Archives For Religious Liberty

face-the-nation-moore

WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

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

No help for florist, baker, photo-maker
Reports are circulating about a leaked draft of an executive order designed to expand protections for individuals, organizations, and corporations’ religious convictions—including traditional beliefs on gender, sexuality, and marriage. According to experts, the four-page draft, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would strengthen religious exemptions under federal laws and programs, but it wouldn’t have the reach to quell debates over Christian-owned businesses refusing to serve same-sex weddings.

Congress proposes Johnson Amendment overhaul
Members of Congress have introduced legislation to enable churches and other non-profit organizations to endorse candidates or otherwise participate in political campaigns without fear of penalties from the Internal Revenue Service. The Free Speech Fairness Act would free pastors, churches and other tax-exempt entities to intervene on behalf of or against candidates in an election campaign. The measure would still prohibit financial donations from such organizations to candidates or campaigns, a bill sponsor said.

Falwell to head Trump ed task force
Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr. will head an education reform task force under President Donald Trump and is keen to cut university regulations, including rules on dealing with campus sexual assault, the school he heads said. The Liberty University president believes on-campus sexual assault investigations are best left to police and prosecutors.

Scouting and gender politics
The Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow girls who identify as boys to participate in its boys-only programs. In the past three years, the group has allowed both homosexual adults and young men to join as Scouts and leaders. The Scouts required parents to show birth certificates to verify their child’s gender. Now, the Scouts will accept whatever gender parents list on the application forms.

Pig embryos with human cells ‘problematic’
Biologists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., announced they generated stem cells from human skin, then injected them into a pig embryo and allowed the embryo to grow four weeks in a sow’s uterus. After four weeks, human cells “were distributed randomly across the chimera,” The Washington Post reported. Joy Riley, a physician and executive director of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture, told Baptist Press the pig embryos with human calls are “morally problematic.”

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

supreme-court-buildingImmediately following the election, Pew Research found 81% of white evangelicals said they for voted for Donald Trump. Many have said they did so because, with one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for others, they believed Trump would choose conservative nominees who would reflect their values. In naming Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Trump did exactly that.

Following the Gorsuch announcement, Southern Baptist culture watcher Ed Stetzer recalled that Pew poll and wrote on his blog at Christianity Today, “Evangelical Trump voters made a choice and many of them saw today, with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, that their choice was validated. They voted for the sanctity of life and for religious liberty.” Stetzer is the former head LifeWay Research who now leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Episcopalian from Denver, Colorado, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism. According to the Washington Post court reporter, Robert Barnes, this means “judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written — and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision.”

In a Jan. 27 interview with CBN, Trump said, “I think evangelicals, Christians will love my pick. And will be represented very fairly.” Gorsuch was the judge who had sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases. Suits were filed because the Affordable Care Act had imposed rules requiring them to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortion causing contraceptives to employees.

After the announcement, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler expressed thanks for Trump and supporting the nomination: “Judge Gorsuch is committed to textualism and will uphold the Constitution of the United States. His academic credentials are impeccable and his experience as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and his own distinguished tenure as an appeals court judge qualify him for this nomination without question.”

Russell Moore, President of the SBC’S Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a similar statement, calling Gorsuch, “an exceptional choice for Supreme Court justice. He is a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.…I heartily support President Trump’s excellent appointment.”

The Gorsuch nomination follows several others of interest to evangelicals. Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 2., pointed out other Trump nominees whom he called “followers of Christ”: Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, Rick Perry for Energy Department head, Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

–with info from Pew Research, ChristianityToday.com, and the Washington Post

The BriefingIllinois B&B owners lose another round
A same-sex couple denied access to a central Illinois bed and breakfast while planning their civil union ceremony has won another legal victory in a five-year discrimination case that’s highlighted the conflict between religious freedoms and gay civil rights.

Atheists urge skipping church on Christmas
American Atheists, one of the nation’s largest secular groups, is launching a billboard campaign that encourages Americans to skip church this Christmas. The group is putting billboards up in cities across the country, including Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Georgetown, South Carolina.

Starbucks stirs up controversy — again
The culture wars come every December, fueled by peppermint mochas and venti soy lattes. The battleground is Starbucks. It’s always Starbucks, isn’t it? No one is complaining that the blue-and-brown holiday cups at Caribou Coffee take the “Christ” out of Christmas. Religion. Politics. The Bill of Rights. They all converge here, in front of a glass case full of cake pops.

Liberty advocates lament loss
Religious freedom advocates have expressed deep disappointment about congressional leaders’ failure to protect the rights of faith-based organizations in a national defense bill. The Russell Amendment was not included in the final version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which designates nearly $620 billion in spending for the armed services. The amendment would have protected the rights of non-profit religious contractors to maintain hiring practices in keeping with their beliefs.

Docs: Don’t force us to aid suicide
A group of Vermont medical professionals is suing state officials for demanding doctors counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. The Vermont Board of Medical Practice and Office of Professional Regulation declared the state’s assisted suicide law, enacted in 2013, requires healthcare professionals, regardless of conscience or oath, to inform terminally ill patients that one of their medical options is doctor-prescribed suicide.

Sources: Belleville News-Democrat, Fox News, Washington Post, Baptist Press, World Magazine

The BriefingCastro death unlikely to halt revival or spur liberty
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who died at age 90, is being remembered as both an unwitting catalyst of revival and an opponent of religious liberty. His death, said Southern Baptists with ties to Cuba, is unlikely to yield significant increases in religious liberty for the island nation until the fall of the communist government he inaugurated 57 years ago.

3 dead, 5 sickened after church’s Thanksgiving dinner
Three people have died and five more were sickened after eating Thanksgiving dinner at an event organized by a church in the San Francisco Bay Area, health officials said. Sutter Delta Medical Center said it received eight patients with probable symptoms of foodborne illness Friday and Saturday. Three of the patients died, four patients were treated and released and one remains hospitalized. It remains unclear exactly what caused the illness.

Violent Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago
Chicago saw one its most violent Thanksgiving holidays in years, with eight people killed and 62 others wounded. The toll towers over the number of shootings in the previous two Thanksgiving holiday weekends, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Why Jerry Falwell Jr. turned down Trump’s Cabinet position
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. believes that Donald Trump “will become America’s greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.” But that wasn’t enough to persuade him to accept Trump’s offer to become secretary of education. Falwell told RNS the decision was due to concerns for the health of his family and the university he leads.

Pope challenged by conservative cardinals
Four senior Catholic cardinals went public with a private letter they sent to Pope Francis, asking him to state plainly whether he is liberalizing Church practice on divorced, remarried Catholics. The letter also questions whether the Pope is relaxing traditional and biblical standards on morality in general. Francis refused to respond so, the cardinals published their letter on various Catholic news sites.

Sources: Baptist Press, Fox News, Chicago Tribune, Religion News, CNN

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