February 2019

The fire of Moloch

February 28 2019 by Robert Lopez

Ever since I can remember, my parents taught me to respect the right to life and sowed in my heart a passion to care for and protect the weakest. Seeing the events in recent weeks in our nation as people with power and influence attempt to permit the killing of human life even at the last moments of pregnancy, I remember the sad story of the Phoenicians.

The Phoenicians lived in Canaan between 1550 and 300 BC. They had corrupted themselves in such a way that they sacrificed newborns in the arms of their god “Moloch,” a bronze statue heated with fire into which infants were thrown.
Canaan was the Promised Land for the people of Israel, but it was not necessarily a “holy land.” According to Leviticus 18, God told Moses not to mix with the customs either of the Egyptians from where they left nor Canaanites such as the Phoenicians where they were going.
When we read Leviticus 18, the biblical text is so graphic that sometimes it makes us sick to think about what the Phoenicians in Canaan practiced. God warned His people of the danger they were approaching.
In relation to the right to life as part of God’s warning, He was very clear when He told Moses in verse 21, “You are not to sacrifice any of your children in the fire to Moloch. Do not profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”
However, over the years the people of God came to mix with Canaanite pagan customs to the point that some Israelites also worshipped the god Moloch. The same situation is happening right now in our nation. I am amazed that some who see themselves as Christians have lost respect for human life and are indifferent to the pain of those who are indiscriminately sacrificed.
The question is, what awaits us if we continue to be indifferent to this panorama?
The Word of God shows us one of the many scenarios we see as a result of this inhumane practice. In 1 Kings 11:1-8 we see how King Solomon ended. Though he had been a man who loved God and, as a result of his humility, was rewarded with a dowry of wisdom, Solomon ended in total ruin.
1 Kings 11:4 tells us, “When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been.” Notice that it says “his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods.” Are we turning our hearts away from God?
In many circles, the wicked have gained much ground. We, the church, need to pray and reclaim the biblical principles that make Christians different from others. I am sorry to see how many Christian leaders remain silent regarding this matter. We pastors need to teach more about the right to life, because this is not a political or social issue, but a biblical one.
Don’t be afraid of losing members of your church because they do not agree with what you teach, or being rejected and criticized by social media. It is time to raise our voice as the army of Christ and defend the right for which Jesus died on the cross.
A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robert Lopez is the Hispanic pastor with Highland Baptist Church in Ocala, Fla., and co-founder of the Church2Church fellowship of Hispanic Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/28/2019 10:18:33 AM by Robert Lopez | with 0 comments

Becoming vulnerable

February 27 2019 by Kimberly Merida

“What can I even do to help?”
Once people understand the overwhelming problem of modern-day slavery, that question often stops people in their tracks. Human trafficking is such an enormous issue that would-be advocates find it difficult to imagine how their individual lives can make a difference.

Kimberly Merida is a member of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., where she is active in women’s ministry and orphan advocacy. Raleigh Sadler's book Vulnerable was released Feb. 1. Visit raleighsadler.com/vulnerable.

In his book Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking, Raleigh Sadler sets out to answer the question of how ordinary people can fight a global injustice such as human trafficking through a gospel-centered lens. 
The book’s central theme is this: Jesus Christ motivates vulnerable people, like you and me, to love other vulnerable people because he became vulnerable for us, even to the point of death. 
Sadler sheds light on humanity’s default mode – categorizing everyone as “us” or “them” – by explaining how the gospel demonstrates that our weaknesses should not shame and separate us. In fact, to the contrary, our frailties actually qualify us to enter into the suffering of others.
The gospel message reveals that we are broken, imperfect people redeemed through the perfect Son of God who invites and empowers His people to join Him in the work of caring for other broken, imperfect people.
Sadler urges Christians to understand their own limitations, not as disadvantages, but as an important part of the solution. He also reminds us that advocacy must not be done in isolation. It is collaborative work that takes place in communities for the good of the global community.
Across six sections, the book moves from defining exploitation to an examination of how God cares for the defenseless. Sadler equips believers to use daily mindfulness as a way to identify people that are suffering. He debunks common myths, such as the idea that human trafficking primarily occurs around big sporting events. It’s a year-round global injustice.
Sadler calls us to recognize our own frailty. He acknowledges the potential effects of entering the suffering of others and calls readers to wisdom and practical self-care.
The final sections of the book urge us to join God in pursuing justice for the vulnerable. Sadler concludes with an exhortation to move from passive recipients of grace to active participants of grace.
Sadler’s book is a fresh means of encouragement and training for Christ’s call to love our neighbors, both seen and unseen. It is Christ’s finished work on the cross that empowers compassionate neighbor-love and the pursuit of justice. Jesus has done the work and invites us to join Him where He is already at work. Every one of us can do something to engage human trafficking, and that “something” is simply being who you were created to be.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kimberly Merida is a member of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., where she is active in women’s ministry and orphan advocacy. She and her husband, Tony, have five adopted children.)

