Archives For faith and culture

Pence to take SBC stage Wednesday
The announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 met with some pushback from Baptists who say his appearance ties the denomination to a particular political party, and to divisive rhetoric that goes against the mission of the church. But a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer failed on the convention floor Tuesday.

Related:

  • At a panel discussion in Dallas, former SBC President James Merritt said the #metoo movement is a “wakeup call” for pastors.
  • Christianity Today reports that women—and the church’s response to abuse—are garnering “unprecedented attention” at this year’s annual meeting

Masterpiece baker: ‘My religion can’t be hidden’
Back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips views his faith in a new light after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips says he’s learned his faith—while deeply personal—can’t be hidden from view.

Ex-LGBTQ Christians rally against bill criminalizing same-sex change
California Assembly Bill 2943, which would ban faith-based efforts to counsel members of the LGBTQ community, will be up for debate before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, the bill will criminalize “sexual orientation change efforts” by making it illegal to distribute resources, sell books, offer counseling services, or direct someone to a biblically-based model for getting help with gender confusion and homosexuality. Ex-LGBTQ activists and ministry leaders are working to make sure the bill is voted down.

Jockey praises ‘Lord and Savior’ after win
After winning the Belmont Stakes, Mike Smith, the jockey riding Justify in Saturday night’s race, told reporters, “First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Justify led all the way in New York’s Belmont Stakes on his way to becoming racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith, 52 and a devout Christian, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Colorado Public Radio, CBN (2)

The Briefing

Beth Moore pens open letter on sexism
A member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council has released an open letter, giving an apology to noted evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore over the sexism she has experienced in some church leadership environments. Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, penned an open letter describing her experiences of misogyny within certain conservative evangelical circles.

Patterson comments draw range of women’s responses
A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.” An open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Paige Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse garnered more than 1,800 signatures in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.

IL senate bill requires schools to teach LGBT history
The Illinois Senate approved a bill requiring all public schools in the state to teach about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in history. The bill would require that textbooks “accurately portray the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, and must be non-discriminatory as to certain characteristics under the Act.” It would also become effective be July 1, 2019.

Disney ends Christian concert after 35 years
After 35 years, Disney World says it will no longer host the Night of Joy Christian music festival. The annual event held in early September started in 1983 and drew popular Christian artists like TobyMac, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, and Michael W. Smith. Despite the cancellation, Disney says various Christian groups and artists will still continue to hold concerts at the resort in Florida.

Trump reveals White House Faith Initiative
President Donald Trump has marked the National Day of Prayer with a new policy designed to protect faith groups and their involvement with the American government. After over a year of ad-hoc meetings with evangelicals, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will formalize his administration’s ties with faith leaders and offer faith-based organizations equal access to government funding.

2018 SBC Credentials Committee announced, Tellers also named
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines has announced appointees to the 2018 Credentials Committee. Gaines has also named tellers for the SBC 2018 annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.

Sources: Christian Post (2), Baptist Press (3), CBN, Christianity Today (2), Washington Post

Compiled by Andrew Woodrow, IBSA Multi-Media Journalist

The Briefing

Wheaton College wins battle against birth control mandate
Wheaton College has won a five-year battle in not having to provide services like the week-after pill and abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plans. A district court judge has ruled that the government would violate federal civil rights laws if it forced the Illinois-based Christian liberal arts college to provide some services against its religious beliefs. The decision permanently protects Wheaton from any current or future version of the mandate, according to the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the college.

DE schools push for kids to choose own race, gender
Children as young as five would be permitted to choose their own race and gender-identity —without approval from their parents — under a controversial new policy proposed in Delaware. Drafted by the state Department of Education, “Regulation 225 Prohibition of Discrimination” would require schools to provide access to facilities and activities consistent with a student’s gender identity — regardless of the child’s sex at birth or age, even if their parents object.

US Embassy in Jerusalem to open in May
The United States plans to open its new embassy in Jerusalem in May 2018, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declared independence following the Arab-Israeli War, U.S. officials said. Most U.S. diplomatic staff will continue to operate from Tel Aviv.

Christians in India: ‘Most traumatic’ persecution in years
As Christian persecution continues to rise in India under the governance of a Hindu nationalist party, a report by an evangelical group describes the year 2017 as “one of the most traumatic for the Christian community” in 10 years. About 100 Christians were killed and thousands of Christian homes were burned down or destroyed, says the Annual Report on Hate Crimes against Christians in India in 2017.

