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The BriefingIllinois House urged to reject taxpayer-funded abortions
SpeakOut Illinois, a coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations across the state,  urged lawmakers in the Illinois House to reject legislation allowing taxpayer money to be used for abortions. House Bill 4013 lifts the current prohibition on state workers’ health insurance plans from paying for elective abortions, as well as the prohibition on using public money to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid patients. The piece of legislation could be called up for a vote as early as this week.

How many Christians are in the new Congress?
Pew’s Religion & Public Life found that 90.7% of the 115th Congress identify as Christian, a statistic that has changed little in over a half century of keeping record. “The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s,” noted Pew. Of the 91% Christian majority, 31.4% are Catholic, 13.5% are Baptist, 8.5% are Methodist, 6.5% are Anglican or Episcopal, and another 6.5% are Presbyterian.

Multi-faith network rescuing women from Isis
A secret underground network operating in Iraq and Syria has reportedly freed more than 3,000 Yazidi women held captive in sexual slavery by Isis. Kurdish and Christian civilians make up the group, along with other ethnic minorities and families of the victims, NGO Yazda has claimed. Rescues are carried out through word of mouth, driven by Yazidis who have escaped capture or whose loved ones are still being held in Isis territory.

Gay couple to pastor historic DC Baptist church
Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors. Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Jan. 8 and will begin their new jobs on Feb. 26. The 150-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012.

S. Baptists lead Congressional Prayer Caucus
Rep. Mark Walker, R.-N.C., will be the new House of Representatives co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, it was announced Jan. 9. Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., the other co-chairman of the prayer caucus, and former Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., made the announcement. All three are members of Southern Baptist churches.

Sources: Illinois Family Institute, Christian Post, Independent, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

Disliking their options, some evangelicals consider withdrawing from presidential politics this time around.

USA symbols mapWith eight months to go until the presidential election, a World magazine survey finds 8 in 10 evangelical leaders say they would vote for an outside third-party candidate as president over Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump has been victorious in several southern states where voters identified heavily as evangelical, sparking a debate over the meaning of the word “evangelical.”

This tension has not been unnoticed by the media. A recent Yahoo Politics article declared, “Donald Trump’s candidacy has sparked a civil war inside American Christianity.” In an essay for the New York Times, Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, asked, “Have evangelicals who support Trump lost their values?” In the article he decries Trump’s past behaviors and urges Christians to vote according to biblical moral values.

World’s March survey of 103 evangelical leaders and influencers showed more than 50% said they would, on principle, “vote for a third-party candidate who had no chance to win.” The survey also found 76% would vote for Sen. Ted Cruz as president if he secured the Republican nomination. In the eight prior surveys, their choice had been Sen. Marco Rubio who has since ended his campaign.

The debate continues over the disconnect between evangelical leaders and some people in the pews. D. C. Innes, King’s College professor and World magazine contributor, told the Deseret News evangelicals support Trump because they believe they’ve lost the culture wars. “Evangelicals, for example, became politically engaged to preserve their way of life and they don’t feel they’ve gotten their support’s worth from politicians. Abortion, gay marriage—they’ve lost on every front,” said Innes. “The support for Trump is an act of desperation: Protect us. We’re not free to be Christians anymore, so you’ve got my vote.”

Turning to Trump, who is decidely not evangelical, is one option. At the other end of the spectrum is The Benedict Option. In 500 AD, after the fall of the Roman empire, Benedict moved to the city of Rome to continue his education. Disgusted by the decadence there, he left the city and withdrew from society. Benedict became a monk and started several monasteries, leading to the Catholic order that bears his name.

Rod Dreher, writing for the American Conservative, calls this “a communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.”

A less severe option calls on Christians not to withdraw, but to focus on their churches as “counter-cultural communities of disciples who covenant to walk together for the sake of worship, catechesis, witness, and service.”

