Archives For Illinois

City tried to limit building use

An IBSA church has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago, which is enforcing a zoning ordinance that won’t allow the church to purchase its building near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

“Agonizing” is how Nathan Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, described the decision to either seek other meeting space or file the lawsuit. His congregation has met in its current location since 2011, and was set to close on the purchase of the building last summer, when city officials blocked the sale because they determined Immanuel had not established legal use.

70320Immanuel BC

The main issue is parking; the Chicago Zoning Ordinance requires religious assemblies to have a certain number of parking spaces based on how many people they’re able to seat. Immanuel needs 19 spaces to comply with the ordinance, but like many organizations in their neighborhood, the church utilizes street parking. Immanuel and the law firm representing them, Mauck & Baker, are arguing that the ordinance violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by requiring stricter standards of religious assemblies than for other organizations.

The space at 1443 W. Roosevelt had been rented by another church previously. Churches are a permitted use in the zoning, and the City’s building department gave Immanuel an occupancy permit in 2011. City officials assured Carter the sale wouldn’t be blocked despite the church’s use of street parking. But the City returned a different verdict in July 2016, informing Carter “the church still needed to meet the city’s parking requirements and that the city must determine if a religious assembly use is something it wants to promote on a commercial corridor such as Roosevelt Road,” according to a press release from Mauck & Baker.

The church’s ensuing lawsuit was a “last resort,” said the pastor. “We’ve been courteous and kind throughout the process and not adversarial, seeking to bend over backwards to meet their demands. We have our alderman’s support.”

Plus, Carter continued, “We have many of the same goals for the neighborhood as the City does. We’ve communicated that if they don’t fight it, then we won’t seek damages or fees. [The suit is] framed in such a way that they can admit they are bound by the letter of a current zoning ordinance, but then point out how that zoning ordinance is federally illegal (because of RLUIPA) by requiring more parking spots for religious assembly than it does for non-religious assembly uses that courts have determined are comparable.”

Carter referred to a sign on the door of his local library, which clearly states the library has no parking and patrons are to park on the street. City ordinances also state “live theater venues” with fewer than 150 seats need no parking, nor do libraries or cultural exhibits within the first 4,000 feet. Mauck & Baker is arguing Immanuel meets both of these requirements: their building seats 146 people and has less than 4,000 square feet.

Carter said the church is praying they can settle the suit within the next month, but if the City decides to continue to fight the purchase, the process could be a lengthy one.

Still, he said, the church sensed the Lord leading in this direction, albeit a somewhat frightening one. “Since 2005 our church has had a vision for being a long-term, stable gospel presence in our specific area of the city—a cluster of neighborhoods that surround the University of Illinois at Chicago,” Carter said. After meeting in four rented locations over the years and doing an exhaustive search of their community for other spaces, the purchase of their current building seems like a strategic decision.

“If the Lord closes this door, we have no doubt that he will open up another one,” Carter said. “But at the moment this was the only one that was cracked open, and there are scary lights coming from behind it, but we sensed the Lord wanted us to knock.”

-Meredith Flynn

The BriefingSB 912 raises religious liberty concerns for Illinois clergy
A bill working its way through the Illinois Senate that proposes mandatory training for clergy to recognize signs of child abuse is causing concern among religious liberty advocates. An amendment added to SB 912 Abused Child-Reporter Training, which specifically targets clergy is the cause for concern.

Moore, ERLC trustees issue ‘Seeking Unity’ statement
An extended statement, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” has been issued by Russell Moore and the executive committee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore, in a 1,691-word portion of the March 20 statement, clarified criticism he had leveled at Christians who supported Donald Trump for president in the November 2016 election.

Divide over Gorsuch on display
The Senate Judiciary Committee began the latest hearings in what has been an often stridently contentious process for the last three decades with a day of opening statements — first from the 20 members of the panel, then from the nominee. Sixty national and state pro-life organizations weighed in on Gorsuch, urging senators in a letter to confirm him. The pro-life leaders cited his “keen understanding and respect” for religious freedom.

