikes against ISIS targets in northern Syria are bound to increase the flood of refugees at a time of the year when temperatures continue to drop.

“The current strikes inside Syria are bound to increase the already overwhelming flood of displaced people fleeing to find safety,” Don Alan*, a Christian worker in the region, said. “Families desiring safety for their children will look for places that are safe and quiet.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd called on Southern Baptists to pray for beleaguered Christians in Iraq and Syria just hours before news of the airstrikes broke.

“Perhaps you know or maybe you don’t, but currently in Iraq and Syria we are witnessing a once-in-a-thousand-year destruction of the Christian church. A modern book of martyrs is being written,” Floyd said. “We need to elevate before our churches the international crisis in Iraq and Syria.”

“Pastors and Christian leaders, educate yourself and speak up on behalf of these brothers and sisters in your churches and on social media. Don’t let the world ignore this,” Floyd said. “I call upon each of us tonight as Southern Baptists to be a voice that resounds loudly and clearly about this issue.”

Alan echoed Floyd’s call to prayer for suffering refugees – among whom Christians are a minority – and the workers risking their lives to help them.

“We should be challenged to not only increase our prayers, but also be broken for the continued challenges faced by those being impacted by the fighting and bombings going in their country,” Alan said.

“Pray for courage as we continue to minister and share the love of Christ in the midst of such turmoil,” Alan added. “We know that the Lord’s desire is that not one should perish without having a chance to hear the good news, that there can be peace on earth in the midst of such traumatic events. May we not grow weary!”

For more information, go to

*Name changed.

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9/30/2014 10:11:09 AM by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Climate policies said to harm poor

September 30 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In a preemptive response to President Barack Obama’s proposals at the United Nations for addressing climate change, a group of faith leaders released a document claiming that policies aimed at curbing carbon emissions tend to harm the poor unnecessarily.

Meanwhile a former Obama adviser has argued in The Wall Street Journal that the popular claim “climate science is settled” is erroneous because scientists are uncertain how earth’s climate will change in years to come.

Issued by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation Sept. 17 and signed by more than 150 scientists, economists, theologians and others, “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies” contends that the effects of carbon dioxide on the climate are minimal and that policies mandating reduced carbon emissions inhibit economic advancement among the poor.

One of the signatories, Benjamin Phillips, associate professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he believes “the blind embrace of many environmentalist policy proposals will harm the poor, here and around the world.”

“Evangelicals have traditionally prioritized Christ’s command to care for the poor as a tangible way of demonstrating the compassion of God in the gospel of Christ,” Phillips told Baptist Press in written comments. “By experiencing the love of a Christian they can see, the poor find it easier to believe in the grace of God, whom they cannot directly see.

“But if pastors and missionaries promote public policies, however well-intended, that only serve to make energy and the things powered by it prohibitively expensive for the poor, those same people will find it harder to listen when that Christian proclaims the gospel to them,” Phillips said.

Obama urged increased reduction of carbon emissions and announced new measures to help developing countries combat climate change at the U.N. Climate Change Summit Sept. 23 in New York City. He argued that the “urgent and growing threat of climate change” will “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other issue.”

But signers of “Protect the Poor” are skeptical about claims that catastrophic consequences of climate change are likely. Among the document’s contentions:

  • While carbon dioxide may slightly raise atmospheric temperatures, its effect is probably “small and benign rather than large and dangerous.”

  • “Empirical studies indicate that natural cycles outweigh human influences in producing the cycles of global warming and cooling, not only in the distant past but also recently.”

  • The affordable energy produced by fossil fuels – the primary source of carbon emissions – is “indispensable to lifting and keeping people out of poverty.”

  • “Mandatory reductions in CO2 emissions, pursued to prevent dangerous global warming, would have little or no discernible impact on global temperatures, but would greatly increase the price of energy and therefore of everything else.” Mandatory CO2 reductions “would also harm the poor more than the wealthy, and would harm them more than the small amount of warming they might prevent.”

  • Because the poor in developed countries spend a higher percentage of their income on energy than others, mandatory shifts to expensive “green” energy “will in effect be regressive taxes – taxing the poor at higher rates than the rich.”

In a call to action, the document asks political leaders “to abandon fruitless and harmful policies to control global temperature and instead adopt policies that simultaneously reflect a responsible environmental stewardship, make energy and all its benefits more affordable, and so free the poor to rise out of poverty.”

In addition to Phillips, Southern Baptists who have signed the document include Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Jeffrey Riley, professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Owen Strachan, assistant professor or Christian theology and church history at Boyce College.

A 2007 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on global warming took positions on climate change similar to those expressed in “Protect the Poor.” The resolution encouraged Southern Baptists “to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” It also called for public policies that guarantee “an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce” carbon and other emissions.

