September 2016

Russian anti-evangelism law victim requests prayer

September 13 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A Baptist missionary who ended his ministry in Russia after being arrested under a new anti-evangelism law is requesting prayer in advance of his Sept. 19 appeal hearing.

Submitted photo
Donald and Ruth Ossewaarde


Donald Ossewaarde was found guilty and fined 40,000 rubles, about $600, a month ago when Russian police interrupted a Sunday Bible study in his home, charging him with evangelizing outside church walls and without a government permit.
 
“Please pray that these charges will be dropped,” Ossewaarde pleads in the latest update on his webpage. “My attorneys and I were a little bit suspicious that they [Russian legal authorities] might try to rush the appeal through the system without letting us know about it, and deny us the right to present our case. My attorneys from Moscow will be coming here for the hearing.”
 
Ossewaarde was charged Aug. 14 under Article 5.26, Part 5 of the new religion law for holding religious services in his home, advertising services on bulletin boards in nearby neighborhoods and failing to give authorities written notification when he began his religious activities.
 
Court appointed attorneys advised him to pay the fine, but Ossewaarde filed an appeal after securing private counsel.
 
His wife Ruth Ossewaarde, who had served as a missionary with him in Oryol, Russia since 2002, has already returned to their home congregation of Faith (Independent) Baptist Church near Bourbonnais, Ill., after the couple received what Ossewaarde called a thinly veiled threat against their lives.
 
Ossewaarde believes he is innocent under the law passed July 20 – which he said is inappropriately written to achieve Russia’s desired result of ending evangelism – but said he cannot trust that the law will be applied as written, nor that his constitutional right to freedom of religion will be honored.
 
“The new law is blatantly unconstitutional, but the president signed it, so constitutionality is not our strongest defense in this case,” Ossewaarde wrote on his website. “Our appeal is based on the fact that I did not act as an authorized representative of a registered religious association, therefore I did not break THIS law. In other words, under the current legal and political situation, I can only continue being a missionary here by trying as hard as I can to prove in court that I am not a missionary.”
 
The law defines illegal evangelism as activity by an authorized representative of an officially registered religious organization who uses media to publicly spread the organization’s doctrine to non-members to convince them to join the group, Ossewaarde wrote on his website.
 
Ossewaarde said he plans to return to Illinois after the hearing.
 
He was arrested with five other ministers of various faiths and denominations within a month of the law’s passage. They were levied fines varying from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles, with only one man, a Hare Krishna, acquitted.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 
Related articles:
Russian religion law said to ‘undercut’ missions
‘Sad’ Russian anti-evangelism law ends a ministry
 

9/13/2016 7:26:22 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



2016 study of pastor salaries, benefits available

September 13 2016 by Martin King, LifeWay Christian Resources

Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist church staff members has exceeded the cost-of-living increase over the past two years. However, health insurance coverage continues to decline, according to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Church Compensation Study.
 
The biannual study is a joint project of state Baptist conventions, GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources. Compensation and congregational data is collected anonymously from ministers and office/custodial personnel of Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions.


Compensation increasing

Compensation (salary plus housing) increased 3.4 percent for full-time senior Southern Baptist pastors over the last two years, 4.3 percent for full-time staff ministers and 2 percent for full-time office personnel. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the same two-year period increased only 1.1 percent.
 
Factors correlating with compensation for senior pastors include education level, weekly church attendance and tenure at their current church, as well as total years of experience. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $4,040 more than otherwise equivalently qualified pastors without a college degree. Master’s and doctorate degrees correspond with incremental compensation increases of $2,171 and $11,151, respectively. Seminary graduates have an additional increase in average compensation of $4,706.
 
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, pointed out that despite increases in compensation, fair wages take into account wages at comparable churches, increased experience and education, and cost of living. “While inflation has been lower this last year, it is still true that the dollars churches paid last year don’t buy as much,” McConnell said. “Without a raise, you are actually paying less.”
 

Benefits declining


Overall, the value of the entire pay package (salary, retirement, housing and other benefits including insurance) for senior pastors (0.9 percent) has not kept pace with inflation, even though the pay package for full-time staff ministers (2.5 percent) and office personnel (1.5 percent) has exceeded inflation.
 
Only half of churches participating in the survey provide health insurance coverage for senior pastors, down from 60 percent two years ago and 64 percent in 2012.
 
