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United Methodists divide over LGBT marriage and ordination
The media has largely focused on LGBT issues in reporting on the United Methodist Church split, writes evangelical columnist David French, but, “The true fracturing point between mainline and evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of Scripture.”

An 8-page statement titled the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” likely will govern the divide of the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination. The plan, which will need approval from the UMC’s legislative body this spring, gives $25 million to conservative congregations toward the formation of a new denomination that opposes gay marriage and ordaining LGBT clergy.

>Related: “If the new denomination takes its orthodoxy on mission,” missiologist Ed Stetzer wrote, the Methodist traditionalist group “may create new paths we all can learn from.”

President rallies evangelical voters amid deepening divides
At the inaugural “Evangelicals for Trump” rally Jan. 3 at a Miami megachurch, President Donald Trump sought to shore up support from Christian voters after a Christian magazine editorial supported his impeachment. “Evangelicals and Christians of every denomination and believers of every faith have never had a greater champion…in the White House than you have right now,” Trump said at the rally at El Ray Jesus Church.

The event and the President’s “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition were announced the day after now-retired Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wrote that Trump should be removed from office.

7 key abortion stories from the last decade
Just ahead of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has released its list of seven of the most important abortion stories from 2010-2019. Leading the list: the trial of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, whose eventual conviction on first-degree murder charges received almost no national media coverage.

As church membership declines, churches use tech to connect with new audiences
At a time when just half of all Americans belong to a house of worship, more and more churches are using online resources to gather people and address spiritual needs, USA Today reports. “In the beginning, a lot of churches thought the internet would hurt and keep people from coming,” said an online campus pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. “But it’s actually one of the best ways to reach new people.”

Sources: French Press, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post, ERLC, USA Today

 

‘Fairness for All’ proposed to increasingly polarized lawmakers
A Utah Congressman introduced the Fairness for All Act Dec. 6, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, but also exempt churches, religious groups, and some small businesses from the anti-discrimination laws.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart faces an uphill battle in Congress, Christianity Today reports, and also among LGBT advocates who oppose the exemptions. Some religious liberty advocates also disagree with the bill. In 2017, a group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptists Russell Moore and Albert Mohler, signed a statement opposing any law that would protect gender identity and sexual orientation because such measures “threaten fundamental freedoms.”

Ultrasound law survives legal challenge
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 9 to hear an appeal of a Kentucky law that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds before abortions. The law, passed in 2017, also requires physicians to show fetal images to patients, and to play an audible heartbeat. In upholding the law earlier this year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said it provides “relevant information.” Judge John Bush, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote, “The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the lower court’s decision, USA Today reported, leaves the measure in place.

California church stages controversial nativity scene
Claremont United Methodist Church near Los Angeles is making headlines with a nativity display depicting Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a refugee family made to stay in separate cages. The church’s lead pastor, Karen Clark Ristine, told a local news station one goal of the display is to spark conversation. Ristine’s Facebook post about the scene garnered more than 11,000 comments in two days.

China recognizes church of Baptist pioneer Lottie Moon
Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, attended by Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon for much of her time in China, has been designated by the country as a protected historical and cultural site. One religious freedom watchdog noted the designation comes at a time of heightened government restrictions on churches. “It’s surely easier to honor a dead evangelist than to grant basic liberties to the living ones,” Massimo Introvigne told Christianity Today.

Year’s most popular Bible verse focused on worry—again
The Bible app YouVersion announced its most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of 2019 is Philippians 4:6. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (NLT). It marks the third consecutive year that worry was the theme of the year’s most popular passage.

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, CNN

Survey says conservatism is group’s top defining characteristic
New research from Barna found only 30% of Americans have a positive opinion of evangelicals, while 25% have a negative perception and 46% are neutral. When Barna asked respondents to identify adjectives that describe the evangelical community, the most commonly selected terms were “religiously conservative” and “politically conservative.” Those terms topped positive descriptors like caring, hopeful, and friendly, but also edged out adjectives like narrow-minded, homophobic, and puritanical.

Scripture on the campaign trail
Eight of the top 12 Democratic candidates for president have quoted the Bible while campaigning, Christianity Today reports, employing Scripture in their discussion of economic reform, welfare policy, and LGBT rights. The New International Version and New Revised Standard Version are the most quoted translations, but passages from the King James Version and New Living Translation also have been referenced in candidates’ talking points.

Jury sides with Planned Parenthood in undercover video case
Planned Parenthood was awarded $2.28 million Nov. 15 after a federal jury said pro-life investigators were guilty of fraud, trespassing, illegal recording, racketeering and breach of contract. The investigators secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sell of fetal body parts, Baptist Press reported. “Whatever questions some may have about the legality of the recordings,” said Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore, “we should not forget what the recordings revealed: The cruelty, dishonesty, and lawlessness of Planned Parenthood.”

