THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

49% of Americans say same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, Pew found in research released last week. The percentage is down five points since the researcher last asked the question in February.

According to the report on Pew’s website, “It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage after years of steadily increasing public acceptance.

“Moreover, when the February poll and the current survey are combined, the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage stands at 52%, roughly the same as the 2013 yearly average (50%).”

The_BriefingWe could know as early as this week whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear any of the pending same-sex marriage cases, Reuters reports. The justices met yesterday for a private conference prior to the new term that begins Oct. 6. In September, 32 states asked the Court to decide the marriage issue once and for all, as did a coalition of religious groups including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

SBC disfellowships ‘third way’ church
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted last week to withdraw fellowship from New Heart Community Church, the California congregation whose pastor announced in February he no longer believes same-sex lifestyles are sinful. The committee’s action followed a similar decision by the California Southern Baptist Convention in September.

More from Pew: Public split on business rights and same-sex marriage
Pew’s recently released data also shows 47% of people think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples, while 49% say they should be required to provide services. Half of those surveyed believe homosexuality is a sin, up from 45% a year ago, Pew reported.

Court to hear Arizona church sign case
One case already on the Supreme Court’s schedule is Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, in which a Presbyterian congregation is fighting its town’s signage code. Gilbert, Arizona, requires that signs like those posted by Good News Presbyterian Church cannot go up more than 12 hours before the event advertised—Sunday worship, in this case.

‘Kimye’ pastor will star in reality show
The Oxygen network has announced Miami pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr., who performed the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West wedding earlier this year, will get his own show. “The Wilkersons” will focus on the pastor of Trinity Church and his wife, DawnChere. The show will join other Oxygen faith-centric shows including “Preachers of L.A.” and the upcoming spin-off “Preachers of Detroit.” Read more at ChristianPost.com.

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Years ago when I worked in Christian magazine publishing, one of my jobs was to help write headlines for our subscription promotions. Almost every Christmas, we would go back to the tried and true headline, “Give the gift that keeps on giving.”

With one act of generosity you could send your gift recipients magazines several times throughout the coming year. It was a gift that allowed people to give over and over and over again.

In the days ahead, I believe that principle of year-round giving is something that we as Illinois Baptists need to apply more and more to the needs of our Illinois mission field. For one thing, those needs are now greater than ever.

Nate_Adams_blog_calloutAs I mentioned in my last column, North American Mission Board funding shifts have necessitated that IBSA absorb full responsibility for our state WMU and Women’s Ministry Director, for other missions positions and initiatives that are not specifically church planting, and for funding that assists local associations. We have also received notice that areas such as collegiate ministry, urban ministry centers, and disaster relief coordination will not be funded by NAMB in future budget years.

With Cooperative Program giving from churches currently about 4% lower than last year, it will be difficult to sustain many of these important ministries unless there is a substantial increase in gifts through the Mission Illinois Offering.

The “season of prayer” and emphasis on Illinois missions has traditionally been in September of each year. Thank you in advance for the gift you may have already given through your church this past month! But here are three additional ways that Illinois Baptists can think, pray and give through the Mission Illinois Offering, throughout the year.

1. Starting in 2015, IBSA will provide Mission Illinois Offering promotional materials starting in January, giving your church the option of promoting and receiving an offering for Illinois missions at any time during the year. This will also allow churches that have an annual missions conference to access videos and other information about Illinois missions at any time during the year.

2. Whether your church receives a formal Mission Illinois Offering or not (about half of IBSA churches do not), individuals can now give directly to the Mission Illinois Offering at any time during the year, though the IBSA website. Simply go to http://www.IBSA.org and choose “Give to MIO” from the Donate menu. This option will be especially helpful to those seeking to make an additional, tax-deductible gift before the end of the year.

3. Through the Baptist Foundation of Illinois, you can set up your own “Family Giving Fund,” sometimes referred to as a donor advised fund. It’s like a savings account for your or your family’s charitable giving. You can place money in the fund with BFI, and decide later the non-profit causes to which you want to disperse those funds.

Perhaps you want to save in order to help with the next disaster relief effort in the state. Or save to send Christmas gifts to students at the Christian Activity Center or the Baptist Children’s Home. Or maybe you want to invest in the statewide ministries of IBSA that I mentioned above, simply by directing your fund to the Mission Illinois Offering. For help setting up a
Family Giving Fund, simply contact Doug Morrow at the Baptist Foundation of Illinois (doug.morrow@baptistfoundationil.org or 217-391-3102).

