The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding that the companies do not have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding that the companies do not have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

COMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case allows employers with religious objections to opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. On the surface, one could read that sentence and assume that Hobby Lobby will not provide any contraception coverage to its employees. In talking with friends who only get their news from mainstream media, I found this is what they actually believe.

I will admit that as a self-described “news junkie” I may be better informed on the issue than they are. I read the daily newspaper as an elementary school student, was an early viewer of CNN, read Time and Newsweek magazines in the school library, and became a fan of talk radio in college. The advent of the Internet opened up a whole new world of news for me, beyond the big three networks.

This exposure to a wider variety of news and opinions widened my worldview. As the years have passed, I’ve become less trusting of the old news sources and prefer to investigate more myself.

In this case, I knew from sources I trusted, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Baptist Press, that the Food and Drug Administration has approved 20 contraceptives that are required to be covered under the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. Four of these are considered abortifacients. These four drugs are the only “contraceptives” Hobby Lobby was refusing to provide for its employees.

So, when the high court’s ruling was announced, I understood what it meant and explained it to a couple of friends in an animated discussion: Hobby Lobby and similar “closely held companies” would continue to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, but would not pay for abortion-causing drugs.

My friends, who rely on the old guard media, were outraged by the ruling.

None of the mainstream media really explained what the ruling means, or that it is a victory for religious liberty. Instead, the Christians in these cases have been portrayed as bigots who want to deny women their rights and are surprisingly finding new allies in the male justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is this inaccurate portrayal purposeful? I know what I think, but I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, I’m putting on my earbuds. I have a podcast to listen to.

Lisa Sergent is director of communications for IBSA and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

SUMMER 2014 | It’s camp season! IBSA’s co-ed missions camp for kids is happening this week in northern Illinois at Streator Baptist Camp. The southern version, which shared the “Gotta tell it!” theme, was in June at Lake Sallateeska. Click through this slideshow for photos from both sites, and check in at Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist this week for more from Streator. Photos by J.C. and Carla Vaca Diez, Mark Emerson, Carmen Halsey and Meredith Flynn

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The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | A new survey shows 21% of same-sex couples in Illinois have opted to wed since it became legal in the state June 1, but a second survey asks how long those marriages will last. And two more new polls cast doubt on the percentage of homosexuals in the U.S.

Equality Illinois, a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Illinois, surveyed the state’s 102 counties and found at least 3,274 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples and 1,694 civil unions have been converted to marriages. According to the most recent U.S. Census, 23,409 same-sex couples reside in Illinois. Using this data, 21.2% of same-sex couples in the state have married or plan to marry.

The group stated the exact number of licenses issued or civil union conversions is difficult to determine because not all of the state’s county clerks recorded whether licenses were issued to same-sex couples, while others recorded conversions together with licenses, not separately.

Nine counties reported no licenses issued to same-sex couples or civil union conversions and five counties did not respond to the survey.

What might the future hold for these couples? The National Review’s online blog, The Corner, reported this month in a new Scandinavian study of civil unions (more heavily equated to marriage than in the U.S.) over the nearly two decades that they have been legal in that region of the world. The study reported male couples were 35% more likely to divorce than heterosexual couples, and female couples were over 200% more likely to divorce. It also found, whether or not the couples had children made little difference in the divorce rate.

Gay, more or less

In related news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported July 15 that less than 3% of the U.S. population identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. It’s the first time the government has measured American’s sexual orientation through the National Health Interview Survey.

According to the 2013 survey just out, 1.6% of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% consider themselves bisexual.

And these findings conflict with a new Pew Research Center survey that says there are more homosexuals in the United States than previously reported. The figure cited for years was 10%, based mostly on the Kinsey Report of 1948. Critics called Kinsey’s methods flawed, and said the number was more like 4% to 8%.

Pew used two survey methods, allowing for indirect responses. While the “direct report” method shows 11% of U.S. adults “do not consider themselves heterosexual,” the “veiled report” showed considerably higher numbers: 19% of U.S. adults said they “do not consider themselves heterosexual.” That’s 15% of men and 22% of women.

