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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 BriefingStudy: Christians most persecuted
According to the Director of the Centre for Studies on New Religions (Cesnur), Massimo Introvigne, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, with over 90,000 Christians killed in 2016 alone. Introvigne said there are nearly half a billion Christians who are unable to express or practice fully their Christian faith.

Chicago ends 2016 with 762 homicides
An argument between two men at an Uptown bar in the early hours of Jan. 1 ended with the two shooting at one another, leaving both dead. Their deaths ushered in the new year, marking the first and second homicides of 2017 and keeping up 2016’s soaring pace of violence.

Chicago priest puts a ‘bounty’ on killers
The violence on Chicago’s South Side is so pervasive that Father Michael Pfleger, a priest with the largest Catholic congregation in the area, isn’t waiting for a savior — he’s taking it upon himself to find murderers by offering rewards for information leading to an arrest. Pfleger says he’s given out 24 rewards over the last 10 years.

Judge rules against sex change coverage
Doctors and healthcare providers do not have to break with their consciences to perform sex change operations under a preliminary injunction against an Obama administration mandate. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas ruled in favor of eight states and three Christian healthcare groups by blocking a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Turkey denies appeal for U.S. pastor
A Turkish court has denied the appeal of a Christian pastor from North Carolina, who was imprisoned last month in Turkey on a false terrorism charge because of his Christian faith, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.  Andrew Brunson was imprisoned Dec. 9 after being charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”

Sources: Fox News, Chicago Tribune, CBS News, World Magazine, Christian Post

The BriefingMoore clarifies comments on Trump supporters
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore has clarified that he never intended to criticize all evangelical supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, noting many were motivated by “biblical convictions” and “voted their conscience.”

National Geographic features trans girl, 9, on cover
Avery Jackson, a Kansas City fourth-grader, is the first transgender individual to grace the cover of the 128-year-old National Geographic magazine, which is rolling out to subscribers this week in a special edition devoted solely to gender issues around the globe. Growing up, “I really just wanted to be myself,” Avery told USA Today. “I’m just a girl.”

Movement for third gender option ‘exploding’
Since Jamie Shupe became the first legally non-binary U.S. citizen six months ago, the amount of people petitioning courts for third gender designations has increased exponentially. Some were born intersex (with female and male sex characteristics), while others identify on a spectrum of gender that doesn’t fit neatly into either of the categories currently available on identity documents.

U.S. citizen & pastor in Turkey jailed for faith
Andrew Brunson, formerly of Black Mountain, N.C., was reportedly detained 63 days without charges at the Harmandali Detention Center in Izmir, Turkey, before being imprisoned Dec. 9 at nearby Sakran Prison. He’s being held on false charges of being a member of an armed terrorist organization, World Watch Monitor reported.

Burmese Christians ministering in Mosul
As Iraqi coalition forces claw their way into Mosul, the retreating ISIS fighters have booby trapped streets, sent suicide bombers against the liberating army, and used civilians as human shields. The civilians left in their wake are hungry, thirsty, terrified, and exhausted. One of the first humanitarian groups to aid Iraq’s once second-largest city, moving in even as ISIS moves out, has been a group of persecuted Christians from Burma.

Sources: Baptist Press, USA Today, NBC News, Baptist Press, Christianity Today

The BriefingTHE BRIEFING | As Pope Francis visits the U.S., Southern Baptist leaders say they stand with his statements of biblical morality but urge Catholics to reject the Vatican’s official teaching on salvation in favor of a personal relationship with Christ by faith alone.

“I hope the pope speaks with clarity about the dignity of all human life, including that of the unborn; the stability of the family, including the necessity of mothers and fathers for children; and religious liberty for all,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press. “I also hope he speaks directly as he has before to our responsibility for the most vulnerable among us, the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant and the orphan.” Read what others are saying at

ISIS using churches as torture chambers

Christian Freedom International, a Virginia-based aid organization, reports captured church buildings into torture chambers that are being used to coerce Iraqi Christians into renouncing Christ and converting to its brand of radical Islam. The organization also estimates more Christians have been martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries than in the previous 19 centuries combined.

