Archives For Religious Liberty

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

Unaffiliated now numerically on par with America’s largest religious groups
People who aren’t affiliated with any religion now make up just over 23% of the U.S. population, matching evangelicals and Catholics for the first time. (The groups are separated by less than one percentage point.) Information from the General Social Survey shows a steady climb for ‘nones,’ who in 1972 accounted for just 5.1% of the population.

In 2012, ‘nones’ hit the national radar when Pew reported on the group’s rapid growth.

Trump signs executive order to protect speech on campus
Charging some universities with trying to “shut down the voices of great young Americans,” President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 21 directing federal agencies to deny research and education grants to institutions that restrict free speech.

U.S. indicates policy shift on embattled Golan Heights
President Trump recognized March 25 Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied area in Syria. Read more about the region’s significance, and history of conflict, here.

Violence in Nigeria has reportedly claimed hundreds of lives this year
The conflict in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims was deadlier in 2018 than in previous years, and has continued into this year, with one agency reporting 400 Christians died in the first three months of 2019. The Christian Post offered this explainer of the conflict, made even more complicated by competing narratives, the outlet reported.

City council grounds airport Chick-Fil-A
Officials in San Antonio have excluded Chick-Fil-A from restaurants to be added to the city’s airport, citing the chicken chain’s “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.” The Atlanta-based company replied it “would welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue with the city council and we invite all of them into our local stores to interact with the more than 2,000 team members who are serving the people of San Antonio.”

-Facts and Trends, Pew Research, Baptist Press, BBC News, Reuters, The Christian Post, USA Today

 

 

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Asia Bibi released from Pakistan’s death row
The release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for almost nine years on blasphemy charges, was cause for celebration and caution among religious freedom advocates worldwide. “She cannot be released openly,” said an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice. “If she is, there’s no doubt, no question about it, that her life will be in jeopardy.”

‘Stand for Life’ becomes ERLC initiative
An online group promoting the sanctity of every human life will become part of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Stand for Life, which began with a post by founder Jess Barfield of her infant son, has as its mission to promote human dignity through storytelling.

Sessions faces criticism from some in his denomination
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from some Methodist ministers who oppose his role in policies that separate families at the border. In a letter sent to Sessions last summer, United Methodist Church leaders urged a “reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection [Sessions] step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

Charleston church shooting is subject of documentary
The 2015 shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church is the subject of “Emanuel,” a documentary executive produced by actress Viola Davis and Golden State Warrior Steph Curry.

Midterm election: Evangelicals in the spotlight
As voters cast their ballots in today’s midterm election, slow shifts in the evangelical voting bloc are unlikely to result in gains for progressive candidates, USA Today reports.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today

‘Social justice’ statement crystallizes simmering debate
Baptists and other Christians took to Twitter and other online forums last week to debate a statement signed by theologian John MacArthur and other evangelical leaders on the potential dangers of social justice. In the statement, the signers, which now number in the thousands, affirm that “lectures on social issues” in the church and “activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture” “tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

Southern Baptists have been among the evangelicals talking about the statement. And while he didn’t use the terminology, New Orleans Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley seemed to touch on similar concerns in his convocation sermon on “Baptist Blues.”

White House meetings with evangelicals are illegal, group says
Religion News Service reports that watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is demanding President Donald Trump stop meeting with evangelical advisors. The group alleges the meetings are in conflict with a 1972 law that governs federal advisory committees.

Related: Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear was among 100 evangelicals in attendance at a White Hosue dinner Aug. 27. Greear has spoken publicly about his desire to see the SBC distance itself from partisan politics, a commitment he reiterated on Twitter.

Kavanaugh completes hearings, awaits vote
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was the subject of often raucous hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and now will face a full vote he’s expected to win—but barely. Senate Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage.

“Careful consideration of potential justices for our nation’s highest court is understandable and even commendable,”  Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore told Baptist Press. “But the hysteria around the confirmation hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week is a sign of a dysfunctional political climate.”

Anne Graham Lotz asks for prayers in cancer battle
Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz announced Sept. 4 she has breast cancer and will have surgery later this month to treat the illness. The daughter of late evangelist Billy Graham referenced Psalm 46:1 in announcing the diagnosis. “God has been…and is…my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in this trouble. Therefore, I will not fear.”

McCain services filled with Scripture
Memorial services for Sen. John McCain, who died Aug. 25 after a battle with brain cancer, included 10 readings from the Old and New Testaments. See the list at Christianity Today.

The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Religion News Service, Christianity Today