Archives For April 2015

Recent arguments in  the Supreme Court have raised religious liberty concerns.

Recent arguments in the Supreme Court have raised religious liberty concerns.

An exchange between Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. on Tuesday is raising concerns about religious liberty.

The Supreme Court was hearing arguments April 28 in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which challenges the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding same-sex marriage and state’s rights. While the Solicitor General was arguing for same-sex marriage on behalf of the Obama Administration.

In the exchange, which has sounded alarm bells for many religious leaders, Justice Alito referenced a 1983 Supreme Court decision which stripped Bob Jones University of its tax exempt status for barring interracial dating and marriage among its students.

Justice Alto questioned, “Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?”

Solicitor General Verrilli replied, “You know, I – I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.” (Read the transcript)

After the audio and transcripts of the hearing were released, Albert Mohler, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote about the exchange on his blog, “Keep that in mind as you consider the oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case that sets the stage for the legalization of same-sex marriage in all fifty states — and sets the stage for what may well be, in the United States, the greatest threat to religious liberty of our lifetime.”

“Make no mistake,” Mohler warned. “The Solicitor General of the United States just announced that the rights of a religious school to operate on the basis of its own religious faith will survive only as an ‘accommodation’ on a state by state basis, and only until the federal government passes its own legislation, with whatever ‘accommodation’ might be included in that law.”

In an article for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s website, the organization’s President Russell Moore and Director of Policy Studies Andrew Walker called the exchange the “most shocking moment in the arguments.”

They wrote, “If a revisionist view of redefined marriage is treated as a matter of civil rights, then the government could seek to use its tax power to coerce religious institutions to violate their own God-given consciences and their constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion. The Founders warned us that the power to tax is the power to destroy. The Solicitor General is signaling that at least this Administration is quite open to destroying those who hold a view of marriage held by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, many Sikhs and Buddhists. It was even a position held by the President himself until his most recent ideological evolution.”

Other Christian leaders released a document expressing their fears for religious liberty prior to the oral arguments taking place.

The “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage” calls for the defense of biblical definition of marriage and for the state not to interfere by changing that definition. It is signed by several nationally known religious leaders, including Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse; Dr. Paige Patterson, President Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. James C. Dobson, President and Founder Family Talk Action; and Dr. Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Dallas.

The pledge states, “Redefining the very institution of marriage is improper and outside the authority of the State. No civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage.

According to the document, “Experience and history have shown us that if the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights.”

It ends with a warning of civil disobedience if the Supreme Court should rule the same-sex marriage is the law of the land. “We will view any decision by the Supreme Court or any court the same way history views the Dred Scott and Buck v. Bell decisions. Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.”

A ruling by the Supreme Court is expected in June.

Lisa Sergent is contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Chase_Abner_callout_April15Recently, I was at an event for church leaders that focused on the state of marriage in America. There were audible gasps and shaking heads as speakers shared statistics indicating the declining support for a traditional view of marriage.

My first reaction was, “How is this news surprising to anyone?” Perhaps I was being a little smug. I forgot that not everyone
has had my experience peering into the worldviews of college students for more than a decade.

And from my days as an undergraduate until now, I’ve witnessed a steady, quickening march towards a new definition of sexual morality, and, yes, marriage.

My experiences as a student, campus minister, and IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist have given me a unique perspective on how attitudes and ideas on campus are very predictive of where public opinion is heading. By the time a hot-button issue hits the heartland, it’s already been debated and settled by the opinion makers on campus.

As Christians, and as church leaders, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that worldviews are formed on college campuses. Simply put, recent college graduates are extremely influential in our communities and they, most likely, have been steeping in a culture where Jesus is not honored as king and the Bible is not respected. And relativism isn’t the only obstacle to the gospel. There are absolute truths found on campus—even sacred ones—but they aren’t necessarily truths that Christians can embrace.

Students who are graduating from our colleges and universities go on to lead influential lives. They’re teaching in our schools. They’re being elected to lead our governments. They are lawyers, doctors, and more. They are getting married and raising children.

Campuses are where young, energetic, gifted people are figuring out how they will leave their mark on the world. They are mission fields where the nations are gathering to formulate their worldviews, and training grounds for the next generation of great church leaders.

