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Judge Neil Gorsuch

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch continued his first week on the bench with what many Court watchers have said could be the most important case of this term. The justices heard oral arguments April 19 on “the Playground Case,” which involves a church-owned preschool’s fight to participate in a state grant program.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., sued the state after its preschool was denied participation in a program that funds safer recreation spaces for kids. (Trinity’s playground is gravel, but operators wanted to replace it with a rubberized surface made from recycled tires.)

The preschool was denied funding, even though it ranked fifth out of 44 applicants, and 14 of those applicants received grants the year the school applied, USA Today reported. At issue is a Missouri provision that prohibits religious institutions from receiving public money.

But multiple media outlets reported that opening arguments before the Supreme Court favored the Missouri church, with even some liberal-leaning justices appearing to side with the preschool’s right to participate in the program.

According to USA Today, concerns raised by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer during the oral arguments could result in a 7-2 decision (should conservatives John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch move in the expected direction). However, the newspaper reported, the Court will perhaps rule “on narrow grounds, so as not to set a broad, nationwide precedent on public funding for religious institutions.”

It’s also possible that the Court could rule the case moot, since Missouri Governor Eric Greitens recently instructed the state’s Department of Natural Resources to allow churches to apply for and receive funding from state grant programs.

Prior to Tuesday’s arguments, the case was thought to be an issue on which Gorsuch would help shift the Court toward the school’s side. The former appellate judge previously ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the company’s fight over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that corporations cover birth control—including drugs such as Plan B and Ella—in their employee health care plans.

The Playground Case has been in a holding pattern for more than a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and a subsequent Senate hold on former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, left the Court with only eight justices.

Judge suspended in same-sex marriage case
The Alabama Chief Justice who instructed the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been suspended without pay for the rest of his term. Judge Roy Moore told 68 probate judges in January that they had a duty not to issue the licenses until the Alabama Supreme Court could clarify the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage.

A 9-judge panel didn’t get the unanimous vote needed to remove Moore from office, but the suspension has the same result, Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver, said. They plan to appeal the ruling.

Some fear Internet change could threaten religious liberty
As of Oct. 1, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit organization that oversees domain names, is now governed by an independent board rather than the U.S. Department of Commerce. The shift has been seen by some as dangerous to religious liberty.

But while the change likely doesn’t pose a big threat to religious liberty, says a Baptist software engineering professor, it could allow people with an anti-religion agenda to block some websites with Christian content.

‘Free Speech’ act would loosen guidelines for churches
Two Republican Congressmen have introduced legislation that would make it easier for churches and non-profits to speak in favor of political candidates. The Free Speech Fairness Act is designed to counteract the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which limits political speech by churches and other organizations that receive tax-exempt status. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment if he’s elected.

Split down the middle
Americans are evenly divided on two key religious liberty issues, according to a new study by Pew Research. 48% of Americans say businesses that provide wedding services should be able to refuse to provide those services to same-sex couples based on religious conviction, while 49% disagree. Americans are similarly divided on whether transgender individuals should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender with which they currently identify.

Publisher changes its mind on ESV
A Bible publisher has reversed its decision to make the text of the ESV Bible permanent. Crossway had previously announced that after tweaks on 29 verses, the ESV translation would “remain unchanged in all future editions.”

“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake,” President and CEO Lane Dennis said in a Sept. 28 release. “Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”

 

 

9-12-16-ib-cover-art-part-2Editor’s note: This is part two of a round table discussion between four Illinois pastors. Read part one here.

Illinois Baptist: What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make over the years to reach across cultures?

John Yi: Part of Bethel SBC wanting to become a community church means we really have to become less Korean. In Korean churches, it is almost a universal practice to have a lunch fellowship after worship service and it is almost always Korean food. When I first proposed not doing Korean food anymore, there was an uproar. I’m like, “Why can’t we just do sandwiches or order pizza once in a while or do spaghetti and meatballs?” That’s how it was at the beginning, but now I can’t remember the last time we had a Korean meal at church. Our members have really taken to this idea that we have to make it more accessible. We want to get rid of all the barriers.

When you weigh the value of the gospel and the kingdom of God, I think sometimes those things that seemed so important to us start to lose their luster.

IB: What victories have you seen as you’ve navigated these issues?

Marvin Del Rios: We are a predominately or all Hispanic church in a community that has changed in the last seven to ten years; a lot of young professionals are moving in. They always saw us as a Hispanic church. But because we’ve asked the second-generation people we’re reaching to invest back into their first-generation parents and grandparents, we are now seeing where we can come out of our comfort zone in ministering to those young professionals.

We have tried to make our church a hub for the community. We are housing an AA meeting for families and a lot of contemporary culture kinds of programs. In a nutshell, they know that we are there to serve.

9-12-16-ib-panel-photo

Kevin Carrothers, Marvin Del Rios, John Yi, and Adron Robinson discuss cross-cultural ministry challenges and opportunities.

IB: Are there questions you ask yourself about particular ministries or outreaches to keep from trying to do everything all the time?

