Archives For faith and culture

The Briefing

15 attorneys general oppose transgender military ban
Fifteen state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a brief Oct. 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that banning transgender individuals from the military is unconstitutional and against the interest of national defense and that it harms the transgender community.

Air Force punishes colonel over marriage views
U.S. Air Force officials have suspended a decorated officer and revoked his recommendation for promotion to brigadier general because he would not sign an unofficial document affirming a retiring subordinate’s same-sex marriage.

Study: Congress should end IRS oversight of sermons
In the 1950s, Congress banned charitable nonprofits–including churches — from endorsing candidates or otherwise intervening in elections. Any nonprofit that violated the ban could run afoul of the IRS. Churches risked losing their tax-exempt status if the preacher endorsed a candidate in a sermon. It’s time for that to change, most Protestant pastors say in a new survey from LifeWay Research.

Col. baker asked to make ‘Birthday Cake’ for Satan
Lawyers for “cake artist” Jack Phillips say someone e-mailed a request for him to design and bake a cake celebrating the birthday of Satan. Phillips, a Christian who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, is headed to the Supreme Court in December after declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Bill Hybels names male, female co-pastor team as his successor
Bill Hybels, the founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, announced the names of two leaders who will take on new roles to replace the role of senior pastor as he transitions out of the church leadership next year. Heather Larson, currently executive pastor, will step into the role of Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and Pastor Steve Carter, currently teaching pastor, will become Lead Teaching Pastor.

 Sources: Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press (2), Daily Signal, Christian Post

The Briefing

New rules protect abortion mandate objectors
Christian organizations are celebrating what they deem a win for religious liberty after the Trump administration released new rules Oct. 6 that allow institutions and corporations not to include abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance plans.

A 2011 “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act had been the subject of legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and four Baptist universities, Baptist Press reported.

House approves late-term abortion ban
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-189 last week in favor of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, is based on evidence that a child is able to experience pain in the womb after 20 weeks.

The House previously passed a pain-capable bill in 2015, but it was voted down in the Senate.

Princeton U. ministry drops “evangelical” from name
“There’s a growing recognition that the term evangelical is increasingly either confusing, or unknown, or misunderstood to students,” said Princeton Christian Fellowship’s Bill Boyce. That’s why the 80-year-old ministry at the Ivy League institution has changed its name, reports Christianity Today.

Higher education: College offers ‘marijuana degree’
Northern Michigan University’s four-year degree in medicinal plant chemistry combines chemistry, biology, and business classes—and could gain even more traction if a petition drive succeeds at getting full legalization of marijuana on Michigan’s ballot next fall.

Survey: Suicide still taboo topic in church
The majority of churches say they’re equipped to help someone threatening to take his or her own life, but a new study from LifeWay Research found only 4% of people who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide said church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggle.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, USA Today, LifeWay

Family blocks

The word “family” conjures up feelings of warmth, sentimentality, peace, and tranquility—the kinds of things we put on Christmas cards, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Often, though, our families aren’t really like that. We’re not lying, Moore said, but there are so many things we leave unsaid. Those things—the challenges of parenting, the hard conversations, the fears that children won’t turn out like we want them to—were at the heart of the ERLC’s conference on “Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World.”

The podium at the Aug. 24-26 meeting was filled by family experts, church leaders, storytellers, and even a U.S. Senator (Ben Sasse of Nebraska). But the audience looked a lot like real parents. Strollers lined the walls of the auditorium as parents and children listened together. One speaker in a breakout for moms tweeted that it was highly appropriate to hear several crying babies in the session.

Over three days at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, conference speakers drew on their experiences ministering and equipping families—and raising their own—to guide parents toward a gospel-centered view of the family. Along the way, they touched on some specific issues of our day—gender identity, racial division, sexuality, pornography, and the overwhelming influence of technology.