Messengers voted to delete paragraphs from the resolution urging government funding of research on human induced global warming and supporting government initiatives to locate “viable energy alternatives to oil.”

Some members of the evangelical left differ with the Cornwall Alliance and the SBC resolution, arguing that love of neighbors entails reducing carbon emissions. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, told a multi-faith service held in conjunction with the U.N. Climate Change Summit that Jesus’ command to care for “the least of these” in Matthew 25 demands transitioning from “dirty and dangerous to clean and renewable energy.”

Yet Phillips said efforts to mandate “green” energy sources could hinder evangelism – especially in developing nations.

“Imagine a missionary in an African village, who lives in a home powered by electricity provided by expensive ‘renewable’ technology,” Phillips told BP. “If that missionary insists that the villagers can only have electricity also if they use technology far beyond their ability to afford, then he consigns them to ongoing poverty. Such an approach would put that missionary on the wrong side of James 2:14-17. Yet American evangelicals, albeit with the best of intentions, may be putting our missionaries in exactly that kind of position when we promote policies that would effectively deny the inexpensive energy necessary to lift people out of poverty to the global poor.”

In related news, Steven Koonin, former Obama undersecretary for science at the Energy Department, has attempted to chart a middle ground between denying and believing claims of harmful climate change. In a Sept. 19 Wall Street Journal editorial, he wrote that scientists don’t know how the climate will change in coming years or how much humans will influence that change.

“Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science,” Koonin wrote. “But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.”

He added, “Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about ‘believing’ or ‘denying’ the science.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

9/30/2014 9:53:05 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelicals & environmentalists cooperate?

September 30 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Amid polarized debate on climate change, Southern Baptists’ lead ethicist has called conservative evangelicals and secular environmentalists to cooperate on issues of creation care.

“I could prompt a cascade of ‘Amens’ in a sermon – or retweets on a Twitter feed – by noting that our legal system protects darter snails but not unborn humans,” Russell D. Moore wrote in the latest issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. “A secular environmentalist could evoke cheers on ‘The Daily Show’ by lampooning conservative Christians for claiming to be ‘pro-life’ while ignoring toxins in the atmosphere that produce birth defects or spontaneous abortions. These are appeals to the conscience, but they are rarely a conversation from one conscience to the other so much as they are self-reinforcing ‘red meat’ (or, I guess, ‘green leaf’ as the case might be) for the already-convinced bases.”

Yet “as those in the environmentalist activist community and those in the evangelical Christian community find themselves up close and personal together, we can learn some things from one another, and learn some things together,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote.

Like feminists and evangelicals have joined forces to combat pornography and human trafficking, environmentalists and evangelicals should work together to emphasize proper stewardship of the earth, Moore said in an interview with Baptist Press.

Followers of Jesus must listen “to our neighbors, including those who are environmentalists, in order to provide a Christian perspective on caring for the creation,” Moore said.


Russell Moore

He acknowledged that evangelicals and secular environmentalists disagree in many instances on “huge global” issues like climate change. But such disagreement does not preclude cooperation to confront “local” problems like air and water pollution, proper land use and preserving natural resources for the next generation, he said.

“Climate change is an issue,” Moore said. “But I think that defining the issue [of environmental protection] solely in terms of climate change undercuts the means that we have to address [other] issues, which will have to happen at the level of consciences formed to care about the creation around them.”

In his journal article, Moore outlined three tenets of a balanced theology of the environment and pointed out common ground among evangelicals and environmentalists related to each area.

• Because part of Jesus’ saving work is to redeem the entire creation from the ruin of sin, His followers should likewise care about the material world.

“Orthodox (with a small ‘o’) Christians believe in the ‘end of the world,’ if by ‘world’ one means the present evil system under the tyranny of the criminal spirits,” Moore wrote. “But orthodox Christianity does not believe in the ‘end of the world,’ if by ‘world’ one means the destruction of the ecosystem or of the material cosmos.... The permanence of the creation, as redeemed in Christ, matters to the task of environmental protection because it grounds the activity of earth-keeping in optimism and hope.”

Christians who ignore creation care because they believe God will destroy the material world and environmentalists who warn that global warming will destroy earth are both misguided, Moore wrote. Exaggerated doomsday scenarios on both sides are less helpful than negotiated remedies to smaller scale environmental problems, he argued.

• The biblical concept of human dominion over creation means cultivating the earth for useful purposes. It precludes both predatory abuse of the creation and denial of humanity’s unique position in God’s economy.