Coming solar eclipse: Act of God?
On Monday, Aug. 21, in the middle of the day, the sky will go dark. The temperature will suddenly get several degrees colder. The total solar eclipse that will cross America— an event that last happened 99 years ago — will be an important moment for scientific observers and a massive nationwide spectator event. It will also, for many people of faith, be evidence of God’s majesty — and even, to a few, a harbinger of the coming end of the world.

Christians respond to “Benedict Option”
More than a dozen Christian thinkers recently shared their thoughts on Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.” The Benedict Option is essentially responding to western cultural change by pulling away from the culture building up the local church, creating counter-cultural schools based on the classical tradition, rebuilding family life, thickening communal bonds, and developing survival strategies for doctors, teachers, and others on the front lines of persecution.

Sources: Ilga.gov, Baptist Press (2), Washington Post, Breakpoint

Multiple pregnancy resource centers are suing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner over a new law they say prohibits free speech and requires them to voice a message about abortion that is directly contrary to their mission.

On Feb. 9, 18 pregnancy resource centers filed for an injunction to avoid being forced to comply with an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year and went into effect January 1. The amendment requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option, to talk about its “benefits,” and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society, one of the legal organizations working with pregnancy care centers to fight enforcement of the new law.

“It’s an interfering by the government with their ability to communicate feely about an important moral issue,” Olp said. The law also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” he added, in that it only regulates the speech of people with a particular viewpoint.

Olp said the government has to have a compelling interest in order to enforce such a law, and the view of the Thomas More Society is that it doesn’t, because information about abortion is readily available. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to compel people to talk about it.

Pregnancy resource centers have already felt the effects of the measure, Olp said. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.” Hope Life Center in Sterling, one of the centers represented by the Thomas More Society in a separate lawsuit filed Feb. 2, suspended its medical services at the beginning of the year. Debbie Case, the center’s executive director, posted on its website about the change in operations.

“We see any compliance with this law as morally abhorrent and have determined to obey God rather than man,” Case said. “The law is unclear on what the penalties are for non-compliance (and even what constitutes compliance), but it’s reasonable to expect that if a complaint is filed against our organization we will be fined $10,000 per violation and (even more troubling) our medical personnel will be subject to the scrutiny of the state licensing board and may even lose their licenses.”

Last December, several pro-life health care providers won an injunction against enforcement of the law. Olp said they hope for a hearing and decision on the current case within a month; an injunction would stay the law until resolution of the lawsuit, which could take another year or so, he said.

Because the pregnancy centers are not willing to comply with the law, they won’t be able to continue to operate if the lawsuit isn’t resolved in their favor, Olp said. Which is exactly what proponents of the bill want, he added.

“It’s a pro-abortion law that wants to stymie and eliminate pregnancy resources centers’ message to women who are considering abortion.”

There are more than 90 pregnancy resource across Illinois.

Publicly-funded abortions
Lawmakers could vote any time on Illinois House Bill 40, which would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions. If approved, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), would provide abortions for women covered by Medicaid for any reason at any point in their pregnancy. Current state law only allows Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary” abortions or those in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Emily Troscinski, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, estimates that if HB 40 is approved, it could increase the number of abortions in Illinois by 12,000 a year.

The bill also makes wider, more sweeping provisions about abortion, including:

  • Removing language from Illinois that states “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception…and is entitled to the right to life from conception,” and
  • Making the provision that should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, abortion would still be legal in Illinois.

-Meredith Flynn

Throwing out a lifeline

ib2newseditor —  January 26, 2017

Resource centers and clinics aid those facing difficult choices

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Snapshots from Tennessee and Illinois    
When a woman walks into the medical clinic operated by Agape House in northwest Tennessee, she won’t find evangelism tracts or Bibles in the waiting room. While she waits nervously to have an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy, she won’t be judged regardless of her circumstances. And if she tells the clinic staff that she’s considering having an abortion, she will be given all the information she needs about her child, but won’t be pressured into a decision.

“If someone tries to talk a woman out of a decision to abort” before her heart is ready to accept it, “then someone else can easily talk her back into it after she leaves,” said Linda DeBoard, CEO of Agape House and a member of First Baptist Church in Martin, Tenn.

“When ladies come to our clinic, our mission is to empower them with the truth about life so that they can make the best choice for themselves. We know that’s a choice for life, but she has to come to that realization after she has been given all the truth.”

