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Mandrell to be voted on June 28 as next president of Southern Baptist publisher
Ben Mandrell, a native of Tampico, Ill., preached an emotional message at his Colorado church June 23–two days after his nomination to lead LifeWay Christian Resources was announced. Mandrell, 42, is a native of Tampico, Ill.

“All through Scripture, we learn that God is a calling God,” Mandrell (pictured above with his family) said in his sermon. “He dials our number and we have to answer. We have to take his calls.” When considering the decision to leave his church and relocate his family to Nashville, Mandrell said he had “a wrestling match with God like I have never experienced before.”

High court keeps cross
A memorial to World War I soldiers can stay standing in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20. The American Humanist Association asked that the cross be removed in 2012, sparking a legal battle that has bounced around the courts since then.

>Related: Christian Post writer Curtis Schube says the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its ruling won’t necessarily protect other religious monuments.

How one ‘heartbeat bill’ sparked a national trend
The series of abortion restrictions passed in several states this year is the result of a years-long push based on a fetal heartbeat bill authored in Ohio years ago, according to analysis by USA Today. The paper’s analysis of so-called “copycat” legislation—when a bill is copied and modified for its new context—found the Ohio bill was proposed 26 times until similar legislation passed in multiple states this year.

Refugee crisis grows as U.S. welcomes fewer people
A record number of people were displaced around the world last year, while the U.S. continued to receive far fewer refugees from “countries of concern” identified by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

Americans critical of current state of political debate
People in the U.S. overwhelmingly say public discourse in the country has become more negative and less respectful over the past several years. And 78% say elected officials using heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups makes violence against those groups more likely.

Sources: Baptist Press, Storyline Fellowship, Christian Post, USA Today, Christianity Today, Pew Research

Pending: Illinois law to allow abortions through all nine months of pregnancy
Several Southern states and Missouri became the latest to approve anti-abortion measures, with an ultimate goal of challenging Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers stepped up their efforts to move forward on a bill that would expand abortion in the state.

In Washington, Baptist missions leader addresses refugee crisis
International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) May 16 about the plight of refugees around the world and increased religious persecution. “Our intent is to keep a dialogue open with influencers who can help ensure the safety of our global workers sharing hope,” Chitwood told Baptist Press, “and to discuss any way we can offer support to those people seeking hope and peace around the world.”

‘Equality Act’ would eliminate religious freedom protections
The U.S. House of Representatives approved on May 17 the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classifications protected in federal civil rights law. The legislation, which faces opposition in the Republican-majority Senate, would also eliminate use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a possible protection in cases covered by the measure, Baptist Press reported.

Taiwanese Christians lament new marriage law
Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage May 16, even after 67% of voters said no to same-sex unions in a nationwide referendum last year. Of the 28 countries in the world that allow gay marriage, Pew Forum reports, 18 are in Western Europe.

Long-running PBS kids’ show celebrates same-sex wedding
When Arthur the aardvark’s teacher got married in the PBS show’s 22nd season premiere May 13, the biggest news wasn’t that the teacher, a rat, married an aardvark, but that Mr. Ratburn married a chocolate shop owner named Patrick. That a children’s show tackled a topic like gay marriage isn’t surprising, BreakPoint writer G. Shane Morris noted, but the cultural milieu also doesn’t let Christian parents off the hook. “…Though my tax dollars may be funding public indoctrination and the defilement of childhood entertainment,” Morris wrote, “my real investment is in teaching my sons and daughter the truth.”

Within 24 hours of its airing, more than 13,000 people had signed an online petition protesting the episode.

The Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Baptist Press (3), WORLD

Kick-off includes new blog, podcast tailored to Baptist women
Connection is the main goal of the newly launched Southern Baptist Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). “Historically in SBC life men have had multiple options to connect in this way,” said WLN steering committee member Kathy Ferguson Litton. “Women have had very few environments where we could organically relate, mentor, and collaborate across all the domains in which we lead. It is time to change that.”

The network includes a podcast, blog, and Facebook page, and will hold its first meeting June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

Congress yet to act on church tax law
A coalition of religious leaders is still pursuing action by U.S. lawmakers they say will relieve churches of a costly tax burden. Current law requires churches to file tax returns, some as early as this spring. The U.S. House of Representatives voted late last year to reverse the provision—Section 512(a)(7) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—but the Senate didn’t have the votes to approve the reversal, Baptist Press reported.

“Uncle Sam is welcome in our churches,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, one of the leaders calling for repeal of the provision. “But we don’t work for him. And Congress should end this deeply un-American tax on churches immediately.”

Baptists choose ‘proven leader’ to helm Executive Committee
Arkansas pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was elected April 2 to lead the denomination’s Executive Committee, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Floyd, 63, will be a key part of the SBC’s response to current challenges, including helping churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors of abuse.

