Archives For February 2014

Marriage_Map_New

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

At the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June, Birmingham pastor David Platt chuckled when a fellow panelist asked him to give an update on his state and same-sex marriage. Alabama was standing firm, Platt said. No one would have argued with him eight months ago.

But court rulings have fallen like dominoes across the country over the past several days, making same-sex marriage a nearing reality for even the most conservative states.

A federal judge in Kentucky today ordered officials to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The state’s Attorney General has asked for a 90-day delay to determine whether to appeal a Feb. 12 ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

And Texas on Wednesday became the latest state to have its ban on same-sex marriage overturned by a federal judge. Like in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Kentucky, the ruling was immediately stayed, pending appeal.

The rulings came after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday that state attorneys general do not have to defend laws they view as discriminatory. From the The New York Times: “Mr. Holder was careful not to encourage his state counterparts to disavow their own laws, but said that officials who have carefully studied bans on gay marriage could refuse to defend them.”

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, the Bible belt seemed the least likely region to embrace a new definition of marriage. But the rulings in Kentucky and Texas (and traditionally conservative Utah) make one wonder where it might happen next.

PolicyMic.com asked the same question last summer, but in reverse. They listed the top 7 states least likely to support marriage equality, with Mississippi in the top spot. Sixth on the list was Utah. And at #4, Kentucky.

What a difference eight months makes.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Eric_Reed_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Eric Reed

We need to learn how to talk with young people.

I must have entered some stage of fogey-dom if I feel the need to make this topic a course of personal study. But I do. We all do.

The millennial generation is making important adult life decisions now: marriage, family, and faith. So many of them have eschewed the church, but they are the generation who will turn the tide and secure the future of our denomination, if it is to happen.

But how will we bring them into the kingdom, and into the church? More specifically, how will we bring them into Southern Baptist life?

Some fresh insight on this comes from an unexpected source, a Catholic professor who studies and teaches about contemporary religions. Patricia O’Connell Killen was a conference speaker at the February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. Many of her observations of the American religious landscape were good summations of things we’ve already heard:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults claims “none” as their religious preference, with people under age 30 leading the exodus.
  • Fewer than 50% of U.S. adults claim to be Protestant, making Protestantism the minority religion for the first time in our national history.
  • The resulting “open” religious environment means people are very willing to experience without the pressures of cultural and family expectations; the choices are up to individuals as never before.

But when the professor spoke of the students in her classroom, most around age 20, I heard something I think we all need to hear. Here’s my interpolation:

Today’s young adults aren’t all looking for churches that are always adapting to the latest cultural trend. They don’t want a lot of the so-called “relevance” their parents sought. They want something in their faith and in their experience of church that is solid, unchanging, immutable.

Why? Things that change too much are untrustworthy, her students have said, and they want something they can trust. (One of Dr. Killen’s observations is especially pointed: “What is tradition for children who have negotiated three-to-five sets of parents since the age of two?”)

The professor contends that this emerging generation struggles to make decisions. The millennials had more options than any generation before them. (Which of 100 channels do you want to watch on TV, baby? Which video game do you want to play? What do you want to wear today, princess? Which toy do you want in your Happy Meal?)

The parents let the kids make the choices. And the kids – by chat, text, and tweet –consulted their friends. An entire generation with nothing but options was always testing the winds to see how their crowd was leaning.

That produced a lot of indecisive people who are always changing and, ironically, are suspicious of change.

The application to church life is counter-intuitive to me. I thought a generation of choice-addicts would want churches that offer lots of choices. But the professor says, not so. The church or denomination that is always changing for the sake of relevance doesn’t meet their needs, but instead feeds their deepest fears: There’s nothing I can really hold on to.

We who have preached against “tradition” in previous generations will bless a future generation if we point out the value of some biblically sound traditions. For Southern Baptists to have meaningful conversations with young people today, we must focus on the unchanging aspects of our theology and missiology: We are people of the Book, we preach salvation in Jesus Christ and there is salvation in no other, and everyone needs the opportunity to hear that Gospel.

This is not an excuse for our churches to get stuck in the old ways. Methods may change, because methods wear out and need to be replaced. And styles may change to fit communication needs and technologies. But worship is more than singing nothing but ditties written last Thursday, discipleship grows in relationships that endure for years, and faith is based on the unchanging God, “…the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

In today’s conversations, our starting point may not be what’s new, but what’s not.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Christian leaders are engaged in debate over an Arizona bill that would allow businesses to deny services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

As the bill awaits signature by Gov. Jan Brewer, writers Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt have written an article for The Daily Beast taking issue with the bill and with Christians who say they should be allowed to refuse services – such as wedding photography or cake baking – because they adhere to a biblical definition of marriage.