House OKs PPFA defunding, abortion survivors’ bills

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Sept. 18 to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of undercover videos providing evidence the organization trades in baby body parts. That same day, the House also approved legislation to protect babies who survive abortions.

Representatives voted 241-187 for the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, H.R. 3134. The bill would place a one-year moratorium on federal money for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates while Congress investigates the organization.

Gay rights group opens office in Springfield

Equality Illinois, the state’s largest LGBT rights group, has open its first office outside Chicagoland in Springfield. The group is seeking to expand its strategy statewide and hopes to open offices in the southern and western parts of the state.

The Muppets return to TV a bit worse for wear

The new Muppets primetime television show isn’t the show Gen Xers remember from their childhood. A reviewer for The Guardian, a British newspaper, calls the new show for ABC a “spoof documentary” in the style of reality television.

According to the paper, “In one scene, Animal laments his consequence-free promiscuity. In another, Zoot from The Electric Mayhem is outed as an alcoholic. And then, most heartbreakingly of all, there’s Kermit…This Kermit badmouths fellow celebrities, openly discusses his sex life and, at one point, describes his life as ‘a living hell.’”

Say it isn’t so Kermit.

Help needed in Sublette

Lisa Misner —  August 28, 2015
DR vounteers at work in Sublette.

Disaster Relief Supervisor, Jamie Kincaid, works with 2 Texas volunteers to pull a loose branch out of damaged tree in Sublette.

NEWS | Morgan Jackson

When an “act of God” takes place and overwhelms a community with destruction, a genuine act of God is the response through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Teams. When a DR call out is given, volunteers respond to offer physical labor, but more importantly, spiritual healing through sharing the gospel.

Two months ago, an F2 tornado struck the southern end of Woodhaven Lakes, the world’s largest privately owned camping resort located in Sublette, IL. Disaster Relief teams have been offering aid in the area ever since, the most recent group during the week of August 16-22.

120 individuals from Illinois, Missouri, and Texas traveled to Sublette to do mostly chainsaw work – cutting trees, taking care of hanging limbs, etc. Volunteers also cleaned up multiple properties and carried debris to designated spots where it could be properly disposed of.

Damage from an F2 tornado

The F2 tornado that struck Woodhaven Lakes 2 months ago left some camping facilities unscathed and others in ruins.

Woodhaven Lakes is for many either a weekend house or vacation spot. This made it difficult to get in touch with owners who weren’t there in the middle of the week. DR Supervisor from Springfield, Jamie Kincaid, said that a work order needs to be signed before anything is done to the property. “Without that, we can’t touch it.”

Despite this hurdle, by the end of the week the 120 volunteers completed a total of 146 job orders. Less people on the property, though, also meant fewer individuals to share Christ with. But God opened spiritual doors nonetheless.

Wendell Romans from Texas, a Disaster Relief volunteer of 23 years, said the DR chaplain had a chance to share the Gospel with a couple on Tuesday. He also explained that if a family is home, once the team is through working on their property, they sign a Bible, present it to the owners, and pray with them.

Unlike the majority of Disaster Relief trips, though, the group doing most of the witnessing this time was the laundry team. Woodhaven Lakes had a laundromat on the facility that they allowed volunteers to use for free. While pouring detergent and folding clothes, Ruth Ann Lusk had multiple opportunities to pray with people.

She said, “We’re actually the ones doing the talking this time. People come in, and we just start talking to them. Or they see our shirts and start talking to us first.” The number of spiritual conversations during the week were numerous, and so far there are two known salvation decisions.

To read another story from this Disaster Relief trip, check out the August 31 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Tis the season for best-of lists, and several interesting are already floating around the internet:

Other news:

“I’m proud of you,” Rick Warren told Mars Hill Church Dec. 28. Via video, Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., preached the final message members of the multi-site church will hear before Mars Hill disbands and several of the locations become independent congregations. “You know, anybody can follow Jesus when it’s a party,” Warren said. “The real test of spiritual maturity is how you handle the storms of life, the difficulties, and even the changes that you didn’t ask for.” Mars Hill Pastor Marc Driscoll resigned in October amid charges of unbiblical leadership.

