Archives For May 2013

wedding_bandsNEWS | The Illinois House just approved concealed gun carry legislation, and has now turned its attention to other funding bills, further delaying an expected vote on same-sex marriage legislation. Today is the last scheduled day of the General Assembly’s spring legislative session.

Earlier, groups on both sides of the issue rallied in the Capitol’s rotunda. The Illinois Family Institute called on supporters of traditional marriage to meet this morning to pray together. Danny Holliday, pastor of Victory Baptist in Alton, introduced his prayer by reading part of the Declaration of Independence

Proponents of same-sex marriage also held a rally in the Capitol rotunda, singing “This Land is Your Land” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Singers changed the words to the familiar chorus, heralding a Jesus who “does not discriminate.” A number of same-sex marriage supporters then packed the House gallery in anticipation of a vote.

Legislators have already had a long last day of session; the House began this morning at 9:30 and have continued debate and discussion since then, with a short afternoon rescues for committee meetings. The Senate also is still in session.

Pastor Danny Holliday prays at a pro-traditional marriage rally in the Illinois Capitol rotunda.

Pastor Danny Holliday prays at a pro-traditional marriage rally in the Illinois Capitol rotunda.

NEWS | A group of 30-40 supporters of traditional marriage gathered in the Capitol’s rotunda moments ago to pray for today’s presumed same-sex marriage vote. The Illinois Family Institute organized the rally late yesterday, in response to no action from legislators on same-sex marriage during yesterday’s session.

Pastor Danny Holliday of Victory Baptist Church in Alton led the group in prayer. Holliday has been a vocal opponent of the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” (which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state) since the Senate took up the issue earlier this spring.

Proponents of same-sex marriage plan to rally in the rotunda at 11 a.m. today.

Buttons_finalNEWS | The Illinois Baptist staff is at the Capitol today to cover an expected vote in the House on legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. Session is scheduled to begin at 9:30.

Meanwhile, people on both sides of the issue are scheduled to rally in the Capitol’s rotunda this morning. Check back here or at for updates throughout the day.

COMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

wedding_bandsLegalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois has become a “wait and see” situation for people on both sides of the issue. What appeared to be speedy passage through General Assembly has stalled, as proponents of the legislation try to muster enough votes to get final approval in the State House. Whatever the outcome in a battle over this particular bill, it is important to note that changing the traditional definition of marriage in Illinois has not been swift, easy or unanimous.

Watching the February 14 passage of bill from the Senate gallery, where supporters of same-sex marriage outnumbered defenders of traditional marriage, it seemed likely that the House would pass the measure as quickly as the Senate had. But in the weeks and months since, objection from the grassroots has grown up and grown strong.

Southern Baptists, evangelical Christians, and Catholics have been especially vocal. Pastors and denominational leaders led the opposition to the same-sex marriage bill SB 10, officially titled the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” by its authors. Rep. Greg Harris, the main sponsor of the bill and the Illinois House’s first openly homosexual member, has stated he will not call the bill for a vote until he is certain he has the 60 votes needed for it to pass.

The House Executive Committee sent the bill to the House floor in March, but with the May 31 end of session deadline quickly approaching, there has still been no vote.

If proponents of the legislation were counting on public opinion to give it a final push through the House, they are likely disappointed by the effects of by protests by Christians. Some polls have shown public opinion shifting nationally, and in Illinois recent surveys show an even divide in public support for gay marriage. But conservative voices also are being heard, and conservative legislators are finding strong backing in their defense of traditional marriage.

Lawmakers who are holding out for “one-man/one-woman” are being subjected to strong lobbying from the other side, including automated phone calls and personal visits. Meantime, demonstrations for traditional marriage continue on the Capitol steps and in the public square, such as Chicago’s Logan Square and in downtown Alton.

And it continues to be a waiting game, as supporters of traditional marriage hope to hold off a vote on SB 10 until the 98th General Assembly ends. Round one ends next week, but with a procedural move, a second round could continue until January 2015.