Shouldn’t reaching college students be a central component of our churches’ mission strategy?

It is nearly impossible to overstate the church’s opportunity to change the world through college ministry. In Illinois, we have more than 200 campuses representing over 900,000 college students. And 43,000 of those are international students.

What potential!

Chase Abner directed the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Southern Illinois University before moving to Springfield to serve as IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist.

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship
alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.

Decatur, Ill. |
“I’ve seen God move,” said Baptist evangelism specialist Joel Southerland, “but I haven’t seen a movement of God in my lifetime.”

Spiritual revival and awakening—the kind of movement only God can bring—was the focus of IBSA’s New Awakening Evangelism Conference March 27-28 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur.

At a time when baptisms and worship attendance are in decline in many churches, and culture seems to be moving farther from God, the need for awakening is real. A church—the Church—cannot revive itself, speakers emphasized during the conference. But some responsibility for revival does fall on Christians—to prepare for a movement of God, to be desperate for it, and to provide a verbal witness for the hope they have in him.

“Revival changes God’s people,” said Southeastern Seminary professor Alvin Reid. “When God shows up you are not the same.”

Evangelism_speakersOne of the major issues New Awakening speakers addressed is the declining number of young people Southern Baptist churches are reaching with the gospel. In 1972, there were 137,000 youth baptisms in Baptist churches, Reid said in a breakout on next generation ministry. Today, there are 70,000 or fewer per year.

“The real problem with that is that there are more teens today on the planet than there were in 1972,” said IBSA Evangelism Director Tim Sadler. “So, we’re reaching less, and there’s more of them.”

We haven’t seen a movement that touched young people since the “Jesus people” movement of the early 1970s, Reid said at the conference. That period of awakening was characterized by the Holy Spirit’s activity in and among churches—he was the main character in revival, just as he was in the Book of Acts.

“What about your ministry can only be explained as a Holy Spirit movement?” Reid asked. One man in the audience replied, “Yeah, git ‘er done!”

The same Holy Spirit that drew people in Acts 2 and in 1972 still draws people to God today, Sadler said. The gospel is the same, and the vehicle for communicating the message—the church—is the same. The issue is like someone once said, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist: “We don’t have a strategy problem, we have a sharing problem.”

But sharing the gospel is the calling of every Christian. “If you really know Jesus and He’s really changed you, try not to witness for ten years,” Reid challenged his breakout session audience in Decatur. “If you’re successful, come back and tell me what kind of Jesus you know.”

Make us desperate, Lord
If Christians haven’t seen a movement of God in their lifetimes, will they recognize it when it happens? In other words, when we talk about revival and awakening, what are looking for?

Sadler defines it this way:

“For me, a movement of God would be an extended period where the people of God are so moved by the presence and power of God, that they leave the confines of the church building, and they impact the city in such a way that God’s Spirit draws unbelievers to faith.”

It’s pervasive, he added, a turning of the spiritual tide. Undeniable. So why haven’t we seen it? Speakers at the New Awakening Conference outlined two possible reasons: “skill fade” in the area of evangelism, and a lack of desperation for revival.

Joel Southerland compared many church members and leaders to pilots who have lost their skills after relying too heavily for too long on autopilot. “Pilots are accustomed to watching things happen and reacting, instead of becoming proactive,” said Southerland, executive director for evangelism strategies at the North American Mission Board.

The church has fallen victim to the same phenomenon. “We have put our churches on autopilot” when it comes to evangelism, he said.

Dennis Nunn, founder of Every Believer a Witness Ministries, differentiated between the “come and see” evangelism model of the Old Testament, and the “go and tell” model in the New Testament.

“I believe we have come to accept what our church members will not do in evangelism because we have accepted the Old Testament approach,” said Nunn. Our witness will become less and less effective, he continued, because we think simply inviting people to church is evangelism.

And then there’s the matter of how much we want revival. The reason the Great Commission probably won’t be realized in our lifetime, Pastor Johnny Hunt said during the conference, is because we live for pleasure, not for the Word of God.

“Lord, forgive us,” said a conference attender from the Chicago suburbs, in response to Hunt’s words.

