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The Briefing

New rules protect abortion mandate objectors
Christian organizations are celebrating what they deem a win for religious liberty after the Trump administration released new rules Oct. 6 that allow institutions and corporations not to include abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance plans.

A 2011 “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act had been the subject of legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and four Baptist universities, Baptist Press reported.

House approves late-term abortion ban
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-189 last week in favor of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, is based on evidence that a child is able to experience pain in the womb after 20 weeks.

The House previously passed a pain-capable bill in 2015, but it was voted down in the Senate.

Princeton U. ministry drops “evangelical” from name
“There’s a growing recognition that the term evangelical is increasingly either confusing, or unknown, or misunderstood to students,” said Princeton Christian Fellowship’s Bill Boyce. That’s why the 80-year-old ministry at the Ivy League institution has changed its name, reports Christianity Today.

Higher education: College offers ‘marijuana degree’
Northern Michigan University’s four-year degree in medicinal plant chemistry combines chemistry, biology, and business classes—and could gain even more traction if a petition drive succeeds at getting full legalization of marijuana on Michigan’s ballot next fall.

Survey: Suicide still taboo topic in church
The majority of churches say they’re equipped to help someone threatening to take his or her own life, but a new study from LifeWay Research found only 4% of people who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide said church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggle.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, USA Today, LifeWay

The Briefing

NY Times op-ed spurs discussion of race & the SBC
A black Oklahoma minister’s New York Times op-ed “renouncing [his] ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention” has drawn responses from a range of African Americans who say they will continue to cooperate with the convention as it pursues racial reconciliation. Meanwhile, the op-ed’s author, Lawrence Ware, explained his views in an interview with Baptist Press, noting he does not believe Southern Baptists by and large are intentionally racist. He also said he likely would have “softened” some of his language against the SBC if given an opportunity to rewrite the op-ed.

Bible studies at the White House
Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history. They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible. They’re all handpicked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Democrat boss says no abortion litmus test
Democrats will not withhold campaign funds from pro-life candidates running for elected office, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign arm, told The Hill. “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Luján said. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Toy makers blurring gender line
Like wildfire, the transgender revolution appears to be consuming, changing and confusing everything in life as people used to know it. Now the confusion has extended to the choice of toys for children. Hasbro, one of the biggest U.S. toy-makers, has announced that it has changed its thinking regarding certain toys being geared toward particular genders. In a recent interview, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said his company has found that a significant percentage of boys are interested in My Little Pony, traditionally more popular with girls. Conversely, girls are taking a liking for Star Wars products marketed more at boys.

Christians & non-Christians Agree: College is about getting a job
Despite the abundance of Christian learning institutions and campus ministries in the U.S., American Christian adults, including evangelicals, are no more likely than the religiously unaffiliated — or religious “nones” — to list spiritual growth as one of the reasons for going to college (9%). And evangelicals are less likely than both religious “nones” and the general population to include moral character development among the reasons for seeking a postsecondary education (10% vs. roughly 14%).

Sources: Baptist Press, CBN, World Magazine, Christian Post, Influence Magazine

Exterior of a building with Education engraved in stone

I hadn’t intended college to be a particularly eye-opening experience. I was excited about my newfound freedom and interesting classes and those deep friendships everyone always talked about, but I was going someplace where I thought all those things would happen in the context of familiarity. My Southern Baptist college had felt like home during my first on-campus visit—that was what drew me there in the first place.

But at the start of my second semester, I sat with my Bible on the roof of the gymnasium (where the serious scholars went to study all night), wondering whether the loneliness and uncertainty I felt meant I had made the wrong decision in coming to a place six hours from home. Those good college things—the classes and the friends and the football games and the freedom—had all happened. But instead of feeling fulfilled, I was left with a bigger question, one that I now know most people that age, particularly younger Christians, probably face at one time or another: Who am I going to be?

I met people my own age who pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it means to be a Christian, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

A few years later when I graduated, I was glad I had been at that small college six hours from home as I tried to answer that big question. Because it was there that I found people with the knowledge, experience, and empathy to help young people navigate that tricky territory between the familiar and the future. Here are three things I still value about my Christian college experience:

1. A deeper faith identity. Raised in a minister’s home, I thought I had Christianity figured out (and, at 18, probably most everything else too). That’s why it was surprising, then convicting, to find other people my age who knew much more and felt much more about the call of Jesus on their lives than I did. And these weren’t just the kids that had committed to career ministry or missions—these were everyday students studying to be dentists, attorneys, and counselors. But they seemed to understand that the responsibility of a Christian to be, well, a Christian, extended far beyond one’s future vocation. They lived their faith in a way I wanted to, and their example pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it meant to be actually be a believer in Christ, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

2. Challenging, trustworthy professors. My first class on my first day of college was Old Testament Survey, taught by a young professor who would present four or five different theories about a difficult text and then say something like: “That’s what some people think. Here’s what I think.” Usually, his opinion was similar to one that he had presented. But by giving us the breadth of knowledge on a particular topic, he showed us young Bible scholars that it’s OK to wrestle with Scripture. At the same time, his daily, trustworthy counsel through the Bible gave us an anchor to come back to amid the multiple interpretations offered by the outside world.