“The concept of ‘dominion,’ found first in the opening passages of Genesis, sometimes alarms non-Christians because it seems to connote a sense of rapacious power,” Moore wrote. “But that is not what the Christian tradition intends. Biblical dominion is not, in Carl Henry’s words, ‘pharaoh-like,’ but instead is Christlike. Jesus, the One who fully restores human nature in his person, does not come to serve his own appetites but to serve others. The dominion over the creation is in the context of cultivation, and that in the context of a mandate to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28). Dominion, then, by definition, is done with future generations, with others, in view.”

• A balanced political approach to creation care must neither reject environmental regulations altogether nor advocate regulations based solely on abstractions like global warming.

“Evangelical and environmentalist cooperation will begin in the small and long-term cultivation of communities learning to rethink connection and stewardship rather than primarily in the short-term activism of signed manifestoes and legislative checklists,” Moore wrote. “Evangelicals learning to ‘save the earth’ will do little good for the earth, or for evangelicals. But evangelicals learning about how ... to ‘live upstream’ with love for those who are living ‘downstream’ can bring about long-lasting change.”

Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, said Moore’s theological discussion is a good starting point for evangelical reflection on creation care, but a robust environmental ethic must also consider science and economics.

“Theology is my main area of expertise, but extensive studies in the relevant science and economics over the past quarter of a century persuade me that many scientific claims about ecological disasters, and many economic policy prescriptions to address ecological problems, are mistaken – the scientific claims often exaggerated or simply counterfactual, and the policies often having harmful unintended consequences that outweigh the beneficial intended ones. Dr. Moore understandably avoids explicit affirmations about most such matters,” Beisner told BP in written comments.

“Just as in theology and ethics there are contrasting voices, so are there in the science and economics of environmental stewardship. We all need to be aware of the spectrum and the reasoning along it, and test that reasoning (1 Thessalonians 5:21) in developing our own understanding. That’s why the Cornwall Alliance always seeks the interdisciplinary input of scientists, economists, theologians, ethicists and others in developing our positions on environmental issues,” Beisner said.

While Moore acknowledged the need to formulate specific policies in light of multiple fields, he said the most pressing issue for modern evangelicals is training believers’ consciences to care about creation rather than hammering out national or state legislation.

“The primary issue,” Moore told BP, “is being aware of our responsibilities of shepherding, cultivating and leaving the creation for the next generation.”

He added, “Most of the discussion about the environment these days seems to be about huge global issues. I don’t think that’s where our primary problems lie. I think they’re primarily local questions of Christians engaged in the communities around them.”

9/30/2014 9:22:40 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

'Kept here for His glory,' Abedini writes

September 29 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

As Christians in the United States and 32 foreign countries hold vigils to pray for pastor Saeed Abedini and other persecuted believers, Abedini's wife Naghmeh has released a letter he wrote just two weeks ago from prison in Iran.
"Jesus allows me to be kept here for His glory," he wrote to 8-year-old daughter Rebekka Grace on her birthday two weeks ago. "I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home yet. Now there is a big WHY in your mind you are asking: WHY Jesus isn't answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family.

"The answer to the 'why' is 'who.' 'Who' is control? Lord Jesus Christ is in control."


Naghmeh Abedini
This screen capture from a Sept. 25 YouTube video shows Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini, reading a letter he wrote two weeks ago to their daughter Rebekka Grace on her eighth birthday. Naghmeh unveiled the letter at a Washington prayer vigil marking the second anniversary of his imprisonment.

Naghmeh Abedini read the letter at the official launch of the prayer vigils Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. outside the White House, attended by hundreds including evangelist Franklin Graham. More than 500 prayer vigils are scheduled through today (Sept. 26) at various times in conjunction with the vigil Naghmeh Abedini organized through the Be Heard Project, an initiative of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Vigils are scheduled at government buildings, schools, public squares and churches of various Christian denominations, among them First Baptist Church of Clover, S.C. There, pastor Dave Stanford encouraged members and guests to stand firm in intercessions for suffering believers around the world.

Stanford's prayer for Abedini "was first for healing," he said. "We have read that he's been beaten and had internal injuries and minimal care. And then for his protection as he continues to be incarcerated, but for his deliverance [that] the Lord would move on those who have the authority to bring about his release."

Members of his congregation gave brief perspectives on Christian persecution in Nigeria, North Korea, Iraq and Somalia. Stanford plans to remember the plight of the persecuted in regular pastoral prayer to keep it on the hearts of congregants, he told Baptist Press. The Clover service drew about 30 members and visitors, including the pastor of a nearby Associate Reformed Presbyterian church.

Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence imposed Jan. 27, 2013, on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. He had been under house arrest since July, 2012, and imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012. He has faced death threats and beatings in prison and has received inadequate medical care, according to news reports. He has been unable to see his wife and two children.
In Abedini's letter, he encouraged his daughter to learn from his experience.

