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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)

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Gallup poll finds low expectations for global peace
70% of Americans expect 2019 to be “a troubled year with much international discord,” according to Gallup data collected in December. Hopes are higher for economic prosperity and employment, but the nation’s political system received a gloomy forecast from many respondents. 89% predicted a year of conflict, while only 11% foresaw a year of cooperation.

Bible app gets 1 million subscriptions on New Year’s Day
The YouVersion Bible app’s Bible-reading plans got more than one million new subscriptions to start the new year, The Christian Post reported. The app offers more than 13,000 reading plans, including some offered in 1,000 languages other than English.

Greear launches evangelism emphasis with local associations
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear will work with local associations of Southern Baptist churches to implement a focus on personal evangelism in 2019. “Who’s Your One?” is an initiative to encourage every Southern Baptist to share the gospel with one person this year. Greear will introduce the emphasis to his own local association—Yates Baptist Association—at a Jan. 31 simulcast available to associations across the country. More information is forthcoming at sbcassociations.org.

Third gender option legal in New York City, California
The nation’s most populous city and state now allow people to choose a “third gender,” often designated by X on legal documents. New York City and California join Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C., as places that allow a non-binary gender option for people who believe they are neither male nor female.

Passion attenders raise money for deaf Bible translations
Young people at this year’s Passion conference gave $450,000 toward translating New Testament stories in sign languages used in 16 countries. The Deaf Bible Society reports only 2% of deaf people around the world have been introduced to the gospel, and that there is no Bible translation for at least 95% of more than 400 unique sign languages used globally.

Briefing

2018’s top Bible verse
According to the world’s most downloaded Bible app, YouVersion, the most popular Bible verse of 2018 is found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:10’s “Do not fear…” verse was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users. 

Congress approves aid for religious minorities
Persecuted religious minorities victimized by Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are now set to get some relief from the U.S. government. Congress unanimously passed a law designed to provide aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities that underwent displacement and genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Evangelical church sees highest giving since 2014
Evangelical churches saw an increase in giving of almost 6% in 2017, the highest increase since 2014, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA President Dan Busby said in a statement that he was “so pleased to see this increased support for Christ-centered churches and ministries.”

Ill. town cancels trip to Ark after complaints
An Illinois town canceled a trip to KY’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter after an atheist group filed a complaint. Charleston’s parks and recreation department cancelled the trip for its community after the atheist group argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

School district faces pressure over nativity display
A Michigan civil rights group is threatening to sue the Newaygo Public School District if they do not remove a Wise Men display from an elementary school building, citing it to be a violation of the US Constitution. Most citizens of the small Michigan town, however, support keeping the display, which has been part of Newaygo’s Christmas tradition since the 1940s.

Sources: Christianity Today, World, Christian Post (2), CBN News

Resolution calls for eradication of racism
At their annual meeting this month, the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention approved a resolution denouncing the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that Dred Scott, a slave living in a free state, was not an American citizen and therefore couldn’t file suit in a court of law. (Scott was appealing to the court for his freedom.)

The resolution at the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting called on the state’s legislature to denounce the ruling and urged “our churches to continue to reach out to all persons regardless of ethnicity showing mercy to all for whom Christ died, and look forward to the day that we will gather as a diverse assembly in heaven.”

Related: At the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association, IBSA President Adron Robinson called for an end to divisions in the church. Watch his message here.

Chitwood unanimously elected to lead IMB
New International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said Southern Baptists’ global missions force can grow in number again, but it will require “greater generosity and a greater willingness to sacrifice.”

ERLC, other religious agencies oppose tax law
Opponents to a provision in federal tax laws say it “will hopelessly entangle the [Internal Revenue Service] with houses of worship.” Plus, churches will face a 21% tax on employee benefits like parking and transportation.

Offerings up in 2018, pastors say
A new LifeWay Research survey found 42% of Protestant pastors say their church’s offerings are up over the previous year, and 45% say the current economy is positively impacting their church.

‘An opportunity to be human’: Seminary training transforms life in prison
Religion News Service reports on Christian education programs inside prisons, and how they’re training students to be “field ministers” to fellow inmates.

Sources: The Pathway, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research, Religion News Service

Asia Bibi released from Pakistan’s death row
The release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for almost nine years on blasphemy charges, was cause for celebration and caution among religious freedom advocates worldwide. “She cannot be released openly,” said an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice. “If she is, there’s no doubt, no question about it, that her life will be in jeopardy.”

‘Stand for Life’ becomes ERLC initiative
An online group promoting the sanctity of every human life will become part of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Stand for Life, which began with a post by founder Jess Barfield of her infant son, has as its mission to promote human dignity through storytelling.

Sessions faces criticism from some in his denomination
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from some Methodist ministers who oppose his role in policies that separate families at the border. In a letter sent to Sessions last summer, United Methodist Church leaders urged a “reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection [Sessions] step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

Charleston church shooting is subject of documentary
The 2015 shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church is the subject of “Emanuel,” a documentary executive produced by actress Viola Davis and Golden State Warrior Steph Curry.

Midterm election: Evangelicals in the spotlight
As voters cast their ballots in today’s midterm election, slow shifts in the evangelical voting bloc are unlikely to result in gains for progressive candidates, USA Today reports.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today

‘Social justice’ statement crystallizes simmering debate
Baptists and other Christians took to Twitter and other online forums last week to debate a statement signed by theologian John MacArthur and other evangelical leaders on the potential dangers of social justice. In the statement, the signers, which now number in the thousands, affirm that “lectures on social issues” in the church and “activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture” “tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

Southern Baptists have been among the evangelicals talking about the statement. And while he didn’t use the terminology, New Orleans Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley seemed to touch on similar concerns in his convocation sermon on “Baptist Blues.”

White House meetings with evangelicals are illegal, group says
Religion News Service reports that watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is demanding President Donald Trump stop meeting with evangelical advisors. The group alleges the meetings are in conflict with a 1972 law that governs federal advisory committees.

Related: Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear was among 100 evangelicals in attendance at a White Hosue dinner Aug. 27. Greear has spoken publicly about his desire to see the SBC distance itself from partisan politics, a commitment he reiterated on Twitter.

Kavanaugh completes hearings, awaits vote
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was the subject of often raucous hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and now will face a full vote he’s expected to win—but barely. Senate Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage.

“Careful consideration of potential justices for our nation’s highest court is understandable and even commendable,”  Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore told Baptist Press. “But the hysteria around the confirmation hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week is a sign of a dysfunctional political climate.”

Anne Graham Lotz asks for prayers in cancer battle
Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz announced Sept. 4 she has breast cancer and will have surgery later this month to treat the illness. The daughter of late evangelist Billy Graham referenced Psalm 46:1 in announcing the diagnosis. “God has been…and is…my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in this trouble. Therefore, I will not fear.”

McCain services filled with Scripture
Memorial services for Sen. John McCain, who died Aug. 25 after a battle with brain cancer, included 10 readings from the Old and New Testaments. See the list at Christianity Today.

The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Religion News Service, Christianity Today