September 2017

Conflicting rulings on prayer may open door to SCOTUS

September 8 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Two conflicting 2017 court rulings in cases challenging public prayer at government meetings increase the chance of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the issue, religious liberty advocate Ken Klukowski said Sept. 7.

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The Board of Commissioners in Jackson County, Mich., may legally open its meetings with sectarian prayers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said Sept. 6. The decision is contrary to a July 14 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which said the Rowan County (North Carolina) Board of Commissioners’ similar practice was “unconstitutionally coercive.”
Klukowski, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute representing both boards, said the split creates the precise climate to encourage the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the ruling in the Fourth Circuit against Rowan County.
“The Fourth Circuit decision was 10-to-5 against prayer, and the Sixth Circuit decision was 9-to-6 in favor of prayer,” Klukowski told Baptist Press Sept. 7. “So that makes (14) federal appeals judges who say this is permitted by the establishment clause of the Constitution, and (16) federal appeals judges who say no it’s not. That is the perfect example of the type of case where the justices of the Supreme Court say we really need to take this and establish a nationwide rule of law on the issue.”
Rowan County plans to decide in late September whether to appeal the decision, Klukowski said.
“If Rowan County chooses to seek review, that really makes this a top-tier candidate for the Supreme Court to take to make a national decision,” he said. “Regardless of which way that goes, we’re grateful for the victory in the Sixth Circuit, and believe that we would have a good chance, or that we would be optimistic of our chances of a victory for Rowan County, if the Supreme Court were to take the case.”
First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shackelford also expressed optimism after the favorable ruling for Jackson County, Mich.
“Now we have two ... courts – which covers numerous states across the United States – disagreeing about this important tradition really that goes back hundreds of years in our country,” Shackelford said in a video First Liberty released Sept. 6. “The experts say that the odds are very, very high that this case is now going to be on its way to the Supreme Court, and this is great momentum to get there.”
In Jackson County, individual commissioners offer invocations on a rotating basis and are free to act according to their own consciences by delivering either an invocation or offering a moment of silence, First Liberty said. In 2013 a plaintiff sued, alleging that the invocations violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
Jackson County won the case at its first hearing, but lost on the plaintiff’s appeal, according to a case summary at The county won its subsequent appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court, which heard the case June 14.
Regarding Rowan County, the question before the court was whether the commissioners’ practice of inviting the audience to join them in sectarian prayer was coercive. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the practice in court and won.
Previous courts have found such prayers to be constitutional, First Liberty said. In the 1983 case of Marsh vs. Chambers, and Town of Greece vs. Galloway in 2014, “the Supreme Court found invocations before government meetings to be fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage,” First Liberty said in its release.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/8/2017 7:48:31 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

’Portraits of a Pastor’ shares insight for Baptist leaders

September 8 2017 by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS

In Portraits of a Pastor, based on the theme for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (MBTS) 2016 For the Church Conference, Southern Baptist leaders from around the convention offer insight into nine essential roles of a church leader. photo

MBTS announced Sept. 5 that the book project Portraits of a Pastor, edited by MBTS president Jason Allen, has been released by Moody Publishers.
Allen explains that there are numerous roles a pastor undertakes during his ministry. Some are healthy and others not so much. Additionally, the pastor’s congregation can place unrealistic expectations upon him which can lead to ineffectiveness and even burnout. So the great questions are “What is the pastor to be?” and “What is the pastor to do?”
In answering these questions, Portraits of a Pastor explores roles and provides insight and practical application into areas such as the pastor as shepherd, husband and father, preacher, theologian, church historian, evangelist, missionary, leader and man of God.
“It has been a privilege to partner with the Moody Publishing team to produce a book that, I pray, will assist church leaders who are seeking to better understand and define the key roles in which they serve on a daily basis,” Allen said.
“I am grateful that over the years of my ministry I’ve had supportive and loving congregations,” he said. “Now, I find myself one step removed, serving as a seminary president where my responsibility and joy is to train ministers for church service. I consider my calling a high one, but only because I’m in the position of helping to prepare men for an even higher calling: pastoring a local church. My desire is that this book helps them in pursuit of this noble, God-honoring end.”
Authors who contributed chapters to the book include Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas; Jason G. Duesing, provost at MBTS; Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; John Mark Yeats, dean of Midwestern Baptist College; Christian T. George, assistant professor of historical theology and curator of the Spurgeon Library at MBTS; Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at MBTS; and Jared C. Wilson, director of content strategy and managing editor of For the Church website.
To pastors and ministry leaders reading Portraits of a Pastor, Allen noted, “The point of this book is not to raise the bar of ministry unapproachably high, but to give you the encouragement and counsel to most faithfully serve the body of Christ. As you do, you will honor God, strengthen his church, and one day hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ So press on!”
To purchase Portraits of a Pastor through Moody Publishing, please visit:
Southern Baptist leaders and pastors who commented on the book project include the following:

