Archives For religion

The Briefing

Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids. Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval. But others who have long followed Trump are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.

Study: Evangelicals left churches over Trump
A number of Christians left their churches following last November’s election won by President Trump, including 10% of evangelicals who reported leaving their houses of worship before last December, a new study has found. The study found those most likely to leave their churches were Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who opposed Trump and believed their church leaders strongly supported the billionaire real estate mogul.

Sounding the alarm on transgender regret
Robert Wenman was four years into being a “full-time” transgender woman in Ontario, Canada, when a police officer asked him: “You got all your legal rights by now. Why don’t you just enjoy life as a woman?” The question left the then-LGBT activist stuttering: Here he was, training a group of law enforcers on transgender rights, yet he couldn’t answer a basic question: Why? Why was he still campaigning, still fighting?

‘Bible Answer Man’ converts to Orthodoxy
On Palm Sunday, Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC. The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as the Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.

Anticipation growing for SBC Phoenix 2017
Apparent interest in the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming annual meeting has necessitated an increase in hotel room availability for attendees the second consecutive year. The SBC Executive Committee has reserved an additional 500 rooms for the 2017 meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The previously reserved block of rooms was fully booked as early as March.

Sources: Politico, The Christian Post, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press

Illinois-Senate-chambers

Illinois Senate Chambers

An Illinois Senate bill that would have mandated training for clergy has been pulled by its sponsor. The bill had raised concerns regarding First Amendment rights and religious liberty.

Senate Bill 912, the Abused and Neglect Child Training Bill, mandated clergy be required to complete at least four hours of training each year to recognize signs of domestic violence against children and adults. According to Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), the bill’s sponsor, Senator Melinda Bush (Grayslake), is instead working on a resolution that would urge the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to reach out to clergy and churches through an educational campaign about how to recognize child abuse and domestic violence.

In an e-mail, Rivera credited the bill’s defeat to “quite a number of pastors and citizens who contacted their senators urging them to oppose this government intrusion into the affairs of churches and religious liberties.” This included the Catholic Conference and over 500 people through IFI.

Read the next issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage breaking news.

The BriefingClash of worldviews on defunding Planned Parenthood
Evangelicals have long advocated for the end of government funding of Planned Parenthood. President Trump recently offered to keep the funding in place if Planned Parenthood would agree to stop performing abortions.  Here are two different views on the subject:
– Trump to Planned Parenthood: Halt abortions, receive funds
– Abortion ‘vital’ to Planned Parenthood mission; Southern Baptist leaders respond

Church sued after baptism made public
After a Syrian Muslim man converted to Christianity, he asked to be baptized by First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. The man said the church promised to keep his baptism quiet, since shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. He flew to Syria almost immediately after his baptism to marry his fiancée. A few weeks later, while still in Syria, he was kidnapped by Islamist extremists who said they learned about his conversion from the church’s website.

Married lesbian Baptist co-pastors say all ‘beloved’
Rev. Maria Swearingen stood in the pulpit for the first time as the lesbian co-pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., her wife and fellow co-pastor, the Rev. Sally Sarratt, smiling over her left shoulder as they began their new joint roles. Raised in Southern Baptist households, at one point in their lives they thought the best path for ministry might be to become pastor’s wives. “The spirit works in mysterious ways,” said Swearingen.

How many Americans have a Biblical worldview?
Millions of Americans call themselves Christians, but how does their faith shape their worldview? A new Barna Group study says, “not so much.” Researchers asked American Christians about their views on issues like lying, cheating, the nature of God, and sin. They found that while more than seven out of 10 Americans call themselves Christians, just one out of every 10 were able to answer basic questions about the Bible and the faith.

Islam largest religion by 2070
Pew Research analyzed demographic change among the world’s major religions and found that the world’s population of Muslims will grow by 73% between 2010 and 2050, compared to 35% for Christians, the next fastest-growing faith. The world’s population will grow by 37% over the same period. If those rates of growth continue past 2050, Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, the report found.

Sources: Fox News, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, CBN, The Telegraph (U.K.)

The old adage says there are three things you should never talk about in polite company—money, religion, and politics. We already break two of those three rules every Sunday in church. Are we ready to break the third—politics?

