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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

Briefing

IL bill ‘more extreme’ than NY
While the state of New York approved in February the nation’s most liberal abortion legislation to date, Right to Life Action have called Illinois’s Reproductive Health Act “more extreme.” The House Bill 2495 will not only create a fundamental right to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, but also mandate all private health insurance plans to cover abortions without any restrictions. Another bill, HB 2467 (Senate Bill 1594), would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which currently requires doctors to notify an adult family member of a patient under 18 prior to an abortion.

“Peace Cross” raises questions on significance of cross monuments
An appeal by an atheist group to remove a 40-foot memorial cross caused the Supreme Court to raise not just the question of whether the “Peace Cross” memorial was constitutional, but also whether it was a secular symbol. The atheist group challenged the constitutionality of the Bladensburg, Md., cross, stating the cross promotes Christianity, thus violating the First Amendment. Lawyers argued that the historic marker served a secular purpose in honoring the fallen veterans. Judges debated on rather the cross has a preeminent symbol of Christianity or if crosses like this one has an independent secular meaning. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling before its term closes in late June or early July.

Tajikistan law limits religious activity
A new religion law in Tajikistan has authorities barring children from attending religious services. The law gives the state greater control over religious education, increasing the information religious organizations must pass to the state. In the same month, 5,000 calendars with Bible verses, imported by a Baptist Church, were confiscated by custom officials and destroyed. The church received a large fine for producing and distributing items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship.

30+ Christians killed in Nigeria
At least 32 Christians were killed by suspected Fulani extremists in Nigeria on February 26, sources reported. In addition to the loss of lives in the Kaduna state of north-central Nigeria, multiple homes and at least one church were burned as hundreds were displaced.

Greenway elected Southwestern president
Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) elected Adam Greenway as the institution’s ninth president during a special called meeting Feb. 26-27. Greenway fills the post left by Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status last year and later terminated. Danny Roberts, chairman of the search committee, called Greenway “a man of impeccable character…, a bridge builder in the Southern Baptist Convention, and a true scholar with a heart for missions and evangelism.”

Sources: Christianity Today, Christian Post (2), Illinois Baptist (2)

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.

Briefing

IL churches celebrate increase in baptisms
Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high. “We were encouraged to see baptisms increase … after four years of gradual decline,” IBSA’s Executive Director, Nate Adams, said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches.” 

Churches identify ministry needs in survey
Preparing people to share the gospel, making disciples, and developing leaders remain top concerns in the latest survey of IBSA churches. Evangelism and the desire to reach young people ranked high for a large majority of Illinois churches, with respondents saying their church could use more assistance in those areas. The 2018 Church Needs Survey was conducted online in October and November.

James MacDonald fired from Harvest
Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” Harvest elders announced they were forced to take “immediate action” to end MacDonald’s 30-year tenure. “This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors,” the elders at Harvest said.

Greenway nominated to lead Southwestern Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Adam W. Greenway has been selected as nominee to fill the presidential vacancy at Southwestern Seminary. Greenway’s nomination will be brought for a vote on Feb. 26–27. Greenway currently serves as dean of the Billy Graham School and as William Walker Brookes Associate Professor of Evangelism and Apologetics at Southern Seminary. If elected, Greenway will become Southwestern Seminary’s ninth president. 

CA must pay pro-life pregnancy centers
A U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California issued an order saying that California must pay three pro-life pregnancy centers and a conservative law firm $399,000 in legal fees and other costs. This comes after a state law meant to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion was struck down and declared unconstitutional, with a the court granting a permanent injunction against the law.

Sources: Illinois Baptist (2), Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post

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.

Briefing

Survey: Church attendance linked to higher levels of happiness
Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, according to Pew Research’s analysis of surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries. Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

Young adults keep Christian label; fewer ‘devout’
Most young adults who attended church as teenagers say they believe in God today, but fewer consider themselves devout Christians, according to a LifeWay Research study released Jan. 31. And some say they believe in God but are uncertain of Christianity.

Boy Scouts officially accepting girls
The Boy Scouts of America officially changed their name Feb. 1 and began accepting girls in all scouting programs. Troops, however, will continue to be single gender, the organization has said. Maybe a quick quote from the opposition?

Asia Bibi finally free to leave Pakistan
On January 29, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. In one of the most high-profile Christian persecution cases in the past decade, Bibi spent eight years in prison convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad—which is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic—until Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected her conviction last October. Bibi was the first Christian woman in the country to be convicted of blasphemy and to have her case go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Who is most ‘Bible engaged’ in the U.S.?
Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, African Americans consistently outrank other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.” They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

Sources: BP News (2), Christian Headlines, Christianity Today (2)