September 2017

LifeWay to reduce ‘brick-and-mortar channel’

January 17 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Rainer wrote in a Jan. 15 email to all LifeWay employees, “We prayed and hoped that our investments in and commitments to the LifeWay stores would prove fruitful. That just has not been the case. To the contrary, we not only continue to see an erosion in the brick-and-mortar channel, we have seen an accelerated rate of erosion in recent months. It was our hope that greater traffic would result in greater sales, and that with our expense reductions and product cost savings, we would be able to offset sales declines. That hope has not been realized with the declines we have seen since September.
“In simple terms, a strategic shift is required for moving more and more of our resources to a dynamic digital strategy,” Rainer wrote. “We will be transitioning many of those resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels. The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.”
LifeWay operated 174 stores in 2017, according to the latest figures published in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annuals. In 2018, LifeWay launched a new vision for its stores, seeking to make them places where people could “connect, learn and grow,” Baptist Press reported in February 2018.
The last time LifeWay’s sales exceeded its total operating expenses was 2009, when LifeWay reported a $3 million increase in “unrestricted net assets from operations,” according to financial reports published in SBC Annuals. Since then, total operating expenses exceeded sales each year. The margin by which operating expenses exceeded sales grew from $2.3 million in 2010 to $35.5 million in 2017.
Still, LifeWay’s total assets increased over the same period, from $407 million in 2009 to $452 million in 2017. During that timeframe, LifeWay sold its Glorieta Conference Center in 2013 and its 14.5-acre Nashville campus in 2015. LifeWay financial statements show $20 million of net cash provided by operating activities in 2017. That resulted in a $44 million increase in unrestricted net assets for 2017.
LifeWay’s financial report for 2018 has not yet been released.
Amid the growth of online booksellers, other Christian and secular bookstores have had to close as well. Two years ago, Family Christian Stores – which called itself “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise” – announced the closure of 240 stores across 36 states.
“Our strategy for the future,” Rainer, who announced plans to retire from LifeWay in August 2018, wrote, “will be a greater investment in digital channels and in events and services. We will have a smaller footprint for our brick-and-mortar stores. At this point, we are evaluating all our stores, so we cannot say how many stores will remain in this new era.”
While “these challenges can bring pain and disruption,” he wrote, changes at LifeWay “also introduce tremendous opportunities and hope. The world is flat and everyone is connected. It is an incredible time for LifeWay to get the message of the gospel to the world and continue to offer biblical solutions for life.”

1/17/2019 9:37:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abortion defunding effort resumes in Congress

January 17 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pro-life advocates in Congress have not given up on extracting the federal government from the abortion business.
Members of the Senate and House of Representatives already have introduced legislation in the new congressional session, which began Jan. 3, to end funding for abortions and abortion providers. Their efforts to gain passage, however, face what appear to be insurmountable odds in a House now controlled by Democrats, who support abortion rights nearly across the board.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduced Jan. 10 the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (S. 109), which would create a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill – introduced by Wicker in partnership with Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan. – also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.
On Jan. 9, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., introduced the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, which would establish a one-year moratorium on federal money for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates unless they stop performing elective abortions. The proposal also would increase funds for community healthcare centers that provide comprehensive care for women and their babies but do not perform abortions.
In the other chamber, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced companion legislation, the Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act, Wednesday (Jan. 16).
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) listed both policy goals in its 2019 legislative agenda announced Jan. 16.
“The abortion industry is both predatory and profit-driven,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “Their ability to fund death with taxpayer funds must not stand. Americans ought not be compelled to fund the destruction of the most vulnerable among us under the false pretense of health care.”
Previous attempts to pass such funding prohibitions have failed. For instance, the Republican-controlled House voted 238-183 for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act in January 2017. Only three Democrats voted for the bill, while no Republicans opposed it. The GOP-controlled Senate failed to vote on the proposal in the last Congress, though President Trump supported it.
Banning government funding of abortion has proven effective in saving the lives of unborn children since the Hyde Amendment was enacted in 1976. That provision, which bars Medicaid funding of abortion and became the general label for such bans on health programs, has saved the lives of more than two million unborn babies, the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute estimated on Hyde’s 40th anniversary in 2016.
Congress, however, has had to pass the Hyde Amendment and similar bans in other federal health programs each year as part of spending measures. The measure is named after its sponsor, the late Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.
In a written statement, Wicker said of his bill, “Millions of Americans oppose the use of federal dollars to support abortion.... [I]t is well-past time Congress passed a comprehensive solution to the patchwork of regulations prohibiting federal funding for abortion services.”
Lankford said in written comments, “We must continue to take steps to move our nation and our culture closer to holding all human lives sacred regardless of a person’s size or degree of dependency. This bill brings us closer to that goal.”
Wicker and Lankford are both members of Southern Baptist churches.
Thirty-nine senators, all Republicans, joined Wicker in co-sponsoring his legislation.
Democrats in the House, meanwhile, pledged Jan. 15 to rescind the ban on abortion funding.
“We are going to end the Hyde Amendment,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, according to The Hill news website. “We intend to fight aggressively to reverse the terrible decisions by the Trump administration, and frankly previous administrations, going back 40 years.”
In a Jan. 15 release, the annual Marist Poll on attitudes about abortion showed a majority of all Americans oppose any taxpayer funding of abortion by 54 to 39 percent.
Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, collected $543.7 million in government grants and reimbursements in the financial year that closed June 30, 2017. PPFA’s clinics performed 321,384 abortions in the 2015-16 year, according to its latest report.
Hartzler said in a written statement, “Taxpayers should not have to pay for Planned Parenthood’s abortion industry. Abortion is not healthcare, yet it is the foundation of Planned Parenthood’s mission.
“We should be investing in women’s healthcare, not abortion.”
Twenty states have enacted restrictions limiting funds in some form for Planned Parenthood, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Courts have blocked such laws in at least nine of those states, NRLC reported.
Messengers to past Southern Baptist Convention meetings have adopted resolutions calling for government defunding of abortion and of Planned Parenthood.