Using the “veiled method,” Pew also found that 27% of U.S. adults admitted having a sexual experience with someone of the same sex.

Overall, the public perception of the number of homosexuals in the U.S. has grown as same-sex marriage has dominated the news. A 2013 Gallup poll that found Americans believe 25% of the population is gay, lesbian or transgendered.

-Reported by Lisa Sergent for the Illinois Baptist

Other stories:

SBC leaders tour Texas border shelters
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and ethicist Russell Moore will today visit two border facilities tending to the needs of children detained after attempting to cross into the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security reports 57,000 such kids have been detained in the last nine months. The children “need immediate attention that elevates their health and safety above all,” Floyd wrote for Baptist Press last week. “From my point of view, the children must become our number one priority.” Read more at BPNews.net

Research guages ‘religious temperatures’
Americans view Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians warmly, according to a new study from Pew Research that measures perceptions about different religious groups. Respondents ranked groups on a “feeling thermometer” of 0 to 100. The “warm” groups all received average rankings in the low 60s, while atheists (41) and Muslims (40) received the lowest numbers. Read more at PewForum.org.

Baptist school gets partial win in court
A California Superior Court ruled in July that a Southern Baptist university had the right to expel a transgender student for violating its code of conduct. Domaine Javier, a former California Baptist University nursing student who identifies as a female, sued the school for gender discrimination after being expelled for claiming to be female on his application.

Judge Gloria Connor Trask ruled the school didn’t violate the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act because its on-campus activities do not constitute a “business enterprise.” But Trask did award attorney’s fees and $4,000 in damages to Javier because he was excluded from off-campus enterprises open to the public. Read more at BPNews.net.

Movies to explore Tolkien/Lewis friendship
Christianity Today reports on two upcoming movies that will look at the relationship between beloved Christian authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The films “Tolkien and Lewis” and “Jack and Tollers” are expected in 2015, and another movie about Tolkien’s life also is in the works.

 

Students meet in their "family group" at Super Summer, IBSA's discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

Students meet in a “family group” at Super Summer, IBSA’s discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

HEARTLAND | When you ask him if students in his youth group are different after they experience Super Summer, Tim Drury pops open his laptop and pulls up a video of Hannah Batista sharing her testimony. Hannah came to Christ last summer during the annual discipleship week at Greenville College.

Most students are already Christians when they get to Super Summer, which is sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. But the week is still life-changing. They grow, and they want to grow more, said Drury, youth minister at FBC Bethalto.

“My job as a student pastor is to take what they’ve learned, and for the other 51 weeks of the year, help them put it into practice.”

It’s something he’s been learning how to do since the early 2000s, when he first came to Super Summer as a youth pastor. He now serves as an assistant dean in the gray school, a group for students preparing to go to college in the fall. The dean of the gray school, Lakeland Baptist Pastor Phil Nelson, has been at every Super Summer since the beginning, more than 20 years ago.

The students aren’t the only ones being mentored, Drury said. He’s being discipled too, by pastors like Nelson who take a week away from their churches to come to Greenville.

Caleb Ellis was a student in Drury’s gray school this year. The 18-year-old, who’s also from Bethalto, likened his first Super Summer to drinking from a fire hose. But he learned “tools for practical, modern faith,” and was already talking in Greenville about how he could go home and start Gospel conversations with a friend from another culture.

When he came to Bethalto, Drury said, “I needed something that did heavy discipleship and challenged our kids to look more like Jesus.” Super Summer helps fill in the gaps caused by the time limitations he faces as a youth minister. He may only see most students once a week, for example, and it’s difficult to do intensive classes for specific ages or genders. But in Greenville, his students are “under the pressure of the Gospel” – it’s a refining process for them, an opportunity to evaluate their relationship with Christ.

And for him. The students are learning things here that he’s still learning, Drury said.

For more on Super Summer, read the July 28 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online later this week at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

Editor’s note: Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. His “WorldView Conversation” posts, including this one, appear occasionally at BPNews.net.

