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The Briefing

Legislation would require Illinois schools to teach LGBT history
Legislation pending in Springfield would require a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender section be added to history classes and have school districts ensure textbooks “portray the diversity of our society.” Supporters say the state already has similar rules requiring lessons on African-Americans and other groups. They say a dedicated LGBT history unit would give students greater perspective on instrumental Americans whose stories often go untold.

Illinois Senate approves federal Equal Rights Amendment
The Illinois Senate voted April 11 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, renewing a push from decades ago. The vote came about 36 years after the amendment appeared to die after just 35 states ratified it, three short of what was needed by the 1982 deadline. Still, advocates have pushed for a “three-state solution,” contending Congress can extend the deadline and the amendment should go into effect if three additional states vote in favor.

Sutherland Springs expresses accountability to donors
Donors supporting First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after the mass murder of 26 worshippers there can be assured of the church’s integrity in handling donations, the church said in an April 12 open letter. The statement comes after concerns related to the use of funds for victim relief have been raised, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) confirmed to Baptist Press on April 13.

Tyndale sued by boy who didn’t come back from heaven
After growing up and retracting his controversial account of “coming back from heaven,” 20-year-old Alex Malarkey is now suing the Christian publisher who made his story famous. Malarkey, who was left paralyzed and spent two weeks in a coma after a 2004 car accident, filed a lawsuit against Christian publisher Tyndale House for associating his name with the controversial book coauthored with his father, “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” and not paying him for the story.

Is Chick-fil-A a front for a Christian invasion of New York City?
Apparently, Chick-fil-A’s delicious chicken sandwiches and friendly service are all part of an insidious plot to infiltrate New York City on behalf of “Christian traditionalism.” Or at least that’s what a piece published April 13 by The New Yorker seems to argue.

Sources: Chicago Tribune (2), Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Facts and Trends

Going public

Lisa Misner —  April 16, 2018 — Leave a comment

Hundreds across Illinois take the baptism plunge on One GRAND Sunday

Net Church Staunton Group


Eleven people at NET Community Church in Staunton joined hundreds more that were baptized across the state on One GRAND Sunday April 8.

On Sunday, April 8, volunteers at NET Community Church carried a livestock feeding trough into the high school gymnasium where the church meets. The trough had a lofty purpose—11 people were baptized during the morning worship service. They wore shirts with the words “going public.”

“Their life stories were all very different, but their life conversion was the same,” said Pastor Derrick Taylor. “It was so exciting to witness each one going public with their new lives in Christ, thus declaring I’m not ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

Across Illinois, hundreds of people were baptized on the day dubbed “One GRAND Sunday.” IBSA’s Pat Pajak first shared the goal of 1,000
baptisms in one day last fall. As word came in of baptisms around the state, Pajak celebrated the 321 reported so far, and the renewed excitement about evangelism that seemed to characterize the day.

“The real purpose of One GRAND Sunday was to remind churches that our responsibility and privilege is to have gospel conversations outside the walls of the church,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. The day “was a reason to reignite our passion for the Great Commission and rejoice in both salvations and baptisms, which some of our churches had not seen for many years.”

Read a few of the many stories from a day focused on baptism, and on “going public” with faith in Jesus.

‘I’m serious about this’
Brittany Miller grew up going to church, but when she went away to college, it never became a priority, she says. Over the past year, she felt a pull to go back. When a co-worker told her about his new church, NET Community in Staunton, Brittany decided to check it out.

“The pastors were so, so dedicated and just really believed in what they were preaching,” she says. “And I liked how it was just taken right from the Bible.”

There was a disconnect, though. Everyone kept talking about salvation, an unfamiliar concept for Brittany.

Net Community Brittany Miller

Brittany Miller was baptized by her pastor, Derrick Taylor, on One GRAND Sunday.

“I kind of just kept it all to myself,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to ask too many questions, because I didn’t want anybody to think I was a non-believer. Because I believed.” A personal relationship with God, though, was something she didn’t have—yet.

At a small group Bible study one evening, Brittany got up the courage to ask her questions. The group’s leader, Nancy Taylor, pulled in associate pastor David Baker, and together, they walked Brittany through what it means to have saving faith in Christ.

“After hearing what salvation was, I knew that that was what I wanted,” she says. “I wanted that relationship with God; I wanted to deepen my knowledge of him. I wanted him to live through me.”

There was one hang-up, however. “I was so worried that I couldn’t do this because I was going to let God down. And I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “It took a while for the pastor to assure me that that is not how this works.”

After two hours of talking, she prayed to receive Christ. “It all makes sense now,” she says. “It was God pulling me, little by little, to that moment.”