Year-round giving isn’t for everyone, but if you are one of the Illinois Baptists whose heart God is stirring to give more than once a year, I hope one of these year-round options will help you do just that. Your gift to missions in Illinois is one that keeps on giving, even into eternity.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

In the past couple of weeks, I found myself reaching for the remote every time the news showed that video of NFL football player Ray Rice coldcocking his future wife in a hotel elevator. Seeing him drag her, unconscious, into the hallway and dumping her body on the floor is too much to take. For some of us, domestic violence hits too close to home.

A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control showed 24% of women and 14% of men have been “hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something at some point in their lifetime” by a partner. And yet, new LifeWay Research shows 4 out of 10 pastors never preach or teach about it, and only 2 in 10 raise the topic annually.

Country Church InteriorThat means in two-thirds of our churches, attenders might hear domestic violence, which affects one-fourth of households, referenced in a sermon or large group meeting once a year, if at all.

Spousal abuse still isn’t a subject for public conversation—even from the pulpit.

In my years of hearing and reading sermons, I’ve encountered only one on domestic violence. The preacher was a quiet man, unmarried, and he gave no indication what prompted him to tackle the subject. He chose as his text the account of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11.

So many more familiar verses would have supported his argument and from a more positive angle: Man, God made womankind to be your perfect complement (Genesis 2:18). Love your wife as Christ loves the Church; love her as you love your own body (Ephesians 5:25, 28). And as simply as this: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

But instead the preacher trudged faithfully through the gruesome report of a rash vow that ended, by most interpretations, in the slaughter of an innocent woman. This wasn’t violence of a husband against wife, but the horrific act of father against daughter was just as unthinkable. And the preacher’s willingness to tell the bloody story made domestic violence very real, even within the sanctuary.

The preacher applied Jephthah’s brutality to parents who abuse their children and husbands who beat their wives. He even spoke of domestic partners and live-in relationships where it appeared degradation perversely motivated staying together, even when no law required it and no church encouraged it.

Knowing his congregation, that was a brave move. In his neighborhood there along the streetcar line, brutish Stanley Kowalski was still a common character. TMZ attests he still is.

Not many pastors tackle the subject as bravely. Even pastors who preach on domestic violence once in a while are more likely to think violence in the home troubles their community (72% said it did) more than their church (only 25% said so). Lifeway Research says half of senior pastors (52%) say they don’t have enough training to deal with the issue. Many say nothing.

I remember my mother wearing sunglasses in church of necessity, and rehearsing an excuse that she ran into a door should anyone question her. No one did. Even as she directed the choir and led the singing behind shades, the cause of her bruises was never raised.

But what the church historically hasn’t done, perhaps TMZ and the NFL will force us preachers to do: bring what happens in angry, broken households into the light and hold it up against the Word of God.

Because for too many of us, domestic violence hits close to home.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

–Statistics from BP.net and LifeWay Research

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Nearly two-thirds of Protestant senior pastors rarely or never speak to their congregations about mental illness, according to an extensive new study by LifeWay Research. But the majority of people who have a family member suffering from mental illness, or who are suffering themselves, want their church to talk openly about the topic so it won’t be so taboo.

“Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”

According to the study, 68% of pastors said the church maintains a list of mental health resources for members, but only 28% of families said they were aware of those resources in the church.

The “Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith” also surveyed pastors about their own struggles with mental illness. Of those surveyed, 23% said they had experienced some kind of mental illness themselves, and 12% have received a diagnosis for a mental health condition, according to a report by LifeWay’s Bob Smietana.

Religious groups ask SCOTUS to settle marriage issue
The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission joined several other religious groups earlier this month in asking the Supreme Court to settle the same-sex marriage issue. “Legal uncertainty is especially burdensome for religious organizations and religious believers increasingly confronted with thorny questions,” the friend-of-the-court brief stated in part.

To help answer some of those questions for Illinois pastors and church leaders, the Illinois Baptist State Association will host the “Elevate Marriage” conference October 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the IBSA Building in Springfield. Featured speakers include Kevin Smith, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Jill Finley, Bethel Baptist Church, Troy, Ill. Lunch is included, and registration is required; go to http://www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

Winter coming soon for religious minorities in Iraq
As cold weather draws nearer in northern Iraq, the situation for refugees fleeing ISIS grows more desperate, reports Baptist Global Response. “Shelter is lacking or inadequate,” said Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in the Middle East for BGR. “People are living in their cars, under doorsteps, in the open fields—with mainly tarps covering them. People know winter will come quickly on them, and they need to be ready—if ever you can be ready in those conditions.” Click here for more on how BGR is assisting refugees in the Middle East.