Unless there is House action today or tomorrow, the question becomes, Will supporters of traditional marriage remain fervent in their efforts?

Lisa Sergent is communications director for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Buttons_finalPush for final action on marriage bill rumored this week in Springfield

NEWS | Lisa Sergent

With the Illinois General Assembly’s session set to close on Friday, there is renewed effort to get representatives to vote on the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state by week’s end.

As the deadline approaches, supporters of SB 10, the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” are working the phone banks to urge the bill’s passage. The recent passage of same-sex marriage bills in Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island has also caused supporters in Illinois to increase pressure on state representatives. At the same time, Christians taking a stand for traditional marriage are urging prayer to stop the vote.

Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), told the Windy City Times he will “absolutely” call the bill to a vote before session ends May 31 and that it will pass. “When I put it up on the board, it’s going up to win,” he said.

There is some indication the lobbying may be working. On May 21, the Chicago Sun-Times published an article regarding how members of the 20-member Illinois House Black Caucus in the plan to vote on SB10. The paper tallied four yes votes, five no’s, five who are leaning toward yes, and seven undecided. However, La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), who was leaning toward yes, announced Monday he would vote yes on the bill.

Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney tweeted Tuesday, “Rep. Greg Harris says he will call SB 10 for a vote by Friday, won’t indicate if Rep. La Shawn Ford’s prediction of 64 House votes is true.”

Previously, Rep. Harris has stated he would not call the bill to a vote on the House floor unless he was sure he had the 60 votes needed for it to pass.

The Chicago Tribune is calling on House members to “get it done.” An editorial published Wednesday said, “We won’t pretend this is an easy vote for everyone. But its time has come.”

Meanwhile, defenders of the traditional definition of marriage have pointed to the slowness in bringing the bill for a final vote as evidence that Illinois is more conservative than the 12 states that have already passed same-sex marriage laws. And they have continued a grassroots campaign to keep Illinois lawmakers from changing the law here. In an e-mail Wednesday, Bob Vanden Bosch, executive director of Concerned Christian Ministries, stated, “We believe that if they had the votes, they would have called it for a vote already.” He then asked supporters of traditional marriage to contact their legislators and urge them to vote no on SB 10.

If passed, same-sex marriages would begin 30 days after being signed into law. Gov. Pat Quinn has urged passage of the legislation and said he is ready to sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk.

Lisa Sergent is communications director for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Over the weekend, First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., hosted a memorial service for victims of the May 20 tornado that destroyed parts of the Oklahoma City suburb. Click here to watch a video of the Daily Oklahoman’s coverage of the service.

Pastor Kevin Clarkson’s church is serving as a hub for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work in the area. The pastor also presided over the funerals of two children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School. In an interview last week with Clarkson TheBlaze website, he answered a question about what he will say to people who have lost so much:

“I’m going to tell them that, number one, God loves them and God understands. He’s not punishing them. Jesus really came and put away the wrath of God on the cross. But God is with them in their suffering.

“And I’m going to tell them that we’re with them and that that’s what the people of God are for, the church. We’re going to help one another, and we’re going to give to the needs.”

Donations to the Disaster Relief efforts in Oklahoma can be made at

Other news:

SBC leader: Boy Scouts vote ushers in ‘sea-change’(From Baptist Press) Southern Baptist leaders have been vocal in their opposition to Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to include gay-identifying youth in their membership. After delegates to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America approved the measure last week, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page told Baptist Press he was “deeply saddened” by the move.

Page said the vote “ushers in a sea-change in the credibility of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable boys’ organization for millions of Americans who believe strongly in the principles of biblical morality. To claim that the Boys Scouts is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training suddenly rings hollow.”

SBC President Fred Luter echoed those sentiments, calling it “a sad day in the history of an organization that for years stood on Christian principles, particularly for the thousands of Southern Baptists who grew up as Boy Scouts like myself.”