Over the next days and weeks, Brittany started telling family and friends what had happened to her. They were supportive in some cases, and skeptical in others. In some cases, the news didn’t go over as well as she had hoped. Brittany says she’s leaning on her church family to deal with the relational difficulty. She also downloaded a Bible app on her phone, so encouragement is always nearby.

Her baptism April 8 was a way to publicly give God the glory for her faith, and a testimony to the people in her life, she says.

“I need to do this so these people know I’m serious about this.”

All in the family
Willow Krumbwiede decided to be baptized so she could share her decision to follow Christ with her church family, among others. Her public profession of faith April 8 also had a profound impact on her dad.

Willow’s father, Tim, came to Grace Fellowship Church in Amboy on that Sunday morning to support his daughter. The church planned baptisms for the end of their first worship service, Pastor Brian McWethy explained, so Tim sat through the entire service that day. Unbeknownst to him, Willow, her fiancé Andrew, and their pastor were actively praying for his salvation.

Throughout the sermon on biblical baptism where McWethy explained why each person must choose to be baptized for themselves, Willow’s father faced his own life decisions. McWethy said he could see the Holy Spirit was at work in Tim’s life during that sermon.

Grace Fellowship Amboy

Willow Krumbwiede’s baptism at Grace Fellowship Church in Amboy compelled her dad, Tim, to profess his faith in Christ and be baptized.

As the band played an invitation of “O Come to the Altar”, Willow’s father stood up. He stepped forward and grabbed McWethy by the arms, saying, “I just surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.” McWethy was thrilled at the news. Before he could say much, Tim also said that he was ready to be baptized. Today.

So, a few minutes later, Tim followed his daughter into the baptismal trough. After everyone celebrated with them, McWethy asked Willow, “Did you have any idea this would happen?” Incredulous, she smiled and replied, “No.”

The pastor gives all glory to God. “There is power in his word. There is power in the gospel.” One GRAND Sunday’s emphasis on baptism helped him and his church to focus not only on baptizing, but also evangelism, McWethy said.

“If I’m gonna baptize somebody, they’ve got to get saved.” McWethy has found a renewed focus in sharing Christ daily because he was given the charge to renew his commitment to baptizing believers. “If it did nothing else, it got our minds thinking about the lost.”

‘One happy Grandma’
McKenzie Boston and Kaitlyn Warren are 15-year-old cousins whose “carefree” lifestyle completely changed when McKenzie’s mother suddenly passed away February 8.

McKenzie and Kaitlyn were brought up rarely going to church despite their mothers’ Christian upbringing. But during their visits with their grandparents, John and Carol Warren, the church-going became more frequent.

“I had a burden for all my children and grandchildren,” Carol said. “But I had especially been praying for my daughters and granddaughters.”

Carol wasn’t satisfied with just praying, however, and put her prayer into action. She wanted her children and grandchildren to know where her faith stood. “Every time they visited, I would take them to church.” Carol’s influence paid off and her daughters began attending Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville—the church where they had both been baptized.

Emmanuel Carlinville

Pastor Cliff Woodman of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville baptizes McKenzie Boston.

The death of McKenzie’s mom came as a shock to the family. The young cousins started thinking more seriously about their own faith and what happens after life on earth. Kaitlyn’s mom, Cheryl, began talking to both girls about Jesus and the salvation he offered from ultimate death.

“The girls were ready by this time to have a relationship with Christ,” Carol said. She laughed, “But they wanted to wait for their grandmother to talk to them.”

On Friday, April 6, Carol talked through the Romans Road with her granddaughters and prayed with them as they received Christ. “It was such an answer to prayer!” she said. “And such a relief for me to know the hope of their salvation.” After talking to their pastor, Cliff Woodman, they prepared to publicly proclaim their salvation to the church on April 8—One GRAND Sunday.

“It was a very emotional time for us all,” Carol said. “But perhaps most especially for me.”

Carol had led her own daughters to the Lord years earlier and had seen the two of them get baptized. Now, she was watching her own granddaughters, whom she had also led to Christ, get baptized in the same church.

“It was very special for me,” Carol said. “I’m just one happy grandma!”

-IB Team Report

The Briefing

David Platt is ready to leave the IMB
When David Platt became a teaching pastor at a DC-area megachurch last year, onlookers wondered whether the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) could really do both jobs. Platt answered them announcing that he will end his three-and-a-half-year tenure at the IMB to work at McLean Bible Church as soon as the Southern Baptist missions agency can find his replacement.

Christian baker wins Calif. court battle
A California trial court has upheld a Christian baker’s right to refuse to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, but the decision comes as a similar case is already pending in the nation’s highest court. Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller’s freedom of speech “outweighs” the state of California’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace, Judge David R. Lampe said in his decision in the Superior Court of California in Kern County, one of the state’s 58 trial courts.

