Archives For Heartland

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Write it down

Lisa Misner —  June 10, 2019

By Nate Adams

If you are a long-time reader of the Illinois Baptist, you probably remember reading something by my father, Tom Adams. Through columns like “Problem Corner,” “Speaking Out,” and simply “Tom Adams,” Dad for 34 years shared practical, biblical perspectives and sometimes personal opinions on a number of contemporary issues. Former IB editor Dennis Dawson once told me that his research had convinced him that Tom Adams had the longest continuously running column series in the history of Baptist papers.

Dad’s columns were so practical and insightful in their content, and yet so down-to-earth in their style, that many readers probably assumed they were effortless on his part. Yet when I visited my mother recently, she showed me two large boxes of books on writing from Dad’s library. In addition to dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar guides, there were titles like Success with Words, Writing A to Z, and Writing Like the Pros.

Dad worked hard on his writing craft because he knew it gave him his largest audience and most lasting influence. It’s not uncommon for me today to walk into a church and have someone pull one of his columns out of their Bible, and tell me how much his writing meant to them, and still does.

But you don’t need a published column for your words to have reach, or lasting influence. For one thing, blogs and social media can give almost anyone a public platform for their words. Local newspapers or community or church newsletters often welcome local writers, and a simple family Christmas letter can touch most the people closest to us. I’ve even seen thoughtfully written birthday, sympathy, or thank-you cards move people to tears.

Thoughtful words have a wonderful, powerful, lasting effect.

Thoughtful words, carefully chosen and delivered with sincerity and love, can have a wonderful, powerful, lasting effect, whether on one person or thousands. I receive at least a hundred e-mails a day, but recently someone wrote me one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think about a very important situation very differently. It has begun a very positive understanding and change in my relationship with that person. That’s the power of thoughtful words, carefully chosen, and delivered with sincerity and love.

So as summer approaches this year, let me encourage you to take some of your quiet time, perhaps some early morning or late evening time on the front porch or the back deck, or even some of your vacation time, and sit down with a pen and pad of paper. What are the most important things you have to say, things that matter, and that are closest to your heart? Who are the most important people in your life, or the people with whom you have the most influence, or who most need to hear your thoughts?

Could you call them on the phone, or even wait until the next time you see them? Maybe. But spoken words are not always heard clearly, and do not always survive the test of time.

Written words, carefully chosen, can have a special clarity, power, and endurance. I think that’s why God has so miraculously assembled, preserved, and inspired his written Word for us, and why John 1 describes Jesus as the Word made flesh to dwell among us.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a writer. As my dad’s stack of books reminds me, we can all improve our writing. But what’s most important is that your words come from the deepest and best parts of who you are, and that they are conveyed in sincerity and love to those who need them most. That’s how God writes. That’s how Tom Adams wrote. Your best thoughts matter too. Write them down.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Improving ordination

Lisa Misner —  June 3, 2019

More careful interview process needed to protect churches

By Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Ordination_web

The ordination process of Southern Baptist churches is a weak spot when it comes to protecting congregations from sexual predators, according to a report released May 9.

The report, “Above Reproach: A Study of the Ordination Practices of SBC Churches,” was conducted by Jason A. Lowe, an associational mission strategist in Kentucky, in response to a Feb. 10 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches.

Lowe began polling pastors and other Baptist leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 20, two days after SBC President J.D. Greear presented 10 calls to action from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, one of which was to enhance the ordination screening process.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the survey is helpful because it inquired about familiar aspects of ordination, but also some that are less often considered. “For example, it asked about various types of background checks as part of the ordination process, and also about how ordination councils can provide follow-up and accountability,” Adams said.

The screening process is a “sacred responsibility” that needs to be taken seriously, Greear said at a February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. He explained that ordination candidates should have no hint of sexual abuse or cover up in their past. Greear asked why background checks are often more rigorous for children’s ministry volunteers than for people being ordained to lead.

Fewer than 1/3 of ordination candidates were required to have a background check.

Ordination, a process that sets a person aside for ministerial service, is left up to each individual Southern Baptist congregation in keeping with the SBC’s policy of church autonomy. Churches may review a person’s salvation experience, pastoral call, qualifications, and potentially his experience or seminary training to determine if he’s an appropriate candidate, according to the SBC’s website, sbc.net.