Thom Rainer

“In Portraits of a Pastor, we are invited into the minds and hearts of nine of the most influential leaders in the church today,” said Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. “We are provided perspectives of pastoral leadership in a rich and powerful way. This book is the book that needs to be in the hands of pastors and those who love, follow, and support pastors.”

H.B. Charles

“The world at its worst needs the church at its best,” said H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Faithful churches require faithful pastors. Unfortunately, there are many who are confused about what the pastor is to be and do. Portraits of a Pastor paints a clear picture of the biblical role of the Christian pastor.”

Tony Merida

“This wise group of pastoral theologians has teamed up to provide church leaders with a valuable resource for local church ministry,” said Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. “Portraits of a Pastor will refresh weary ministry leaders and guide aspiring leaders. This is not corporate business principles baptized, but biblically-rooted, Christ-exalted teaching. I pray that it will strengthen and build up Christ’s church around the globe.”

Micah Fries

“It is comforting and encouraging to find a book that takes pastoring seriously, that rightly prioritizes the character of the pastor, and that grounds the practice of pastoring in the words of scripture,” said Micah Fries, pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. “This is a wonderful book from Jason Allen and his talented team of contributors, that will help equip the young pastor and encourage the established pastor.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is executive assistant to the president at Midwestern Seminary.)

9/8/2017 7:35:11 AM by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS | with 0 comments

Irma puts Baptist DR on alert amid Harvey aid

September 7 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The second major hurricane threatening the U.S. within two weeks has Southern Baptists and their partners actively preparing to respond to Hurricane Irma, even as Harvey recovery efforts hunker down for the long haul.
With flood waters still standing in some parts of Texas, and Category 5 Irma churning, President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Southern Baptist disaster relief teams are preparing to meet the challenge of responding to both storms.
“Everyone is stretched thin in this,” David Melber, North American Mission Board (NAMB) vice president for Send Relief, told Baptist Press (BP). “But this is causing us to come together and function at a much higher level due to the magnitude of what happened in Texas and what is looming in the Caribbean.”
Irma’s 185-mph winds could threaten lives and cause catastrophic damage to the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys as early as this weekend, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Sept. 6.
A NAMB team member is already representing Southern Baptist Disaster Relief at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Response Coordination Center in Washington. NAMB is working alongside FEMA, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to map impending needs.
NAMB also has a representative coordinating recovery efforts in Florida alongside the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC). FBC Executive Director Tommy Green assured the public of the convention’s readiness and encouraged supporters to pray.
“Our disaster relief teams are already prepared and staging to meet the disaster needs quickly and expeditiously in the case of landfall of Hurricane Irma,” Green said in a video message at “We are grateful for our partners with the North American Mission Board and other state conventions who are already staging to come beside us in the event of that need.”
While actively bracing for Irma, Florida Baptists are prayerful and thankful for volunteers participating in Harvey recovery efforts, Green said.
“We continue to pray, we continue to give, we continue to be faithful in the gospel ministry God has given us in Florida,” he said. “We continue to pray for those who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey and for those responding to their needs.”
NAMB will continue to work alongside state leaders as Southern Baptists cooperate to send disaster relief resources where they are needed most, Melber said. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster have both declared a state of emergency.
Irma powered ashore islands in the Caribbean Sea early Aug. 6, first striking Barbuda, St. Barthelemy and St. Martin before biting portions of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the NHC said. Winds surpassed just over 184 mph as the NHC issued a hurricane warning for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the southeastern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos and portions of Haiti.
The path could change, but forecast models have the storm reaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic Thursday evening (Sept. 7), making landfall in Cuba Friday evening (Sept. 8) and traveling across Cuba through Saturday (Sept. 9).
If Hurricane Irma strikes the U.S., it will likely hit south Florida near Miami on Sept. 10, during the afternoon or evening. It is still too early to tell precisely when and where the storm will strike. Miami-Dade County and other area governments are setting up shelters and planning evacuations.
Disaster relief and community development group Baptist Global Response (BGR), a Southern Baptist partner, is focusing primarily on relief efforts outside the U.S., BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told BP.
“We are in initial conversations with NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention (representatives) who have work/ministry assignments for Puerto Rico, Hispanola, etc.,” Palmer told BP. “We are trying to find the best ways to work to maximize resources for the needed Caribbean response.”
NAMB and various state convention teams are already active in robust efforts to help Texas and Louisiana areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, projected to extend long-term.
Harvey first struck Corpus Christi, Texas, Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane. Weakened by land, the massive storm reentered the gulf, strengthened and made landfall again. Harvey poured record-setting rainfall over Houston and flooded large portions of the city before moving east and doing the same in a path through eastern Texas and parts of western Louisiana.
Harvey’s death toll was last calculated at 63, but might rise as recovery efforts continue.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