“My prayers,” Luter said, “go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts organization. As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the Word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is ‘politically correct.'” Read more at

59% of Americans say homosexuality is morally acceptable
A record-high percentage of Americans believe homosexuality is morally acceptable, according to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey. The research found 59% of adults say “gay or lesbian relations” are morally acceptable, up from 40% in 2001. Read more at

For some African American reps, same-sex marriage vote is tied closely to religion
The Chicago Sun-Times published an in-depth article this month about how African American members of the Illinois House plan to vote on the pending same-sex marriage leglisation. The paper’s count of the 20-member Illinois House Black Caucus found four yeses, five no’s, five who are leaning toward yes, and seven undecided. The article also details that for some representatives, churches’ involvement in the issue could sway their vote.

“I’m a Christian before I’m a black woman before I’m a Democrat,” said Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), one of the undecided representatives. “Before all of that, I’m a Christian.

“I have to live with what I do or don’t do. And so it’s a vote I have to take that I can be comfortable with the rest of my life. This is history.”

Read the full story at

Jonas, Charlotte and Simon Abner

Jonas, Charlotte and Simon Abner Photo by Alisha Abner

HEARTLAND | Chase Abner

Just over five years ago, my firstborn came into the world. My wife, Alisha, and I thought we were doing something noble by naming him Simon, hoping that would set a Godward course for his life since it originates from a Hebrew phrase for “he has heard.” Ironically, Simon strives to understand every conversation going on around him and asks me, “What’d you say?” about a hundred times each day.

Just 15 months later, our second came along. “Name him Jonas,” we said. “It’s from the Hebrew for dove. He’ll be a peaceful child.” Little did we know that in some contexts Jonas also means “destroyer,” making it more appropriate than ever. The same child who can give the sweetest, voluntary snuggles, is also the most prone to fits of anger that leave broken toys and scarred furniture in his wake.

Finally, there is 2-year-old Charlotte whose name we chose simply because we thought it was extremely cute. So far, she’s lived up to that expectation. The only problem is she has already learned to use it to her advantage.

I share all this to demonstrate that I’m a father to real, live kids. And though I’m enamored with them, they still suffer from the effects of the fall and, like me, are in need of the grace of God. As a matter of fact, that is my charge as their dad – to teach them how we are all utterly dependent upon the grace of God.

I wish there was a Bible verse that told me exactly how to respond when Simon asks me the same question 20 times in a row. I wish Jesus had preached a sermon on how to discipline Jonas when he throws toys. I wish God gave us step-by-step instructions on how to teach Charlotte not to be manipulative. But He didn’t.

He gave us something better…the Gospel.

Fatherhood is teaching me just how much better the Gospel is than the law, especially a parenting law. Rather than loving us based on how well we love our children, God loves us exactly as He loves Jesus. Rather than condemning us for the promises we break to our children, God keeps His promise to make us new. Rather than judging us by how healthy we keep our children, God gave His only son on our behalf.

I’m really glad that no one but God could see what was in my heart during the sleepless nights while Simon was an infant. We had prayed for this gift from God and welcomed him with tears in our hospital room. Yet in my sinful, selfish moments, I viewed Simon like a curse just because he was on a different sleep schedule than me. I found that the best way to soothe him was to pace through our Carbondale apartment singing hymns as lullabies. That was God’s design. He knew I’d need reminders in those moments of how He has loved me through the cross, so that the Gospel would again equip me to love my children at cost to myself.

One of the most comforting implications of God’s sovereignty is that all circumstances in the lives of His children, even the bad ones, are means of grace by which He is revealing His goodness to us. After all, as Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (ESV). So then, whatever God gives or withholds in our lives is meant to draw us closer to Him.

One of those gifts in my life is fatherhood. No experience has taught me more about my sinfulness and God’s goodness. I have seen how prone I am to selfish pride when I get something right. I have seen how judgmental I am when I see another parent’s failures. And yet, I’m secretly insecure because I often just don’t know if I’m getting one bit of fatherhood right.