But Lowe wrote in his article that up until now, no one had a good snapshot of what was actually happening across the SBC when it came to ordination practices. “Very little study” has been done on this topic, he said.

“No one knows how thoroughly candidates for ordination are being examined,”
wrote Lowe, who serves as associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists in southeastern Kentucky, as well as executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville.

“No one knows how many ordination councils require candidates to complete a background check,” he wrote. “No one knows how many ordination councils examine a candidate’s sexual purity.”

In late February and early March, Lowe gathered 555 survey responses. He compiled his findings in a 42-page report and noted five significant points of interest:

1. SBC ordination practices have significant room for improvement. In addition to Greear, other SBC leaders had spoken out about weaknesses in the ordination process ahead of Lowe’s report.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in February that “lackadaisical ordination will produce doctrinally dubious and morally corrupt pastors.” That kind of trend “must end and churches must take responsibility for those men they ordain for ministry,” he wrote.

Thom Rainer, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources, also wrote that because of the weak process, “we ‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.”

Lowe said his report confirmed their observations. “While there are some encouraging trends, [Southern Baptist] churches need to improve our current ordination practices in a number of ways,” he said. For example, only 30.2% of ordained ministers were required to have a background check and only 29.4% were asked about their sexual purity. Also, in roughly 60% of cases, the ordination service was publicized before screening took place and the screening council happened on the same day as the service.

“Ordination is too important and consequential to be handled casually or quickly,” Adams said. “I would start by inviting local associational leadership into the process, and developing a plan for the ordination that allows sufficient time, and that can be thorough and involve as many ordained men as reasonable.” He also suggested churches obtain a guide or checklist of ordination best practices that would include steps of preparation for the candidate and the ordination council.

2. Discussions regarding a candidate’s sexual purity are sparse, but on the rise. Even though sexual purity is not discussed most of the time, the report found that there has been a “significant uptick (40.5%) since 2010.”

During the ordination process, Adams said, questions of an extremely personal nature should be tempered with a sense of appropriateness, respect for the candidate’s privacy, and recognition that past mistakes and especially pre-conversion behavior are not necessarily disqualifiers.

“That being said,” he added, “in today’s world especially, ordination councils—and pastor search teams too, for that matter—are wise to include in their processes background checks, reference checks, and secondary reference checks, and even a loving line of questioning about personal purity.”

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, suggested a standard questionnaire about sexual purity and other moral issues could be helpful for ordination councils.

3. SBC ordination practices are changing in both positive and negative ways. Lowe’s survey garnered information on ordinations spanning every decade since the 1960s, and across the years, a number of trends emerged. Some were positive—for instance, more churches are requiring theological training, and more are conducting background checks and asking candidates about sexual purity.

But on the other hand, the role of the ordination council seems to be decreasing in importance. Screening periods have gotten shorter as a whole, and councils involve fewer ordained pastors.

Pajak recommended councils seek help from others. “Few church members may feel qualified to ask theological questions,” he said. “That is why the practice of church councils inviting associational mission strategists and other pastors to sit in on the questioning is necessary, but unfortunately, rarely done.”

Adams suggested every Baptist ordination council should have at least one, and hopefully several, members who have studied The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Southern Baptists’ statement of faith) thoroughly enough to question the candidate through its articles. “That’s why it can be valuable to have multiple pastors involved in ordination processes, as well as local association or state convention staff that are usually available to help when needed.”

4. Ordaining churches in more populated areas set higher standards for their ordination candidates. The report data showed urban and suburban churches handling the process differently than churches in less-populated areas. City churches more often check on candidates both before and after ordination and require training more often. Rural churches are more likely to publicize the ordination service before a candidate is approved, then conduct the screening on the same day as the service.

Joe Lawson is associational mission strategist in Rehoboth and Louisville Baptist Associations. He agreed with Lowe that interview questions are important, but said they should be part of a longer-term mentoring relationship that starts well before the ordination process. “By the time a person is ordained, they have very likely been in a position of leadership teaching children, youth, and/or coed adults in church. They have also preached,” Lawson said. “A candidate desiring to pursue a call to ministry should have a pastor/mentor who will ask the questions about debt, sexual purity, and other behaviors, i.e. drugs and alcohol. It is easy to hide and not be transparent about the sin in our lives. Yet, leadership demands that we hold each other accountable.”