“While recognizing these trends, and the impact of Obamacare, GuideStone continues to advocate for churches to support all staff members with this important benefit,” said Scott Charbonneau, GuideStone’s managing director of insurance plans. “Further, GuideStone has reduced the access point for its insurance plans down to a minimum group size of only two employees with multiple plans available, including a low-cost value plan.”
 
One-fourth of churches pay for medical insurance for the senior pastor and his family, 15 percent provide for the pastor and his wife, and 10 percent provide only for the pastor.
 
Although a larger weekly attendance correlates with churches providing senior pastors with health insurance, one-fourth of churches with 250 or more average attendees do not provide health insurance. Conversely, nearly one-third of churches (31 percent) with less than 50 in weekly attendance do provide their pastor with medical coverage.
 
Some churches also provide additional insurance benefits to senior pastors including life and/or accidental insurance (29 percent), disability (26 percent), dental (24 percent) and vision (10 percent), although each is a few percentage points less than reported in 2014.


A number of factors also impacts the amount of vacation senior pastors receive. Larger churches tend to give pastors more vacation, with otherwise equivalently qualified pastors averaging one additional day for every 448 attendees. Pastors with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree add an average of one, two or four vacation days, respectively, over those with some college or an associate degree. Seminary graduates, on average, also receive one additional vacation day.
 
The 2016 online survey was open from December 2015 through May 2016. Data from more than 8,000 full-time Southern Baptist respondents is available at LifeWay.com/CompensationSurvey.
 
The survey also obtained compensation data for bivocational pastors and part-time custodial and office personnel. This data is standardized by the median number of hours worked to allow churches to more easily compare their part-time employees with these averages.
 
GuideStone provides many resources for churches seeking to establish, restructure or evaluate pay and benefit packages for ministers and other staff. The free resources can be found at guidestone.org/CompensationPlanning.
 
Methodology: Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church’s staff to respond to the survey; 14,076 completed surveys are available including 8,164 full-time staff analyzed for this article. For the purpose of this article, senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of Southern Baptist churches. When using the online tool, national totals may be somewhat higher than these weighted totals. Viewing the results by church-size categories within the online tool minimizes this impact. When running customized reports online, errors can be minimized by selecting criteria that allow for larger numbers of participants.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Martin King is director of corporate communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
 

9/13/2016 7:25:29 AM by Martin King, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



New rule to handcuff states on Planned Parenthood

September 13 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Sept. 7 a proposed rule that would effectively prevent states from prohibiting Title X funds for abortion providers.
 
The proposed rule includes the country’s No. 1 abortion chain, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). The federal government provides funds for family planning and preventive health services to states through the Title X program.
 
In recent years, at least 12 states have cut money for Planned Parenthood, sometimes in response to scandals involving the organization. Courts have blocked those actions in some cases. The latest scandal involves the online release last year of secretly recorded videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described the HHS proposal as “yet another example of how entrenched and influential the abortion lobby is in our national politics.”
 
“We know for a fact that taxpayer money doesn’t need to go to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers in order for other medical services to be fully available to citizens,” Moore said.
 
“This is merely a move of retribution against those who have called to keep abortion providers accountable,” he said in written comments for Baptist Press.
 
Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., charged the Obama administration with taking “the unprecedented step of thwarting states’ rights with a shady proposed rule change that prevents states from funding the providers who will best serve their citizens.”
 
“This latest stunt from President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services should surprise absolutely no one,” said Black, who led last year an ultimately unsuccessful effort to slash federal funding for PPFA.
 
“We’ve known all along [this administration] will go to untold lengths to protect its friends in the big abortion industry,” including providing Planned Parenthood with grants under health-care reform and praising the organization after its trade in baby parts was uncovered, she said in a written statement.
 
Moore expressed his gratitude to Black for “calling this move what it is: a political favor for an unaccountable abortion industry.”
 
PPFA President Cecile Richards applauded the HHS proposal.
 
“This will make a real difference in so many people’s lives,” she said. “This rule makes it clear that politicians cannot ignore the law as they pursue their agenda to stop women from getting the care they need.”
 
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
 
The proposed rule does not explicitly block states from providing Title X funds to abortion providers. Instead, it bars states from basing the selection of Title X recipient organizations on anything other than their “ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” As a result, states would be unable to block funds from going to organizations simply because they provide abortions.
 
According to federal law, Title X funds cannot be used for the performance of abortions, but pro-life advocates point out grants to Planned Parenthood and other providers free up other funds for use in performing abortions.
 
