Archives For Disaster Relief

High-profile religious freedom cases set for high court’s 2019-20 session
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider several cases dealing with the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, including a trio of cases that ask whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law.

“This is shaking up to be an exciting term for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the religious freedom legal nonprofit Becket, as reported by The Christian Post.

“I think this term will see the court have some opportunities to tighten up and improve its doctrine and in the process, perhaps, stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years by giving some clear answers and some clear resolutions to some lingering controversies.”

IBSA joins religious freedom lawsuits
The Illinois Baptist State Association will join two lawsuits involving religious liberty issues for the purpose of protecting Southern Baptist churches in the state. One case involves zoning regulations that prohibit churches and church plants from being located in certain areas of a city; the other contests requirements that churches and religious institutions cover the cost of abortions for their employees.

World Vision shifts sponsorship program to empower kids
A ministry dedicated to helping impoverished children around the world will now let the kids choose their own sponsors, instead of the other way around. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told Christianity Today. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

United Methodists to consider separation plans
Following a narrow vote in February to keep its traditional positions on marriage and qualifications for clergy, the United Methodist Church appears poised for a breakup next year. Religion News Service reports the country’s second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptists) will consider how to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination, while keeping their ties to support organizations like publishing houses.

Disaster Relief continues in the Bahamas
Southern Baptist agencies are working with local churches and Baptist leaders to help residents of the Bahamas rebuild after Hurricane Dorian. “At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there,” said Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

Sources: Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

Relief agencies respond to urgent needs after storm
Hundreds of people are still missing in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which did massive damage in the island nation as it crawled toward the U.S. coast. At least 44 people died in the storm, local officials have said. Samaritan’s Purse is among the ministry organizations on the scene, assisting with medical care, emergency shelters, and water filtration, The Christian Post reports.

Baptist Global Response also is coordinating aid in the Bahamas, supplying food, blankets, and hygiene kits to families in need.

Newspaper reports on Baptist church autonomy
The Houston Chronicle continues its coverage of Southern Baptist response to sexual abuse in the denomination with a new story on the doctrine of church autonomy. A new lawsuit filed in Virginia claims local, state, and national Southern Baptist leaders were negligent after eight boys were abused by a youth minister. The suit, the Chronicle reports, is rare in that it names the SBC as a defendant. And some leaders new policies adopted by the SBC could make the denomination vulnerable to future lawsuits.

Southern Baptists celebrate ‘Baptism Sunday’
Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention held baptism services Sept. 8 as part of a denomination-wide focus on the ordinance. “I was encouraged to see so many churches issue an intentional call to embrace the Lordship of Christ and express that through baptism!” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press. “May God give these churches grace to ensure these are not just converts but disciples.”

Read stories from Baptism Sunday here.

College’s social media policy sparks free speech debate
Lousiana College’s social media policy requires certain students to give administrators access to their personal accounts and requires all students to report inappropriate information posted by classmates, Christianity Today reports. A former professor says the policy “seems designed to silence criticism from students, faculty, and staff,” but the Southern Baptist school says it’s meant to protect the institution and its students.

Church exodus continues, but Barna finds ‘resilient disciples’
Barna says 64% of people 18-29 years old who grew up in church have withdrawn as an adult after having been active as a child or teen. About one-in-ten young Christians, though, run counter to the trends, Barna reports. Among several markers, these “resilient disciples” are involved in a faith community beyond worship attendance and strongly affirm the Bible is inspired by God and contains truth about the world.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Global Response, Houston Chronicle, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research

Photo: Baptist Global Response

Tug-of-war intensifies over freedom of conviction
Both the Democratic Party and superstar Taylor Swift spoke out last week against “religious liberty,” or at least how it’s generally defined by Christians and conservative voters. First, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution Aug. 24 acknowledging that religiously unaffiliated people “overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’s values.” The resolution also takes aim at “misplaced claims of ‘religious liberty’” used to “justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans.”

Swift echoed the resolution’s message during her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, where her LGBTQ rights-themed song “You Need to Calm Down” won video of the year. (The video includes performers connected to LGBTQ causes, as well as a small group of protestors holding misspelled signs opposing LGBTQ rights.)

“You voting for this video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under the law, regardless of who we love, regardless of how we identify,” Swift told viewers, also urging them to sign her online petition in support of the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes protected under federal civil rights law. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in May, but the measure hasn’t been approved by the Republican-majority Senate.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases of three employees who claim they were discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief stating non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law do not cover orientation or identity.

Disaster Relief volunteers brace for Dorian response
On Monday, news reports detailed Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas, while Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders in Florida stood ready to respond to needs in the storm’s aftermath.

Baptist church mourns father killed in Texas mass shooting
Joseph Griffith, 40, was one of seven people killed in Texas’ Permian Basin Aug. 31 when a gunman began shooting at random following a traffic stop. Griffith, a father of two, attended First Baptist Church in Odessa with his family. “We all feel a sense of being violated,” Pastor Byron McWilliams said during the church’s worship service the next day. “Every single one of us does because all of a sudden what we hear about from far, far away has come close to home.”

Village Church answers sexual abuse lawsuit
A Southern Baptist church in Texas said it is not liable for damages suffered by a woman who alleges she was sexually abused in 2012 at a camp sponsored by the church. A $1 million lawsuit claims The Village Church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe. In a response filed Aug. 23, the church “generally denies each and every allegation in Plaintiff’s Original Petition and demands strict proof by a preponderance of the credible evidence.”

Students face doubts, questions at evangelical colleges
A new study finds students at evangelical colleges and universities are more likely to feel spiritually unsettled, unsure, or disillusioned than their counterparts at secular schools and mainline institutions. Many school administrators are aware of the dynamics, Christianity Today reports, and working to help students through the struggle.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Press, Odessa American, Christianity Today

Disaster Relief teams respond in Iowa, Nebraska
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders are working with a critical timeframe in the Midwest, where flooding has damaged homes and displaced residents. With tornado season looming and warmer temperatures on the way, responding to more than 1,400 requests for help is urgent, said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR at the North American Mission Board.

Illinois teams are currently serving in Glenwood, Iowa, and are scheduled to be there through May. For more information, go to IBSA.org/DR.

Prolific Warren Wiersbe remembered for writing gift
“I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic,” said writer and pastor Warren Wiersbe. “I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God.”

Wiersbe authored more than 150 books, including the “Be” commentaries, a 50-volume series on the Old and New Testaments. Wiersbe died May 2 at the age of 89.

Fellow leaders mourn Rachel Held Evans
Progressive Christian writer and speaker Rachel Held Evans died May 4 after a brief illness. She was 37. Christian leaders from across the theological spectrum grieved for Evans’ husband and young children, and lauded her unique style, despite disagreements they may have had.

Church membership down, anxiety up nationwide
Gallup reported last month that 50% of Americans are church members, a decline of 20 percentage points since 1999. Another study from the researcher reports Americans were more stressed, worried, and angry in 2018 than at most other times in the last decade.

Floyd calls church to unity on National Day of Prayer
“…Government cannot fix us. Politics cannot heal us. But loving one another can change the world,” said Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd on the National Day of Prayer observance in the U.S. Capitol. Floyd, National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman and president-election of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said, “A divided church cannot call a divided nation to unity. Love is the better way.”

-Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today, ChristianPost.com, Gallup.com

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

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.

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.