1/17/2019 9:37:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Open Doors: Christian persecution up 14% worldwide

January 17 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The number of Christians suffering high to extremely high persecution is 14 percent more in 2019, Open Doors reported, counting 245 million individuals globally.
Persecution driven by Islamic extremism and Communist authoritarianism in the world’s two most populous countries, India and China, marked the increase, Open Doors said Jan. 16 in releasing its 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries with the most extreme Christian persecution.
“Islamic radicalism continues to dominate and influence all spheres of life for Christians, and we are watching China and India very closely,” Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry said in releasing the latest findings. “The distressing impact of billions of people living in an environment in which the government oppresses freedom of religion is unraveling day by day as millions of Christians are being attacked, imprisoned or killed.”
Life without religious freedom is no freedom at all, Curry said at a Washington press conference announcing the findings.
“Religious freedom is the first freedom,” he said. “If you don’t have the right to make up your own mind, are you really free at all?”
China climbed to 27th on the list from 43rd in 2018. India ranked as the 10th most persecuted country this year, its first time in the top 10 in the rankings’ 27-year history. India outpaces China in persecution, despite the rampant closure of house churches and the widespread arrest of Christians.
“India has a large population of Christians,” Curry said, “and the radical agenda of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata) Party has created an environment – and I can’t repeat this enough because it needs to be understood – that India’s not a safe place for Christians. Because the government has looked the other way when mobs have attacked churches, and then they have tacitly approved the arrest of pastors. Christians of all kinds are under pressure in India.”
North Korea, an authoritarian regime mandating worship of President Kim Jong-un, maintains its first place for the 18th consecutive year. Others in the top 10, in descending order are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen and Iran.
Russia, which had not placed in the top 50 countries of persecution since 2011, entered the 2019 list at No. 41.
Globally, persecution against women and the spread of radical Islam across sub-Saharan Africa join authoritarianism as notable trends driving persecution. Africa is a major epicenter of violence against Christians, with groups loyal to the Islamic State growing in sub-Saharan Africa. Open Doors noted a splinter group of Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP.
Numerically, the 245 million persecuted Christians counted this year are more than the 215 million counted in 2018. Globally, one in nine Christians is highly persecuted – an increase from one in 12 last year. Each day of 2018, 11 Christians were killed, totaling 4,136 by year’s end. Most of the killings – 3,731 – were in Nigeria, which ranks 12th on the list, Open Doors said. Pakistan and the Central African Republic round out the three countries where Christians experience the most physical violence.
“Open Doors continues to see ominous persecution trends against Christians,” Curry said. “Open Doors will continue to walk alongside these Christians and advocate on their behalf for human rights we take for granted in America.”
Among few improvements for Christians in 2019, Iraq ranked number 13 this year after an eighth-place spot in 2018, evidence of the territorial defeat of ISIS. Malaysia improved from 23rd to 42nd, where the electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan political coalition has reportedly given hope to persecuted minorities. North Korea, despite its first-place rank, freed three imprisoned Korean American Christians in 2018, including a pastor convicted erroneously as a spy.
Open Doors markets its list as the “only comprehensive, annual survey of the state of religious liberty for Christians around the world.”
Interviews and research conducted November 2017 through October 2018 measures Christians’ ability to practice faith in five spheres of life, namely private, family, community, national and church. Each category is measured with numerical points, with the total score determining a country’s ranking.
For instance, North Korea garnered 94 out of 100 points, with India accumulating 83.
Ranking 11-50 on the list are, in descending order, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Central African Republic, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Mali, Mauritania, Turkey, China, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Brunei, Tunisia, Qatar, Mexico, Kenya, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Bangladesh, the Palestinian Territories and Azerbaijan.
The full list and accompanying resources are available at Open Doors has worked for more than 60 years to help Christians living in countries the organization deems the world’s most oppressive and restrictive for believers.

