September 2018

Russell Moore at EFL: Dignity, gospel needed

January 21 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Human dignity and gospel mission should characterize the Christian voice at a time when people are treated like machines, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said at Evangelicals for Life (EFL) Jan. 17.
 

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, opened the second day of the annual Evangelicals for Life conference on Jan. 17.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), opened the second day of the annual conference sponsored by the ERLC. The two-day event at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., continued with a full day of addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions on such topics as abortion, adoption, disability, racial unity, immigration, Christian persecution and criminal justice reform.
 
Many EFL attendees planned to participate in the annual March for Life Jan. 18 on the National Mall.
 
Moore told the audience, “We march for life, but we march beyond that to eternal life.”
 
Jesus demonstrated truths about the dignity of human beings and the power of the gospel in Luke 18:31-19:10, which describes His encounters with two outcasts in the region of Jericho – a blind man and the tax collector Zacchaeus, Moore said.
 
The blind man was dependent and unproductive, he said. “When usefulness is the definition of whether or not one is worth something, then we have turned human beings into machines,” Moore said. “And when one stops being useful or is never considered to be useful in the first place, those people are discarded even as we would discard an outdated technology.”
 
The blind man, however, cried out to Jesus, calling Him Son of David – “language that everyone would have understood refers to the king that God is going to send to deliver His people,” Moore said. In so doing, the blind man was “able to see what the disciples of Jesus themselves were not able to see,” he said. The disciples did not comprehend what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, though He had just told them.
 
The crowd sought to silence him “because he’s a problem, he’s a burden,” Moore said. “[T]o silence him would be to make him imperceptible.
 
“[T]hat’s exactly what takes place in our own society when it comes to the people who are so vulnerable that we don’t want to recognize that they’re there,” he told the audience. To the unborn, immigrants, refugees, elderly and children in foster care, people can say, “We want to silence you,” Moore said.
 
Jesus, however, “sees beyond that social pressure; He sees beyond the identity politics,” Moore said. “And He sees the person, and He sees this person not as a thing, not as a machine. He sees him as someone created in the image of the God who is Lord over all things.
 
“He sees him and He reflects to him the love and the mercy of the gospel and of God.”
 
With Zacchaeus, Jesus “again defies all of the social pressure around Him,” this time by inviting Himself to the home of a despised tax collector who had used his power to extort money from people, Moore said.
 
Jesus fully knew controversy would break out because He was calling tax collectors to repentance and “willing to be in relationship with people He is calling to repentance,” Moore told the audience. Jesus is showing “God is not shocked by this sin, and God does not leave you in that sin,” he said.
 
Christ is calling Christians to live in the same way, he said. “We have to speak in a way consistent with the gospel so that we’re speaking a word of justice. God is just. God does not ignore what happens to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable and marginalized and the unborn and the elderly and the stranger.”
 
Followers of Jesus must hear women who are in crisis pregnancies and say to them, “God hears you, and we’re here with you,” Moore said. Christians also are to “hear the voices of unborn children who have no functioning vocal cords, who can’t speak for themselves, to say, ‘These lives are not inconveniences. These lives are children loved by God.’”
 
In addition, Christians should respond to the voices of children in foster care, refugees suffering persecution, and the elderly in nursing homes or their own homes, he said.
 
God “hears oppression, and God will bring to judgment the oppression of the weak,” Moore told attendees. That is not the only word, however, he said. Jesus also says, “Come to Me,” in a word of invitation to both the oppressed and the oppressor, he said.
 
Jesus is saying, “Come to Me through the cross of Christ where the judgment of God has already fallen and where the love of God is seen.,” Moore said.
 
“In an age of machines,” he said, “we have to be the people who are able to speak with confidence to those who are in power, ‘There is a God, and He sees you,’ and with mercy to those who are weak and forgotten ... to say, ‘Jesus loves you.’”

