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Briefing

ERLC voices hope and concern in AI statement
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission unveiled April 11 an evangelical Christian statement on artificial intelligence, expressing both hope and concern regarding the emerging technology. The new statement is designed to help the church think about and engage AI from a biblical perspective. ERLC President Russell Moore said, “What this statement does is to say artificial intelligence is an aspect of creativity and technology that will bring with it many, many good things…. At the same time, we have very real and pressing moral and spiritual questions about the use of AI, the temptation to outsource moral decisions to algorithms, but also what happens when we lose a vision of what humanity actually is.” The statement is available here.

Ohio governor signs heartbeat bill
On April 11, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a bill protecting unborn babies from abortion from the moment they have a detectable heartbeat – usually around six weeks of gestation. The law passed in both the House and Senate and penalizes anyone performing an abortion on an unborn baby with a detectable heartbeat. North Dakota and Arkansas have also passed heartbeat bills, but federal courts ruled them unconstitutional.

Korea legalizes abortion
In South Korea, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled April 11 that abortion must be legalized by 2020. This comes after a 65-year-old ban the country had on abortion. The ban will remain until the new law is passed. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, lamented the ruling as the adoption of an erroneous “Western Neo-colonialist notion” that abortion is a woman’s right. “It is a setback for human rights, and a tragedy for those South Koreans whose lives will be lost,” Foster said

Hong Kong pastor facing prison, preaches to courtroom
A Baptist pastor in Hong Kong turned the stands of a Hong Kong courtroom into his pulpit. Chu Yiu-ming, pastor of Chai Wan Baptist Church, quoted Scripture and called for justice in the name of God, after he and eight other activists were convicted April 9 for crimes related to their involvement with pro-democracy protests. “In the words of Jesus, ‘Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; The Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!’” Chu said.

Intercountry adoption hits a new low
The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. families plunged again last year, according to an annual report by the U.S. State Department released in March. Intercountry adoptions declined by 14 percent, from 4,714 children in 2017 to 4,059 in 2018. The 2018 number is down 82 percent from a high of more than 22,000 in 2004.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), Christianity Today, World

Briefing

IL. abortion bill stalled
A bill to expand abortion practices in Illinois is stalled in committee, due in part to a large pro-life rally at the Capitol rotunda. A March 20 pro-life rally and march at the Illinois Capitol protested The Reproductive Health Act, SB 1942 and HB 2495, which would repeal the 1975 Illinois Abortion Law, the state’s partial birth abortion ban, and regulations banning anyone other than physicians from performing abortions.

China closes fourth major underground church
A prominent house church in Beijing was shut down after government and police officials raided Bible classes at two of the church’s locations. The officials changed the locks and banned the congregants from gathering to worship. Shouwang Church, which draws more than 1,000 attendees, is the fourth major underground congregation shut down by the Communist government over the past several months.

8 yr. old chess champion gives back to God
A young immigrant from Nigeria is giving credit to God for lifting his family out of poverty. After Tanitoluwa Adewumi, a third grader, won a New York State chess championship in his age bracket, a GoFundMe campaign was set up to help remove the family from their homeless shelter in New York. Of the $246,000 raised, Adewumi’s family has vowed to sow ten percent back into their local church and use the rest to benefit other African immigrants settling in the United States. “To whom much is given, much is required,” Tanitoluwa’s dad wrote in an update on the page.

Survey: moms more influential than dads in child’s faith
Christians are far more likely to say their mothers had a bigger influence on their faith than did their fathers, according to a new Barna study. The study, which examines the roles that moms and dads play in the development of children, found that 68 percent of U.S. Christians who grew up with someone who influenced their faith say their mother’s faith impacted them. That was followed by the father (46 percent) and a grandparent (37 percent).

‘Unplanned’ movie receives backlash from media
A new pro-life movie, “Unplanned,” is receiving backlash from media on the film’s depiction of abortion. The movie, produced by Pure Flix, tells the true story of a Planned Parenthood clinic director’s subsequent conversion to pro-life views. Many cable networks refused to air commercials for the movie and many other channels declined to advertise it due to its “sensitive nature,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie began airing in theaters March 29.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, CBN, Christian Headlines, Baptist Press

Briefing

IL bill ‘more extreme’ than NY
While the state of New York approved in February the nation’s most liberal abortion legislation to date, Right to Life Action have called Illinois’s Reproductive Health Act “more extreme.” The House Bill 2495 will not only create a fundamental right to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, but also mandate all private health insurance plans to cover abortions without any restrictions. Another bill, HB 2467 (Senate Bill 1594), would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which currently requires doctors to notify an adult family member of a patient under 18 prior to an abortion.

