Archives For Ed Stetzer

wp-adMore than 100 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders signed an open letter expressing their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. The open letter appeared as a full-page ad in the Feb. 7 issue of the Washington Post.

Two of the signatories — former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin — told Baptist Press their signatures reflect a specific policy disagreement and not a blanket repudiation of the president’s approach to immigration.

The letter addressed to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, stated, “As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement. Our care for the oppressed and suffering is rooted in the call of Jesus to ‘love our neighbor as we love ourselves.’ In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.”

The order, suspended by a lower court, was stayed Feb. 9 by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The president has vowed to continue to the fight which is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court.

The Christian relief organization, World Vision, coordinated the letter. According to a press release from the organization, an additional “500 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders representing every state in the nation” signed the letter but their names did not appear in the ad. The release also states, “World Relief is one of nine agencies nationally authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.”

Seven other Southern Baptists, including Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., were signatories. Stetzer first voiced his opposition to the order last month in an op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26.  The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore was not a signatory to the letter, but wrote his own letter to the president expressing his concern, which appeared in Jan. 30 issue of the Post.

Other well-known signatories include Max Lucado, author and minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX; Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Eugene Cho, pastor at Quest Church in Seattle; Derwin Gray, lead pastor at Transformation Church, SC; and Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL.

Read the full text of the letter.

– Lisa Sergent with additional reporting by Baptist Press

supreme-court-buildingImmediately following the election, Pew Research found 81% of white evangelicals said they for voted for Donald Trump. Many have said they did so because, with one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for others, they believed Trump would choose conservative nominees who would reflect their values. In naming Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Trump did exactly that.

Following the Gorsuch announcement, Southern Baptist culture watcher Ed Stetzer recalled that Pew poll and wrote on his blog at Christianity Today, “Evangelical Trump voters made a choice and many of them saw today, with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, that their choice was validated. They voted for the sanctity of life and for religious liberty.” Stetzer is the former head LifeWay Research who now leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Episcopalian from Denver, Colorado, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism. According to the Washington Post court reporter, Robert Barnes, this means “judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written — and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision.”

In a Jan. 27 interview with CBN, Trump said, “I think evangelicals, Christians will love my pick. And will be represented very fairly.” Gorsuch was the judge who had sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases. Suits were filed because the Affordable Care Act had imposed rules requiring them to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortion causing contraceptives to employees.

After the announcement, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler expressed thanks for Trump and supporting the nomination: “Judge Gorsuch is committed to textualism and will uphold the Constitution of the United States. His academic credentials are impeccable and his experience as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and his own distinguished tenure as an appeals court judge qualify him for this nomination without question.”

Russell Moore, President of the SBC’S Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a similar statement, calling Gorsuch, “an exceptional choice for Supreme Court justice. He is a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.…I heartily support President Trump’s excellent appointment.”

The Gorsuch nomination follows several others of interest to evangelicals. Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 2., pointed out other Trump nominees whom he called “followers of Christ”: Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, Rick Perry for Energy Department head, Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

–with info from Pew Research, ChristianityToday.com, and the Washington Post

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

61222russell_moore

Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

Ed_Stetzer_PC

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

Ronnie_Floyd_press

Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

albert-mohler2

Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

61222word_cloud

We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

Standing on the promises

61222trump_pence

Donald Trump (left), Mike Pence (right)

A third of Americans (34%) think Donald Trump will be a “good” or “very good” president, while 23% say “average” and 36% expect a “poor” performance. The survey by CBS News was conducted the second week of December, after Trump began announcing cabinet appointments.

The ratings fall along party lines: 70% of Republicans expect a good presidency, while 60% of Democrats predict poor results. That means evangelicals, who mostly supported Trump, have high expectations—but for what?

Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, on her Washington Post blog, points to a half-dozen areas where Trump’s campaign promises intersect with evangelical interests. Some are the expected areas involving religious liberty. The nomination of Supreme Court justices who will uphold pro-life legislation topped the list. Trump also said he would defund Planned Parenthood, sign a bill that forbids abortions after 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. It prohibits use of federal funds for most abortions. And Trump has expressed support for a group of nuns who have battled provisions in the Obama Affordable Care Act that mandate contraception as part of an organization’s health care plan. Southern Baptists have supported their lawsuit.

Trump promised to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the U.S. tax code, which prevents pastors from endorsing or opposing political candidates, or else lose their church’s tax exempt status. And he has taken a position on education funding that allows families to choose private, charter, or home schooling, with a promise to set aside $20 billion for vouchers in his first budget.

