Archives For faith and culture

The Briefing

Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids. Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval. But others who have long followed Trump are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.

Study: Evangelicals left churches over Trump
A number of Christians left their churches following last November’s election won by President Trump, including 10% of evangelicals who reported leaving their houses of worship before last December, a new study has found. The study found those most likely to leave their churches were Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who opposed Trump and believed their church leaders strongly supported the billionaire real estate mogul.

Sounding the alarm on transgender regret
Robert Wenman was four years into being a “full-time” transgender woman in Ontario, Canada, when a police officer asked him: “You got all your legal rights by now. Why don’t you just enjoy life as a woman?” The question left the then-LGBT activist stuttering: Here he was, training a group of law enforcers on transgender rights, yet he couldn’t answer a basic question: Why? Why was he still campaigning, still fighting?

‘Bible Answer Man’ converts to Orthodoxy
On Palm Sunday, Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC. The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as the Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.

Anticipation growing for SBC Phoenix 2017
Apparent interest in the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming annual meeting has necessitated an increase in hotel room availability for attendees the second consecutive year. The SBC Executive Committee has reserved an additional 500 rooms for the 2017 meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The previously reserved block of rooms was fully booked as early as March.

Sources: Politico, The Christian Post, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press

Code of Ethics

A bill pending in the Illinois senate that would require pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children? That’s how one colleague phrased it. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Senate Bill 912 introduced by Melinda Bush of Lake County is surely purely motivated, but this means of child protection draws immediate objection based on First Amendment grounds: if the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. That’s why the Illinois Family Institute is urging Christians to notify state lawmakers of their objection based on religious liberty. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with my own list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had in place biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

The BriefingBill would to legalize marijuana
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Chicago, filed an amendment to House Bill 2353 on March 22 that revises the state’s Cannabis Control Act, making a number of sweeping changes “[i]n the interest of allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generating revenue for education and other purposes, and individual freedom.” These changes allowing the recreational use of marijuana include regulating it the same as alcohol and  legalizing the possession of 28 grams of the substance.

Bill would simplify changing gender on birth certificates
A proposal that would make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity has cleared an initial hurdle. House Bill 1785 approved by the House Human Services Committee, says a birth certificate could be changed if a medical or mental health provider confirms someone has received “clinically appropriate” treatment. Current Illinois law says transgender people can only change the sex listed on their birth certificates if a doctor transition surgery has been performed.

Student sues school over girl in boys’ locker room
A high school junior is suing his Boyertown, Pa., school district after administrators told him he could either “tolerate” having a biological female share his locker room or withdraw and be homeschooled. The lawsuit filed in federal court calls on the district to rescind its secretly implemented policy granting transgender students access to the private facilities of their choice.

Princeton Seminary reverses decision to honor Keller
Princeton Seminary, the flagship institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), had announced Tim Keller, bestselling author and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, as the recipient of its Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, a $10,000 award. But in a March 22 letter to the seminary community, President Craig Barnes said the decision had been reversed in order to “not imply any endorsement” of Keller’s “belief that women and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] persons should not be ordained.”

President Trump to give commencement address at Liberty University
President Donald Trump will give his first commencement address as president at Liberty University, the evangelical college led Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell, the son of the prominent televangelist, was one of Trump’s most vocal supporters among evangelical Protestant leaders during the 2016 presidential campaign. At Liberty, student reaction to the announcement was mixed.

Sources: Illinois Policy, Chicago Tribune, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Washington Post

The BriefingClash of worldviews on defunding Planned Parenthood
Evangelicals have long advocated for the end of government funding of Planned Parenthood. President Trump recently offered to keep the funding in place if Planned Parenthood would agree to stop performing abortions.  Here are two different views on the subject:
– Trump to Planned Parenthood: Halt abortions, receive funds
– Abortion ‘vital’ to Planned Parenthood mission; Southern Baptist leaders respond

Church sued after baptism made public
After a Syrian Muslim man converted to Christianity, he asked to be baptized by First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. The man said the church promised to keep his baptism quiet, since shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. He flew to Syria almost immediately after his baptism to marry his fiancée. A few weeks later, while still in Syria, he was kidnapped by Islamist extremists who said they learned about his conversion from the church’s website.