They also called Christian parents to an ideal that grows more and more radical as the culture around them changes. “Those who grow to know and serve God with everything they have do not blend in,” said author and speaker Jen Wilkin. “The goal of a Christian parent is to prepare their child to live in a world that is not their home.”

In his opening address, Moore said the unspoken challenges of parenting are part of the reason it can be so difficult. “…In our culture, parenting so often is about winning and displaying.” If something goes wrong in our family, he continued, we worry people are going to think something’s wrong with us. He quoted a friend who said he knew parenting would be humbling, but had no idea it would also be humiliating.

“Parenting matters. The stakes are high. That’s why it’s hard.”

– Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The antidote to drowning in all the potential failures? A Christ-centered perspective, one that acknowledges parents are called to follow Christ’s example and take up a cross, Moore said.

“Parenting is a unique mixture of joy and terror, beauty and brokenness, happiness and disaster. Nothing is easier than loving your children, and nothing is harder than loving your children. We as Christians ought to be people who understand that dynamic.”

Alien children
It’s easy to blame kids for peer pressure—for exerting it on one another and for feeling it themselves. But it’s generally not children who fall victim to it, said Jen Wilkin. It’s parents who feel a strong pull to soothe their own memories of not fitting in by helping their kids fit in.

But Christian parents need to be looking instead for opportunities to help their children get comfortable with being different—even “alien” in our culture, Wilkin said. She gave five areas where Christian families and kids will look different, beginning with their activities.

“We have to be running these things through a different filter than other people,” she said. A filter that places a higher priority on the dynamic at home than allowing children to run themselves—and their parents—into the ground with an ever-increasing list of activities.

She read Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

“The author of Deuteronomy seems to think that there will actually be times when we sit in our house­—together,” Wilkin said. “Seems to think there will be times where we walk by the way­—together. When we lie down­—together, and when we rise up­—together.
“This passage assumes a natural rhythm of the home that is bringing the family together, versus spreading the family out.”

Jim Kerr is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairview Heights. Wilkin’s talk on family activities resonated with him because he sees families in his church struggling to balance all the things they think they have to do. Churches can fall victim to the same kind of thinking, he said.

“The guilt of doing ministry sometimes overrides the benefit of the right amount of ministry and the right amount of time,” Kerr said. “Because we just wear ourselves out.” That’s why his church plans intentional seasons of break in certain activities and ministries, he said, “realizing that there’s so much going with our families and our children, we’re going to wear ourselves out from doing, while not really gaining the purposes we need.”

Wilkin talked about four other areas in which Christian families should be alien and strange: speech, possessions, entertainment, and friends. Look for more on counter-cultural families and how parents in Illinois are raising “alien” children in upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist.

The role of the church
At least two speakers in Nashville quoted a study that found children are more likely to stick to their faith after high school if they’ve been invested in by adults other than their parents. Christ-centered parenting can’t be done in a vacuum. It calls parents to rely on others in their faith community, Russell Moore said. Christians are to bear one another’s burdens, including in parenting, he said.

“That is what is so dangerous about the church turning, in many cases, into silos filled with individual minivans full of families, coming to receive instruction and then to return home to their self-contained units.” Even more so in our rootless, hyper-mobile culture, Moore said, where children don’t see their extended families often and mothers and fathers fight feelings of isolation, parenting can be a lonely endeavor.

“We need each other, and we cannot be godly parents to our children if we are not brothers and sisters to each other.”

Moore recalled a woman who approached him after he preached at her church and leaned close to whisper a prayer request for her daughter, who was away at college and had decided she was an atheist. When Moore asked why she was whispering, she said, “I don’t want anybody to think, ‘There’s that lady with the atheist daughter.’”

Something’s terribly wrong with that picture, Moore said. “Here we are when every family in Scripture has prodigals, including God the Father. And we are scared to cry out to one another and say, ‘I feel like in my parenting I am drowning and I need help.’ That is what the church is for.”