“We can support the police and talk about how to make policing better at the same time,” writes Ed Stetzer. “We can seek to insert grace into these difficult moments.” The missiologist and president of LifeWay Research (and native New Yorker) reflected on his blog in the wake of the murders of two New York City police officers.

If the United States’ unchurched population was its own country, it would be the eighth most populous nation in the world, Barna reports in these “10 Facts About America’s Churchless.”

A positive note to end on: Seven NFL players participated in a holiday Bible giveaway, reports The Christian Post. “God placed us here for a reason. Use the time you have on this platform to spread His Word,” Tampa Bay Buccaneer Alterraun Verner told CP.

The next great awakening

Meredith Flynn —  January 21, 2014

Great_Awakening_blogWhat is our role in America’s needed revival?

NEWS | Eric Reed

If renewal is a work of the Spirit, is there anything we can do beyond waiting for God to act in His providential timing?

Nearly 400 pastors and leaders who met in Atlanta this month certainly hope so.

“God is up to something special in America,” said Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, organizer of the two-day prayer gathering and another similar meeting last fall in Dallas.

“We had a fabulous response to our Dallas prayer gathering,” Floyd said before the Atlanta meeting. “We did not have any plans to do another gathering, but wanted only what God wanted…. After listening, prayer and discussion, we determined that God wanted us to open it up to all Southern Baptist senior pastors and God-called ministers.”

Twice as many pastors attended the Atlanta gathering. The prayer meetings raise a question: What can believers do to bring spiritual awakening to a nation lulled to disinterest by its tolerance of sin?

“We are the revival generation,” Floyd posted on his blog after the Atlanta meeting.

“We must reach this world for Jesus Christ. The hour is critical. The time is short. This is why we need to practice extraordinary prayer.”

Or, as one pastor asserted at the Dallas gathering, “God, I’m not going to let go of You until You burst from the heavens and come down.”

What woke Great-Grandpa

“Generally, the people of God were going about life and ministry with a business-as-usual attitude,” Phil Miglioratti, IBSA’s prayer consultant and leader of the National Pastors’ Prayer Network says of the periods just before the Great Awakenings.

“They were either satisfied with the current situation of cultural decline or lacking in faith for the church to have an impact on the country.”

But God moved back then.

What historians generally call the First Great Awakening started in the 1730s when the stern preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, in a ritualistic period of churchmanship, stirred in their hearers a desire for a more personal faith.

Another wave started in the early 1800s and set the stage for sweeping revivalism across the U.S. both before and after the Civil War. That awakening moved from New England, across what was then the upper Midwest, and after the war down into Kentucky and Tennessee.

“In both the First and Second awakenings, the church needed a revival of prayer,” Miglioratti said. “The Holy Spirit responded with a rhythm of praying in the First awakening, at first with individuals, then congregations, and then regional prayer movements. In the Second, it was an outside-the-box movement of noon-time prayer meetings that spread west from New York City across the country.”

The pattern Miglioratti identified started with individual repentance, but often spread quickly. It began with prayer and proclamation of the word. And the awakenings came ahead of times of national testing: the American Revolution, the Civil War.

God was preparing his people.

In recent years, the pattern of awakenings has included spontaneous prayer meetings on college campuses, where run-of-the-mill chapel services turned into days-long sessions of personal confession. Wheaton College experienced such a revival in 1995, at the same time campus revivals broke out in Texas, with students praying non-stop for several days. But there is a difference between protracted personal chest-beating and intercession on behalf of a wayward nation pleading for the salvation of millions of lost souls.

“For some time, God has been burdening my heart about prayer and spiritual awakening,” Frank Page wrote when he called the denomination to prayer in 2013. “I talked about this a great deal when I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2006-08)…. That deep sense of need for revival in our land has only gotten stronger over these past six years,” said Page, now president of the SBC Executive Committee.