Nathan Finn of Union University says this movement (called the Paleo-Baptist Option because it draws from Baptist history) is necessary because “all Christians need to learn from each other, sharpen one another, and spur each other on to love and good deeds. We need each other as our respective traditions seek to follow Christ and bear witness to his kingship in a culture that is increasingly hostile to all forms of orthodox, full-throated, publicly engaged Christianity.”

Of course, considering either outright withdrawal from politics or shoring up “the Christian resistance against what the empire represents,” possibly by way of supporting a third-party run, is all conjecture at this point. With Super Tuesday behind us, and until both parties choose their nominees for the general election, believing evangelicals can only watch and pray for better options.

The BriefingIllinois judge orders Christian B&B to host same-sex wedding
An Illinois administrative judge has given the owners of a bed and breakfast one year to provide their facility to a gay couple “for an event celebrating their civil union.” The order, part of a decision handed down March 22 in a discrimination case filed by the two men, also includes an $80,000 fine.

Religious liberty focus of new study
A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that the nation’s Christians face growing intolerance, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Two-thirds (63%) say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from half (50%) in 2013. Those surveyed also noted American Christians complain too much.

Feds threaten NC aid over transgender law
The Obama administration is considering whether North Carolina’s new law on gay and transgender rights makes the state ineligible for billions of dollars in federal aid for schools, highways and housing. Cutting off federal money would put major new pressure on North Carolina to repeal the law, which prohibits transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the sexes on their birth certificates.

Abortion pill guidelines eased
The Food and Drug Administration has updated its guidelines concerning the abortion drug mifepristone, allowing women to take it later in pregnancy and with reduced medical supervision. The New York Times called the update “an unequivocal victory for abortion rights advocates.”

Evangelicals love baseball
Religion, it turns out, is a better predictor of who is a baseball fan than age or where one lives. A poll last year by CBS found that while there is a gender gap (but evangelical women are among baseball’s biggest fans), there are also religious differences. The “nones” are less likely to be fans; Catholics and evangelicals are more likely to root, root, root for the home team.

Sources: WORLD Magazine, Facts & Trends, New York Times, Baptist Press, Religion News Service

Top 10

“I feel like in some ways, after 10 years, I’m just figuring things out,” Nate Adams told the Illinois Baptist State Association Board of Directors last month during a celebration of his service as executive director.

Adams offered some reflection on IBSA’s victories over the last ten years, and a few challenges ahead, all in the form of a “top ten list.”

10. Goals and measurements. IBSA now has a consistent, annual pattern of evaluating churches’ needs (surveys), measuring churches’ progress (ACP), setting focused, organizational goals, and measuring effectiveness through multiple, strategic metrics. Our goals are based on facts and feedback, not programs or preferences. Everything from annual budgets to the Annual Meeting theme are driven by purpose and strategy.

9. Strong church participation. Over the past 10 years, IBSA churches baptized 49,584 people and planted 242 new churches. Mission trip participation is up 23% to more than 24,000. Nearly $90 million was given to missions, including more than $64 million through the Cooperative Program (CP). This growth in church participation is in spite of fewer total churches and members.

8. Financial frugality, stability, and health. Over the past 10 years, annual income over expense has averaged $395,000 or around 5% (in 2006 it was $36,608). IBSA’s Cooperative Agreement with the Baptist Foundation of Illinois (BFI) has helped it to grow and for the CP subsidy of BFI to be reduced from a peak of $153,000 to $35,000 in the 2016 IBSA budget.

While 2015 CP giving was $411,000 less than 2009 and NAMB revenue was $252,000 less, IBSA has avoided involuntary lay-offs, and modest compensation increases have been possible each year.

7. Updated and renewed facilities. In 2012, IBSA completed a $1.9-million renovation of its Springfield building and grounds, debt-free and on schedule. The building now hosts groups of up to 250. In 2014, Lake Sallateeska expanded and renovated its dining hall and two other buildings.

