Sepia Bible and flagHouse Speaker Paul Ryan introduced the Republican nominee for vice president, Mike Pence, as a “man of faith” at the party’s national convention July 20. When the Indiana Governor took the stage he declared, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Pence peppered his acceptance speech with phrases familiar to Christians: “I have faith that God can still heal our land” and “Pray daily for a wise and discerning heart.”

Is Pence the man evangelicals have been looking for this election cycle?

In 1994, Pence told the Indianapolis Business Journal, “I made a commitment to Christ. I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.” While that may sound odd to Baptist ears, it’s not as rare as some may think.

When Republican candidate for president Donald Trump announced his selection of Pence as his running mate, Trump pledged he and Pence would do away with the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, later president, successfully restricted tax-exempt religious organizations including churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

It’s said Johnson’s fervor for the amendment came from is desire to silence pastors in his state who were opposing his re-election bid. Many believe the amendment is a violation of citizens’ First Amendment rights

In his speech, Trump said he “could not have won this nomination” without the support of evangelical voters. He called them “unbelievable.”

Referring to the Johnson amendment, he stated, “You are just absolutely shunned if you’re evangelical, if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status.We put into the platform, we’re going to get rid of that horrible Johnson amendment. And we’re going to let evangelicals, we’re going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk.”

After sharing about amendment’s history, Trump stated, “We’re [he and Pence] going to undo it, so that religious leaders in this country, and those unbelievable people, and not because they backed me in such large numbers, but so that religion can again have a voice, because religion’s voice has been taken away. And we’re going to change that. OK? All right.”

Delegates to the Republican National Convention approved a platform, which some are calling the party’s most conservative ever, that includes this promise.

Will evangelicals who oppose Trump get on board because of this promise or the Pence addition to the ticket? Some are saying not so fast.

Pence was under fire last year when he signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Critics claimed the bill discriminated against the LGBT community, while supporters claimed it protected the rights of religious believers to practice their faith. Corporations, major sporting events, and individuals threatened to boycott the state. A few days later, Pence signed an amendment to the bill which also protected sexual orientation and gender identity rights. Some viewed Pence’s actions as a betrayal and questioned his commitment to religious freedom.

A recent Pew survey showed the majority of white evangelicals now support Trump because they dislike presumptive Democrat nominee for president Hillary Clinton.  Whether Pence will win over the #NeverTrump evangelicals who say they will leave the checkbox for president blank or write in a name won’t truly be known until November.

The BriefingChanging genders isn’t morally wrong, Americans say
Most Americans see nothing morally wrong with gender change, a new study shows. Six in 10 Americans don’t think it’s wrong for people to identify with a gender different from their birth sex, according to the LifeWay Research survey. And more than half don’t think it’s wrong to switch genders by taking hormones or having surgery.

Floyd’s open letter to Democrat and Republican leaders
Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, penned an open letter to the Democrat and Republican parties about issues concerning evangelical voters. In the letter Floyd writes, “Tell the American public what you truly believe about the things that matter to us. As leaders in our nation, in your formulation of your respective platforms, please leave your conventions with a clear message about your stance on the subjects we care about.”

VP candidate is an evangelical Catholic
Presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence describes himself as a “pretty ordinary Christian” and as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” But he also once said, “I made a commitment to Christ. I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.” That’s not a combination you hear every day.

Russia’s new restrictions on sharing the gospel
Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a package of anti-terrorism laws that usher in tighter restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism. The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.

Looking for God at Ark Encounter, Christian entertainment destinations
Ark Encounter is a $100 million, 510-foot-long re-creation of Noah’s Ark, built by a Christian ministry with the help of state tax incentives and the sale of $62 million in junk bonds. Critics say the business model behind it and other Christian-themed destinations may require a new level of financial faith.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Washington Post

We all matter to God

As Americans we look forward to summer with excitement and nostalgia for summers’ past. For many, the summer of 2016 will be one they’ll most likely want to forget.

So far we’ve seen multiple terrorist attacks overseas and even in our own country, with the killing of 49 Americans in Orlando, FL in June. In the most recent attack in Nice, France, at least three Americans, including a father and son, were among the 84 people killed.