“Peace Cross” raises questions on significance of cross monuments
An appeal by an atheist group to remove a 40-foot memorial cross caused the Supreme Court to raise not just the question of whether the “Peace Cross” memorial was constitutional, but also whether it was a secular symbol. The atheist group challenged the constitutionality of the Bladensburg, Md., cross, stating the cross promotes Christianity, thus violating the First Amendment. Lawyers argued that the historic marker served a secular purpose in honoring the fallen veterans. Judges debated on rather the cross has a preeminent symbol of Christianity or if crosses like this one has an independent secular meaning. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling before its term closes in late June or early July.

Tajikistan law limits religious activity
A new religion law in Tajikistan has authorities barring children from attending religious services. The law gives the state greater control over religious education, increasing the information religious organizations must pass to the state. In the same month, 5,000 calendars with Bible verses, imported by a Baptist Church, were confiscated by custom officials and destroyed. The church received a large fine for producing and distributing items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship.

30+ Christians killed in Nigeria
At least 32 Christians were killed by suspected Fulani extremists in Nigeria on February 26, sources reported. In addition to the loss of lives in the Kaduna state of north-central Nigeria, multiple homes and at least one church were burned as hundreds were displaced.

Greenway elected Southwestern president
Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) elected Adam Greenway as the institution’s ninth president during a special called meeting Feb. 26-27. Greenway fills the post left by Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status last year and later terminated. Danny Roberts, chairman of the search committee, called Greenway “a man of impeccable character…, a bridge builder in the Southern Baptist Convention, and a true scholar with a heart for missions and evangelism.”

Sources: Christianity Today, Christian Post (2), Illinois Baptist (2)

Briefing

IL churches celebrate increase in baptisms
Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high. “We were encouraged to see baptisms increase … after four years of gradual decline,” IBSA’s Executive Director, Nate Adams, said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches.” 

Churches identify ministry needs in survey
Preparing people to share the gospel, making disciples, and developing leaders remain top concerns in the latest survey of IBSA churches. Evangelism and the desire to reach young people ranked high for a large majority of Illinois churches, with respondents saying their church could use more assistance in those areas. The 2018 Church Needs Survey was conducted online in October and November.

James MacDonald fired from Harvest
Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” Harvest elders announced they were forced to take “immediate action” to end MacDonald’s 30-year tenure. “This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors,” the elders at Harvest said.

Greenway nominated to lead Southwestern Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Adam W. Greenway has been selected as nominee to fill the presidential vacancy at Southwestern Seminary. Greenway’s nomination will be brought for a vote on Feb. 26–27. Greenway currently serves as dean of the Billy Graham School and as William Walker Brookes Associate Professor of Evangelism and Apologetics at Southern Seminary. If elected, Greenway will become Southwestern Seminary’s ninth president. 

CA must pay pro-life pregnancy centers
A U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California issued an order saying that California must pay three pro-life pregnancy centers and a conservative law firm $399,000 in legal fees and other costs. This comes after a state law meant to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion was struck down and declared unconstitutional, with a the court granting a permanent injunction against the law.

Sources: Illinois Baptist (2), Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post

Briefing

Survey: Church attendance linked to higher levels of happiness
Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, according to Pew Research’s analysis of surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries. Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

Young adults keep Christian label; fewer ‘devout’
Most young adults who attended church as teenagers say they believe in God today, but fewer consider themselves devout Christians, according to a LifeWay Research study released Jan. 31. And some say they believe in God but are uncertain of Christianity.

Boy Scouts officially accepting girls
The Boy Scouts of America officially changed their name Feb. 1 and began accepting girls in all scouting programs. Troops, however, will continue to be single gender, the organization has said. Maybe a quick quote from the opposition?

