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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.

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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

wp-adMore than 100 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders signed an open letter expressing their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. The open letter appeared as a full-page ad in the Feb. 7 issue of the Washington Post.

Two of the signatories — former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin — told Baptist Press their signatures reflect a specific policy disagreement and not a blanket repudiation of the president’s approach to immigration.

The letter addressed to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, stated, “As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement. Our care for the oppressed and suffering is rooted in the call of Jesus to ‘love our neighbor as we love ourselves.’ In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.”

The order, suspended by a lower court, was stayed Feb. 9 by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The president has vowed to continue to the fight which is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court.

The Christian relief organization, World Vision, coordinated the letter. According to a press release from the organization, an additional “500 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders representing every state in the nation” signed the letter but their names did not appear in the ad. The release also states, “World Relief is one of nine agencies nationally authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.”

Seven other Southern Baptists, including Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., were signatories. Stetzer first voiced his opposition to the order last month in an op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26.  The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore was not a signatory to the letter, but wrote his own letter to the president expressing his concern, which appeared in Jan. 30 issue of the Post.

Other well-known signatories include Max Lucado, author and minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX; Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Eugene Cho, pastor at Quest Church in Seattle; Derwin Gray, lead pastor at Transformation Church, SC; and Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL.

Read the full text of the letter.

– Lisa Sergent with additional reporting by Baptist Press

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

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Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

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Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

The BriefingExplaining the evangelical vote for Trump or Clinton
Last week, Donald Trump said that if evangelicals vote, he would win the 2016 presidential election. But while he commands a clear lead over Hillary Clinton for their support, surveys also show American evangelicals are much more divided this year compared to previous elections. Recent survey findings show how evangelicals are voting in 2016 and why.

High court accepts transgender case
The Supreme Court announced Oct. 28 it will review a lower court opinion regarding the right of a student to use the public school restroom that matches her gender identity rather than her biological sex. Oral arguments in the case likely will take place in early 2017, and an opinion is expected before the court adjourns next summer.

Danger follows Christian refugees to Germany
The situation of Christian refugees in German shelters is “unbearable” according to an updated report released this month and co-authored by Open Doors Germany. The report documents 743 cases of discrimination, death threats, and physical assaults against Christians by Muslim refugees between February and May of this year and claims the findings are only “the tip of the iceberg.”

Hatmaker books pulled over LGBT views
LifeWay Christian Resources has discontinued resources featuring bestselling Bible study author Jen Hatmaker just days after she voiced approval of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. The Southern Baptist Convention entity has published several resources by the popular speaker and reality television star, including the bestselling B&H Publishing book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.”

The remarkable Billy Graham
Evangelist Billy Graham turned 98 November 7. Graham’s most obvious legacy is the three million men and women who registered commitments for Christ at his crusades. Graham’s legacy has also taken forms that are hard to measure but important to remember. We see them especially in the realms of evangelical beliefs, everyday life, American politics, and Christian hope.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Christianity Today

The BriefingVideo gambling’s big in Illinois
Add up all the video gambling machines scattered in small venues across Illinois — there are more than 24,000 machines, the equivalent of 20 casinos — and you’re talking real money. The amount of money left over after paying video gambling winners for the first time exceeded $1 billion in fiscal 2016. That’s a 27% increase, making video gambling the hot hand in Illinois’ gaming industry.

Liberty students rebel
Now, Liberty students are opposing their leader’s presidential endorsement, writing in a Washington Post opinion piece, “In January, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump for president of the United States. As Liberty students, we watched as the leader of our school loudly and proudly advocated for a man many of us felt compelled to oppose. Trump’s flagrant dishonesty, consistent misogyny and boastful unrepentance made many of us feel the need to publicly express disagreement with President Falwell’s endorsement.

Refugees resettled at record rate
Last month, World Relief nearly doubled the number of refugees it resettles in the United States in a typical month. In the past 12 months, the evangelical agency handled a caseload of 9,759 refugees—its largest total since 1999. The milestone comes at the same time as major setbacks to the effort to ban Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana and Texas.

State must fund Planned Parenthood
A federal judge Thursday blocked a Mississippi law that prohibited Medicaid payments to any healthcare provider that offers abortions. Two Planned Parenthood affiliates filed suit against the law, which blocked all Medicaid funding, including payments for non-abortion services such as birth control, to any facility affiliated with an abortion provider.

U.N. to appoint LGBT advocate
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender agenda is gaining traction at the United Nations, as it organization prepares to vote on appointing an “independent expert” to “assess the implementation of existing international human rights instruments with regard to ways to overcome violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to identify and address the root causes of violence and discrimination.”

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Christianity Today, World Magazine, Baptist Press

The BriefingCivil Rights report attacks religious freedom
According to Chairman Martin Castro of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, phrases such as ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ should now be considered “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any other form of intolerance.” Those remarks are found in a new report that presents claims for religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws as a significant threat to civil liberties.

Pence shares faith at FBC Jacksonville
Staunch Christian and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who proudly declared in June that his identity as a Christian comes before his politics, confessed Sunday that he once walked away from the faith to which he clings so dearly now.

NCAA, ACC cancel N. Carolina events
After the NCAA announced it was withdrawing seven championship events from North Carolina over the state’s anti-discrimination law, the Atlantic Coast Conference followed suit. The ACC stated it would move all neutral-site championships for the coming academic year out of North Carolina, including the football conference championship game in December.

Hungary to favor Christian refugees
This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe. The move sets a precedent on the international stage.

Controversial appointee earns praise
David Saperstein, the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, is earning praise from across the political spectrum. At a time when violence against religious minorities has proliferated around the globe, Saperstein has shown himself diligent in confronting religious persecution. Because he held liberal views on LGBT issues and abortion, some conservatives objected to the nomination.

Sources: ERLC, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, World Magazine

The BriefingEvangelical leaders quiz Trump
The event with as many as 1,000 social conservative leaders – mostly evangelical – starts at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday and ends around midday. There isn’t a poll or endorsement coming at the end and participants say they are coming with an open mind. However, polls show a majority of white evangelicals – and social conservatives in particular – leaning towards Trump. The question is how strongly.

Inside today’s Trump meeting with evangelicals
What started as a closed-door gathering of 400 social conservative leaders to test Trump’s values has grown to a daylong conference of 1,000, involving nearly all the traditional political influencers of the religious right. For some, it is an effort to get Trump to better understand their policy positions.

Baptists go beyond conservative politics
The Southern Baptist Convention has been closely associated with conservative politics for years, but at its annual meeting this week the denomination showed that its concerns are becoming more diverse along with its membership. Where 20 years ago the convention voted to boycott Disney for promoting homosexuality, last week delegates passed a resolution extending love and compassion to the victims of the recent shooting at an Orlando gay night club.

Chicago’s deadly weekend
On Father’s Day weekend in Chicago, 12 people were murdered in 54 different shootings across the city. Among the dead is a 16-year-old boy. The youngest of the injured is just 3. This weekend is unfortunately not atypical in Chicago, where shooting deaths this year are on track to be the worst in two decades.

Refugees arrive in St. Louis
This time of year is when refugee resettlement is the busiest in the U.S. And with President Barack Obama announcing in September that he would bump to 85,000 from 70,000 the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. this year — 10,000 of them from Syria — St. Louis is seeing a higher-than-usual number of refugees.

Sources: Washington Post, Time, Washington Post, CNN, St. Louis Post-Dispatch