2/27/2019 10:10:12 AM by Kimberly Merida | with 0 comments

Unforeseen joy

February 25 2019 by Veronica Greear

It is unquestioned among the women I know: Being in the ministry is hard. And let me say up front, clearly, that I am not here to dispute that.
However, I find myself unsure why I don’t often think in negative terms – that is, feeling resentful toward what my husband and I have been given to do, while others struggle to think of the ministry in positive ways.

Surely I can say the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places as David did in Psalm 16:6, but I think there is more to it because that has not been true of every moment. As I have wondered about this over the years, I have come to believe there are things J.D. and I practice that help us love what we do.
We generally love being in the ministry because of the rich, meaningful relationships we have found. From the beginning, we have pursued close friendships both with people on staff and in the congregation.
I have heard people say to pastors that you can’t or shouldn’t do either of those, and I always feel sad when I hear that. I wonder, what must that person’s life be like? How carefully guarded and walled off and lonely? It is obvious that you should choose wisely and take your time to discern people who are godly and mature – and who know you before you have to demonstrate for them, in all its harshest light, that just because you and your spouse are in ministry does not mean you are not sinners.
But find and choose those people you must because of that very same fact – that you are sinners. Being in close relationships with people is how God has done His best work in me, even though I sometimes hate to admit that. It keeps me from feeling isolated and lonely and taken for granted. It is how I have found the wisdom I need in hard situations that are more than I can figure out on my own.
And those relationships are how God has provided for us in so many different, tangible ways, from meals after babies, to information I needed but didn’t have in parenting my teens, to even a place to go when our family needed a vacation.
We know these things at some level, but if we are in ministry, Satan has convinced us we are taking a greater risk in these relationships than others somehow. To that I would ask, why? Relationships are always a risk for anyone. Are we worried that the ministry will be affected if our relationship fails us? This, I would say, is where we have to #sendit – if you are not a millennial, that means to put your money where your mouth is and trust God with your ministry and your friendships, since it is He who called you to both in the first place. It is hypocritical to do otherwise.
Second, J.D. and I make a habit of thinking and talking about the things we wouldn’t get to be a part of if we were not in the ministry. Even the simplest things, like being part of worship planning, can be a delight that most people never get to do. Being there with your very best people setting up and closing down for the Christmas service is an honor and privilege I would be sad to miss.
And absolutely best among all the privileges is having a front row seat to the life changes of the people in my church. This is something that gives me great joy – and many people simply don’t know about those things if they aren’t directly involved. I love that people consider me a safe place to come to when they are trying to figure something out or discern what the Lord is telling them. It is a privilege so many do not get.
Finally, we do not require of ourselves (or our children) anything simply because we are in the ministry. The things we require, we require because we love and follow Jesus Christ.
We often evaluate, particularly with our teens, the “why” behind something, and if it is ever just because they’re the pastor’s kids, then it’s dropped. We tell our kids this regularly, as well as their teachers and student ministry leaders. Our kids should have the same expectations on them as all the other kids, and truly, as friends and fellow church members, expectations should be the same of us.
Ministry is actually hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. By choosing to build relationships that support us, by spending most of our mental time thinking about the privileges we have as ministers of the gospel, and by recognizing that what we do for the body of Christ is only and always just an extension of following Him, may we find unforeseen joy in our ministry.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Veronica Greear, a wife and mother of four, serves and worships at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area where her husband, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, is pastor.)

2/25/2019 10:12:34 AM by Veronica Greear | with 0 comments

Chick-fil-A & the church

February 20 2019 by Keith Shorter

Nearly every time I go to Chick-fil-A, it makes me want to be a better pastor. 
As I enjoy my chicken sandwich, I’m always impressed by something. The way they conduct their business and serve their customers fascinates me. The culture they have created is unlike anything I have ever experienced in any other fast food restaurant.