"I desire for you to learn important lessons during these trying times. Lessons that you carry now and for the rest of your life," Abedini wrote. "God is in control of the whole world and everything that is happening in it is for His good purpose, for His glory, and will be worked out for our good."

The full letter is available at
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour posted on the network's website Sept. 25, Iran President Hassan Rouhani claimed Abedini has been treated fairly by Iran's justice system.

"But the bottom line is that our aim is for the laws to be respected at every step of the way. If they do go through trial, their trial be fairly executed for them to have access to every legal defense allowed under the law, proper defensive representation through qualified attorneys," he told Amanpour, "and we do hope that their families can gain the certainty that fairness and justice will be employed towards the cases and case files of their loved ones."

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

9/29/2014 1:15:08 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

American songwriters gain new perspective on worship in Zimbabwe

September 29 2014 by Stephanie Lane, IMB

MBERENGWA, Zimbabwe – A group of American songwriters, worship leaders and ministers gathered near a fire in Zimbabwe as children approached them, hearing the strum of guitars.

The 16 volunteers welcomed the children into their circle located in the in the middle of an orphan care facility. They seized the opportunity to share English Gospel music with the Shona speakers, harmonizing to songs like “Everlasting God.”


IMB photo by Stephanie Lane
Volunteers David Gentiles and Aaron Blanton sing and worship with the schoolchildren at Cheshumba Primary School.

About 20 children returned the favor. They sang, clapped and joyfully danced around the campfire. Within moments, David Gentiles, a songwriter and worship leader in Huntsville, Texas, found himself standing on a chair playing the guitar while orphans and other Americans sang, danced and laughed together.

“It was awesome to dance and to celebrate the good news of Jesus!” Kevin Jones, worship pastor at Stonegate Church in Midlothian, Texas, said. “They worship Jesus not just with their lips but with their hearts.”

All week long, the men engaged in worship at the orphanage and at local schools, where they shared their music, the gospel and gifts of notebooks provided by advocates of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) ‘One Notebook’ project. Since many of these Zimbabwean children did not own notebooks, the project helped meet a need and shared a gospel message and a True Love Waits statement about sexual purity presented on the brown covers.

As the group traveled from school to school, many conversations arose about what makes African praise music so uniquely different from standard American worship.

“[Their faith] becomes not about ‘my pilgrimage’ but about ‘our pilgrimage,’” IMB missionary Gregg Fort, who hosted the volunteers earlier this year, said. “That’s what I love about Africa.”

Jones noted that American worship is more individualistic. “Here in Zimbabwe it’s quite the opposite … it is very family-oriented,” he said. “There is a celebration that literally causes them to dance.”

Around the campfire each night, the team brainstormed ways to incorporate African-style worship into their music for the next day’s events. They added snaps and claps to familiar songs like “Soon and Very Soon.” Throughout the week, they challenged one another to use what they had learned back home in the United States.

“It’s going to change the way we write songs and view worship,” Hank Murphy, songwriter and worship leader at The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., said. “I want for us to have an explosion of responding to the goodness of God!”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephanie Lane served as a writer for IMB through its Hands On initiative.)

9/29/2014 12:41:37 PM by Stephanie Lane, IMB | with 0 comments

How Lecrae mixed rap & theology to find mainstream success

September 29 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

He’s been crowned the “new hip-hop king” and his newest album, “Anomaly,” topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He’s been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with host Jimmy Fallon.
It’s the kind of mainstream success that has eluded most Christian rappers. Then again, some people are still trying to decide if hip-hop star Lecrae is a Christian rapper, or a rapper who happens to be Christian.
It depends who you ask, including Lecrae himself.
“God has also raised up lowly, kind of insignificant individuals to do miraculous and incredible things,” Lecrae, 34, said in an interview. “We’re the Gideons, we’re the Davids. Even Jesus himself made himself of no reputation. It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves. He’s not a megalomaniac, he’s deserving of glory and honor, and to use individuals that demonstrate that it was him, and him alone, it accomplishes his mission and that’s success.”
While most Christian artists have struggled to break out of the Christian music subculture, Lecrae has found early crossover success – and a significant following among white evangelical elites. He navigates the tricky waters between rapping explicitly about Christianity while reaching a mainstream audience.
According to Billboard, he’s sold 1.4 million albums and 2.9 million track downloads. “Anomaly” hit Billboard’s No. 1 last week – a first for a gospel album and only the fifth for a Christian album. His acting debut in “Believe Me,” a film about a group of four men who try to con money out of churchgoers, received a short, positive nod from The New York Times.


Photo courtesy of
Lecrae’s “Anomaly” album cover photo. 