6. Staff efficiency and strength. IBSA has trimmed, restructured, and right-sized its staff to adjust to available resources, increased personnel costs, and the evolving needs of churches. Part-time zone consultants are the most notable example. Today, the IBSA staff is not only more diverse, but far more field-based and closer to churches than it was 10 years ago.

5. Effective change management. IBSA has weathered significant economic and social change, from the secular culture, to the national SBC, to local associations and churches themselves. Many organizations and state conventions in particular have had traumatic adjustments to these changes. By acting early, budgeting conservatively, and an “elastic” restructuring, IBSA has for the most part been able to manage a gradual altitude adjustment with minimal negative consequences to IBSA churches. Changes at both the national SBC and local association level present IBSA with new opportunities and challenges for the future.

Those are the victories of the past 10 years. Now the challenges ahead:

4. IBSA churches’ relatively low net impact on lostness in Illinois. While 242 churches have been planted, the net IBSA congregation count has dropped from 1,032 to 957. IBSA churches baptized 4,400 in 2015, yet dropped 3,352 in Sunday School attendance.

3. Reversing health and growth trends among churches. Annual baptisms are down 18% from the 2009 level. Overall worship attendance is now basically the same in 2016 as 2006, though it rose as much as 9.3% (in 2008). Overall Sunday school attendance in 2016 was 17.4% lower than in 2006.

2. Rekindling the passion and renewing the power of cooperation. Some younger leaders and those without Baptist backgrounds do not always understand or buy in to the cooperative missions model. After dropping to 6.8% in 2013 and 2014, the CP giving percentage rebounded to 7.1% in 2015. Nationally, the average is 5.5%. “Engagement” is key for IBSA’s future.

1. Raising the bar of leadership. Most of the challenges and problems with which IBSA churches struggle are rooted in leadership issues. As the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit and 2016 Illinois Leadership Summit demonstrated, there is a hunger for leadership development among IBSA churches and leaders.

Fulkerson and Porter group photo web

Disaster Relief volunteers Bob Fulkerson and his wife Margie (left) and Butch and Debbie Porter (right) rest for a moment during a call out a few years ago in New York. Fulkerson passed away Tuesday, March 29 while serving on a call out in Leesville, La. Both couples are members of First Baptist Church of Galatia, Ill. Photo courtesy Butch and Debbie Porter.

Funeral arrangements have been made for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) volunteer Don Fulkerson, who died of a heart attack Tuesday, March 29, while serving flood victims in Leesville, Louisiana. Fulkerson, 77, was with a group of trained DR workers from First Baptist Church of Galatia, IL, and volunteers from other Illinois Baptist churches.

Visitation will take place Friday, April 1 from 6-9 p.m.  and Saturday, April 2 from 9-11 a.m. at First Baptist Church of Galatia, 108 E. Church St., Galatia, IL 62935. His funeral will be Saturday, April 2 at 11 a.m. also at First Baptist Church of Galatia. Fulkerson was a member of the church.

Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief coordinator for the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA), suggested DR volunteers attending the funeral, “wear your yellow shirts in honor of Don’s faithful service to the Lord through Disaster Relief Ministry.” Southern Baptist DR volunteers are easily identified at disaster recovery scenes by the bright yellow shirts they wear.

“The callout to Louisiana was Don’s 15th response over a period of only four years and his wife, Margie, was almost always by his side serving whenever the opportunity arose,” shared Alexander. “Their faithful service to Christ brought great joy to both of them as they served side by side in the ministry of Disaster Relief.”

Cards of condolence may be mailed to his widow Margie Fulkerson, P.O. Box 5, Galatia, IL 62935.

The DR team from First Baptist Church of Galatia were first responders in what is expected to be a series of callouts to aid victims of spring floods in Louisiana. IIBSA teams will serve alongside teams from around the country.

