Archives For March 2014

Layout 1Same-sex marriage gains support in courts, public opinion

NEWS | Eric Reed

Update: Last week, Michigan became the latest state to allow same-sex marriages, after Judge Bernard Friedman overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage. About 300 couples were married before the judgment was stayed, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has said the state will not recognize the marriages as of now. But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the government will offer federal benefits to the married couples, mirroring the action it took in Utah earlier this year.

Same-sex marriage is not being tried in the court of public opinion. It’s being tried in the courts and public opinion. And the latest evidence is it’s winning in both sectors.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states. And, one way or another, it’s pending in the remaining 33.

Even in states where marriage is legally limited to one man/one woman, there is a growing sense that pending court decisions will force recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.

At the same time, new polls show a majority of Americans support recognition of same-sex marriages. The ABC News-Washington Post poll shows 59% of Americans say they support same-sex marriage (34% are opposed), and 50% say the U.S. Constitution already guarantees homosexuals the right to marry (41% say it does not).

In states that prohibit same-sex marriage, 53% of those surveyed favored allowing it; 40% remained opposed. Support for same-sex marriage is lowest among Republicans (only 40% approve), and among conservatives and evangelical Protestants at one-third or less.

The Post’s analysis of its polling is that “support for same-sex marriage has changed more rapidly than almost any social issue in the past decade.” In March 2004, only 38% of respondents said same-sex marriage should be legal, and 59% said it should not.

In all this polling, the generation gap is noteworthy. Younger people of every political and religious view were more likely to favor legalizing gay marriage. For example, a Pew survey found 61% of young Republicans under age 30 supported same-sex marriage.

The question arising in recent weeks is whether public opinion is driving the courts or if the courts are driving public opinion. And this: Have we reached the tipping point?

In six of the nation’s 11 federal appellate courts, legal challenges involving same-sex marriage are pending that could eventually go the U.S. Supreme Court.

4th Circuit, Virginia: A lower court struck down Virginia’s amendment that prevents gay couples from marrying. Opening arguments are set for the week of May 12.

5th Circuit, Texas: A Texas court ruled the state’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The governor is appealing. No court date set.

6th Circuit, Kentucky: A federal judge ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state. The state attorney general refused to appeal, saying emotionally he had prayed about it and it was the right thing to do. The governor said he will use outside attorneys to appeal. No court date set.

Ohio: A federal judge ruled Ohio must recognize the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples in the case of couples being listed as “married” on death certificates. Briefs due April 10.

7th Circuit, Illinois: A federal judge ruled same-sex couples can marry now, even before the June 1 date the state’s law takes effect. Attorney General Lisa Madigan concurred. No appeal has been announced.

9th Circuit, Nevada: The state announced it will not defend its ban on same-sex couples marrying, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s partial strike of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). April 9 oral arguments were cancelled, will be rescheduled.

10th Circuit, Oklahoma: A federal judge ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Oral arguments April 17.

Utah: 1,000 couples married after a federal judge ruled the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, then refused to stay his ruling until an appeal could be heard. Oral arguments April 10.

And then there’s the issue of the rights of Christian service providers to refuse the business of gay couples, with the proposed Arizona law as chief example. In February, the governor refused to allow the bill, which would have protected business owners based on their religious convictions, to become law.

In all these cases, no strong Christian response seems to have arisen. The window for Christians to file suits or to urge their state governments to pursue legal action is a brief one. The cases are moving quickly to court, and no organized effort to participate, as in the early days of the pro-life movement, has materialized.

What is happening now is the waiting – waiting for one of these cases to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, and for the Court to rule on whether same-sex marriages performed in one state must be recognized in all states.

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat concluded in a March 1 column titled “The Terms of Our Surrender”: “We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory – and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Eric Reed is IBSA’s associate executive director for communications and editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

 

 

 

map of Ukraine - vector illustrationHEARTLAND | Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, prayed over the phone recently with Vyacheslav Nesteruk, president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine. Here are four requests the Ukrainian leader shared, reported by Roger Oldham of the Executive Committee:

  • That there would be no war in Ukraine, but peace.
  • That there would be a sense of peace in the hearts of Ukrainian people, rather than a sense of unrest or anxiety.
  • For the economic situation, as sanctions imposed by Russia have already begun making life difficult in Ukraine.
  • Most of all, that people would be open to the Gospel and actively seek the Gospel during these troubled times.