Some of Lecrae’s fans are worried the success could ruin him or at least soften his lyrics. But when Christian artists like U2’s Bono or Switchfoot find mainstream success, many Christian fans often latch on for good.
In fact, while once shunning mainstream and creating its own music and entertainment subculture, American evangelicalism now values recognition and engagement in mainstream culture.
“Lecrae is probably the hottest Christian artist alive right now,” said Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio in his sermon on Sunday (Sept. 21) at his Passion City Church.
Giglio recently ran into Lecrae in their hometown airport in Atlanta, praising the artist for his recent success. “It’s only hors d’oeuvres for heaven,” Lecrae responded.

No ‘Christian spy’

In a recent piece for ESPN’s Grantland, Rembert Browne compares Lecrae to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who successfully reached black and Christian audiences.
“Because, in ‘Anomaly,’ like some of Perry’s films, the Christianity sneaks up on you,” Browne wrote, linking “Believe Me” to a string of other recent successful Christian-themed films. “It’s clear there is a market for Christian-themed pop culture.”
Lecrae, who attends the start-up Renovation Church in Atlanta, isn’t sure what to make of the “sneak up” language.
“Obviously, to the conservative evangelical, or the Christian, they hear ‘sneak’ and they think, ‘Why do we have to sneak?’” he said. “But when we hear that from somebody outside of the Christian culture, in many ways they mean that as a compliment.”
“What they’re trying to say is that they didn’t feel like they were berated, or beat over the head, or made to feel like they were being patronized, or condescending. By no means am I trying to hide my faith, or disguise myself as a Christian spy.”
If Lecrae is “sneaking up” with Christian themes, then his lyrics will slap listeners in the face as he regularly raps with explicit themes on faith. Anomaly’s song “Fear,” for example, includes lyrics from Psalm 23 and repetitive mentions of Jesus.
I’mma tell that truth till it kill me
And I’m chillin’ with my Creator
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
To all of my haters
For the ones that think I forgot Him
And the ones who won’t let me say
I ain’t scared no mo’
“Without saying it – because it wouldn’t be very Christian of him – the ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ is a cleverly devout middle finger to all of his haters,” Browne wrote in Grantland. “He’s directing it toward everyone who’s criticized him – for being too spiritual and for not being spiritual enough. This is what happens when you’re caught between genres. It’s this middle ground that makes Lecrae different. And that feeling different – not Christianity – is what this album is truly about.”

‘Dear Hip Hop’

Lecrae has received favorable attention in recent years from white evangelicals, particularly the neo-Calvinist Reformed crowd that is influenced by John Calvin, the 16th-century French theologian. Lecrae’s 2008 song, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” is the same title as a book from retired megachurch pastor John Piper, a highly influential Reformed evangelical.
“I think a lot of us became Christians in a hodgepodge, because doctrine was not a thing; we weren’t considering theology,” Lecrae said. “We were just like, ‘Hey, we love Jesus, let’s go.’ I’ll read this Piper book, and go to this T.D. Jakes conference, we just absorbed everything. I think the Reformed doctrine just presented a lot more organized, drawn-out theology. I could wrap my mind around it, and it wasn’t as mystical.”
Just as Lecrae is building bridges between secular and Christian audiences, leading evangelicals say hip-hop can bridge the divide between largely white churches and the changing world around them.
“Maybe it’s about building a bridge in the other direction: a bridge of empathy for a largely white, middle-class church to a fatherless, economically forgotten, and sometimes angry youth culture,”  wrote Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a cover story for Christianity Today last year.
“If so, maybe it can help pull American Christianity out of its white middle-class ghetto and into the vastness of the kingdom of God – a kingdom that has room for both Jonathan Edwards and Jay-Z.”
Lecrae can name-drop influential theologians with the best of them, including Piper, Randy Alcorn, Francis Schaeffer, Abraham Kuyper and Charles Spurgeon. It wasn’t until the end of his thought that he mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he references in his music.
“I love looking back and being able to understand that nothing we are dealing with is necessarily new, just understanding how people wrestle with things historically and how I can apply that to the present,” Lecrae said.
He’s also probably the only rap artist to drop the name of New York megachurch pastor Tim Keller, or Christianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch, into his lyrics. Both men, he said, “influenced me to think about how I get involved in culture, and how do I become a culture creator and not just copy it or condemn it or critique it all the time.”
He has been praised for calling out the rap industry for being self-contradictory when speaking on racial issues like the recent uprisings in Ferguson, Mo. “Dear Hip Hop, we can’t scream ‘murder, misogyny, lawlessness’ in our music & then turn around and ask for equality & justice, “ he told Billboard.
Racial reconciliation, he said, is grounded in theology.
“I think racial reconciliation is really rooted in the reconciliation that we see in Scripture,” Lecrae said. “I think you begin to find yourself being reconciled to people all over the place, and just wanting to empathize with people from all walks of life, specifically as a Christian, to demonstrate the love of Jesus.”