Powers and Merritt said the logic behind the Arizona bill only works if Christian photographers or bakers or florists examine every wedding they provide services for to make sure that it meets biblical qualifications. They also called into question advice given by Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to a Christian photographer who didn’t want to affirm a same-sex wedding by agreeing to film the ceremony.

In a post on his website, Moore responded to Powers and Merritt: “…The question at hand was one of pastoral counsel. How should a Christian think about his own decision about whether to use his creative gifts in a way that might, he believes, celebrate something he believes will result in eternal harm to others.

“…It’s of no harm to anyone else if Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt (both of whom I love) think me to be a hypocrite. It’s fine for the Daily Beast to ridicule the sexual ethic of the historic Christian church, represented confessionally across the divide of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. It’s quite another thing for the state to coerce persons through fines and penalties and licenses to use their creative gifts to support weddings they believe to be sinful.”

Read Moore’s full response at RussellMoore.com.

Other news:

Shoring up hope in the Philippines
A team of six Illinois volunteers spent a week on Gibitngil Island in the Philippines this month, helping repair a school damaged during Typhoon Haiyan. Read about their trip here.

Parents jailed for son’s death
A Philadelphia couple was sentenced to at least three years in prison after their son died from a treatable condition, Christianity Today online reports. Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who believe in faith healing, had already lost their son, Kent, to bacterial pneumonia in 2009. His younger brother, Brandon, died last year with the same ailment. “You’ve killed two of your children,” Judge Benjamin Lerner told the Schaibles. “…Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You.” Read the full story at ChristianityToday.com.

Barna: Americans link violent behavior with violent entertainment
Recent research says 57% of all adults (and 69% of practicing Christians) believe violent action is connected to playing violent videogames, according to Barna. The percentages are slightly lower for movies (51% and 67%) and song lyrics (47% and 61%). Read more at Barna.org.

Worship and hockey: ‘Only in Canada’
The Olympic gold medal hockey game was broadcast on a Sunday morning in Canada. But that didn’t stop one church in Nova Scotia from cheering on the home team, The Christian Post reported. Bedford United Church streamed the game, a 3-0 victory for Canada, in its sanctuary, causing one Twitter user to post: “That’s an ‘only in Canada’ moment!” Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.

Philippines_lead_page1

Illinois volunteers took a 20-minute boat ride every morning to Gibitngil Island, where they helped repair a school damaged by Typhoon Haiyan.

Gibitngil Island, Philippines | Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham.

On a remote island in the Pacific, school children march in place to a familiar song. Grouped around a flagpole, they sing and spin along with their leader, a man wearing a bright yellow T-shirt.

It’s the morning exercise routine at Gibitngil Integrated School, and the final day in the Philippines for a group of Illinois volunteers. The team of six Disaster Relief leaders spent a week here to help repair the school, damaged during last fall’s typhoon.

With so much destruction in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, this tiny island likely isn’t high on the government’s lengthy to-do list. But Baptist Global Response saw a need they could meet here, and have mobilized a string of volunteer teams from the U.S. to fix roofs, construct a classroom building almost from scratch, and reinstate the school’s rainwater collection system.

“We were told that for this little island, it might take the government two to three years just to get there to start the work,” said Rex Alexander, IBSA’s Disaster Relief coordinator. “We were working in what would be considered a forgotten area.”

Now, the island and some of its 4,000 residents are well documented on Facebook. They smile brightly in photographs alongside the American volunteers. They sing in cell phone videos. Gibitngil Island isn’t forgotten anymore.

During their week in the Philippines, the Illinois volunteers stayed in Medellin on the much larger island of Cebu. They took a 20-minute boat ride to work every morning. “Just enough to be fun,” Alexander said.

Once they arrived at Gibitngil’s shore, they got off the boat and waded to the beach, carrying the supplies they would need for the day. Volunteer teams have been working at the school here since December under the direction of Baptist Global Response (BGR) and Southern Baptist missionaries in the area. BGR is a partner of the International Mission Board, offering immediate relief and long-term response after disasters.