US puts Iranian Christians at risk of persecution
The Trump administration has denied asylum to more than 100 Iranian Christians and other refugees who face possible persecution in their home country. The group of refugees, mostly Christians along with other non-Muslims, have been stranded in Vienna for more than a year, waiting for final approval to resettle in the United States. Now they face possible deportation back to Iran, where rights advocates say they face potential retaliation or imprisonment by the regime in Tehran for seeking asylum in the United States.

Sources: The Christian Post (3), The Times of Israel, Foreign Policy, Christianity Today

The Briefing

David Platt is ready to leave the IMB
When David Platt became a teaching pastor at a DC-area megachurch last year, onlookers wondered whether the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) could really do both jobs. Platt answered them announcing that he will end his three-and-a-half-year tenure at the IMB to work at McLean Bible Church as soon as the Southern Baptist missions agency can find his replacement.

Christian baker wins Calif. court battle
A California trial court has upheld a Christian baker’s right to refuse to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, but the decision comes as a similar case is already pending in the nation’s highest court. Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller’s freedom of speech “outweighs” the state of California’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace, Judge David R. Lampe said in his decision in the Superior Court of California in Kern County, one of the state’s 58 trial courts.

CBF nixes ‘absolute’ LGBT hiring ban, maintains it for leaders
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Governing Board has voted to lift the Fellowship’s “absolute prohibition” of hiring homosexual and transgender employees. But CBF “leadership positions in ministry” and missionary roles still will be limited to individuals “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and man,” according to a hiring “implementation procedure” also adopted by the Governing Board. Other positions will be open to “Christians who identify as LGBT.”

Beth Moore, other evangelical leaders publish a letter urging action on immigration
A diverse group of evangelical leaders have put their names on a full-page ad in the Washington Post urging the President and Congress to act on immigration and refugee policy. It has some of the same signatures who have long focused on the welcoming part of immigration. However, it also adds some interesting names, including Bible teacher Beth Moore and popular author Jen Hatmaker, two women who have become increasingly vocal in the Trump era.

Changes in abortion legislation sweeping the country
2017 saw more wins for pro-life legislation than pro-abortion legislation. Including those adopted in 2017, states have enacted 401 abortion restrictions since January 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Legislators in 30 states have introduced abortion bans, with six states enacting new laws in 2017.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press (2), Washington Post, Stream

Fully staffed Court poised to rule on religious liberty issues

Christians and other conservatives hoped the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April would tilt the court toward a favorable view of religious liberty concerns. As a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gorsuch’s rulings supported Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

So far, Gorsuch’s previous rulings have extended to his time on the High Court. In June, he was part of 7-2 ruling that found Christian schools should have the opportunity to be awarded government grants for playground upgrades. And this year, the court has agreed to hear the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.

In 2017, other cases related to religious liberty played out elsewhere in the judicial system:

On Oct. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules to provide relief from the requirement that employers provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions. But a Dec. 15 ruling by a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the new rules.

And late last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the state did not violate the First Amendment rights of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 in 2015 for refusing to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that found the Kleins’ refusal was based on unlawful discrimination against homosexuals.

While Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court was a victory for religious freedom advocates, mixed results from other courts could indicate a contentious year ahead, and new territory for the church to navigate.

– With reporting from Baptist Press

The Briefing

J.D. Greear to be SBC president nominee again
Two years after withdrawing from a closely contested election for Southern Baptist Convention president, North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear once again will be nominated for SBC president, Florida pastor Ken Whitten announced Jan. 29. In a statement released to Baptist Press, Greear said, “I am again allowing my name to be placed in nomination” after “a lot of prayer, encouragement and counsel, with the consent of our [Summit] leadership team and Veronica my wife.”

Among themes Greear would emphasize as SBC president, he wrote, are “the Gospel above all” as the convention’s source of unity; “cultural and racial diversity”; “intentional, personal evangelism”; “church planting”; and “engagement of the next generation in cooperative giving and mission.”

After baptism gone wrong, court weakens church protections
A year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided a Muslim convert to Christianity couldn’t sue First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa for inadvertently alerting his would-be murderers with its online announcement of the baptism. Ten months later, the justices changed their minds, issuing a decision that the man could have his day in court. Last week, First Presbyterian has asked the state’s top court to take a third look at the case, arguing that the justices mixed up two separate issues of law: the ecclesiastical extension/church autonomy doctrine and the ministerial exception.

Barna: Atheism doubles among Generation Z
More than any other generation before them, Gen Z (born between 1999 and 2015) does not assert a religious identity. They might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations, many of whom received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.

Same-sex couples fight citizenship battle
Two same-sex couples filed lawsuits this week against the U.S. State Department, arguing it unlawfully discriminated against them by denying their children U.S. citizenship. Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, LGBT advocates have been pushing back against laws that uphold the biological reality that every child is the genetic offspring of just one man and one woman and that a biological connection carries weight.

The internet has made Americans more casual about religion
A recent study by Baylor University has found evidence that the more we use the internet, the less likely we are to have a specific religious affiliation or to believe in and practice one religion exclusively. The study found that 55% of Americans don’t use the internet to access religious or spiritual content; another 23% said they do so at most once a month. Three-quarters of Americans said they never talk about their religious views on social media.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research, World Magazine, Gizmodo

Table Grace

It starts with a simple invitation.

“Have dinner with us.”

In a world where people tend to isolate themselves from their neighbors, Chad Williams and his family are recapturing an old-school concept to make a gospel difference in their community.

The family of five has a vision for biblical hospitality. They’re on a mission to bring people into their home and around their table to hear the gospel.

“They need Jesus, so we want them to come over to our house and see what it looks like to be a family that follows Christ,” said Williams, former family pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur and the new senior pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church.

“All of our flaws, all of our issues, our dirty house,” Williams said. “This is who we are.”

The Williamses try to designate one night a week to invite people to their home for a meal. It’s not fancy—tacos or chili. And it’s not necessarily reciprocated. But the family has been able to sow seeds of the gospel, and they’ve seen results. Recently, they invited a family from church to dinner. The father, not yet a Christian, engaged in several hours of conversation with the Williamses.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know our neighbors, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.” – Chad Williams, Rochester FBC

“He had a perception of who Christians were…as he got to spend time with us, there became this openness,” Williams said. A few weeks later, the man decided to follow Christ.

Asked if the commitment to spend time with others each week impinges on their family time, Williams said no, because it’s a shared commitment. The family is still at home, still sharing a meal together. They’re just inviting another family to join them. “We see this as part of our mission,” he said, “and we want to be on mission as a family.”

How can we help?
Chris Merritt and his wife, Alyssa, moved to Blue Mound, Ill., seven years ago. Both raised in central Illinois, the couple knew they wanted to live in a smaller town. Blue Mound, a community of around 1,200, is where they’re raising their two pre-teen sons.

Their church, Tabernacle Baptist in Decatur, sponsors two small groups in the region where the Merritts live. Along with their fellow life group members, the family is invested in building relationships in Blue Mound through community activities and by simply looking for opportunities to meet needs.

About a year ago, the Merritts approached their local school to see how they could help out. When the principal identified mentoring as an area of need, the couple and others from their church started a mentoring program.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.” – Chris Merritt, Tabernacle BC

“It’s just a regular, consistent positive influence of adults into kids’ lives who maybe need an extra positive influence,” said Merritt, who serves as church administrator at Tabernacle. The 12 students in the mentoring program have lunch every other week with their mentors. For that hour, he said, someone is asking them questions, encouraging them, and helping them make good decisions.

Outside of the mentoring program, the Merritts also are involved in Blue Mound through community sports leagues—the kids as players, and Merritt as a coach. He said being involved in the community through their kids’ activities is a natural choice. And they try to be intentional about making the most of their opportunities.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.”

Faith in action
Erica Luce credits her husband’s upbringing for her children’s willingness to serve their neighbors. “Dan spent his life serving others because his parents were so others-focused,” said the member of Delta Church in Springfield. That’s why their three children can often be found raking or shoveling to help a neighbor, or baking a welcome present for neighborhood newcomers.

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God,” Luce said. “They see faith in action, whether they want it or not.”

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God.” – Erica Luce, Delta Church

It’s been contagious on their block too, she said, recalling a time when her 12-year-son was shoveling a neighbor’s driveway and another neighbor came out to help.

Seeing the family home as missionary tool—whether it’s a place to invite people to, or a place missionaries are sent out of—is something Christians needs to recapture, Chad Williams said. Too often, we’ve lost the idea that our neighborhoods and workplaces are mission fields. Instead of seeing people’s need for Jesus, we see our co-workers and neighbors simply as people we interact with—and, if they’re hurting, we often don’t know it.

Rather than backing away from a culture that seems increasingly far from the gospel, Christian families have an opportunity to lean in closer, Williams said.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know them, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.”