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Feb. 1. The bill doesn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment, which limits church involvement in politics, but offers what Alliance Defending Freedom calls a “relief valve”—“as you carry out the mission of your church, you would have the right to speak freely on all matters of life, including candidates and elections.” Most importantly it maintains the prohibition against churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from donating money to candidates and political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Senator Lyndon Johnson successfully restricted tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

President Donald Trump discussed eliminating the amendment numerous times throughout his campaign and most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2. “[Thomas] Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God,” Trump said. “Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.”

The question is, are churches ready for this? The pastor of the small church I grew up in was not shy about sharing his political views. He shared from the pulpit who he was voting for in the presidential election, and told congregants they could vote for whomever they wanted, just go vote. I remember as a middle-schooler being shocked, not so much by his action, but by the person he was voting for on election day. His candidate lost, there was no outcry in the church, and the IRS never came knocking on our church doors.

Not all pastors and congregants want to discuss politics within the church walls, but, if passed, the Free Speech Fairness Act would give those who want to the freedom to do so.

– LMS

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Multiple pregnancy resource centers are suing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner over a new law they say prohibits free speech and requires them to voice a message about abortion that is directly contrary to their mission.

On Feb. 9, 18 pregnancy resource centers filed for an injunction to avoid being forced to comply with an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year and went into effect January 1. The amendment requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option, to talk about its “benefits,” and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society, one of the legal organizations working with pregnancy care centers to fight enforcement of the new law.

“It’s an interfering by the government with their ability to communicate feely about an important moral issue,” Olp said. The law also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” he added, in that it only regulates the speech of people with a particular viewpoint.

Olp said the government has to have a compelling interest in order to enforce such a law, and the view of the Thomas More Society is that it doesn’t, because information about abortion is readily available. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to compel people to talk about it.

Pregnancy resource centers have already felt the effects of the measure, Olp said. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.” Hope Life Center in Sterling, one of the centers represented by the Thomas More Society in a separate lawsuit filed Feb. 2, suspended its medical services at the beginning of the year. Debbie Case, the center’s executive director, posted on its website about the change in operations.

“We see any compliance with this law as morally abhorrent and have determined to obey God rather than man,” Case said. “The law is unclear on what the penalties are for non-compliance (and even what constitutes compliance), but it’s reasonable to expect that if a complaint is filed against our organization we will be fined $10,000 per violation and (even more troubling) our medical personnel will be subject to the scrutiny of the state licensing board and may even lose their licenses.”

Last December, several pro-life health care providers won an injunction against enforcement of the law. Olp said they hope for a hearing and decision on the current case within a month; an injunction would stay the law until resolution of the lawsuit, which could take another year or so, he said.

Because the pregnancy centers are not willing to comply with the law, they won’t be able to continue to operate if the lawsuit isn’t resolved in their favor, Olp said. Which is exactly what proponents of the bill want, he added.

“It’s a pro-abortion law that wants to stymie and eliminate pregnancy resources centers’ message to women who are considering abortion.”

There are more than 90 pregnancy resource across Illinois.

Publicly-funded abortions
Lawmakers could vote any time on Illinois House Bill 40, which would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions. If approved, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), would provide abortions for women covered by Medicaid for any reason at any point in their pregnancy. Current state law only allows Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary” abortions or those in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Emily Troscinski, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, estimates that if HB 40 is approved, it could increase the number of abortions in Illinois by 12,000 a year.

The bill also makes wider, more sweeping provisions about abortion, including:

  • Removing language from Illinois that states “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception…and is entitled to the right to life from conception,” and
  • Making the provision that should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, abortion would still be legal in Illinois.

-Meredith Flynn

Trump to be sworn in on Lincoln, family Bibles
When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the President Abraham Lincoln Bible, used most recently as part of President Barack Obama’s first and second inauguration ceremonies. Trump’s Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York.

Pence to be sworn in with Reagan Bible, hand on 2 Chronicles
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Vice President Elect Mike Pence will be the first public office holder since the 40th president to be sworn into office using the Reagan Family Bible.During the oath, the Bible will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the same passage that was used during Reagan’s inaugurations. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will deliver the oath to Pence during the ceremony.