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that would have eliminated about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, but President Obama vetoed the bill in January. A House attempt to override the veto fell far short of the two-thirds majority required.
 
The public may provide comment to HHS on the proposed rule until Oct. 7. Comments may be offered at regulations.gov/comment?D=HHS_FRDOC_0001-0645.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related articles:
Lankford seeks ban on dismemberment abortions
New York attorney general green-lights late-term abortions
Veto override on PPFA defunding fails in House
California confiscates undercover Planned Parenthood videos
Most Americans unfazed by Planned Parenthood videos
Zika bill stalled over Planned Parenthood funding
 

9/13/2016 7:18:15 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



500-year-old Torah scroll ‘gift of a testimony’

September 13 2016 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

A complete scroll of the Torah dating to the 16th or 17th century was given to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in a presentation at Alumni Memorial Chapel, Sept. 1.

SBTS photo
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. (center) with Ken and Barbara Larson, who donated a 500-year-old Torah scroll.


President R. Albert Mohler Jr. accepted the scroll, which contains the first five books of the Old Testament, from Ken and Barbara Larson, thanking them for their contribution to the seminary’s understanding of the Bible.
 
“We promise to be good stewards of this gift,” Mohler said of the scroll, which was laid out for public viewing on a table in the front of the chapel. “We’re thankful to the Lord for putting this on your heart, and even in the moments before chapel this morning, it was very clear there is an immediate magnetic draw of Christians in seeing the Word of God in this way.”
 
The Larsons, who currently live in Florida but travel around the world frequently – including to Israel on 11 different occasions – said they have purchased 50 different Torah scrolls with the intention of giving many of them to evangelical seminaries. SBTS, located in Louisville, Ky., is the 27th seminary to receive a scroll from the Larson family. The gift is one of only a couple scrolls from this region of the world during this time period.
 
The scroll comes from southern Italy and dates around the time of Martin Luther’s death, said Scott Carroll, a biblical scholar of ancient manuscripts who has built the Van Kampen Collection and the Green Collection – the two largest privately-held collections of biblical materials in the world. The 106-foot scroll, which was opened to the book of Exodus during the presentation, is a complete copy of the Torah and contains 688 corrections – which ought to strengthen the Christian’s confidence in the Word of God, he said.
 
“[The corrections] should be welcomed by us,” Carroll said. “It was a community process to make sure that the Torah was 100 percent correct, and it is. But it wasn’t done magically by a sofer or scribe, it was done by hard work by the community.”
 
Mohler accepted the scroll on behalf of the institution, calling it “not just the gift of a text, but the gift of a testimony.” The scroll was crafted in southern Italy during a time of intense Jewish persecution, Carroll noted, and the survival of the scroll testified to the importance of scripture in the community.
 
“I’m incredibly humbled looking at this text,” Mohler said. “Imagine what this says about the role of the Word of God amongst God’s people – in this case, the Jewish people reading, loving and preserving the Torah and perhaps defending it with their lives.”
 
Founders of the family-owned furniture chain Slumberland, the Larsons first considered investing in Torah scrolls during a trip to South Korea with Christian author Josh McDowell, who they said owns a Polish Torah and uses it as an apologetic tool for establishing the reliability of the scriptures. On a previously scheduled trip to Israel with their family a few months later, Ken and Barbara Larson decided to start buying Torahs, and gifted the first one to Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
 
Barbara Larson attributed their ministry to initially agreeing to join McDowell on a trip to Tajikistan – a trip that never materialized but led to a substitute trip to South Korea, and eventually to a brand new phase of ministry.
 
“Our love for [giving] God’s Word came out of just saying yes to God on one thing,” Barbara Larson said. “Now here we are, we’ve been to 27 seminaries gifting Torahs, and we just see through these seminaries how God is working.”
 
The scroll will be housed in the Archives and Special Collections office in Southern Seminary’s Boyce Centennial Library, where students and faculty can conduct further research.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

9/13/2016 7:10:28 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments



Lankford seeks ban on dismemberment abortions

September 12 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Legislation to ban an abortion procedure in which an unborn child’s body is torn apart piece by piece or crushed is before the U.S. Senate.
 
Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., a Southern Baptist, introduced the Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act Sept. 8. Like a companion bill in the House of Representatives, Lankford’s proposal would prohibit a doctor performing an abortion from using instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child’s body.
 
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore applauded Lankford’s measure and called for those who are pro-choice on abortion to back it.
 
The bill “deserves the support not only of those who identify as pro-life, but all who stand for dignity anywhere,” the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told Baptist Press in written comments.
 