‘A courageous message in a safe package’

Like many rappers, Lecrae, now a married father of three, had a rocky start. Abused and later abandoned by his father, his song “Good, Bad, Ugly,” raps about hooking up with a woman and helping her get an abortion.
He said a police officer pulled him over, saw drugs in his car but let him go when he also spotted a Bible in his car, telling him to read it. Lecrae decided to mend his ways after he survived a crash where his car had flipped over, he said.
In his recent album, Lecrae indicts the spoils of Western excess, American exceptionalism and Christian hypocrisy. One of his friendly critics, Bradford William Davis, called his latest album “a courageous message in a safe package.”
“They’re good, necessary subjects for the hip hop community to wrestle with, but nothing that the cut-rate ‘conscious’ rappers haven’t tackled before,” Davis wrote in his review for the Christ and Pop Culture website. “His presentation is clean, mostly safe, occasionally dated, and a little too predictable.”
Lecrae isn’t bothered by his critics.
“Talking about social issues, talking about love, talking about marriage, child rearing, those are all things that are explicit to who I am as a believer,” Lecrae said. “It’s not just the topics, necessarily, of salvation or sanctification.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­­– Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

9/29/2014 12:30:08 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

ERLC: Town’s sign code violates church freedom

September 29 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s religious freedom entity has called for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a municipal sign ordinance it says violates a church’s free speech and assembly rights.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Sept. 22 that contends the sign code of Gilbert, Ariz., discriminates against churches while favoring political and ideological messages. The brief, filed by the Christian Legal Society (CLS), asserts the code is based on a sign’s content and therefore abridges the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

The high court will hear oral arguments in the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, in January or thereafter. It is expected to announce an opinion in the significant church-state case before it adjourns early in the summer of 2015.

Lower courts ruled in favor of Gilbert, a town of more than 200,000 in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Gilbert’s code restricts the size of “qualifying event” signs – like those for church meetings – to six square feet and the duration of display to 12 hours beforehand. Yet, it allows “political” signs to be 32 square feet in size and be displayed 60 days before an election; it permits “ideological” signs to be 20 square feet and be exhibited indefinitely; and it authorizes homeowners’ association signs to be 80 square feet and be posted 30 days before an event.


Good News Community Church, which meets in a public school, challenged Gilbert’s sign code. The church – which averages between 25 to 30 adults and four to 10 children in weekly worship – relies on temporary signs to inform the public of its meetings, according to the CLS brief. Clyde Reed, pastor of the church, said the signs had been “very, very effective” during the 10 years they have been used, the brief stated.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, described Reed v. Town of Gilbert as “a very important First Amendment case.”

“By limiting the size of these signs and the duration they can be put out, the town of Gilbert has signaled that it values politics more highly than the spiritual and social well-being of their community,” Duke said in written comments for Baptist Press.

“This case also has direct bearing on our convention’s church planting efforts,” said Duke, who planted a church in the Denver area before joining the ERLC staff. “As a church planter myself, I know very well how absolutely crucial it is for new church starts to be able to put up temporary signs. Without a building, these signs provide one of the primary ways a new church can help the community know it is meeting in their area. This was one of the main ways my new church made its presence known to our community in Denver.

“For the sake of churches and the communities they seek to serve, this ordinance must be overturned.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the differences in Gilbert’s code are neutral regarding content because “none draws distinctions based on the particular content of the sign.” The appeals court stated, “It makes no difference which candidate is supported, who sponsors the event, or what ideological perspective is asserted.” The code is not based on “disagreement with the message conveyed,” according to the Ninth Circuit.

The CLS brief joined by the ERLC contends, however, Gilbert’s ordinance “discriminates among noncommercial signs based on subject matter, which is a form of content discrimination.” The code discriminates on its face and is subject to “strict scrutiny” regardless of the town’s motive in passing it, according to the brief. “Strict scrutiny” is a standard of judicial review that requires the government to demonstrate it has a “compelling interest” and has narrowly tailored a law to that end for it to be found constitutional.

Gilbert’s code also is inconsistent with the constitutional protection of the freedom to assemble, the CLS brief states. “The right ‘peaceably to assemble’ protects the ability of Good News and other non-profit organizations to communicate their messages about their gatherings, including gatherings that are not immediately political or ideological,” according to the brief.

“For small congregations, the restrictions on the less expensive and more effective medium of signs do not simply cause inefficiencies or raise costs; they may seriously hamper First Amendment activity,” the brief contends.