Kevin Carrothers: I think it’s okay to say we are a small church. As a small church, we can’t do what a megachurch does. That doesn’t mean we can’t still have influence. We have to say, and I think John used the word niche earlier, what is the niche? What are going to be the definable core values of the church?

Yi: We cannot be all things to all the needs. One response to that is that we pray for more laborers, but I think God really has given us more laborers in the field than we are recognizing. In Mt. Prospect, there are folks that speak 10 different Eastern European languages near us, a whole bunch of folks from various parts of India, Central and South America, Asians; we can’t learn all those languages to speak to them, but we know there are people in our community that do know those languages and are believers, and there are churches that have some of those people groups in their congregations already.

That’s one of the reasons we try to partner with our neighboring churches, even if they are not all Southern Baptist. We have to appreciate that those are Gospel-preaching brothers too, and we are going to spend a lot of time with them in the kingdom of God, so we better start doing it.

Del Rios: There’s the key word right there, kingdom. It’s God’s kingdom.

IB: Have you ever failed at a cross-cultural ministry attempt?

Yi: I can think of one particular failure that was really my preconceived notions about what would be okay or acceptable or most relevant for our community. We don’t see a lot of it in Illinois, but in the South there are a lot of churches that still have youth choirs. I remember the first youth choir that called us and wanted to come as a mission team to Maywood. I was really reluctant to even take them, because they really wanted to do a show in Maywood and they were from an affluent, white suburb. I’m thinking, “Well, okay, we need the help.” They arrived and did a show at Navy Pier one night. I went out there to check them out and one of the elements of their show was a rap. I’m thinking, “Oh, no. I hope they don’t do the rap in Maywood because we have serious rappers in our town and if they try to do it, they might get laughed out of there.”

I had this preconceived notion that it was going to totally fail. But they did it in public in a park with 300 people in the community out there, and everybody was going crazy. They just loved it. The failure was my preconceived notion that I know what black people want or what my neighbors want and this is not it, but they thought it was the most awesome thing they ever saw.

Carrothers (laughing): If you invited me to rap, they would laugh me out of there.

IB: What from your ministry experience would you say to encourage pastors and churches who are seeking to cross cultures for the sake of the gospel?

Yi: Now I love having youth choirs come because of the variety of things they do to be creative and it’s just fun. I’ve never had a youth choir that was a fail.

Del Rios: Food is a big link in the Hispanic community. And it is more that they want to show you, especially the first generation. They want to show you their culture. They want to show you their homemade food. That means fast all day and go over there, and then they will start making a plate for you to take home.  That’s one thing that has worked very well. I just go in there and let them show me everything, not just go in there and preach.

Adron Robinson: Whatever culture you’re going to engage, it’s going to begin with relationships. Start a relationship with a pastor in a different culture. Talk to him about how to engage his culture. Also, it has to be done in love. You have to lead in love. Everybody wants love and needs love. Going back to John 13:35, when people see love, it will break down barriers.

There’s nothing that can’t be reconciled at the cross. You don’t have to agree on everything as long as we agree that the gospel comes first.

Read the Illinois Baptist online ibonline.IBSA.org.

Charlotte churches pray for peace
“Now is the time for heartfelt and sincere prayers, not political and personal-agenda driven rhetoric,” Pastor Phillip R.J. Davis posted on his church’s website in the wake of violence and protests in Charlotte, N.C.

His Southern Baptist congregation, Nations Ford Community Church, and others in the community held prayer meetings as their city continued to feel the aftermath of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, and subsequent protests that turned violent, resulting in the death of another man, Justin Carr.

Film recounts race to save missionaries
Samaritan’s Purse and Executive Producer Franklin Graham will release “Facing Darkness” next spring, a documentary recounting the race to save missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol after they contracted the Ebola virus during a 2014 epidemic that killed 11,000 people. The film, which includes interviews with those on the frontlines of fighting the virus, will be shown in select cities for one night only on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Most not hopeful about election outcome
With the presidential election just over a month away, only a small percentage of Americans say Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would make a “great” or “good” president, according to new polling from Gallup.

Up from the grave
Christian in Southeast Asia witnessed a seemingly miraculous event when a village leader believed to be dead came back to life as they prayed over him. International Mission Board President David Platt recently recounted the story to Southern Baptist Convention leaders, adding that God’s work in the region has continued, as people have come to know Christ and have burned their idols.

Creature comfort
Mourners at a New York funeral home receive an extra measure of comfort from Lulu, a therapy dog who “prays” with grievers by putting her paws on them and tilting her head down. The goldendoodle is an “added source of comfort” and “a calming presence” to people who are grieving, says her owner, Matthew Fiorillo.

debate 2There aren’t many aspects of the current national election that should be emulated at the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention. But here’s one: Messengers in St. Louis would be well served by a candidates’ debate of sorts—a public discussion among those running for SBC president.

There are several reasons to add this kind of discussion to the Convention schedule, starting with the issues poised to be central to the 2016 meeting. The key topics Baptists are beginning to talk about now will be very significant in how the SBC moves forward on matters like supporting missionaries, doing evangelism well, and shaping the denomination’s identity in a post-Christian culture.