Our own country is also being torn apart from within by racial strife. The killings of two black men, one in Baton Rouge, LA, the other near Minneapolis, MN, by police. In seeming retaliation, five police officers were assassinated in Dallas, TX, followed just more than a week later, by the assassinations of three officers in Baton Rouge.

One of the Baton Rouge officers slain was Montrell Jackson, a 32-year-old who had been married only a few years and recently become a father. Jackson was also black.

The Washington Post reported his sister, Joycelyn Jackson, learned of her younger brother’s death while sitting in a Sunday worship service at her church. According to the Post, “She understands the anger behind the movement Black Lives Matter but that ‘God gives nobody the right to kill and take another person’s life…It’s coming to the point where no lives matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or whatever.’”

Jackson is expressing what many feel. As a society we argue over the semantics of whose lives matter, while the killing continues. It should hardly be a surprise that life has so little value in a culture where more than 56 million infants have been aborted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that tightened abortion clinic standards. The ruling, which made access to abortion clinics in that state and others with similar laws even easier, was celebrated by many Americans.

As summer temperatures heat up, so are tensions. A spirit of evil and chaos seems to have taken hold. But we need not despair, God is with us and he is merciful and just.

Joycelyn Jackson knows this and so should we.  When the Post asked Jackson what she would say to her brother’s killer or anyone considering violence, she replied, “If I could say anything to anyone, it is to get their lives right with God. Hell is a horrible, horrible place to be.”

– LMS

Election 2016For nearly a year, evangelicals, including many high profile leaders, have been debating who to support in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Many have even joined the the #NeverTrump moment. But that may be changing.

A new poll released by Pew Research Center shows four-fifths of white evangelicals say they have decided to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in the general election. According to Pew, 78% of white evangelicals now support the candidate. Just 17% support Hilary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee, while 5% are undecided.

Support for Trump among white evangelicals is even higher than as it was for Republican Mitt Romney (71%) in 2012.

The New York Times quoted J. Tobin Grant, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, on the difference. “Trump is not a true believer in any sense, both religiously and on the issues, but he’s speaking to them,” said Tobin. “He’s actively courting them, and that’s what the activists want. They want to have a seat at the table, and they felt they didn’t have that with Romney.”

White evangelical Protestant voters make up one-fifth of the the nation’s registered voters, with one-third stating they are or at least lean Republican. Evangelicals are rivaled by religious “nones,” voters who have no religious preference or are atheist, who also make up one-fifth of registered voters. More than a quarter of the nones say they are or lean Democrat.

Writing for Religion News Service, Mark Silk touted the “big news” from the Pew poll as “the disappearance of the God gap.” In 2012, “respondents who said they attended worship at least once a week preferred Romney to Obama by 15 points, 55% to 40%. This year, the margin is just four points: 49% for Trump to 45% for Clinton.”

Silk also noted, “In 2012, less frequent attending white evangelicals preferred Romney to Obama by 29 points (62-33). This year the margin for the Republican has doubled to 57 points (76-19) — almost the same as the margin among frequent attending white evangelicals.”

Pew found voters in general are not pleased with their choices for president – “42% of voters said it would be difficult to choose between Trump and Clinton because ‘neither one’ would make a good president.”

Black Protestant voters overwhelmingly say they support Clinton – 89% to 8% for Trump. Just four percent say they are undecided. Hispanic Catholics support Clinton (77%) over Trump (16%).

The survey also measured voter motivation. Pew discovered “the desire to defeat Clinton was the prime reason evangelicals supported Trump. Of the 78% of white evangelicals who said they would vote for Trump, 45% said their decision was ‘mainly a vote against Clinton,’ while only 30% said it was ‘mainly a vote for Trump.’”

In addition, the survey found nearly half (46%) of white evangelical voters believe it it is now more difficult to be a Christian in the United States. This compares to just 18% of Catholics who believe it is now more difficult to be a Catholic in today’s society.

The survey also comes on the heels of Trump’s meeting last month with nearly 1,000 evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists. At least eight Southern Baptists now serve on Trump’s evangelical advisory panel.

