Archives For Religious Liberty

Pritzker signs curriculum bill set to take effect in July 2020
Public school students in Illinois will study the roles and contributions of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval of a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May. Four other states have enacted similar legislation: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and New York.

Baylor students request review of school’s LGBT policies
Students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 Conference to investigate the Baptist school’s treatment of LGBT students and compliance with Title XI civil rights law. The student group includes members of gay club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, which has sought recognition as an official on-campus student group since 2011, The Christian Post reported.

Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Seminary denies liability in sex abuse lawsuit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the school has a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault, and to train them to avoid such a risk. The suit was filed by “Jane Roe,” a former student who claims she was raped on campus at gunpoint by a student the seminary employed.

Hillsong songwriter renounces faith
“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” songwriter Marty Sampson wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. The Australian writer of dozens of worship songs continued, “Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.” Sampson’s announcement followed a similar statement by Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who announced last month he’s no longer a Christian.

Christians differ on the church’s role in racial reconciliation
Four hundred years after slavery began in the U.S., age and ethnicity factor into how practicing Christians think the church should respond to the African American community now. One-third of white Christians say there’s nothing the church should do, compared to 15% of black Christians. And 35% of Millennials say the church should try to repair the damage done by slavery, compared to 17% of Elders.

Sources: The Hill, Freeport News Network, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna

Mandrell to be voted on June 28 as next president of Southern Baptist publisher
Ben Mandrell, a native of Tampico, Ill., preached an emotional message at his Colorado church June 23–two days after his nomination to lead LifeWay Christian Resources was announced. Mandrell, 42, is a native of Tampico, Ill.

“All through Scripture, we learn that God is a calling God,” Mandrell (pictured above with his family) said in his sermon. “He dials our number and we have to answer. We have to take his calls.” When considering the decision to leave his church and relocate his family to Nashville, Mandrell said he had “a wrestling match with God like I have never experienced before.”

High court keeps cross
A memorial to World War I soldiers can stay standing in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20. The American Humanist Association asked that the cross be removed in 2012, sparking a legal battle that has bounced around the courts since then.

>Related: Christian Post writer Curtis Schube says the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its ruling won’t necessarily protect other religious monuments.

How one ‘heartbeat bill’ sparked a national trend
The series of abortion restrictions passed in several states this year is the result of a years-long push based on a fetal heartbeat bill authored in Ohio years ago, according to analysis by USA Today. The paper’s analysis of so-called “copycat” legislation—when a bill is copied and modified for its new context—found the Ohio bill was proposed 26 times until similar legislation passed in multiple states this year.

Refugee crisis grows as U.S. welcomes fewer people
A record number of people were displaced around the world last year, while the U.S. continued to receive far fewer refugees from “countries of concern” identified by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

Americans critical of current state of political debate
People in the U.S. overwhelmingly say public discourse in the country has become more negative and less respectful over the past several years. And 78% say elected officials using heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups makes violence against those groups more likely.

Sources: Baptist Press, Storyline Fellowship, Christian Post, USA Today, Christianity Today, Pew Research

High court sends case back to Court of Appeals
Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their Oregon bakery and were required to pay $135,000 for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2013. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has sent their case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in favor of fellow baker Jack Phillips last year.

Illinois Baptist pastor urges prayer for churches in the state
Abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

Baptists lament past failures on abuse, commit to care well in the future
Meeting in Birmingham for their annual meeting last week, Southern Baptists approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that specifies sexual abuse as grounds for discontinuing cooperation with a church. They also voted to establish a standing committee to investigate claims of misconduct against churches related to abuse and other issues.

Bishops vote to create abuse hotline
U.S. Catholic Bishops approved at their annual meeting the creation of a hotline to receive allegations of sexual abuse or abuse cover-up. The hotline will be operational in a year, according to U.S. News & World Report, and will cost about $50,000 a year to run.

LifeWay presidential search team to report June 28
Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources will gather for a special meeting June 28 to consider a report from the search team looking for the Southern Baptist entity’s new president. Former President Thom Rainer announced his retirement last August and served through February of this year.

Sources: Christian Post, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Illinois Baptist, U.S. News & World Report, Baptist Press

Pending: Illinois law to allow abortions through all nine months of pregnancy
Several Southern states and Missouri became the latest to approve anti-abortion measures, with an ultimate goal of challenging Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers stepped up their efforts to move forward on a bill that would expand abortion in the state.