“Dismembering an unborn infant is not an example of ‘reproductive freedom,’” Moore said. “It is a callous, gruesome form of human piracy, often carried out to satisfy financial greed. This bill is a common-sense measure to protect the unborn, mothers and families from deceptive and manipulative medical practices.”
 
Lankford also urged support for his bill across ideological lines.
 
“We disagree on many issues as a nation, including the issue of abortion,” he said in a written statement. “However, because of technological advancements, we clearly know that unborn children feel pain. Surely we can all agree that dismantling a child in the womb during a late-term abortion is inhumane and is not reflective of American values.”
 
Abortion doctors who practice the technique that would be prohibited by the legislation typically use it beginning at about 14 weeks of pregnancy and into the third trimester, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Abortion providers call the method a “dilation and evacuation” or dilation and extraction” (D&E) abortion, NRLC reports.
 
The congressional legislation specifies it does not bar abortions performed by techniques other than dismemberment or D&E, including a suction method that dismembers the unborn child. The bill permits an exception for the procedure when the mother’s life is endangered.
 
Though the Supreme Court has provided expansive protections for abortion rights beginning with its 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton opinions, pro-life advocates were successful after a battle of more than a decade in prohibiting a method known as partial-birth abortion. President George W. Bush signed a federal ban on the late-term procedure in 2003, and the high court upheld it four years later.
 
Six states – Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia – have enacted bans on dismemberment abortions in the last two years. Four of those laws are not in effect while legal challenges proceed.
 
Lankford received the 2016 Pro-Life Public Service Award in January at the inaugural Evangelicals for Life event in Washington. The ERLC and Focus on the Family cosponsored the conference.
 
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is the chief sponsor of the House version of the dismemberment ban, which is H.R. 3515.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

9/12/2016 9:11:35 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



9/11 called catalyst for missions to Muslims

September 12 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

When radical Islamic terrorists brought down the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers 15 years ago, they didn’t realize their actions would also help bring down walls to reaching Muslims with the gospel.
 
But that’s exactly what happened.

Michael Foran, via Wikimedia Commons


In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of Unengaged, Muslim Unreached People Groups (UMUPGs) in the world has decreased by nearly 20 percent, from 1,333 in 2001 to 1,077 today, according to statistics provided by Vision 5:9, a coalition of Christian missions organizations focused on reaching Muslims.
 
That translates to 32 million fewer Muslims living in groups with little or no access to the gospel than when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
 
Missiologist and former Southern Baptist missionary David Garrison argues more than 80 percent of history’s movements of Muslims coming to Christ – defined as at least a thousand Muslims from the same people group being baptized over 20 years or less – have occurred in the 21st century.
 
Nik Ripken, a worker in the Muslim world whose story is chronicled in the book and film The Insanity of God, said “prior to 9/11 there were hundreds of Muslims coming to Christ. Since 9/11 there is a significant segment of American culture and a significant segment of Muslim culture that realizes hate and war does not change anything. It makes it worse.
 
“So now, where we saw a trickle of Muslims coming to Christ, we’re seeing tens of thousands,” Ripken told Baptist Press (BP).
 
At the same time, however, some believers have withdrawn from missions to Muslims out of fear, and some of the evangelistic opportunity has been squandered.
 

‘Advance the name of Christ’

Greg Belser, pastor of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., told BP, “Overwhelmingly, the response of our church [to 9/11] has been, ‘If this is the condition of the world, then we need to be all the more urgent with sharing Christ.’... Our church has responded aggressively as a result of the so-called cultural conversation surrounding 9/11.”
 
Morrison Heights’ sense of urgency eventuated in the church’s adoption of a UMUPG in Central Asia in 2013 to whom they have sent one couple to live fulltime and are preparing to send another. Short-term teams from the church also travel to the people group periodically, and a local contact person, or “man of peace,” has been established.
 
“Do we know that there are people [in the world] who have terrorist intents?” Belser asked. “There’s no getting around that. We know that. But Jesus came into a violent world, and we live in a violent world still, and we will continue to advance the name of Christ whenever the Lord gives us opportunity.”
 
Closer to home, the church is active in showing hospitality to and engaging in gospel conversations with Muslim students at nearby Mississippi College.
 
Mike Edens, a professor of Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who formerly served as a missionary in the Muslim world, told BP that Morrison Heights is representative of a larger trend.
 