In addition to the ERLC, among others signing onto the CLS brief were the Anglican Church in North America, Association of Christian Schools International, Christian Medical Association, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Missouri Baptist Convention and its Christian Life Commission also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in support of the church. The brief, authored by Southern Baptist father-son lawyer team Michael and Jonathan Whitehead, argues the sign code violates First Amendment’s protections of freedom in speech, religion and assembly.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

9/29/2014 12:20:54 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

See You at the Pole marks 24 years

September 26 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

An estimated 3 million or more elementary through college Christian students gathered at flagpoles on campuses across the United States and many foreign countries Wednesday (Sept. 24) to pray for moral and spiritual awakening for their schools and communities.
“See You at the Pole” (SYATP) marked its 24th year. The global prayer meeting was held on campuses preferably at 7 a.m. local time. Last year event organizers added Global Week of Student Prayer to the event, set this year Sept. 21-27, to accommodate schools closed or engaged in other events on the 24th.


IMB photo by Will Stuart
Paul and Tracy Barth, who will serve among European peoples, interact with family and friends during the reception following the appointment service.  

Founded in 1990 by a group of students from Burleson, Texas, the student-led event seeks to encourage students to continue in prayer and ministry as a lifelong discipline, event promotion coordinator Doug Clark told Baptist Press.
“What it is intended to be is about prayer and humbling ourselves before God, but in a united way,” Clark said. “The uniqueness of See You at the Pole is its students from all different backgrounds, different churches, who come together and then can dream together in this attitude of prayer – ‘God what would you have us to do next?’
“What we hope is that See You at the Pole is a launching pad for students being missionaries to their campus,” he said. “What it’s not intended to be is a demonstration, a show of faith – because Jesus condemns that in Matthew 6 – or an exercise of free speech.”
Never Stop Praying is this year’s theme, based on Ephesians 6:18. Students are also praying for individual friends, students and family members, indicated by posts to the event’s Facebook page and on Twitter, at #NeverStopPraying and #SYATP. Those posts, along with the individual reports Clark has received, indicate participation in all 50 states, Guatemala, Turkey, Canada, Australia and Berlin, Germany, Clark said. Many students have committed to pray every day of the week.
The grassroots nature of the event discourages an exact participation account, Clark said, but the Global Week of Student Prayer has allowed more students to observe the event this year.
“Having the Global Week of Prayer allows for flexibility,” Clark said. “In fact that worked real well for us with the DR, because the Dominican Republic had a holiday yesterday. This is their day today [Sept. 25] and they’re observing it. The Global Week has worked well for us.”
The annual SYATP event grew out of a 1990 DiscipleNow weekend, when a small group of students prayed at flagpoles at different schools on a Saturday night. Inspired by the small event, youth leaders across Texas organized SYATP in 1990 and drew 45,000 students to prayer meetings in four states. By the next year, an estimated 1 million students gathered in prayer at flagpoles across the nation, according to the SYATP website. Participation has continued to grow, Clark said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

9/26/2014 12:25:09 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Urban church planting goes ‘holistic’

September 26 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

Discipleship needs to be “at the heart of church planting.”
Dhati Lewis “wasn’t called as a pastor so I could preach. I was called as a pastor so I could make disciples.”
Lewis is director of the Send North America Rebuild, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) initiative helping urban leaders create a culture of discipleship in the local church.
Lewis also pastors the inner-city Blueprint Church in Atlanta, where he is fostering a “holistic” approach to discipleship beyond one-on-one mentoring to transform urban culture.
Preaching can be used as a platform, but putting a lot of pressure on a 35-minute time slot can take the focus off the task Jesus put forth in scripture “to make disciples,” Lewis said.


BP photo
Dhati Lewis

Lewis was among several NAMB leaders who led workshops during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center in July. Gary Frost, vice president for NAMB’s Midwest Region and for prayer, led sessions on urban revival and awakening.
Frost, experienced in leading congregations in the urban core, agreed with Lewis’ assessment of discipleship as more than just on-on-one mentoring, or what Frost described as “intellectual engagement.”
“We need churches that can engage the school systems, provide sports mentoring and drama, and physical education and art,” Frost said, noting that many public schools have dropped what they consider non-essentials.
“We can step up and step in. … [W]e can’t preach the gospel [at schools],” he said, “but we can go and be the light. We need churches in the city that will engage the jails and the medical system to bring light.”
Because many people have been turned off to church by negative personal encounters, Frost said church planting must entail “living out Christ” in the presence of the community.
“We want to plant churches in the urban core that have in their DNA community involvement so that it’s not just something they do on the side, but it’s who they are – without losing their Christ-anchor. That’s true salt and light,” Frost said.