3. Unrequired opportunities. Like many high school youth group kids, I started going to church because my parents drove me there, and I kept going because I had always gone. But in college, I didn’t have to be anywhere. Tuesday night Bible study wasn’t a necessity; neither was a Saturday mission project in our neighboring city. Learning to commit to things that weren’t required drove me to deeper discipline about how I spent my energy and time. The ministry activities that are most valuable, I learned in college, are the ones that root themselves in your mind and heart so that you are compelled to take part, even if no one would miss you if you weren’t there.

After I graduated, I moved to the Midwest to attend graduate school at a large state university. It was certainly different than where I had been. And that’s one more reason I’m grateful for my college experience: The foundation that God, through wise professors and leaders, had begun to lay for me carried me through the challenges of a truly unfamiliar place. And has continued to do so, all these years later.

– Meredith Flynn

The BriefingBans on travel to Miss., N.C., called ‘ridiculous’
At least nine U.S. cities and five states have banned non-essential travel by government employees to North Carolina, Mississippi or both, claiming religious liberty bills adopted there discriminate against homosexual and transgendered persons. Pastors and other Christian leaders call the bans “ridiculous.”

Women share abortion stories with the Supreme Court
Twenty-five years ago, two women found themselves in the same position: freshmen in college, pregnant and scared of derailing all they had worked toward. Both women walked into a Dallas abortion clinic. It’s what happened when they walked out, and in the weeks and decades that followed, that places them on opposite ends of the most significant abortion case to be heard by the Supreme Court in a quarter of a century. These and other women are sharing their abortion stories through friend-of-the-court briefs in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Colleges welcome diversity, except evangelical Christians
San Diego State University recently withdrew official on-campus recognition from an evangelical sorority and an evangelical fraternity, stripping them of the privileges that all other on-campus student organizations possess. The problem according to the university was that these Christian student organizations were engaging in discrimination because they restricted their members to Christians in agreement with their statements of faith.

The footnote that could split the Catholic church
Some believe a footnote in Pope Francis’ new exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia could cause fractures in the Catholic church. There is an ongoing debate in the church about admitting remarried couples to the Eucharist. The footnote could further inflame that debate. Francis wrote, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’.”

Bible makes list of books most challenged
On the latest list of books most objected to at public schools and libraries, one title has been targeted nationwide, at times for the sex and violence it contains, but mostly for the legal issues it raises. The Bible.

Sources: Baptist Press, Washington Post, World Magazine, Gospel Coalition, Fox News

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The_BriefingFollowing the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, churches and Christian institutions, including colleges and universities, are navigating the potential religious liberty ramifications.

Christian colleges in Michigan and Tennessee announced last week they would extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. But a representative for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) told Baptist Press that as long as Christian colleges and universities “ensure that all of their policies are clearly tied to their religious beliefs,” the threats of losing tax-exempt status and being held liable for discrimination aren’t immediate.

“At this point, there is no reason to believe that religious institutions, who do immense good by educating first-generation and low-income students, providing thousands of hours of volunteer time to their communities, and are institutions essential to the fabric of their communities, would be targeted to be penalized in this way for their longstanding religious beliefs,” said Shapri LoMaglio. “The test for tax-exemption is public good, and our institutions absolutely serve the public good.”

Neither of the two schools who announced benefits for same-sex spouses–Hope College in Holland, Mich., and Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.–are affiliated with the CCCU. Belmont, which was affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention until 2007, added “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination policy in 2011, BP reports.


Durbin says schools are ‘challenging area’ after marriage decision
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he doesn’t “have a quick answer” about whether religious schools that oppose same-sex marriage are protected from religious liberty concerns in the same ways as churches. “There’s no question this was an historic decision, and now we’re going to go through a series of suggestions for new laws to implement it,” Durbin told The Weekly Standard. “I can’t predict how this will end. But from the beginning we have said that when it comes to marriage, religions can decide what their standards will be.”

But on the schools question, Durbin said, “Getting into a challenging area, and I don’t have a quick answer to you. I’ll have to think about it long and hard.”


Baylor drops ‘homosexual acts’ ban from conduct policy
Christian school Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has removed “homosexual acts” from behaviors banned in its sexual conduct policy, the Houston Chronicle reported this month. However, a “Statement on Human Sexuality” on the Baylor website says, “Christian churches… have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.”


Carter says Jesus would be OK with same-sex marriage
Former President Jimmy Carter says he has no problem with same-sex marriage, and Jesus wouldn’t either. “I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else,” Carter told interviewer Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live.

Carter did say he’s not in favor of the government being able to force churches to perform same-sex weddings.