5. Larger churches are more thorough in their examination of ordination candidates. Churches with a larger membership are more likely to cover more topics during the screening process, require a background check, and require training.

Lawson cautioned against creating too rigid a barrier between ordination and theological education, though. “Personally, I am a little concerned we could establish a hierarchy of clergy and lose the power of the Spirit of God and the call of God in people’s lives,” he said. “Many of our churches are served by folks who are well-read, articulate, and theologically sound, but not formally educated. They are effective pastors serving in small places.”

Lowe didn’t make any specific recommendations for improvements, but he wrote that he shared the findings “with the hope of generating productive conversations among Southern Baptists as we seek ways to improve our ordination practices in the days ahead.”

“Ordination by local churches is one of the grassroots practices that has for generations allowed Baptist churches to recognize and develop leaders, accelerate proclamation of the gospel, and establish new churches more rapidly and expansively than other groups,” Adams said. “That’s why it’s imperative that ordination by local churches be administered responsibly and thoroughly, whether its result is to qualify or to disqualify.”

The full report is available at https://jasonalowe.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/sbc-ordination-practices-report.pdf.

– Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Today’s Christian college students are challenging a common misconception

By Meredith Flynn

Bubble

Spend any time on a Christian college campus and students there will probably fill you in on the major knock against their chosen school: it’s a bubble. The term is used to describe the sheltered environment that nurtures them while they’re in school, but may not prepare them for the real world once they graduate.

The commonly told tale isn’t merely an urban legend, said college senior Drew McKay.

“It very easily could be a bubble,” said McKay, in his fifth year at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. The theology student from Medaryville, Ind., is in Boyce’s seminary track, meaning he’ll earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

“Part of going to a Christian university is a safe place to learn about the doctrines of the Bible without necessarily being challenged outright by faculty members and fellow students,” said McKay.

A 2017 analysis of data by Pew Research Center indicates a college education can bolster the faith of Christian students, particularly among evangelicals. Those who are college graduates are slightly more likely to attend weekly services and pray daily than those with some or no college. They’re also more likely to say religion is very important, and to believe in God with absolute certainty.

Taking that faith to the real world after college, though, is a different matter. McKay looked for an off-campus job where he could put into practice the things he was learning at Boyce. The school, which is the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, requires the same core curriculum of every student, whether they’re majoring in Bible or business administration. That means courses in world religions or apologetics—defending your Christian faith—help students understand how beliefs influence how other people think and act.

For McKay, who’s planning to be a youth minister, another way out of the bubble is through time spent with experienced leaders and fellow students.

“The education I’m getting is wonderful,” he said. “It’s great that I’ve got a theological base and a way to study the Bible. But that’s really half of what I need for ministry.

“Being able to spend time with professors in class and out of class, even to be able to see how to be a good father, husband, pastor, leader, has been one of the huge takeaways for me.” And while he may not share the same specific calling—youth ministry—with every Boyce student, they are all pursuing gospel service, McKay said.

“As ministry gets hard, because it will, I’ll have people to lean on.”

Sacred spaces
At Judson University in Elgin, Ill., Professor Stacie Burtelson’s students are learning how to approach their future vocation through a Christian lens. For the future architects, that means learning to create environments that communicate the value and dignity of human life. Judson was the first Christian university with an accredited architecture program, Burtelson said, because there was a need for Christians in the field to have a place to come together and think about the intersection of vocation and faith.

The next generation of architects is aware of what’s going on in the world, said the professor, who is in her 16th year at Judson. And they want to help. Her undergraduate students focus on humanitarian architecture, the part of the field dedicated to helping people displaced by war, natural disasters, and poverty.

Instruction is still focused on code and the proper structures, Burtelson said, but there is also a focus on how the Christian architect can enter the conversation about what is happening in the world.

Her students are working to answer this question: What does Scripture say about how Christians can use their vocational skills to engage social issues and public need? This spring, sophomore architecture students designed models of emergency shelters. The exercise is based on a national competition sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.

Students in Judson’s graduate program focus more on community-based architecture, thinking through how the Christian architect should approach each project with the goal of helping people thrive in the spaces they create.