In those wee hours of the night in my early fatherhood, Simon’s favorite hymn seemed to be “Down at the Cross.” It’s fitting because few things drive me to Jesus like my failures as a father. Because of His perfection, my Father accepts me as though I had never once been selfish or lost my temper. So to those who are right there with me, the hymn has this to say: “Come to the fountain so rich and sweet, Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet; Plunge in today and be made complete.”

Chase Abner is IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist.

Teddy bears will find their way to children who survived the EF5 tornado that devastated part of Moore, Okla., May 20.  Photo by John Swain, North American Mission Board

Teddy bears will find their way to children who survived the EF5 tornado that devastated part of Moore, Okla., May 20.
Photo by John Swain, North American Mission Board

NEWS | Joe Conway, North American Mission Board

Within hours of the deadly EF5 tornado striking Moore, Okla., Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains were ministering to families at both elementary schools destroyed by the storm. Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Disaster Relief Director Sam Porter said response needs will continue for weeks.

“Paul Bettis is leading our chaplain team,” said Porter. “They were on the ground at the schools with the families as they were searching for their children. Paul was involved in several official notification visits, as well.”

Porter said security in the affected area remains tight, but feeding and laundry units are already serving. As of lunch on Wednesday, Oklahoma SBDR volunteers had already prepared more than 9,100 meals and made 269 ministry contacts. Oklahoma SBDR has 105 volunteers engaged.

“We will need clean up assistance for four to five weeks at a minimum,” said Porter. “Because of the nature of the storms there will not be a lot of chainsaw work, but the debris clean up will be big.”

Fritz Wilson, executive director for Disaster Relief at the North American Mission Board said a multi-state response is expected in support of Oklahoma SBDR efforts. Wilson said he expects to see crews working in the affected areas this weekend.

“Our prayers are certainly with the people of Moore, and all of the affected areas,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell. “Oklahoma Baptists have one of the best disaster relief teams in North America.”

Wilson asked Southern Baptists to continue to pray for survivors and volunteers, and to give to the efforts to help sustain the ministry. He also asked Southern Baptists to remember the SBDR volunteers and the survivors they are serving in other parts of Oklahoma, in Texas and in Missouri, all as a result of the two days of storms, May 19 and 20.

“The prayers, support and concern of Southern Baptists has been overwhelming,” said Porter. “Don’t stop praying.”

To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts in Oklahoma, go to

Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.

pull quote_ADAMS_mayCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

When our family went out for a celebration dinner recently, it was with a larger than normal group. In addition to my wife, Beth, and me and our three sons, we were accompanied by two grandmothers, two girlfriends, and one new daughter-in-law.

That made our party large enough for a reservation and special table at the local Olive Garden restaurant. And as the host led our tribe of 10 to its table, he asked, “So what are we celebrating tonight?”

We informed him that our middle son Noah had just graduated from college. Our host responded with congratulations, and another question, this time directed at the guest of honor: “So what was your major, son, and what comes next?”

Noah didn’t hesitate to tell the friendly man that he was a Christian Ministry major at Judson University, and that he would begin June 1 as the Youth and Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin.

Our host’s final question took me by surprise. “And do I take it that you’re going into the family business?”

I looked again, more closely this time, at our host to see if I knew him, or if perhaps he knew someone in our family, but neither was the case. I guess he just noted the pride in my smile when Noah told him what he would be doing.

That didn’t stop my mom from treating him like an old friend. “Well, I would never have thought to describe it that way, but you’re right. His grandfather, my husband, was in ministry for years. And this is my son Nate, and he’s in ministry. So yes, I guess Noah is the third generation of ministers in this family, and that’s sort of like going into the family business.”

“I thought maybe that was the case,” our host replied with a smile, and then excused himself to leave us in the hands of our server.