Last year’s Convention used panel discussions to offer various perspectives on pressing issues. The format could translate easily to a conversation about what each candidate sees as the key issues facing the SBC, and why they feel they’re qualified for the job.

Furthermore, each of the announced candidates has proven they’re willing to work with the larger Baptist family to accomplish shared goals. David Crosby worked with other pastors in New Orleans to help rebuild the city following Hurricane Katrina. Steve Gaines was part of the committee that revised The Baptist Faith and Message in 2000. J.D. Greear has shared platforms and panels with a variety of thinkers from across the Convention.

Surely they’d be willing to share their ideas about the SBC and its future if it meant more messengers (voters) would have a clearer picture of who they believe can lead it best.

Blogger and pastor Dave Miller recently noted what is perhaps the most practical reason for a debate: Everybody’s talking about this stuff already.

Miller advocated in a March post on SBC Voices that Baptists break with tradition and encourage campaigning for the office of SBC president, with one of his main reasons being that “politicking” has always been a part of the process, just a behind-the-scenes part. With the rise of social media, Miller wrote, “we have the opportunity to hear from our candidates.”

Yes, prior to the Convention, we can hear from the candidates through one-on-one interviews and podcasts. But let’s go one step further. Let’s have a civil, helpful discourse in St. Louis on the state of the SBC, its current challenges, and how each candidate would direct the denomination toward fulfilling God’s Great Commission to make disciples.

Odis_WeaverMarion | Are we really committed to the work of God, or just watching on the sidelines?

Odis Weaver challenged Illinois Baptist churches that operating out of faith, rather than fear, is how they will advance God’s kingdom in the state and beyond. Furthermore, Weaver preached this afternoon, we must seek God’s favor rather than mere familiarity with him.

“If our churches are going to advance the kingdom of God, we must be first on our faces confessing our sin,” said Weaver, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Plainfield and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

“We must grow tired and weary of a partial repentance that means nothing except to soothe our conscience for a moment. And our people must follow our lead in doing that.”

You can know about God from a place of comfort, Weaver said, but you can’t really get to know him.

“We have a community that’s lost. We have a state that’s doomed. We have a nation that’s rolling as fast as it can roll to hell. Our churches need leaders who will lead by faith and courage, who will be honest about their sin, who will be humbled before each other. If we’re going to advance the kingdom of God, it’s got to happen.”

The IBSA Annual Meeting (#IBSA15) continues tonight at 6:40. Learn more about the meeting at www.IBSA.org/IBSA2015.

NEWS | As the country marked the one-month anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, religious institutions continued to wrestle with the possible implications.

“The Supreme Court left unresolved what rights faith-based universities will have in regard to their religious liberty,” Gene Crume, president of Judson University in Elgin, Ill., told the Illinois Baptist. “The federal government controls financial aid for students, so there is a very real possibility that there could be restrictions to federal financial aid for faith-based institutions if they do not recognize same-sex relationships.”

Crume also noted that since the Court’s ruling, some leaders have favored protecting the tax-exempt status of faith-based universities that oppose same-sex unions, while others have called to do away with the protection for those institutions.
That particular concern arose during oral arguments heard by the Court prior to their decision, when Justice Samuel Alito asked if institutions like religious schools could lose their tax-exempt status if they opposed same-sex unions. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli responded that “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told The Weekly Standard in July that he had no “quick answer” about the “challenging area” presented by schools and their religious liberty concerns.

“There’s no question this was an historic decision, and now we’re going to go through a series of suggestions for new laws to implement it,” Durbin said. “I can’t predict how this will end. But from the beginning we have said that when it comes to marriage, religions can decide what their standards will be.”

The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service testified before a Senate committee in July that Christian schools will not lose their tax-exempt status if their policies oppose same-sex marriage, The Christian Post reported. But Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) was skeptical of Commissioner John Koskinen’s use of the phrase “at this time” in explaining the IRS’ position.

Lee told media, “While I greatly appreciate Commissioner Koskinen’s word that he will not target religious institutions for their religious beliefs, it worries me and it should worry every American that the IRS does not absolutely disavow the power to target religious institutions based on their religious beliefs, even if the current IRS commissioner has committed not to use that power for the time being.”

SBC entity appeals mandate
GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention announced last month it had filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court against a health care mandate that requires some companies it works with to provide abortion-inducing drugs.

While GuideStone and churches are exempt and will not have to pay penalties for refusing to cover drugs like the morning-after pill, the federal government has argued that other religious employers are protected by an accommodation in the mandate.

In a report on the Baptist Press website, GuideStone General Counsel Harold R. Loftin Jr., said the Southern Baptist entity “has, from the filing of our case, objected to the so-called ‘accommodation’ because the government is attempting to rewrite the terms of GuideStone’s plan” to use the plan “to provide access to drugs and devices GuideStone believes to be impermissible.”

GuideStone officials said they are optimistic that the Supreme Court will accept its appeal by the end of September, but regardless of the outcome, President O.S. Hawkins said the organization remains committed to the ministries potentially affected by the mandate if the Supreme Court upholds it.

With reporting from Baptist Press, BPNews.net