In Washington, Baptist missions leader addresses refugee crisis
International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) May 16 about the plight of refugees around the world and increased religious persecution. “Our intent is to keep a dialogue open with influencers who can help ensure the safety of our global workers sharing hope,” Chitwood told Baptist Press, “and to discuss any way we can offer support to those people seeking hope and peace around the world.”

‘Equality Act’ would eliminate religious freedom protections
The U.S. House of Representatives approved on May 17 the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classifications protected in federal civil rights law. The legislation, which faces opposition in the Republican-majority Senate, would also eliminate use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a possible protection in cases covered by the measure, Baptist Press reported.

Taiwanese Christians lament new marriage law
Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage May 16, even after 67% of voters said no to same-sex unions in a nationwide referendum last year. Of the 28 countries in the world that allow gay marriage, Pew Forum reports, 18 are in Western Europe.

Long-running PBS kids’ show celebrates same-sex wedding
When Arthur the aardvark’s teacher got married in the PBS show’s 22nd season premiere May 13, the biggest news wasn’t that the teacher, a rat, married an aardvark, but that Mr. Ratburn married a chocolate shop owner named Patrick. That a children’s show tackled a topic like gay marriage isn’t surprising, BreakPoint writer G. Shane Morris noted, but the cultural milieu also doesn’t let Christian parents off the hook. “…Though my tax dollars may be funding public indoctrination and the defilement of childhood entertainment,” Morris wrote, “my real investment is in teaching my sons and daughter the truth.”

Within 24 hours of its airing, more than 13,000 people had signed an online petition protesting the episode.

The Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Baptist Press (3), WORLD

Baptists authored bill now before Texas Senate
Southern Baptists initiated a measure they hope the Texas Senate will vote to approve before the May 27 end of their current session. The bill, Baptist Press reported, would protect charitable organizations, their volunteers, and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible sexual abuse allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill May 8.

Harvest pulls MacDonald’s sermons
Three months after firing Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicagoland has removed audio and video versions of his sermons from their online channels. The church also won’t move forward with plans to distribute MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” digitally, Christianity Today reported.

Freed woman’s attorney takes up another blasphemy case in Pakistan
The attorney for Asia Bibi, who was imprisoned for years on charges of blasphemy, said he will help the woman who now occupies her prison cell.

States consider Bible classes in public schools
Several states are now offering elective Bible and religion classes for public school students. The Washington Post explains how it works in two school districts in Kentucky, and how advocates are working to pass similar legislation in more states.

Survey: Growing diversity has advantages and challenges, Americans say
Americans have complicated views about the country’s growing diversity, Pew Research reports. Among the findings of a new survey: three-quarters of people say it’s important to promote diversity in the workplace, but only 24% believe companies should take race and ethnicity into account along with qualifications when it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), USA Today, The Washington Post, Pew Research

Briefing

‘Gospel above all’ as theme for SBC Birmingham
Keeping the “Gospel Above All” is Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s main goal going into SBC’s annual meeting. Greear noted there will be other issues demanding attention – among them, confronting sexual abuse. Greear also will be promoting the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Other meeting highlights will include racial reconciliation panel discussions and “The Value of Women in God’s Mission.” The annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama is set for June 11-12.

One GRAND April: churches report baptisms
IBSA churches baptized nearly 500 people during the first three weeks of April, according to reports from congregations around the state. The number is expected to increase as churches share their stories from One GRAND Month, a month-long, statewide emphasis on evangelism and baptisms. Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, encouraged churches to share their baptism reports and add to the statewide celebration.

Churches eager to evangelize, but distractions abound
A 2019 LifeWay Research survey found that despite Protestant churchgoers’ excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, few actually engage in the practice on a regular basis. More than half of churchgoers (55 percent) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. A majority (56 percent), however, say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. In the study, Hispanics (36 percent) and African Americans (29 percent) were more likely to offer those prayers compared to whites (20 percent) or other ethnicities (17 percent).

Christian adoption agency to accommodate LGBT community as part of settlement
The largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the United States, Bethany Christian Services, will begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. This comes after the agency was sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The agency insists that its mission and Christian beliefs have not changed but did announce it will start placing children with LGBT families as part of a settlement with the state, opting to change its longstanding policy rather than lose the opportunity to help find homes for the thousands of vulnerable children who live in the state.

NC governor vetoes ‘born alive’ abortion bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to try to preserve the life of any infant born alive during an attempted abortion‘G. Under the proposed law, health care practitioner would be required to preserve the life and health of a child born alive during an abortion attempt. The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act” bill was passed by the state April 22. Cooper vetoed the bill for reasons that laws “already protect newborn babies.”

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, CNN

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