9/7/2017 9:38:53 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abortion clinics’ post-Harvey offer called ‘heinous’

September 7 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A chain of Texas-based abortion clinics has announced it will provide “no-cost abortions” during the month of September “for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.”

Screen capture from Whole Woman’s Health blog

Whole Woman’s Health – which operates Texas clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, McAllen and San Antonio – announced its free-abortion campaign in a Sept. 1 blog post stating, “The need for abortion care does not stop for natural disasters.” Supported by abortion-assistance funds, including the Lilith Fund and the Stigma Relief Fund, Whole Woman’s Health will offer free travel and lodging as part of its campaign.
Pro-life advocates called the offer “heinous” and “callous.”
“The promotion of this heinous no-cost service is riddled with fallacies because abortion is never free,” said Melissa Conway, director of external relations for Texas Right to Life. “There is always a cost to abortion. Women are not free from the emotional toll that ensues after abortion and the child is certainly not free to live another day. Abortions, just like the catastrophic effects of a hurricane, are never free and we, as a community, pay the price for their needless destruction.
“As so many are living in the tragic remains of Harvey,” Conway told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments, “now more than ever is the time to protect the most vulnerable among us and combat the predatory schemes of big-business abortion attempting to victimize women and terminate the lives of their preborn babies.”
Followers of Jesus must “be the hands and feet of Christ” following Harvey, Conway said, especially to “women who are pregnant and in crisis.” Such women should be referred to pregnancy care centers that will care for them and their unborn children, she said.
Tom Billings, executive director of the Houston-area Union Baptist Association, told BP in written comments, “It’s ironic after so many heroic efforts to save pets during the recent floods in Houston that anyone would be so callous with the life of an unborn child.”
Whole Woman’s Health stated in its blog post, “Unfortunately, we know all too well that abortion can be difficult to access in some parts of the country, especially in Texas. There are already so many barriers to access this necessary procedure, and natural disasters stand in the way of women getting to their appointment and/or being able to afford care.
“During Hurricane Harvey, many of the clinics in Houston had to close temporarily, leaving women with very few options. Continued political attacks on abortion access make an unwanted pregnancy particularly stressful in Texas – add that to the stress of dealing with hurricane aftermath,” the blog post stated.
Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate and former director of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, said her former employer made a similar free-abortion offer following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though the idea seemed “fantastic” at the time, Johnson said according to, “I now realize that we were preying on these families in their most desperate time of need.”
Johnson continued, “We didn’t offer to help them find housing, food, clothing or anything else ... just a way to kill their unborn child at ‘no cost.’ Sick.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/7/2017 9:36:12 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay, WMU commit to helping Houston-area churches recover

September 7 2017 by Baptist Press staff

In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey to Houston-area churches, LifeWay Christian Resources and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) were among those this week offering support through the recovery process.

BP file photo
In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey to Houston-area churches, LifeWay Christian Resources and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) were among those this week offering support through the recovery process.