Maybe that’s why their parking lot is typically full and the drive-thru is stacked two wide. I never see that at other restaurants. Sure, other restaurants may be busy occasionally, but it’s a daily occurrence at our local Chick-fil-A. The amazing thing is that I see the same thing at nearly every Chick-fil-A.
I wish that my church were a bit more like Chick-fil-A. Don’t get me wrong, I pastor a great church, and I have been privileged to do so for 22 years. Still, I am convinced that there are some things we can learn from the chicken company that made the cow famous.
1. Develop a culture of serving others.
Everyone’s job at Chick-fil-A is to serve. Regardless of their title or job description, you will likely hear more than one person say, “My pleasure” in serving you.
2. Call people by name.
When I go through the drive-thru, they always ask my name as they take my order. By the time I make it to the window, someone else hands me my food and calls me by name. I know they are just reading it off a screen, but still that personal touch means something.
3. Develop systems to be efficient.
Think about it. The busiest fast-food restaurant in our community has the best customer service. How is that possible? They have developed systems to handle the crowds of people. They expect a large crowd each day and they plan for it.
4. Give back to the community.
Founder Truett Cathy always said that he wasn’t in the chicken business, but the people business. Chick-fil-A treats their customers like friends and serves their communities like neighbors.
5. Be creative.
In 1995 a cow was seen painting three words on a billboard in Texas – “Eat Mor Chikin.” A star was born. Now, people dress up like a cow once a year for a free sandwich!
6. Strive for excellence.
According to the Chick-fil-A website, that capital A on the end of the name is deliberate. It stands for “grade A, top quality.” They seem to work hard to live up to their name.
7. Honor the Lord.
Every Sunday this popular national chain closes its doors and their restaurants sit still. They give every employee an opportunity to rest and worship if they so choose.
Here’s my suggestion. Take your staff or deacons out to lunch one day at Chick-fil-A and make your own list. You will enjoy your lunch and you may see a principle or two that you could implement in your church.
To be sure, there is a difference between the body of Christ and a chicken restaurant. We have a much higher calling. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of all that we do as a church. So as we go about the task of making disciples, let’s be sure we are intentional in our efforts.
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” The task that God has given us is too important to do it halfheartedly. In whatever ways you go about sharing the gospel in your community, do it enthusiastically.
I hope that your church and mine will be a little more like Chick-fil-A. Let’s strive to be the place in our community where people who are hungry for God feel welcome and wanted.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley and a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)

2/20/2019 10:26:54 AM by Keith Shorter | with 0 comments

Troubling times in the SBC

February 18 2019 by Layne Wallace

My soul is troubled by the Houston Chronicle’s report of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The news is shocking and shameful. The Chronicle was able to document abuse of over 700 victims over the course of 20 years. This kind of abuse is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and an affront to Christianity.
Worse still, the report is able to make the case that the abuse is not a series isolated events. The abuse is systematic.
Pastors who abused children and youth in their care were able to secure employment at other SBC churches after their abuse was known. Further, some of the abusers were known to leaders within the denomination who either failed to handle the allegations of abuse properly or covered up the allegations.
In the wake of this betrayal of the gospel, the SBC must do things differently. First, there needs to be an independent investigation of the reports of sexual abuse.
Because leadership within the SBC is accused of complicity and failure to handle reports of sexual abuse correctly, no internal investigation will be taken seriously by our people or the world at large; nor should it be. The SBC leadership has forfeited its credibility on the issue. After an independent investigation, those who are responsible must be held accountable.
There are systemic steps the SBC must take to prevent future abuse, however, one of the biggest issues revealed in the Houston Chronicle report is not systemic. It is not a systemic issue when a person fails to call the authorities in the wake of sexual abuse. It is not a systemic issue when a person covers up allegations of abuse. These are personal failures. These kinds of personal failures cannot be tolerated in our leadership.
There are several steps the SBC can take to help prevent abuses from happening in the future. The SBC needs to rethink its ordination practices. It is far too easy to become an ordained SBC pastor. If a person desires ordination as a Baptist minister, all that is really necessary is a majority vote of an SBC congregation. It is also far too difficult to have a minister defrocked. To my knowledge, there is no denominational procedure for revoking the ordination of a Baptist minister.
As suggested by many others, the SBC needs to keep a list of ministers who are known abusers. The list must be public. It must be available to every search committee and every member of a congregation. The procedure for getting on the list must be clear. There also must be a process for individuals to challenge being put on the list, as rarely there will be people who are falsely accused. Hiring someone on the list must be seen as a threat to the members of the congregation and the SBC itself.
SBC congregations need a better hiring process. While it has been known for some time that the hiring process for pastors in SBC life is cumbersome, the Chronicle’s revelations prove that it is dangerous. A process needs to be created that values the autonomous nature of the local congregation, the privacy of the minister, and the welfare of the church. While we can hope and pray for such a process to be created, there is a step local congregations can take. The most important step an individual congregation can take right now is to do a criminal background check on those who they intend to hire. Failure to do so invites disaster.
The actions the Chronicle report have catalogued bring shame on our witness and may harm the public’s perception of the gospel. The report must be taken seriously and action must be taken. Now is a time for serious leadership to emerge on this issue. I pray that it does – soon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Layne Wallace is senior pastor of Rosemary Baptist Church in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.)

2/18/2019 6:47:02 PM by Layne Wallace | with 1 comments

Addressing abuse in the SBC: A proposal

February 15 2019 by Keith Whitfield & Malcolm Yarnell

Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle published three articles – “Abuse of Faith,” “Offend, Then Repeat,” and “Preying on Teens” – concerning some 200 ministers in more than 700 abuse cases occurring in Southern Baptist churches over the past 20 years. These articles properly sparked numerous conversations about how Southern Baptists might respond both as local churches and through our cooperative structures. These conversations increasingly call for both immediate and longer-term responses.