He continued, referencing Isaiah’s encounter in the temple: “It is not until you see God for who he is that you will see yourself for who you are and others for who they are,” and thus their need for God.

“We don’t witness because we haven’t seen God,” Hunt said. “We have not experienced revival because the church is not even close to desperate.”

Lord, forgive us.

God’s people are desperate for revival, Sadler said, when nothing but God will do; when we stop compartmentalizing our lives into church and work and family and hobbies, and let God be God over all of it.

“We need God to superintend every aspect of our lives,” he said. “It’s like Ephesians 3, where Paul prays that they would experience the fullness of Christ [and] be filled with his presence, so that it spills over into every aspect of our lives. So that we see our neighborhood differently.

“It’s our mission field.”

Reported by Lisa Sergent and Eric Reed for the Illinois Baptist newspaper

The IBSA staff, led by Executive Director Nate Adams, gathered this morning to pray for marriage.

The IBSA staff, led by Executive Director Nate Adams, gathered this morning to pray for marriage.

Christians in the U.S. have been asked to pray for marriage today as the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case which could decide if same-sex marriage will be made legal in all 50 states. The outcome could also have far-reaching consequences for churches, military chaplains, Christian business owners, and others.

Many have warned that the case being presented today is of paramount importance comparing it to the Court’s 1972 decision in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in the U.S. SBC President Ronnie Floyd wrote on his blog, “What is at stake is great. This is undeniable. We do not control the Supreme Court. At this point, our number one role must be to pray. Regardless of the outcome, may God have mercy on America and teach us how to live daily.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), stood outside the Court this morning and described the scene as “circus-like.” He wrote on his blog, “Rainbow flags were waving, as protesters on either side lifted aloft contesting signs. A man screamed through a megaphone about how ‘God hates queers’ right next to men in stiletto heels and nun’s habits. The whole scene drove me to pray, and almost to tears.”

The IBSA staff gathered this morning to pray for marriage. Executive Director Nate Adams led in prayer for attorneys arguing both sides of the case, for the justices, for those involved in homosexuality, for our nation to turn to God, and for Christians and pastors to share Christ in love, not condemnation.

Adams likened what is happening today to how the “Israelites must have felt facing the Red Sea as they heard the pharaoh’s chariots pounding behind them” and noted that God provided a way. No matter the outcome, he reminded, “God is still sovereign and on His throne.”

Regardless of the court’s decision, which is expected to come in June, Moore recognized, “We then must have enough confidence in our gospel to stand with conviction, even when the world thinks we’re crazy. And we must have enough confidence in our gospel to stand with kindness toward those who disagree with us.”

What are the facts in today’s case?

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which is consolidated with three other cases from Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. The case challenges the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding same-sex marriage and state’s rights.

According the ERLC, the court’s decision will determine:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Read the full explanation from the ERLC.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In the wake of Saturday’s massive earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, Christian workers asked for prayer for the devastated country:

• Pray for basic shelter, water and food. These necessities are a high priority right now since no one is allowed back in their homes.

• Pray for God’s people to deeply know His comfort and peace during this time. Pray they will share Him with people around them.

• Pray for people in Nepal and surrounding areas during the continuing aftershocks and aftermath of this disaster. Southern Baptist assessment teams will began the damage Monday to find the best ways to respond.

Potential presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson will not address the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference this summer as scheduled, Baptist Press reports. Several Baptists, including the Baptist 21 group of younger SBC leaders and pastors, had expressed concern about Carson’s membership in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that his appearance at the conference could look like a political endorsement.

Three years after the death of Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, Russell Moore reflects on media coverage surrounding the Watergate conspirator’s life and eventual conversion to Christianity. For those who were cynical about Colson’s transformation, writes the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “…we shouldn’t be angered by those who don’t get the full measure of the man. We should instead hear in some of this cynicism the cry of every human heart, a disbelief that there can be any such thing as final and total forgiveness of sin.”

Zondervan announced last week Charles Colson’s last book, “My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most,” will be released Aug. 4. Topics in the collection of writings will include “the rise of Islam, same-sex marriage, the persecution of Christians, crime and punishment, and natural law,” The Christian Post reports.

Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley says local churches should be the “safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”

“We just need to decide, regardless of what you think about this topic–no more students are going to feel like they have to leave the local church because they’re same-sex attracted or because they’re gay,” said Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, at the Catalyst West conference April 17. Read the full story at

A controversial Houston ordinance is now in effect, following a judge’s ruling on a petition drive led in part by some pastors in the city. HERO, or Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, made headlines last year when the city subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of five pastors who were against the ordinance. (The subpoenas were later withdrawn.)

Religious leaders are encouraging President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to monitor religious freedom in the Middle East and parts of Asia. The special envoy position has been vacant since it was created last year in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, Baptist Press reports.

Are you one of the many football fans bent out of shape since Tim Tebow’s exit from the NFL? Good news: A Philadelphia pretzel company has created a way to celebrate his return. The “Tebowing” pretzel, shaped like the quarterback kneeling in his famous praying pose, started as a publicity stunt but soon went viral. The New York Daily News reports the Philly Pretzel Factory plans to donate proceeds from the pretzels to a charity involving Tebow, who has signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.


A “security threat” against International Mission Board President David Platt’s Secret Church event April 24 forced Platt’s Radical ministry to move the simulcast from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., to an undisclosed alternate location just hours before it began.

The threat was a small taste of what “our brothers and sisters in Christ experience in other countries,” Platt, former pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, said as the event opened according The Alabama Baptist. Threats cannot stop God’s church and His Word from accomplishing their purposes, Platt noted, and that all attempts to hinder the church ultimately help spread the Gospel more. Read more at

Friendly mergers

nateadamsibsa —  April 27, 2015

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently I attended a memorial service in Dupo, Illinois, for Wendell Hooks, who was my grandfather’s cousin. Wendell was 96 when he passed, and was a longtime member and deacon at the First Baptist Church there in Dupo.

Nate_Adams_April27I could certainly write more about Wendell and his life of dedication to his family, his work, his church, and his Lord. But I didn’t know him long. In fact, he was 90 when we first met in person at a Baptist associational meeting, just about the time he was transitioning from his home to an assisted living facility. It was there that we got acquainted over the past few years.

I didn’t have to spend much time with Wendell to realize that we were of the same family. From years of observing my mother and my grandparents, I quickly recognized the Hooks sense of humor and the familiar twinkle in his eye whenever he was
expressing it. I recognized the strong work ethic, the personal disciplines, and the tenacious dedication to both church and pastor. Yes, he was definitely a Hooks.

And he helped me remember that I am a Hooks too. Most people probably think of me as an Adams. I look like my dad, and I’m in a ministry profession like my dad, and I write pieces in this paper, like my dad did.

But cousin Wendell reminded me again how much Hooks is merged in to my Adams. My personality, my drive and discipline, my organizational bent, and yes my sense of humor, are all probably more Hooks than Adams. And I could have just as easily been a Sunday school teacher or deacon as an executive director, because it is really a layperson’s commitment to church and pastor that motivates me, more than a desire for ministry vocation. That’s the Hooks in me.

Chances are you enjoy that same “friendly merger” of family traits in your life. You are a blend, not only of your mom and dad, but also of grandparents and even generations before them. Some of those traits you recognize, and some of them you are still discovering.

I like to think that same sort of positive “blending” is happening in my spiritual life too, and in yours. Each of us is the unique, eternal person that God “knits us together” to be in our mothers’ wombs. But that person is also born in sin and needs redemption. Once I come to know Christ, he doesn’t discard my human identity. He simply redeems it and transforms it. He returns it to his image, to what it was supposed to be.

I love it that the Holy Spirit allowed the writers of the Bible to continue expressing their own unique identities and personalities and styles. Yet they also wrote with a perfect consistency and harmony, demonstrating that their individual voices were each inspired by the Holy Spirit.

During cousin Wendell’s memorial service, I was able to reflect for a few moments on the Adams and Hooks families that have blended into me, and for that matter the Adams and Schultz families that are blending into my children. With each new generation, there is consistency, and yet uniqueness.

