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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

Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.

For the joy

Decatur | Deana Moore didn’t mind the less than stellar running conditions that greeted her early on Saturday morning, April 28. Instead of derailing her from participating in a planned 5K race, the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures helped her enjoy nature and the people she ran with in the event, which is held along with IBSA’s Priority Women’s Conference.

“It was quite an accomplishment for me too, because I was able to run the whole thing without walking or stopping,” said Moore, a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. Running alongside her were several other women who participated in a spring “Run for God” Bible study that met on Wednesday evenings at Tabernacle.

The 5K in Decatur was a “graduation race” for the class led by Leigh Johnson, a veteran runner and the wife of Tabernacle Pastor Randy Johnson. Run for God is a curriculum created in 2010 by Georgia runner Mitchell Hollis that combines the physical and the spiritual in a 12-week study that also includes group runs.

At Tabernacle, Johnson’s group ran outside on Wednesday evenings when they could, and inside when the weather didn’t permit it. The building’s upstairs loop was their track, she said, as the group carefully dodged around children from the church’s Awana program.

“They were very gracious to kind of bob and weave with us,” Johnson said. The run also took the class through the balcony around the sanctuary, where they heard the worship band practicing for Sunday’s worship service.

The music could well have served as a reminder for the group’s ultimate purpose—to grow closer to God while doing something he has equipped them to do. “Being able to physically do those things—[to] build up to running like we did—I know that wasn’t me,” Moore said after her recent 5K. “I know that it was all God helping me to do that.”

Unhindered

Rainy weather didn’t keep runners from participating in the Priority Women’s Conference 5K race April 28
in Decatur.

One class for all levels
Leigh Johnson first heard about Run for God during last year’s Priority conference. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey, director of women’s missions and ministry, introduced the curriculum at the annual 5K race and offered to partner with churches who wanted to use it as an evangelistic outreach.

Johnson went home and looked up the program. “I was all over it,” she said.

Each week of the study focuses on a devotional piece and correlating Scripture passages, along with an educational component about running.

One week, the lesson focused on Jesus feeding the 5,000. He recognized the physical hunger in front of him, but also an even deeper need—the spiritual hunger of the people. Johnson’s group talked about how the things people do—going to church, reading books, listening to sermons in the car—are good and valuable. But they’re snack-like compared to the sustaining nourishment of a relationship with Jesus that includes personal quiet time, reading, praying, and searching.

Greeting

Members of Leigh Johnson’s Run for God Bible study group were among the runners, and she greeted them at the finish line.

Before their Wednesday evening runs together, the women discussed the Scripture passages provided with each week’s lesson. Johnson brought in local experts—including a physical trainer and a representative from a running shoe store—to help teach the group about the proper way to run.

Johnson said the study was beneficial to people at all stages of physical fitness, and spiritual development.

“I think it’s beautiful in that sense, that it could be for anyone,” she said. “For the runner, the non-runner, the person that’s been a Christian for years, a non-Christian, or a baby Christian that’s just accepted the Lord.”

One woman in the class was brought back into the hope of a relationship with Christ, after feeling like her connection with him had been broken. Another rediscovered the joy of personal devotional times with God.

Deana Moore said the week the class was challenged to share their own stories was particularly effective for her. “It made me think about my own testimony: if I’m called to give it, am I prepared for that?”

Since the 12-week class ended, Moore has also already signed up for two more 5K races, and is involving her teenage daughters in running with her.

Johnson, a self-described uncomfortable public speaker, discovered the encouragement of her group—and strength from God—could help her do something she didn’t previously think was possible. After she made a Facebook promotional video for the class and flyers were printed about the upcoming study, she realized, “I’m really going to have to do this,” Johnson said.

But with “deep breath after deep breath and prayer and prayer,” she moved forward, leaning on Scripture verses like Philippians 4:13 and Joshua 1:9, whick is a key verse for Run for God. Johnson said she’s “blown away” that God would use something she’s comfortable doing—running—to help her with something she’s less comfortable with—leading in a public setting.

At the Priority 5K in Decatur, she had to take on a completely different role after injuring her foot just before the race. Rather than running with her group, she had to take a step back and cheer them on at the finish line. Johnson stood in the rain under a large umbrella, greeting her friends as they completed the run and handing out finisher’s medals.

Had she run herself, she said, she might have forgotten what the day was supposed to be about. Instead, she ran a different race that Saturday, one that, judging by the hugs she gave and received, was every bit as vital.

For more information about women’s ministry and missions opportunities across Illinois, go to IBSA.org/women or contact Carmen Halsey at (217) 391-3143 or CarmenHalsey@IBSA.org.

–Meredith Flynn

The_Briefing

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

While 62% of American adults believed nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage was inevitable, slightly less than half (49%) are in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in favor of it, Barna reports. 43% disagreed with the decision, and 7% were unsure how they felt about it, according to the researcher’s July 1 report.

When it comes to how Christians feel about the Court’s decision, Barna found, 28% of practicing Christians (defined as “those who say their faith is very important to their life and who have attended one or more church services during the past month”) approve of legalized same-sex marriage, compared to 43% of people who identify as Christians but don’t qualify as practicing.