1/17/2019 9:33:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

DeMoss to close PR firm

January 16 2019 by Biblical Recorder Staff

Mark DeMoss, founder of DeMoss, a public relations firm known for its high-profile, faith-based clientele, plans to shutter the Atlanta-based organization March 29. In a letter to friends dated Jan. 15, DeMoss said he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, but tests now show he is cancer-free.

“In addition to the gift of God’s presence and physical healing during this journey, the experience motivated a season of reflection ultimately leading to both clarity and affirmation of this important decision for me,” the letter said.
He explained that many public relations organizations have been “reinventing themselves” and changing their business models, but DeMoss said he is “not wired” to do that with his firm.
Founded in 1991 as The DeMoss Group, the firm managed clients such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Chick-fil-A, Museum of the Bible, American Bible Society, Hobby Lobby, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade), the American Center for Law and Justice and dozens more.
DeMoss planned and coordinated media relations for memorial services and other events surrounding the death of North Carolina evangelist Billy Graham, which received worldwide news coverage last year. He also served as an advisor for Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
DeMoss’s 20 employees were notified Jan. 11 of the company’s forthcoming closure. Clients were then informed about the decision. Their website calls DeMoss “the nation’s largest PR agency serving faith-based organizations and causes.”

Mark DeMoss is also the author of The Little Red Book of Wisdom.

1/16/2019 11:06:24 AM by Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments

Church dropout rate among young adults studied

January 16 2019 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources

Church pews may be full of teenagers, but a study released Jan. 15 suggests college students might be a much rarer sight on Sunday mornings.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, according to a study from LifeWay Research. Thirty-four percent say they continued to attend twice a month or more.

While the 66 percent may be troubling for many church leaders, the numbers may appear more hopeful when compared to a 2007 study from LifeWay Research. A decade earlier, 70 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds left church for at least one year.

“The good news for Christian leaders is that churches don’t seem to be losing more students than they were 10 years ago. However, the difference in the dropout rate now and then is not large enough statistically to say it has actually improved,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“The reality is that Protestant churches continue to see the new generation walk away as young adults. Regardless of any external factors, the Protestant church is slowly shrinking from within.”

When they drop out

The dropout rate for young adults accelerates with age, according to the latest survey conducted Sept. 15–Oct. 13, 2017.
While 69 percent say they were attending at age 17, that fell to 58 percent at age 18 and 40 percent at age 19. Once they reach their 20s, around 1 in 3 say they were attending church regularly.
“Overall, Protestant churches see many teenagers attending regularly only for a season. Many families just don’t attend that often,” McConnell said.
“As those teenagers reach their late teen years, even those with a history of regular church attendance are pulled away as they get increased independence, a driver’s license or a job. The question becomes: will they become like older adults who have all those things and still attend or will students choose to stay away longer than a year.”
Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, said those numbers speak to the issue at hand. “We are seeing teenagers drop out of the church as they make the transition out of high school and student ministry,” he said. “This moment of transition is often too late to act for churches.”

