Archives For June 2018

For some Christians, immigration concerns at odds with battle for religious liberty
The Washington Post reports that while some denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have publicly spoken against the separation of families at the border, the current crisis is a complex issue for many conservatives weighing it against cultural issues like abortion and marriage.

Baptist church receives donation from First Daughter
Ivanka Trump pledged $50,000 to a Southern Baptist church in Texas whose pastor tweeted about their desire to help children and families at the border. Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said members of his church will travel to McAllen and Brownsville to assess needs for the immigrant children, and how churches should respond.

Related:

Religious restrictions on the rise—again
More than a quarter of 198 countries studied by Pew Research Center have “high” or “very high” levels of religious restriction, according to data released June 21. This is the second consecutive year that overall restrictions have increased in the countries studied, Pew reported.

Russian churches work around evangelism ban for World Cup outreach
Evangelistic outreach around this summer’s World Cup will have to get creative as a result of the host country’s anti-evangelism regulations, Christianity Today reports. Across Russia, churches will open their doors for viewing parties and other events to share the love of God, and soccer.

More Americans belong to multiethnic churches
Diverse congregations are on the rise, according to new research from Baylor University that found nearly one in five American worshipers now belong to a multiethnic church.

Sources: Washington Post, The Christian Post, ERLC, CNN, Pew Research, Christianity Today (2)

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Trillia Newbell, left, director of community outreach for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Matt Chandler, pastor of Village Church near Dallas, were part of the B21 panel discussion,. BP photo

The church’s handling of abuse and the #MeToo moment were major topics prior to the SBC’s Annual Meeting and at two panel discussions adjacent to the convention itself. Within the official meeting, actions were limited to passage of two resolutions on the role of women in ministry and an apology to abuse victims, some explanation in reports from seminary presidents, and a motion from the floor asking if a woman could be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

All this comes on the 100th anniversary of women first being elected as voting messengers to the annual convention, and more important, following weeks of controvery surrounding the handling of abuse cases on two SBC seminary campuses, and remarks about women by former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson. Also former President of Southeastern Seminary where some of the allegations arose, Patterson was first removed from the SWBTS presidency by the full board of trustees, which promoted him to president emeritus with salary and benefits. A week later, as more allegtions emerged, the seminary trustees executive committee fired Patterson from that role and withdrew the offer of housing on the Southwestern campus.

Against this backdrop, messengers arrived in Dallas to find the topics of women and abuse allegtions handled mostly in ancillary panel discussions.

“You need to be trained in this like you’ve never been trained in this,” Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas cautioned ministry leaders at a luncheon sponsored by B21. “Most of these men who’ve done this are narcissists and are going to come off as great guys,” he warned. He warned that pastors should make what is meant by submission clear in their sermons. “Every time you talk about submission you need to add the caveat about spiritual, physical, sexual, emotional abuse, because these guys are using this.”

In the B21 panel discussion and another by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the debate assumed a theological position of complementarianism, meaning men and women serve complementary roles in marriage and leadership.

Southern Seminary President Al Mohler said, “If you want to be a patriarchal abuser, complementarianism is an idiology you can grasp onto… Let’s just own this.” Mohler condemned “the distortion of complementarianism to justify predatory and abusive behavior (as) heresy and sin.” He also stressed that complementarianism doesn’t mean every woman is supposed to be submissive to every man.

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A panel discussed preventing and dealing with sexual abuse in the church June 11 at the Cooperative Program stage in Dallas. BP photo

At the same session, James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in metro Atlanta said, “I don’t know of anything that Scripture prohibits within our denomination that a woman can’t do,” he said. “A woman can be president of the Southern Baptist Convention…. I don’t know of any position a woman cannot hold biblically. Outside the position of elder, I don’t know of any position of authority a woman cannot hold in the church.”

Merritt noted, “I think sometimes we complementarians go into a Pharisee mode of going beyond what the Scriptures teach, and I think it’s a good wake-up moment for us today.”

Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin told B21 attendees his school did something historic by electing a woman to chair the trustees. “Becky Gardner is one of the most godly, competent women that I’ve ever met. There’s no sense in which you can make a biblical argument about it. She’s not serving as an elder, a pastor, or an overseer. She’s serving as an administrator.” Gardner is the wife of Joe Gardner, an IBSA zone consultant and director of missions at Metro Peoria Association.

But there’s much the local church can do.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, said to be careful when using spiritual language such as grace and mercy. “In almost every abuser in a church context I’ve ever seen…[he] wants to identify himself as King David and says we need to forgive this, and move on, ‘I need to continue on the same place where I was before.’”

Moore said the church needs to be bold and say, “That is not what grace is as defined by the gospel of Jesus Christ. You cannot use the grace of God in order to harm and to destroy Jesus’ flock.”

Several of the panelists noted that some churches fear public reports of abuse can ruin their witness in the community. “This is not a public relations issue to be managed,” stated Moore.

“Jesus does not need you to rescue his reputation by covering up sin.”

Kimberlee Norris, sexual abuse attorney with Ministry Safe, said background checks are not enough. She recommended adding to the background checks “training, screening, and appropriate policies that address grooming behaviors.”

Some of the most poignant advice come from ERLC Outreach Director Trilla Newbell, herself a survivor of sexual abuse. She appeared as a panelist at both events. Newbell advised pastors and churches to think ahead about how to handle such incidents. “It is incredibly important that we have (reporting) procedures already developed so that women in your midst, and men, know that they are already safe,” said Newbell, “so that they know you have already been thinking of this. So that they know that they will be loved.”

Wasted moments in Dallas

Lisa Misner —  June 21, 2018

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By Eric Reed

We could have talked about how SBC entities and churches handle allegations of sexual abuse. We could have talked about the value of women in the culture and their role in our churches and denomination.

We could have talked about the direction of international missions, the SBC Executive Committee’s guidance of missions giving, and the future of Southwestern Seminary after the departure of Paige Patterson.

And certainly we could have talked about the report from Steve Gaines’s evangelism task force, their recommendations, and the crying need to share Christ worldwide and to turn the decline in baptisms and membership in the SBC. 

But instead, we gave two hours of valuable floor time at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention to non-Southern Baptist interests, parachurch leaders, and panel discussions. 

These were wasted moments.

Don’t get me wrong: We’re glad the ERLC hosted a panel outside the convention itself on the #metoo movement, and the seminary presidents said their schools are concerned about sexual harassment and proper reporting. But in the convention itself, there was no dedicated time for consideration of this critical matter.

A focus on stewardship is important and we appreciate the work of financial advisor Dave Ramsey. The Illinois Baptist runs his column in every issue. But did Ramsey and this topic really deserve so much attention when other issues have arisen in recent months?

The same is true for Ravi Zacharias. Apologetics are important in our era, and every believer should be prepared to share his beliefs with clarity and conviction. But is the platform of our denomination the right venue to tackle so great a subject? And at the loss of time from our meager two days together to address the matters decried online for weeks and in the hallways for days at the convention center?

And the issue of welcoming Vice President Mike Pence to speak can be argued from several angles. Given the comments by incoming SBC President J.D. Greear and others of his generation (and younger), it seems less likely that the platform of the SBC will be the place for a speech that too quickly turned from evangelical political interests to mid-term campaigning. That’s valuable time we won’t get back.

We missed the opportunity to really, deeply, and meaningfully address the renewal of evangelism, the seachange coming at SBC entities currently without presidents, and women—more than half our constituency—their role and our respect for them. The whole event ran late, and the time for helpful discussion was eaten up by outside interests. Almost all of the resolutions were passed without comment because there simply wasn’t time.

Surely the planners of the 2018 convention had no idea their well-intentioned focus on stewardship and issues not exclusive to Southern Baptists would be swamped by headline-making events within the denomination. But when that happened, some shift in the focus of the meeting would have been appropriate.

With all that’s happening within the SBC these days, our short time assembled together needs a laser focus. The rest can wait.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Who cares?