COMMENTARY | Erich Bridges

No matter how long the school year dragged on, I knew that once summer came, I’d get to go to my grandmother’s beach house. Once there, I could count on her good cooking and unconditional love.

Praying ManWe would fish in the surf or from the boardwalk and watch the sun go down beyond the horizon as the ocean wind cooled our faces. We sometimes talked, but silence was just as good. Being together sufficed.

I think about those summers as today’s July heat begins to bake. Grandma is long gone, and I miss her. But my spirit still yearns for beaches, rivers, mountains and other places that offer respite from the daily routine.

It’s a desire common to humanity. It predates by millennia the idea of vacation, which is a modern phenomenon. We long for a break, however brief, from the daily grind, a pause from the familiar. We crave rest and renewal. A “separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return,” the folklorist Arnold van Gennep described it.

Church folks call it a retreat. Modern-day retreats have become scheduled events with programs, speakers, themes and such. But the older concept of Christian spiritual retreat harks back to the holy men and women of the early church who went into the desert to seek the Lord. They followed the example of Christ, who sought out the wilderness to pray and be alone with His Father before returning to minister to the needy crowds.

The craving for retreat is never stronger than when the world seems to be falling apart. Wars that were supposed to be over aren’t. Old enemies remain and new ones emerge. Political and cultural disputes become more hateful by the day. People refuse to make peace with God or each other, holding onto their evil ways. Those closest to us let us down. We let them down. We disappoint the Lord. It’s time for a rest and a fresh start.

These are times for a retreat in the old sense. Jesus beckons us to come away with Him to a quiet place, there to rest with Him and renew our spirits. Vacationing is OK, but it’s a poor imitation of walking with Jesus in the wilderness.

The other great thing about true retreat is returning to the world. Vacations these days tend to be rushed, expensive, over-planned and more tiring than the demands they’re supposed to relieve. When you get home, you’re ready for a vacation from your vacation. But you return from a retreat with the Lord refreshed, renewed and ready to follow Him back into the fray.

That’s the real point of retreat — being with God, then returning to the world. He needs servants who have met with Him before they enter the global struggle for souls. If we try to serve Him in our own puny power, we’ll make no impact.

Seek Him in the wilderness and quiet, and renew yourself in His Spirit. Return to the world to shine His light into darkness.

By Lisa Sergent

Two women recently visited Mindy Cobb’s Sunday school class at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. They told Cobb they were in a lesbian relationship and asked if they would be accepted by the class. “I told them we would welcome them and love them, but not affirm their relationship,” she recounted. They didn’t come back.

It wasn’t the class’ first experience with the issue. Several years ago, a transsexual named Jackie asked to join the class. “I said no,” Cobb said. “This wasn’t the sort of person I wanted in my class.” But Cobb agreed for Jackie to share her story and let the class make its own decision.

Similar questions are affecting churches across Illinois and the nation. How would they respond if Jackie came to Sunday school? Or if a same-sex couple like TV’s Mitch and Cam and their adopted daughter, Lily, showed up on Sunday?

Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states including Illinois; in all of the remaining states, bans on same-sex marriage are being challenged. The majority of Americans believe gay couples should be able to get married. And conservative, Bible-adhering churches that never expected to find the issue of homosexuality on their doorsteps are instead finding it in the pews.

Bob Dylan was right. The times, they are a-changin’.

We will walk with you

In April, 24-year-old author Matthew Vines released a book that some have called a game-changer for the church. In “God and the Gay Christian,” Vines, who says he holds a high view of the authority of Scripture, attempts to prove the Bible does not condemn same-sex relationships.

The book is unique because it’s a message to the church from someone who grew up there. Vines, raised as a Presbyterian in Kansas, is asking that gay people not only be welcomed in churches but also affirmed – and he says the Bible supports his view. Vines is a voice for gay people who are looking for a place to belong in the church.

At Mosaic Church in Highland, Ill., teaching pastor Eddie Pullen preached last year on what the Bible says about homosexuality. A woman in attendance that day became angry and left. She later shared her disapproval with Pullen, telling him she was a lesbian.