LifeWay announced Sept. 1 the organization is preparing to send Bibles and resources to the Houston area. And National Woman’s Missionary Union and the WMU Foundation have announced they will assist hurricane victims with a $5,000 HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund grant.


LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer said the Southern Baptist entity is committed to serving churches affected by the storm and resulting flooding. Initially, he said, that means offering support and assistance to those on the ground now. “While we can’t begin to understand all that’s been lost, we are supporting the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts in Texas,” he said.
“As churches begin to recover, we will provide resources and Bibles to impacted areas through our disaster assistance program.”
Southern Baptist pastors affected by the storm can receive replacement resources for their library, including a set of commentaries, study tools and access to numerous digital resources.
Churches can also apply for replacement of one quarter’s worth of LifeWay-published ongoing curriculum materials. In addition, specific discounts on pew Bibles and hymnals will be available for affected churches moving forward.
Impacted pastors and churches can email After collecting names and contact information, LifeWay will coordinate with the pastors to find the best way to provide them and their congregations with the needed resources.


The $5,000 HEART Fund grant will help WMU of Texas provide gift cards to those who have been impacted by the storm, according to National Woman’s Missionary Union and the WMU Foundation.
“There are thousands of people in Texas and surrounding areas who are hurting,” said David George, president of the WMU Foundation. “This grant will help storm victims with some of their immediate needs.”
Carolyn Porterfield, interim executive director of WMU of Texas, expressed appreciation for the grant. “We are so grateful that this grant will allow us to respond in Jesus’ name to the very real and urgent needs that are all around us right now,” she said.
National WMU and the WMU Foundation expect to make additional grants as relief efforts continue and rebuilding begins.
“Our prayer is this initial grant will provide some necessities for people who are hurting right now,” said Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director-treasurer of national WMU, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We will continue to work with the WMU Foundation and WMU of Texas during clean-up and rebuilding, and we will pray for, support, and love our neighbors as they recover and rebuild.”
George noted, “It’s human nature to forget about the victims once the worst is over and it’s no longer on the news every day, but we will not forget.”
“In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we will continue to look for ways to help,” he said. “As the body of Christ, we will be there for our neighbors as they rebuild their homes and lives.”
The HEART Fund was created in response to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Since that time, the WMU Foundation has granted more than $473,000 from the HEART Fund to disaster victims in the United States and around the world.
For more information on how you can help can assist those impacted by Hurricane Harvey through the HEARTFund, go to or mail to WMU Foundation HEART Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL, 35242.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press Editor Shawn Hendricks with reporting from Aaron Earls, who writes for LifeWay Christian Resources, and Candice Lee, marketing director of WMU Foundation.)

9/7/2017 9:32:06 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Judge rejects churches on abortion coverage

September 7 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Three evangelical Christian churches have suffered a setback in their challenge of a California requirement that they must cover abortions through their health insurance plans.
Federal judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed a suit by the southern California congregations in an Aug. 31 order, ruling that the churches had failed to state an adequate claim. She granted the congregations – Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch – 21 days to file an amended complaint.
The churches sued the state in response to 2014 letters from the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) that informed their private health insurers they could not prohibit or restrict coverage for elective abortions. The churches said they “believe and teach that abortion destroys an innocent human life” and “participation in, facilitation of, or payment for an elective abortion is a grave sin,” Mueller said in her order.
Pro-life advocates denounced the decision.
“The state has no authority to dictate to the consciences of churches or religious organizations about abortion,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Forcing citizens to subsidize the destruction of human life and the exploitation of families and communities is a moral and political tragedy.
“I pray that this mandate would be struck down quickly and that yet another attempt to trample religious conscience would be thwarted,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents the churches, charged that the order “ignores the longstanding freedom of faith communities to act consistently with their religious mission.”
“California has no right to dictate what pastors or churches believe on moral and cultural issues,” said Jeremiah Galus, ADF legal counsel. “Yet, with the stroke of a pen – and without consulting the public – the state mandated that churches must pay for the taking of innocent human life.”
“If the state can force [churches] to pay for the very thing they counsel against, in violation of their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, then no American is secure,” Galus said in a written statement.
The churches contended in their suit against DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard that the letters violate their rights under the religious free-exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In her order, however, Mueller said the letters are facially neutral because they “do not refer to any religious practice, conduct, belief or motivation on their face.”
The churches “have not alleged sufficient facts to make it plausible that [Rouillard] has selectively applied the law to target the [churches’] religious beliefs,” she wrote. “[The churches] have not now alleged that any plan has been rejected based on religion.”
Pro-lifers protested in June 2016 when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President Obama rejected complaints that California had violated federal law by requiring the health plans of churches to pay for elective abortions.
The federal law in question is the Weldon Amendment, an annual rider since 2004 to the HHS appropriations measure that bars funds for a federal program or state or local government that “subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for abortions.” The amendment is named after Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., a former, seven-term congressman who sponsored it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/7/2017 9:29:30 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pew: Reformation theology waning among Protestants