1/21/2019 5:17:35 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sanctity of Life: Beware the distractions

January 18 2019 by J.D. Greear, SBC President

Today in our nation’s capital, thousands upon thousands of people will participate in the March for Life, the largest pro-life rally in the world. The march is built on the conviction that unborn babies are made in the image of God and, as such, they deserve the rights God has given to all people.
 

The conversation about abortion really should hinge on one question: Are the unborn human or not?
 
If so, then the reasoning behind the pro-choice cause falls apart. The arguments become “red herrings” – distractions that aren’t relevant to the issue at hand.
 
Here are some of the most common:
 
A. If you’re so pro-life, why do you only care about babies before they’re born?
 
This comes in a variety of forms, but the basic implication is that those who are pro-life are hypocritical: They say they don’t want women aborting babies, but they also won’t do anything to help those women or babies after birth.
 
For example, pro-choice advocates might say, “Are you willing to adopt all these unwanted kids you don’t want aborted?” The charge is both a logical fallacy and utterly inconsistent with the facts about pro-life advocates.
 
From the standpoint of logic, this is an attack on pro-life advocates, not on the pro-life view. If you imply that people aren’t truly loving, the honest person will say, “You’re right. I could do more.” But remember, it’s not an argument. The question of the humanity of the baby isn’t even addressed. It’s a red herring that diverts the discussion to moral judgmentalism.
 
But this attack also misrepresents the facts. Pro-life Christians do care, and not just in a don’t-get-abortions kind of way. Pro-life pregnancy centers, for instance, far outnumber abortion clinics. They provide parenting classes, clothing and adoption services. Pro-lifers adopt more often than pro-choicers. And they give far more to charity than their pro-choice counterparts. (1)
 
We want to promote a culture of life, and that means caring about life from the womb to the tomb. So if we aren’t caring for the poor and needy and marginalized among us, we need to repent. But that should never lead us to stop caring and fighting for the protection of the vulnerable and voiceless unborn.
 
B. Only women can speak on this issue.
 
This is often hurled at male pro-life advocates because the discussion touches on issues affecting women’s bodies, not men’s. But again, this is a logical fallacy: Whether it is right or wrong to intentionally kill someone depends on the person being killed, not the gender of the person making the argument. Remember: The central question is, “Is the unborn one of us?”
 
One appropriate response is to ask, “Which women?” What about the women who are aborted? Or the millions of pro-life women? “Women” don’t have one view on this. And, in fact, statistics show that women are more pro-life than men. Justice means speaking up for any who are voiceless, regardless of their gender or yours.
 
C. Shouldn’t we spend more time speaking out against the poverty system that creates the need for abortions?
 
There’s an element of truth here: Yes, we should work to fight the poverty that can create the despair that makes abortion feel necessary. But again, here’s the logical fallacy: Whether or not abortion is wrong is not contingent on the environment surrounding it. Imagine a slave owner in the South explaining why the economic system Northerners created demanded slavery. Even if that had been true, we’d nevertheless maintain that the practice of slavery was wrong.
 
If we truly love people, we should do everything in our power to help them. So we speak out against the poverty system and we speak out against abortion. It’s not an either/or.
 
D. If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.
 
This argument stretches the limits of the word “like.” We’re not talking about a preference (“Don’t like Pepsi? Don’t drink it!”). We’re talking about people’s lives. I don’t oppose abortion because it violates some preference of mine; I’m opposed because I believe it ends human life.
 
To imagine how absurd this statement is, change the variables in it: What would you think if someone said, “Don’t like slavery? Well, don’t own a slave!” or “Don’t like sexual assault? Don’t do it!”
 
E. I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think we should overturn Roe v. Wade.
 
The question to ask here is: Why are you personally against abortion? Is it because you know it is the wrongful taking of human life? If that’s what you think, are you really willing to sit back and do nothing while innocent people are murdered?
 
Again, try applying the logic with different variables. Would people ever say something like this about child abuse? “I’m personally opposed, but let’s not get the law involved.” No! Why not? Because no one’s “rights” includes the right to harm someone else. If the baby is a child, our right to make choices does not extend to taking its life.
 