“If we do not have God’s reviving hand upon us, we will move into a precipitous decline from which we will never recover,” Page said.

Beyond personal confession and pleading for the nation, some theologians say believers can’t just sit back and hope God moves. Action is required, specifically, bringing the body of Christ together in unity.

“I was recently involved in a prayer gathering, entreating the Lord for spiritual awakening and revival in our nation,” said Roger Oldham, executive editor of SBC Life, published by the denomination’s executive committee. “As we prayed, person after person lamented the apparent lack of love for the brethren within Christian circles… We don’t stand our ground in defending one another, especially when a fellow believer takes a strong stand on a crucial issue.”

Oldham is not alone in that opinion. Leaders in several denominations have called on evangelicals to come together to pray for revival – and to take stands on issues vital to America’s spiritual renewal.

So, the pattern emerges: prayer for renewal begins with the individual believer, then moves to the church as prayer for revival, and ultimately becomes prayer for national awakening.

“‘Start with me, Lord’ must be our personal call for real conviction and cleansing,” said Miglioratti, “and we do not need to wait for a leader to schedule a Solemn Assembly to pray that prayer. Then pray for your congregation to be called into times of honest reflection and Holy Spirit-sourced repentance, with witnessing and evangelization as the fruit of an authentic restoration of Christ as Head of the Church.”

Or, as one pastor in Dallas prayed: “Lord, I don’t want to do [ministry] if You don’t come down in power….Lord, it’s one thing to read about it; we want to experience revival.”

Layout 1NEWS | “Where are you?”

That simple question, asked from the Youth Encounter stage, has stuck with Kendra Lorton ever since she attended IBSA’s annual conference for students.

“When God asks where are you, are you right behind him, or are you away from him?” Lorton paraphrased speaker Brian Burgess’ final message of the weekend.

“That’s been in my mind every day since then.”

Lorton attended her first Youth Encounter December 27-28 as a leader from Herrick Baptist Church. The church sent a group of 20 students and chaperones, including Pastor Jay Huddleston. He told the Illinois Baptist three students from his church made decisions to follow Christ, including a brother and sister. Four Herrick students recommitted their lives to Christ. Huddleston also remembers Burgess’ “where are you” message:

“I’m telling you, the spirit of God touched all of us … it was unbelievable.”

Final reports indicate 32 people at Youth Encounter made decisions to follow Christ; 1,003 students and leaders were registered for the conference, representing 91 churches.

At the heart of Youth Encounter is the desire to present the Gospel in clear, creative ways, said Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism. That’s why Sadler and his team work to recruit a variety of artists and personalities for the YE stage. In addition to Burgess, the 2013 conference featured bands Citizen Way and 33Miles, evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake, entertainment from 321 Improv, and local rapper Loudmouth. And they didn’t come just to perform.

“I was super impressed with the time our artists took with the students out in the lobby,” Sadler said. “They were willing to pour into the lives of the students.” Huddleston agreed. His group took pictures with Loudmouth and Drake and came to see the artists as “down-to-earth people.”

Breakout sessions, new to Youth Encounter this year, gave attenders another opportunity to engage with leaders in a smaller group setting. After the opening session, students streamed downstairs to the lowest level of the Prairie Capital Convention Center. They lined the walls of two large rooms to hear about summer missions opportunities in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica.

Students also crowded into a classroom to learn from Sadler about sharing their faith; others met with IBSA’s Steve Hamrick to hear about Illinois’ All State Youth Choir. And a group of leaders listened as Pinckneyville native Brent Lacy gave suggestions on how to make the most of youth ministry in a rural context.

GO Week, a new student experience from IBSA, also got its own breakout session. The inaugural project, scheduled for July 13-18, is an opportunity for those in grades 7-12 to work alongside church planters in Chicagoland. Students will stay at Judson University in Elgin, and also gather there for worship led by Ben Calhoun of Citizen Way. GO Week is part of a partnership between IBSA and Judson to involve more students and graduates in church planting.