September 7 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Five hundred years after the start of the Protestant Reformation, a majority of U.S. Protestants reportedly reject the Reformation doctrines of sola fide (the belief men and women are saved by faith alone) and sola scriptura (the belief scripture is the only infallible guide for faith and practice).
That’s the finding of the Pew Research Center, which also found a majority of western European Protestants reject sola fide and that theological differences between Protestants and Catholics seem to be narrowing in many cases.
“The result of the survey ... in America and Europe is not particularly surprising,” said Paige Patterson, a participant during the 1990s in a five-year theological dialogue between eight Southern Baptist leaders and eight representatives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Although such surveys have little relevance on the vitality of faith and are often skewed in various ways, there is a sense in which both groups surveyed are correct. Certainly, Catholicism and Protestantism are more alike than any other expressions of religion in the world in their confidence that the Bible is in some sense the Word of God, that Jesus of Nazareth is the center of the Christian faith, in their confidence in the doctrine of the Trinity ... and in their general concept of sin defined as rebellion against God,” Patterson told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
“On the other hand, the survey also demonstrates the extent of biblical illiteracy,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Regarding salvation, two separate Pew surveys conducted in the U.S. and Europe and released Aug. 31 found:

  • Less than half (46%) of U.S. Protestants hold the Reformation doctrine that faith alone is needed to attain salvation. More than half (52%) espouse the historically Catholic doctrine that good deeds and faith are required to get into heaven.
  • A full 81 percent of U.S. Catholics say good deeds and faith are required to get into heaven. Just 17 percent of Catholics say salvation comes by faith alone.
  • In Europe, 29 percent of Protestants and 26 percent of Catholics espouse belief in salvation by faith alone.

Contrary to the majority of Protestants in the U.S. and Europe, the Augsburg Confession of Faith – a classic 1530 Lutheran confession of faith – stated, “Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith.”
In contrast, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that while “no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification,” humans can “merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for ... the attainment of eternal life.”
Concerning the authority of scripture, Pew found:

  • Just 46 percent of U.S. Protestants believe the Bible provides all religious guidance Christians need. More than half (52%) say believers need guidance from church teachings and traditions as well.
  • Three-quarters (75%) of U.S. Catholics say Christians need guidance from church traditions and teachings in addition to the Bible. Just 21 percent of Catholics say the Bible provides all needed religious guidance.

Protestants traditionally have believed, as stated in the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture.”
In contrast, the Catholic Church holds according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy scriptures alone. Both scripture and tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
Only 30 percent of U.S. Protestants believe in both sola fide and sola scriptura, according to Pew.
In the western European survey, most Catholics and most Protestants in every nation said they believe the two Christian groups are more theologically similar than different.
“The poll,” Patterson said, “is a source of challenge to Baptists to be sure that we prepare our people adequately in the doctrinal commitments that we have.”
The European surveys were conducted via telephone April 11-Aug. 2, with 24,599 respondents from 15 countries. The U.S. survey of 5,198 panelists was conducted online May 30-Aug. 9.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. This year, Baptist Press is publishing a series of stories leading up to the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, Oct. 31, 1517.)

9/7/2017 9:23:36 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

White House rescinds Dreamers program, gives Congress time

September 6 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 the repeal of a program that has protected people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents, but it also provided a window of time for Congress to act in response.