F. Abortion needs to be legal so that it’s safe for mothers.
 
The narrative surrounding abortion rights goes something like this: Back in the 1970s, women were dying by the thousands in back-alley abortions. Now with Roe v. Wade, women are much safer. They’re going to do it either way, so we might as well make it safe.
 
The truth of the matter is that maternal deaths each year between 1942 and 1972 had been in steady decline – from 7,267 to 780. And of those 780 deaths, 140 were related to abortion, including spontaneous abortions caused by miscarriage. So the idea that abortion was overwhelmingly common – but dangerous – simply isn’t true. (2)
 
What we can be sure of is that the death rate for babies in abortion procedures is 100 percent.
 
G. What about situations of rape or incest?
 
The number of pregnancies that arise from the tragic instances of rape or incest may be small, but they are nonetheless painful. Our hearts go out to anyone in this situation. For you, we recognize that this question is less of a red herring and more a reflection of a heart-rending situation. We grieve with you.
 
The heart of this question is about the way we respond to pain and tragedy. A woman in this situation may be saying, “This baby came to be through the most horrific event of my life. Why should I be forced to bear the burden of something that only reminds me of that pain?”
 
The answer, in brief, is twofold: First, it’s actually not healing for the mother to pursue abortion. When faced with tragedy, the most healing path forward is not to push away any evidence of the pain. It is to bring that pain to God, allowing Him to heal us.
 
Second, this objection, like the others, shifts the debate. We aren’t debating whether rape is heinous. We agree that it is and that it leaves deeply wounded victims. But is the child at fault for how he got there? How do we, as a civil society, treat innocent human beings that remind us of painful events? We don’t help anyone by harming one human simply because he reminds us of another human’s sin. The question, once again, hinges on whether the unborn are human or not.
 
H. I have a right to my body.
 
No one is arguing against that. But does your right to your body include taking the life of another for the sake of convenience? Aren’t there competing rights at stake? What about the rights of the unborn child?
 
Advocates of slavery doubled down on slavery based on similar reasoning in the Dred Scott decision of 1857. They admitted that the slaves had a right to freedom. But they also argued that the slaveholders had a right to their property. The justices in the Dred Scott case reasoned, tragically, that the right to property superseded the rights of the slaves to freedom.
 
In the question of abortion, we also have competing rights – the right to privacy and the right to life. Are we going to follow Dred Scott and reduce people to property that can be disposed of?
 
The rights and safety of women are precious and important. But pregnant women aren’t the only people involved. And history will judge us – indeed, eternity will judge us – by how we respond to this moment. Will we turn a blind eye to violence because we value our convenience even more? Or will we be the people God has called us to be, defending the cause of the most voiceless people in society today?
 
I pray that the church would move forward with confidence that, regardless of the situation around us, God always defends the cause of justice. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “I am convinced that the Lord is on our side in this great struggle, for the Lord is always on the side of the right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation may be on the Lord’s side.... Lord, give us faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
 
 
(1) Much of the material in this section comes from Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet, 21 Days of Prayer for Life.
(2) Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, 102.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Jan. 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/18/2019 1:33:55 PM by J.D. Greear, SBC President | with 0 comments



Evangelicals for Life opens with Platt, Chapman

January 18 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jan. 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
Obedience to the Great Commission leads Christians "inevitably to treasure the sanctity of human life," David Platt told the audience at Evangelicals for Life Jan. 16.

Obedience to the Great Commission leads Christians “inevitably to treasure the sanctity of human life,” David Platt told the audience Jan. 16 at Evangelicals for Life.
 
The opening session of the fourth annual conference – sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) – featured a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman to benefit the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
 
The two-day conference at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., continued with a full day of addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions Jan. 17. Evangelicals for Life (EFL) participants will be able to attend the annual March for Life today on the National Mall.
 
Platt – former president of the International Mission Board and now pastor-teacher of the host church – said the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the sanctity of human life have everything to do with each other.
 