Lisa Misner —  June 19, 2018

By Nate Adams 

Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Nate Adams

Though I grew up the son of a pastor and denominational worker, I was in my mid-30’s before I first attended a national Southern Baptist Convention. When the convention came to Indianapolis one year, a friend invited my dad and me to drive over and experience it with him. Though I was a Sunday School teacher and deacon in my church, I have to admit that my first thoughts at his invitation were, “Who cares? Who would want to take the time and spend the money attending what sounds like a large church business meeting?”

In fact, even after attending that first meeting, I came home thinking, “Well, that was kind of interesting, especially the big LifeWay bookstore and the exhibit area. But I don’t think it’s relevant enough to me or my church to go again.”

And so I didn’t, until the North American Mission Board invited me to join the staff there. That was 1997, in Dallas, and when I returned there this year it was for my 22nd consecutive SBC.

I think it’s probably healthy for me to remember that, as an Illinois Baptist layman, I didn’t find the annual SBC meeting particularly relevant, or at least worth the time and expense, until I joined the staff of the NAMB and now IBSA. But that’s when the phrase “who cares” stopped being a question for me, and started being the answer to a different question.

That different question became, simply, “Who decides?” Who decides who our missionaries are, and how our cooperative missions money is spent? Who decides how our national entities are led, and how we will speak to our culture? Who gets to decide Southern Baptist doctrinal positions, and how tomorrow’s pastors are trained?

What I’ve learned over the years is that the person who gets to weigh in on all those important questions and decisions is the person who cares. It’s the person who cares enough to attend the meetings, and to understand and participate in the process. The person who shrugs and asks, “Who cares?” doesn’t. The person who cares does.

Of course, not every person who cares gets his or her way in the process. There were several times during this year’s meeting in Dallas when I couldn’t believe what was being said by a messenger from the floor, or when I even disagreed with what was being said from the platform. At least one of the votes disappointed me.

But now that all is said and done, I look back on the annual meeting of messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, and realize that, once again, spirited discussion among Spirit-led believers has resulted in both specific decisions and general direction that are trustworthy, and good stewardship of our shared beliefs and resources, and accountable to the churches.

Somehow the miracle of voluntary, grassroots cooperation by diverse, autonomous churches working together through respectful, democratic processes – led us once again to a place of blessing. And that blessing is the opportunity to do far more together than any individual church can do alone.

To be candid, I occasionally go back to the question form of “Who cares?” and wonder how relevant some of what happens at the national SBC level really is to the life of the average Illinois Baptist church. I’m sure some people ask that same question of their state convention or even local associational meetings. But things are decided at all those meetings that impact the mission of God through all our churches and missionaries.

While I can, I want to be in on those decisions, as one of the people who cares.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

The Briefing

SBC WRAP-UP: Greear, Pence, #MeToo draw SBC’s focus
At an annual meeting that saw what chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty called an “extra heavy volume of business” on its opening day, the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as convention president and heard an address by Vice President Mike Pence.

Local county condemns abortion, declares ‘unborn sanctuary’
The Effingham (Illinois) County Board passed a resolution declaring the county a “sanctuary for the life of unborn human beings.” It’s an issue causing an uproar among residents. The board passed the resolution Monday. It means the county is taking the stance condemning abortion, except if both mother and child are at risk.

4 in 10 LGBT Americans identify as Christian
Approximately four out of ten LGBT Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated, roughly equaling the percentage that identify as Christian, according to a new survey. A poll conducted May 24 to June 1 by BuzzFeed News and Whitman Insight Strategies of 880 LGBT Americans found that 39 percent of respondents did not have a religious affiliation.

Under pressure from VP, aid is sent to Christian, Yazidi communities in Iraq
The premier U.S. aid agency is poised to send millions of dollars directly to Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq under a rarely used, streamlined funding arrangement after coming under pressure from Vice President Mike Pence.

Meet the World Cup stars who love Jesus
World Cup fever will be consuming the planet for the next month. As you learn the stories of the hundreds of athletes from nearly three dozen countries, hear them talk about their faith in their own words.

