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The Briefing

Legislation would require Illinois schools to teach LGBT history
Legislation pending in Springfield would require a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender section be added to history classes and have school districts ensure textbooks “portray the diversity of our society.” Supporters say the state already has similar rules requiring lessons on African-Americans and other groups. They say a dedicated LGBT history unit would give students greater perspective on instrumental Americans whose stories often go untold.

Illinois Senate approves federal Equal Rights Amendment
The Illinois Senate voted April 11 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, renewing a push from decades ago. The vote came about 36 years after the amendment appeared to die after just 35 states ratified it, three short of what was needed by the 1982 deadline. Still, advocates have pushed for a “three-state solution,” contending Congress can extend the deadline and the amendment should go into effect if three additional states vote in favor.

Sutherland Springs expresses accountability to donors
Donors supporting First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after the mass murder of 26 worshippers there can be assured of the church’s integrity in handling donations, the church said in an April 12 open letter. The statement comes after concerns related to the use of funds for victim relief have been raised, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) confirmed to Baptist Press on April 13.

Tyndale sued by boy who didn’t come back from heaven
After growing up and retracting his controversial account of “coming back from heaven,” 20-year-old Alex Malarkey is now suing the Christian publisher who made his story famous. Malarkey, who was left paralyzed and spent two weeks in a coma after a 2004 car accident, filed a lawsuit against Christian publisher Tyndale House for associating his name with the controversial book coauthored with his father, “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” and not paying him for the story.

Is Chick-fil-A a front for a Christian invasion of New York City?
Apparently, Chick-fil-A’s delicious chicken sandwiches and friendly service are all part of an insidious plot to infiltrate New York City on behalf of “Christian traditionalism.” Or at least that’s what a piece published April 13 by The New Yorker seems to argue.

Sources: Chicago Tribune (2), Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Facts and Trends

By Eric Reed

Editor’s note: Baptist news editors met in coastal Alabama this week. Look for stories in the Illinois Baptist and online over the next few weeks.

Orange Beach, Ala. | It’s a wonder the local paper didn’t call this “The Battle of Mobile Gay.” This is, after all, the place where in 1864 Admiral Farragut famously condemned the torpedoes and ran his ship “full speed ahead” past Confederate forts and mines (called “torpedoes”) tethered in the Bay.

The 2015 version had attorneys dueling on the courthouse steps and clerks inside shuttering the marriage license window because the probate judge refused to accept applications from same-sex couples.

“I’m plumb ashamed of this town,” one applicant said outside the courthouse on Monday when he and his partner were unable to get married. On Thursday, that same man declared, “In Alabama! I never would’ve believed it!” as he waved his new license in the air with one arm and hugged his new spouse with the other.

Between Monday and Thursday, the Battle:

A federal judge in Mobile, Callie Granade (pronounced like the ammunition), had ruled Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on January 23. Marriage licenses were to be issued starting Monday. But on Sunday night, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore told the state’s probate court judges, who issue marriage licenses here, that the federal ruling did not apply to them.

On Monday, it was reported 60 counties started processing applications from same-sex couples; seven did not, including the state’s second most populous county, Mobile. Probate judge Don Davis ordered the license window, festooned with purple and gold Mardi Gras masks, shuttered. No licenses were issued to any couples, same-sex or otherwise.

By Wednesday, it was reported only 23 counties were issuing same-sex licenses.

Attorneys representing gay couples and Judge Davis went to court.

And Roy Moore went on TV.

The last time Moore opposed a higher court ruling, he was removed from the bench. That was over the monument to the Ten Commandments at the State Supreme Court. This time, Moore went to the court of public opinion.

For many observers, he appeared to win in Alabama, where his stance is based on a state’s right to amend its own constitution as 81% voters did in 2006, limiting marriage to the traditional, biblical definition. But on TV, against CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Moore lost, according to national pundits who gave the win to the news anchor/attorney.

It didn’t matter. Late Thursday, Granade ruled again. Probate courts must issue marriage licenses to all couples, despite the state constitution. And today, Friday, it is reported all counties’ license offices are open for business.

Frankly, in Alabama, many would never have believed it. I wouldn’t, because I grew up here.

As Baptist editors gathered for their annual conclave to hear reports from SBC entity heads and discuss journalism, I was also looking forward to a short visit to my old home. I didn’t expect to see history made.

I learned to report from that federal courthouse where TV reporters waited this week for the rulings, reporting breathlessly at 5, 6, and 10 on the latest developments—or lack of them. I covered the same county governments at the place where a half-dozen gay couples were wed in the hour after the marriage license office reopened. And I thought I understood this coastal town where half the people are Baptist and the other half are Catholic, and their alliance has kept the politics and the morals mostly conservative for 300 years.

