Archives For evangelicals

No help for florist, baker, photo-maker
Reports are circulating about a leaked draft of an executive order designed to expand protections for individuals, organizations, and corporations’ religious convictions—including traditional beliefs on gender, sexuality, and marriage. According to experts, the four-page draft, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would strengthen religious exemptions under federal laws and programs, but it wouldn’t have the reach to quell debates over Christian-owned businesses refusing to serve same-sex weddings.

Congress proposes Johnson Amendment overhaul
Members of Congress have introduced legislation to enable churches and other non-profit organizations to endorse candidates or otherwise participate in political campaigns without fear of penalties from the Internal Revenue Service. The Free Speech Fairness Act would free pastors, churches and other tax-exempt entities to intervene on behalf of or against candidates in an election campaign. The measure would still prohibit financial donations from such organizations to candidates or campaigns, a bill sponsor said.

Falwell to head Trump ed task force
Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr. will head an education reform task force under President Donald Trump and is keen to cut university regulations, including rules on dealing with campus sexual assault, the school he heads said. The Liberty University president believes on-campus sexual assault investigations are best left to police and prosecutors.

Scouting and gender politics
The Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow girls who identify as boys to participate in its boys-only programs. In the past three years, the group has allowed both homosexual adults and young men to join as Scouts and leaders. The Scouts required parents to show birth certificates to verify their child’s gender. Now, the Scouts will accept whatever gender parents list on the application forms.

Pig embryos with human cells ‘problematic’
Biologists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., announced they generated stem cells from human skin, then injected them into a pig embryo and allowed the embryo to grow four weeks in a sow’s uterus. After four weeks, human cells “were distributed randomly across the chimera,” The Washington Post reported. Joy Riley, a physician and executive director of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture, told Baptist Press the pig embryos with human calls are “morally problematic.”

 Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, World Magazine, Baptist Press

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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

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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

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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.

After a destructive election cycle, it’s time to ask some basic questions. 

Flag of USA painted on cracked wall. Political concept. Old text

Inwardly I chuckled when church historian Mark Noll said, “Evangelicalism is a fractious beast.” I was interviewing him for a documentary on the role Billy Graham played in the development of the evangelical movement when he founded Christianity Today magazine in 1956. As described by Noll, at the time a Wheaton College professor, evangelicals had no driving force other than their love for Jesus and desire to share him with the world.

In post-war mid-century America, the number of evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, was growing rapidly, but they were a people “about many things” as Jesus described Martha, with impact on society disproportionately weak compared to their numbers. They had no recognized think-tank to coalesce and articulate their conservative, biblical views and no central voice to bring those views to bear on culture, the courts, and behavior of the masses. No one was really paying attention to evangelicals as a political or cultural phenomenon.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Graham remedied that by bringing top Christian thinkers together in his magazine, brought unity around a few ideals such that evangelicals over the next twenty years became a movement, and through a popular medium of the day he gave them a megaphone to broadcast their beliefs.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Evangelicals today are fractured. The 2016 election cycle has divided us. While 4 out of 5 white evangelicals (the SBC’s predominant constituency) voted for Trump, that fact should not be read as evangelical unity. Believers who may have voted for Trump did so for a variety of reasons. Some were wholeheartedly behind the candidate; some were choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Some were motivated by religious liberty issues, or the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, or pro-life concerns.

No single issue or theology can be said to have brought together the 81% of self-identified white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

And there’s the other 19% who didn’t. And African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic believers who pollsters don’t measure as “evangelicals” and often lump in with other Protestants groups or even Catholics.

We are divided. The divides are between white and black, urban and rural, high levels of education and lesser. And in Southern Baptist life, we have seen some divide between older and younger Christians (especially Millennials), and notable differences among spokesmen for Baptist causes, and distance between leaders and pews.

What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

For the first time in a generation, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission does not appear to have spoken for average Southern Baptists. Russell Moore and a few others were critical of Trump, especially on issues of character and behavior. On the other hand, a few leading megachurch pastors, including Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, stood with Trump. Others kept mum. SBC president Steve Gaines advised not making politics a church issue, so as not to offend people who need to the hear the gospel.

In this election, there were many reasons for speaking up—or not. Thus, in their analysis of the Republican win, pundits may report evangelicals a “silent majority,” but if that is the case, this majority was bound by many motivations.

The need of the hour is for evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular, to process this awkward election theologically—not practically, politically, or emotionally—and identify the kingdom-worthy reasons for future political involvement. What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

Is it U.S. Supreme Court appointments that preserve religious liberty? Marriage, family, gender preservation?

Is it social justice and a biblical view of peace, poverty, and the sanctity of human life?

And what is the role of character and trustworthiness in supporting a candidate or, moving forward, working with a presidential administration? Which is mandatory for Christ-followers when choosing political allies: biblical political positions or biblical behavior? (It appears nearly impossible to find both in a single person these days.)