“Looking at it from the Christian worldview lens, the ultimate goal isn’t about self or even about being thanked for the work you’ve done. It’s not about notoriety and getting published in this journal or that journal, but it’s about answering the call and really glorifying God,” Burtelson said. The work of a Christian architect might look similar to that of a non-Christian, she added, but the Christian’s work is kingdom work.

That work can build bridges—sometimes literally—to the gospel, Burtelson said, “when you show Christ caring through what you do for those in need.”

– Meredith Flynn

By Meredith Flynn

Baptism

Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago and Pastor Adrian Neiconi (center) celebrated baptisms in April, joining a statewide, month-long focus on evangelism. More than 700 people were baptized in April, including 271 on Easter Sunday alone.

Pat Pajak gestures to a small piece of paper filled with neat script. Each line is the name of a different IBSA pastor or church that has called him to report baptisms in the month of April. On one car ride alone in the middle of the month, he talked to three leaders who were celebrating people who had come to faith in Christ and followed their decisions with baptism.

One GRAND Month, marked in churches around the state in April, was, in a word, grand. Churches reported more than 700 baptisms during the month, and Pajak is still getting reports. And churches are still baptizing. Several pastors have said the April emphasis on evangelism resulted in professions of faith and people wanting to be baptized.

“How in the world are we going to reach 8.5 million people?” Pajak knows the question is overwhelming, especially when estimates say the state has around a hundred times more people who don’t know Christ than Southern Baptists.

If One GRAND Month did anything, he says, it alerted church members to the fact that people all around them are living without a relationship with Christ. “It’s a daunting task if you allow Satan to convince you that it can’t be done. You just say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s not try.’”

But hundreds of churches took up the challenge in April, baptizing 271 people on Easter Sunday and 443 the rest of the month, for a total of 714. Pajak notes that if IBSA churches baptized 700 people every month for a year, it would more than double the number of baptisms reported last year.

“It has alerted people to the necessity of sharing their faith, and that it’s not just the pastor. He’s one guy in a whole town. Think about what happens if 35 or 40 people decide, ‘You know what, I can do that.’

“It’s the only way we’re going to reach 8.5 million people in Illinois.”

Change of venue, change of hearts
On their first Sunday in a new building, Grace Church in Metropolis baptized two people in a donated cattle trough. A young man sitting in the congregation heard the invitation to respond to the gospel and did so. He was baptized two weeks later, along with four others.

“We had a big ole day,” said Pastor Chris Sielbeck, who started the church two years ago in the front room of his home.

Grace met at the Union Baptist Association office for more than a year, and had been praying about a building when Sielbeck began to focus on a place he passed every Sunday. On a day off from his job with the U.S. Postal Service, the pastor began to research the building he thought would be perfect for a church. A local CPA owned the building, and Sielbeck dropped in to ask whether the owner would consider allowing a church to meet there.

“We’re a small church, we don’t have any money, and I need it for free,” Sielbeck pitched. “And he said, ‘I can do that.’” The church baptized two people their first morning in the building, and one the next week. Plus five more on the first Sunday in May.

When Sielbeck went to a farm supply store to purchase a $300 trough for the baptism, he ran into a sales representative for the manufacturer in the parking lot. The rep followed him inside, where he gave Grace a generous gift. Standing at the register, Sielbeck remembered, the man said, “I’m going to buy that for that church.”

‘Jesus steps in’
At Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Paul Cooper baptized nine people in April. And five more on the first Sunday in May.

“It’s not normal for us,” said Cooper, whose church moved into a former Walmart building two years ago. “I think we had 15 baptisms for the year last year, and last year was higher than most years. Having 14 in basically a one-month period is pretty amazing.”

Marshall is the last stop on Interstate 70 before you cross into Indiana. There aren’t a lot of younger adults in the community, Marshall said, but several of the people baptized at his church the last few weeks are in their 20s. Michael Mattingly and Ranae Clements were baptized Easter Sunday. The engaged couple shared video of their baptisms on social media, celebrating their life transformation with family and friends.