Why they drop out

Virtually all of those who dropped out (96 percent) listed a change in their life situation as a reason for their dropping out. Fewer say it was related to the church or pastor (73 percent); religious, ethical or political beliefs (70 percent); or the student ministry (63 percent).
The five most frequently chosen specific reasons for dropping out were: moving to college and no longer attending (34 percent); church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical (32 percent); no longer feeling connected to people in their church (29 percent); disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues (25 percent); and work responsibilities (24 percent).
Nearly half (47 percent) of those who dropped out and attended college say moving to college played a role in their no longer attending church for at least a year.
“Most of the reasons young adults leave the church reflect shifting personal priorities and changes in their own habits,” McConnell said. “Even when churches have faithfully communicated their beliefs through words and actions, not every teenager who attends embraces or prioritizes those beliefs.”
Among all those who dropped out, 29 percent say they planned on taking a break from church once they graduated high school. Seven in 10 (71 percent) say their leaving wasn’t an intentional decision.
“For the most part, people aren’t leaving the church out of bitterness, the influence of college atheists or a renunciation of their faith,” Trueblood said.
“What the research tells us may be even more concerning for Protestant churches: there was nothing about the church experience or faith foundation of those teenagers that caused them to seek out a connection to a local church once they entered a new phase of life. The time they spent with activity in church was simply replaced by something else.”

Where are they now?

Not all teenagers leave church as a young adult. A third (34 percent) say they consistently attended twice a month or more through the age of 22.
Those who stayed saw the church as an important part of their entire life. When asked why they stayed in church, more than half say the church was a vital part of their relationship with God (56 percent) and that they wanted the church to help guide their decisions in everyday life (54 percent).
Around 4 in 10 (43 percent) say they wanted to follow the example of a parent or other family member.
Similar numbers say they continued to attend because church activities were a big part of their life (39 percent), they felt church was helping them become a better person (39 percent) or they were committed to the purpose and work of the church (37 percent).
Among all young adults who attended church regularly at least one year as a teenager, nearly half (45 percent) currently attend at least twice a month, including more than a quarter (27 percent) who attend once a week or more.
Another 8 percent say they attend once a month, while 25 percent say they attend a few times a year. Twenty-two percent of those who attended regularly at least one year as a teenager now say they do not currently attend at all.
Among those who dropped out for at least a year, 31 percent are currently attending twice or month or more.
“On some level, we can be encouraged that some return,” said Trueblood, “while at the same time, we should recognize that when someone drops out in these years there is a 69 percent chance they will stay gone.”
He advised churches to begin by working to lower the number who leave in the first place. “There are steps we can begin taking with those currently in student ministry that will keep them connected from the beginning of these years.”
Trueblood also asserted churches should have a strategic focus on individuals during those traditional college years.
“In many places this is a forgotten, under-resourced ministry area,” he said. “Focus is placed on children, students, and then not again until someone enters the ‘young family’ stage. This needs to change.”
Among those who attended a Protestant church as teenager, 7 in 10 say they’re Protestant now. Another 10 percent identify as Catholic. Few say they are agnostic (4 percent) or atheist (3 percent).
“While some young adults who leave church are rejecting their childhood faith, most are choosing to keep many of the beliefs they had, but with a smaller dose of church,” McConnell said.


A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults between the ages of 23 and 30 years old. The study was sponsored by LifeWay Students. 

The survey was conducted Sept. 15–Oct. 13, 2017. Slight weights were used to balance gender, ethnicity, education, and region. The sample was screened to only include those who attended a Protestant church regularly (twice a month or more) for at least a year in high school. The completed sample is 2,002 surveys.
The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed plus or minus 2.4 percent. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Comparisons are made to a LifeWay Research online survey of 1,023 young adults ages 18-30 in April-May 2007.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
For more information on the study, visit or view the complete report. A graphic video of the information is available at LifeWay’s YouTube page.

1/16/2019 10:29:47 AM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

New book, Within Reach, relays insight for student ministry

January 16 2019 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

Today’s high school graduate is faced with an abundance of choices. Go to college or enter the workforce? Dorm life, apartment life or mom and dad’s basement? But no decision may be as important as whether to continue attending church.