“For into a world that devalues children,” Jesus gave the commission for Christians to make disciples, baptizing and teaching them, Platt told attendees. “The Great Commission was clearly and definitively not a call to sit back and stay silent in a world of evil.”
 
Jesus commanded His followers “to run to need, not away from it; to engage a world in need, not to turn a deaf ear to it,” Platt said. If it is not careful, the church – “instead of discipling Christians in the world” – can be “disinfecting Christians from the world,” he said.
 
The gospel that baptism portrays in the Great Commission empowers people to treasure human life, Platt said. 
 

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
The opening session of the fourth annual Evangelicals for Life Jan. 16 featured a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman to benefit the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC's ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.

“The first and most fundamental way we can work for the unborn is through proclamation of the gospel to see hearts changed to want what God wants,” he told the audience. “The power of the gospel message in and of itself possesses a dynamic charge that detonates the heart’s desire for abortion.”
 
Baptism not only is a new Christian’s initial public declaration of faith in Christ, but it also is a Christian’s public identification with a community, the church, Platt said. “God has uniquely designed and equipped the church to care for children and their mothers.”
 
As Christians begin to obey the Great Commission, they begin to see slaves, immigrants and refugees as God sees them, he said. The Great Commission compels Christians to “decry all forms of oppression, exploitation” and to work to overcome the racial divide in this country, he said.
 
Chapman – who has won 58 Dove Awards, the most of any artist in Christian music – shared the stories behind some of his songs before performing them, including “I Will Be Here,” “Fingerprints of God” and “When Love Takes You In.”
 
His songs during the last 32 years reflect his faith journey, he said. His family and he have learned through this pilgrimage, including the adoption of three girls from China, “God is inviting us deeper and deeper into knowing Him,” he said.
 
Chapman and his wife Mary Beth founded Show Hope in 2003 to help families adopt. Show Hope has assisted more than 6,200 families in adopting children from more than 60 countries.
 
EFL is a gathering to celebrate “God’s heart for everybody that He purposes and creates and knits and weaves together so fearfully and wonderfully,” Chapman told the audience. It is an opportunity to “lock arms and encourage each other and go out and keep telling” God’s story in the ways the participants already are doing, he said.
 
“This is an honor to stand with you, and so to get to encourage you is such a blessing,” Chapman said.
 
After the concert, Nathan Lino told the audience how the Psalm 139 Project had assisted the mission operated by the church he pastors, Northeast Houston Baptist Church. Flood waters from Hurricane Harvey destroyed the ultrasound machine of the pregnancy resource center in the church’s mission in 2017. The Psalm 139 Project and Focus on the Family’s Option Ultrasound Program collaborated to provide a new machine. The new machine was operational in eight weeks, and it has helped save hundreds of babies in the last 15 months, he said.
 
Lino asked attendees and viewers of the conference on live stream video to pray about giving to Psalm 139.
 
Since 2004, the Psalm 139 Project has helped provide ultrasound equipment for centers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
 
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available at psalm139project.org.
 
The ERLC and Focus on the Family launched EFL in 2016 as an effort to help increase awareness among evangelical Christians of the March for Life and motivate them to participate in it. Focus partnered with the ERLC to host the event in its first three years.
 
More than 600 people had registered before Wednesday night’s session. The ERLC offered free conference registration to federal and contract workers affected by the partial government shutdown.

1/18/2019 1:33:54 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Boyce College adds communications program

January 18 2019 by The Southern Baptist Seminary Staff

Boyce College has announced a new bachelor of science (B.S.) degree in communication, extending the mission of the school to new academic territory, said Matthew J. Hall, dean of Boyce College.
 

Boyce is the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
“As we explored the next stage of Boyce College’s academic development, the degree program that immediately came to the fore was something in the field of communication,” Hall said, noting that the college extensively researched the program’s viability in both general demand for students with skills related to the field of communication and employment outlook for such graduates.
 