If parenting in community means bearing one another’s burdens, it also involves having the courage to turn children loose to engage in God’s mission. In fact, that should be the goal of parenting, said North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Children are designed by God to be arrows, Greear said, referencing Psalm 127, not accessories.

Quoting family ministry expert Reggie Joiner, Greear said in our safety-obsessed culture, we forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to let go.

“The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect your children from all harm, but to mobilize them for the mission of God,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

And as they go, they’re sure to look different, having been shaped in a community in which the goal of the family is to glorify God and, through their example, to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

“As Christian parents, the most hopeful thing we can do is lift up our own eyes and train the eyes of our children to behold our Savior, alien and strange,” Wilkin said. “He is coming on the clouds, and when he comes, may he find the family of God, and your family and my family, desperately hoping and yearning to look like him.”

For more from the ERLC’s National Conference on Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World, see upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist, or go to ERLC.com to view conference sessions.

-Meredith Flynn, managing editor, Illinois Baptist

 

The Briefing

Rauner ponders abortion bill
Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday (Sept. 25) he will decide “in the near future” the fate of a controversial and politically complex measure that would expand taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance. The governor’s decision has major political consequences as he seeks re-election, illustrated by his vow in April to veto the bill and comments last week that he was undecided.

IBDR commits to Texas aid
Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) continues its marathon response in Texas doing flood recovery work in homes drying out after Hurricane Harvey, providing shower and laundry facilities, and preparing hot meals for relief workers and displaced Texans. And a team of childcare volunteers traveled more than a thousand miles to wipe tears away when the response began in early September.

ACLU fights faith-based child placement agencies
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging a Michigan law that allows faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to operate according to their Biblical convictions. The lawsuit, filed against the state Sept. 20 in federal court, could jeopardize similar laws across the nation and force faith-based agencies to close.

Remembering Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi
At his memorial service, Nabeel Qureshi was remembered for his unusual passion for Christ and the significant evangelistic impact he made before he died Sept. 16 at 34. The young speaker and author was eulogized by his mentor, Ravi Zacharias, who compared him to the apostle Paul as well as to other noteworthy Christians who died young.

Witches cast spells on Trump
Amanda Yates Garcia, the “Oracle of Los Angeles,” participates in a monthly sorcery session to cast a “binding” spell on President Trump that she says is not intended to hurt the president, but instead to prevent him from hurting others. “Binding spells are symbolic actions used to harness the powers of the imagination and achieve an intangible result,” she said.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Illinois Baptist, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Fox News

The Briefing

TX churches sue FEMA over Harvey relief funds
Three small churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey and made its way through the Houston area sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency in federal court, seeking access to relief funds for nonprofit groups. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Rockport First Assembly of God in Aransas County, Harvest Family Church in Harris County and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Liberty County claims the government’s disaster relief policy violates the Constitution by denying faith groups the right to apply for funds.

Free abortions offered to women affected by Hurricane Harvey
Whole Woman’s Health, a reproductive health care organization, in collaboration with other groups, is offering free abortions to women affected by Hurricane Harvey. At least 74 women have already taken the organization up on the offer, or have scheduled an appointment for the procedure. The price will be fully covered, as will the cost of transportation and accommodations, the group said.

Illinois abortion bill still in limbo
The bill, known as HB 40, that would extend the availability of taxpayer-subsidized abortions to state workers and Medicaid recipients, still has not been sent to Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk. Lawmakers approved the legislation back in May.

Protestant unity is new confession’s focus
A confession of faith aimed at expressing “interdenominational unity” among Protestants on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has drawn endorsement from professors at all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and staff members at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The “Reforming Catholic Confession” also has been signed by professors from at least eight colleges affiliated with state Baptist conventions and by Southern Baptist pastors including Matt Chandler, J.D. Greear, and James MacDonald.