A study from LifeWay Research and LifeWay Students, released Jan. l5, reveals that two out of three young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.
Within Reach:  The Power of Small Changes in Keeping Students Connected, a new book by Ben Trueblood, explores the research and the differences between young people who dropped out of church and those who stayed.
“One of the first things that jumped out at us was the decline in the percentage of dropouts from a decade earlier,” said Trueblood, LifeWay’s director of student ministry. In 2007, LifeWay Research found 70 percent of teens who were active in church during their high school years dropped out of the church during their college years, compared to 66 percent in 2017.
“While 66 percent is still a significant share of teens dropping out of church, we didn’t want to overlook the slight decrease,” he said.
Trueblood also noted another data point that jumped out from the research. Of the 66 percent who left the church during their college years, 71 percent didn’t intend on doing so.
“It’s important to note that the majority of dropouts never plan on leaving; it just happens,” Trueblood said. “Young adults aren’t walking away from church because they’re bitter at the church or have lost their faith. Instead, things come up – work, school projects, extracurricular activities – and many young adults simply fall out of the habit of going to church.”
Within Reach presents the 10 strongest predictors of young adults staying or dropping out of church after high school, which includes parental influence, regular Bible reading and the investment of adults.
“One of the most influential aspects of a student’s spiritual development is the investment of multiple adults speaking into their lives,” Trueblood said. “Since that’s the case, church leaders need to make an intentional effort to regularly train the volunteers who work with students. Equipping adults to serve in student ministry is vital to the spiritual health of students.”
In the book, Trueblood unpacks each of the predictors and offers insight on how churches can capitalize on those things that influence church attendance among young adults.
“I pray church leaders will be willing to spend time digesting what is and isn’t working in student ministry, according to the research, and make adjustments that will keep students grounded in their faith and committed to the church,” Trueblood said.
To order a copy of Within Reach, visit

1/16/2019 10:29:33 AM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Judges block rules on abortion mandate

January 16 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Federal conscience protections for American employers who object to the abortion/contraception mandate are on hold.
Federal judges in California and Pennsylvania blocked Jan. 13 and Jan. 14, respectively, implementation of final rules from the Trump administration that provided exemptions for employers with religious or moral objections to the 2011 requirement instituted under President Obama.
The opinions prevented rules issued in November by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from taking effect Monday while challenges proceed in the courts. The ruling in Pennsylvania was a preliminary injunction for the entire country, while the decision in California affected the 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have sued HHS.
The court actions are the latest shots in a seven-year battle over a controversial regulation that helped implement the 2010 health-care reform law. The rule required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions, or face potentially devastating fines. It elicited legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofit organizations, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and at least seven Baptist universities.
One of the new regulations issued Nov. 7 exempts entities and individuals from the mandate based on their religious beliefs, while the other rule protects individuals, nonprofit organizations and small businesses on the basis of a moral conviction apart from a specific religious belief.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which advocated for an exemption to the mandate for GuideStone and other religious or moral objectors, expressed continued support for the new HHS rules.
“The contraceptive mandate revealed the audacity of a state that believed it could annex the human conscience,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “This government overreach asks citizens to choose between obedience to God and compliance with the regulatory state.
“The Little Sisters of the Poor victory at the Supreme Court and the HHS religious and moral exemptions were crucial achievements in the preservation of religious liberty and must be defended.”
The final HHS rules issued in November came more than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against GuideStone and other religious institutions and more than four years following the justices’ decision in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the mandate.
In a statement published by The Washington Post, Kelly Laco of the Department of Justice said, “As we’ve said before, religious organizations should not be forced to violate their mission and deeply-held beliefs. In this case and others, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defending religious liberty.”
GuideStone and two of the ministries it represents – as well as some other objecting organizations – already have gained final, favorable verdicts in court, but some have not.
The new court decisions in California and Pennsylvania came in cases involving state challenges to exemptions for the Little Sisters of the Poor. Lawsuits by those states will continue as a result of the federal court injunctions. The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic order that serves the poverty-stricken elderly and became the face of the institutions objecting to the mandate.
Mark Rienzi – president of the religious freedom legal organization Becket and lead lawyer for the Little Sisters – said, “Government bureaucrats should not be allowed to threaten the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve according to their Catholic beliefs. Now the nuns are forced to keep fighting this unnecessary lawsuit to protect their ability to focus on caring for the poor.
In a written statement, Rienzi expressed confidence the decisions would be overturned.
A leading abortion rights organization praised the nationwide injunction against the HHS rules.
“This rule would have given employers a license to discriminate against their employees, and we applaud the court recognizing that employers have no place in making decisions about the healthcare of their employees,” said Ilyse Hoge, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in written comments.
In her opinion out of federal court in Pennsylvania, Wendy Beetlestone said HHS’ final rules regarding the mandate sweep “further than [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] would require.” That 1993 law requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening free exercise of religion.
In issuing a nation-wide exemption, Beetlestone cited these as harms if the HHS rules are implemented – “numerous citizens losing contraceptive coverage, resulting in ‘significant, direct and proprietary harm’ to the States in the form of increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, as well as increase costs associated with unintended pregnancies.”
In May 2016, the Supreme Court invalidated multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before Obama left office in January 2017.
When it issued the controversial rule in 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions, but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
GuideStone, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity, was exempt from the mandate, but it serves ministries that are required to obey it.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
Messengers to the 2012 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for an exemption from the mandate for “all religious organizations and people of faith ... who declare a religious objection to such coverage.”