And the same is true of my spiritual identity in Christ. I am not a clone of any one person, or even of God. I am a one-of-a-kind blend of both God’s unique workmanship and his redemptive work in Christ. Like David in Psalm 139, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And so are you.

I’m grateful to cousin Wendell for reminding me that I am a friendly merger of both Adams and Hooks. And we can all be grateful to God, for giving us identities that are unique, and yet that enjoy a friendly merger into His likeness, day by day.

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

Haiti, at last

Meredith Flynn —  April 24, 2015

Texas youngster visits the school she —and Illinois mission teams—helped build

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build.

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build. Photo by Bob Elmore

Bigarade, Haiti | Several years ago, this community in Port-au-Prince was just a flood plain. Now, more than a hundred
homes dot the landscape, and children run down the dirt roads to their very own school.

Recently, there was a new face at the school, though one who’s very familiar with its story. At nine years old, Mackenzie Howell has been working to renew hope in Haiti since 2011, when she saw a documentary about the devastating earthquake that rocked the country the previous year.

Four years after she started raising money to help kids and families there, Mackenzie visited Bigarade and the school she helped build. “Seeing the kids” was what she looked forward to most before the trip, and was also her favorite part of being in Haiti, she told the Illinois Baptist.

“She really does care about this,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Alison, who also went along on the trip led by IBSA’s Bob Elmore. The Howells, who are from Nederland, Texas, met Elmore through International Mission Board missionaries working in Haiti
after the earthquake. Mackenzie sent her first donation—$1,400 raised through a coin drive at her preschool and a bake sale at church—to the missionaries to help with construction projects. They connected her with Elmore, who facilitates IBSA’s short-term mission teams in Haiti.

First she had a bake sale. Then, in 2013, the Texas girl wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

In 2013, Mackenzie wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

Since her first project, Mackenzie has raised more money with several other initiatives, including sales of “Leila’s Big Difference,” the book she wrote and published in 2013. Elmore, several teams of volunteers, and Haitian workers have turned Mackenzie’s gifts, along with other donations and resources, into a school for more than 100 children in Bigarade.

Instant community
The school property was vacant in November of 2011, when Elmore first saw it. “It was a goat field then…we just kind of wrote it off,” he said.

When he returned the next spring, a local Christian man named Thomas had gotten permission to put up a tarp and bamboo school on the site. People on Elmore’s mission team were asking, “What can we do?”

That fall, after receiving an anonymous donation to purchase the land, Elmore took a team to Bigarade to start construction on the school. At least eight Illinois churches and associations helped with the project. The facility now doubles as Gosen Church.

Bigarade is an “instant community,” Elmore said, a product of the earthquake that drove people from where they were and forced them into new living situations. Before the school was built, kids were either walking to another community or not going to school at all.

Mackenzie's mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Mackenzie’s mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Working in the school was one of the main objectives for Mackenzie and her team. They came prepared to do a two-hour
lesson each day with crafts, and to provide lunch for the kids on three days.

“Our ultimate goal is to start a feeding program where the kids can have lunch every day,” Alison said a few days before her
team left for Haiti. It just seems like something God would want them to do, she said, to feed his children. The team took with them enough money to start construction on a kitchen for the school, and also a classroom for the youngest students.

Thomas, who put the early school on the property, is now headmaster, and students arrive every morning in blue and white uniforms. Once a goat pasture, the school now employs seven teachers, and has 114 students. The feeding program will employ two or three cooks and purchase food from local sources, Elmore said.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake. Photo by Mary Russell

Complete God
“Why don’t we dance at church, Mom?” That was Mackenzie’s question after her first Haitian church service, where lively singing and dancing was a big part of the worship experience. (Alison’s response: “I don’t know; why don’t you talk to the pastor about that one?”)

“…It was such a blessing to watch her,” Alison said of her daughter during the trip. “She really grew throughout the week.” And Mackenzie’s not finished with Haiti, not by a long shot. She wants to go back—soon. And she’s planning a second book.

“It’s going to be about Leila [meeting] a white girl that came from the U.S. to visit her school and help out with the school and do crafts and stuff, kind of like how I did.”

