By Leah Honnen

Editor’s note: January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

I never thought I would be so moved while attending my first IBSA Annual Meeting, but when we voted as the church to be compassionate toward those experiencing infertility, I melted.

Messengers to the meeting in Maryville last November voted to acknowledge the many trying aspects of infertility for couples, and the church’s appropriate response to such a struggle. They recognized that infertility is a result of the first sin, and that the medical routes couples take to overcome it do not go against God, based on Scripture.

The resolution encourages the church to do all they can so these couples are not left out of church life because of their infertility, and urges churches to help those who yearn to be parents through the struggles, decisions, and heartbreaks they will undoubtedly encounter. Finally, the resolution asks the church to surround these couples as the family of God, reminding them that all of these problems can be overcome through Christ.

They need to know they’re not alone.

As a woman, wife, and hopeful mother who has struggled with infertility for the past two years, this resolution did my heart good. At last! The most pressing problems my husband and I have faced in our marriage had been acknowledged in a public forum…in the one place I struggled to find clear support for us as a couple.

Please don’t misunderstand me—our church family has loved us through our problems, but in many ways, the church is lacking empathy for those living the childless-not-by-choice life. It’s not necessarily the regular churchgoer’s fault. I believe our biggest issue in searching for support through our infertility has been educating those around us.

If people have never faced trouble growing their family, they simply don’t know what to think, so they say whatever platitude comes to mind, unintentionally resulting in deeper emotional wounds for those building their family non-traditionally, rather than tenderly nursing those wounds as Jesus did.

I’m not here to bash the church. I grew up in the church. I’m a pastor’s kid who looks at her time in ministry as a blessing, and I love my past and current church family dearly. They have blessed me in ways I never saw coming—and I only hope I can serve my church family in kind through our time together. Instead, could I share some ways the church can learn to care for those in the infertile world?

1. Listen. Many couples struggle privately—which is their choice and right. But I believe many couples would choose not to struggle alone if they felt their church family would be receptive listeners, rather than inexperienced advice-givers.

2. Don’t give advice. Unless you have lived through infertility, and even sometimes if you have, please do not make suggestions to couples struggling to grow their family. The endless replies of “just relax” and “why don’t you just adopt?” are not helpful when someone is in this stressful place. More often than not, these couples will be up to their ears learning new medical jargon, procedures, and options—both traditional and unconventional. Believe me, they are informed.

3. Educate yourself. Maybe this includes hosting a class for your church leadership. If a couple is open about their infertility experience, perhaps they would like to share their personal story in order to help others understand. If no couple is available, you could reach out to a nearby infertility specialist or infertility counselor and ask them to give a presentation at your church. Either way, search online; there are plenty of resources, including Moms in the Making and Sarah’s Laughter, both of which have given me hope over the years.

4. Offer support. Similar to the way your church family would support a member who is grieving the death of a loved one, support those struggling through infertility. They are mourning the picture of life they dreamed of for years. They are floundering through so many hard decisions they must make to pursue a family, whether biological or adoptive. They need your love. They need your care. They need to know they are not alone.
Not every couple that experiences infertility chooses to pursue treatment. These couples need support too. Don’t forget them.

As I write this, our struggle to conceive has ended for now. My husband and I are due to have our baby in June 2019. Praise the Lord! This is not our first pregnancy, though. We lost our first child to miscarriage on Dec. 3, 2017. Please pray that we may still find joy throughout this pregnancy, and that we can trust God no matter what tomorrow brings.

Leah Honnen is the administrative assistant for IBSA’s Church Communications Team and an active member of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. She and her husband, John, live in Jacksonville.

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and a slate of other leaders were sworn in today in Springfield, signaling what many supporters have called “a new day” for Illinois. At a prayer service at historic First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln and his family once worshiped, Pritzker and five other constitutional officers were prayed over by their own spiritual leaders to start their terms of service in Illinois.