CBS Evening News screen capture

In a morning briefing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the revocation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 order by President Obama that gave relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. Obama issued the executive order after Congress failed for more than a decade to pass proposals to address the issue.
The repeal of DACA will involve a “wind-down process” that will enable the Department of Homeland Security “to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act – should it so choose,” said Sessions, who did not announce the time duration.
Even before Sessions’ announcement, President Trump signaled the ball was in the legislative branch’s court. “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!,” Trump tweeted earlier in the morning.
Evangelical Christian leaders who had urged continued protection for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers also called for Congress to act after the administration’s announcement.
“Congress should do the right thing and provide a solution for those who were brought here by parents as children,” tweeted Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said in a written release, “I am disappointed that these protections are ending and I’ve expressed that disappointment to the White House directly. I also understand why they chose this course of action.
“We do not intend on letting a single member of Congress have a good night’s rest until they guarantee our young people can rest easy,” he said.
In Congress, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, agreed with Sessions that immigration policy should come from Congress.
“It is right for there to be consequences for those who intentionally entered this country illegally,” Lankford said in a written statement. “However, we as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parent. In the coming months, Congress must address this issue.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., also a Southern Baptist, said in a news release, “The President is right; Congress has the responsibility to address this issue and now is the time to do so. With thoughtful debate, jobs can be protected, lawful immigration can be championed and the proper relief can come for the young people who know only America as their country and who continue to work hard to achieve that American dream.”
Members of Congress proposed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act for the first time in 2001, and the measure gained reintroduction several times thereafter. Congress failed to approve the measure, prompting Obama to act.
In his announcement, Sessions described DACA as “an unconstitutional exercise of authority” by the Obama administration, which “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.” He expressed the opinion a court would strike down the program, a fate met by a similar program for parents.
About 800,000 Dreamers, as they are known, have received protection through DACA since Obama’s order. Under DACA, those who come forward and qualify are able to remain in the country, receive drivers’ licenses, work and attend college. After two years, they are able to apply for renewal. The program does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
Republican attorneys general from 10 states had threatened to sue the administration if it did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5.
Members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board met with the president Friday, and some urged him not to revoke DACA, according to Christianity Today.
Moore and other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) asked Trump and congressional leaders in Aug. 30 letters to maintain protections for Dreamers.
More than two dozen Southern Baptists who did not sign the EIT’s Aug. 30 letter have affirmed the coalition’s statement of six general principles for immigration reform. Those who affirmed the general principles include former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) presidents, as well as current and former SBC entity presidents.
Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign he would “immediately terminate” DACA, The New York Times reported, but since taking office he has described those in the DACA program as “incredible kids” and said deciding their fate is “one of the most difficult subjects I have.”
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/6/2017 9:39:13 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Phenomenal’ DR response; ‘overwhelming’ tasks loom

September 6 2017 by SBTC & Baptist Press staff

Hurricane Harvey evacuees in a mega-shelter southeast of Austin are being fed with meals prepared by Southern Baptists of Texas (SBTC) Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers at the Austin-area First Baptist Church in Pflugerville.

Photo by Jane Rodgers
Volunteers Tammy Hutchinson and Evelyn Rojas unpack goods at the Austin-area First Baptist Church in Pflugerville, where a Baptist disaster relief kitchen is preparing meals for Hurricane Harvey evacuees housed in the city’s mega-shelter.

The food, provided and distributed by the American Red Cross, is transported to the shelter from the church. The evacuees, originally housed in Austin’s convention center and other shelters across the city, began moving to the mega-shelter in an industrial park on Friday, Sept. 1.
In the Houston area, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards visited a number of churches and described the response he’s witnessed by Southern Baptists as “phenomenal,” the Southern Baptist TEXAN reported on Labor Day.
“It’s incredible to see the cooperation of churches,” Richards said, “and how people have risen to the occasion to do the work.”
In the days, weeks and months ahead, Richards said he hopes churches and volunteers maintain unity in the relief efforts at hand. “Our greatest need is to come together and stay together for the gospel,” he said. “We want to help people who are hurting and we want to minister to their physical needs, but the greatest need they have is the gospel.”
Tom Billings, director of missions for the Houston-area Union Baptist Association, also reported on several church visits in a Facebook post on Labor Day.
“One of the more remarkable stories – and they are all remarkable – is Humble’s First Baptist Church,” Billings noted.
Two feet of water poured into the church when the San Jacinto River poured over its banks and sent water throughout local neighborhoods, Billings reported.
“Everything on the first floors of their four buildings had to go. I visited the church earlier in the week and saw volunteers and staff taking baby cribs, children’s toys, desks, chairs, all the things they used daily to minister and piling it in the parking lot.
“Driving into the parking lot Sunday morning I saw the trash ... but behind it was a huge tent,” Billings wrote. “People were piling in carrying lawn chairs preparing for worship. The juxtaposition of the pile of trash and people coming to worship wasn’t lost on me. Harvey dealt a devastating blow, but it was not fatal.”
The church’s worship center now is “stacked with food and other supplies to be given to the community. The tent they were using for worship on Sunday would become a distribution center for the community on Monday,” Billings wrote.