Ukraine has had a turbulent year so far, with the overthrow of its president, violent protests, and recent Russian military action in Crimea. Read more about the conversation between the Baptist leaders at BPNews.net.

But not before Christian leaders engage in heated debate online

COMMENTARY |  Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, announced this week that the Christian aid organization would allow the hiring of employees who are in a same-sex marriage. Then, on Wednesday, Stearns and Jim Bere, chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board, released a letter stating the new policy had been reversed.

“The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” the letter says.

“We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Stearns told Christianity Today on March 24 that World Vision was making the move to hire people in legal same-sex marriages as a way to defer to the leadership of local churches, and to promote unity within the church as a whole.

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” Stearns said then. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.

“…This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”

But after many Christians decried the decision, World Vision changed course.

“World Vision has done the right thing,” tweeted Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore. “Now, let’s all work for a holistic gospel presence, addressing both temporal and eternal needs. Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency, was one of the first to post analysis about World Vision’s earlier move. Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also blogged his objections.

“Stearns says that ‘every employee’ must be a ‘follower of Jesus Christ’ even as he affirms that some of his employees will be living in open immorality,” Burk wrote at dennyburk.com. “What does this mean? It can only mean that he believes being a ‘follower of Jesus Christ’ is somehow compatible with being in a same-sex marriage…. Following Christ is not a choose-your-own-adventure story. King Jesus defines the terms of our discipleship. He is very clear that there is a narrow path that leads to life and a broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). The path of sexual immorality – including same-sex immorality – goes along the broad path (Mark 7:21; Rom. 1:26-27). Thus it is impossible to be a ‘follower of Christ’ while endorsing or participating in a same-sex marriage.”

Burk’s post drew criticism from popular blogger and author Jen Hatmaker, who wrote about the dangers of “reactionary, emotional attacks” in the wake of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. It’s an issue on which the church will never reach a consensus, she said.

“We do not need any more inflammatory soldiers in the culture wars; we need more thought leaders who are slower to publicly condemn their faithful brothers and sisters and quicker to invite reason and dialogue to the table. ‘A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion’ (Proverbs 18:2).” she wrote.

Burk then posted a response to Hatmaker: “I have no desire for Christians to destroy one another, nor is that the intention of my post. My aim mainly is to provoke Christians to think biblically about what is at stake.

“…Taking care of the needy is great, noble, necessary work. We must not flag in zeal for such work. But that work doesn’t somehow eliminate the treachery of rebelling against Jesus’ words about sexual morality and marriage (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-9; Mark 7:21). We must hold on to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, not just the ones we judge to be most important (Matt. 4:4).”

Hobby_Lobby_prayerTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is calling Christians to pray for Hobby Lobby as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments this week in the government’s case against the craft retailer and another company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation.

At issue is the businesses’ refusal to cover abortion-inducing drugs for its employees, a measure required of for-profit companies by the Obama administration’s healthcare plan.

“This case will set the tone for the next hundred years of church/state jurisprudence in this country,” ERLC President Russell Moore wrote in a blog post March 23.
“One of the reasons we oppose this sort of incursion into free exercise is that we want neither to be oppressed nor to oppress others,” Moore wrote. “We do not ask the government to bless our doctrinal convictions, or to impose them on others. We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences.”
The ERLC has created a “Pray for Hobby Lobby” avatar for use on social media, and is asking Twitter users to post with the hashtag #PrayForHobbyLobby. Read the ERLC’s news release about the Hobby Lobby case here.
Other news:
Southern Baptist Convention First VP candidate named
North Carolina pastor Clint Pressley will be nominated for the office of first vice president at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting this June in Baltimore. Pressley pastors Charlotte’s Hickory Grove Baptist Church and currently is vice president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference.

“I love the Southern Baptist Convention,” Pressley told North Carolina’s Bibilical Recorder newspaper. “I’m thankful for the work of NAMB and IMB, and I want to keep supporting the convention. I want to see more younger guys getting excited about the work of our convention and how we do missions – whether it’s in North America or around the world.” Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Westboro pastor Fred Phelps dies
Fred Phelps, whose Kansas church made headlines for years with their incendiary protests, died March 19. LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer suggests how Christians should respond to Phelps’ death, including taking the opportunity for some self-examination.

