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Only about a third read the Word daily, according to a new survey by Lifeway Research.

Former IMB missionary pleads guilty to assault
Mark Aderholt, a former missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and staff member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, pleaded guilty July 2 in a plea deal related to the sexual assault of a minor two decades ago. Aderholt’s case was one of several allegations of sexual abuse uncovered in Southern Baptist life prior to February’s extensive report in the Houston Chronicle.

Meeting in Birmingham in June, the SBC condemned sexual abuse and previous lack of care for survivors.

Restriction on wedding officiants blocked by judge—for now
A new law in Tennessee that forbids people ordained online from performing wedding ceremonies was challenged July 3 by a judge who questioned its constitutionality. Federal Judge Waverly Crenshaw said the state’s law, which was set to go into effect July 1, has “serious constitutional issues” and should be considered at a trial before the end of 2019. For now, wedding officiants ordained online can continue to help couples say “I do” in Tennessee.

Liberty professors’ new book presents perspectives on 9 contemporary issues
A book released today presents differing views on topics ranging from sexuality and gender roles to politics and war. “Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues” was edited by Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Chatraw, both professors at evangelical Liberty University. Prior spoke to The Christian Post about why it was important to present varying viewpoints (all by people who profess to be Christians), and which of the essays she disagrees with.

Christians weigh in on slavery’s ongoing impact
Barna found half of practicing Christians say the effects of slavery continue to be felt today. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of all U.S. adults—46%—who agree.

Sources: LifeWay Research, Baptist Press, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, The Christian Post, Barna Research

By Steve Playl

Declaration of Independence grunge America map flag

Picnics in the park, cookouts with families, visits to historic places, yardwork, parades down Main Street, extravagant pyrotechnic displays!

These are as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie and are appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. But while celebrating the Fourth and enjoying our present freedoms, may I suggest that we take a look back, then let’s look to the future.

Look back to July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, assisted by such patriarchs as Ben Franklin and John Adams, completed the final wording of the document presented to the Second Continental Congress, which evolved into the birth certificate of the United States of America.

That document, the Declaration of Independence, was eventually signed by 56 men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to secure the opportunity for an experiment in democratic government. And it led to the greatest free nation the world has ever seen.

Although the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” was not yet understood as meaning that all human beings of both genders and all races are equal in the sight of the Creator, the document has become the capstone of freedom for all Americans.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice…

Although the meaning of “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” has been misrepresented at times from many different directions, those rights have been fought for, debated and paraded through the streets of this nation for more than 240 years. Some, in the name of tolerance, have insisted that their rights include forcing others to comply with their wishes. Others, insisting on their understanding of “science,” have argued against the reality of a Creator. Many have added their own desires to the list of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Still the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest human documents ever created, and it represents a magnanimous vision for all — a “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his Gettysburg Address that the nation could possibly perish. That speech was made during the deadliest and most devastating war in America’s history. Many wars before and after have cost us dearly in the blood of our sons and daughters, but most of our conflicts have been with “outsiders” and America has been united in battle. The “Civil” War, on the other hand, divided our nation against itself.

Now, two hundred, two score and three years after the states united to declare independence from Great Britain, we find ourselves divided by politics, policies, power struggles, and pride. Too few of our leaders seem willing to sacrifice personal feelings and ideas for the greater good of the masses. While there will never be unanimous agreement on every conviction, surely we can agree to place far greater priority on negotiating with our fellow Americans than negotiating with our avowed enemies.

My prayer is that our precious grandchildren will grow up in an America somewhat like the one where I grew up. With all its faults, it has been the greatest nation throughout all of history.

But if that future is to become reality, more of us must return to the God of our Fathers in repentance, humility, prayer and commitment. We must again become a nation with common sense. We must use the word tolerance as something more than political rhetoric. We must again practice compassion, even while passionately defending differing points of view. And, yes, we must also stand for truth as revealed by our Creator.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and, all the more, that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice on the cross, which calls for the most serious of celebrations.

Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a Bristol, Tenn., hospital, a newspaper columnist and college instructor. Reprinted from Baptist Press.

Evangelicals divided on border fix
The recent response of Christian leaders to the situation at the U.S./Mexico border points to significant divides on the immigration issue.

Following media reports of harrowing conditions at a Texas border station, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted, “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”

Others, including Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Texas pastor Jack Graham, took issue with Moore’s tweet. Graham defended the work of border agents and churches ministering at the border and invited Moore to visit the border with him. He also added, “Just to clarify…reasonable people know we have a humanitarian crisis at/border but to suggest that immigrants are not treated with dignity & respect is wrong & plays to secular press who blame America for the problem. We r all very concerned and many of us are trying to help.”

‘We could no longer look away’
Southern Baptist pastor Alan Cross reflects on how a graphic photo of a father and daughter who drowned while trying to cross from Mexico into Texas “jolted the nation awake.” Editor’s note: Link includes disturbing images.

‘Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored’
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson describes horrifying conditions at the border and blames Democrat lawmakers for impeding President Trump’s efforts to improve the situation. “The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care,” Dobson said.

