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Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

SBC workgroup clears 6 churches, says 3 warrant further inquiry
During a Feb. 18 report in Nashville, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear named 10 Southern Baptist churches mentioned in a recent newspaper report on sexual abuse, asking the SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup to determine whether the churches have operated with a faith and practice closely aligned to the SBC’s adopted statement of faith.

The workgroup responded Feb. 23, reporting that while three of the churches warrant further inquiry, six do not. The response was met with dismay and outrage by victims and advocates, including Rachael Denhollander, a member of Greear’s Presidential Study Group on Sexual Abuse.

“J.D. Greear and some leaders have been seeking expert/survivor help and moving forward with firm first steps to change,” Denhollander tweeted. “The EC has undermined and destroyed that effort. I hope these mistakes are due to lack of learning and that they will withdraw, seek help and remedy these errors.”

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteer childcare room brings peace after shooting
Three days after a gunman killed five people at an Aurora manufacturing plant, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the scene to minister to grieving families.

Methodists vote to uphold Biblical sexuality
The United Methodist Church on Tuesday voted at its international conference in St. Louis, Mo., to apply its standards on Biblical marriage and sexuality more consistently throughout the denomination, according to World Magazine.

Executive Committee: Presidential nomination coming ‘very soon’
Illinois Baptist pastor Adron Robinson said the SBC’s Executive Committee has identified “God’s candidate” for their presidential vacancy. Robinson, search committee vice chairman and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, said Feb. 19 the search committee cannot announce the candidate’s name yet because they have not officially notified the person of their intent to nominate him.

10-year-old advises SBC leaders on value of kids in ministry
Ten-year-old Zak McCullar brightened the Executive Committee’s February meeting with his presentation in favor of a Children’s Ministry Day across the Southern Baptist Convention. McCullar, who made a motion supporting the idea during last summer’s SBC annual meeting, spoke to the EC during their final session Feb. 19.

Greear: ‘Abuse is never the fault of the abused’
One day after two newspapers released an investigation into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear urged victims of abuse who haven’t reported it to reach out for help. “Abuse is never the fault of the abused,” Greear said in an article co-authored with biblical counselor Brad Hambrick. “The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.”

The article includes resources for finding help to deal with the trauma of abuse, and also counsel for pastors and church leaders. “People in our churches and community need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation,” Greear and Hambrick wrote. “The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.”

IBSA releases statement on abuse
Following the Houston Chronicle’s report on sexual abuse, the Illinois Baptist State Association urged churches to employ a rigorous screening process for potential staff and volunteers.

“As one national leader pointed out, Southern Baptist churches do not have bishops, but are a priesthood of believers,” the statement reads. “That means all believers in Jesus Christ are personally responsible to God, and as church members are responsible to and for each other. As such, we all must take care to protect each other, especially children and the vulnerable. In addition, when local church leaders become aware of abuse or the potential for abuse, they should deal swiftly and legally with the perpetrators.”

Millennials lukewarm on evangelism
Nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian Millennials believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Barna Research also found that despite their hesitance, the overwhelming majority of Millennial Christians believe witnessing about Jesus is part of being a Christian.

Greear names diverse Committee on Committees
Reflecting his commitment to promote diversity in Southern Baptist leadership, SBC President J.D. Greear named a 2019 Committee on Committees he said is “truly a reflection of Christ’s kingdom.” The group will nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who will, in 2020, nominate trustees for the boards of SBC entities. The committee includes two members from each Baptist state convention; Illinois’s representatives are Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Churh in Chicago, and David Sutton, pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago.

5 moments from the National Prayer Breakfast
The Feb. 7 gathering included bipartisan prayer, reports The Christian Post, along with worship led by Chris Tomlin, a testimony from a Christian doctor who helped fight Ebola, and a plea to end human trafficking.

‘We’re here to help’
Across the country, local churches and national ministries ministered to furloughed federal workers during the recent 35-day government shutdown. “We’re here to help,” said Don Williams, who with his Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief team served three meals a day to federal workers.

President Donald Trump and Congress reached a deal last week that will keep the government open until Feb. 15. During the record-breaking shutdown, Christians found ways to help, donating gifts cards, setting up makeshift food pantries, and helping furloughed workers pay their bills.

Former White House staffer criticizes Trump advisers
A former White House communications staffer asserts in a new book that President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisers didn’t push the president to offer asylum to persecuted Christians. Trump adviser Johnnie Moore disputed the claims in Cliff Sims’ book “Team of Vipers,” telling The Christian Post he had “personally witnessed on many occasions the exact opposite of what this author alleges.”

Illinois Baptist named to 2019 SBC Committee on Resolutions
IBSA President Adron Robinson will serve on the Committee on Resolutions for the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention this summer in Birmingham. Robinson and his fellow committee members will consider resolutions submitted prior to the meeting, and also may propose their own.

Pro-life advocates dismayed by Pritzker’s executive order
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Jan. 22 to enforce a law directing state employee health insurance plans to include abortion services. The move disappointed pro-life advocates wary of how the new governor might seek to expand abortion rights in the state.

Moore: Christians can speak dignity into a dehumanizing culture
“God does not ignore what happens to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable and marginalized and the unborn and the elderly and the stranger,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore preached at the annual Evangelicals for Life conference Jan. 17. The two-day meeting, held prior to the March for Life on the National Mall, gathered Christians for discussions on the sanctity of life, including abortion, adoption, refugees, and criminal justice reform.

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and a slate of other leaders were sworn in today in Springfield, signaling what many supporters have called “a new day” for Illinois. At a prayer service at historic First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln and his family once worshiped, Pritzker and five other constitutional officers were prayed over by their own spiritual leaders to start their terms of service in Illinois.

Under the church’s towering stained glass windows, faith leaders also read passages from the Bible and the Quran, and talked about the principles held closest by people who practice their faith traditions. They spoke of justice and mercy, ideals Pritzker talked about when discussing his own Jewish faith and upbringing in an interview last summer.

pritzker_prayer_web

Rabbi Seth M. Limmer prays for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) at a service prior to his inauguration.

They celebrated the leaders who were elected in November, and spoke hopefully of how their service will benefit the people of Illinois. The crowd packed into wooden pews cheered Springfield pastor T. Ray McJunkins’ optimistic message with its refrain of “the best is yet to come.” The prayer service was a good way to start inauguration day, many would say later.

As I sat in the sanctuary, my thoughts turned to people of faith who weren’t represented on the platform. How should members of our Illinois Baptist churches engage with an administration whose views on many issues undoubtedly run counter to their own? We’ll cover that topic in a longer story in the Jan. 21 issue of the Illinois Baptist, but for now, I can say I left the prayer meeting hopeful.

My hope isn’t based on political agendas or the current administration’s position on specific issues—indeed, I disagree with more than I agree with in those areas. Rather, my hope stems from wisdom I heard while reporting on Gov. Pritzker’s inauguration: Real victory doesn’t rely on political victory. As Southeastern Seminary’s Bruce Ashford told me, “We do what we do out of witness and obedience, and not because we have to win.”

pritzker_inauguration_web

Gov. Pritzker and his family are introduced at the inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton said something similar after her swearing-in today. Community building is done when we put our own self-interests on hold, she said, and commit to working side-by-side. Even when it’s hard.

While I wasn’t necessarily represented on the platform today, I did hear the call to engage the process even when my side isn’t winning. That reminder was a good way to start inauguration day.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.