Gaines: Memphis Confederate monument should be moved
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines is among about a dozen Southern Baptist signatories of a letter requesting that a Memphis statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest be moved from a public park “to a more historically appropriate site.” In all, 169 clergy members representing 95 congregations and other institutions signed a Sept. 13 letter to the Tennessee Historical Commission in support of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s request to move the statue.

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Fox News, Springfield News Channel 20, Baptist Press (2)

The Briefing

Trump meets with SBC’s Ezell, other relief leaders
President Donald Trump met with leaders of the three largest disaster relief organizations in the United States at the White House Sept. 1 to discuss relief efforts in south Texas in the wake of historic flooding and other damage left by Hurricane Harvey. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), represented Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) at the 25-minute private meeting in the Oval Office with the president and First Lady Melania Trump.

Nashville Statement signers stand for marriage
Signers of the Nashville Statement, a declaration affirming Biblical teaching on human sexuality, defended their position from other Christian and secular opponents this week. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the statement online Aug.29. The initial 150 evangelical leaders who signed it asserted the church needed clarity amid widespread confusion about a Biblical understanding of sex, sexuality, and morality.

Ministry sues over ‘hate group’ label
One Christian ministry has apparently had enough of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s disparaging “hate group” characterization. D. James Kennedy Ministries filed a lawsuit in an Alabama federal court alleging the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “trafficked in false and misleading descriptions” of the ministry and that other entities also named in the suit perpetuated the libel.

H.S. coach loses prayer case
A federal court has ruled that a Washington state high school football coach violated the U.S. Constitution by taking a knee at the 50-yard line and praying after games. Joe Kennedy lost his job as an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in 2015 after the school district suspended him for his post-game prayers. Kennedy sued and accused the school of violating his free speech. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district’s suspension was justified.

Most churched (& unchurched) cities in America
For six of the last seven years, the American Bible Society has named Chattanooga, Tenn., the nation’s most Bible-minded city. This year, it was the only American city where at least half the population was classified as Bible-minded. Almost 6 in 10 residents (59%) are regular churchgoers. Overall, almost 4 in 10 Americans (38%) are active churchgoers who have attended a service in the past seven days.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Fox News, Facts & Trends

The Briefing

Iceland Down syndrome abortions called ‘a tragedy’
Southern Baptists involved with special needs ministry are lamenting a report that virtually 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in Iceland are aborted. According to CBS News, Iceland “has on average just one or two children born with Down syndrome per year” out of a population of 330,000. The reason for the lack of Down syndrome births is that genetic testing leads nearly all mothers whose children are expected to have Down syndrome to opt for abortion.

Illinois town shuts down VFW raffle over gambling
A drawing for a VFW raffle with a prize topping $1 million was called off hours before a winner was due to be picked, with organizers citing a legal snag. The VFW hall in the small town of Morris, Ill., said they “did not get shut down” and will resume ticket sales and the drawing “as soon as possible.”

Banned from Farmer’s Market for stance on marriage
The Tennes family joins a growing list of florists, photographers, filmmakers, and cake bakers who have lost a portion of their livelihood for upholding a Biblical definition of marriage. Last May, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Tenneses, stating their religious views have no bearing on their involvement in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market and the city violated their constitutional rights.

New president on bringing back Baylor
Linda Livingstone, the newly minted president of Baylor University, inherited more than just the world’s largest Baptist university and its 16,000-plus students when she took the helm in June. A few weeks earlier, a former Baylor volleyball player filed what was then the latest in a long string of Title IX lawsuits against the university alleging she was gang-raped by members of the football team. A previous lawsuit alleged that 31 football players for the Waco, Texas, university were involved in as many as 52 acts of sexual assault against fellow students.

Muslim divorce law in India ‘unconstitutional’
For hundreds of years, Muslim men in India could divorce their wives by repeating the word “talaq,” Arabic for divorce, three times. Now, the Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional. A five-judge bench moved to block instant divorce for six months, pending a law banning the practice to be debated in parliament.

Sources: Baptist Press, Chicago Tribune, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Washington Post