Married lesbian Baptist co-pastors say all ‘beloved’
Rev. Maria Swearingen stood in the pulpit for the first time as the lesbian co-pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., her wife and fellow co-pastor, the Rev. Sally Sarratt, smiling over her left shoulder as they began their new joint roles. Raised in Southern Baptist households, at one point in their lives they thought the best path for ministry might be to become pastor’s wives. “The spirit works in mysterious ways,” said Swearingen.

How many Americans have a Biblical worldview?
Millions of Americans call themselves Christians, but how does their faith shape their worldview? A new Barna Group study says, “not so much.” Researchers asked American Christians about their views on issues like lying, cheating, the nature of God, and sin. They found that while more than seven out of 10 Americans call themselves Christians, just one out of every 10 were able to answer basic questions about the Bible and the faith.

Islam largest religion by 2070
Pew Research analyzed demographic change among the world’s major religions and found that the world’s population of Muslims will grow by 73% between 2010 and 2050, compared to 35% for Christians, the next fastest-growing faith. The world’s population will grow by 37% over the same period. If those rates of growth continue past 2050, Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, the report found.

Sources: Fox News, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, CBN, The Telegraph (U.K.)

The BriefingGraham urges ‘Beast’ boycott
Franklin Graham has called for a boycott of Disney over the company’s inclusion of a gay character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake. “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out!” Graham wrote in a Facebook post.

Christian bakers appeal $135K fine
Christian bakers who lost their store and were fined $135,000 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding brought their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the judgment. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, said they simply want the freedom to live by the tenets of their faith.

High court vacates pro-transgender ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court set aside March 6 a ruling in favor of a transgender high school student and returned it to a lower court for reconsideration in light of the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of a directive issued under President Obama. With the change in administration guidance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will have to weigh its April 2016 decision that the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender high school student — who is a female biologically but identifies as a male — to use the boys’ restroom.

Muslim chaplain to head Army division
After a ceremony this summer, Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz will become the first Muslim division-level chaplain in the history of the U.S. military. In January, he was offered the job of chaplain for an entire division, an honor for anyone in his field but a milestone in his case – a Muslim spiritual leader for more than 14,000 mostly Christian soldiers.

Americans warm to religious groups—except evangelicals
Fewer Americans say they know an evangelical Christian. Potentially as a result, evangelicals were the one religious group that didn’t experience an increase in warmth among Americans. Pew Research asked Americans to rate their feelings toward major faith groups on a “feeling thermometer,” ranked from zero to 100—the higher the ranking, the more positive the impression. Overall, Jews (67 degrees), Catholics (66 degrees), and mainline Protestants (65 degrees) were rated warmest.

Sources: Time, The Washington Times, Baptist Press, McClatchy DC, Facts and Trends

The BriefingTrump admin. policy change on transgender students
The Trump administration signaled Feb. 10 that it was changing course on the previous administration’s efforts to expand transgender rights. The administration will no longer defend transgender students use of restrooms that do not match their anatomical gender identity. The move by the Justice Department does not change the situation for the nation’s public schools; a federal judge had already put a temporary hold on the guidance as a lawsuit by a dozen states moved through the courts.

Pregnancy resource centers sue Gov. Rauner
Eighteen Illinois women’s health organizations have sued Gov. Bruce Rauner over a law requiring pregnancy centers to tell patients about the benefits of abortion despite conscience-based objections. The measure requiring the dispensing of abortion information changed a 1977 law allowing health care professionals to refuse services they consider morally objectionable. The centers say the law violates the First Amendment.