“The program seemed to be immediately and naturally consistent with our institutional mission and philosophy of education,” Hall said. “We are hopeful that the major will continue the vision that we’ve had for all of our degree programs – that students would have expanded opportunities to discern their vocation and to be well-equipped for wherever God would send them in the world.”
 
The program will take an interdisciplinary approach to studying influential communication techniques and concepts, with 42 hours in their major and 30 hours of biblical training. Students with this degree will be equipped for a number of fields in a diverse and complex world: Christian ministry, business, public relations, marketing, sales and government service. The curriculum will include a series of communication courses including mass media, intercultural communication and communication theory. The program also will include a concentration in “strategic communication,” which focuses on the business side of communications.
 
“I really cannot think of a degree better suited to meet the needs of the 21st century, to help to give a rising generation of young Christians critical skills in very important dimensions of communication,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary and Boyce College. “In the secular world, in the international arena, in the church and everywhere you look, skills in communication are becoming more and more necessary. This degree program is going to equip a new generation of Christians to be effective and faithful communicators in a world that desperately needs not only skills in communication, but needs to hear the gospel, biblical truth, communicated.”
 
The B.S. in communication is a continuation of Boyce’s mission, Hall said. All degree programs at Boyce – including business, education, philosophy, politics and economics – offer students an extensive education in biblical and theological studies.
 
Students who graduate from the communications program will get a premier classical theological education, Hall said. “It’s the same core curriculum that’s in every one of our majors, but they’ll also get with that a cutting-edge education in the field of communication studies that will allow them to take timeless truth and apply it to the 21st century wherever God takes them.”
 
Leading the program will be Jason Leverett, who will be associate professor of communication and program coordinator.
 
Leverett joins the college after nearly a decade of teaching experience in the field, most recently as assistant professor of strategic communication at Liberty University in Virginia. He holds a doctor of philosophy and master of arts in communication from Regent College in Virginia Beach, Va., and an undergraduate degree from Liberty. Leverett and his wife Heather have four boys.
 
“As we explored what this program should look like and the way it would best serve our mission and our students, it became exceptionally clear early in the process that the Lord was leading us to Jason Leverett,” Hall said. “Dr. Leverett is a proven teacher with ample experience. His research and scholarship in the field is highly respected, and he brings a unique awareness of what this major needs to look like in the 21st century for a school like Boyce College. He’s an innovative thinker, a passionate teacher, and he’s a gracious and kind Christian gentleman with a wonderful family.”
 
The announcement of Boyce’s communications degree comes shortly after its business program added multiple new emphases: financial and accounting management; nonprofit management; and entrepreneurial management. The communication program will launch in the fall 2019 term. More information is available at boycecollege.com/academics. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Spurgeon College also is launching a communications degree. See bachelor-of-arts-in-communications-degree.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this digest.)

1/18/2019 1:33:26 PM by The Southern Baptist Seminary Staff | with 0 comments



Christian women targets for persecution: Open Doors

January 18 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Targeted Christian persecution tailored to hurt women is trending globally, Open Doors reported in its 2019 World Watch List of 50 countries most dangerous for Christians to practice their faith.
 

IMB file photo
Targeted Christian persecution tailored to hurt women is trending globally, Open Doors reported in its 2019 World Watch List of 50 countries most dangerous for Christians to practice their faith.

“The data proves conclusively that Christian women are the most exploited group on the face of the earth today,” Open Doors President David Curry said in a Jan. 16 press conference in Washington announcing the list. “While not minimizing the incredible violence against men, women are doubly persecuted. They’re exploited for their vulnerability as females, and also for their faith.
 
“And the shame culture within many of these regions of the world,” Curry said, “makes sexual violence victims very cautious of how they rebuild their lives within these shame cultures.”
 
In Nigeria, the 12th country on the persecution list, Boko Haram captured 15-year-old Esther, killed her father and raped her repeatedly for a year because she refused to denounce her faith. The captors released her to her home when she gave birth to a girl.
 