Asia Bibi finally free to leave Pakistan
On January 29, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. In one of the most high-profile Christian persecution cases in the past decade, Bibi spent eight years in prison convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad—which is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic—until Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected her conviction last October. Bibi was the first Christian woman in the country to be convicted of blasphemy and to have her case go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Who is most ‘Bible engaged’ in the U.S.?
Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, African Americans consistently outrank other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.” They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

Sources: BP News (2), Christian Headlines, Christianity Today (2)

Briefing

Study: 66% of young adults drop out of church for at least a year
In a 2017 LifeWay Research survey released on January 15, 66 percent of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18. Moving for college was the top reason young people said they stopped attending church. Other popular reasons to include: a perception that church members were hypocritical (32%), disconnect with church life (29%), disagreement with the church’s stance on political/social issues, and the inability to attend due to work responsibilities (24%).

Harvest Church pastor takes ‘indefinite sabbatical’
On January 16, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that pastor James MacDonald would take an “indefinite sabbatical” from preaching and leadership at the Chicago megachurch while it works to reconcile with past critics. The announcement follows recent reports of criticism of the church’s financial and management practices. The elders said MacDonald has permission to continue preaching at the Harvest location in Naples, Fla., this winter but he has recused himself from having any leadership role in the reconciliation process and will participate only when asked. 

Abortion defunding bill fails in Senate
An effort to remove the federal government from the abortion business failed January 17 in the U.S. Senate. Senators voted 48-47 to bring the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act to the floor for a vote on final passage. But the roll call fell short of the votes needed to succeed in the procedural move. The proposal, S. 109, would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.

N. Korea again tops list of countries with highest persecution
Open Doors USA has published its 2019 World Watch List of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the most extreme persecution for their faith. North Korea was listed at the very top of the World Watch List for the 17th-consecutive year, with Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India rounding up the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. As many as 4,136 Christians were murdered last year because of their faith, while 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.

Some LifeWay stores to close
In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. “We will be transitioning many resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels.” Rainer wrote in a January 15 email to LifeWay employees. “The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.” The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Sources: Christianity Today, BP News (3), Christian Post

 

Briefing

China’s church persecution grows
Chinese Communist authorities reportedly raided a children’s Bible class Dec. 15, shutting down one of China’s leading underground church and confiscating 4,000 books. The latest raid became the third prominent Protestant unregistered church to be closed by officials this season. Those arrested are being beaten, tortured and denied food and restroom accommodations according to Southeast Asia’s regional manager for International Christian Concern.

Related:
Many leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church counted the cost and pledged faithfulness in advance of arrests at homes, workplaces and on the streets that have continued since Dec. 9. The church’s pastor and elder wrote letters to their congregation saying, “We will not bend, even if it means jail, even if it means death. We will continue to preserve our faith.”

Pakistan ousts aid groups, World Vision
Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country known for persecuting religious minorities, has expelled 18 aid organizations from its country, including World Vision and other Christian groups. The expulsions will affect more than 11 million aid recipients in the country suffering in healthcare and education, entailing an estimated loss of more than $130 million in annual aid, the Associated Press reported.

Egypt approves 168 churches
Egyptian Christians now have an additional 168 legal church buildings. Prior to a new law passed in August 2016, churches faced an arduous task to secure recognition by the government. On November 30, a cabinet committee approved the requests of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches to formally register facilities that have functioned as centers of worship. “I am pleased,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “The process has been slow in the beginning, but I think going forward it will be better.”

MO town keeps Christmas cross despite atheists’ warning
A town in Christian County, Missouri, has reversed its decision to take down an illuminated cross from its Holiday display at Finley River Park. Many residents voiced their outrage when, under pressure from an atheist legal group, the city of Ozark announced Dec. 11 that it would no longer include the blue-lit cross in its Christmas light display. The town, however, reversed its decision and assured residents the cross will continue to be part of the holiday display as the city looks into the atheist group’s legal claims.

Survey: Americans want more Christ in Christmas
Most Americans want more religious meaning to the Christmas season. A new study from LifeWay Research found 65% of Americans say, “Christmas should be more about Jesus.” However, those looking for more Christ in Christmas this year are significantly fewer than 2014 when LifeWay Research found 79 percent of Americans at that time said Christmas should be more about Jesus.

Sources: Christian Post (2), BP News (3), Christianity Today