1/16/2019 10:29:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

European homeschool ruling ‘ignores’ parents’ rights

January 16 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling to uphold Germany’s homeschool prohibition has been called a matter of concern for “anyone who cares about freedom.”

ADF International photo
Germany’s prohibition of home education does not violate the rights of the Wunderlichs, a German family that homeschools its four children, according to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled Jan. 10 that Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s human rights were not violated when German officials forcibly removed their four children from the family home near Darmstadt, Germany, for three weeks in 2013. At issue was the Wunderlichs’ refusal to stop homeschooling.
A German court previously determined the children’s level of education “was not alarming” and they did not face a risk of physical harm at home, according to the ECHR’s ruling. Still, the Wunderlichs have no right to homeschool under the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR said.
Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), a legal organization that represents the Wunderlichs, said the ruling “ignores the fact that Germany’s policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing.
“It is alarming to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe,” Coleman said according to an ADF release. “This ruling is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom.”
The Wunderlichs may appeal to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber, the court’s highest level, their ADF International attorney Robert Clarke said.
Germany argues children must attend school to learn “tolerance” and how “to hold fast to their convictions against majority views,” Clarke told The World and Everything in It podcast. Yet the ECHR’s ruling suggests “the government is allowed to be utterly intolerant” and that “if you stand fast to your convictions against majority-held views, then your house is going to get surrounded by police officers and your children are going to get taken away.”
Germany “really stands alone” among European nations in its level of resistance to homeschooling, Clarke said.
In a related case, the Romeike family fled Germany for the U.S. in 2008 amid mounting fines and risk of losing custody of homeschooled children. The Romeikes requested asylum in the U.S. and lost their court battle, but in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security allowed them to remain in the country.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Germany’s homeschooling prohibition, according to, Germany’s public international broadcast service. The only exceptions are for severe illness, children of diplomats and working children like child actors. Between 500 and 1,000 German families are believed to be homeschooling.
In the U.S., the federal Department of Education estimates there are more than 2 million homeschool students. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports varying levels of regulation among U.S. states and claims homeschool families occasionally face unjust harassment from government authorities.
In December, a Massachusetts mother filed a lawsuit claiming law enforcement officers handcuffed her and took her to the police station over her decision to homeschool her son, Boston’s WBUR radio reported.
In Puerto Rico, a mother’s decision to homeschool her four youngest children eventuated in a court order to remove them from her home, HSLDA reported in November. Eventually, the mother was cleared of wrongdoing and the case was resolved without removal of the children.
When the Wunderlichs appealed their case to the ECHR in April, HSLDA’s Mike Donnelly said, “Human rights experts at the UN and scholars worldwide have found that home education is a natural, fundamental and protected human right.”

1/16/2019 10:29:09 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bailey Smith, early SBC conservative president, dies

January 15 2019 by Christian Index & Baptist Press Staff

Evangelist Bailey Smith, who helped sustain the Conservative Resurgence at its outset in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), died Jan. 14 at his home in Duluth, Ga. He was 79.
Smith’s election as SBC president in 1980 was the second victory for conservatives following the landmark election of the late Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers in 1979.

