Archives For Religious Liberty

Attack on church kills 14 in Burkina Faso
The president of a West African country condemned “the barbaric attack” on one of his nation’s churches Dec. 1. Christianity Today reports Islamic extremists have been active in Burkina Faso since 2015, recently striking in the eastern region of the country. At a church in Hantoukoura last Sunday, 14 people were killed and several others injured when gunmen opened fire during a worship service.

Christians in India face heightened persecution, restrictions on freedoms
An estimated 65 million Christians in India are being threatened with increased persecution for their faith, amid the rise of extreme Hindu nationalism. New security measures in the former Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir make it “nearly impossible” for Christian congregations to meet, Morning Star News reported. Nationwide, Christians were attacked in at least 24 of India’s 29 states in a two-year period ending in July, Aid to the Church in Need reported Nov. 14.

>Related: Persecution watchdog group Open Doors ranked India #10 on its 2019 World Watch List of the top countries for Christian persecution. “The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is considered non-Indian,” the organization said.

Muslim minorities held in Chinese camps
Around one million Muslims reportedly are being held in Chinese internment camps designed to make them loyal members of the Communist party. The Ethics and and Religious Liberty Commission has issued an explainer on the camps, which Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has said are “created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.”

The ERLC has called for the U.S. government to hold China accountable for religious freedom abuses, including those against Muslims in the country.

>Related: China frees Christian prisoner amid ongoing persecution

Evangelical leader says faith and practice, not name, is what matters
Leith Anderson, retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Religion News Service he likes the word evangelical. “But if people want to abandon the term,” Anderson said last month, “let them abandon the term. That’s really not what matters. What really matters is their faith and their practice.”

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Open Doors, ERLC, Religion News Service

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Opponents say Planned Parenthood facility is more about money than women
Planned Parenthood (PP) expects to open a large clinic this month in Metro East Illinois that will serve 11,000 patients a year. A Planned Parenthood press release called the new Fairview Heights clinic a “regional haven for abortion access,” as Illinois’ neighbor states have enacted stricter abortion laws.

The new clinic is 13 miles from St. Louis, where Missouri officials have threatened to close the state’s last remaining abortion provider for violations of state code.

‘Caring Well’ conference urges better measures for abuse prevention
“How and where you and I exercise our power, particularly with vulnerable human beings, shines a light on who we are.” Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and trauma expert, was one of dozens of voices at the “Caring Well” conference, a three-day meeting of Southern Baptists designed to help churches navigate the sexual abuse crisis. Langberg and fellow speakers urged churches and ministries toward more effective prevention measures and better care for abuse survivors. Read Meredith Flynn’s reports from Dallas.

Tennessee governor plans statewide day of prayer and fasting
Gov. Bill Lee, who was elected last November, introduced the Oct. 10 day of prayer as an opportunity “to offer prayers of healing, prayers for forgiveness, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of hope for our state and for the 6.7 million who call Tennessee home.”

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press he gladly joins Lee in the statewide effort. “One thing is crystal clear: politics will not heal us, and government will not fix us,” Floyd said. “We need a massive prayer movement that will lead us back to God and bring healing to our land.”

President Trump says Christians are ‘electrified’ in his defense
As campaigning heats up ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Christians are revisiting the differences that divided them in 2016. “I got a call the other night from pastors, the biggest pastors, evangelical Christians. They said that they have never seen our religion or any religion so electrified,” President Donald Trump said Oct. 3, referencing their defense of him against his political rivals and the media. Some evangelical leaders affirmed their support of the president, while others called for distance between faith and politics.

InterVarsity reinstated on Iowa campus
A federal judge ruled in September that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can remain on campus at the University of Iowa, even if the ministry requires leaders to sign its statement of faith. Judge Stephanie M. Rose also said campus officials will have to pay any damages awarded to InterVarsity at a trial currently set for January.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, USA Today, Baptist Press, Associated Press, Christian Post, Christianity Today

High-profile religious freedom cases set for high court’s 2019-20 session
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider several cases dealing with the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, including a trio of cases that ask whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law.

“This is shaking up to be an exciting term for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the religious freedom legal nonprofit Becket, as reported by The Christian Post.

“I think this term will see the court have some opportunities to tighten up and improve its doctrine and in the process, perhaps, stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years by giving some clear answers and some clear resolutions to some lingering controversies.”

IBSA joins religious freedom lawsuits
The Illinois Baptist State Association will join two lawsuits involving religious liberty issues for the purpose of protecting Southern Baptist churches in the state. One case involves zoning regulations that prohibit churches and church plants from being located in certain areas of a city; the other contests requirements that churches and religious institutions cover the cost of abortions for their employees.

World Vision shifts sponsorship program to empower kids
A ministry dedicated to helping impoverished children around the world will now let the kids choose their own sponsors, instead of the other way around. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told Christianity Today. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

United Methodists to consider separation plans
Following a narrow vote in February to keep its traditional positions on marriage and qualifications for clergy, the United Methodist Church appears poised for a breakup next year. Religion News Service reports the country’s second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptists) will consider how to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination, while keeping their ties to support organizations like publishing houses.

Disaster Relief continues in the Bahamas
Southern Baptist agencies are working with local churches and Baptist leaders to help residents of the Bahamas rebuild after Hurricane Dorian. “At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there,” said Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

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

Pastor’s death by suicide renews calls for help for hurting leaders
California pastor Jarrid Wilson died by suicide Sept. 9 after preaching that day at the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. Wilson was an advocate for mental health and had encouraged the Church to care for people who are struggling. The news of his death started numerous conversations about the depression and isolation often connected to church leadership.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” wrote Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship where Wilson served as associate pastor. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

Related: Depression often goes unshared in isolating vocation

Liberty students protest after Falwell aides speak out
A recent Politico story on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. resulted in a protest attended by around 200 students Sept. 13. Around 60 of those were there to demand an investigation of the president, Religion News Service reported. Falwell’s leadership and management of the Virginia university founded by his father were called into question by the Politico article, which relied on information from several current and former staffers.