Missions was a major focus at Youth Encounter on purpose, Sadler said. “The wedding between missions and IBSA’s student events finds its roots in the Bible,” he said, referencing James 1:22-23. “The rightful response of every believer is to live the mission; to impact the neighborhoods and the nations with the Gospel.”

For Kendra Lorton’s group, Youth Encounter was such a good experience that she wishes they could go more than once a year. Her youth group runs 18 to 20 on Wednesday nights in Herrick, a town of less than 500.

“I think being in a big arena like that and that many kids, it opened their eyes up to a whole new experience.”

Speaker Brian Burgess

Speaker Brian Burgess

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

IBSA's Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

IBSA’s Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.

calendar_blog copyThe web is bursting today with lists that highlight the year’s biggest stories, like this one compiled by the Religion Newswriters Association. The group chose the selection of Pope Francis as the top religion news story of 2013, followed by Pope Benedict’s resignation as #2.

Also on the list: The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (#3), the death of Nelson Mandela (#6), and controversial action taken by the Boy Scouts of America (#9). Rounding out the top 10: Muslims and other people of faith react to the Boston Marathon bombings.

And check out these lists:


  • The staff of the Illinois Baptist has published our list of the year’s biggest stories, led by the debate over same-sex marriage in Illinois. For the full list, go to, click on Archives and search for December 16.
  • The Christian Post introduced its list of most-read stories with a sad disclaimer: “A year of heartbreaking personal tragedies suffered by Christian leaders appeared all too often as the main news at The Christian Post and the Church & Ministry section in 2013.” The website’s most read story was about the suicide of Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren.



What are your favorite year-end lists so far? What stories and trends would you add to these?


The ministry founded by famed evangelist Billy Graham and a 180-year-old Baptist newspaper, the Biblical Recorder, say they were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.

The revelations involving the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse and the Biblical Recorder newsjournal of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention seem to indicate the IRS was targeting more than just Tea Party groups and conservative political organizations, Fox News reports.

Franklin Graham wrote in a letter to President Obama on Tuesday (May 14): “I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us.” Graham described the IRS audits as “morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.'”

Graham is president of the ministry his father founded as well as the international charity known as Samaritan’s Purse. Both organizations were notified of the IRS audits on the same day – not long after BGEA ran advertisements supporting North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

The ads encouraged voters to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” The ads concluded with these words: “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God.”

“I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence – or justifiable,” Graham wrote in his letter.

The Internal Revenue Service did not return calls seeking comment.

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Graham, told Fox News it was the first time the ministry had been audited in its history.

“These certainly appear to be politically motivated since the ministry had run some newspaper ads – not mentioning any candidates – simply urging people to vote for candidates with biblical values,” DeMoss said.

The Biblical Recorder, the official newsjournal for North Carolina Southern Baptists, found itself in the same situation in March.

The newspaper garnered national attention last summer after editor Allan Blume published an interview with Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy. In reference to his support of the traditional family, Cathy said he was “guilty as charged.”

The Biblical Recorder also published the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s ads supporting North Carolina’s marriage amendment. And then came the telephone call from the Internal Revenue Service.

“It raised some red flags and made me wonder why we were being targeted for an audit when we have been around since 1833 and have never been audited before,” Blume told Fox News. “Putting it all together made me wonder.”

Blume said the timing may have been coincidental – but “it didn’t seem that way.”

“There seems to be a very anti-Christian bias that has flowed into a lot of government agencies – oppression literally against Christian organizations and groups,” Blume said. “It makes you wonder what’s going on.”

Blume said the newspaper was eventually cleared, but the audit consumed time and money.

“It was a lot of time and energy that we didn’t have,” Blume said. “It took some of our staff literally several weeks of doing nothing but that [audit],” he said.

The IRS eventually cleared both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse but Graham noted that the audit cost the ministries money.

“Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices,” Graham wrote in his letter to Obama.

Reported by Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary, heard daily on Fox News Radio stations around the nation.