CBF nixes ‘absolute’ LGBT hiring ban, maintains it for leaders
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Governing Board has voted to lift the Fellowship’s “absolute prohibition” of hiring homosexual and transgender employees. But CBF “leadership positions in ministry” and missionary roles still will be limited to individuals “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and man,” according to a hiring “implementation procedure” also adopted by the Governing Board. Other positions will be open to “Christians who identify as LGBT.”

Beth Moore, other evangelical leaders publish a letter urging action on immigration
A diverse group of evangelical leaders have put their names on a full-page ad in the Washington Post urging the President and Congress to act on immigration and refugee policy. It has some of the same signatures who have long focused on the welcoming part of immigration. However, it also adds some interesting names, including Bible teacher Beth Moore and popular author Jen Hatmaker, two women who have become increasingly vocal in the Trump era.

Changes in abortion legislation sweeping the country
2017 saw more wins for pro-life legislation than pro-abortion legislation. Including those adopted in 2017, states have enacted 401 abortion restrictions since January 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Legislators in 30 states have introduced abortion bans, with six states enacting new laws in 2017.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press (2), Washington Post, Stream

Fully staffed Court poised to rule on religious liberty issues

Christians and other conservatives hoped the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April would tilt the court toward a favorable view of religious liberty concerns. As a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gorsuch’s rulings supported Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

So far, Gorsuch’s previous rulings have extended to his time on the High Court. In June, he was part of 7-2 ruling that found Christian schools should have the opportunity to be awarded government grants for playground upgrades. And this year, the court has agreed to hear the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.

In 2017, other cases related to religious liberty played out elsewhere in the judicial system:

On Oct. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules to provide relief from the requirement that employers provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions. But a Dec. 15 ruling by a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the new rules.

And late last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the state did not violate the First Amendment rights of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 in 2015 for refusing to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that found the Kleins’ refusal was based on unlawful discrimination against homosexuals.

While Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court was a victory for religious freedom advocates, mixed results from other courts could indicate a contentious year ahead, and new territory for the church to navigate.

– With reporting from Baptist Press

The Briefing

J.D. Greear to be SBC president nominee again
Two years after withdrawing from a closely contested election for Southern Baptist Convention president, North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear once again will be nominated for SBC president, Florida pastor Ken Whitten announced Jan. 29. In a statement released to Baptist Press, Greear said, “I am again allowing my name to be placed in nomination” after “a lot of prayer, encouragement and counsel, with the consent of our [Summit] leadership team and Veronica my wife.”

Among themes Greear would emphasize as SBC president, he wrote, are “the Gospel above all” as the convention’s source of unity; “cultural and racial diversity”; “intentional, personal evangelism”; “church planting”; and “engagement of the next generation in cooperative giving and mission.”

After baptism gone wrong, court weakens church protections
A year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided a Muslim convert to Christianity couldn’t sue First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa for inadvertently alerting his would-be murderers with its online announcement of the baptism. Ten months later, the justices changed their minds, issuing a decision that the man could have his day in court. Last week, First Presbyterian has asked the state’s top court to take a third look at the case, arguing that the justices mixed up two separate issues of law: the ecclesiastical extension/church autonomy doctrine and the ministerial exception.

Barna: Atheism doubles among Generation Z
More than any other generation before them, Gen Z (born between 1999 and 2015) does not assert a religious identity. They might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations, many of whom received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.

Same-sex couples fight citizenship battle
Two same-sex couples filed lawsuits this week against the U.S. State Department, arguing it unlawfully discriminated against them by denying their children U.S. citizenship. Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, LGBT advocates have been pushing back against laws that uphold the biological reality that every child is the genetic offspring of just one man and one woman and that a biological connection carries weight.

The internet has made Americans more casual about religion
A recent study by Baylor University has found evidence that the more we use the internet, the less likely we are to have a specific religious affiliation or to believe in and practice one religion exclusively. The study found that 55% of Americans don’t use the internet to access religious or spiritual content; another 23% said they do so at most once a month. Three-quarters of Americans said they never talk about their religious views on social media.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research, World Magazine, Gizmodo

Table Grace

It starts with a simple invitation.

“Have dinner with us.”

In a world where people tend to isolate themselves from their neighbors, Chad Williams and his family are recapturing an old-school concept to make a gospel difference in their community.

The family of five has a vision for biblical hospitality. They’re on a mission to bring people into their home and around their table to hear the gospel.

“They need Jesus, so we want them to come over to our house and see what it looks like to be a family that follows Christ,” said Williams, former family pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur and the new senior pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church.

“All of our flaws, all of our issues, our dirty house,” Williams said. “This is who we are.”