Chicago restaurants’ Planned Parenthood bake sale
A baker’s dozen of Chicago’s upscale restaurants and bakeries are hosting a cookie sale to benefit Planned Parenthood. Supporters can purchase a box with one cookie each from the 13 restaurants for $75 with 100% of the proceeds directly benefit Planned Parenthood Illinois.

DeVos confirmation leaves Baptists hopeful
With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education, some Southern Baptists hope that emphases at the Department of Education will parallel themes expressed in Southern Baptist Convention resolutions on education adopted in 2014 and 2006. David Dykes, chairman of the 2014 SBC Resolutions Committee, noted he is “very encouraged by President Trump’s choice of people [for cabinet posts] who are outside the circle of politicians and the status quo for these positions. I think he really wants to shake things up, and I’m in favor of doing that.”

Strobel’s ‘The Case for Christ’ now a movie
Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel’s 1998 best-selling book The Case for Christ heads to the screen April 7, with its first trailer revealed on usatoday.com. Mike Vogel plays Strobel as a Chicago Tribune investigative reporter in 1980, when Strobel begins to investigate Christianity, compelled by his wife Leslie’s (Erika Christensen) newfound faith.

 Sources: Washington Post, News Channel 20, Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press, USA Today

A time for change

ib2newseditor —  December 12, 2016

These final weeks of the year seem to always bring a mixture of emotions, as we gather sentimentally with family and friends for the holidays, and start reflecting on the ups and downs of the past year. Those year-end emotions seem supercharged this year, as the recent election has brought us a dramatic change in Presidential leadership, and with it potential changes in public policy that affect our daily lives.

I won’t go further than that into the politics of our times. Instead, in these days leading up to Christmas, I want to simply observe that this same sense of looming, unknown change that many of us are feeling may have been exactly how many of the faithful felt leading up to that very first Christmas.

I come to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in a fresh new way.

Those to whom it was revealed that Messiah was near—Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the wise men, eventually the shepherds—all had revelations from God that were fearful, and yet inviting. They were all awestruck with the news that this thing beyond their comprehension or control was about to happen.

And yet these folks all walked forward into the wonder of the incarnation, the wonder of Jesus, the wonder of unpredictable and unprecedented change, with faith-filled obedience and anticipation. They knew things were a mess. They knew that the status quo—Rome and religion and their own sin-sick culture—was not ushering in the Kingdom of God. They knew any discomfort of change under Messiah’s leadership was to be preferred over the best that frail humans had to offer. And so, they walked into the unknown, trusting God.

Of course, not everybody welcomed the change of the first Christmas. King Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem were scared to death of whoever Messiah was, and whatever changes he might bring. They held on selfishly and even murderously to their own power and self-determination as long as they could, refusing to know Messiah, much less follow him. Sadly, I did the same until I met Jesus personally.

And so this year, this Christmas, the climate of change and uncertainty and unpredictability that we face—may not be all bad. The people who walked faithfully into that first Christmas knew that change was needed, in their own lives and in their nation, and they knew that trusting God and following his Messiah into the uncertainty was the only path forward. Perhaps we have a similar opportunity.

I leave it to you to determine how this may apply to your own life, or your church’s. Personally, I am coming to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in my life in a fresh new way, and I need him to bring change. I don’t know what that looks like exactly. But I don’t want things to remain the same. I don’t want to settle for the status quo.

Whoever the President is, whatever shifts are coming in public policy, or in the culture, I want to welcome the changes our sovereign God is bringing, and follow Jesus into them. Some of those changes may come in the form of new challenges, or adversity, or even persecution. I want to follow Jesus there. Some of them may come in the form of new opportunities, or new methods, or a new wave of revival or awakening in our churches, or in our land. I want to follow Jesus there.

The faithful who experienced the first Christmas waited a long time for Messiah to show up in a new way, and to bring change, and to follow him right on through it. I want to be among the faithful this Christmas who will do the same.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.