Agape House is one of thousands of pro-life organizations throughout the country on the front lines of elevating the sanctity of human life. Pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics such as the one operated by Agape House offer various services to support women and men faced with pregnancy decisions.

Some centers minister to those who need assistance throughout a pregnancy in the form of training classes, counseling, or material goods such as diapers. Others, like Agape House’s clinic, focus on reaching women who are at risk for abortion, offering medical services and informing them of their pregnancy options. Illinois Right to Life reports there are around 100 pregnancy resource centers in Illinois.

Angels’ Cove Maternity Center, an arm of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, offers expectant and new mothers a place to live, as well as life and parenting skills, individual and group therapy, and adoption services for those who choose that option.

Doug Devore, who retired this month after almost 44 years at BCHFS, said it’s a joy to see a mother hold her child after making the decision to choose life. “Whether she is 12 or 40, she may not be prepared for that child,” he said. “We have the responsibility to help get her prepared and to help her be the very best mother that she can be. That could be teaching her parenting skills, it might mean helping her get a job, helping her find housing. Whatever it’s gonna take for her to provide the best environment for that child.”

Care at every stage
Our culture has lied to women about abortion, telling them that it is a “quick fix” and that their lives will return to normal afterward, DeBoard said. Agape House is committed to providing truthful information about all pregnancy options—including parenting, adoption, and what abortion is and how the procedures work—and offering a safe space where women can process the information, she said.

DeBoard said that by offering their services this way, they have the opportunity to reach women who would never go to a church for help.

“A woman in our area who is wanting to have an abortion, and has already made the decision to have an abortion, is not going to church to tell you that she wants an abortion. She’s not,” DeBoard said. “She’s running from the church.”

A 2015 study from LifeWay Research supports that assertion. In a survey of women who have had abortions, 59% of respondents said they received or expected to receive a judgmental or condemning attitude from a local church as they considered their decision to abort, while 29% said they received or expected to receive a loving or caring response. And 54% of women would not recommend to someone close to them that they discuss their decision regarding an unplanned pregnancy with someone at a local church, while only 25% would recommend it.

Agape staff and volunteers may ask clients whether they have a faith that might influence their pregnancy decision. This often leads to opportunities to share the gospel or to encourage women in their relationship with Jesus. They also offer a Bible study program for women who have previously had abortions.

DeBoard reminds pastors that their pews may be filled with women who have abortions in their past. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization with ties to Planned Parenthood, approximately 30% of women will have had an abortion by age 45. “What abortion is and does needs to be told and spoken and preached,” DeBoard said, but with sensitivity to the women who are hurting from their own abortion experiences.

“There’s no sin too great that God won’t forgive us and set us free and use our mistakes for his glory.”

Excerpted in part from an article in SBC LIFE, newsjournal of the Southern Baptist Convention. Used by permission.

For more information about services offered through Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, go to BCHFS.com.

The BriefingIllinois House urged to reject taxpayer-funded abortions
SpeakOut Illinois, a coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations across the state,  urged lawmakers in the Illinois House to reject legislation allowing taxpayer money to be used for abortions. House Bill 4013 lifts the current prohibition on state workers’ health insurance plans from paying for elective abortions, as well as the prohibition on using public money to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid patients. The piece of legislation could be called up for a vote as early as this week.

How many Christians are in the new Congress?
Pew’s Religion & Public Life found that 90.7% of the 115th Congress identify as Christian, a statistic that has changed little in over a half century of keeping record. “The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s,” noted Pew. Of the 91% Christian majority, 31.4% are Catholic, 13.5% are Baptist, 8.5% are Methodist, 6.5% are Anglican or Episcopal, and another 6.5% are Presbyterian.

Multi-faith network rescuing women from Isis
A secret underground network operating in Iraq and Syria has reportedly freed more than 3,000 Yazidi women held captive in sexual slavery by Isis. Kurdish and Christian civilians make up the group, along with other ethnic minorities and families of the victims, NGO Yazda has claimed. Rescues are carried out through word of mouth, driven by Yazidis who have escaped capture or whose loved ones are still being held in Isis territory.