“Let’s be careful to avoid our own self-deception,” Stetzer wrote on his blog, The Exchange. “The Phelps family, and the Westboro clan they started, are full of people that need Jesus. Let’s not get Pharisaical here – the Phelps family and the people they lead in worship of a false god are sinners, but so are we. The people who spew the hateful words of Phelps’s hateful god need the love of Jesus just like you and me. Pray for them to find peace in Jesus and love as he has loved.”

Former Haitian prisoner tells his storyA Baptist volunteer recounts his experience in a Haitian jail four years ago in this story on BPNews.net. “They were difficult and perplexing and complex days, but God ordained them,” Paul Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, told BP. In 2010, he and nine other Baptist volunteers were detained and charged with kidnapping after trying to move children to safety in post-earthquake Haiti.

Barna: Who’s watching what at the movies
Sequels were big in 2013, according to data compiled by Barna Research, although the average American only saw 3.3 movies at the theater. The study also found 11% of people saw a movie in the last two years that made them think seriously about religion or spirituality. Read more at Barna.org.

Baptist_hymnalHEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Our youngest son, Ethan, recently mentioned to his mom and me that he had heard a couple of great new Christian songs he really liked. We asked what they were, hoping that we had been listening to enough Christian radio to perhaps recognize them.

Imagine our surprise when the songs he named were 100-year-old hymns.
We couldn’t help but show our disbelief. “Have you never heard those hymns before?” we asked. “Have you not been in churches that sang either of those?”

Perhaps he had, we decided, but apparently not often, or not at a time that he remembered. As we then reviewed the churches our family attended since Ethan was born, we realized that each of those churches had a contemporary worship style, or at least a blend of contemporary music and hymns. Therefore, hymns that I know by heart, sometimes even by page number, have become almost lost treasures to my son.

Music is just one example of the things in church life that sometimes need to change or evolve over time in order to stay relevant to new generations. But as my son’s new love for old hymns illustrates, sometimes we let treasures that have lasting value slip away simply because we have not properly maintained them, or passed them along effectively.

Nate_Adams_blog_callout_4Cooperative missions giving is one of those time-proven treasures that I fear we risk losing in the next generation if we do not more intentionally teach its value and practice its power. As with hymns, we may be assuming that what we have known so well by heart will always be with us, even if we’re not rehearsing it regularly with new church leaders and members.

That’s one reason many Southern Baptist churches set aside one special Sunday in April to inform and educate their church members on the incredible, week-after-week power of our ongoing missions support system known as the Cooperative Program. This year the national Cooperative Program promotion Sunday is April 13, but since that happens to fall on Palm Sunday, many churches may choose another nearby date for this emphasis.

Whether it’s April 13 or some other time, intentionally educating everyone in the church about Cooperative Program missions is extremely important. Church members need to understand that the Cooperative Program portion of their church budget provides
foundational support for thousands of faithful Baptist missionaries, throughout North America and around the world. They need to know that hundreds of people groups in more than 150 countries are receiving the Gospel through these missionaries, and that thousands of new churches are being planted as a result. Right here in North America, more than 900 new churches are being established each year, and coordinated ministries such as Disaster Relief help place thousands of Southern Baptist volunteers and chaplains right in the middle of people’s deepest physical and spiritual needs.

Cooperative Program giving helps make theological training at six world-class seminaries affordable for tomorrow’s pastors, church staff, and missionaries. And it gives us an important voice in the culture through the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee. Right here in Illinois, CP helps train more than 23,000 leaders each year, and start 25 new churches.

There are lots of good resources at http://www.IBSA.org/CP and http://www.sbc.net to help church members understand how the CP works, and, more importantly, how many lives are being transformed through it as the Great Commission is advanced. There are short videos to use in worship services or small groups, and well-designed print pieces ranging from bulletin inserts to multiple-page articles.

Many of us may assume that, like a treasured hymn, the Cooperative Program will always be there, always fueling the most effective and far-reaching missionary system in history. But that will only happen if we consistently and continually teach new
generations of church leaders to carry the tune.