Just weeks prior, Clements was a Christian who had moved away from the church and Mattingly doubted the existence of God. She attended a conference where her faith was reignited, and she also met a member of the Marshall church. Mattingly agreed to attend the church with his fiancé to be supportive. He arrived at church on the Sunday Cooper was set to preach “Jesus steps into your doubts.”

“My whole sermon was about how it’s okay to have doubts,” Cooper said. “God will speak into that, and Jesus will show up.”

When he gave the invitation at the end of the service, the pastor asked people who had prayed to receive Christ to raise their hands. Mattingly’s was one of the hands raised. A few weeks later, on Easter, he and Clements were baptized.

“There’s a sense of anticipation in the church,” Cooper said. “God’s doing things, and God’s reaching people, and people just want to share that. A lot of our new people have gotten really excited, and then they share it, and it keeps kind of multiplying right now.”
After he baptized Mattingly, Cooper asked if he wanted to say anything. The young man responded simply.

“Jesus is Lord.”

Actions on abuse, racism await messengers in Birmingham

By Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

SBC Kids

“Gospel Above All” is the theme of the June 11-12 annual meeting of Southern Baptists.

“It is the gospel that is the source of our renewal, and it is the gospel that should be our defining characteristic as a people,” Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told the SBC Executive Committee last fall. “[The gospel] should be what people think about and talk about when they think and talk about us.”

When Baptists arrive in Birmingham, however, several other topics—some of them highly charged—will also be on the table. Chief among them is the SBC’s response to a Houston Chronicle report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers.

Greear and other SBC leaders have said it is crucial that Baptists leave Birmingham with a clear position against abuse and churches that exhibit indifference toward it. They also need to make strides toward caring well for survivors. During the business session, voters at the meeting (called “messengers”) will consider an amendment to the SBC Constitution to designate churches indifferent toward abuse as not in friendly cooperation with the convention.

Messengers will also consider a similar amendment on racism. In order to become part of the SBC Constitution, both measures must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Birmingham and at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.

New leaders on the platform
Paul Chitwood (International Mission Board), Adam Greenway (Southwestern Seminary), and Ronnie Floyd (Executive Committee) will each share their first reports as heads of Southern Baptist entities, although Floyd is a familiar face after serving two one-year terms as SBC president.

While in that role from 2014 to 2016, Floyd was known for consistent communication with fellow Southern Baptists through blog posts and social media. As newly elected president of the Executive Committee, he recently launched an online campaign to promote the annual meeting and get more Baptists to Birmingham by sharing 50 reasons to be there—one each day leading up to the convention.

Floyd’s new role positions him to play an integral part in the SBC’s actions on sexual abuse. After his election in April, he pledged to use the weeks before Birmingham to work with other SBC leaders on a unified response.

On Monday evening prior to the annual meeting, a study team appointed by Greear will co-host with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission a discussion on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. A new curriculum for churches—“Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused”—also will be unveiled at the meeting.

While serving as SBC president, Floyd brought leaders together for a memorable worship service devoted to praying for racial reconciliation. Greear has made it a goal of his presidency for Southern Baptist leadership to reflect the diversity of Southern Baptist churches. The Birmingham meeting will feature a panel discussion titled “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation,” as well as

two additional panels: “Gospel Above All: Keeping Secondary Issues Secondary,” and “Indispensable Partners: The Value of Women in God’s Mission.”

Room at the table
As the SBC and the culture at large continue to wrestle with the ramifications of #metoo, several new and revamped events in Birmingham will focus on the role of women in the church and the denomination:

The new SBC Women’s Leadership Network will be featured during a Women’s Session Monday morning, which takes the place of the former Pastors’ Wives Conference. Norine Brunson, wife of formerly imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson, will speak during the session, along with author Kandi Gallaty and “SBC This Week” podcast host Amy Whitfield, among others.

Illinois’ own Becky Gardner will participate in a panel discussion on leadership development at the 5th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast June 12. Gardner, superintendent of Peoria Christian School, is chair of the trustees for breakfast sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Last year’s meeting in Dallas marked the first gathering of Women & Work, a group dedicated to helping women pursue God’s mission through their vocations. Teacher and author Jen Wilkin will speak at this year’s forum June 11, along with Tami Heim, president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance.