Gay couple to pastor historic DC Baptist church
Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors. Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Jan. 8 and will begin their new jobs on Feb. 26. The 150-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012.

S. Baptists lead Congressional Prayer Caucus
Rep. Mark Walker, R.-N.C., will be the new House of Representatives co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, it was announced Jan. 9. Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., the other co-chairman of the prayer caucus, and former Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., made the announcement. All three are members of Southern Baptist churches.

Sources: Illinois Family Institute, Christian Post, Independent, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

The BriefingIllinois B&B owners lose another round
A same-sex couple denied access to a central Illinois bed and breakfast while planning their civil union ceremony has won another legal victory in a five-year discrimination case that’s highlighted the conflict between religious freedoms and gay civil rights.

Atheists urge skipping church on Christmas
American Atheists, one of the nation’s largest secular groups, is launching a billboard campaign that encourages Americans to skip church this Christmas. The group is putting billboards up in cities across the country, including Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Georgetown, South Carolina.

Starbucks stirs up controversy — again
The culture wars come every December, fueled by peppermint mochas and venti soy lattes. The battleground is Starbucks. It’s always Starbucks, isn’t it? No one is complaining that the blue-and-brown holiday cups at Caribou Coffee take the “Christ” out of Christmas. Religion. Politics. The Bill of Rights. They all converge here, in front of a glass case full of cake pops.

Liberty advocates lament loss
Religious freedom advocates have expressed deep disappointment about congressional leaders’ failure to protect the rights of faith-based organizations in a national defense bill. The Russell Amendment was not included in the final version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which designates nearly $620 billion in spending for the armed services. The amendment would have protected the rights of non-profit religious contractors to maintain hiring practices in keeping with their beliefs.

Docs: Don’t force us to aid suicide
A group of Vermont medical professionals is suing state officials for demanding doctors counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. The Vermont Board of Medical Practice and Office of Professional Regulation declared the state’s assisted suicide law, enacted in 2013, requires healthcare professionals, regardless of conscience or oath, to inform terminally ill patients that one of their medical options is doctor-prescribed suicide.

Sources: Belleville News-Democrat, Fox News, Washington Post, Baptist Press, World Magazine

Missions opportunities to highlight gathering in Metro Chicago

Final preparations are under way for the 110th IBSA Annual Meeting November 2-3. The event at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in metro Chicago will focus on cross-culture ministry opportunities in Illinois. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary of the SBC, called Golden Gate Seminary prior to its relocation from the San Francisco Bay Area to metro Los Angeles this year.

“Dr. Iorg is among the most compelling, thoughtful, and missional voices in Southern Baptist life today, especially when it comes to understanding post-Christian culture in America,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “I’m so grateful that he is leading our West Coast seminary into the future, where pastors and leaders will engage values and cultures that are already very different from those of the past century.”

I hope this year’s Annual Meeting will bring to all of us a new vision and higher level of commitment to ‘cross culture’ with the gospel.

Iorg is a former church planter and state convention executive director in the Pacific Northwest. As a leader of Southern Baptist work on the West Coast, Iorg has addressed many of the cultural challenges now facing evangelicals in the Midwest. He has written frequently on theological and biblical perspectives on marriage, sexuality, and gender. His book “Building Antioch” shows from the New Testament how an ordinary believing congregation can become a transformational community.

“Illinois Baptists will come away from Dr. Iorg’s messages challenged and transformed, I’m sure,” Adams said.

The Wednesday evening session, including Iorg, will focus on a four-phase process for engaging ministry across cultural barriers. Adams will outline the plan and share testimonies and videos of Illinois churches carrying the gospel to people unlike themselves.

“My own recent trips to Chicago have reminded me again how diverse our churches are, and even more so how varied and challenging are the cultures that our churches need to reach,” Adams said. “I hope this year’s Annual Meeting will bring to all of us a new vision and higher level of commitment to ‘cross culture’ with the gospel.”

IBSA President Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and Vice President Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, will also bring messages.

In addition to the session on the variety of ministry opportunities in Illinois, the meeting will include two business sessions on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Vision tours of Chicago-area ministry opportunities are available. Seating is limited, so online registration is encouraged.

Visit www.IBSAAnnualMeeting.org to learn more.