The U.S. will be a “true friend to Israel,” Trump said, a position common among evangelicals favoring Israeli interests over others in the Middle East and urging movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Many Southern Baptists would support these actions, if they came to pass. For SBC leaders who have been in contact with the future administration, the Trump presidency represents a new way of thinking about the White House. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Southern Baptists in general have viewed Republican administrations as allies in the causes of pro-life, families and marriage, and religious liberty. They have, at the least, been sympathetic to evangelical causes, and even co-laborers in the faith. (Remember the stories of George and Laura Bush singing hymns at the White House piano with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the keyboard?) Democratic presidents, on the other hand, have often been at odds with evangelicals’ causes, even if they claimed to be Baptists, as in the case of Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump represents a third way of relating to the White House: a president who made promises to evangelicals and drew their support at the polls, but who shares no apparent faith commitment with the born-again community. (There are no stories of Trump walking on the beach with Billy Graham and committing his life to Christ. And the tycoon-turned-president has said he sees no need to ask for forgiveness for his sins.)

The evangelicals closest to Trump, including incoming vice president Mike Pence, take on the role of Joseph in Egypt—keeping the interests of God’s people before pharaoh, hoping to keep his ear and hold him to his promises.

High hopes for high court

Some voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump said they did so because of concern for the U.S. Supreme Court. The February death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy, and three of the Justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, Stephen G. Breyer, 78—may be looking toward retirement in the next few years.

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson supported Trump. He told Christianity Today, “The next president will nominate perhaps three or more justices whose judicial philosophy will shape our country for generations to come.”

A LifeWay Research survey found 23% of evangelical pastors were most concerned about the candidates’ likely Supreme Court nominees. And 36% of Trump-supporting pastors cited the high court as a major factor in their choice.

Trump released a list of his potential Supreme Court nominees—20 judges and one senator, Mike Lee of Utah. Each met two criteria: they are pro-life and support the Second Amendment. The list was vetted and reviewed by the Federalist Society, which is comprised of conservative and libertarian lawyers, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Commentator Denny Burk told Baptist Press the list “does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.” Because Trump didn’t promise to pick someone from the list, Burk said, “The list means nothing….And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily…” Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Reince Priebus, future White House Chief of Staff, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on December 14 that the President-Elect will likely name Scalia’s replacement near the January 20 inauguration.

Priebus said Trump may choose a younger nominee. “Well, I tend to believe younger is better, too, but I can tell you what the president (elect) believes is that the most qualified, best person to serve on the Supreme Court is what’s most important….Certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor. Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.”

Tension between leaders, pews

61222russell_moore

Russell Moore

The 2016 presidential campaign and election exposed deeper divides than many knew existed in the U.S.­­—and within evangelicalism. White evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump, even while some of their leaders voiced their opposition.

As Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said after the election, “The evangelical leadership is out of touch with the evangelical rank-and-file,” during a Christianity Today podcast.
Tension over the election appears to be at least part of a rift between some Baptists and the SBC’s public policy entity, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In November, Louisiana Baptists voted to ask their convention’s executive board to study recent actions of the ERLC.

Will Hall, editor of the state’s Baptist Message newspaper, noted that the motion did not elaborate on the issues of concern, “but ERLC President Russell Moore has come under fire nationally from Southern Baptist laymen and leaders for a number of controversial actions and statements, including…his aggressive attacks on Southern Baptists who supported Donald Trump.”

Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in May in which he said the election “has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” His article caught the attention of Trump, who tweeted that Moore was a “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals.”

The op-ed also sparked a fervent debate on the SBC Voices blog, where Baptists posted a variety of opinions on Moore, from “he did what we pay him to do,” to “it is difficult for me to imagine Russell Moore functioning as ERLC President if Trump wins in November.”

The questions about Moore and the ERLC are just one example of the impact the 2016 election could have on religious organizations and denominations, and on the nature of Christian leadership. The tension leaders face, Ed Stetzer said, is between recognizing the responsibility to speak prophetically, and realizing they represent a constituency who largely feel very differently than they do.

For Christian leaders, their influence in the next four years may well depend on how well they strike the balance.

HOUSTON | Monday featured panel discussions on preaching and family, worship music led by FBC Houston’s choir and orchestra, and faith and culture-themed messages from Ed Stetzer and Mike Huckabee.

'The culture shifts, but we stand on an unshifting foundation," Ed Stetzer told the audience at the Pastors' Conference. "The question is, Will we live as salt, or will we take on another flavor, maybe bitterness?"

‘The culture shifts, but we stand on an unshifting foundation,” Ed Stetzer told the audience at the Pastors’ Conference. “The question is, Will we live as salt, or will we take on another flavor, maybe bitterness?”

North Carolina pastor Tony Merida joined a panel discussion on preaching, where participants answered questions about preparation, sermon length, and the appropriateness of personal illustrations.

North Carolina pastor Tony Merida joined a panel discussion on preaching, where participants answered questions about preparation, sermon length, and the appropriateness of personal illustrations.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee opened his Pastors' Conference message with humor: He no longer has to pay for a cell phone tracking app, because if he loses it, "I'm just going to call the government and say, 'Hey, where is my phone?'"

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee opened his Pastors’ Conference message with humor: He no longer has to pay for a cell phone tracking app, because if he loses it, “I’m just going to call the government and say, ‘Hey, where is my phone?'”