For 25 years before 9/11, Edens said, the evangelical missions movement had begun to focus on the concepts of unreached people groups and the so-called 10/40 Window, a region spanning parts of Europe, Africa and Asia in which many of the 865 million Muslim residents have little or no access to the gospel. Sept. 11 inspired a more widespread interest in those concepts across the evangelical world as believers became more attuned to Islam.
 
“9/11 changed the attitude in a broader spectrum of the church,” Edens said. The deadliest terrorist attacks ever on American soil “changed the ground-level understanding in one way or another in the average Christian.”
 

Muslim receptivity

As Western evangelicals became more eager to share the gospel with Muslims, a segment of the Islamic world became more open to receive it, said Mokhles Hanna, pastor of the Atlanta-area Arabic Baptist Church in Lilburn.
 
“When Sept. 11 happened, when ISIS came, when al-Qaeda came,” some Muslims “started reading more about whether [terrorism and violence] was really the teaching of Islam,” Hanna told BP. “Some of them started realizing, ‘Wow, this is the Islam we didn’t know. ... Muhammad killed. His followers killed. And this is what the Quran is teaching.’”
 
Hanna added, “Thousands of them left Islam,” with some becoming secular or atheist and others turning to Christ.
 
According to Garrison’s book A Wind in the House of Islam, 69 of the 85 movements of Muslims coming to Christ in mass since Islam’s founding have occurred in the 21st century. Garrison told BP that 9/11 is one of multiple factors to have caused some Muslims to abandon their faith. Other factors include activities of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, Hamas, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
 
“It’s hard to draw a one-to-one correlation” between Muslims coming to Christ and 9/11, Garrison said. “But there is a correlation.”
 
Muslims, he said, “have been awakened by 9/11 with a jolt” and are thinking, “Is this who we are? If this is who we are, then I’m not sure I signed up for this.”
 
Regarding violent Islam, the Pew Research Center reported this summer that “in many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism.” Pew also reported, “Muslims worldwide mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified.”
 

‘It surprises me’

While Hanna rejoices in the Muslims who have come to Christ, he is surprised American Christians haven’t responded to Muslim spiritual openness with greater gospel witness.
 
"It surprises me that American churches still don’t get it," said Hanna, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 2006. "They still don’t understand the true nature of Islam and how much more work we need to do to reach out to them."
 
Ripken thinks fear stemming from 9/11 is partially to blame for the less-than-ideal evangelistic response.
 
“After 9/11, the church’s first response was to be afraid and withdraw from sending its sons and daughters and its second-career people to change the heart of Islam, to change the mindset so that things like 9/11 would not take place,” Ripken said.
 
Though fear continues to be the predominant emotional response among some Christians, Ripken’s wife Ruth told BP, gradually missions-minded Christians returned to the field with a courageous yet wiser perspective on security.
 
Missions organizations’ “initial response was, ‘Let’s pull everyone out [of Muslim areas]. Let’s get everyone to safety,’” said Ruth Ripken. “But after they took a deep breath, many organizations spent time in prayer. They put people back into their locations and realized, ‘We can’t be a kneejerk organization. We have to be an organization prepared for situations like this.’
 
“They began to evaluate how to equip workers on the field to be better strategic thinkers, to be more aware of their surroundings, and most groups began to implement security plans so people knew what to do in the event of” future terrorist attacks, Ruth Ripken said.
 

Future prospects

Moving forward, organizations and individuals should continue to engage the Muslim world wisely and strategically, the Ripkens said. The most effective means they have found to reach Muslims are house churches, engaging entire families at once rather than individually and using the Arabic language.
 
In their travels to churches across America, they plead for more followers of Jesus to be on mission to Muslims in North America and internationally.
 
“The only places where Muslims are not coming to Jesus in significant numbers,” Nik Ripken said, “are those places we don’t go.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
 

9/12/2016 9:10:56 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New York attorney general green-lights late-term abortions

September 12 2016 by Emily Belz, WORLD News Service

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, issued a legal notice to the state comptroller on Sept. 8 saying that abortions after 24 weeks are legal in the state. Schneiderman argued that the “health” exception in judicial precedent allows abortion at any time in a pregnancy.
 
“New York law cannot criminalize what the federal Constitution protects,” Schneiderman wrote in the opinion. “[A]n abortion performed after 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy is legal in New York when the fetus is not viable or when the abortion is necessary to protect the health of the pregnant woman.”
 
The “health” of the mother is a nebulous legal exception that can mean physical, emotional, psychological, or familial health, according to the Supreme Court precedent in Doe v. Bolton.
 