Only 2% of evangelicals support the Court’s decision. Read the rest of Barna’s report at Barna.org.


U.S. Episcopal Church votes to approve same-sex marriage
Right after the Supreme Court made it legal nationwide, the U.S. Episcopal Church moved to approve same-sex marriage in the denomination, The Christian Post reports. Episcopal clergy are now authorized to perform same-sex marriages, but can opt out, according to two marriage-related resolutions passed in late June at the denomination’s General Convention.

The resolutions were opposed by 20 bishops who issued a minority report stating, “The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman,” and by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said the decision “will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”


Church violence survivors share in Charleston grief
After nine people were killed in a South Carolina church last month, Southern Baptists who have experienced similar tragedies expressed their sympathy and grief over the June 17 shooting.

“I don’t know if you ever recover from something like that,” said Cindy Winters, whose husband, Fred, was killed in his Maryville, Ill., pulpit in 2009. “I think you learn how to get through it, but I don’t think you ever get over it this side of eternity,” Winters told Baptist Press. “I know one day I will when I’m with Jesus. Obviously only by the grace of God am I able to get up each day and go forward, and find beauty and meaning…and find goodness in living.”


Burned churches receive assistance from Baptist missions agency
African American churches in need of assistance after a recent spate of church fires can receive help from a fund established by the North American Mission Board, the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Southern Baptists should be the first to condemn acts of hatred toward African Americans,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said, according to Baptist Press. “Regardless of the causes of these fires, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come alongside and offer whatever assistance we can.”

None of the fires have been deemed hate crimes, and only some are suspected arsons. However, one confirmed arson case is Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist, a predominantly black Southern Baptist church.


Barnabas Piper: Parents, ‘Don’t fight unbelief in your kids’
“At least don’t think of it as fighting,” Piper said in an interview about his new book “Help My Unbelief.” “Belief, ultimately, is a miracle, death made life by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can work in myriad ways, and questioning is a significant one,” Piper, son of preacher and author John Piper, told Ed Stetzer.

“As parents our job is to declare and display the work of the Spirit, our relationship with God, so that children can see where the answers to those questions truly lie. Don’t argue; answer. Don’t fight; exemplify. Don’t give up; pray.”

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING |  The murder of nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church prayer meeting “should shock the conscience of every person,” a group of Southern Baptist leaders said in a joint statement after the June 17 shooting.

“There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer,” said Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; K. Marshall Williams, president of the SBC National African American Fellowship; and A.B. Vines, NAAF’s immediate past president.

Dylann Roof, 21, sat through the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and then opened fire in what police have called a hate crime, Baptist Press reports.

“This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked,” the leaders’ statement continues. “It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a ‘murderer from the beginning’ (John 8:44).”

Read the full story at BPNews.net.


InterVarsity welcome again at Cal State campuses
Christianity Today reports that after being “derecognized” on all 23 campuses of the California State University system, InterVarsity is back in business as a recognized student organization. InterVarsity’s leadership policy, which requires that leaders affirm Christian doctrines, was previously found to be in conflict with a Cal State rule that requires recognized student groups to accept all students as potential leaders.

“Cal State has not changed the language of their ‘all comers’ policy,” InterVarsity’s Greg Jao told CT. “They have clarified that the policy only requires that (a) we allow all students to become members, which we have always done, and (b) we allow all students to apply for leadership positions.”


Southern Baptist ethics entity will open office in the Middle East
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced last week it will open a Mideast office for international religious freedom. “We must contend for religious freedom for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for everyone else wherever they are on the globe,” ERLC President Russell Moore said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, according to reporting by Baptist Press. “We will not stand idly by while those with whom we will share eternity are being led to the slaughter.”


How can Christians pray for Muslims during Ramadan?
Former International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin encourages Christians to use the traditional Muslim month of fasting and prayer (which begins this Thursday) to pray for spiritual awakening among Muslims. “Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve,” Rankin writes for ChristianityToday.com, “we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.”


‘Inside Out’ puts emotions on the big screen
It’s official: The latest Disney/Pixar movie is a hit (although even it couldn’t defeat the dinosaurs of “Jurassic World” at the box office). In his review of “Inside Out” for PluggedIn.com, Paul Asay writes that the team behind the PG-rated film are communicating “a message that feels truly countercultural: Happiness isn’t everything.”

Editor’s note: The video below is from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.

Southern Baptist pastors are among those trying to spread hope and healing after violence broke out in Baltimore late last month. And Christians outside the city—including a mission team from Chicago who visited Baltimore last year—are praying for peace, reconciliation, and spiritual awakening.

Hundreds of people were arrested during protests over the death of 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray, who died April 19 from injuries sustained while in police custody. During rioting that broke out April 27, at least 20 police officers were injured and cars and buildings were burned. Gray’s death has since been ruled a homicide, and six police officers have been charged.

In the wake of the riots, Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard. The Orioles played an eerie afternoon game closed to fans, in fear that more riots could break out.

Things have calmed down since then, said Bob Mackey, executive director of the Baltimore Baptist Association, because starting the day after the riots, “everybody who lives in the city had to keep living in the city,” he said.

