Archives For Religious Liberty

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

 

The Briefing

Church’s roll purge incites media ‘circus’
Cave City (Ky.) Baptist Church, some 90 miles north of Nashville, sent a letter July 16 to nearly 70 members it alleges were not attending “habitually,” giving “regularly” or sharing in the congregation’s “organized work” as required of members in the church’s bylaws. The letter stated, “Cave City Baptist Church cherishes you as a member of this fellowship,” but “your name has been removed from the membership roll,” according to a photo of the letter published on Facebook. Within two days, newspapers and television stations had reported on the letter in Nashville; Louisville, Ky.; Lexington, Ky.; and Bowling Green, Ky.

First State Dept. Ministerial on religious freedom will be ‘More than talk,’ Pompeo says
The US State Department is gearing up to host what is being described as the first-ever three-day ministerial to promote and advance religious freedom in Washington, D.C., which will be attended by delegations and leaders from over 80 countries. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expects to host nearly 40 of his counterparts from countries around the world for the event taking place from July 24 to July 26.

Adoption agency protection moves forward in Congress
The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee included the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) in a spending bill it approved July 11. The proposal, H.R. 1881, would bar the federal government — as well as any state or local government that receives federal funds — from discriminating against or taking action against a child welfare agency that refuses to provide services in a way that conflicts with its religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Turkey keeps American pastor behind bars
A Turkish court ordered 50-year-old American pastor Andrew Brunson to remain behind bars until at least his next hearing Oct. 12. On July 18, the court heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against him. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Most US faith groups say country is on the wrong track
A new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic shows when it comes to politics, white evangelical Christians stand apart from every other religious group. The poll found 61% of evangelicals say the United States is headed in the right direction. By comparison, 64% of the overall public — including majorities of other Christian groups — believes the country is seriously off track.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service

The Briefing

Evangelical leaders sign ERLC statement supporting Kavanaugh
Southern Baptist and other evangelical Christian leaders embraced President Trump’s nomination of federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh July 9 and called for his quick confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. SBC President J.D. Greear, both vice presidents and several former presidents signed onto a statement issued late Monday that backed Trump’s nominee. The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) sponsored the document.

Illinois taxpayer-funded abortions increase 274%
Illinois taxpayers paid for nearly four times more abortions in the first six months of 2018 than the year before and one state lawmakers expects the total number to eventually be much larger. Records from the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services showed 84 abortions from January to June last year. The same time period this year, there were 314 abortions – a 274% increase of taxpayer-funded abortion.

Filipino president to resign if “God exists”
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to resign if anyone can prove the God of the Bible exists has drawn reactions from Christians across the globe. Duterte made the statement last week at a science and technology event in Davao city, where the president criticized the concept of original sin. The Filipino president challenged even “one witness” to come forward with a “selfie” with the Christian God or other evidence of His existence.

One-third of Gen Z identify as not exclusively heterosexual
A new study has found that one-third of Generation Z, specifically those between the ages of 16 and 22, in Britain don’t identify as solely heterosexual. The percentage of those identifying as solely heterosexual increases to 71% among millennials, 85% among those in Generation X, and 88% among baby boomers. The study also shows that nearly 10% of Generation Z identify as bisexual, compared to about 1% among baby boomers.

Chick-fil-A ranks first in customer satisfaction survey
The annual survey released recently by the American Customer Satisfaction Index pertaining to restaurants reveals that Chick-fil-A has again emerged as the top-rated fast food joint. Chick-fil-A finished with a score of 87 on ACSI’s 100-point scale, placing it well ahead of its competitors, including Panera Bread which was given a score of 81 and Subway, which was the only other fast food chain to break into the 80s.

 Sources: Christian Post (2), Illinois News Network, Baptist Press (2)

The Briefing

Florist: My state turned my life upside down because of my religious beliefs
Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington State florist sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony, writes about what taking a stand for her religion did to her life, and what the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling and that Court’s decision to vacate the Washington State high court’s ruling might mean for her.

Supreme Court rules pro-life centers don’t have to advertise abortion options
In a much-anticipated decision, NIFLA v. Becerra, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against a California law that forced pro-life centers to advertise abortion services. The court remanded the case, sending it back to the lower court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Other cases are still pending over similar laws in Hawaii and Illinois, but this message from the highest court in the land places those laws on shaky ground.

ERLC: Church’s internal discourse needs protection
An effort by Texas abortion providers to obtain a church’s internal communications would violate the First Amendment and a federal law protecting religious freedom if successful, according to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn a federal judge’s order requiring the Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops of Texas to turn over their private deliberations on what they describe as doctrinal and moral issues.

New church parking tax triggers fresh debate
At least one religious watchdog group says the newly instituted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that applies the federal income tax to parking benefits provided by churches is a step in the right direction towards transparency in church finances. Others decry the new provision that many historically tax‐exempt employers, including churches, hospitals, charities, and schools will be required to file federal Form 990‐T, which accounts for unrelated business activity.