New York was one of the first states to legalize abortion in 1970. But that law also banned abortions after 24 weeks, except to save the life of the mother.
 
Now New York has one of the highest rates of abortion in the country and is one of the most accommodating states for those seeking to terminate a pregnancy. New York does not have a residency requirement for abortion, so anyone can travel to the state to receive a late-term abortion. State Medicaid covers abortions performed in the state, and New York provides funding to abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.
 
In 2014, documents revealed that New York health officials did not conduct inspections at a number of abortion centers for 12 years. During that time, the state reported 1.5 million abortions.
 
Schneiderman’s opinion does not have the force of law, but it gives legal cover to abortion centers and hospitals in the state to perform late-term abortions.
 
“It removes any doubt in the minds of the hospitals and the abortionists that they can go ahead and do late-term abortions,” said Ed Mechmann, a lawyer and the director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York. “The law previously was a deterrent to people doing late-term abortions.”
 
Indeed, Stephen Chasen, an obstetrics and gynecology physician at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center told The New York Times that the hospital now could feel “comfortable that we’re not at risk at all of being prosecuted.” Chasen specializes in diagnosing prenatal anomalies “such as Down syndrome.”
 
Speaking of disabilities, the viability portion of Schneiderman’s opinion argued that under judicial precedent the abortionist (“the attending physician”) determines viability. Babies now can often survive at 24 weeks.
 
“This wide open definition of viability is an invitation to eugenics,” said Mechmann, who added that mothers often seek late-term abortions because that is when they discover fetal problems.
 
The attorney general’s office was not modest about the move, sending out a press release about the opinion, complete with congratulatory quotes from Planned Parenthood of New York City and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Pro-life groups in the state had no idea this memo was in the works.
 
“[The abortion industry] would never submit this to an open public debate, because on this particular issue they would lose,” said Mechmann. “The vast majority disapproves of late-term abortion. And I think they know that because they go through these extrajudicial maneuvers to advance the cause.”
 
The legal opinion was a response to a question from the state comptroller overseeing payments for abortions – presumably through Medicaid. But the memo reads like scripted questions and answers.
 
The memo is a straightforward political move after Democrats lost the legislative battle to expand late-term abortion in 2015. The pro-abortion Schneiderman seems to be trying to accomplish the measure via his own office instead of the legislative process. The attorney general’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on that question.
 
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a pro-life group of evangelicals, reacted to the opinion by dubbing the attorney general “Third Trimester Schneiderman,” saying his opinion would result in the unnecessary deaths of more babies.
 
“The New York state legislature has declined to pass abortion expansion legislation for a reason,” said the group’s head, the Rev. Jason McGuire, in a statement. “Public policy in the state of New York should be focused on aiding women and their unborn children in their hour of need, not catering to well-funded political allies at Planned Parenthood.”
 
In 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, had introduced a measure as a part of the Women’s Equality Act (WEA), which allowed abortions after 24 weeks for the health of the mother and removed a number of criminal penalties associated with botched abortions. Democrats pushed the abortion measure for two legislative sessions, insisting on keeping it tied to other measures in the act that increased penalties for sex trafficking and sexual harassment in the workplace.
 
Thanks in part to lobbying from the New York Catholic Conference and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the abortion provision stalled. The state legislature passed the other WEA measures like the sex-trafficking bill separately.
 
Mechmann doesn’t know what strategies pro-lifers in the state might have going forward.
 
“I think our legal recourse is very, very limited,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s really that much we can do.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Belz writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

9/12/2016 9:07:33 AM by Emily Belz, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Transgender restroom bill applied to Mass. churches

September 12 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Massachusetts government commission’s claim that churches may be subject to the state’s transgender restroom bill has drawn expressions of concern from local evangelicals.
 
“The United States Constitution has been understood since the founding of our nation as specifically protecting the rights of churches to function in keeping with their deeply held religious beliefs,” Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “Any attempt by a small vocal activist group to strip churches of that right should be vehemently opposed by all people. If they can take a church’s right to practice their faith away, imagine what else they can do.”
 
At issue is a document released by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) Sept. 1 explaining how a ban on gender identity discrimination in public accommodations adopted in July will be enforced when it takes effect Oct. 1.
 
The document warns, “Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation.”
 
That includes restroom and locker room usage based on perceived gender identity rather than biological sex, the document explains. Violation of the gender-identity nondiscrimination law is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
 
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), told BP the MCAD document “demonstrates the religious tone deafness of the people drafting these regulations and guidelines.”
 