Abedini to pray for husband outside White House
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of a pastor imprisoned in Iran, will pray outside the White House this week as part of a multi-site prayer vigil for her husband and other persecuted Christians. Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, was arrested in Iran in 2012. This week marks the second anniversary of his imprisonment.

Rapper Lecrae thankful for ‘voice into culture’
Christian rapper Lecrae appeared on “The Tonight Show” Sept. 18, sitting in with house band The Roots and rapping bits from his new (and Billboard #1) album between segments. “It’s a lot to take in,” he posted on his social media pages after the show. “I am so grateful for the support. I know I represent something much bigger than me. Thank you! I thank God for a voice into culture. I pray I use it wisely.” Read more at ChristianityToday.com.

Supreme Court likely to untangle mixed state judgments

NEWS | After a Louisiana state judge upheld the traditional definition of marriage in a September ruling, advocates on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to make a final, nationwide ruling, once and for all. Indications are, they will.

Thirty-two states filed briefs this month asking the Supreme Court to decide the marriage issue. The appeal made by the states—15 that allow same-sex marriage and 17 that don’t—came the day after a federal judge in Louisiana this month became the first judge to uphold a state’s ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer.

Judge Martin Feldman ruled Sept. 3 that same-sex marriage “is not a fundamental right that states must uphold despite constitutional or legislative bans,” reported USA Today.

Feldman wrote in his opinion, “The court is persuaded that a mean of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational.”

Similar to rulings that have overturned banned in other states, Feldman’s decision will be appealed. Circuit appeals courts also have been busy this summer considering the same-sex marriage question:

  • In the 9th Circuit, the Court of Appeals heard arguments Sept. 8 in three cases that could affect nine states. In the suits, couples in Hawaii, Idaho and Nevada say bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and have a negative impact on their families.
  • The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which includes Illinois, agreed Sept. 4 with two lower court rulings to overturn same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. In Illinois, same-sex marriages officially began June 1 after the General Assembly approved “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” last fall.
  • The 10th and 4th circuits previously overturned same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia. Like virtually all of the rulings on same-sex marriage, the decisions are on hold.

Some pundits say cases in the 6th Circuit could determine when the Supreme Court will consider same-sex marriage. In early August, the court considered cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. At an event at the University of Minnesota earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg predicted the court will decide on marriage “sooner or later,” according to the Washington Post, but there currently is “no urgency.” If same-sex marriage loses in the 6th Circuit, the decision could present the split needed to bring in the high court, the Post reported.

Religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also issued a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Supreme Court to settle the marriage issue, stating in part, “Legal uncertainty is especially burdensome for religious organizations and religious believers increasingly confronted with thorny questions.”

To help answer some of those questions for Illinois pastors and church leaders, the Illinois Baptist State Association will host the “Elevate Marriage” conference October 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the IBSA Building in Springfield. Featured speakers include Kevin Smith, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Jill Finley, Bethel Baptist Church, Troy, Ill. Lunch is included, and registration is required; go to http://www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

This image was captured from a 2012 YouTube video Saeed Abedini made before his 2013 imprisonment for his faith.

This image was captured from a 2012 YouTube video Saeed Abedini made before his 2013 imprisonment for his faith. Photo from BP

Note: This article was compiled by Baptist Press, with reporting by Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org).

HEARTLAND | As pastor Saeed Abedini nears the second anniversary of imprisonment in Iran, his wife Naghmeh is organizing a Sept. 26 worldwide prayer vigil for Abedini and other Christians persecuted for their faith.

“I’m doing a prayer vigil on this day to remember Pastor Saeed and others who are imprisoned for Christ, but also as a chance to come together as the Body of Christ and see the move of God as we pray together,” she said in a video posted on the Be Heard Project’s website, an initiative of the American Center for Law and Justice. “Please join me on this special day as we come together and pray.”

As of Sept. 18, groups had signed up to host individual prayer meetings at more than 418 locations in the United States, including Southern Baptist churches, the White House, the steps of state capitols, and Christian churches of various denominations.

Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence imposed Jan. 27, 2013, on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. Iran refuses to recognize the U.S. citizenship Abedini gained in 2010.

Abedini faces death threats in prison, avoiding exercise sessions when radical Islamists would most likely try to kill him, the U.S. Center for Law and Justice reported in August. His wife and their two children remain in Idaho.

The prayer vigil comes as at least three other Christian pastors in Iran are facing charges deemed punishable by death, Morning Star News reported. Read more at BPNews.net.

Registration information for the prayer vigil is available at http://beheardproject.com/prayer-vigil/saeed.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.