FBC Dallas’ Jeffress preaching prayer service
First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, will preach at a private service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 300 people, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are expected to attend. Jeffress noted the title of his sermon in a tweet: “When God Chooses a Leader.”

The religious leaders praying at the inauguration
Six religious leaders — including a rabbi, a cardinal, and a diverse group of Protestant preachers — will participate, more than for any previous president, said Jim Bendat, an author and historian of inaugural ceremonies. Each will have 60 to 90 seconds to offer a reading or lead a prayer.

Moore: Pray for Trump no matter how you voted
With the inauguration of a new president of the United States, now is a time to pray for President Trump and to remember our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority. The Apostle Paul charges us to offer prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all people,” and includes in that list “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). This very act of praying is itself a counter-cultural act.

Sources: The Tennessean, Christian Post, Dallas News, Washington Post, NY Times, Washington Post

Prince of Peace

ib2newseditor —  December 19, 2016
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In the crèche at the Illinois Capitol building, a baby Jesus figurine reaches out with the promise of hope to passersby who mostly keep moving to get their business done.

In a world of chaos, we need peace to reign again. How is it possible?

Henry was despondent. His country was divided. His countrymen were at odds. Angry arguments had led to all-out war. And his son had joined the Army.

“In despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, describing the depth of his anguish. “There is no peace on earth,” he said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Perhaps it wasn’t unusual at the time for a man to express himself in verse, but with a son in battle and his wife recently deceased, it seems an odd time to opine on peace. But that’s what Henry did.

“It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote of the breadth of the national suffering. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not in his America. This great angry gash “made forlorn the households born Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

So much for the forefathers’ intended peace.

Loyal to the Union, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ascribed this national violation to Southern aggression in a verse not included in our hymnals today:

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow’s poem, written at Christmas in 1863, became an anthem for people who desperately needed an understanding of their wartime devastation. Was it to be to be attributed to human failure? Unbridged aggression? The natural consequence of sin? Or was it the judgment of God? The people took sides, brother against brother, and a nation at war with itself, in the middle of moral downfall, wondered, Where is this peace we were promised—our constitutional commitment and our biblical hope? Where is God in this unrestrained, unprecedented mess?

The poet drew images in sharp contrast: the ringing of cast-iron bells in church belfreys and the roaring of cast-iron cannons on farms-turned-battlefields. If the poem ended there, there would be no hope, for Longfellow or for us.

An uneasy peace
Thanksgiving 2016 may go down as the holiday that almost wasn’t (and similarly we fear for Christmas). Psychologists were advising families to avoid discussion of politics after the tumultuous and divisive election. The foment that was reported from workplaces and universities and city streets was likely to spill over into family gatherings as political debate became festering, destructive argument. Every family has at least one person who voted for the “wrong” candidate. Those who managed to keep their mouths shut at work would have little reason to hold back with their relatives. “Just don’t talk about it,” the Dr. Phil’s warned, for the sake of the peace.

But peace, by definition, demands reconciliation. A truce only promises a cessation of aggression, but that may not necessarily produce long-lasting, attitude-transforming, life-preserving peace.

Can there be peace after Clinton, peace past Trump? And beyond American politics, in this troubled year will there be peace in Latin America after Castro’s half-century grip on his nation (and ours)? For Aleppo divided down the middle by a narrow demilitarized zone that draws fire from both sides? For Syrian refugees still fleeing ISIS and Assad and for war zones in West Africa? And for persecuted believers in China, North Korea, Indonesia, and all corners of the world?

The fabled Christmas truce of 1914 seems so attractive right now.

Pope Benedict XV recommended in early December of that year that fighting be stopped to observe Christmas. Though the Great War was only five months old, French and German soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and at many locations, it is told, entered the no-man’s land between their battle lines calling “Merry Christmas!”

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours,” British rifleman William Graham later wrote, “until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

Enemy soldiers swapped packets of cigarettes and plum puddings, played soccer together in at least one location, and generally enjoyed a day of peace. In all, up to 100,000 troops, about two-thirds of the battle forces, participated in this “short peace in a terrible war” as summarized in a Time magazine account. Some troops used the day to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades and give them a proper burial.