Churches looking for easy answers in the conversation about homosexuality likely won’t find any. “If we accept his [Vines’] argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world and move on,” said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of an e-book that counters Vines’ work. “But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners.”

At Mosaic, Pullen said God had been preparing him for the conflict with the offended woman. Two years prior, he had written a sermon that he “prayed and poured more into” than any sermon in years. His message for all who would come to the church was:

• No matter who you are, you need Jesus.

• Jesus does love you.

• You are welcome at this church.

• You may not agree with us.

• We will not single you out.

• We will walk on your journey with you.

“What Christians and even churches miss is that Christ-followers need to be known for their love,” Pullen said. “Too many Christians are afraid to reach out [to homosexuals] because they’re afraid it will be received as affirmation. That’s not true.”

He told the woman who visited Mosaic, “We don’t have to agree on everything, but we don’t have to run away [when we disagree]…We don’t want you to leave because of our disagreement.” She came back to Mosaic, and has continued to participate in church activities.

“Usually it takes someone seeing Jesus in us to convince them He’s real,” Pullen said. “If they never see Jesus in His followers, why would they want to become one?”

What Mindy’s class decided

At Uptown Baptist, Mindy Cobb’s Sunday school class heard Jackie’s story and welcomed her with open arms. They spent almost a year getting to know her as a new Christian who wanted to study the Bible. That first Sunday, Jackie told the class she had been born as a man, undergone 29 surgeries, and was now a woman.

She became a member of the class, and started bringing her friends too. Every week, she gave a testimony. “It got to the point where everybody was sitting on the edge of the chair to see what Jackie was going to say this week,” Cobb said.

Then, after about a year, a man with short hair and a suit came into the class. “I wanted to tell you I am now ready to be the man God created me to be,” said Jackie, now called Willie. He had been in Christian counseling and was ready to be his male self. It was his last Sunday in Cobb’s class; the next week, Willie began attending a men’s Sunday School class at Uptown.

“God used Jackie to show me how I put people into a box,” Cobb said. “I learned to love and accept people for who they are and to let God do the changing.” Looking back on the experience, she said, “There are no quick answers. Sometimes lives are just messy. People do need help to see things a new way.”

Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Hannah_Gay

“…I learned many, many years ago that God is far too big for me to understand Him, but at the same time that His love for mankind is just as far beyond my comprehension,” Dr. Hannah Gay told Baptist Press. “So I trust Him even when I don’t understand.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The news that a child believed to be functionally cured of HIV once again has the virus growing inside her “felt like a punch to the gut,” the specialist who treated the child told CNN.

But Hannah Gay also said God is evident in the details of the case.

“For confidentiality reasons I cannot share any of those details publicly but there are many and they have helped to not just reaffirm my faith in God,” Gay told Baptist Press, “but to actually strengthen it.”

The associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was credited in March 2013 with achieving a “functional” cure of the child born with HIV, meaning the virus couldn’t be detected by standard clinical tests. But tests this month revealed the more than two-year remission is over.

Gay, who has credited God with the functional cure, said she’s learned to trust Him even when she doesn’t understand current circumstances. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Moore: Compassion needed at border
The church’s response to the border crisis “cannot be quick and easy,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But, for the people of God, our consciences must be informed by a Kingdom more ancient and more permanent than the United States.” Read his column at RussellMoore.com.

LifeWay poll: 56% of Americans want more movies with Christian values
In a year where faith-based movies have seen success at the box office, LifeWay Research found a majority of Americans say they want more such films, although adults under 30 were the age group least likely to agree. In other movie news, 20th Century Fox has released the trailer for October’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Pew defines ‘closely held’ corporations
Wondering what the Supreme Court meant by “closely held” businesses in their recent decision on Hobby Lobby? Pew Research released this explanation of the label.

Illinois students serving in Chicago, Oklahoma
The All-State Youth Choir is on tour this week, and heading to Oklahoma after a concert at Six Flags in St. Louis today. Follow them at www.Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist.