Archives For Religious Liberty

The Briefing

Evangelical leaders push for criminal justice reform
Evangelical Christian leaders are spearheading a campaign for criminal justice reform, calling for equitable punishment, and alternatives to incarceration. The declaration, and a related 11-page paper on how the church can respond to crime and incarceration, were spearheaded by evangelical organizations: Prison Fellowship, the NAE, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Samford to withdraw from state conv. funding channel
Samford University in Birmingham will no longer receive annual budget allocations from the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) after 2017. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the $3-plus million Cooperative Program allotment for Samford will be reduced from Alabama’s CP budget. The school’s board of trustees executive committee approved the decision as a result of an ongoing dialogue revolving around tensions concerning a proposed student organization — Samford Together — whose stated purpose was to facilitate discussion of topics related to human sexuality.

California adds four more ‘discriminatory’ states to travel ban
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed controversial legislation into law that allows child welfare providers — including faith-based adoption agencies — to refuse adoptions to hopeful parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” In response, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced his state will prohibit its employees from traveling to Texas because Texas has enacted laws that, he said, discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families.

Jesus painting on Islamic center branded hate crime
A large painting of Jesus on the cross was left at a Long Island Islamic center and police are investigating it as a hate crime.  The painting was found Friday on a fence of the Hillside Islamic Center in North New Hyde Park, Nassau County police said.

Man fined $12G for not taking shoes off in Muslim’s home
A Canadian landlord who was fined $12,000 for wearing shoes in a Muslim tenant’s home said he felt “humiliated” by the harsh penalty levied by a national human rights tribunal. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered John Alabi in April to pay the tenants $6,000 each after he failed to take his shoes off in the bedroom were the couple prayed while he was showing the home to potential renters.

Sources: Religion News Service, Baptist Press, Washington Post, NBC New York, Fox News

New task force to explore baptisms decline, ERLC complaints fail to materialize at Annual Meeting

Prayer begets

If we took a selfie in Phoenix, this would be it. Busy days framed by prayer are represented in this photo from the Phoenix Convention Center during the June 13-14 SBC Annual Meeting and the week of meetings, preaching, and witnessing that preceded it.

Debate over a resolution condemning “alt-right racism” took the spotlight, but lesser reported actions at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will address another serious issue facing the denomination, an ongoing decline in baptisms and membership. And a matter some anticipated would make headlines failed to produce debate, complaints against leadership of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

SBC President Steve Gaines announced plans for a year-long study on evangelism in the denomination, and the presentation of a plan for more effective soul-winning by SBC churches and pastors. Gaines’ effort comes after another year of baptism declines and a decade of shrinking SBC church membership.

“I was not prompted by any man to get this done,” Gaines said in Phoenix, “but the Lord laid this on my heart to emphasize prayer last year, and to emphasize evangelism this year.”

The Memphis-area pastor, who was re-elected to a second one-year term, named 19 pastors, professors, and seminary presidents to a task force, which will bring

2018 convention in Dallas. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, a proponent of traditional personal evangelism, will chair the panel. And Illinois’ Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon will also serve.

Gaines asked North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell to present the motion creating the task force. Ezell outlined the troubling situation among SBC churches: The SBC has seen a steady decline in baptisms since 1980; 80% of SBC churches baptized 9 or fewer people in the most recent report of Annual Church Profiles, 50% reported two or fewer baptisms, and 25% baptized no one.

“I don’t think any pastor in the room would say they don’t have a passion for the lost, but I do think there is a practice problem,” Ezell said.

After the Phoenix meeting, Gaines urged continued prayer for renewal in our churches. “We must make prayer, evangelism and discipleship the priorities of our lives. We must jettison our selfish agendas and focus on Christ’s Great Commission,” Gaines said.

The Gaines

Donna Gaines prays fervently for her husband, SBC President Steve Gaines, just before he preaches during the opening session of the Annual Meeting. Gaines made prayer the focus of his first one-year term, and announced evangelism as the emphasis of his second term.

ERLC reports as usual
An anticipated debate over the ERLC did not materialize at the convention. Leaders had worked since January to heal strained relations between ERLC President Russell Moore and some pastors who objected to his comments about candidate Donald Trump last year, and also to his stance on a controversial religious liberty case involving construction of a mosque in New Jersey.

Moore would not comment on recent published reports that characterized the conflict as unresolved, positioning it as a generational tug-of-war between older Southern Baptists and younger leaders new to their positions. One report also said the ERLC is having difficulty accessing the Trump administration. Southern Baptists have been represented by Texas pastors Robert Jeffress and Jack Graham at recent White House functions involving religious freedoms.

Moore told the Illinois Baptist at a news conference that he saw the annual meeting as a “family reunion” of people who together advance the gospel.

The ERLC report was the last item on the convention agenda, when attendance in the hall is usually low and time for questions is limited. One motion to defund the ERLC was ruled out of order, as the SBC budget had been approved early in the opening session.

Moore restated the ERLC’s commitment to represent Southern Baptists on issues of marriage and family, sanctity of life, and religious liberty. “We are committed to be the Paul Revere, going ahead, speaking to churches, speaking to the officials, speaking to the public square… speaking to the watching world with a different word,” Moore said.
Moore interviewed Chicago pastor Nathan Carter about his church’s lawsuit against the city, which has blocked their purchase of a building in the University District because of parking rules.

‘Alt-right’ and other resolutions
Moore was at the table at a news conference on the first day of the convention, when the chair of the Resolutions Committee, former ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke explained why the panel did not bring the proposed resolution on racism and the alt-right supremacy movement to the floor for a vote. Moore was reportedly involved in the late-night writing session that produced a new resolution on the issue. And he addressed the proposal as a messenger from the floor.

“Southern Baptists were right to speak clearly and definitely that ‘alt-right’ white nationalism is not just a sociological movement,” Moore later said, “but a work of the devil.”

The resolution “on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” urged messengers to “earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

Another resolution addressed “the importance of moral leadership.” That resolution was a repeat of one passed during the Clinton administration’s Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked whether the resolution was directed toward the Trump administration, Duke pointed out that neither the 1998 resolution or this one mentioned the president by name. We need moral leadership at every level, he said.

The resolution urged messengers to pray “that God will help us and all our fellow citizens to embrace the biblical moral values that will honor our creation in God’s image and bring God’s blessing on our nation.”

Ten resolutions in all were passed.

  • One on gambling specifically named it as a sin.
  • A statement reaffirmed the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement—which says Jesus took upon Himself in His death the divine punishment due sinners—“as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
  • And a resolution on campus ministry “urged our fellow Southern Baptists to devote considerable prayer,” among other resources, to “evangelistic and discipleship endeavors” on college and university campuses.

More Midwest voices
The Executive Committee brought a $192-million Cooperative Program allocation budget for next year. Messengers approved it. They also granted permission for the EC to sell its current building in downtown Nashville, should they receive a good offer. A building boom in the city has made the property very valuable, as was the case with the massive LifeWay publisher’s facilities which were sold last year in order to downsize. Proceeds after relocation would go to missions, EC President and CEO Frank Page said.

Another motion brought more Midwest representation to the Executive Committee. Four regions were given representation, even though they have too few church members to apply under the provisions of SBC Bylaw 30. The recommendation amended Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana conventions as each being entitled to a single EC representative.

With this Annual Meeting, Illinois representative Wilma Booth completed two four-year terms on the EC. She will be succeeded by Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. And Sharon Carty, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, will replace Charles Boling of Marion.

Messengers at the 2017 convention totaled 5,018.

The 2018 SBC will be held in Dallas.

