Archives For faith and culture

The Briefing

Church’s roll purge incites media ‘circus’
Cave City (Ky.) Baptist Church, some 90 miles north of Nashville, sent a letter July 16 to nearly 70 members it alleges were not attending “habitually,” giving “regularly” or sharing in the congregation’s “organized work” as required of members in the church’s bylaws. The letter stated, “Cave City Baptist Church cherishes you as a member of this fellowship,” but “your name has been removed from the membership roll,” according to a photo of the letter published on Facebook. Within two days, newspapers and television stations had reported on the letter in Nashville; Louisville, Ky.; Lexington, Ky.; and Bowling Green, Ky.

First State Dept. Ministerial on religious freedom will be ‘More than talk,’ Pompeo says
The US State Department is gearing up to host what is being described as the first-ever three-day ministerial to promote and advance religious freedom in Washington, D.C., which will be attended by delegations and leaders from over 80 countries. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expects to host nearly 40 of his counterparts from countries around the world for the event taking place from July 24 to July 26.

Adoption agency protection moves forward in Congress
The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee included the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) in a spending bill it approved July 11. The proposal, H.R. 1881, would bar the federal government — as well as any state or local government that receives federal funds — from discriminating against or taking action against a child welfare agency that refuses to provide services in a way that conflicts with its religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Turkey keeps American pastor behind bars
A Turkish court ordered 50-year-old American pastor Andrew Brunson to remain behind bars until at least his next hearing Oct. 12. On July 18, the court heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against him. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Most US faith groups say country is on the wrong track
A new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic shows when it comes to politics, white evangelical Christians stand apart from every other religious group. The poll found 61% of evangelicals say the United States is headed in the right direction. By comparison, 64% of the overall public — including majorities of other Christian groups — believes the country is seriously off track.

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

The Briefing

Florist: My state turned my life upside down because of my religious beliefs
Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington State florist sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony, writes about what taking a stand for her religion did to her life, and what the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling and that Court’s decision to vacate the Washington State high court’s ruling might mean for her.

Supreme Court rules pro-life centers don’t have to advertise abortion options
In a much-anticipated decision, NIFLA v. Becerra, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against a California law that forced pro-life centers to advertise abortion services. The court remanded the case, sending it back to the lower court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Other cases are still pending over similar laws in Hawaii and Illinois, but this message from the highest court in the land places those laws on shaky ground.

ERLC: Church’s internal discourse needs protection
An effort by Texas abortion providers to obtain a church’s internal communications would violate the First Amendment and a federal law protecting religious freedom if successful, according to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn a federal judge’s order requiring the Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops of Texas to turn over their private deliberations on what they describe as doctrinal and moral issues.

New church parking tax triggers fresh debate
At least one religious watchdog group says the newly instituted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that applies the federal income tax to parking benefits provided by churches is a step in the right direction towards transparency in church finances. Others decry the new provision that many historically tax‐exempt employers, including churches, hospitals, charities, and schools will be required to file federal Form 990‐T, which accounts for unrelated business activity.

UN-related religious liberty committee led by ADF rep
Days after the U.S. withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council of 47 nations, a U.S. attorney has been named head of a multi-faith nongovernmental group advising the U.N. on religious freedoms globally. Alliance Defending Freedom International’s Kelsey Zorzi began serving June 28 as president of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Sources: Gospel Coalition, WORLD Magazine, Baptist Press, Christian Post, Baptist Press

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