Opioid crisis hits churches
Just over half of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say a member of their congregation has personally been affected by opioid abuse, according to new data from LifeWay Research. “The drug epidemic has infiltrated our churches and neighborhoods,” said Robby Gallaty, author of a new book about his past struggles with addiction. “It is not localized to a particular region or socio-economic class. Addiction is no respecter of persons.”

‘Work was his ministry,’ says Mr. Rogers’s wife
Currently portrayed in the new film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers was an evangelist to the people watching from home, his wife, Joanne, told The Christian Post. “That work was his ministry. There was never a time that he ever forgot that.”

>Related: Christian movie critic Phil Boatwright calls Rogers film ‘desperately needed for our times’

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

17% of Americans describe their religion as ‘nothing in particular’
Pew Forum reports a majority of Americans still call themselves Christians, but the number has decreased 12 percentage points over the last decade. And while the number of both Protestants and Catholics decreased, those unaffiliated with a religion grew as a share of the population—up from 12% in 2009 to 17% now.

Pew also reported worship attendance is down. The number of Americans who attend religious services at least twice a month fell 7 percentage points over the last decade, while the number who say they attend less often rose by the same amount.

Metro East abortion clinic opening met with protests
Pro-life advocates held signs, prayed, and sang “Amazing Grace” during an Oct. 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Planned Parenthood facility in Fairview Heights, Ill. The clinic expects to serve as many as 11,000 clients a year and could serve as a regional center for abortion, as neighboring states tighten restrictions on abortion.

Liberty professor to join Baptist seminary faculty
Karen Swallow Prior will move from Liberty University to Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., next fall. The author and English professor, who has also been an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, will become Southeastern’s research professor of English and Christianity & Culture. Southeastern President Danny Akin called Prior “a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the gospel and the Great Commission.”

Sheriff posts signs to protect kids on Halloween
Georgia sheriff Gary Long went to court Oct. 24 to defend his decision to post signs outside the homes of sex offenders warning potential trick-or-treaters not to approach. Long posted the signs last Halloween, and is trying to do so again this year, amid a legal challenge from three registered sex offenders. “Regardless of the Judge’s ruling this Thursday,” Long posted on Facebook, “I WILL do everything within the letter of the law to protect the children of this community.”

Barna: Screen time far outpaces spiritual content
A typical 15- to 23-year-old spends 153 hours a year taking in spiritual content, Barna reports, and the number rises to 291 hours for churchgoers. But both figures are dwarfed by the amount of time young people spend using screen media—2,767 hours a year, or about 7.5 a day. The numbers have ramifications for pastors, parents, and young people, said Barna president David Kinnaman.

“If we want to follow Jesus with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, all of us in modern exile must consider the total input and output of our faith,” Kinnaman said. The input can’t simply be a few hundred hours of passive church attendance in a year.”

Sources: Pew Forum, Illinois Baptist, The New York Times, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Barna Research

John MacArthur tells Beth Moore to ‘go home’
At an event celebrating his 50 years in ministry, California pastor John MacArthur jabbed at Bible teacher Beth Moore and others, igniting a Twitter firestorm and continuing the debate on gender roles in church leadership. “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion,” MacArthur said during a word association game in which he was asked to respond to the phrase “Beth Moore.” MacArthur’s first response was also two words: “Go home.”

Many Christian leaders came to Moore’s defense on Twitter, while others expressed support for MacArthur’s position. Moore appeared to respond with a pair of tweets Oct. 21. “Here’s the beautiful thing about it & I mean this with absolute respect,” she wrote. “You don’t have to let me serve you. That gets to be your choice. Whether or not I serve Jesus is not up to you. Whether I serve you certainly is. One way or the other, I esteem you as my sibling in Christ.”

Mohler: Complementarianism ‘can and has’ led to abuse
Southern Seminary President Al Mohler acknowledged in a chapel address that complementarian theology—the view that men and women have different but complementary roles in church and family life—can lead to abuse of women and girls, and has done so at times. “Sinful men will use anything in vanity and in anger, in sin of every form,” Mohler said Oct. 15. “Sinful men will distort anything and will take advantage of any argument that seems to their advantage, even to the abuse of women.”

  • Related: Southern Baptist church leaders met this month in Dallas for the Caring Well Conference, an event designed to train churches to prevent sexual abuse and care well for survivors.

California requires state schools to provide medical abortions to students
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Oct. 11 that will require the 34 schools in the University of California and California State University systems to provide access to prescription pills that induce miscarriage within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, the Los Angeles Times reported. The cost of the new initiative is likely to exceed what has been raised through private donations, WORLD magazine reported, meaning taxpayers and students could underwrite the remaining costs.