Immediate responses

As SBC president J.D. Greear urged, our first immediate response must be grief over the evil-pain violently imposed upon our brothers and sisters. Realizing these stories represent only a fraction of the abuses should haunt our souls. Surveys remind us that one in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they turn the age of 18. We also know that only a third of the victims of sexual abuse ever disclose their story; even fewer report these crimes to state authorities.

Malcolm Yarnell, left, and Keith Whitfield, right.

Our second immediate response involves preparing ourselves to listen carefully as yet more cases of sexual abuse emerge. The great courage of survivors demonstrated in the Chronicle articles will inspire others to tell their stories. (After the articles began appearing, Yarnell learned directly from his mother that she was abused for a decade starting at the age of three by a church leader.) When we hear of such evils, we must follow the example of our Lord and minister in a gentle way that neither breaks bruised reeds nor quenches the smoldering wicks of the wounded who wandered without sanctuary through our sanctuaries (Matthew 12:20).
For far too long, too many among us have demonstrated negligence when dealing with the horror of abuse. Rather than shaming the little ones whom God calls his own, we must now welcome and encourage these victims, these survivors, to speak. And we must prepare our hearts to listen to every word, to grieve over every wound, and to repent of every wicked deed. If we refuse to follow the way of Christ, we may no longer claim to be the people of Christ.
At the SBC Executive Committee meeting next week (Feb. 18-19), we anticipate that Greear will share about the work of the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group, and in particular, their proposals for preventing abuse in our churches, for reporting according to best practices when it happens, and for equipping our churches and entities to care for survivors in the wake of abuse. In this article, we want to share some proposals we think would address our long-term responsibilities and help us establish a cooperative culture that cares for the weak and vulnerable. So, these ideas are what we want to hear next week.  