Disaster Relief in Austin

At the Austin mega-shelter, fire, police and medical units are on site. Air-conditioned tents are provided to serve meals, with other tents available to house evacuees’ pets. Austin Capital Metro spokesperson Mariette Hummel said a bus stop will be added to help shelter residents access services, retail outlets and medical facilities, the Austin American Statesman reported.
First Baptist Pflugerville’s DR team set up mass feeding operations in the church’s parking lot last week and prepared 1,880 hot meals Sept. 1, 2,320 the following day and 1,675 on Sunday, with work continuing as the team remains the only source of meals for Austin-area evacuees.
A Baptist laundry unit, meanwhile, is operating at the mega-shelter; its eight washer/dryer combinations handled 119 loads on Sunday and were running nonstop Monday. The unit is from the Kansas-Nebraska Baptist Convention and being operated by three-person SBTC volunteer crews.
At Pflugerville, around 15-18 SBTC DR volunteers from First Baptist are preparing the shelter’s meals, education pastor Mike Northen, an SBTC DR unit director, told the TEXAN.
Northen complimented the Red Cross team working with the Pflugerville crew, including the on-site mass feeding director Dave Waldrip, noting that the feeding team received equipment and supplies faster than ever before.
“It usually takes us all week to get operational,” Northen added. “This time we did it in three days.”
When asked how long the church planned to prepare meals for mass feeding in Austin, Northen replied, “As long as it takes. I don’t think we really know how long we will be operating. From the Red Cross’ view, it depends on the shelter population. The city of Austin health inspector told me today [Sept. 1] that there may be another 2,500 people coming. They are prepared for that many. We are the only kitchen feeding so far.”
Muriel Parker was among the SBTC DR volunteers at the church, performing administrative work including scheduling volunteers. She complimented kitchen crew chief Shirley Carter and the rest of the volunteers who began meal preparations outside as temperatures soared to the mid-90s.
Parker showed a picture of her 13-year-old grandson doing cleanup work at Farrington Mission in Houston’s impoverished Fifth Ward as part of Northeast Houston Baptist Church’s relief efforts. Parker’s son-in-law Nathan Lino is the church’s pastor and president of the SBTC.
The mass feeding unit at Pflugerville is one of the original units built by the SBTC after Hurricane Katrina, Northen said.