“Any person of faith knows that we want all of our church functions to be open and welcoming to the general public to bring them in to hear the Good News, the gospel, to be ministered to,” Beckwith said. “To say that churches have to sacrifice their religious liberty when they hold an event that’s open to the public means the church has to sacrifice all of its religious freedom anytime it operates.”
 
The MFI, an associate organization of Focus on the Family, is seeking clarification of the seemingly “nonsensical” guideline, Beckwith said.
 
Regarding religious liberty, a footnote is included in the MDAD document stating, “All charges, including those involving religious institutions or religious exemptions, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.” Beckwith said, however, there is “no provision in the law exempting religious organizations.”
 
A petition drive is aiming to put the public accommodations bill up for a repeal vote in November. Some 33,000 certified signatures are required by Sept. 22 under state law, according to KeepMASafe.com, a campaign website that cites safety and privacy concerns with the legislation.
 
Neal Davidson, pastor of Hope Chapel in Sterling, Mass., told BP that “beyond the legislative dimension, the challenge for the individual local church is how they create a grace-based environment for every person who walks through the door.”
 
“Certainly, we want to serve all people, even those who are struggling with deep, core, life-shaping issues like gender identity, with the grace and respect they deserve since they are made in the image of God and precious to Him,” Davidson, immediate past Baptist Convention of New England president, said in written comments. “Obviously they are hurting. But we also want to create an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable.
 
“When we actually face this issue, in many respects it won’t be easy because these two commitments will often be at odds. I think the principles to be followed are to deal with each case individually and relationally and to always be seeking the wisdom of God in reflecting His grace and truth in the real world. I also have great confidence in the followers of Christ who comprise the church to be able to deal with this in love,” Davidson said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

9/12/2016 9:00:44 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pro-family group petitions Canadian Parliament

September 12 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service

A conservative, pro-family women’s group in Canada wants greater protections for Christians’ religious freedom and rights of conscience.
 
REAL Women of Canada says religious freedom has eroded as Canada has sanctioned things like gay marriage, so the group recently launched a petition to present to Parliament.
 
“What we’re seeing now is lack of respect for Christians,” REAL Women of Canada researcher Diane Watts said. “[T]hey’re facing fines in human rights courts.”
 
She said defendants in those trials are required to pay their legal expenses, even if the accusations against them are false or charges eventually get dropped.
 
“There’s still a veneer of thinking that Christian rights are protected,” said Watts. Many Canadians don’t know their rights of speech and conscience won’t be protected until someone complains and takes them to court.
 
In 2008, a member of the Pride Center of Edmonton accused the publisher of Catholic Insight magazine of making derogatory comments about homosexuals, according to Catholic News Agency. Charges were eventually dropped, but only after the magazine spent $20,000 in legal fees, Watts noted.
 
She cited numerous examples of attacks on Christians’ freedoms, including a bishop who was taken to court over a pastoral letter opposing gay marriage, a Knights of Columbus group tried for refusing to rent its hall for a lesbian wedding, and attempts to refuse accreditation to Christian law students. Watts said many also are concerned that doctors who oppose euthanasia may face discrimination after Parliament recently approved it.
 
Those incidents convinced the REAL Women of Canada board to file the petition. It calls for an amendment in the criminal code regarding “medical assistance in dying” and in the Civil Marriage Act “to provide Christians and their faith-based institutions protection from its provisions that are contrary to their religious and conscience beliefs.”
 
It also calls on Parliament to institute a review process for new legislation “to ensure it does not impinge upon the religious rights of Christians in accordance with the historic continuity of the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
 
The petition will be presented by MP Michael Cooper of Edmonton in the House of Commons once it has enough signatures, probably in the fall.
 
Although not a part of the petition, other organizations in Canada are concerned about Christians being forced to violate their conscience or intimidated by legal challenges.
 
In February, a group of thousands of Canadian physicians complained that legalizing physician-assisted suicide could force them to participate or refer patients to doctors willing to kill, Huffington Post Canada reported.
 
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said the policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario puts “great pressure” on doctors with personal or religious objections to euthanasia.
 
Canada’s Parliament approved Bill C-14 in June, permitting medically assisted suicide to anyone whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” Life Site News reported. A spokesman for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition called the bill “horrific.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julia A. Seymour writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

9/12/2016 8:56:27 AM by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Study: Skip endorsements in church, say most Americans

September 9 2016 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

Since the 1950s, the IRS has banned preachers from endorsing candidates during church services. According to a new study, most Americans seem to like it that way.