UN-related religious liberty committee led by ADF rep
Days after the U.S. withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council of 47 nations, a U.S. attorney has been named head of a multi-faith nongovernmental group advising the U.N. on religious freedoms globally. Alliance Defending Freedom International’s Kelsey Zorzi began serving June 28 as president of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Sources: Gospel Coalition, WORLD Magazine, Baptist Press, Christian Post, Baptist Press

By Daryl C. Cornett for Baptist Press

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

Independence Day is my favorite holiday — an occasion to celebrate our country’s existence and have some mandatory fun!

There is nothing particularly religious about it, and that’s just fine. I like the family gatherings, cookouts, parades and fireworks. I like all the red, white and blue. It is an uncorrupted holiday that is exactly what it is supposed to be.

However, I believe that this secular occasion affords us the opportunity for important spiritual perspective and reflection.

First, Independence Day is an occasion to express thankfulness for God’s gift of our American government and its perseverance. This year we celebrate the passing of 242 years since a small group of men, representing 13 British colonies, asserted that the time had come to declare their independence. They made a long list of grievances against England and declared that independence was necessary and right. After winning a war that few thought possible, the confederation of the new states decided to unite under a federal government with its own constitution.

Christians throughout history have lived within a variety of governmental arrangements — monarchies, dictatorships, communist states and democratic republics of various forms. It is fitting to celebrate that in God’s gracious providence He has blessed us with government that guards against abusive power. The design of three separate branches has proven to be a practical check against the consolidation of too much power in one place. Christians can give thanks that God has graciously allowed our context to be a democratic republic in which we get to participate in the election of our own leaders and enjoy the privileges and protections of a constitution with a primary view toward preventing oppressive government.

Additionally, we can give thanks that by God’s grace we are still here. Every nation takes for granted its own existence. Human pride causes us to believe that the United States will always be just as it is today — powerful, prosperous and blessed. No empire thinks in its days of dominance that a time could come when it wouldn’t exist. Romans 13:1 reminds us, “… For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” We should be thankful for our Founders — Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and many others. However, we should acknowledge that our country’s existence originates from the hand of divine providence. The signers of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged this in its closing words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” As we celebrate with our material comforts and security, let’s be careful to give thanks to the One who has given these good gifts and who has preserved our nation.

Second, we should remember to pray for our leaders. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers and intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions….” It doesn’t matter if you voted for him or even if you like him, your Christian political stewardship is to pray earnestly for him. She may be the antithesis of all your political views, but God has seen fit to put her in that position of leadership. Pray for her.

Third, Independence Day is an occasion for the church to renew its commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel. Because God has continued to bless us with a free society, the door for the sharing of the Gospel remains wide open. Our culture has always had sin problems. Where sinful people exist in a fallen world, the enemy is always at work challenging God’s design. Spiritual darkness pushes back against God’s good news.

In America we have incredible freedom to proclaim our faith. We should be thankful that the first of the amendments to the Constitution provides every individual with freedom for personal religion. The first phrase promises this freedom. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since this was adopted in 1791, we have periodically fussed about what constitutes an establishment of religion but never questioned that each of us has the right to our own personal faith and the right to share it with others. We may receive some rejection, but no one is arresting us for telling others about Jesus.

We would do well to be mindful that our American freedom must not be squandered on selfish individualism. We have all the freedom we could ever ask for to live out our faith with boldness and share it with others without fear of persecution.

On this Independence Day, let our hearts be full of gratitude for what God has established, pray for those God has seen fit to put into leadership, and remember that God continues to give us the freedom to be salt and light to our neighbors and impact our communities with the hope of the Gospel.

Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.

 

For some Christians, immigration concerns at odds with battle for religious liberty
The Washington Post reports that while some denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have publicly spoken against the separation of families at the border, the current crisis is a complex issue for many conservatives weighing it against cultural issues like abortion and marriage.

Baptist church receives donation from First Daughter
Ivanka Trump pledged $50,000 to a Southern Baptist church in Texas whose pastor tweeted about their desire to help children and families at the border. Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said members of his church will travel to McAllen and Brownsville to assess needs for the immigrant children, and how churches should respond.

Related:

Religious restrictions on the rise—again
More than a quarter of 198 countries studied by Pew Research Center have “high” or “very high” levels of religious restriction, according to data released June 21. This is the second consecutive year that overall restrictions have increased in the countries studied, Pew reported.

Russian churches work around evangelism ban for World Cup outreach
Evangelistic outreach around this summer’s World Cup will have to get creative as a result of the host country’s anti-evangelism regulations, Christianity Today reports. Across Russia, churches will open their doors for viewing parties and other events to share the love of God, and soccer.

More Americans belong to multiethnic churches
Diverse congregations are on the rise, according to new research from Baylor University that found nearly one in five American worshipers now belong to a multiethnic church.

Sources: Washington Post, The Christian Post, ERLC, CNN, Pew Research, Christianity Today (2)