The choir and orchestra from First Baptist Church, Houston, led the audience in a moving anthem about the blood of Jesus.

The choir and orchestra from First Baptist, Houston, led the audience in a moving anthem about the blood of Jesus.

People stood to their feet and sang along with a familiar hymn: "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

People stood to their feet and sang along with a familiar hymn: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

HOUSTON | All three took center stage at different moments today in the Southern Baptist Convention Exhibit Hall.

The Southern Baptist Convention Exhibit Hall opened today, giving messengers a place to catch up with old friends, learn more about SBC agencies and partners, and meet a robot. (Keep scrolling down.)

The Southern Baptist Convention Exhibit Hall opened today, giving messengers a place to catch up with old friends, learn more about SBC agencies and partners, and meet a robot. (Keep scrolling down.)

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams (center) visited the exhibits at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center with his sons, Ethan (left) and Noah.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams (center) visited the exhibits at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center with his sons, Ethan (left) and Noah.

Illinois Baptist pastor Adam Cruse (center, in red) talked with friends in the exhibit hall, including Illinois' own Sons of the Father gospel group.

Illinois Baptist pastor Adam Cruse (center, in red) talked with friends in the exhibit hall, including Illinois’ own Sons of the Father gospel group.

A walking, talking robot (or Transformer) greeted guests at the LifeWay Christian Resources booth, charming most and befuddling a few born before the 1980s cartoon. LifeWay's "Transformational Church" materials are designed to help strengthen congregations by measuring the signs of a healthy church.

A walking, talking robot (or Transformer) greeted guests at the LifeWay Christian Resources booth, charming most and befuddling a few born before the 1980s cartoon. LifeWay’s “Transformational Church” materials are designed to help strengthen congregations by measuring the signs of a healthy church.

People gathered in the hall to hear from the Calvinism advisory team appointed to study how Southern Baptists can cooperate across theological divides. The team's findings likely will be featured during the SBC Executive Committee's report tomorrow.

People gathered in the hall to hear from the Calvinism advisory team appointed to study how Southern Baptists can cooperate across theological divides. The team’s findings likely will be featured during the SBC Executive Committee’s report tomorrow.

Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and a member of the advisory team, said, "When we talk about the unity, particularly in John 17 that Jesus prayed for, that is not the same thing as uniformity. And in fact, we become richer by the conversation that takes place across the spectrum."

Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and a member of the advisory team, said, “When we talk about the unity, particularly in John 17 that Jesus prayed for, that is not the same thing as uniformity. And in fact, we become richer by the conversation that takes place across the spectrum.”

LifeWay's Ed Stetzer interviewed Bible study author and teacher Beth Moore about how she went from a substitute Sunday School teacher to a world-renowned speaker.

LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer interviewed Bible study author and teacher Beth Moore about how she went from a substitute Sunday School teacher to a world-renowned speaker.

In-depth Bible study "has been life out of the ditch for me," Moore told Stetzer.

In-depth Bible study “has been life out of the ditch for me,” Moore told Stetzer.

 

pull quote_STETZERCOMMENTARY | Ed Stetzer

(From Baptist Press) Louie Giglio withdrew from the program at President Obama’s inauguration in the face of criticism over a 15-year-old sermon referencing homosexuality as a sin. Many will want to debate and desire to nuance the specific wording he used in the sermon, but his points are largely mainstream evangelical beliefs.

This Louie Giglio moment, and the Chick-fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that, raise the question: Where do people of faith with long-standing traditional religious/scriptural convictions go from here?

For those of us who know Louie, this is a strange moment indeed — but also illustrative of how our culture has turned. Louie has dedicated his life to helping others — the poor, the enslaved, those trapped in sexual trafficking. Yet, I do not recognize the person I see portrayed on the news — a bigoted homophobe driven by his hatred for gays. You can be certain that is not Louie Giglio — even though some prefer to believe that any opposition to homosexual practice, and people who hold that view, must apparently be silenced for the common good.

In a recent LifeWay Research study, 37 percent of American adults agreed that homosexuality is a sin. That number is declining (down from 44 percent according to a 2011 survey), but it is still a substantial minority. Yet, such views (which were mainstream just a few decades ago) are indeed now a minority position — and viewed as unacceptable by many in society.

So, what does this mean for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and others who believe that their authoritative religious texts teach something the prevailing culture finds so unacceptable that they are no longer welcome in the public square? Must they jettison their sacred texts and adopt new views to be accepted as part of society? If they do not, will they be marginalized and demonized even as they serve the poor, care for the orphan or speak against injustice?

Or, instead, can we recognize that a substantial minority in our culture hold views they see as rooted in their scriptures and part of their faith, even though those views may not always be popularly accepted?

Yes, the First Amendment protects these views. But we also have to decide if the people who hold such views can be protected by our self-identified tolerant culture as they seek not just to hold those beliefs in secret, but also dare to utter them in public — even on a sermon tape 15 years ago.

Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared at USATODAY.com.