Mormon Church softens stance on same-sex marriage
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced April 4 that members in same-sex marriages will no longer be designated apostates to their faith. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the church said. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

The change in policy also will allow children of LGBT members to be baptized in the church, Religion News Service reported.

Iraqi Christians could face deportation
An appeals court declined April 2 to hear further arguments from 1,400 Iraqi natives detained in immigration raids in 2017. The group includes more than 100 Detroit-area Chaldean Christians, Christianity Today reports, who would face returning to one of the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

 

 

 

More than half of American churchgoers say their political views match those of most people at their church, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. And 57% of Protestant churchgoers under 50 say they prefer to go to church with people who share their political views. “Like many places in America, churches are divided by politics,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “And churchgoers under 50 seem to want it that way.”

Search committee named to find next Southwestern president
A committee of nine Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees has been appointed to find the Fort Worth school’s next president. The committee is tasked with finding a replacement for Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status in May and terminated a week later, after coming under fire for his response to alleged sexual assault on the campus of Southeastern Seminary, where he previously served as president. The Southwestern committee includes an Illinois Baptist—Denise Ewing of First Baptist Church, Winthrop Harbor.

Southern Baptist chaplain exonerated
A U.S. Army chaplain accused of discrimination has been cleared of all charges, Baptist Press reported. Chaplain Jerry Squires told a soldier earlier this year he couldn’t perform a marriage retreat for her and her same-sex partner; he also rescheduled the event so another chaplain could perform the retreat. The Army dropped its investigation Aug. 24 after determining Squires had handled the matter in accordance with military policy.

Christian leaders advocate for refugees
A group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, sent a letter to the federal officials in August asking them to consider opening U.S. borders to 75,000 refugees for resettlement in fiscal year 2019. The number is about 50,000 higher than a limit reported being considered by the Trump Administration, The Christian Post reported.  

Illinois churches ready families for fall with shoes, haircuts, backpacks, and prayer
Across the state, churches launched students and families into the back-to-school season with a number of outreach initiatives tailored to specific needs in their communities. In Harrisburg, Dorrisville Baptist Church gave away more than 500 pairs of gym shoes while in Chicago, Another Chance Baptist Church sent kids back to school with backpacks and new glasses. Read about back-to-school outreach and more from IBSA churches in the current issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at ibonline.IBSA.org.

-LifeWay Research, Baptist Press (2), The Christian Post, Illinois Baptist

Annual conference aims to engage students in helping persecuted people around the world

Awsom

The lights in the room dimmed. Suddenly, there were loud, wailing sirens and the sounds of hovering aircraft and explosions. Shouts could be heard from each corner of the room as the girls yelled out, eagerly looking to find the rest of their lost family members.

The IBSA Building was transformed into a refugee camp Nov. 5 for the annual AWSOM conference for young women (AWSOM stands for “Amazing Women Serving Our Maker”). Through an intensive, simulated overnight experience, this year’s AWSOM focused on helping the 222 students in attendance understand the plight of the refugee, and how they can help. Attenders also heard the stories of Christians who have lived with persecution (see boxes).

Alina Aisina – Central Asia

Aisina was born in a gospel-sensitive country in Central Asia to a Christian mother and an abusive, atheist father.
Aisina, her sister, and her mom eventually fled their city because their lives were threatened for what they believed. Aisina grew up with a lot of fear, she said, “Not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring and being afraid for my life.”
After receiving a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child, however, Aisina described the change in her life. While her physical life didn’t change, she said, her attitude did because she knew she wasn’t alone. She felt a loving Father looking after her by using strangers from another country to demonstrate Christ’s love for her through the shoebox.

After the simulated war broke out, the students, grouped in “families” of five, were instructed to find refuge in a neighboring country. They could only travel with limited items, however, and had to leave the rest of their belongings behind.

When the girls reached their temporary shelter, a setup of makeshift tents representing a refugee camp, they were given minimal supplies. Current and former missionaries dressed as border guards spoke only the language of the countries they served, to represent the foreign atmosphere to which refugees must adapt.

In the end, the family had to make the decision either to return home to their war-torn country, navigating elements such as land mines, or to apply for citizenship in the new country in hopes of building a new life.

Rockie Naser – Jordan

Naser’s devout Muslim family lived in Jordan for several years before moving to Chicago. By the time Naser was 22, her father had arranged for her to return to Jordan and marry her first cousin. When she refused, she was estranged from her family. Her father even threatened her life when he discovered she’d become a Christian.