Duke rejects ministry over policy on sexuality
Young Life was denied official status as a student organization on campus at Duke University after the student senate unanimously rejected the ministry for its policy on LGBTQ volunteers and staff. “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ,” Young Life’s policy states. “We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

California lawmakers call on pastors to change treatment of LGBTQ people
The California Legislature passed a non-binding resolution Sept. 4 blaming religious groups and others for “disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals.” The resolution calls religious leaders to “counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

Wednesday night is still a church night for most
An overwhelming majority of Protestant pastors say their churches host some type of activity on Wednesday evening, with adult small group Bible study and gatherings for youth and kids atop the list. “Church leaders frequently discuss the difficulty of getting people to participate in church activities multiple days each week,” said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. “Yet the vast majority of churches are still open and active on Wednesday nights.”

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Tug-of-war intensifies over freedom of conviction
Both the Democratic Party and superstar Taylor Swift spoke out last week against “religious liberty,” or at least how it’s generally defined by Christians and conservative voters. First, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution Aug. 24 acknowledging that religiously unaffiliated people “overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’s values.” The resolution also takes aim at “misplaced claims of ‘religious liberty’” used to “justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans.”

Swift echoed the resolution’s message during her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, where her LGBTQ rights-themed song “You Need to Calm Down” won video of the year. (The video includes performers connected to LGBTQ causes, as well as a small group of protestors holding misspelled signs opposing LGBTQ rights.)

“You voting for this video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under the law, regardless of who we love, regardless of how we identify,” Swift told viewers, also urging them to sign her online petition in support of the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes protected under federal civil rights law. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in May, but the measure hasn’t been approved by the Republican-majority Senate.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases of three employees who claim they were discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief stating non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law do not cover orientation or identity.

Disaster Relief volunteers brace for Dorian response
On Monday, news reports detailed Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas, while Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders in Florida stood ready to respond to needs in the storm’s aftermath.

Baptist church mourns father killed in Texas mass shooting
Joseph Griffith, 40, was one of seven people killed in Texas’ Permian Basin Aug. 31 when a gunman began shooting at random following a traffic stop. Griffith, a father of two, attended First Baptist Church in Odessa with his family. “We all feel a sense of being violated,” Pastor Byron McWilliams said during the church’s worship service the next day. “Every single one of us does because all of a sudden what we hear about from far, far away has come close to home.”

Village Church answers sexual abuse lawsuit
A Southern Baptist church in Texas said it is not liable for damages suffered by a woman who alleges she was sexually abused in 2012 at a camp sponsored by the church. A $1 million lawsuit claims The Village Church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe. In a response filed Aug. 23, the church “generally denies each and every allegation in Plaintiff’s Original Petition and demands strict proof by a preponderance of the credible evidence.”

Students face doubts, questions at evangelical colleges
A new study finds students at evangelical colleges and universities are more likely to feel spiritually unsettled, unsure, or disillusioned than their counterparts at secular schools and mainline institutions. Many school administrators are aware of the dynamics, Christianity Today reports, and working to help students through the struggle.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Press, Odessa American, Christianity Today

Fired deputy sues employer over ‘Billy Graham Rule’
Former North Carolina sherriff’s deputy Manuel Torres claims the Lee County Sherriff’s Office terminated his employment in 2017, after he declined to significant periods of time alone with a female coworker. Torres is suing his former employer in one of several cases that pits religious freedom against “non-discrimination norms,” law professor Howard Friedman told Christianity Today.

“This is a public official who is invoking religious free exercise to avoid carrying out a part of his employment duties,” Friedman said. He compared the case to that of Kim Davis, the former Kentucky court clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Davis can still be sued for her actions in 2015, even though she lost her reelection bid last year.

Legal victory for videographers, while printer’s case pending in Kentucky
Carl and Angel Larsen are seeking an injunction against a Minnesota statute that officials say would require them to film same-sex wedding ceremonies, despite their religious convictions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the Larsens and their company Aug. 23, overturning a lower court ruling against them and sending their request for an injunction against the Minnesota Human Rights Act back to the district court level, The Christian Post reports.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Blaine Adamson, a print shop owner who refused to print T-shirts for Lexington’s 2012 Pride Festival.

Chronicle continues coverage of sexual abuse in the SBC
While former Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson faces a lawsuit alleging he mishandled accusations of sexual assault at the seminary, the Houston Chronicle has released a new report outlining Patterson’s mentorship of Darrell Gilyard, who pastored and preached in SBC churches in the late 1980s and early 90s and was viewed as a rising star in the denomination. Gilyard was convicted of sex crimes in 2008.

Related: Abuse survivor Susan Codone shared her story in an Aug. 26 letter to the The Washington Post. Codone will be part of October’s Caring Well conference sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Sutherland Springs pastor to run for state office
Pastor Frank Pomeroy will seek election to the Texas legislature in 2020. The pastor of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs lost his daughter Nov. 5, 2017, in the state’s deadliest mass shooting. “I felt like something needed to be brought to the conversation, like civility and real intelligent discourse,” Pomeroy said, according to Associated Press. The outlet also reported: “Pomeroy said that owning guns is not the problem that has led to mass shootings and the focus should be on issues such as mental illness.”

Sources: Christianity Today, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Houston Chronicle, Washington Post, Associated Press