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Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

Kick-off includes new blog, podcast tailored to Baptist women
Connection is the main goal of the newly launched Southern Baptist Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). “Historically in SBC life men have had multiple options to connect in this way,” said WLN steering committee member Kathy Ferguson Litton. “Women have had very few environments where we could organically relate, mentor, and collaborate across all the domains in which we lead. It is time to change that.”

The network includes a podcast, blog, and Facebook page, and will hold its first meeting June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

Congress yet to act on church tax law
A coalition of religious leaders is still pursuing action by U.S. lawmakers they say will relieve churches of a costly tax burden. Current law requires churches to file tax returns, some as early as this spring. The U.S. House of Representatives voted late last year to reverse the provision—Section 512(a)(7) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—but the Senate didn’t have the votes to approve the reversal, Baptist Press reported.

“Uncle Sam is welcome in our churches,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, one of the leaders calling for repeal of the provision. “But we don’t work for him. And Congress should end this deeply un-American tax on churches immediately.”

Baptists choose ‘proven leader’ to helm Executive Committee
Arkansas pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was elected April 2 to lead the denomination’s Executive Committee, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Floyd, 63, will be a key part of the SBC’s response to current challenges, including helping churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors of abuse.

Mormon Church softens stance on same-sex marriage
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced April 4 that members in same-sex marriages will no longer be designated apostates to their faith. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the church said. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

The change in policy also will allow children of LGBT members to be baptized in the church, Religion News Service reported.

Iraqi Christians could face deportation
An appeals court declined April 2 to hear further arguments from 1,400 Iraqi natives detained in immigration raids in 2017. The group includes more than 100 Detroit-area Chaldean Christians, Christianity Today reports, who would face returning to one of the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

 

 

 

Unaffiliated now numerically on par with America’s largest religious groups
People who aren’t affiliated with any religion now make up just over 23% of the U.S. population, matching evangelicals and Catholics for the first time. (The groups are separated by less than one percentage point.) Information from the General Social Survey shows a steady climb for ‘nones,’ who in 1972 accounted for just 5.1% of the population.

In 2012, ‘nones’ hit the national radar when Pew reported on the group’s rapid growth.

Trump signs executive order to protect speech on campus
Charging some universities with trying to “shut down the voices of great young Americans,” President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 21 directing federal agencies to deny research and education grants to institutions that restrict free speech.

U.S. indicates policy shift on embattled Golan Heights
President Trump recognized March 25 Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied area in Syria. Read more about the region’s significance, and history of conflict, here.

Violence in Nigeria has reportedly claimed hundreds of lives this year
The conflict in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims was deadlier in 2018 than in previous years, and has continued into this year, with one agency reporting 400 Christians died in the first three months of 2019. The Christian Post offered this explainer of the conflict, made even more complicated by competing narratives, the outlet reported.

City council grounds airport Chick-Fil-A
Officials in San Antonio have excluded Chick-Fil-A from restaurants to be added to the city’s airport, citing the chicken chain’s “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.” The Atlanta-based company replied it “would welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue with the city council and we invite all of them into our local stores to interact with the more than 2,000 team members who are serving the people of San Antonio.”

-Facts and Trends, Pew Research, Baptist Press, BBC News, Reuters, The Christian Post, USA Today

 

 

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.