The Illinois volunteers worked mostly with Filipino nationals under contract with BGR for the school project, Alexander said. And as they worked, they had the audience of several hundred kids, from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“I expected school to be in session and I expected us to be able to communicate with kids, but I had no idea how much of a highlight that would be,” Alexander said.

Don Kragness played a special role during the week. The 35-year veteran music teacher went around from classroom to classroom, working with several grade levels on songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” And “Father Abraham,” of course.

“When I came into their class, they all stood at attention and said, ‘Good morning, Sir Don. We’re glad that you’re here.’ In unison!” Kragness said, laughing at the memory.

Gibitngil Island is largely Catholic, but some of the kids are involved in a house church on the island. The freedom to talk about Jesus at school amazed the American volunteers. “…In our own country, here in Johnson City, Illinois, I could not speak Jesus in class,” Kragness said.

“Over there, I had free reign. The principal of the school is a believer, and there are religious quotations and scriptures posted on the walls and on the trees outside, and you can say anything you want to.”

Kids on the island may be familiar with Jesus, but many don’t know how to have a personal relationship with Him. George Meese was sorting lumber one day when he noticed a little boy watching him from the doorway. “…The Holy Spirit just talked to me and told me I needed to talk to him,” said the pastor of New Hope Baptist in Robinson, Ill.

Meese found out the boy’s name and age – 11. “I asked him if he knew Jesus, and he said yes, I believe in Jesus. And I said, well, have you accepted Jesus in your heart?
“And he said, well, no one’s asked.”

They got down on their knees and the boy prayed to receive Christ, then and there.

Worship by flashlight
Alexander estimates that the house was about twice the size of his office in Springfield. But around 30 people crowded in for the Thursday evening meeting of Gibitngil’s house church, run mostly by older students from the school.

Everything about the gathering would have been completely unacceptable to American Christians, Alexander said.

“First of all, there’s no electricity, so everything had to be done by flashlight. Instead of PowerPoint screens, the kids had handwritten songs and taped them on the walls.” They shone the flashlight on the walls to illuminate the songs and Scripture passages.

Light rain fell outside and in part of the house. The room was crowded. Students were in charge. But Alexander had told the group beforehand, “We need to do everything we can to get to that little meeting.”

The students aren’t alone on their island in adhering to Christian principles, Alexander said, but their belief in Jesus as Savior sets them apart.

“Part of what we do on a trip like this is to encourage Christians,”

Alexander said. “…When a group from the outside comes to their area and shows them God’s love personally, and sits down in their homes and worships with them, in the back of their minds, that helps a young person or adult say, ‘I’ve chosen correctly.’ It helps solidify decisions that they make.”

There will be opportunities for teams to serve in the Philippines for at least another year, Alexander said, and previous Disaster Relief training isn’t required. For more information, contact him at (217) 391-3134 or RexAlexander@IBSA.org.

By Meredith Flynn

Floyd, pictured here at the 2012 IBSA Pastors' Conference, is pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.

Floyd, pictured here at the 2012 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, is pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.

Nashville, Tenn. | For all who had been wondering who will succeed Fred Luter as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, we have our first nomination: Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, will be nominated by Southern Seminary President Al Mohler.

Describing Floyd in an open letter announcing the nomination, Mohler said, “He has unparalleled experience as a leader among us, an unquestioned commitment to the Great Commission, and he has demonstrated an unstinting urgency to unite Southern Baptists around our shared beliefs, mission, and programs.”

Floyd recently organized two gatherings for Southern Baptist ministers to come and pray together for spiritual awakening and revival.

That Mohler is nominating Floyd may signal the kind of unity that SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page had in mind when he formed a task force to study how Baptists of different theological persuasions can work together. With the 2014 convention set for Baltimore, where attendance will likely be lower but Baptist “frontiers” better represented, some had wondered if Mohler or another Reformed-thinking leader might run. But Thursday’s letter has made his choice clear:

“Southern Baptists are engaged in a healthy theological conversation, but we need leadership that can help that conversation to be directed toward energizing us to a great common (goal) for reaching the world and reaching our nation – together,” Mohler wrote.

“Fred Luter has led us so well as he has unified and inspired us. Our next president needs to unify and inspire us for our next steps together. I believe that Ronnie Floyd is the leader Southern Baptists need.”

Click here for the Baptist Press story.

wedding_bandsCOMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

It wasn’t an exorcism, not in the way most people think of it: priests confronting the possessed with crosses and commands, the possessed responding with spinning heads and levitation. You know, like in the movies.