‘Like we have never seen before’
Speaking to a group of conservative Christian activists, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed the reality of a crisis at the border but advocated different policies than those espoused by Democratic candidates for president. “Those who would advocate open borders, free health care for illegal immigrants and making illegal immigration legal are making it easier for human traffickers to mistreat poor and vulnerable families,” Pence said.

‘We want to look away. But let’s not.’
Five Christian leaders, including author and Texas pastor Max Lucado, lament the conditions at the border and the suffering of children and families.

Sources: Associated Press, Christian Post, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

Mandrell to be voted on June 28 as next president of Southern Baptist publisher
Ben Mandrell, a native of Tampico, Ill., preached an emotional message at his Colorado church June 23–two days after his nomination to lead LifeWay Christian Resources was announced. Mandrell, 42, is a native of Tampico, Ill.

“All through Scripture, we learn that God is a calling God,” Mandrell (pictured above with his family) said in his sermon. “He dials our number and we have to answer. We have to take his calls.” When considering the decision to leave his church and relocate his family to Nashville, Mandrell said he had “a wrestling match with God like I have never experienced before.”

High court keeps cross
A memorial to World War I soldiers can stay standing in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20. The American Humanist Association asked that the cross be removed in 2012, sparking a legal battle that has bounced around the courts since then.

>Related: Christian Post writer Curtis Schube says the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its ruling won’t necessarily protect other religious monuments.

How one ‘heartbeat bill’ sparked a national trend
The series of abortion restrictions passed in several states this year is the result of a years-long push based on a fetal heartbeat bill authored in Ohio years ago, according to analysis by USA Today. The paper’s analysis of so-called “copycat” legislation—when a bill is copied and modified for its new context—found the Ohio bill was proposed 26 times until similar legislation passed in multiple states this year.

Refugee crisis grows as U.S. welcomes fewer people
A record number of people were displaced around the world last year, while the U.S. continued to receive far fewer refugees from “countries of concern” identified by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

Americans critical of current state of political debate
People in the U.S. overwhelmingly say public discourse in the country has become more negative and less respectful over the past several years. And 78% say elected officials using heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups makes violence against those groups more likely.

Sources: Baptist Press, Storyline Fellowship, Christian Post, USA Today, Christianity Today, Pew Research

High court sends case back to Court of Appeals
Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their Oregon bakery and were required to pay $135,000 for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2013. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has sent their case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in favor of fellow baker Jack Phillips last year.

Illinois Baptist pastor urges prayer for churches in the state
Abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

Baptists lament past failures on abuse, commit to care well in the future
Meeting in Birmingham for their annual meeting last week, Southern Baptists approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that specifies sexual abuse as grounds for discontinuing cooperation with a church. They also voted to establish a standing committee to investigate claims of misconduct against churches related to abuse and other issues.

Bishops vote to create abuse hotline
U.S. Catholic Bishops approved at their annual meeting the creation of a hotline to receive allegations of sexual abuse or abuse cover-up. The hotline will be operational in a year, according to U.S. News & World Report, and will cost about $50,000 a year to run.

LifeWay presidential search team to report June 28
Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources will gather for a special meeting June 28 to consider a report from the search team looking for the Southern Baptist entity’s new president. Former President Thom Rainer announced his retirement last August and served through February of this year.

Sources: Christian Post, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Illinois Baptist, U.S. News & World Report, Baptist Press

Nathan CarterRecent abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

“Ours is not the first age to have rulers who ‘frame injustice by statute’ (Ps. 94:20). And the gospel still has the power to transform people who are foolishly set on autonomy at all costs into selfless lovers of the less fortunate other,” wrote Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. “For the gospel tells of One who did not take life to protect his own, but laid his life down to give life to those who killed him.

“Pray for churches in Illinois to be renewed by this gospel and live out of it in the midst of its mission field.”

Ahead of Birmingham meeting, Executive Committee may also reword proposed amendment
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will meet prior to the denomination’s annual meeting this month to consider new measures to combat sexual abuse. One potential option: A standing committee to assess claims of church misconduct brought at annual meetings and at other times during the year for alleged departures from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine, or practice.

“Over the last year,” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press, “it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.

“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction.”

Trump makes impromptu visit to Virginia church
President Donald Trump was prayed for by Pastor David Platt Sunday during a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church. The visit coincided with evangelist Franklin Graham’s call to pray for the President on Sunday, June 2. After criticism, Platt shed light on the President’s visit and the prayer in a letter to his congregation.

Illinois lawmakers approve expanded abortion, legal pot, and sports betting
Over the last few days of their spring session, the Illinois legislature moved forward on several high-profile issues of concern to conservative and Christian voters, including the Reproductive Health Acts, which pro-life advocates have called one of the nation’s most extreme abortion laws.

More state leaders sign laws to restrict abortion
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation last week to ban abortion early in pregnancy, joining five other states who approved similar laws this year.

Millennial non-Christians show more spiritual curiosity than older adults
Barna reports that young non-Christians have more conversations about faith than do older non-believers, and they are more interested in learning what Christianity could mean for their lives.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, McLean Bible Church, Illinois Baptist, Barna Research