Defining “urban”

Lewis said he is concerned that “urban” often is misunderstood to mean “inner city.”
More than half the world’s population – including professionals, young families and people of all ethnic and culture groups – now live in urban areas, Lewis said, defining urban as places of diversity and density in the cities.
“We have to realize what is going on with globalization and secularization,” Lewis said. People relocating within metro areas have created “a huge shift that impacts everyone,” he said; no longer are there neighborhoods where “people look like me and talk like me.” To make disciples, it has become imperative for pastors and church members to look around and see who their “neighbors” are.
“If the church is going to be relevant in North America, we have to go from an ethnic missiology to a neighbor missiology,” he said. “There will be no majority culture.” As globalization rapidly increases, he noted, “We get a picture of how America will be, versus our preferences and our likes.”
Citing a recent mission trip to Honduras where a team ministered among the Miskito Indians, Lewis said the Miskitos’ first language was original to its people, its second language was Spanish and its third language was hip hop.
“Here you have those people who don’t even speak English, rapping,” he laughed. “Globalization is already happening.”
Southern Baptist church plants in urban centers can become models of how churches can stay relevant as the cities evolve and adapt, Lewis said, noting, “People are craving human touch and human relationships. That is where the disconnect is and that’s where the church can make a difference.”
NAMB’s first gathering for and about the urban church – named “BLVD Conference – is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 in Atlanta. For more information visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Houston.)

9/26/2014 12:03:54 PM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Replanted church grows from 13 to 1,300

September 26 2014 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

If Eric Suddith would have looked at Emmanuel Baptist Mission Church as only a business proposition in 2004 when he first encountered it, the Wharton-trained businessman-turned-pastor might have given it up for dead. Just over a decade old at the time, the church had dwindled to eight members. It had no plan to move forward and impact its community.
But Suddith knew that Emmanuel wasn’t a business proposition. It was a spiritual one.
“Jesus Christ created the church to go out and message His redemptive plan and teach believers how to grow in His living Word,” Suddith said. “That I didn’t learn at the Wharton Business School. They didn’t teach me that. They taught me business stimulation, strategic planning. I didn’t learn that from AT&T either.”
Rather, a church planter must understand God’s redemptive plan, Suddith said.


BP photo
Eric Suddith used his business expertise when and where appropriate but relied on the Holy Spirit to guide the replanting of Emmanuel Community Church.

Nearly a decade after Suddith arrived at Emmanuel to “replant” the Atlanta-area church – now called Emmanuel Community Church – it has reached 1,300 in attendance in a 70,000-square-foot ministry hub in Conyers.
Suddith spent 25 years in the corporate world, including 15 in executive positions at AT&T. He resigned from the corporate world in 2009 after nearly 20 years of juggling ministry and business. While he has learned from his business background, maybe the most important lesson has been how different the two realms are.
“What really shook me about the work of a church planter is that the work is spiritual,” Suddith said. “… [T]his is spiritual warfare. Satan wants to disable the church planter because the church planter is the most effective way to evangelize the lost. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
With only eight people in attendance when he arrived, along with five members of his own family, finances were tight. Suddith’s corporate background reminded him of the importance of developing a workable plan to turn the church around. Immediately, he set forth a goal to redirect what they were currently paying on rent within a year to begin securing a new building.
“Corporate gave me the framework for forming a strategy,” Suddith said. “The context for that wasn’t corporate because God isn’t corporate – He’s spiritual,” he explained. “But some of the fundamentals were there – like financial management, modeling, all the pieces you need to do analysis, create a plan and execute it.”
Asked how the church grew to 1,300, Suddith simply replied, “I didn’t grow it. I taught Bible studies. I preached solid, theologically sound sermons.”
Today the church not only has numbers but ministry in the community, including a preschool, a variety of youth sports programs, men’s and women’s ministries and a large food bank.
“There’s a team of 50-60 that keeps [the food bank] going,” Suddith said. “You come over here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it’s like a McDonalds drive-through. Cars are wrapped around the building.”
Suddith said he is excited about the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) church-centric focus on planting and replanting churches through its Send North America outreach in key cities across the country. When he got started in 2004-05, he said, it was tough to find mentors to guide him in the replanting process. Since everything was new to him, he counts many mistakes along the way but believes NAMB’s new apprenticeship-oriented “Farm System” will go a long way in nurturing church planters.
“God has really blessed us to have capabilities,” Suddith said of the church’s revitalization. “The harvest is great,” he said of the challenge he and other church planters face “to extend the gospel of Christ so that people come to know Him personally. God is pleased with a healthy church plant.”
For more information about church replanting, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)

9/26/2014 11:50:02 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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