Wheaton denied injunction against contraceptive mandate
Wheaton University in Illinois will be required to notify the federal government that it objects to providing emergency contraception through its employee healthcare plans, after a judge denied the school’s request for an injunction. That notification will allow health plan participants to receive free contraception coverage, Christianity Today reported.

“…[W]e remain hopeful for a time when the government will allow us to provide healthcare for our employees and their families in full accordance with our common faith,” said Wheaton President Philip Ryken.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING |  The murder of nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church prayer meeting “should shock the conscience of every person,” a group of Southern Baptist leaders said in a joint statement after the June 17 shooting.

“There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer,” said Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; K. Marshall Williams, president of the SBC National African American Fellowship; and A.B. Vines, NAAF’s immediate past president.

Dylann Roof, 21, sat through the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and then opened fire in what police have called a hate crime, Baptist Press reports.

“This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked,” the leaders’ statement continues. “It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a ‘murderer from the beginning’ (John 8:44).”

Read the full story at BPNews.net.


InterVarsity welcome again at Cal State campuses
Christianity Today reports that after being “derecognized” on all 23 campuses of the California State University system, InterVarsity is back in business as a recognized student organization. InterVarsity’s leadership policy, which requires that leaders affirm Christian doctrines, was previously found to be in conflict with a Cal State rule that requires recognized student groups to accept all students as potential leaders.

“Cal State has not changed the language of their ‘all comers’ policy,” InterVarsity’s Greg Jao told CT. “They have clarified that the policy only requires that (a) we allow all students to become members, which we have always done, and (b) we allow all students to apply for leadership positions.”


Southern Baptist ethics entity will open office in the Middle East
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced last week it will open a Mideast office for international religious freedom. “We must contend for religious freedom for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for everyone else wherever they are on the globe,” ERLC President Russell Moore said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, according to reporting by Baptist Press. “We will not stand idly by while those with whom we will share eternity are being led to the slaughter.”


How can Christians pray for Muslims during Ramadan?
Former International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin encourages Christians to use the traditional Muslim month of fasting and prayer (which begins this Thursday) to pray for spiritual awakening among Muslims. “Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve,” Rankin writes for ChristianityToday.com, “we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.”


‘Inside Out’ puts emotions on the big screen
It’s official: The latest Disney/Pixar movie is a hit (although even it couldn’t defeat the dinosaurs of “Jurassic World” at the box office). In his review of “Inside Out” for PluggedIn.com, Paul Asay writes that the team behind the PG-rated film are communicating “a message that feels truly countercultural: Happiness isn’t everything.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Christian colleges and schools and other religious institutions–including churches–could face the loss of their tax exempt status if the Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage a constitutional right, writes college chancellor Michael Farris in an editorial for USA Today.

The_Briefing“Christian colleges and churches need to get prepared,” says Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “We must decide which is more important to us–our tax exemption or our religious convictions.”

Over at The Christian Post, Washington University law professor John Inazu examines the issue with help from a brief filed by a same-sex marriage advocate, who nonetheless outlines potential religious liberty concerns.


Bill would protect Missouri college groups
The Missouri Senate is considering a bill that allows religious student groups on public college campuses to limit membership based on their religious convictions. House Bill 104, the “Student Freedom of Association Act,” comes amidst a string of cases in other states where campus groups came under fire for who they allowed to join or serve as leaders. Last year, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was “derecognized” by the schools in the California State University system because the ministry’s leadership requirements were found to be in conflict with a university policy that required recognized groups to accept all students as potential leaders. Read more about the Missouri measure at ChristianPost.com.


Post-ruling marriage event planned
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission announced this month it will host a church equipping event in Austin, Texas, following the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. “The Gospel and Same-Sex Marriage: Equipping the Church for a Post-Marriage Culture,” is scheduled to be held at Austin Stone Community Church July 29. The event will also be available via free simulcast.


Is your church Google-friendly?
Due to changes at Google, some older church websites may not appear at the top of the list when web users search for churches in their city, Baptist Press reports. At issue is the “mobile friendliness” of your site, which can be tested at Google’s Mobile Friendly Test website.


‘Desperate days’ need uncommon prayer
Texas pastor Jack Graham called for extraordinary and uncommon prayer during the National Day of Prayer gathering in Washington, D.C., May 7. “We are facing a crisis in America. These are desperate days,” said Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and honorary chairperson of the National Day Of Prayer Task Force. “Uncommon times call for uncommon prayer, and so we cry out to God. We cry out to God.”


Dictionary mulls ‘Mx.’ title
Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary are considering adding a new pre-name title similar to Mr. and Mrs. The new moniker—Mx.—would denote transgender individuals. Mx. is used more commonly in the United Kingdom than in America, “but we are monitoring its development and will be interested to see if it takes root here in the same way it has in the U.K.,” Emily Brewster, an associate editor with Merriam-Webster, Inc., told The Christian Post.