The Williamses try to designate one night a week to invite people to their home for a meal. It’s not fancy—tacos or chili. And it’s not necessarily reciprocated. But the family has been able to sow seeds of the gospel, and they’ve seen results. Recently, they invited a family from church to dinner. The father, not yet a Christian, engaged in several hours of conversation with the Williamses.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know our neighbors, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.” – Chad Williams, Rochester FBC

“He had a perception of who Christians were…as he got to spend time with us, there became this openness,” Williams said. A few weeks later, the man decided to follow Christ.

Asked if the commitment to spend time with others each week impinges on their family time, Williams said no, because it’s a shared commitment. The family is still at home, still sharing a meal together. They’re just inviting another family to join them. “We see this as part of our mission,” he said, “and we want to be on mission as a family.”

How can we help?
Chris Merritt and his wife, Alyssa, moved to Blue Mound, Ill., seven years ago. Both raised in central Illinois, the couple knew they wanted to live in a smaller town. Blue Mound, a community of around 1,200, is where they’re raising their two pre-teen sons.

Their church, Tabernacle Baptist in Decatur, sponsors two small groups in the region where the Merritts live. Along with their fellow life group members, the family is invested in building relationships in Blue Mound through community activities and by simply looking for opportunities to meet needs.

About a year ago, the Merritts approached their local school to see how they could help out. When the principal identified mentoring as an area of need, the couple and others from their church started a mentoring program.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.” – Chris Merritt, Tabernacle BC

“It’s just a regular, consistent positive influence of adults into kids’ lives who maybe need an extra positive influence,” said Merritt, who serves as church administrator at Tabernacle. The 12 students in the mentoring program have lunch every other week with their mentors. For that hour, he said, someone is asking them questions, encouraging them, and helping them make good decisions.

Outside of the mentoring program, the Merritts also are involved in Blue Mound through community sports leagues—the kids as players, and Merritt as a coach. He said being involved in the community through their kids’ activities is a natural choice. And they try to be intentional about making the most of their opportunities.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.”

Faith in action
Erica Luce credits her husband’s upbringing for her children’s willingness to serve their neighbors. “Dan spent his life serving others because his parents were so others-focused,” said the member of Delta Church in Springfield. That’s why their three children can often be found raking or shoveling to help a neighbor, or baking a welcome present for neighborhood newcomers.

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God,” Luce said. “They see faith in action, whether they want it or not.”

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God.” – Erica Luce, Delta Church

It’s been contagious on their block too, she said, recalling a time when her 12-year-son was shoveling a neighbor’s driveway and another neighbor came out to help.

Seeing the family home as missionary tool—whether it’s a place to invite people to, or a place missionaries are sent out of—is something Christians needs to recapture, Chad Williams said. Too often, we’ve lost the idea that our neighborhoods and workplaces are mission fields. Instead of seeing people’s need for Jesus, we see our co-workers and neighbors simply as people we interact with—and, if they’re hurting, we often don’t know it.

Rather than backing away from a culture that seems increasingly far from the gospel, Christian families have an opportunity to lean in closer, Williams said.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know them, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.”

Silent no more, abuse victims speak out

Movie producer Harvey Weinstein was only the first of countless celebrity men disgraced by allegations of sexual harassment and assault in 2017. And as the names added up—each seemingly more famous and more familiar and more unlikely than the last—so did the names and faces of their victims.

On social media, #metoo became a rallying cry for women who have been abused or oppressed or pushed aside or used by men in power. When Time named their most influential people of 2017, “the silence breakers” topped the list.

And lest those outside of Hollywood or Washington fall prey to a cavalier “who’s next” attitude, another hashtag soon appeared on Twitter: #churchtoo, used to denote people who have been abused by religious leaders, or those whose church has failed to support them when they reported an abusive situation.

In January, an associate pastor at non-denominational Highpoint Church in Memphis admitted an instance of sexual misconduct 20 years ago after the victim, then a high school student, shared her #metoo story. When the pastor, Andy Savage, spoke to his church the Sunday after the story broke, he received a standing ovation. His accuser, Jules Woodson, told The New York Times the ovation was “disgusting.”

“It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim,” Woodson said. “What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”

Late last year, more than 140 evangelical women signed on to a statement decrying abuse with the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. “This moment in history is ours to steward,” reads the statement. “We are calling churches, particularly those in our stream of the Christian faith—evangelical churches—to end the silence and stop all participation in violence against women.”

As churches and their leaders move into a 2018 still reeling from scandal, the most pressing challenge may well be discerning how the Bible should inform and instruct Christians living in a #metoo culture. And answering this question: When a few women are silence breakers on behalf of a great many, what does that say about what the church is saying to and about women?

“The contributions of women in the advancement of the kingdom are essential and indispensable,” author and teacher Jen Wilkin said at a conference recently. “If we have crafted a vision for the church in which women are extra, in which women are nice but not necessary, we have a crafted a vision for the church that is foreign to the Scriptures.”