Naser fled the city where she lived and joined the U.S. military to help ensure her protection. She now serves as a women’s ministry director at First Baptist Church, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The crisis is real
Prior to the simulation, International Mission Board missionary Christopher Mauger showed a brief aerial video clip documenting the plight of the Rohingya Muslims as they fled from Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

Mauger, who serves in Southeast Asia, described the situation as “desperate” and “unbelievable,” and as a crisis that “needs prayer.” “If they have to go down [to Bangladesh] for refuge, it’s really bad,” he said. “There’s nothing there.”

Mauger explained how “hundreds of thousands” of Rohingya Muslims have been exiting the country as a result of persecution from Myanmar’s government, which is Buddhist.

“For those who have a place to live, they are living in camps with plastic for roofing,” Mauger said. “They are crowded in small areas, food is scarce, and they don’t have any hygienic necessities.”

Mauger described how easy it is to get distracted with a situation like this by blaming the evil in this world. But by changing their perspective, he said, Christians can help. “We can tell these people about God,” he said, “by giving and supporting the Christian organizations that are helping in that area.”

Wendy – China

Wendy lives in China, where she partnered with Ronny and Beverly Carroll while they served as missionaries with the International Mission Board. The Carrollslive in Illinois, and Wendy visited Springfield to speak about the ministry she coordinates to help people long oppressed because of their beliefs.
During the Chinese Revolution in the 1960s, Wendy said, all forms of religion were repressed. While many Chinese Christians fled, others, including a man named Su, were imprisoned. After Su’s release 20 years later, Wendy’s ministry found him and helped him rediscover Christ. This was Su’s first encounter with a Christian in more than two decades.

Becki McNeely, a leader from Lakeland Baptist Church, said AWSOM “opened the students’ eyes to an increased awareness of the state of refugees.”

Several students echoed McNeely. One young woman described how it “must be hard to live in a persecuted country” after hearing the accounts of the speakers. Several more expressed their increased awareness of the refugee crises and were “saddened” at its reality.

Carmen Halsey, director of women’s ministry and missions, said IBSA is securing resources to inform churches about refugee issues. She added that she hoped the experience helped students to be able to “feel the psychological anguish caused by separation and flight” and to “see what forces people into refugee situations,” as well as adopting a more welcoming attitude towards refugees in their own country.

Go to vimeo.com/IBSA to view video from this year’s AWSOM conference.

-Andrew Woodrow

The Briefing

Immigration raids target Iraqi-American Christians
Chicago’s Iraqi immigrant community is bracing for raids by U.S. immigration officers after witnessing a sweep in Detroit, where federal agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqis, most of them Christians, and sent them to a detention center in Ohio, pending deportation. Federal agents took Detroit’s Iraqi-American community by surprise, showing up at a Chaldean church during Mass, at restaurants frequented by the Iraqi Chaldean community, and at homes bearing orders to arrest and deport residents.

Baptists deny CSB translation is ‘gender neutral’
Conservative Christian groups and intellectuals are rejecting a recent claim that the latest version of the Christian Standard Bible has been edited to be more “gender neutral.” The Atlantic published a piece on Sunday that claimed that the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention was embracing a more gender-neutral version of the Bible.

SBC Phoenix wrap-up: Alt-right resolution & evangelism draw focus
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

Chicago records 300th homicide
Chicago recorded its 300th homicide over the Father’s Day weekend, just like it did last year. The somber milestone was reached around 2:30 a.m. Monday when a 33-year-old man was gunned down during a burst of violence that saw four people killed and 13 others wounded over just five hours Sunday evening through early Monday, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Catholics launch conversation about female deacons
Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons. Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

Sources: World Magazine, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Religion News, Chicago Tribune

State Baptist paper editors met for their annual meeting Feb. 14-16 in Ontario, Calif. and heard controversial issues addressed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and International Mission Board President David Platt. As the meeting was taking place Prestonwood Baptist Church, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced its decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support the Cooperative Program while it discusses concerns about the direction of the Convention.

steve-gaines-with-editors

Steve Gaines

Gaines on Trump, ERLC, IMB
In a question-and-answer session Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance.

Referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.

Discussing the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.

“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.

“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.

Concerning controversy involving Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he said.

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.

“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.

Platt’s apology
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.

“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Gaines on CP, state conventions, revival
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10% of their receipts to CP, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ.

While Bellevue Baptist doesn’t give 10% through CP, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.

Gaines urged, “State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them [young pastors and leaders], cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. “The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”

Prestonwood escrows CP
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries was announced Feb. 16.

Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining that the action had been taken because of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” and that it is a temporary move.

The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.

But Graham subsequently explained to the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns are broader than just one personality.

Instead, he described an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.

“This is a difficult decision for me, personally,” he added. “I love Southern Baptists, and still want to be a cooperating partner as we have been for many years.

“We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”

Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message