That brief encounter left me thinking about what it means for someone to enter “the family business” of church ministry here in Illinois. My son and I certainly aren’t the first. From time to time I meet sons, grandkids, even great-grandkids of ministers here in Illinois who are now serving as pastors or other leaders in IBSA churches.

“Maybe you know my dad,” they often say. Or sometimes, “I don’t know if you knew my grandfather or not. He’s gone to be with the Lord now, but he served churches here in Illinois for years.”

When I meet multiple-generation Illinois Baptists like that, I usually find I’m in a church that is being blessed with a deeply committed leader, one who serves out of spiritual motivation, but also with a deep sense of family heritage. Their eyes twinkle with the idea that their dad or their granddad would be proud of their church leadership. They are building on the foundation of his life’s service. And they are often raising their own children with the hope that they will lead well in the church some day too.

Not every pastor’s child chooses to go into ministry, any more than every farmer’s child or every coal miner’s child or every teacher’s child chooses to follow in their parent’s footsteps. God leads us individually in our life callings, and the world needs devoted Christians in all walks of life. But there is something unique and meaningful, something to be uniquely celebrated, when church leadership becomes the multi-generational pattern of a family’s life.

Our server at Olive Garden that night didn’t know our family personally. But somehow he sensed that what we were celebrating that night was Christian, and church-related, and multi-generational, lasting, and special. And every time it happens here in Illinois, we should all celebrate.

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

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Jerry and Michelle Burwell don’t get very far into telling their story before their eyes fill with tears and their voices break. The owners of Way of the Cross Ranch are overcome with emotion at how they see God using their 71 acres in Mt. Vernon.

“We’re nobody special, we really aren’t,” Jerry says as he watches a handful of horses and riders walk slowly around the outdoor arena in his backyard. “Why we got to do this, I have no idea.”

Horses_tease boxThe Burwells host an equestrian clinic at the ranch every month, with the help of an army of volunteers that operates more like a close-knit family. They invite kids from Southern Thirty, a local adolescent emergency shelter, and from the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi.

Guests can fish in the pond, participate in craft time around a picnic table, or ride one of several horses donated for the day by the Burwells’ friends. No one has to ride if they don’t want to. But most eventually do.

“Some of the inner city kids we get, they’ve never even been around horses before, so that’s fun,” Jason Billings says. He points out David,* a young teen riding a chestnut horse around and around the arena, led by a ranch volunteer. Every so often, David smiles and waves to the camera.

As recreation director for Illinois’ Baptist Children’s Home, Billings has been bringing kids like David to the ranch for a few years. But there’s something bigger at stake than introducing kids to horses: Over the past few years, four or five of the kids have accepted Christ at the ranch. They attend church with Children’s Home staffers, Billings says, “but it’s nice to see someone from the outside actually cares, too.”

Each clinic includes at least two devotion times, and volunteers also talk one-on-one with kids about Jesus. Since the Burwells started their ministry, 38 kids have accepted Christ.

“I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you know one end of the horse from the other when you leave, but you’ll know about Christ,’ Jerry says. “That’s really all we care about.”

Read more about Way of the Cross Ranch in the new issue of the Illinois Baptist, online this Friday at

Other news:

FInancial aid forms reflect marriage debate
The U.S. Department of Education has announced student financial aid forms will begin using the terms “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” rather than the gender-specific terms “mother” and “father.” The new forms also will provide an option for applicants to describe their parents’ marital status as “unmarried and both parents living together.” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics. Read more at

School faces criticism over creationism
A Christian school in South Carolina has received support from around the world after facing ridicule for teaching Young Earth Creationism. After a fourth-grade science quiz used by Blue Ridge Christian Academy in Landrum, S.C., was posted on an atheist page of the website Reddit, several user comments were unsurprisingly negative, The Christian Post reports. Some even made threats to teachers and administrators.

But the school, which is struggling financially and considering closing, reaped unexpected benefits, said teacher Angie Dentler. “Donations have been given ranging in amounts from $1 – $1,000. Encouraging notes and emails have poured in from around world…” Read more at