The Republican National Convention takes place next week, July 18- 21, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Democrat National Convention follows July 25–28 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

– Lisa Sergent

DallasThe Briefing Chief Brown relies on his faith
In the wake of the July 7 ambush that killed five Dallas police officers and throughout his life, Police Chief David Brown believes in bedrock Christian doctrine — faithful submission to God’s plan followed by an eternal reward. He sees his job as a “divine assignment” and brings a Biblical perspective to all his decision-making, said his pastor, the Rev. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.

Iowa claims it won’t muzzle pastors
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission, in a “clarification,” says it will not muzzle churches that teach on matters of biblical sexuality, nor force them to open single-sex restrooms to members of the opposite sex. The commission said it has revised its brochure on “Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity” to state that churches generally are exempt from certain provisions of the state’s civil rights law.

Is Trump the end of the Religious Right?
The evangelical divide over Trump has been widening for months, but it was only in recent weeks that the pro- and anti-Trump camps definitively split, with an increasing number of conservative evangelicals coming out forcefully against the candidate. The breaking point came on June 21, when Trump—ironically in an effort to appease the religious right—met with nearly a thousand evangelical leaders and announced a 25-person “evangelical advisory board” to help him reach conservative Christian voters.

Perry Noble fired
NewSpring Church, a multi-campus megachurch based in Anderson, S.C., announced Sunday that the church’s board of directors and pastor advisory team fired Senior Pastor Perry Noble for alcoholism, marital problems, and other “unfortunate” choices. Noble served as pastor of the Southern Baptist Convention–affiliated church since its founding in 2000.

Bill Nye tours Ark Encounter
When evolutionist Bill Nye “the science guy” visited a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in northern Kentucky, he wanted to learn how children were reacting to what he has called a danger to science education. By the time he left the Ark Encounter theme park, he had also learned the story of Christ’s atoning death on the cross for humanity’s sins, Ark Encounter’s chief executive Ken Ham said, underscoring the park’s value as an evangelistic tool.

Sources: Dallas Morning News, Daily Signal, Politico, World Magazine, Baptist Press

Fractured alliances

As the national political conventions approach, it’s time for evangelicals to decide. For some, it’s a choice they’d rather not make.

With the national conventions for both major American political parties just days away and the nominees all but a foregone conclusion, the only remaining question is how voters in November will react to this most unusual presidential election.

Christian voters in particular have yet to coalesce behind either candidate, although a June meeting between presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and nearly 1,000 evangelicals signaled things may be changing, at least for some conservative leaders.

And Trump’s announcement of an evangelical advisory committee, including several Southern Baptists, reverberated around the Twitter-sphere, shaking the unified front Baptists had shown just days before at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

The divide is growing between conservatives who support Trump over Hillary Clinton’s liberal ideals, and those who say they won’t vote for the businessman-turned-reality TV star with a penchant for saying whatever is on his mind. Along with the differences among Christians, some pundits see a growing split between the traditional “religious right” and the Republican party.

“In the coming weeks, we are going to be learning a great deal more about the presidential candidates,” forecasted Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler in a recent edition of his Briefing podcast. “But it’s also increasingly true that we’re going to be learning a great deal about ourselves as evangelical Christians in America.

“Perhaps we’d better brace ourselves for what we’re going to learn.”

Meeting the Donald

On June 20, Donald Trump met in New York City with nearly 1,000 Christian leaders, including immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ronnie Floyd and newly elected president Steve Gaines, along with several other Southern Baptists.

The gathering, emceed by former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, included a Q&A time with Trump, who has won over conservative voters in the primaries even as Christian leaders have decried his volatile speaking style and confession last year that he wasn’t sure he had ever asked God for forgiveness of his sins.

Following the meeting, Trump named a 25-member evangelical advisory board, which includes Floyd and at least seven fellow Southern Baptists. Floyd is among the members of the board who say their participation doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the candidate, rather “as an avenue to voice what matters to evangelicals,” he told The Christian Post.

Floyd also cited several key issues that compelled him to participate on Trump’s advisory board, including Supreme Court appointments, the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, Israel and the Middle East, and racial tension.

But many Christian and conservative leaders took issue with the meeting and the participation of those appointed to the advisory board. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a recent Trump target on Twitter, took on the seeming divide between Trump’s public persona and his coziness with evangelicals:

“If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted (negatively) to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know,” Moore tweeted June 21, following up with, “If character matters then character matters.”