J. Gerald Harris, retired editor of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal, described Smith as “a powerful preacher, devoted pastor and faithful friend” in an obituary posted Jan. 15 at the Index’s online news site.
Harris wrote that Smith told him he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2017. “I was stunned and heartbroken, but he was calm and demonstrated an imperturbable peace at the threshold of the personal physical storm he was entering.”
After receiving care from Atlanta-area cancer specialists, Smith went to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Smith and his wife Sandy remained in a Houston hotel for months for further diagnosis, chemotherapy and observation. Doctors ultimately recommended a complicated cancer surgery known as the Whipple procedure that, as Harris described it, offered “a five-year survival rate of up to 25 percent. Although the skill of the surgeon and excellent care of the hospital was commendable, the surgery was not successful.”
Smith’s two terms as SBC president (1980-1982) were marked by his resolute preaching of the gospel. At one point, he sparked a national controversy over his declaration that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” The comments, spoken at an evangelical gathering in Dallas that included remarks by Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, subsequently were clarified by Smith and others that he was speaking from a theological, not racial, standpoint.
“Most Baptists have known Bailey Smith as both a successful pastor and an effective evangelist for more than six decades,” Harris wrote, “and his death has left a significant spiritual void in the 21st-century church that seems to be struggling to keep evangelism a priority.”
The book “The Sacred Trust” by Emir and Ergun Caner stated, “Without a doubt [Bailey] Smith is the ideal personification of a Christian who has an unwavering, single-minded commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Bailey Eugene Smith was born in Dallas on Jan. 30, 1939, the son of the Rev. Bailey E. Smith and his wife Frances. He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., in 1961 and from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1966.
Smith led churches in Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico before being called, at age 34, as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., where he served 12 years. At the time of his election as SBC president, Smith was the youngest man ever to lead the convention, Harris wrote, noting that he earlier had served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma simultaneously.
Harris wrote that TIME magazine described Smith as “a formidable figure, a fiery, red-haired, old style prairie stemwinder.” Christianity Today referred to him as “an inerrancy superstar.”
“In 1980 the Del City church baptized 2,000 persons, an accomplishment unprecedented in Christian history,” Harris wrote. “In the 12 years Smith was the pastor … the membership grew from 6,600 to more than 20,000, and in a convention that was known for thriving on growth and soul-winning, Bailey Smith was known as a pacesetter.
“In 1985 the Del City church was flourishing, but Smith sensed a definite call from God to become a vocational evangelist,” Harris continued. “He is the only former president of the Southern Baptist Convention to enter crusade evangelism.” Bailey Smith Ministries conducted area-wide crusades, church revivals, Bible conferences, ladies’ retreats and overseas ministries.
Smith’s Real Evangelism Conferences “touched and changed countless lives for three decades,” Harris wrote. First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., led by Johnny Hunt hosted one of Smith’s conferences.
“There is no finer Bible Conference in America than Bailey Smith’s Real Evangelism Conference,” Hunt said. “It will take heaven to reveal what has happened in the hearts of pastors since Bailey Smith allowed God to use him to begin these Christ-honoring events. I believe that time will tell that there has been no man alive any more passionate about winning souls for Christ than Dr. Bailey Smith.”
Smith authored several books, including “Real Evangelism,” “Taking Back the Gospel,” “Real Christianity,” “Real Christian Excellence” and “The Grace Escape.” Harris wrote that Smith was working on his autobiography at the time of his death.
Smith is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sandy, and three sons, Bailey Scott; Steven, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.; and Josh, pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart, Ga.; and eight grandchildren.
A graveside service for the immediate family will be held at First Baptist Church in Warren, Ark., where Smith once served as pastor, followed by a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 30 at One Heart Church in Norcross, Ga.

1/15/2019 1:54:44 PM by Christian Index & Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

Former N.C. pastor answers plea for help at Tijuana border

January 15 2019 by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer

The day Juvenal Gonzalez spoke with the Biblical Recorder started just like every other day for him since early December: preparing and serving breakfast – tamales, chilaquiles, sometimes bacon and eggs and pancakes – to asylum seekers at El Barretal, an abandoned concert venue in Tijuana, Mexico, that now houses caravan migrants from Central America.

Photo courtesy of Juvenal Gonzalez
Volunteers serve breakfast to asylum seekers staying at El Barretal, a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.