In the 1950s, Graham drew Christians together around conservative, biblical theology, and eventually brought that to bear on politics and politicians—not the other way around. At 98 (his birthday was the day before the election), does Graham even recognize the movement he codified?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist. 

Well, here we are

ib2newseditor —  November 9, 2016

Old Glory Flag

Though the majority of the nation is still surprised and in shock, half the nation is angry and hurting, and way more than half the nation is still overwhelmingly discontent with the outcome of last night’s election, here we are. The election process is over. Half of the country helped elect what they consider to be “the lesser of two evils” and the other half is stunned that the victorious candidate is considered by anyone to be “the lesser of two evils”.

As I have spent time reflecting on this election – this crazy, unbelievable, disappointing, and astonishing election – I have found myself ending up at the same place over and over again.

Though (I hope) few, if any, Christians would actually say this, most seem to view their political party of choice as the primary agent of cultural change and hope for our nation. Then again, I know many who would actually say that. But the idea that the Democratic Party is the party of God because it prioritizes things like diversity, equality, harmony, and caring for the poor, or, likewise, the idea that the Republican Party is the party of God because it prioritizes things like religious freedom, pro-life movements, and a conservative supreme court – needs to go.

Now, let me be clear – part of the beauty of our democracy is that we all have the freedom to care about certain issues and vote our conscience. That freedom is a gift from God for which every American should be grateful. But, Christians cannot continue to allow the church to become as polarized as our nation. Yes, our nation is more polarized than it has been in a long time because of this election and the events surrounding it. But in the face of such polarization, the church ought respond with unification, re-commitment to the Kingdom of God and the gospel message, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our identity as the Church defines us infinitely more deeply and profoundly than our identity as Republicans or Democrats. To see so much passion and so much anger surrounding this election only reminds us that so many have slipped into the idolatrous idea that our government is our savior and king.

Neither candidate was messiah and neither party is God’s chosen agent of change in this world – His Church is that agent of change. Neither party will deliver us from evil – only God will. Neither party can save us from a downward spiral, only God can. Neither party can offer true hope, only God can. There is no easier day and no easier year to see these truths than on this day of this year.

American is not God’s chosen nation. The Democratic Party is not God’s chosen party. The Republican Party is not God’s chosen party. And most importantly, neither party is His great love. The Church alone is God’s chosen people, whom he has drawn to himself and called to be the greatest agent of change the world has ever seen. The church alone is God’s embassy of hope, left here to represent his kingdom in this foreign land.

As we begin a new four year “reign” under a new political regime, may we constantly remind ourselves that Jesus alone is King and that his gospel message is the only message that matters.

Noah Adams is associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin, IL. He is also the son of IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams and wife Beth. This article was originally posted on Noah’s blog, Honest Thoughts About Church.

The BriefingExplaining the evangelical vote for Trump or Clinton
Last week, Donald Trump said that if evangelicals vote, he would win the 2016 presidential election. But while he commands a clear lead over Hillary Clinton for their support, surveys also show American evangelicals are much more divided this year compared to previous elections. Recent survey findings show how evangelicals are voting in 2016 and why.

High court accepts transgender case
The Supreme Court announced Oct. 28 it will review a lower court opinion regarding the right of a student to use the public school restroom that matches her gender identity rather than her biological sex. Oral arguments in the case likely will take place in early 2017, and an opinion is expected before the court adjourns next summer.

Danger follows Christian refugees to Germany
The situation of Christian refugees in German shelters is “unbearable” according to an updated report released this month and co-authored by Open Doors Germany. The report documents 743 cases of discrimination, death threats, and physical assaults against Christians by Muslim refugees between February and May of this year and claims the findings are only “the tip of the iceberg.”

Hatmaker books pulled over LGBT views
LifeWay Christian Resources has discontinued resources featuring bestselling Bible study author Jen Hatmaker just days after she voiced approval of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. The Southern Baptist Convention entity has published several resources by the popular speaker and reality television star, including the bestselling B&H Publishing book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.”

The remarkable Billy Graham
Evangelist Billy Graham turned 98 November 7. Graham’s most obvious legacy is the three million men and women who registered commitments for Christ at his crusades. Graham’s legacy has also taken forms that are hard to measure but important to remember. We see them especially in the realms of evangelical beliefs, everyday life, American politics, and Christian hope.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Christianity Today

Election 2016Since the big June meeting between Donald Trump and about 1,000 evangelical leaders, including a handful of Southern Baptist pastors, the political conversation involving conservative Christians has dropped off noticeably. Christians have grown quiet on politics. Even the Twitterverse is quiet right now.