Long-term responsibilities

After the Chronicle's report was published various proposals were offered to address this devastating, systemic crisis. For instance, efforts within our national or state conventions to provide training curricula to local churches were offered as a solution. Access to this material is essential, and we pray that development of this material has already been commissioned. However, we believe that if we do not establish redemptive mechanisms within our local and cooperative structures, then these more minimal (even if necessary) efforts will ultimately fail. If all we do is merely call for action and supply literature, we will doubtless demonstrate that we refuse to use the “teeth” required for transforming previous attitudes and responses toward the reality of abuse.
Last year, after we co-sponsored the resolution, “On Reaffirming The Full Dignity Of Every Human Being”, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention resolved to “affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether male or female, young or old, weak or strong.” Moreover, we resolved to “denounce any and every form of abuse, whether physical, sexual, verbal, or psychological.” And we also resolved “to model God’s saving love by sharing the eternal hope found in the gospel, to call all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
But literary resolutions constitute hypocrisy if we fail to follow them with appropriate action. Recently, Whitfield outlined five systemic factors behind the cultural practices that foster acts of abuse. These systemic factors painfully confirm to our consciences that we have not yet honored “the full dignity of every human being.” Our family of churches must address these factors in part by creating significant mechanisms to help prevent abuse within our churches and denominational entities.
We believe one should address problems through suggesting workable solutions for our churches and our cooperative structures. Therefore, we propose herein to change aspects of our cooperative structures. We do not offer these as a complete plan but as potential pieces of a cooperative effort to reshape the culture of our convention. In fact, there are two important additional recommendations that are not addressed below yet must be addressed at some point: (1) the responsibility of our seminaries to revoke degrees when one of our alumni has been either formally convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse and (2) the responsibility of churches who have the duty of ordaining and disciplining pastors to revoke ordination when an ordained pastor has been convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse.
For now, to help our family of churches live out our stated resolutions, we propose the following four-point plan.
1) We must leverage our autonomy to call our churches into a covenant of protecting the vulnerable.
We believe our churches should voluntarily covenant with one another to protect those who are vulnerable to abuse, and our entities should be asked (if not required) to participate in this covenant as well. Such a covenant must include the provision of both resources and training to remain current in the best practices for preventing abuse, reporting abuse and caring for the abused, as well as appropriate forms of cooperative assistance for referring leaders, recruiting leaders, removing leaders and reporting leaders to an offender’s database. The covenant should call churches and entities to commit to following these best practices, to report crimes immediately to the appropriate magistrates and to seek professional consultation when difficult situations arise.
Those who participate in the covenant of protecting the vulnerable will be listed on a registry of participating churches, convention entities and ministers who have voluntarily fulfilled the proper training, who faithfully follow strict standards and policies, and who continually remain accountable to this covenant. In addition to the registry, those who are fulfilling this covenant would be provided a compliance certification, with an official seal to place on their website, promotional materials and campus signage. This human-honoring and family-friendly certification would demonstrate that qualifying churches, entities and ministers remain in full compliance with standards for protecting and responding to situations of abuse.
Working examples for such a mechanism include the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which helps evangelical ministries employ appropriate financial standards. We have a number of entities to which such a ministry might be assigned, including Guidestone, LifeWay or the Executive Committee. The assigned entity should handle oversight of the convention-wide certification process, but it must work in openness with both internal constituencies and appropriate third parties in order to maintain the authenticity of the process (see our third point below).
2) We must remove churches from our fellowship who have knowingly hired someone who has been convicted of, has admitted to, or has been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
We must make it unambiguously clear that if a church and/or its ministers demonstrate a disregard for protecting those under their care from abuse, then we will remove that church from partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention. While we should clarify our governing documents in order to make negligence in the treatment of sex abuse cases a reason for disfellowship, we must not delay taking appropriate actions of disfellowship in the meantime.
We already possess the provision to take such action in our constitution. Article three of the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention states, “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work ... which: Has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.” In our cooperating faith statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, we have agreed to protect the abused by opposing abusive behavior and providing for victims of abuse (article XV).
Currently, disfellowship is not considered an avenue of last resort when a church either embraces the homosexual lifestyle or ordains a woman to be their pastor. Moreover, we have recently rejoiced over those who removed from fellowship churches who hold or practice racist ideology. However, we must now also begin to hold churches accountable for failing to protect their people from predators.
A church should be removed immediately from fellowship if it hires a registered sex offender or if it allows someone to remain in their ministry position after a credible allegation of abuse has been made. Each case should be duly investigated by an empowered committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the appropriate state convention and/or the appropriate local association for immediate investigation. Responses must be given to the reporting individual(s) or entity in a timely manner.
What we need now is the resolve to make good on our previous words. We are encouraged by all of the responses of godly sorrow, but we cannot claim as a convention of churches to dwell in the light of God if we maintain fellowship with darkness. The practice of associational discipline and convention discipline, a practice fully in accord with local church autonomy, must be extended to address the evil of sexual abuse. We must identify offending ministers and disfellowship negligent churches.
3) We must employ victim-survivor advocacy.
One of the clear lessons learned from the Houston Chronicle articles and other previously known accounts of abuse in our churches is that survivors of abuse need a trustworthy advocate upon whom they may call.
This advocate must not be in a position of power over the victim and must seek to advise and provide care to the survivor(s) of abuse. This advocate must be able and ready to report acts of abuse to state authorities as well as to various authorities within the local church and appropriate offices within the local association, as well as the state and national conventions. This advocate must not be professionally or relationally connected to the minister or the church nor be subject to financial or reputational pressure from the minister or church. Advocates should be professionally trained and carry sufficient “standing” within our cooperative structure in order to help reduce further harm.
Even godly, well-meaning and seminary-trained leaders are not always best equipped or suited to handle these situations. There are inescapable power dynamics involved when leaders deal with a hurting, vulnerable person. This demands high levels of empathy and discernment, emotionally and relationally. The realities of miscommunication and misunderstanding do not excuse the mishandling of a situation. Rather, they demand a survivor’s advocate be employed.
Calling a survivor of sexual assault into a minister’s office in order to be cross-examined by pastoral staff should never have been seen as acceptable, and now, we must make it clear that is complicit behavior. In order to protect vulnerable survivors, we need to appoint survivor advocates.
4) We must establish a foundation to help survivors with legal fees and counseling expenses.
Often the road to justice and healing comes at great relational and financial cost to survivors. The requisite legal representation to defend their cause, or the professional care needed in their process of healing can either be unduly burdensome and/or out of reach financially.
Local churches and state conventions should be strongly encouraged, and Southern Baptist entities should be required to have measures in place to cover legal fees and counseling expenses for anyone abused by a leader or a volunteer in their ministry.
In addition to these funds, the Southern Baptist Convention, through the Executive Committee, should develop a fund to help when the resources of a church are not sufficient or when a church fails to provide reasonable support to a survivor.
Obviously, a deliberate policy construction and vetting process is needed to decide when, why, and who should receive assistance. However, we believe it would be very wise for churches, entities, state conventions and the national convention to contribute to and invite contributions to a fund through which survivors may gain access to proper care.
We already have a mechanism to unite our churches to highlight a common need, such as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. And we already have united efforts for special offerings over and above Cooperative Program giving, such as the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings. Why would we not also join together to feature this pressing need and present to our people the opportunity to give in support of it?

