Archives For persecution

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 16, 2019

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

For some Christians, immigration concerns at odds with battle for religious liberty
The Washington Post reports that while some denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have publicly spoken against the separation of families at the border, the current crisis is a complex issue for many conservatives weighing it against cultural issues like abortion and marriage.

Baptist church receives donation from First Daughter
Ivanka Trump pledged $50,000 to a Southern Baptist church in Texas whose pastor tweeted about their desire to help children and families at the border. Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said members of his church will travel to McAllen and Brownsville to assess needs for the immigrant children, and how churches should respond.

Related:

Religious restrictions on the rise—again
More than a quarter of 198 countries studied by Pew Research Center have “high” or “very high” levels of religious restriction, according to data released June 21. This is the second consecutive year that overall restrictions have increased in the countries studied, Pew reported.

Russian churches work around evangelism ban for World Cup outreach
Evangelistic outreach around this summer’s World Cup will have to get creative as a result of the host country’s anti-evangelism regulations, Christianity Today reports. Across Russia, churches will open their doors for viewing parties and other events to share the love of God, and soccer.

More Americans belong to multiethnic churches
Diverse congregations are on the rise, according to new research from Baylor University that found nearly one in five American worshipers now belong to a multiethnic church.

Sources: Washington Post, The Christian Post, ERLC, CNN, Pew Research, Christianity Today (2)

The Briefing

Happy Reformation Day! As Christians around the world celebrate the movement’s 500th birthday, go to IllinoisBaptist.org for our coverage of the anniversary, including:

  • Baptists’ roots in the Reformation,
  • the continuing theological debate, and
  • a list of the ‘new Reformers.’

Pence promises help for persecuted Christians
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in October that the federal government will shift funds away from United Nations programs and toward faith-based and private organizations to better aid persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence said at the annual summit for the group In Defense of Christians. Critics of the U.N. projects have said they have not been effective in helping Christians in the region who have been displaced due to war and the rise of ISIS.

Ahead of rallies, Baptists denounce racism
Counter-protestors far outnumbered white supremacists at two “White Lives Matter” rallies in Tennessee on Oct. 28. Prior to the protests, Southern Baptists in Tennessee joined other faith groups to take a public stand against racism and the white supremacy movement.

Church removes historical markers
A church in Alexandria, Va., is removing plaques that mark where President George Washington and Confederate General Robert E. Lee sat when they attended services there. “For some, Lee symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery,” reads a letter from the Christ Church board. “Today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color.”

The church initially considered taking out only Lee’s plaque, but later added Washington because he owned slaves, reports The Christian Post.

House of prayer
A federal judge reaffirmed the constitutionality of legislative prayer with her Oct. 11 ruling against an atheist who filed suit against the U.S. House of Representatives and its chaplain when he wasn’t allowed to deliver a secular invocation.

Major league visibility
With the Houston Astros still in the hunt for a World Series Championship, the city’s First Baptist Church is gaining notice for its prominent sign in right field.

Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

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 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 BriefingGenocide of Middle East Christians ignored
Nearly six months after Secretary of State John Kerry declared the murder of Christians in the Middle East a “genocide,” Westerners are doing little to stop the killings, said activists gathered for a convention on the victims’ plight. Religious freedom advocate Katrina Lantos Swett called the crisis “perhaps the great moral challenge of our time right now.”

Transgender bill applied to churches
A Massachusetts government commission is claiming churches may be subject to the state’s transgender restroom bill. At issue is a document stating, “Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation.”

Kaine predicts change in Catholic view of same-sex marriage
Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine spoke about his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage, and predicted that the Catholic Church would eventually change its views on the matter. “But I think that’s going to change, too … And I think it’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good,” he said.

ESV becomes ‘unchanging’ Word of God
The English Standard Version (ESV) received its final update this summer, 17 years after it was first authorized by Crossway, its publisher. The translation oversight committee changed just 52 words across 29 verses—out of more than 775,000 words across more than 31,000 verses—for the final “permanent text” edition. The board then voted, unanimously, to make the text “unchanged forever, in perpetuity.

Cross Point’s Pete Wilson resigns
Citing his exhaustion and personal brokenness, Pete Wilson, senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, and author of Plan B, shocked his congregation when he announced his resignation from the church he founded. As the church celebrated its 14th anniversary and America remembered the terror attacks of September 11, Wilson told his congregation that he was no longer fit to lead.

Sources: Religion News, Baptist Press, NBC News, Christianity Today, Christian Post

The BriefingSouthern Baptists called to prayer
On June 14, the entire Tuesday evening session of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis will be committed to praying for spiritual leaders, our churches, nation, and world. Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd issued the call stating, “the critical need of the hour in America, the state of our churches, the needs of our pastors, the status of our evangelism or lack of it, and the exponential lostness of the world while we are bringing home hundreds of our missionaries… it is time to pray.”

New churches outpace dying ones
America is launching new Protestant churches faster than it loses old ones, attracting many people who previously didn’t attend church anywhere, new LifeWay Research studies show. More than 4,000 new churches opened their doors in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that closed, according to estimates from 34 denominational statisticians.

Christian women most persecuted
A survey of 192 countries has demonstrated scientifically what many have long known anecdotally to be true: Christian women are more religious than Christian men. The lesser known fact: those women bear the brunt of persecution in the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.

Tax-exemptions for churches questioned
Massachusetts authorities have challenged the tax-exempt status of a Catholic shrine and retreat center. The center offers daily Masses, religious conferences, a soup kitchen for the hungry, and a Christmas festival of lights. The case which has gone to the state’s supreme court, begs a deeper question: Do religious organizations decide for themselves what they require for their devotional and educational missions, or do municipal tax authorities decide for them?

Porn labeled ‘public health hazard’
The effort to reverse the spread of sexually explicit material and its effects received a boost when Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution saying pornography is establishing “a public health crisis.” The first-of-its-kind resolution, which National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) helped craft and the state legislature approved unanimously, recognizes “the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change” to confront “the pornography epidemic.”

Sources: IB2news, Facts & Trends, Christianity Today, Boston Globe, BPnews.net