Under the church’s towering stained glass windows, faith leaders also read passages from the Bible and the Quran, and talked about the principles held closest by people who practice their faith traditions. They spoke of justice and mercy, ideals Pritzker talked about when discussing his own Jewish faith and upbringing in an interview last summer.

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Rabbi Seth M. Limmer prays for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) at a service prior to his inauguration.

They celebrated the leaders who were elected in November, and spoke hopefully of how their service will benefit the people of Illinois. The crowd packed into wooden pews cheered Springfield pastor T. Ray McJunkins’ optimistic message with its refrain of “the best is yet to come.” The prayer service was a good way to start inauguration day, many would say later.

As I sat in the sanctuary, my thoughts turned to people of faith who weren’t represented on the platform. How should members of our Illinois Baptist churches engage with an administration whose views on many issues undoubtedly run counter to their own? We’ll cover that topic in a longer story in the Jan. 21 issue of the Illinois Baptist, but for now, I can say I left the prayer meeting hopeful.

My hope isn’t based on political agendas or the current administration’s position on specific issues—indeed, I disagree with more than I agree with in those areas. Rather, my hope stems from wisdom I heard while reporting on Gov. Pritzker’s inauguration: Real victory doesn’t rely on political victory. As Southeastern Seminary’s Bruce Ashford told me, “We do what we do out of witness and obedience, and not because we have to win.”

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Gov. Pritzker and his family are introduced at the inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton said something similar after her swearing-in today. Community building is done when we put our own self-interests on hold, she said, and commit to working side-by-side. Even when it’s hard.

While I wasn’t necessarily represented on the platform today, I did hear the call to engage the process even when my side isn’t winning. That reminder was a good way to start inauguration day.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

 

 

To save a life

Lisa Misner —  January 14, 2019 — Leave a comment

A Michigan church is fighting to prevent abortions, and build lasting relationships with families.

By Grace Thornton

Justin Phillips.jpg

Justin Phillips holds a baby saved from abortion.

Editor’s note: January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

Justin Phillips said it’s the best and worst thing he’s ever done with his life. Every day, he stands across the strip mall parking lot from a door marked simply G-3422. It’s sandwiched between two dollar stores.

Every week, 20 to 30 babies are aborted there.

“We’re out there pleading with moms and dads to have mercy on their child, and we’ll help,” said Phillips, a full-time missionary with ONElife for Life, a ministry of ONElife Church in Flint, Mich.

Since ONElife for Life began in May 2016, dozens of babies that they know of have been saved out of G-3422. And the ministry has grown, said Eric Stewart, pastor of ONElife Church and president of ONElife for Life. They’ve acquired a building next to the strip mall that will be a pregnancy resource center and they’ve been given a bus that will be used as a mobile ultrasound.

They’ve also expanded their reach to conversations outside a second abortion clinic in town.

It’s been slow growth. Stewart’s big-picture goal is for Christians to have a presence outside each of the nation’s 720 abortion clinics. Right now, ONElife for Life is covering two.

Stewart and Phillips have been speaking in churches in recent months trying to awaken a desire to pick up the mantle. When he speaks, Stewart said the first thing he does is ask the church he’s visiting to repent with him.

“For years, I did nothing, but if it’s really murder, then we have to face that reality,” Stewart said. “If someone drove into our town and wiped out an entire kindergarten class every week, we wouldn’t sit idly by and say, ‘It’s not affecting me.’”

The story of the Good Samaritan demands the liability of the bystander, he said.

Stewart said he thinks about it all the time, ever since he heard a story about how one particular church in Nazi Germany would sing louder on Sundays so they wouldn’t have to hear the trains chugging by on the way to the concentration camps.

“We hear that story, and do we not wish that there would have been Christians who went to the point of injustice and said, ‘No, we can’t let this happen,’” Stewart said. “We have our opportunity now. We are living in the American holocaust and we have the opportunity to [speak] in Christ’s name.”