Moore wasn’t the only voice to question the authenticity of Trump’s relationship with Christians. Writing for The Federalist online, film critic Rebecca Cusey described reading through the meeting transcript, “thinking maybe Trump might exhibit some charm, some thoughtfulness in a smaller setting that is lost on the large stage, something that would explain why people who profess to believe in Jesus would be so taken in by Trump.

“Sadly, no. The transcript is shocking in its pandering: of Trump to evangelicals, yes—we expected that—but also in their pandering to Trump.”

Floyd acknowledged the widespread criticism, blogging a few days after the meeting that his short time out of the office of SBC president had been in some ways more difficult than leading the denomination for two years. He listed several Bible characters who had opportunity to speak into the lives of national leaders, including Old Testament prophet Daniel.

“What if Daniel had refused to acknowledge King Nebuchadnezzar and acted like he was too righteous to relate to him?” Floyd asked.

Similarly, Richard Land, who preceded Moore as president of the ERLC, asked critics of the Trump meeting what they would have the advisory team do instead of participate when asked.

“Would they really have us spurn the opportunity to give spiritual counsel and advice to Mr. Trump and his team?” Land wrote in a column for The Christian Post. “How would that be obedience to our Saviour’s command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world?”

Fractured alliances 2

 Weighing other options

Some evangelicals are looking to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as an alternative to Trump, in spite of her policies on abortion and LGBT issues that run counter to traditionally-held conservative views.

Thabiti Anyabwile, in a column for The Gospel Coalition, said in May he planned, for the time being, to vote for Clinton. “…However we might evaluate her as a leader or her platform as a vision for America, we could say more or less the exact same things about Trump—with one glaring exception,” wrote Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C.

“We have no way of predicting Trump’s behavior from one hour to the next. None. Except to predict that the behavior will be vile and repulsive for any person who cares about civility, truth, and the dignity of the office.”

Deborah Fikes, executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance, gave Clinton her endorsement in June, saying of Trump, “…I worry that allowing religious and ethnic intolerance here in America will undermine our ability to have a prayer of fighting it around the world.”

Still, Trump has branded himself as the candidate most invested in religious liberty and other Christian concerns. So far, a majority of voters agree: A June poll by CBS found Trump leads Clinton among evangelical voters by a margin of 62% to 17%.

However, as Religion News Service’s analysis of the poll pointed out, Trump’s 62% is lower than the percentage of white evangelical voters who favored George Bush (79%), John McCain (73%) and Mitt Romney (79%) in the last three elections.

Gallup polling from May found the two candidates neck and neck among those who identify as “Protestant” or “Other Christian”—36% had a favorable opinion of Clinton, and 38% had a favorable opinion of Trump. Both candidates’ numbers were slightly lower among the “Highly religious”—35% for Clinton and 37% for Trump.

For those voters who don’t foresee an appealing option for November, Christian and conservative leaders have floated other ideas, including third-party candidates, write-in voting, and abstention. Alan Noble, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, wrote for Vox that “unless a third-party candidate with broad appeal emerges, evangelical Christians would be better served by abstaining from that vote and shifting their energy toward electing people to Congress and local and state governments who have the opportunity to restrain whichever candidate is elected as needed.”

But many Christian leaders have been vocal about getting out the vote, even for candidates that are less than ideal. On his tour of state capitals, evangelist Franklin Graham has urged Christians to vote, but hasn’t endorsed specific candidates. Graham has instead warned against inactivity, citing a statistic that reports 20 million evangelicals did not vote in the 2012 presidential election.

In Springfield, Graham told several thousand gathered in front of the Capitol, “Our job as Christians is to make Christ felt in every [area] of life—religious, social, economic, political.”

Keep the lines open

No matter who believers support in the election, said Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer, the rhetorical tone should be loving.

“In years past, I generally had to encourage evangelicals to avoid scorning fellow evangelicals who voted Democrat. Now, perhaps we need exhortation to avoid scorning those who vote for Donald Trump….Rather than looking down with scorn on evangelical Trump supporters, perhaps we should sit down with them, listen to them, and hear their concerns.”