“What does the future hold for Esther in northern Nigeria? What does the future hold for her daughter?” Curry posed. “I also wonder if she were your daughter or your sister, what you would be willing to fight for.”
 
Esther’s release was not happenstance, said Helene Fisher, global gender persecution specialist for Open Doors International.
 
“She was returned because actually there is more damage in having her return and having to live with that shame, having her family have to live with that perceived shame,” Fisher said. “There is a generational impact and it is intentional. This is not a byproduct that nobody thought of.”
 
Elisha, a persecuted Christian from India whom Open Doors introduced at its press conference, spoke with Baptist Press (BP) by telephone in advance of the Washington event. She fled India with her daughter for safety in 2017, but returns months at a time to help her husband operate a secret ministry to educate and empower women. In India, the 10th most dangerous country for Christians, most women are denied an education and are left to learn only what their husbands tell them at home.
 
Christian men in India are more insulated from attacks than Christian women, Elisha told BP, because cultural customs make a woman’s religion more obvious.
 
“Not only the community throws her out, but even she also falls from the family,” Elisha said in broken English. “And for the children – if they are living in the community, they are also discriminated [against].”
 
Sexual attacks, forced marriage, domestic abuse, denial of inheritance and murder, all with impunity, were noted especially in the top five countries of persecution, Open Doors said, naming North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.
 
In North Korea, sexual violence against all women has become so commonplace it’s considered a part of everyday life, Human Rights Watch has reported. But Christian women and girls are particularly subject to such abuse, Open Doors said.
 
Persecution varies among the 50 countries on the watch list but is widespread and increasing.
 
“Religious persecution is not gender blind. Religious persecution is firmly gender specific,” Fisher said. “It is the easiest and most effective means of religious persecution.... There will not be a court case. There will not be another post in the #MeToo campaign. It will be accepted and understood.”
 
Open Doors provides education, trauma care and micro loans to help survivors rebuild their lives, and encourages churches to become active in relief efforts.
 
“We’ve been called to inform ourselves. We’ve been called to pray. We’ve been called to say this is part of who we are and this ought not to be done,” Fisher said. “Because when an individual is targeted, it is not done just to hurt an individual, but it is done to destroy a community.”
 
While women are targeted sexually, men are targeted economically and are not immune to sexual harassment.
 
“Persecution targeting minority Christian men and boys in the five worst 2019 (World Watch List) countries is characterized by severe physical violence and socio-economic ostracism,” Fisher wrote in a report supplemental to the list. “Analysis of the situations in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan exposes the use of physical violence, including torture and death, against minority Christian men after their faith is discovered.”
 
Read Biblical Recorder’s Jan. 17 story on the World Watch List here and BP’s story here. Fisher’s report is available at OpenDoorsUSA.org.

1/18/2019 1:33:06 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Prohibition and Baptists 100 years later

January 18 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jan. 16 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”)

When the 18th Amendment was ratified 100 years ago and prohibition became law of the land, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called it “the greatest victory for moral reform in America since the Declaration of Independence.”
 
The convention’s jubilance came in part because Southern Baptists had worked at least three decades to secure legal prohibition. They saw the 18th Amendment as a culmination of their labor. They also had come to view prohibition advocacy as a defining mark of Baptist identity.
 
Still, Southern Baptists wondered whether the anti-alcohol effort that helped bring about prohibition would persist.
 

A ‘sin against God’

 
Prominent Southern Baptists led state and national campaigns for prohibition since at least the 1880s. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founder B.H. Carroll headed an 1887 Texas campaign for prohibition. In 1896, Baptist layman Joshua Levering – who chaired Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustee board – was nominated by the Prohibition Party for president of the United States.
 
Beginning in 1890, the SBC “supported prohibition at every annual meeting” until it became law, wrote Bill Sumners, retired director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, in a 1975 master’s thesis. The convention also appointed a permanent Committee on Temperance in 1910.
 