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

Carbondale_CMD

Children’s Ministry Day volunteers deliver goodies to a hospital in Carbondale, one of nine locations where kids served on March 15. Photo by Joanna Samples

GUEST POST | Sarah Richardson

On the sunny day of March 15, children from all over Illinois participated in Children’s Ministry Day, sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. The object of the event was to involve kids in ministry by doing service projects around the local community.

Nearly 1,110 kids, leaders and volunteers gathered in nine cities around the state for the event.

One of the host churches was Lakeland Baptist in Carbondale. The service projects were arranged beforehand by Lakeland church members. They involved simple services that made a difference for people and businesses around town.

One project involved delivering handmade cards and bags to a pediatric wing at the local hospital. Along with chaperones, the children made crafts in a large room at the church. Preparation made the project not only fun, but meaningful. The cheerful children wrote Bible verses on the cards, as well as drew their own unique art. It was obvious the kids were involved and excited to help others.

Some children made chocolate chip cookies for firefighters and policemen. When they delivered the cookies, the firefighters gave a tour of the station. The children learned how the honorable people work to keep people safe.

Other projects included helping the elderly, preparing food at a soup kitchen and working at a horse stable. After work was done, the children returned to Lakeland and enjoyed popcorn, soda and a mission trivia contest. While sharing testimonies, the children enthusiastically reflected on why they do missions. The closing ceremony reminded everyone that Jesus is the reason for our mission.

Children’s Ministry Day teaches kids that though they are young, they can make a difference by the grace and power of God. Not only does it bless the volunteers and the kids, it helps the people who work at the places where they served. It is a great way to teach children about missions, helping your community, and ultimately glorifying God.

Sarah Richardson, 14, is a member of Lakeland Baptist in Carbondale.

Heath_Tibbetts_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42

Baptist prayer lists are where requests go to die. How many times have you looked at the prayer list at your church and said, “Who’s that person?”
Most of us have come across the request that was once pressing and now forgotten. Oft times I have asked someone about a previous request, only to watch them stare at me blankly. I suddenly realize I’ve prayed about their request more than they have.

The problem isn’t really with the prayer list, but our listless prayers.

The early believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to many areas that Southern Baptists pride ourselves on today. We are known for our devotion to strong biblical teaching and to friendly, fried fellowships. But how devoted are we in our personal
prayer lives?

We can never have a praying church without a praying membership.

The word “devoted” in Acts 2:42 indicates the church prayed with expectation and then waited for results. Many of these new believers had rarely heard prayer outside the temple and now they had direct access to the Father through Jesus, their great high priest. Prayer was now powerful and personal and they became praying people building a praying church.

It still happens today. As we watch from half a world away, Ukraine is mired in difficult days. And yet IMB worker Shannon Ford, who lives in the capital city of Kiev, gives this report: “The response from the churches has been fantastic. It really has been a time for prayer – not simply saying we’re going to pray, but actually going and being seen and guiding other people to pray.”

This is the work of the church. God didn’t call us to be a house of activity, but a house of prayer in Isaiah 56:7. Churches must begin praying with expectation, waiting to see God move. The great call of the church is to call on God.

So, how do we make this shift, and how can we tell if we’re even getting close?

First, we must never assume people in our churches are praying. Luke 11:1 tells us of Jesus completing His prayer time and being asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.” These were guys who had grown up in church, and they had no idea how to talk to God.

Ask people about their prayer lives, and encourage them by praying with them and for them. I’ve even found sending a quick text, Facebook message, or e-mail can be a great way to encourage fellow believers to make time for prayer.

And secondly, pray! I believe we should see prayer going on all over the church. I was greatly encouraged a few weeks ago when I saw a hurting family being prayed for by one of our church leaders in the hallway. This needs to happen more. Stop saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and instead say, “Let’s pray.”

The greatest encouragement I can provide as you examine your own church is in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words.”

Even a praying church is a credit to the work of God.

Don’t just take prayer requests, but truly pray. Let people know you’re praying for them, and take the opportunity to rejoice together when God moves in a request. Let us no longer pray because it’s scheduled, but because we’re moved. And watch us make that subtle, but powerful, turn from a church that prays to a praying church!

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of FBC Machesney Park, Ill.