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Resolution urges no more use of Confederate battle flag

The Southern Baptist Convention rejected use of an iconic Southern emblem, the Confederate battle flag still commonly seen in the South, because it is for many representative of slavery and ongoing racism against African Americans. The resolution states: “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

Its passage by a considerable majority was met with enthusiastic applause.

The vote came after an impassioned plea by Georgia pastor and former SBC President James Merritt, himself the descendant of two Confederate war veterans.

“Make no mistake, this is a seminal moment in our convention,” said Merritt. “I believe God has brought the SBC to both the kingdom and our culture for such a time as this. What we do today with this issue will reverberate in this nation, not just today, but I believe a hundred years from now. This is not a matter of political correctness, it is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion.”

Merritt proposed an amendment which strengthened the resolution, and removed a phrase some had used about “honor(ing) their loved one’s valor.” He substituted language to “discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The amendment passed. While not all messengers who spoke supported the resolution, the will of the Convention was clear: Southern Baptists have broken with the racism of their past. After statements in 1995 and the election of an African American president in 2013, some expressed hope the sins of the past are repudiated as well as the flag.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd chose the St. Louis convention, just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, as the place to discuss racial reconciliation. Convention week began with outreach ministry in Ferguson, site of riots in 2014 following the police shooting of a black teenager.

Floyd told convention messengers, “America is…experiencing a racial crisis. Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life. Regardless of the color of human skin, God has put his imprint on each of us…Racism is a major sin and stronghold in America.”

Floyd staged a panel discussion, a rarity in SBC business sessions, called “A National Conversation on Racial Unity in America,” with 10 leaders.

“I am absolutely, totally convinced that the problem in America can be put totally at the doorsteps of our churches,” said Jerry Young, president of a mostly African American denomination, the National Baptist Convention.

Young noted Christ told his disciples to be the salt and light of the world, and he said Christians are failing in the task. “I challenge you to know that the problem in America is a problem with the church being what God called it to be….Here’s what needs to happen in America: Somebody needs to pass the salt and turn on the lights.”

The panel discussed the killing of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last year. “That racially motivated murder hurt all of us,” said Marshall Blalock, pastor of the mostly white First Baptist Church in Charleston. “The white community for the first time began to understand.”

Blalock noted, “The killer was a terrorist, he wanted to create fear and cause hopelessness. But he went to church where there is no room for fear, or hate, or hopelessness…Only the gospel can eliminate racism.”

Kenny Petty, pastor of the Gate Church in St. Louis, said incidents such as the Charleston church shooting and police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., exposed an infection. “That wound opened up and it reeked.” Since the shooting, “there has been some healing (in Ferguson), but we’ve got a long way to go. We found out that infection didn’t just stop with the culture, it went on to the doorstep of the church.”

“What we need is the mind of Christ,” Young said. “If we want to change racism in our churches and America we’re going to have to change our attitude through Christ.”

President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore called the convention’s action “an extraordinary moment.”

“We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters in Christ,” Moore said.

– Lisa Sergent

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.”

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | The U.S. State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report on Monday, citing 2013 as a year when “the world witnessed the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory.”

The report also listed nations where religious freedom is severely threatened and violated. Those “countries of particular concern” are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the report, President Barack Obama announced his nominee for the country’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi David Saperstein would be the first non-Christian to hold the post, reports Christianity Today. He is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, an attorney, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Saperstein’s nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

“Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “He has my prayers and my pledge of full cooperation. The downgrade of religious freedom and the persecution of religious minorities around the world must end.”

Other news:

Texas church ministers with blankets, BIbles, coloring books at the border
De Dorman first felt a burden for families stranded at the U.S./Mexico border when she herself was stuck in an airport for three days in June. Dorman, a member of First Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, went back home and organized a group of volunteers from her church to help out at an immigrant processing center in their town. Part of their ministry is giving out blankets to children who aren’t used to constant air conditioning, along with bilingual Bibles and Gospel-themed coloring books. “We tell them wherever you journey, the Lord wants to go with you,” Dorman told the Southern Baptist Texan. “We do our best, as God opens the doors, to speak to them and to set resources into their hands for that long bus ride.”

Pastor preaches forgiveness after hate crime
A church in Clarksville, Tenn., has forgiven whoever burned a cross outside their building, said Pastor Vernon Hooks of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. “Whoever did it, we forgive them,” Hooks said after the cross was discovered on the grounds of his mostly African American church early on July 22. “That’s the message, that we are a forgiving church and we’ll let the police do their job.” Police have classified the incident as a hate crime and are still investigating. Read the full story from the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle.

The Bible, re-designed?
A project aimed at making the Bible more readable for more people has earned more than $1.4 million in support on the fundraising site Kickstarter.com. “Bibliotheca,” an idea from book designer Adam Lewis Greene, organizes the Bible into four volumes designed like modern books. The text is in one column, and there are no verse or chapter notations. A video on Greene’s Kickstarter page explains  the inspiration behind the project.

Barna survey measures Americans’ dietary worries
Healthier eating habits may be on trend these days, but nearly half of all Americans are worried they eat too much. And 63% say they’re concerned about not eating enough fresh produce. The new research from Barna also found 55% of Americans experience some kind of “food guilt.” Read more at Barna.org.