It is time for transformation

Appeals to the autonomy of Southern Baptist churches have been used to explain why various proposals – such as creating a Southern Baptist offenders registry – could never be implemented. It certainly is true that our polity renders some proposals inappropriate and others difficult. However, we have operated with this polity for nearly two centuries, yet we still have managed to cooperate well enough.
We have created massive entities, supported global missions, trained generations of ministers through our six seminaries and created a cohesive Southern Baptist culture through ministry programs and literature. We even cooperated in order to implement historic theological course correction. More recently, through the leadership of our previous Southern Baptist president, we have sought to influence the financial stewardship of our churches and their members through the ministry of Dave Ramsey.
It is very difficult to fathom how, considering all we have already accomplished together, we cannot implement a holistic plan to protect our people, especially our precious children. We must seek together to prevent abuse, to guide our ministers in how to handle abuse accusations, and to equip our churches to care for survivors. We wholeheartedly believe that we are capable of imagining and implementing a plan whereby we cooperatively champion a culture that protects robustly against failure, that responds quickly to the faulty, and that continues to care for those who have been failed.
We need more than just words. We need a culture-shaping strategy to implement changes that teach us to have God’s heart for survivors, that equip us to protect and to care, that raise our expectations above the past, and that hold our churches and our ministers truly accountable. We advocate changes because we have the potential to shape a culture of protection in the Southern Baptist Convention. We advocate changes because the integrity, the honor, and the life of our family of churches depends upon a radical transformation. We advocate change because we believe our Lord demands that we function with the utmost respect toward his “little ones” (Matthew 18). May He judge us severely if we fail Him and them at this late hour.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Whitfield is associate professor of theology, dean of graduate studies and acting provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Malcolm Yarnell is research professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

2/15/2019 3:17:23 PM by Keith Whitfield & Malcolm Yarnell | with 2 comments

Don’t be silent

February 13 2019 by Melanie Lenow

What do you do when faced with a frustrating situation? Have you ever tried to make your point and people just won’t listen? Have you ever expected something to happen, only to be disappointed once again? Been relentlessly targeted as a scapegoat or overlooked for someone else?

For better or for worse, I usually go silent amidst a time of frustration. Usually this works to my benefit, stepping away from the situation, gathering my thoughts, and only responding if necessary and hopefully in an appropriate way.
However, there is one relationship where silence does not solve anything. That is in our relationship with the Lord.
If the Lord convicts me of an area of sin in my life or if I am not understanding what He is doing in a situation, or if I grow weary in the waiting, frustration wells up within me. “Fine. I’ll just step away,” my heart says, cowering from the uncomfortable nudging of the Lord through His Holy Spirit.
Yet, away is the exact opposite direction I need to be going. When the Lord nudges me or stretches me or upsets my comfortable sin, I must realize His workings and then run fully toward Him. This is where we find David in Psalm 143, which begins with three requests he made to the Lord.

The first request David makes is, “Lord, hear my prayer.”

If David teaches us anything through his life and through his writings, it is to call out to the Lord. Make your requests, no matter how big or small the topic, trivial or life-changing.
Sometimes I find myself worrying sick over something before I realize I haven’t even talked to the Lord about it. Yes, He knows my heart, but how much more does He want to hear from me? There is no time day or night, mid-day or midnight that is off-limits to talk with God. He promises throughout scripture that He will hear us. Take Him at His word. Be like David and make your requests known to Him who controls and creates everything.

Secondly, David asks, “in your faithfulness, listen to my plea.”

He directly relates God listening with God’s faithfulness. The Lord hears and, in turn, listens to us not because of who we are or what we say, but because of Who He is. He is faithful to His people. When we talk with the Lord, He reminds us of that faithfulness and usually that reminding encourages us to trust Him more.
The process goes like this: the more we stir up our own thoughts and allow our words to fester in our mind, the more we rely on our own understanding of the situations around us. However, when we make our prayers known to the Lord and seek His face, we acknowledge our need for Him. And when we call to Him, we experience His faithfulness in listening to us. When we understand that faithfulness, it spurs us on to trust Him more.

Lastly, David says, “in your righteousness, answer me.”

This is the third request made by David as he begins this psalm. When we cry out to God, we can be sure that He not only will hear and listen, but He will answer. However, sometimes our problem lies in how He answers. We want God to answer immediately or along the lines of our understanding. We cannot see in the moment how limited that expectation is.
Just like God listens out of His faithfulness, He answers out of His righteousness. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.” As we wait for his answers, we humble ourselves, lay down our desire for control, and trust His righteousness.
David continues in the rest of the psalm to describe his struggles and the hard situations that encompass him. He lays it all out before God. He ends the psalm with the declaration of “I am your servant.”
At the end of the day, every believer lands at that same admission. We are His servant. He listens, loves and cares for us in His gracious mercy because of who He is, and we should trust and rely on Him because of who we are.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Melanie Lenow and her husband Evan, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, are parents to four children. This column first appeared at the seminary's BiblicalWoman.org website.)

2/13/2019 9:55:56 AM by Melanie Lenow | with 0 comments

What’s your altitude for missions?

February 12 2019 by Sandy Wisdom-Martin

According to an insect identification database, 647 types of bugs and insects are found here in Alabama. Some downright scare me. I looked at images of each until I located the entry most resembling the flying insect I watched from a chair on my back deck.