Mohler prescribed similar action in his June 22 podcast, urging Christians to think through the issues at hand.

“In this difficult political season, evangelicals must not demonize one another as to how we’re thinking through these issues, but I must plead with all evangelicals that we must indeed think through these issues carefully and faithfully, and think very biblically and candidly.”

To fail to remember oneness in Christ and fall instead into factions and camps could result in a loss of the unity achieved during the recent Southern Baptist Convention, wrote Pastor Ted Traylor following the meeting with Trump, which he attended. At the June 14-15 convention in St. Louis, Baptists united around one presidential candidate, Steve Gaines, after another, J.D. Greear, bowed out prior to a second run-off election.

Now, as Baptists consider another election, Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., advised them to think carefully in a blog post titled, “What I learned from a conversation with Donald Trump.”

“There has been much vitriol on social media about the Trump meeting within the tribe of Southern Baptists. We left our convention last week in unity. Demonizing each other over secular politics will quickly destroy what we saw and hailed as God-given unity. We are in the Gospel business.

“However, as we render to Caesar what is his we must be wise, kind and discerning.”

I did not grow up a Southern Baptist. In fact, I only stumbled into the denomination 12 years ago. But every year I become happier and happier to be associated with this great tradition and organization. And this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis made me more pleased than ever before to be a Baptist.

Maybe I am set up for future disappointment. I hear that these meetings are not always as eventful. This year, attendance was up. Emotions were high. We gathered in the immediate wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, the worst in our country’s history. We remembered the tragic shooting in Charleston one year earlier and acknowledged the racially charged atmosphere reflected in nearby Ferguson. “Election” also loomed large. The theological understanding of the term was a subtext for the hotly contested SBC presidential election. And the upcoming U.S. presidential election was in everyone’s mind.

One of the most memorable moments for me, though, came amid a flurry a motions presented to convention messengers. One brother from Arkansas had requested the removal of Southern Baptist officials or officers who support a right for Muslims in America to build mosques. The next day, after the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s report, the same brother pressed ERLC President Russell Moore on the issue, likening the defense of the right to construct mosques to Jesus endorsing the erection of temples for Baal in ancient Israel.

As our culture unravels, we must remember our hope is in Christ, not country.

Dr. Moore’s response was sharp and received by the majority of messengers with applause. “The answer to Islam is not government power,” he said. “The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”

In defending the idea of soul freedom for every individual, he illuminated a critical theological concept that lies at the heart of being Baptist. I am referring to religious liberty—the belief that no religion should be established by the state, but all faiths should be free to win adherents through the power of persuasion and not the sword.

In our history, Baptists have been persecuted by the government for non-conformity. We have seen the damage done by state churches to true religion. We do not baptize babies, in part, because we believe you cannot be born a Christian. Everyone must be genuinely converted without coercion. This should compel us to a radical witness to our Muslim neighbors and refugees, not to seek political action against them.

Recently there was a debate between a Christian and an atheist at the university near our church. It was sponsored by an evangelical campus ministry. To get there, you took the escalators to the third floor and turned left to find a small room with perhaps 100 mostly Anglo attenders. That same night, in the large room to the right of the escalators, there was a banquet for Islam Awareness Week with hundreds of Muslims from places like the Middle East and South Asia.

The lesson is this: We can wring our hands at the growing influence of Islam in the U.S., or we can get to work witnessing in new ways. Now is not the time for fear, but for bold faith.

In the New Testament era, the church is an altogether different institution than the state, with distinct ends and means. The two cannot be confused. So today, the proper analog to Baal altars in Israel is not Islamic Centers in Wheaton. It is idolatry in the corporate worship of the Church.

Patriotism definitely has its place, but perhaps one appropriate application would be to examine whether nationalism has crept into our Christianity. There are many forms of syncretism. As former SBC President James Merritt eloquently said in favor of a resolution to cease display of the Confederate battle flag, “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.”

As our culture continues to unravel and even the Bible Belt unbuckles, we must remember that our hope is in Christ, not country. His kingdom is unshakeable. And in many ways the dismantling of cultural Christianity that fused God and country is a good thing for the cause of the gospel. We Baptists want real believers that worship Christ alone, even if they are persecuted by a secular state or Islamic State.

– Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.