Sources: Baptist Press, WCIA news, Christian Post, Washington Post, Christianity Today

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Politics-packed speech met with outcry online

Dallas | Despite debate surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the convention hall was packed Wednesday morning when he took the stage. Pence called the SBC “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.” After a few more words of praise for Southern Baptists, he shared his brief testimony of coming to faith in Christ 40 years ago.

From there, his speech became more political, noting the Trump administration’s accomplishments during two years in office, including recent peace talks with North Korea. Pence received multiple standing ovations and even a few shouts of “four more years.”

On his and President Trump’s behalf, Pence asked Baptists to “continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.”

As he neared the end of his speech, he requested messengers pray, noting it wasn’t politically motivated. “And on this one, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about praying for an agenda or for a cause. I rather like what President Lincoln said in his time when he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army. Our 16th President simply replied, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’” Pence’s request was met with loud applause.

Read the transcript of his address at ChristianPost.com.

During and after Pence’s speech, many Baptists expressed dismay with the content and tone of his message.

“Have mercy on us,” tweeted Paul Cooper, pastor of Marshall Baptist Church in Marshall, Ill. “#SBC18AM just became a political rally. Not the place for election speeches. Nothing wrong with campaigning- but not here.”

Newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear posted after Pence’s address, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted from a different perspective. “Vice President Mike Pence speaking to SBC! Why do things like this matter? It is good for people in power to know us. We may need them at some point. Also, we need to affirm evangelicals in politics. It is a tough calling.”

On Tuesday, a messenger brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings.

Before his address, Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention. There was a loosely organized effort on Twitter to invite messengers to gather on the other end of the convention hall during the vice president’s address for a time of prayer.

Prayer group

A small group met to pray during Vice President Mike Pence’s address in Dallas. Twitter photo

A photo posted on Twitter by SBC Voices shows about a dozen people at the prayer meeting.

Those opposed to Pence’s appearance said it could give the appearance that the Convention was endorsing one political party over another, would be disrespectful to minorities who feel the current administration doesn’t represent them, and could put international Baptist workers at risk.

However, in the packed convention hall, many messengers gave Pence repeated standing ovations for his campaign-like message.

 

 

 

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Dallas | J.D. Greear says his election does not indicate a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. But the photos of Greear, 45, with his opponent Ken Hemphill and outgoing SBC President Steven Gaines, both in their 60s, might attest otherwise.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” Greear said after his landslide win. “We walk forward together,” he said a conciliatory tone.

Two years after he won the approval of many by stepping aside in a tight race with Gaines saying he wanted to avoid division in the denomination, Greear won this election by a 2-1 margin, taking 69% of the vote. With this overwhelming tally, Greear became the youngest president of the denomination in its 173-year history.

In the election, little mention was made of Greear’s reformed theology. In fact, much was made of his North Carolina church’s record of evangelism and sending missionaries to the field through SBC channels. His nomination speech seemed to take pains to assure those who might be concerned about a shift away from evangelism by the election of a Calvinist. Greear expressed his commitment to evangelistic renewal in the denomination in a subsequent press conference.

Greear takes office facing a challenging slate of issues not evident when he announced his candidacy five months ago. In addition to the continuing decline in baptisms and per capita Cooperative Program giving to missions by SBC church members, Greear faces the issues of unreported sexual abuse and moral failure by SBC leaders, the role of women in Southern Baptist leadership, the future of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, and now troubled Southwestern Seminary.

In reporting Greear’s election, Christianity Today called the SBC presidency a “symbolic, visionary role.” Today, that description could not be more wrong. Greear will not only be the new face of SBC, he will be the first of his generation to assume the role at a most critical juncture in SBC history. Greear told his church that his service wouldn’t require any more of his time than his usual travel schedule as a nationally recognized and much sought-after speaker. It will be interesting to ask him in a year if that assessment was correct.

Digging out of this mess will take more time and effort than anyone imagined. And it will require true leadership.

-Eric Reed