Greg Wills, professor of church history at The Southern Seminary, said “a Christian duty to avoid consumption of alcohol” was “the fundamental issue” for Baptists, “not whether our states and municipalities would prohibit [alcohol’s] manufacture, sale and consumption.” Southern Baptists “believed you would be hard pressed to identify any other single factor that caused so much widespread suffering, injury and damage as the widespread abuse of alcohol.”
 
One of the SBC’s strongest statements against alcohol came in 1896, when it called “the policy of issuing government licenses” for “the liquor traffic” a “sin against God and a dishonor to our people.”
 
“We furthermore announce it as our conviction that we should by all legitimate means oppose the liquor traffic in municipality, county, State, and nation,” the convention stated. “Furthermore, we announce it as the sense of this body that no person should be retained in the fellowship of a Baptist church who engages in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors.”
 
North Greenville University history professor Brendan Payne wrote in his 2017 doctoral dissertation, “With this official declaration, prohibition advocacy had become a defining issue of Baptist identity.”
 
At its first annual meeting following the 18th Amendment’s ratification, the SBC adopted a report stating, “Thus dawns the date for which we have labored and prayed.... It is the greatest victory for moral reform in America since the Declaration of Independence.”
 
The report also asked whether Baptists could “now cease or slacken our efforts” to combat alcohol. The answer was “an emphatic negative.”
 

‘A total failure’?

 
Nonetheless, prohibition was repealed in 1933. Some historians came to view it as a ludicrous public policy. Church historian Martin Marty told The World and Everything in It podcast Jan. 16, “Total prohibition was a total failure.”
 
But Don Cole, president of the Kentucky Ethics League, a partner organization with the Kentucky Baptist Convention that opposes alcohol, said prohibition helped America by initiating regulation of the alcohol industry.
 
“Everybody says prohibition didn’t work, but it did,” Cole said. “The advantage of prohibition was that we got regulations on alcohol.” The continuing regulation of alcohol begun by prohibition “saved many lives” and “has kept people from being injured.”
 
The SBC’s Social Service Commission noted in 1934 that “motor car accidents” and resultant fatalities decreased during prohibition. The commission presented tables and statistics to support that claim and said “economic sanity and moral welfare” took a “backward step” with the repeal.
 
Despite prohibition’s repeal, the SBC reaffirmed in 1934 “its unchanging devotion to the principle of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages as the only safe and sane course of conduct for the individual and to the principle of prohibition of the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages by the government as the only economic and righteous policy.”
 
Baptists recognized the difficulty of enforcing prohibition, Wills said. But they “remained committed to seeking all helpful means to reducing the consumption of alcohol.”
 
Since 1934, the SBC has adopted at least 35 statements opposing alcohol, the latest in 2006.
 
Yet some wonder if concern about alcohol abuse is waning among Southern Baptists. They cite the lifting of alcohol bans at schools friendly to the SBC and statements by some Southern Baptist pastors indicating they consume alcohol.
 
Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, wonders if Baptists’ thinking on recreational marijuana use could follow a similar trajectory as their thinking on alcohol.
 
“In this day of antinomian attitudes in some evangelical circles, the idea of prohibition is frowned on, but ... the record reveals that prohibition was generally good for the average American,” said Duke, a former public policy vice president at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
 
“We’re seeing a similar thing occur today with marijuana. Those who want to smoke it can find it. Many politicians are deciding that they might as well legalize it and try to wrest it away from the criminals,” Duke said in written comments. “Taking it out of the hands of criminals is a good idea, but we are already seeing communities that legalized marijuana reeling from the impact. Crime and health problems are increasing in communities with legalized marijuana. In addition, with the stigma of marijuana erased, we will see more people use it who otherwise would have left it alone.
 
“Marijuana should remain illegal, but I’m afraid that train has left the station,” he noted. “America will loosen its laws against marijuana even more before it realizes the price we’re paying for it.”

1/18/2019 1:32:11 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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 opendoorsusa.org. 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



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