IBSA has 1,600 trained volunteers who serve as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief ministry (SBDR), the third largest relief agency in the United States. Disaster Relief often responds to natural disasters by providing feeding stations, mobile kitchens, child care, and chaplains. In the case of flooding, volunteers in their signature yellow shirts help homeowners with “mudout,” clearing flooded properties of debris and contaminated building materials, so they can begin rebuilding and recovery.

Don Fulkerson

Don Fulkerson

Leesville, Louisiana | A volunteer with a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) team from Illinois died of a heart attack Tuesday, March 29, while serving flood victims in Leesville, Louisiana. Don Fulkerson, 77, was a member of First Baptist Church of Galatia, Illinois. He was serving with a group of trained relief workers from the church and others from churches around Illinois.

“The callout to Louisiana was Don’s 15th response over a period of only four years and his wife, Margie, was almost always by his side serving whenever the opportunity arose,” said Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief coordinator for the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA). “Their faithful service to Christ brought great joy to both of them as they served side by side in the ministry of Disaster Relief,” Alexander said.

The DR team from First Baptist Church of Galatia were first responders in what is expected to be a series of callouts to aid victims of spring floods in Louisiana. Illinois teams will serve alongside teams from around the country.

“Our Illinois Baptist family certainly grieves with and is in prayer for the Fulkerson family, and the entire church family at First Baptist in Galatia,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “We appreciate so much Don’s and Margie’s service, along with so many other devoted disaster relief volunteers, and we are confident that Don’s life and sacrifice will bring eternal rewards, both to him and to the lives he touched.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) coordinates Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on the national level. NAMB president and former Illinois Baptist pastor Kevin Ezell extended his condolences to the family of Fulkerson as they mourn his passing. “Don is a great example of someone who chose to stay active into his later years and to contribute in a way that truly made a difference in the lives of others,” said Ezell. “I pray that his wife Margie and his entire family will feel God’s love and comfort during these days and that they will also be aware of the gratitude and appreciation for them from their entire Southern Baptist family.”

IBSA has 1,600 trained volunteers who serve as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief ministry (SBDR), the third largest relief agency in the United States. Disaster Relief often responds to natural disasters by providing feeding stations, mobile kitchens, child care, and chaplains. In the case of flooding, volunteers in their signature yellow shirts  help homeowners with “mudout,” clearing flooded properties of debris and contaminated building materials, so they can begin rebuilding and recovery.

Contact:
Illinois Baptist State Association
Lisa Sergent, Director of Communications
3085 Stevenson Drive
Springfield, Illinois 62703
LisaSergent@IBSA.org
(217) 391-3119

 

The BriefingGeorgia governor to veto pastor protection bill
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said he will veto legislation shielding opponents of same-sex marriage, after a groundswell of opposition from companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney, and the NFL threatening to boycott the state if it became law.

Crosby 3rd candidate for SBC president
Louisiana pastor David Crosby will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention, former SBC President Fred Luter announced. During the 20 years Crosby has pastored First Baptist Church in New Orleans, the congregation has given between 7 and 15% of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, Luter said.

Indiana bans Down’s Syndrome abortions
Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a new pro-life bill into law that will, among other things, prevent the abortions of babies diagnosed with a disability or defect. “Some of my most precious moments as governor have been with families of children with disabilities, especially those raising children with Down syndrome,” said Pence.

Suspects, arms seized after attack on Pakistani Christians kills 72
Security forces, hunting for suspects in the deadly Easter Sunday bombing targeting Christians in a Lahore park, raided locations in three cities overnight and arrested suspected terrorists. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed more such attacks.

4 Wycliffe Associates Bible translators murdered
Four Wycliffe Associates workers have been killed in an attack by radicals in the organization’s office in the Middle East. Two of the Wycliffe workers were apparently killed by gunshots, while two others laid on top of the lead translator and died while “deflecting bludgeoning blows from the radicals’ spent weapons,” and managed to save his life.

Sources: Time, Baptist Press, MRCTV, CNN, Christian Post