I believe it was a common whitetail skimmer dragonfly that captured my attention. I can’t be totally sure since there are 5,000 species of dragonflies. I’m comfortable with that guess since the common whitetail is prevalent in North America.
The behavior of the dragonfly drew my interest. It dipped below the top of the deck railings. Then it kept circling inside the deck over and over again because it thought it was trapped by the rails. Only by gaining altitude could it break free from perceived captivity.
Watching the dragonfly provided a good lesson. Often we are caught in a continuous loop, unable to rise above self-imposed limitations. Gaining altitude would enable us to see a larger picture and view things in new and different ways.
Nearly 131 years ago, 32 delegates from 12 states endeavored to gain a new perspective and caught a vision for how God wanted to work in their midst. Woman’s Missionary Union was birthed. We treasure our rich missions heritage and our passion and purpose of making disciples of Jesus who live on mission.
This focus of WMU is driven by being:

  • Biblically-rooted:  Scripture guides us in knowing God, His ways, His character, His mission, His redemptive acts and His purpose for the church.

  • Missions-focused: Jesus commissioned His disciples to proclaim good news, disciple people of all nations and teach them to live out the truths He taught.

  • Church-based: Jesus gave the church authority to act on His behalf. Teaching all ages prepares the church to fulfill His mission.

  • World-aware: God is always at work among all peoples, and we join Him where we discern He is calling us.

  • Denominationally-supportive: No one church can do alone what many churches can do together. Our voluntary cooperation extends the missions reach of a local church.

So how does WMU help make disciples of Jesus who live on mission?

Making disciples

Week in and week out, faithful volunteers lead thousands of precious preschoolers and children in missions discipleship, teaching them of God’s love for the world. Many churches use our Mission Friends, GA, RA and CA programs as outreach to welcome unchurched children in their communities.

Doing ministry

Through nearly 200 Christian Women’s Job Corps/Christian Men’s Job Corps sites across the country, approximately 4,360 participants gained life and job skills in a Christian context and 351 participants made professions of faith in 2017.*
Since 1996, we have worked to develop sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people around the world through WorldCrafts. Working with nearly 60 artisan groups in more than 20 countries, we bring their products to market and provide income with dignity. Our artisan groups seek to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their workers.
WMU has given more than $1 million through Pure Water, Pure Love grants to supply clean water resources to those in need, in addition to supporting missions personnel with water filters. In 2018 alone, 1,380 water filters were provided to International Mission Board (IMB) personnel and missions teams.

Giving sacrificially

Giving sacrificially is part of our DNA. One hundred years ago, WMU pledged $15 million for the Southern Baptist Convention’s 75 Million Campaign and met their goal. Today, we celebrate the second-highest offering total in the 129-year history of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In 2017*, WMU helped raise $158.9 million to support IMB missionaries around the globe.
In 2018, WMU helped raise $61 million – the highest total in the offering’s history – through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for missions work in North America. All of the funds raised through this offering go directly to the North American Mission Board to support field personnel, supplying nearly half of their total annual revenue.
As you focus on WMU this week, check your surroundings. Adjust your sights by gaining altitude. As Fannie Exile Scudder Heck said in her final official words to WMU in 1915, “Endeavor to see the needs of the world from God’s standpoint.”
How can this be accomplished? Strive to enter the presence of God on a regular basis. Surrender your entire life to God. Seek the Father through prayer and study of His Word. Be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Obediently pursue His will with passion. Make disciples of Jesus who live on mission.
*2018 statistics are not yet available.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sandy Wisdom-Martin is executive director/treasurer of WMU, wmu.org, with the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/12/2019 10:43:26 AM by Sandy Wisdom-Martin | with 0 comments

Thinking Christianly

February 11 2019 by Curtis A. Woods

When regenerate followers of Christ discuss race relations in America in general or in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we should do so without being overly critical or biting toward one another. Ad hominem attacks only engender more heat than light. No one is edified. The apostle Paul chastised the church at Galatia to avoid “biting and devouring one another lest those in the church destroy one another” (Galatians 5:15).

I firmly believe the gospel eradicates racist ideas and prevents all forms of avarice and victimization from poisoning our hearts. Christ gave His followers a missiological and eschatological vision of Kingdom diversity through His high priestly prayer and the prophecy of blood-bought worshipers “from every tribe, language, people and nation” bowing down before the slain lamb in adoration and praise (John 17:21; Revelation 5:9; 7:9). Simply put, biblical theology and historical truth-telling undergird distinctly Christian conversations about SBC race relations.

A prophetic statement

In 1968, a Southern Baptist racial reconciliation leader, Victor Glass, stated, “Southern Baptists will tend to become more interracial. We are going to reach out to all people. Southern Baptists will become more interracial in membership and leadership. Some of the white men coming out of the seminaries could care less about the color of the skin to whom they preach.”
When Glass spoke those words to the predominantly white male-dominated evangelical denomination, racial strife in the United States was at its tipping point. African Americans had become increasingly frustrated with the de jure segregation of the Jim Crow North and South, which held on in many localities despite civil rights legislation and decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.
Voices from the religiously diverse black prophetic tradition demanded equal rights under the law. Some of these religious figures espoused liberation from the oppressive grip of American racism “by any means necessary,” which engendered fear in many hearts. Others took a different approach, believing radical love and nonviolence would expose the brutality of white supremacy with hopes of minimizing mass concern for personal safety. Those who embraced nonviolence, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” rather than the lex talionis, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” were not immune to ridicule in the public square.
Lamentably, some American citizens incessantly castigate the demonic and dehumanizing anthropological views of our denominational forebears without celebrating what God has done and is doing to create denominational beauty in the 21st century.