The response ahead

Since Aug. 31, SBTC feeding teams have prepared more than 25,000 meals distributed by the Red Cross to survivors and first responders along the Texas Gulf Coast and southeast Texas, including a unit at Clay Road Baptist Church in northwest Houston.
The unit’s director, Ralph Britt, said the kitchen is equipped to prepare 5,000 hot meals a day and is outfitted with a shower and laundry trailer.
Britt described the widespread devastation wrought by Harvey as “massive.” In addition to meeting the immediate physical needs of the local community, he said DR volunteers also get the opportunity to share the love of Christ with countless hurting people, many of whom lost homes due to flooding.
Gary Ledbetter, in a Sept. 1 column in the TEXAN, noted that disaster relief response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 12 years ago strengthened the convention. “Our churches began to expect of one another the kind of community and support a fellowship of churches should be able to provide. That implied promise was tested and grew into expanded church planting, missionary partnerships, evangelistic efforts, church revitalization and myriad church health resources a state convention should offer.”
Hurricane Harvey, Ledbetter wrote, “will touch all of us, and it should. The world has seen bigger catastrophes, but this one is ours. Southeast Texas is a region of wealth, growth and strong churches that send missionary resources around the world. We, all of us, need Houston and her Christian community back up and running. But for now, they need us.”
Ledbetter suggested, “If the churches that are still high and dry will suffer a fraction as much as their sister churches farther south and east, we can hasten the recovery of this essential portion of this essential state. Maybe your church is like mine and has seen a slow year of giving. Now, let’s imagine our churches transported to Corpus Christi in early September 2017. How ominous does your actual financial situation look compared to that imagination?”
Billings, in his Facebook post, told of his visits among flood survivors. “The accumulated possessions of a lifetime – we now call it trash – were piled in yards all along the neighborhoods. Unless you’ve seen and experienced it firsthand, it’s hard to describe. Just the thought of it, though, is enough to break one’s heart.
“While everyone I talked with spoke of hope, the weariness in their voices betrayed the emotional and physical impact recovery takes on us all. In a word, this is overwhelming. We can and will remain hopeful, but this is hard.
“One of the great fears expressed to me was ‘What are we going to do for workers when everyone has to return to work?’” Billings wrote, posing his “big ask”: “Can you mobilize people in your communities to come to Houston to help? We need people. Sure, we need money and prayer. But we need people who can come and help. If you do [plan to come], work through your church, association or state convention’s disaster recovery groups.”
Among those compiling a national registry of potential volunteers is the North American Mission Board at
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in one of two Baptist conventions in the state affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the other being the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Jane Rodgers and JC Davies of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

9/6/2017 9:36:18 AM by SBTC & Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

New charges against pastor in Turkey jail

September 6 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

American pastor Andrew Brunson faces new charges punishable by four consecutive life imprisonments in an Izmir, Turkey, prison.

American Center for Law and Justice photo
Andrew Brunson

The Presbyterian pastor formerly of North Carolina is now accused of espionage aimed at overthrowing the Turkish Parliament and government and undermining the constitutional order of the state, the Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the charges were levied Aug. 24. Previously accused of working with the Fetullah Gulen movement to overthrow Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brunson has been imprisoned since early October 2016.
The new charges are “just as false and ridiculous as the original charge,” the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said in an Aug. 28 press release. The charges are compounded by Turkish authorities’ refusal to open Brunson’s file to attorneys who have no idea of which evidence authorities claim to hold against the pastor.
Brunson’s family and others advocating for his release continue to request prayers for the Evangelical Presbyterian pastor who has ministered in Turkey 23 years.
“Don’t forget about him. Pray for him to return home to his family,” his daughter Jacqueline Furnani of North Carolina wrote Aug. 28 on Facebook. “I flew to Turkey to visit my dad this August, and it broke my heart to see him suffering like this. Seeing his face again in this picture brings me to tears,” she wrote in response to his photo posted at
Turkey has presented no evidence supporting any of the charges against Brunson, who has repeatedly said his only purpose in Turkey has been “to tell about Jesus Christ,” the ACLJ said. Brunson had led the Izmir Resurrection Church of about 40 worshippers in Izmir without government interference until he and his wife Norine sought to renew their visas last year.
The ACLJ has urged Erdogan to free Brunson by using a new law in Turkey to return prisoners to their home countries, as stated in Article 74 of Decree 694, implemented just a day after the new charges were levied.
“Pastor Andrew … should be released immediately and returned to the United States to be reunited with his family,” the ACLJ said in its press release. “Given this new opportunity, it is critical to encourage President Erdogan to execute this new power on behalf of Pastor Andrew and return him to the United States.”
The new law allows prisoners or convicts who aren’t Turkish citizens to “be returned to another country or exchanged for prisoners or convicts in another country when national security or the country’s interests so require, and upon request of the Foreign Minister, with the recommendation of the Justice Minister and the approval of the President,” the ACLJ said.
In February, a group of 78 U.S. lawmakers signed a letter calling for Brunson’s release, indicating a “close partnership for decades” between the U.S. and Turkey.
In August, when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, he cited Turkey among seven countries that “use discriminatory laws to deny their citizens freedom of religion or belief,” along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Sudan and Bahrain.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/6/2017 9:24:33 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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