-Eric Reed with additional reporting from Baptist Press

The Briefing

High court backs church in public benefits case
The U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow June 26 for the freedom of churches to participate in government programs with secular purposes. Seven of nine justices agreed the state of Missouri violated a church’s right to exercise its faith freely by barring it from participating in a government-run, playground-resurfacing program. In its opinion, the court said excluding Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia “from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious” to the U.S. Constitution.

Muslim converts breathe life into struggling churches
A soaring number of Muslims, many of them refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, are converting to Christianity, breathing new life into Europe’s once floundering Christian churches. The Muslims are flocking to various Christian denominations, experts said, including becoming Protestants, evangelical, or Catholic.

Case of gay couple’s wedding cake heads to Supreme Court
A Colorado clash between gay rights and religion started as an angry Facebook posting about a wedding cake but now has big implications for anti-discrimination laws in 22 states. Baker Jack Phillips is challenging a Colorado law that says he was wrong to have turned away a same-sex couple who wanted a cake to celebrate their 2012 wedding.

New York sues pro-life protesters
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit last week against several pro-life sidewalk counselors, seeking to stop their activities and enact a 16-foot buffer zone around an abortion center. The suit claims sidewalk counselors “repeatedly harassed, threatened, and menaced patients, families, escorts, and clinic staff at the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens.”

Judge halts deportations of Detroit Christians to Iraq
More than 100 Iraqi Christians arrested in immigration raids earlier this month will get to stay in the United States—at least for another two weeks, according to an order issued yesterday by a federal judge in Detroit. The written order follows outcry from the Detroit area’s Chaldean Christians, who were shocked when officials detained scores of them on June 11.

Sources: Baptist Press, Fox News, ABC News, World Magazine, Christianity Today

The Briefing

Crossover & Harvest America share timeless Gospel message
More than 700 voices worshiped at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz. on Friday, June 9, kicking off the weekend’s Crossover Arizona and Harvest America events. NAMB’s Crossover Arizona and Greg Laurie’s Harvest America joined forces to host a three-day evangelistic outreach involving training, street evangelism and service projects before culminating in Harvest America’s Sunday night crusade. By the end of that evening, Harvest reported 2,904 salvation decisions at the event with another 494 indicating decisions online.

100s of new churches not enough to satisfy Southern Baptists
Southern Baptists gained almost 500 churches last year, while taking in more than $11 billion. Such statistics would have most US denominations praising the Lord. But because of declines in other metrics that matter more—including their namesake, baptisms—leaders say members should offer lament instead.

Delaware legalizes abortion through all 9 months
Delaware gave pro-abortion advocates a rare but big win last week when Gov. John Carney signed a bill making it legal to kill unborn babies through all nine months of pregnancy. Proponents of the bill drafted it out of fear the Supreme Court might someday overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Trump: ‘It’s time to put a stop to attacks on religion’
President Trump told his political base of evangelical Christians that he would continue to restore the religious liberty many of them feel they’ve lost. “It is time to put a stop to the attacks on religion,” Trump said in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

McDonald’s introduces gay pride fries in rainbow boxes
McDonald’s is serving its signature fries in cheerful rainbow-colored boxes at participating locations throughout the greater California Bay Area, as well as at some D.C. locations. The rainbow fries will be available throughout the month of June.

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

The Briefing

Illinois family killed in ISIS attack in Egypt
An Illinois man and several of his relatives, including two sons and a grandchild, were among 29 killed during an ISIS attack on a church bus in Egypt. Family members say the bus was full of Christians on their way to a remote Egyptian monastery when they were attacked by members of the Islamic state.

Illinois House approves transgender ID change bill
The Illinois House has endorsed a plan to make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates. The bill would allow transgender citizens to change their gender designation with authorization from a medical professional confirming they have undergone medically appropriate treatment. Current law requires proof of a surgical operation.

Evidence against Planned Parenthood disappears from YouTube
Last week, lawyers for The Center for Medical Progress released more footage of abortionists discussing late-term abortions at National Abortion Federation conventions. The video, along with other footage under temporary injunction after a civil suit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood, disappeared from YouTube after U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered it taken down.