Gonzalez serves as the church planting catalyst missionary for the San Diego Southern Baptist Association (SDSBA). He began the role in 2006 after moving from Lumberton, N.C., where he founded and pastored Iglesia Bautista Betel for 13 years. Now he works with existing congregations to start new churches in Tijuana, one of Mexico’s largest and fastest growing cities.
“Some people migrate from the earthquakes, some people from the cartel, running from the dangers,” Gonzalez said. Thousands made the journey on foot and in vehicles, primarily from Honduras, with some from El Salvador and Guatemala.
El Barretal is a 30-minute drive from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where migrants can check on their place in line to file an asylum claim in the United States. At some ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials can only process 20 people per day, extending wait times for asylum seekers.
When Gonzalez first met migrants at El Barretal last month, there were 3,000 at the center. Today 700 remain.
“The majority of these people, they already crossed,” he said, only to find themselves in detention centers in California and Arizona.
The Mexican government opened El Barretal as a shelter when another facility, a sports complex called Deportivo Benito Juárez, became overcrowded and littered with trash and sewage. It was there that Gonzalez, along with his wife, two sons and daughter, first provided migrants with coffee and bread. They ran out quickly.
“The next day they call us. The immigration from Mexico call us and asked if we can feed women and children. There was big rain coming, so we prepared chicken soup. I asked what time they want it, and they say, ‘Hold, hold, hold.’”
Around 7 p.m., Gonzalez heard back from officials who requested he take the food to the new site instead.
“So we wait with chicken soup at El Barretal, and as soon as they arrived, it was wet, raining hard, so we received people with the chicken soup plate.”

Photo courtesy of Juvenal Gonzalez
Migrants at El Barretal wait in line to celebrate Christmas with a meal.

Two other pastors and several local church members have since joined the family on their daily visits to the shelter.
“I try not to be busy so I can talk to people,” Gonzalez said. “Somebody will ask me if I’ll pray for them, if I’ll talk to them, if I’ll listen to them. One of the great needs is spiritual. We need churches. We need brothers and sisters that can come and spend the whole day teaching and praying for them.”
An immigrant himself who first came to the U.S. for work, Gonzalez said he was initially “a little slow in getting into” ministry to asylum seekers.
“When the government in Mexico knows that you’re a pastor and you care for people, how can you say no?” he said. “So when they called me, it was like an open door to show the government the love of Christ and also to show the people from the caravan that God really cares for them.”
The immigration official who contacted Gonzalez met him two years ago, when his church served as a sanctuary for Haitian refugees.
“Right now the government here in Tijuana, they really trust in me. Whatever I say, they say, ‘Yeah, pastor, we’re gonna do it.’ It’s really a testimony for us as a Christian to come and serve,” he said.
“For me, it was not a matter of taking sides – that they come illegally, or they’re gonna be legal – my first response was: Christ opened the door for me to show His love. … Some people think that they don’t deserve, but nobody deserves.
“So to me, it was more like, hey, I need to be obedient helping the poor, the needy, the widow and the children. For me, it was like a wake-up call when they called me.”
Gonzalez told the Recorder he is prepared to welcome teams that want to care for people at El Barretal. With support from SDSBA, he can offer transportation and housing for church groups visiting from the U.S. The time he could spend in conversation with individuals and families is limited by the demands of food distribution. He simply needs more people.
Alan Cross, missional strategist for the Montgomery Baptist Association in Alabama, traveled to Tijuana in December. He visited the border wall at the Pacific Ocean, where Christians on the U.S. side of the wall gathered to pray and sing.
“In the midst of the news stories and concern about the border, I saw the church at work on both sides ministering, praying and being the hands and feet of Jesus to migrants,” Cross said in a statement to the Recorder. “I saw them being treated as people in need and not political objects. The church transcends borders and is transforming this controversy into opportunity for ministry and the gospel of the Kingdom to be proclaimed and demonstrated to these desperate people.
“I pray that Southern Baptists will further join with missionaries like Juvenal to share the love of Christ with the migrants coming to us for help.”
In addition to physical presence at El Barretal, Gonzalez asked for prayer for more opportunities to minister to asylum seekers. Individuals and churches can also make financial contributions to SDSBA for the work in Tijuana. Visit to donate.

1/15/2019 11:26:26 AM by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer | with 0 comments

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