Eight in 10 (79 percent) say it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church. Three-quarters say churches should steer clear of endorsements. Yet fewer than half want churches to be punished if they do endorse candidates. Those are among the findings in a new report on religion and politics from LifeWay Research.
 
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says there’s little enthusiasm for political endorsement by pastors or churches.
 
“Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” McConnell said. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”
 

Endorsements seen as inappropriate

The ban on endorsements, known as the Johnson Amendment, dates back to a conflict between then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson and a Texas nonprofit, which opposed his re-election bid. Approved in 1954, the IRS rule bans all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, from active involvement in political campaigns.
 
Since 2008, a group of mostly Protestant pastors has challenged the ban each year by endorsing candidates in an event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Recent polling shows few churchgoers have heard their pastor endorse a candidate. The Johnson Amendment has been a point of contention this election season.
 
The new LifeWay report compares results from telephone surveys of 1,000 Americans about religion and politics in 2008 and 2015. Researchers found disapproval of endorsements remains strong.
 
In both surveys, LifeWay Research asked Americans to respond to the following statement: “I believe it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service.”
 
In 2008, 86 percent of Americans disagreed while 13 percent agreed. One percent were not sure. In 2015, 79 percent disagreed, while 19 percent agreed. Two percent were unsure.
 
Support for endorsements was tepid across denominational lines in 2015. Few Protestants (20 percent) or Catholics (13 percent) see endorsements as appropriate. A quarter of those with evangelical beliefs (25 percent) agreed, while 16 percent of other Americans agreed.
 
Support for endorsements outside of church declined slightly. In 2008, about half of Americans (53 percent) said it was appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates, outside of their role at church. In 2015, fewer than half (43 percent) agreed.
 
Americans also want churches to steer clear of endorsements in general. Three-quarters disagreed with the statement: “I believe it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.” Twenty-four percent agreed. One percent were not sure.
 
A 2008 survey found similar results. Seventy-six percent disagreed. Twenty-two percent agreed. Two percent were not sure.
 
Again, those who support endorsements remain in a minority across faith traditions. Three in 10 (29 percent) of those with evangelical beliefs said endorsements by churches are appropriate. Twenty-seven percent of Protestants agreed, as did only 18 percent of Catholics. Weekly churchgoers (29 percent) were skeptical as well as those who rarely or never go to church (18 percent).
 
Most Americans also want churches to steer clear of any involvement with political campaigns. Eighty-one percent disagreed with the statement, “I believe it is appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates for public office.” Seventeen percent agreed. Two percent were not sure.
 
LifeWay Research found similar results in 2008. Thirteen percent agreed, 85 percent disagreed, while 2 percent were not sure.
 

Disagreements over tax exemptions

Fewer Americans think churches should be punished for their involvement in campaigns.
 
In 2015, fewer than half (42 percent) said churches should lose their tax exemption for publicly endorsing candidates. Fifty-two percent disagreed. Five percent were not sure.
 
In 2008, more than half (52 percent) of Americans said churches should lose their tax exemption for publicly endorsing candidates. Forty-two percent disagreed. Six percent were not sure.
 
Still, there are some demographic differences.
 
Men (47 percent), those in the Northeast (46 percent) and those in the West (48 percent) were more likely to say churches should lose their tax exemption. Women (38 percent) and Southerners (37 percent) were less likely.
 
Those from non-Christian religions (56 percent), nones (53 percent) and those who rarely or never go to church (52 percent) were more likely to agree churches should lose tax exemptions. Fewer Christians (37 percent), those with evangelical beliefs (33 percent) or those who go to church at least once or twice monthly (35 percent) agreed.
 
“Endorsements from the pulpit are unpopular and most Americans say they are inappropriate,” McConnell said. “But they don’t want churches to be punished for something a pastor said.”
 
For more information visit LifeWayResearch.com and view the complete survey PDF.
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 14-28, 2015. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.6 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. Comparisons are also made to a LifeWay Research telephone survey of Americans June 12-14, 2008, using randomly dialed listed landlines.
 
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)
 
Related articles:
New study on pastors and same-sex weddings
Study: Unchurched will talk about faith
Changing genders isn’t morally wrong, Americans say
Survey probes pastors’ views on handling misconduct
 

9/9/2016 10:59:29 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments



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