Recently, she shared about Haiti with kids in her church’s Awana program. Mackenzie’s grandmother, who also was part of the March trip, came out of the room crying, Alison remembered.

“Whatever you do, don’t practice with her,” was the grandmother’s advice for Mackenzie’s future speaking engagements. “…She had them laughing and crying,” Alison said. “It’s because it really does come from her heart.”

In Haiti, Mackenzie taught her new friends a dance she had choreographed in honor of their country to a song with special meaning there, “I Am Not Forgotten.” Watching, Alison said, “It was just such a beautiful picture of how complete God is.”

“So many times, we give to missions or do this and that…but we don’t always get to see the fruits. I just continuously thank God that’s he’s allowed us to see so much of the fruit of his work.”

Reported by Meredith Flynn for the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at

Click through the slideshow below for more photos from Mackenzie’s trip to Haiti. Photos are by Bob Elmore and Mary Russell, Mackenzie’s grandmother.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Illinois_map_AprilCOMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

Just outside my office door, there is a large map of Illinois with each county outlined and labeled. Every county has been shaded in to represent the percentage of the population who are Southern Baptist.

When I heard about the April 9 tornado outbreak and where it occurred, my thoughts immediately went to the map. The northern part—the region most affected by the storms—has counties in white (no IBSA churches), dark green (one IBSA church), and a particular shade of orange denoting that just 0.5 to 0.99% of the population belongs to an IBSA church.

Disaster Relief spring callouts like the one in northern Illinois after the tornadoes are nothing unusual. In April 2013, chaplains and mudout teams responded to the Peoria area after widespread flooding. March 2012 saw a tornado strike Harrisburg, destroying homes and businesses. Chaplains and chainsaw teams were called in to comfort and to clear debris.

But this ministry opportunity is different. The previous spring callouts in our state have served areas with a much higher ratio of IBSA churches. These most recent tornadoes touched the northern part of Illinois, the part with little Southern Baptist or other evangelical presence.

In Ogle County, where the town of Rochelle is located, there is just one IBSA church to serve the county’s 52,000 people. In DeKalb County, home to the Fairdale community that was devastated April 9, there are just three IBSA churches with fewer than 300 resident members. DeKalb’s total population is 105,000.

Illinois Baptists now have an opportunity to reach out to the unreached in new ways. Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked in Rochelle the weekend after the storms. Disaster Relief coordinators monitored the situation in Fairdale, but found it was completely destroyed, leaving nothing large enough for chainsaw crews to remove.

Not only were IBSA Disaster Relief teams at work, but teams from other evangelical denominations also were on the scene. Their presence is something new for an area that consists mainly of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.

Illinois Baptists have a unique opportunity to share Christ’s love in a unique time of need. My prayer is that we take this opportunity to minister to the peoples in these and surrounding communities, sharing Christ—perhaps, as never before—in this region of our state.

Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

People with gay or lesbian friends are almost twice as likely to say same-sex marriage should be legal, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Half of all Americans overall believe gay marriage should be legalized, but the percentage jumps to 60% for people who have gay or lesbian friends (and decreases to 33% for those who don’t).



An additional LifeWay survey found 30% of Americans believe homosexual behavior is a sin, down from 44% in 2011.

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases.

Thirty Ethiopian Christians were killed in two attacks by ISIS in Libya, according to a video released by the terrorist group April 19. “That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

Back in February, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore asked in a blog post, “Should we pray for the defeat of ISIS, of their conversion?”

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd has designated the Tuesday evening session of this summer’s SBC Annual Meeting as a “National Call for Prayer.” Floyd has recruited 11 pastors to help lead the prayer meeting, including Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist in Cambridge, Mass., K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship, and Timmy Chavis, chairman of the SBC Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.

“One of the unique moments of the evening will be when we embrace and celebrate our ethnic diversity, which may also involve moments of repentance and reconciliation,” Floyd said in a blog post about the service.

Baptist pastors and leaders will share the stage with a potential presidential candidate at the 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, June 14-15. Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and author, will speak during the Sunday evening session. Earlier this month, he said on his Facebook page that on May 4, he will announce whether or not he will run for President.

Which missions job is right for you? Take this interactive quiz from the International Mission Board.