As life moved on, a group of pastors met to pray together and then went out into the city to help with the clean-up effort. Church planter Brad O’Brien was one of the pastors in the group; his church, Jesus Our Redeemer, is four miles from a CVS Pharmacy that burned during the rioting.

“We know that if the gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” O’Brien told a writer for the North American Mission Board. “Our hope is not in our mayor, not in our police chief or the governor. Our hope is in Christ alone.”

Praying from Chicago
Doug Nguyen was thinking about Baltimore just before the rioting started. The missions chairman of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago visited the city last summer during the Southern Baptist Convention, and worked with Pastor Ryan Palmer and Seventh Metro Baptist Church during the annual Crossover evangelism outreach.

Seventh Metro has historical import for Southern Baptists; it’s the church where missions pioneer Annie Armstrong was baptized.

Pastor Palmer was in Chicago the Sunday before the rioting started as part of a vision tour for those interested in helping plant churches in the city. Nguyen said they spent the day with Palmer, catching up and hearing about what was going on in Baltimore.

Rioting broke out on Monday.

“We’re all praying for them right now, for churches to really step up and be the salt and light in that community,” Nguyen said. The Seventh Metro neighborhood is not unlike their own in Uptown Chicago. In fact, the North Avenue they walked along there is similar to Chicago’s own North Avenue on the west side.

It’s an impoverished area, Nguyen said, with obvious signs of homelessness and addiction. Churches in communities like Seventh Metro’s (and Uptown’s) “depend on a lot of laborers in order to disciple the people around the neighborhood,” Nguyen said.

“There are a lot of ministry opportunities there, to help build the church. You’ve got young leadership, you’ve got evangelistic opportunities similar to what we were doing out in the streets (during Crossover).”

As the protests settled down, Palmer told Baptist Press God had protected his church, located near one of the riot zones.

“Literally, the violence was a few blocks west and a few blocks east. In both cases, you could see the steeple of our church from the locations, but they did not come into our block. They have not come into our block yet. We’re giving God praise and thanks for that.”

A way forward
Even amidst the upheaval, Bob Mackey said it was encouraging for him as a director of missions to watch God’s people partner with others in the community to respond in positive ways. He told the Illinois Baptist churches in the area were planning community block parties, “just to have some fun back in the city. In Jesus’ name, if you will.”

After the rioting, Disaster Relief volunteers provided meals for first responders, and Baptists worked together to supply groceries and other basics to areas where stores weren’t immediately accessible.

As the city moves forward, churches must respond to its complex needs, African American pastor and church planting strategist Michael Crawford told Baptist Press. He gave a four-point plan for healing in Baltimore, based on listening, understanding what goes on in inner city schools, providing healthy food sources, and prayer. Communication and relationships are key, he said, adding that African Americans need a safe place to be heard.

“The reason we are stuck is because we can’t talk about it. We get offended and then we do not hear,” he said. “The real work is listening, getting offended, offering forgiveness, and then reconciling together. That’s real!”

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting from Baptist Pres

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After an unarmed man was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer, urban ministry strategist D.A. Horton advocated “radical righteousness” instead of retaliation.

The_Briefing“Radical righteousness is lived out when we work to see a criminal receive proper punishment, instead of private revenge; public order instead of personal retaliation; and respond with practical righteousness in place of our personal rights,” said Horton during a chapel service at Charleston Southern University April 8. The North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions said the church must pursue the “radical righteousness” Jesus prescribed in Matthew 5:38-42, according to Diana Chandler’s report for Baptist Press.

“I was not present for Mike Brown [in Ferguson, Mo.], for Tamir Rice [in Cleveland, Ohio], for Eric Garner [in New York City], for Ezell Ford [in Los Angeles] and for the multitude of names that have been going down. I wasn’t there when the officers got gunned down in Brooklyn,” Horton said.

“… But what I do know as a believer, there was a real world with real hurt. There [are] real issues going on out there. And if believers cannot look to the words of Christ, and be words of comfort and clarity to our culture, then we don’t need to be claiming to be the church.”


The American Humanist Association has dropped its lawsuit against a New Jersey school district, allowing students to continue saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.


A prayer written by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham will be read around the country on May 7, the National Day of Prayer. Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas metro area.

“We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us,” says Graham’s prayer, which will be read at Day of Prayer celebrations. “Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.”


The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is urging Christians to promote an April prayer emphasis with the hashtag #PrayforMarriage. Last week, the Southern Baptist ethics entity issued a challenge to pray at 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on April 28, the morning the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases. The web page ERLC.com/article/prayformarriage includes a sample prayer guide.


A majority of Americans believe politics would be more civil and effective if politicians read the Bible more. Read more in Christianity Today’s report on the 2015 State of the Bible study from the American BIble Society.


More news from the State of Bible report: Of the nearly 7,000 languages used as first languages, more than half lack a completed Bible translation. At the same time, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in all the world’s languages. Read more at Barna.com.


By the year 2050, Pew Research has forecasted, 38% of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the global Christian population will continue to decline, from 66% in 1910, to 26% in 2010, to 16% projected for 2050.