The annual Ministers’ Wives Luncheon will feature Lauren Chandler, whose book “Steadfast Love: The Response of God to the Cries of Our Heart” will set the stage for the luncheon’s theme. Tickets are available at lifeway.com/en/events/ministers-wives-luncheon.

Our shared mission
The Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ main channel for sending support to missions and ministry around the world, has taken center stage—literally—at recent annual meetings. This year in Birmingham is no different. The CP stage in the exhibit hall is set to host interviews and panel discussions on how Baptists work together to get the good news of Jesus to more people around the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, annual meeting attendees will hear from current

International Mission Board personnel and new appointees at a missionary Sending Celebration.

Also in Birmingham, numerous Baptist fellowship groups will meet, including:
• Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council
• Chinese Baptist Fellowship
• Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches
• National Asian American Fellowship
• Second Generation Asian American Fellowship
• Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship
• Fellowship of Native American Christians
• Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship

In addition to those groups, the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) will meet in Birmingham to, among other goals, honor former slave and first North American missionary George Liele. NAAF will submit a resolution to add a George Liele Day to the SBC calendar and will ask SBC seminaries to consider creating Liele scholarships, NAAF President Marshal Ausberry told Baptist Press.

A 2012 SBC resolution formally recognizes Liele as the first overseas missionary from the U.S. Scholarships in his name could help train future African American missionaries, Ausberry said.

For more information about the SBC annual meeting, Pastors’ Conference, and other Birmingham events, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

Illinois lawmakers returned from their spring break poised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use for adults. The legalization effort is supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated it throughout his campaign and in his inaugural address.

Pritzker and other legalization supporters say marijuana would bring beneficial revenue to the state, including up to $170 million in fiscal year 2020. But others say the costs—financial and otherwise—would be much greater.

“Too many people are shrugging and saying, Will it really do any harm? Yes. Absolutely, it will,” wrote two Illinois law enforcement associations in a joint statement last year. The Illinois Chiefs of Police and Illinois Sheriffs’ Associations pointed to increased marijuana-related traffic deaths and more teens being treated for marijuana use in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2013.

Other opponents, including Illinois’ six Roman Catholic bishops, cite moral grounds for their disagreement. “As lawmakers consider this issue it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops said in February.

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

Flag of Illinois State, on cannabis background

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and 22 others, including Illinois, have legalized medical use of the drug. The legislators writing the Illinois law—Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)—hoped to unveil it during the General Assembly’s first week back. A shell of the bill, SB 7, was filed in January, but details weren’t made available prior to legislators’ spring break.

The legislation would reportedly remove previous misdemeanor marijuana convictions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and would provide support for minority-owned businesses within the state’s future marijuana industry. The General Assembly’s Black Caucus is a key component of the legalization push, Politico reported, but in March, the Illinois president of the NAACP spoke against the measure.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for our communities,” said Teresa Haley. “It hurts our community.”

Supporters of legalization also face opposition from some fellow lawmakers. Prior to the General Assembly’s spring break, 60 members of the Illinois House—a majority—signed on to a resolution to slow down the legalization process. The resolution’s sponsor is Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines).

“I believe more research needs to be done on the topic of legalization including hearing from experts, such as physicians,” Moylan told the Sun-Times last year, prior to his election. “I am worried about underage use as we’ve seen with alcohol. I do not want ‘normalization.’”

Other bills to watch
Mandated reporters
SB 1778, sponsored by Sen. Julie A. Morrison (D-Deerfield), amends the Abuse and Neglected Child Reporting Act to add clergy to the list of mandated reporters of abuse and neglect.

Status: The bill passed in the Senate April 10, and was assigned to the House Adoption & Child Welfare Committee April 30. Its chief sponsor in the House is Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfied).

LGBT-inclusive curriculum
In March, the Illinois House passed HB 0246, which requires public schools to include in their curriculum the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The bill’s chief sponsor in the House was Rep. Anna Moeller (D-
Elgin).

Status: The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), was assigned to the Education Committee April 24.

Sports gambling legalization
The House Revenue and Finance Committee held a second hearing April 25 on legalizing sports gambling in Illinois. Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) filed a shell bill in February, but lawmakers haven’t yet introduced details of the legislation. Gov. Pritzker proposed a budget in February that includes revenue from sports betting, which is currently legal in seven states.

– State Journal-Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Politico