Instead, this was a worship service in a cathedral, led by a bishop. And its content was the rejection of Satan and his lies, affirmation of God and His truth, and repentance for the actions of our leaders in government.

The service was held at the same time Governor Quinn was signing the newly-passed same-sex marriage bill into law at an exuberant celebration in Chicago. Inside the Cathedral, it was prayerful and peaceful. A quick glance outside showed only a few protesters. And while the service was well attended by Catholics and some conservative Christians who had fought legalization of same-sex marriage, it went mostly unreported outside Illinois.

Until now.

It was one year ago last week, on February 14, 2013, that the State Senate passed SB 10. The succeeding flurry of rallies and legislative maneuverings produced a roller coaster of emotions for people on both sides, until the House passed the bill on November 5, 2013. Same-sex marriages will begin in Illinois on June 1.

Until then, what remains are the questions: How will churches respond when same-sex couples seek use of their facilities for wedding ceremonies?

Will churches allow the threat of lawsuits to have a chilling effect on other outreach ministries to their communities?

Will Christians remember the actions of their local legislators when they enter the voting booths in March and November?

And how long will mainstream media continue to depict people who hold to a biblical definition of marriage – Protestants and Catholics alike – as intolerant and extremist?

In answer to the last question: For a long time to come.

In January, Salon.com published excerpts of an interview with Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, calling the November event “a massive exorcism.”

“Certainly the redefinition of marriage is an opposition to God’s plan for married life,” the Bishop explained. “So I thought that would be a fitting time to have that prayer, really for praying for God and his power to drive out the Devil from his influence that seems to be pervading our culture.”

Now, three months later, Paprocki equates his actions with parenting: “Perhaps it’s the permissiveness of our society that people think…that you’re somehow being hateful, if you don’t give them what they want. But sometimes, like any good parent will tell you, that sometimes you have to discipline your child, sometimes you have to say no.”

Lisa Sergent is IBSA’s director of communications.

THE BRIEFING | Posted by Meredith Flynn

True_Love_Waits(From Baptist Press) A new documentary marks the 20th anniversary of “True Love Waits,” an abstinence movement that found its footing in American churches and has since made an impact in countries around the world. “True Love Waits: The Complicated Struggle for Sexual Purity” was produced by LifeWay Films; Jimmy Hester, LifeWay’s then-student ministry director, helped create True Love Waits in 1994.

“We knew from the beginning we wanted to address the criticisms as well as the successes of the True Love Waits movement,” Travis Hawkins, the documentary’s director, told Baptist Press. “We knew viewers would see through any spin we put on the story. We weren’t afraid to have an honest conversation.”

Susan Bohannon is one early “True Love Waits” committee who shares her story in the film. The young woman, who became a teen spokesperson for the movement, struggled in college with peer pressure and the commitment she’d made. Clayton King, author of the curriculum that will relaunch True Love Waits this year, told BP that Bohannon’s story exemplifies the need to return the movement to one focused on the purity found in Christ.

“I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn,” King said. “The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace that Jesus offers us.”

Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Other news:

Nun faces sentencing for protest at nuclear plant
Megan Rice, an 84-year-old nun, will be sentenced today for a break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Rice and two other protestors who hung banners and painted messages on the walls of a bunker could receive six to nine years in prison, according to this Associated Press story.

Research examines Russian religion
With the world’s eyes on Russia during these Winter Olympics, Pew has found the nation is much more religious since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The number of adults identifying as Orthodox Christian increased from 31% to 72% between 1991 and 2008, according to Pew’s research. And the percentage claiming no religious affiliation fell from 61% to 18%. But the number of Russians who regularly attend church only increased from 2% in 1991 to 7% in 2008 (with a peak of 9% in 1998). Read more at Pewforum.org.

Wheaton students protest former lesbian’s testimony
Collegians at Christian university Wheaton College protested a Jan. 31 presentation by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former Syracuse University professor and author of ““The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.” The students’ actions indicate a “generational shift in attitudes about human sexuality,” writes  Baptist blogger Denny Burk.

The truth about camels
An archaeological discovery has led some scholars to renew questions about the Bible’s accuracy, Christianity Today reports. Researchers in Tel Aviv used carbon dating to determine that domesticated camels weren’t used in Israel until near the end of the 10th century B.C., almost 1,000 years after the biblical patriarchs. But some Bible scholars say their findings are “overstated,” CT reports.