For churches interested in being involved, Stewart and Phillips can provide training in how to start a ministry like ONElife for Life and have conversations with people outside abortion clinics. They aren’t there to protest, Stewart said. They’re simply there to show love and offer mothers the help they need to bring a baby full term.

“We want to equip the church. We’ve learned how to train people to do this kind of ministry—we’ve learned from our own mistakes and would love to pass that along so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Stewart said. “We’ve thrown our lives into this, and we would love to duplicate it all over the place. We need gospel-saturated missionaries to confront the darkness and abolish the evil of abortion. It really is a life-or-death situation.”

There’s an emotional toll to the ministry of standing at a “modern-day concentration camp,” Stewart said. There at their tent across the parking lot, Phillips and volunteers from the church have conversations with anyone who will talk to them. They offer to adopt the baby or cover any financial needs the parents might have for the baby’s first three years of life. They remind each mother that God knows the baby in her womb.
Sometimes those babies are still aborted.

“But we’re compelled to go because we’re told to go to orphans in their distress, and these children have been disowned by their parents,” Phillips said.

And at least 85 have been saved. It could be more. They only know about it if a tearful mother meets them there on the edge of the parking lot and tells them she’s decided not to go through with it, or if the parents later choose to swing back by and let them meet the baby.

“Every month we have people who come back and say, ‘Hey, I never said anything, but here’s my baby,’” Stewart said. “So we know there’s probably more.”

God is at work there, shining light into the darkest of places, Phillips said. “We just stand there and watch him move. It’s all him. He brings people to us and saves babies all the time.”

One woman told Phillips that she didn’t want to talk to him, but her legs just walked her over there. After talking with him, she chose not to go through with it.

“It’s a battlefield all the time, and it’s an honor to stand there proclaiming a message of hope,” Phillips said. “We do that, and God does the rest. We can’t change hearts, but he can.”

It hasn’t been without pushback. Sometimes the clinic will have people posted in the parking lot to “shepherd” women into the building so they won’t have conversations with Phillips. Other times people have approached him with threats.

But in Christ, Phillips said he knows he goes out victorious already.

“It’s a horrible ministry, horrible to watch it every day,” he said. “But at the same time, to be able to lay down our lives in that way on behalf of Christ and his love for these babies is incredible.”

For more information about ONElife for Life, visit onelifeforlife.org.

Grace Thornton is a writer in Birmingham, Ala. This article is originally from Baptist Press, online at BPNews.net.

Key issues in politics

IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

Gallup poll finds low expectations for global peace
70% of Americans expect 2019 to be “a troubled year with much international discord,” according to Gallup data collected in December. Hopes are higher for economic prosperity and employment, but the nation’s political system received a gloomy forecast from many respondents. 89% predicted a year of conflict, while only 11% foresaw a year of cooperation.

Bible app gets 1 million subscriptions on New Year’s Day
The YouVersion Bible app’s Bible-reading plans got more than one million new subscriptions to start the new year, The Christian Post reported. The app offers more than 13,000 reading plans, including some offered in 1,000 languages other than English.

Greear launches evangelism emphasis with local associations
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear will work with local associations of Southern Baptist churches to implement a focus on personal evangelism in 2019. “Who’s Your One?” is an initiative to encourage every Southern Baptist to share the gospel with one person this year. Greear will introduce the emphasis to his own local association—Yates Baptist Association—at a Jan. 31 simulcast available to associations across the country. More information is forthcoming at sbcassociations.org.

Third gender option legal in New York City, California
The nation’s most populous city and state now allow people to choose a “third gender,” often designated by X on legal documents. New York City and California join Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C., as places that allow a non-binary gender option for people who believe they are neither male nor female.

Passion attenders raise money for deaf Bible translations
Young people at this year’s Passion conference gave $450,000 toward translating New Testament stories in sign languages used in 16 countries. The Deaf Bible Society reports only 2% of deaf people around the world have been introduced to the gospel, and that there is no Bible translation for at least 95% of more than 400 unique sign languages used globally.