One exception: an op/ed piece in USA Today by Hobby Lobby CEO David Green pointing to the pivotal nature of the U.S. Supreme Court. “Make no mistake, the vacancy left by Justice Scalia and the subsequent appointment to fill his seat makes this presidential election one of the most significant in modern times.”

Green’s company was at the center of a 2014 judgment that allowed his corporation to refuse to pay for abortion-inducing drugs as part of its health insurance plan because of religious objections, despite requirements under the Obama Affordable Health Care Act. The high court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby was 5-4. “It’s frightening to me to think that we—and all Americans—were just one vote away from losing our religious freedom,” Green wrote.

That’s the reason he gives for supporting Donald Trump. “(Hillary) Clinton has made no secret she believes government interests supersede the protection of religious liberty.”

Green’s concern for religious liberty is understandable and even commendable, but his essay serves to show that evangelicals are no longer a one-issue people.

Beginning with the emergence of the Moral Majority, evangelicals became a force and a voting bloc. Their anti-abortion theology drove evangelicals to candidates who were expressly pro-life. Fortunately, those candidates were often in agreement with conservative Christians on many other issues as well, so supporting them advanced a whole bundle of issues. It worked for 30 years.

Not so today.

Green’s commentary underscores that evangelicals are not all in agreement on the importance of any one issue any more than they support any one candidate. The world is too complex for a single-issue approach.

In this head-scratcher of election cycles, some evangelicals are valuing other issues as highly as pro-life and religious freedom: What about a candidate’s trustworthiness, honesty, temperament, and character? What is his or her history of relations with dangerous nations, prudence in peacetime or courage in war? What about the prospect of handling the nuclear codes?

Maybe many in the Christian community are relatively quiet on this presidential election because they’re still thinking about it.

And scratching their heads.

– DER

Faith-based Veeps

ib2newseditor —  July 29, 2016

Presidential nominees choose running mates with more evangelical appeal

Pence and KaineHeading into the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, one unanswered question was how—and if—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would seek to galvanize the support of evangelical voters. Both candidates’ picks for vice president, made immediately before their parties’ conventions, could be seen as a way to reach out to Christian voters who have felt under-represented this campaign season.

Trump named Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, as his running mate. Taking the stage in Cleveland, Pence declared, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” He peppered his acceptance speech with phrases familiar to Christians: “I have faith that God can still heal our land” and “Pray daily for a wise and discerning heart.”
The governor, who grew up Catholic, gave his life to Jesus Christ as a college student in 1978, he told CBN News in 2010. He and his wife, Karen, attend College Park Church in Indianapolis, and Pence describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”

Pence came under fire last year when he signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Critics claimed the bill discriminated against the LGBT community, while supporters claimed it protected the rights of religious believers to practice their faith. Corporations, major sporting events, and individuals threatened to boycott the state. A few days later, Pence signed an amendment to the bill which also protected sexual orientation and gender identity rights, causing some conservatives to question his commitment to religious freedom.

At the Republican National Convention, in what some saw as an appeal to evangelicals, Trump pledged he and Pence would do away with the Johnson Amendment, which became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954. Then-Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed the measure, which restricts tax-exempt religious organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

The Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, also introduced her running mate prior to her party’s national convention. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine has attended St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond for nearly 30 years, and also has done mission work in Honduras. The former Virginia governor sings in the choir at his predominately African-American church.

Kaine has used biblical terminology to express his displeasure at the Senate’s recent failure to pass stricter gun laws. He told 60 Minutes, “The chamber was ringed with the family members from Sandy Hook, with Virginia Tech family members sitting with them and helping them. There’s a phrase in the letter to the Hebrews that talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but we couldn’t do the right thing.”

Kaine’s stance on abortion could be troubling to Christian voters. He told CNN in July that his view on abortion is traditionally Catholic, meaning pro-life, “but I am very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn’t intrude. I’m a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and women being able to make these decisions. In government, we have enough things to worry about. We don’t need to make people’s reproductive decisions for them.”

Uneasy alliances
With just four months until the general election, a new Pew poll shows Trump has a commanding lead among white evangelicals, 78% of whom say they will vote for him, compared to 17% who support Clinton.

Black Protestant voters overwhelmingly say they support Clinton—89%, compared to 8% for Trump. Hispanic Catholics also support Clinton (77%) over Trump (16%).
Pew found voters in general are not pleased with their choices for president: 42% said it would be difficult to choose between the candidates because neither one would make a good president.

Voter motivation is also a key issue in the 2016 election, Pew found. Of the 78% of white evangelicals who support Trump, 45% said their decision was “mainly a vote against Clinton,” compared to 30% who said it was “mainly a vote for Trump.”

The survey comes after Trump’s meeting in June with nearly 1,000 evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists. At least eight Southern Baptists now serve on his evangelical advisory panel.

– Lisa Sergent