Until now.

Leaders of the Baptist state convention in Alabama quickly commented: “The vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship,” executive director Rick Lance said.

But the comment did not appear on local newscasts in Mobile.

I did hear a comment from an SBC leader at this meeting that demands my consideration. Given the rapid liberalization of public opinion on same-sex marriage and other moral issues, is it possible that pastors and leaders of SBC entities will find themselves heading organizations that are more conservative than the people in the pews—especially younger people? (That’s just the opposite of what happened in mainline denominations in the second half of the 20th century, when leaders grew far more liberal than church members.) Our church members will be shifted by the tide of public opinion, he said, if we pastors and teachers don’t provide a firmer biblical foundation.

And the next wave is coming soon. From here, it’s full speed ahead to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling possibly in June is likely to determine the legality of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Expect Southern Baptists to speak to that, but will anyone listen?

The Baptists came to Alabama this week, but that wasn’t news. The world changed while we were here. That’s the news.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and associate executive director for the Church Communications team of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

 

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Lisa Sergent and Meredith Flynn

Exactly three months ago, the Illinois Senate passed the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act.” On February 14, the state seemed poised to become the tenth to legalize same-sex marriage. But today, the bill is still awaiting a vote on the Illinois House floor.

The hold-up could be due in part to the efforts of religious leaders and groups like the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), who have made known their opposition to the bill. IFI has organized recent rallies in front of the offices of state representatives, and a coalition of African-American pastors in the Chicago area are using automated phone calls to urge voters around the state to contact their local representatives and tell them to vote no. The calls are voiced by Rev. James Meeks, a former state representative and influential Chicago area pastor. In the calls he states, “In my view, same-sex marriage should not be the law of the state of Illinois.”

Reports in March and April indicated the bill was as many as 12 “yes” votes short. But Rep. Greg Harris, the bill’s sponsor, told Chicago’s ABC News last week that proponents of same-sex marriage are “very close” to passing the legislation.  According to a Sunday Chicago Tribune editorial, “Harris needs 60 votes, and we’re told he’s a mere three to five short, with plenty of fence-sitters.”

Governor Pat Quinn has expressed his impatience with the House’s failure to vote on the bill. “It’s time to vote,” he said last week. “Illinois passing marriage equality in to law, I think, sends a great signal to the people of our state and the people of America. So it’s important to Illinois (that) the House of Representatives get going.”

The Illinois General Assembly’s session ends May 31.

Just last week, legislators in Rhode Island and Delaware voted to legalize same-sex marriage in their states, and yesterday, Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Governor Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill into law today.

Other news:

Bill would change state’s abstinence-focused curriculum
A bill that would change sex education curriculum in Illinois is awaiting a vote by the Senate. Heather Steans, a Democratic Senator from Chicago, is sponsoring the bill that would replace the state’s abstinence-based model of sex-ed with curriculum that would also emphasize contraception and awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. Opponents, including the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), say the legislation would subject young children to “graphic sexual information to which most parents would find highly objectionable and inappropriate.” According to an IFI press release, “If the ‘comprehensive’ sex education bill, HB 2675, is passed, it will establish a one-size-fits-all approach to sex education and remove local community control over choosing true ‘age- appropriate’ curriculum, another term used in the bill.” Read a Chicago Tribune story about the issue here, or visit the Illinois Family Institute’s website.

After guilty verdict, Gosnell could face death penalty
Notorious abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted on three counts of first degree murder Monday, and could face the death penalty. Gosnell, 72, was charged with ending the lives of babies born alive at his Philadelphia clinic. He also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar. During the trial, pro-life advocates waged a “Tweet Fest” to raise awareness about the charges against Gosnell, which had gone unmentioned by most mainstream media outlets. Read more at ChristianPost.com.

Politics plays a role in pastors’ environmental views
Pastors’ views on the environment are largely linked to the political party they identify with, according to a new study by LifeWay Research. The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found 43% agree with the statement, “I believe global warming is real and man made,” while 54% disagree. But the numbers are more extreme along political party lines: 76% of pastors that are Democrats strongly agree with the validity of man-made global warming, but only 7% of pastors identifying as Republicans express the same belief. Pastors also weighed in on whether their churches are actively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint; read more at LifeWayResearch.com.

Barna study explores mass exodus of Millenials from the church
Barna’s extensive research on the Millenial generation has resulted in some alarming statistics, like the fact that 43% of church-going Millenials drop out of church sometime between high school and turning 30. The research also generated some interesting distinguishing characteristics of these “spiritually homeless youth.” Read about Barna’s three categories for Millenials who have left the church – nomads, prodigals, and exiles – at Barna.org.