The next day, the shooting resumed.

If we may borrow Longfellow’s words, “The world revolved from night to day…” in the stanza that precedes the poet’s headlong plunge into desolation, but there was no voice, no chime, no chant sublime, only the tinny rat-a-tat of gunfire—in cities across France a century ago, as in Paris and elsewhere with recent terrorist attacks, as in Mosul, Chicago, Englewood, Urbana, and Springfield.

So much for a cease fire.

Come, Lord Jesus
The world Jesus entered as a baby experienced a false peace. It was enforced by dictatorship and military oppression. It was threatened by zealots, terror cells, and constant fear of revolt by the masses. And yet, the era was called Peace.

The Peace of Rome. The Pax Romana lasted for about 200 years, but it came at a high price. The Caesars were cruel and nervous men, as were their henchmen, the regional governors such as the paranoid Herods. Herod the Great would do anything to keep peace with Rome, and thereby keep his throne, even if it meant slaughtering a town’s entire population of boy babies.

The prophets predicted the coming of young king who would specialize in peace,

“…one who is to be ruler in Israel…..

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2, 4-5a).

But the people who read the prophets understood how this peaceful monarchy would (of necessity) follow turmoil. Micah opened his sweet messianic prophecy with this arch salutation:

“Now, daughter who is under attack,

you slash yourself in grief;

a siege is set against us!” (Micah 5:1).

Even Isaiah, who gave the reassuring pronouncement that a Prince of Peace would be born, said honestly that saving the world is bloody business.

“For the yoke of his burden,

and the staff for his shoulder,

the rod of his oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:4-5).

All this talk of peace comes with this honest admission: The Prince of Peace enters a world in chaos and bring his own chaos with him. The emergence of the Kingdom of God at the natal moment is not peaceful. Birth is not peaceful. It is bloody—and loud and painful. Birth brings its own chaos.

And the One born does not sleep in heavenly peace for long. “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes…” and the carol writer Anonymous assures us “no crying he makes.”

Dream on, Anonymous.

That Baby cried in his first minute of existence outside his mother’s womb. His birth announcement was a plaintive wail, and nothing has been the same since. Kingdom burst into existence and crashed into conflict with this sin-stained world. It should not surprise us that we still long for peace, we still wait for peace, even after the Prince of Peace has come. His transforming work is not done.

Our American culture in its religious naivety loves Jesus as a baby, treating him as an amulet against bad things—like Annelle, the misguided hair stylist in Steel Magnolias, who decorated her front door with a score of tiny mangers.

“I went to the fire sale at the Baptist Book Store in Shreveport last month,” she said in a drawl appropriate to her bayou setting. “They were selling mismatched manger scenes at incredibly low prices, and I cleaned them out of Baby Jesuses…”

If only a score of ‘Baby Jesuses’ could ward off our national ills and personal fears.

A meeting with Jesus this year comes with the realization that the supposedly tow-headed youngster in the cradle is but a hint at the reign of peace to come, and that the coming of the Prince of Peace into this world first creates crisis.

“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus warned his followers in Matthew 21:34. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And in John 14:27, his definition of peace apparently differs from our expectations: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

His holiness collides with our sin—and by God’s grace overcomes it at Calvary. His peace confronts our warring—and the victory must first be won in our hearts.

The Prince of Peace himself is confirmation of God’s promise that peace will come to the earth. At his second coming, he will usher in peace forevermore. Until then, his peace will reign in believing hearts, even if peace seems remote in a decidedly unpeaceful world.

“Do not be afraid!” the angel told the shepherds on a green patch outside a farming village. One commentator pointed out recently that statement could rightly be translated, “There’s no reason for you to be afraid.” And the angel choir affirms this good news: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, Peace on earth to people he favors” (Luke 2:9, 14 HCSB).

The peace this year may not be political. It is certainly not pervasive. But it is providential. And it is deeply personal. In a world of chaos, the Prince of Peace reigns first and foremost in the heart.

In this time of uncertainty and unrest, we are reminded like Longfellow, who

“thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along Th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!”