TX governor signs bill to ‘shield’ pastors’ sermons
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed legislation that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders. Four of the five Houston pastors whose sermons became the target of a sweeping 2014 subpoena “fishing expedition” by City of Houston attorneys and then-Mayor Annise Parker joined the signing ceremony.

Christian school bans pregnant teen from graduation
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”

Sources: News Channel 20, US News, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Washington Post

The Briefing

Who values religious freedom, besides U.S.?
Significant differences exist in the importance Americans and Europeans place on certain freedoms, including the right to choose your own religion, according to research from YouGov. Only in the U.S. do more than half (53%) choose the right to pursue a religion of their choice as one of the most important freedoms. The next highest nation is Finland with 37%. Support in all other European nations is below 30%.

Christian leaders praise Trump’s Saudi speech
President Trump’s address in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is garnering significant attention given that it was his first address on an international trip but especially because of its theological overtones while expressing his vision for U.S.-Muslim relations. In his speech, Trump said religious leaders must make clear to their faith’s adherents that “barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.” Such an explicit theological judgment struck Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as highly significant.

‘I will pray for you,’ draws personnel warning
Offering to pray for a coworker could get you fired. A Baptist mother of two has filed religious discrimination and retaliation charges against a school system that threatened to fire her for privately telling a coworker she’d pray for him. Attorneys for Toni Richardson, an educational technician with the Augusta (Maine) School Department, are awaiting a response from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding the complaint filed May 16.

Planned parenthood clinics falling like dominoes
Planned Parenthood clinics around the country have posted permanent “Closed” signs because of low finances and lack of patients. Clinics in New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado have been experiencing the most shutdowns, because of financial issues. In July, the last Planned Parenthood clinics in North Dakota, Wyoming, and North Dakota are slated to close.

Married lesbians sue Tennessee over spousal definitions
Four married lesbian couples in Tennessee are fighting a new state law they say denies their parental rights. The couples, each expecting a baby this year, filed a lawsuit last week against a law mandating that undefined words in state statutes be interpreted to have “natural and ordinary” meanings. LGBT activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets LGBTQ Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples.

Sources: Facts & Trends, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Conservative Tribune, World Magazine

The Briefing

Trump to Liberty grads: Follow Christian convictions
In front of a record-setting crowd of about 50,000 attendees, the newly minted politician winked to his support from evangelicals—repeatedly bringing up religious freedom and identifying with their position as Washington outsiders. “In America we do not worship government, we worship God. We do not need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives,” he said to the graduates.

La. Executive Board concludes study of ERLC
The Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board has concluded a study of “issues of concern” related to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and issued a letter commending ERLC President Russell Moore for “confessing his failings.” The letter, addressed to the ERLC president and trustees, also urged Moore “to listen carefully and respectfully to Southern Baptists even as we listen to him.”

Graham calls persecution of Christians ‘genocide’
Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. Graham spoke May 10 at a conference aimed at highlighting an issue many feel is ignored by politicians and the media.

Court sides with Christian print shop
The owner of Hands on Originals, a Lexington, Ky., print shop, did not violate a local nondiscrimination ordinance when he refused to create T-shirts for an annual gay pride festival, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled. The 2-1 decision is the second to uphold Blaine Adamson’s right to engage in “viewpoint or message censorship.” A local gay and lesbian advocacy organization asked Adamson to create T-shirts promoting the organization’s 2012 Pride Festival. Adamson declined, saying he could not promote that message as a Christian.

Majority of Protestants support gay marriage
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. Although not meaningfully different from the 61% last year, this is the highest percentage to date and continues the generally steady rise since Gallup’s trend began in 1996. However, U.S. Protestants, including all non-Catholic Christians, are now about twice as likely to support gay marriage as they were in 1996 (55% vs. 27%). This year’s poll is the first-time Protestant support has reached the majority level.

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