The latter-day Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement, which arguably began in the late 1700s, was in hot pursuit of equal opportunities for black citizens in the 1950s and ‘60s. Many historians, sociologists, political pundits and evangelical Christians have mixed feelings about the civil rights operation in America. Yet, Southern Baptist racial reconciliation emphasis existed within the latter-day Civil Rights Movement. The phrase “latter-day Civil Rights Movement” highlights the long history of the black freedom struggle. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, for example, granted equal protection under the law for every American citizen. This legislation became legal precedent for demanding a just society based on the Constitution, the common good and Christian virtue.
Some religionists think the Civil Rights Movement was devilish insofar as the leaders sought to transform society through perceived carnal weapons such as boycotts or sit-ins. These false notions overlook analogous illustrations in scripture to the aforesaid forms of protest. The Hebrew midwives boycotted Pharaoh’s edict to kill male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:15-22). Daniel, in opposition to King Darius, got on his knees and prayed openly to God in civil disobedience (Daniel 6:10). He antedated the famed Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-ins that courageously defied injustice by well over two millennia. People of faith have executed civil disobedience against injustice throughout human history.
Civil unrest, in many cases, gave Southern Baptist leaders impetus to rethink the convention’s historic relationship to people of color. When “interest convergence” motivates societal change rather than the gospel, we simply change the furniture in the home without dealing with the cracked structural foundation. Which is to say, a majority group that tolerates minority advancement for self-interested reasons will always clash over the meaning of situational and systemic racism. Gospel-saturated racial reconciliation exposes cultural racism without fear of corporate reprisal.
After 50 years, we can observe Victor Glass’ prediction firsthand, Southern Baptists are steadily becoming multiethnic. According to a report titled “The Many Faces of the Southern Baptist Convention” released in 2018 by the SBC Executive Committee, Ken Weathersby acknowledges that more than 20 percent of Southern Baptist churches actively involved with cooperative missions are non-Anglo congregations. Within the last 15 years, Weathersby notes, “SBC-related Native American congregations grew by 24 percent; Asian congregations by 52.3 percent; Hispanic congregations by 56.2 percent; African American congregations by 61.4 percent; and other congregational expressions (including Haitian and multiethnic) grew by 71 percent.”
Moreover, Roger S. Oldham writes in the report, “Between 1961 and 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted ten resolutions expressing its desire to see ‘greater ethnic participation’ in SBC life. During those three and one-half decades, the Convention experienced significant growth in the number of non-Anglo congregations cooperating with the SBC, along with an increase in the number of ethnic-minority seminary students trained through the six SBC seminaries.”
If you prefer thinking Christianly on SBC race relations, this is a key resource to read.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Curtis A. Woods is co-interim executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and assistant professor of applied theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

2/11/2019 9:49:52 AM by Curtis A. Woods | with 0 comments

Blackface mars ‘the soul & the mind’

February 8 2019 by Marshal Ausberry

It has been said that a picture paints a thousand words. Pictures impact the soul and the mind. Logos, icons and insignias all communicate messages.

For example, most good and decent people are repulsed when they see the Nazi Swastika because it immediately reminds them of the horrible treatment and persecution of Jews; it reminds them of the attempted annihilation of a people; it reminds them of the raw brutality of evil.
Similarly, blackface is a picture that paints a thousand words. The message communicated by the donning of blackface ranges from cultural ignorance to overt racism.
Blackface appeared in America in minstrel shows during the mid-to-late 19th century. Black grease paint was used by white actors to portray black enslaved characters. These portrayals showed some of the worst stereotypes of African Americans, presenting them as subservient, dim-witted, ignorant and inferior. Blackface reinforced the view of white superiority. It belittles and dehumanizes African Americans and make whites comfortable with the mistreatment of blacks socially, economically and politically. This attitude infiltrates the human psyche and reinforces racist attitudes prevalent in discrimination, unfair housing, prison sentencing, voting rights and segregation to name a few.
In Virginia where I pastor, the governor has a picture in his 1984 medical school yearbook of two people, one in blackface and one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Again, at a minimum it is cultural ignorance or it could be overt blatant racism. Ultimately only God knows the heart.
As a Christian, I am commanded by God to forgive, and I do. I encourage others to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we forget, but we choose not to retaliate. Somedays it is hard to be a Christian. But, even as bad as this transgression is, I am still reminded of the great forgiveness that we experience in Jesus Christ. I think there will be a special crown in heaven for those of us who forgive others. But in the meantime, I hope we learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.

2/8/2019 10:22:01 AM by Marshal Ausberry | with 0 comments

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