Lon Allison remembered for commitment to evangelism
Pastor Lon Allison, former executive director of Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, died Oct. 20 after a nearly 2-year battle with cancer. Allison also served as teaching pastor at Wheaton Bible Church. “Lon reflected God’s (and Mr. Graham’s) heart for our world,” wrote current Graham Center Executive Director Ed Stetzer, “and continually reminded all of us that we too are part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.”

Young adults are connected, but still seeking meaningful relationships
A survey of 18—35-year-olds around the world found young adults feel connected to global events, but are less sure that the people around them care for and believe in them. Barna’s survey found only 33% of young adults often feel deeply cared for by those around them, and 23% sometimes feel lonely or isolated. The numbers are slightly more encouraging for young adults who belong to a religious tradition.

Sources: Religion News Service, Twitter, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Los Angeles Times, WORLD, Christianity Today, Barna

Opponents say Planned Parenthood facility is more about money than women
Planned Parenthood (PP) expects to open a large clinic this month in Metro East Illinois that will serve 11,000 patients a year. A Planned Parenthood press release called the new Fairview Heights clinic a “regional haven for abortion access,” as Illinois’ neighbor states have enacted stricter abortion laws.

The new clinic is 13 miles from St. Louis, where Missouri officials have threatened to close the state’s last remaining abortion provider for violations of state code.

‘Caring Well’ conference urges better measures for abuse prevention
“How and where you and I exercise our power, particularly with vulnerable human beings, shines a light on who we are.” Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and trauma expert, was one of dozens of voices at the “Caring Well” conference, a three-day meeting of Southern Baptists designed to help churches navigate the sexual abuse crisis. Langberg and fellow speakers urged churches and ministries toward more effective prevention measures and better care for abuse survivors. Read Meredith Flynn’s reports from Dallas.

Tennessee governor plans statewide day of prayer and fasting
Gov. Bill Lee, who was elected last November, introduced the Oct. 10 day of prayer as an opportunity “to offer prayers of healing, prayers for forgiveness, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of hope for our state and for the 6.7 million who call Tennessee home.”

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press he gladly joins Lee in the statewide effort. “One thing is crystal clear: politics will not heal us, and government will not fix us,” Floyd said. “We need a massive prayer movement that will lead us back to God and bring healing to our land.”

President Trump says Christians are ‘electrified’ in his defense
As campaigning heats up ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Christians are revisiting the differences that divided them in 2016. “I got a call the other night from pastors, the biggest pastors, evangelical Christians. They said that they have never seen our religion or any religion so electrified,” President Donald Trump said Oct. 3, referencing their defense of him against his political rivals and the media. Some evangelical leaders affirmed their support of the president, while others called for distance between faith and politics.

InterVarsity reinstated on Iowa campus
A federal judge ruled in September that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can remain on campus at the University of Iowa, even if the ministry requires leaders to sign its statement of faith. Judge Stephanie M. Rose also said campus officials will have to pay any damages awarded to InterVarsity at a trial currently set for January.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, USA Today, Baptist Press, Associated Press, Christian Post, Christianity Today

Report: State loses 313 people every day
Capitol news site The Center Square reported last week that Census data shows Illinois lost 114,000 people to other states between July 2017 and July 2018, for an average of 313 a day. About 40 of those move north to Wisconsin. “The state’s outmigration crisis is due to primarily working-age residents between the ages of 25 and 54 looking for work elsewhere,” the news outlet reported.

After Title X changes, Pritzker pledges to fund abortions with state money
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week the state will turn down $2.4 million in federal funding because of a new policy that restricts clinics that receive the funding from making abortion referrals. Instead, the Illinois Department of Public Health will provide the funding, Pritzker tweeted July 18.

House chaplain casts out ‘spirits of darkness’
Two days after members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to condemn as racist President Donald Trump’s tweets against four Congresswomen, Rev. Patrick Conroy prayed God would “anoint your servants here in the House with a healing balm to comfort and renew the souls of all in this assembly.” The House chaplain continued, “May your spirit of wisdom and patience descend upon all so that any spirit of darkness might have no place in our midst.”

Conroy later said what he witnessed during the contentious vote inspired his prayer, CNN reported. “It felt like there was something going on beyond just political disagreement. The energy of the House was very off.”

Baptist university urged to clarify faith statement
A committee charged with assessing theology at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., reported this month that the school hasn’t clearly implemented its statement of faith, Baptist Press reported. SBU President Eric Turner said his school is “currently working to clarify, boldly articulate and implement our Statement of Faith that will further align and strengthen our Baptist identity and Christian faith.”

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, followed the firing of a professor who had expressed concern over some faculty members’ theological views.

Americans believe hate speech has increased
A new study by Barna found 70% of U.S. adults say hate speech and hate crime has increased over the last five years, and many blame politicians and social media.

Sources: The Center Square, WLS-TV, Baptist Press, Twitter, CNN, The Christian Post, Barna