Archives For Research

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Three-dimensional map of Illinois. USA.It’s “State of the States” time at Gallup, and the researcher is releasing new findings every other day. Last week’s data covered President Obama’s job approval rating, political party identification, and ideology–each measured by state. To see how Illinois ranked (a quick preview: The state had the 10th highest approval rating for the President), go to Gallup.com.


Phillip Bethancourt examines “Johnny Manziel, Rehab and the Gospel” on FaithStreet.com, in light of the Cleveland quarterback’s entry into a treatment center earlier this month. “As Christians, our response to the collapse of Johnny Manziel should not be an ‘I told you so’ triumphalism or an ‘anyone could see that coming’ dismissiveness,” wrote Bethancourt, executive vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Instead it should be a ‘such were some of you’ recognition that, apart from Christ, we might also be there.”


Pew Reseach reports the U.S. Supreme Court could face some religion-themed decisions this year, including two very different cases related to employment. In one, a would-be employee at Abercrombie & Fitch is arguing for her right to wear a head covering. In the other, religiously affiliated non-profits say they shouldn’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.


At the Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama compared current acts of terrorism committed by ISIS and other groups to past movements–including the Crusades–he said were often committed or justified in the name of Christ.

“His flawed comparison to atrocities that happened hundreds of years ago minimizes the severity of ISIS and other groups that are brutalizing and killing innocent people,” Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press. “Instead of focusing on the past, America needs heroic leadership in the present–leadership that champions religious liberty for all people.”


Christian rapper Lecrae Moore gave credit where credit is due during his Grammy acceptance speech Sunday night.  “…You can’t celebrate gifts without celebrating the giver of all gifts. So I want to celebrate Jesus for gifting us all with the gift of love and sacrifice.” Lecrae’s song “Messengers” (featuring for KING AND COUNTRY) won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Song/Performance. Read more at ChristianPost.com.

 

 

Baptists almost ‘dance for joy’ over religious freedom ruling

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding that the companies do not have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

The 5-4 decision sets an important precedent for “closely held” companies (those owned by individuals or families) that object to what has become known as the abortion-contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

In the opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that under the standard set by Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, “the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

The_BriefingSouthern Baptist leaders responded quickly to the ruling. “It is an absolute victory for the proponents of religious liberty,” said SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. “I am thankful that both common sense and conscience have seen a victory in a day where such victories are rare.”

Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the ruling an “exhilarating victory for religious freedom.” During the SBC Annual Meeting in Baltimore earlier this month, Moore presented an award to the Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby.

“As a Baptist, I am encouraged that our ancestors’ struggle for the First Amendment has been vindicated,” Moore said after the Court’s decision.

“This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy.”

Read more at BPNews.net.

Court also rules on abortion clinic buffer zones
The Supreme Court struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law restricting pro-life advocates from congregating within 35-foot zones around abortion center entrances and driveways, Tom Strode of Baptist Press reports. Justices issued a 9-0 opinion on the matter, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the law “imposed serious burdens” on free speech.

Marriage in limbo in several Upper Midwest states
Indiana has joined a list of states in which the definition of marriage is pending an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling. After Judge Richard Young struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban June 25, a federal appeals court issued a stay two days later. Michigan and Wisconsin are in a similar situation, as seen in this map from USA Today (which doesn’t reflect the Indiana appeal). Same-sex marriage officially became legal in Illinois June 1, although some counties began issuing marriage licenses in the spring.

LifeWay survey: Domestic violence rarely preached about in church
Nearly three-fourths of Protestant pastors say domestic or sexual violence is a problem in their community, but 42% rarely or never preach on the topic. The survey, conducted by LifeWay Research and sponsored by Sojourners and IMA World Health, also found 74% of pastors know someone who has experienced domestic violence. Read more at LifeWayResearch.com.

Thief-turned-pastor shares testimony
George Aguilar, once an enemy of churches in Oklahoma, is now a pastor in his home country of El Salvador. After robbing from and vandalizing 11 churches in the Tulsa area, Aguilar came to Christ after one of the churches he stole from took him in. Read his story from The Baptist Messenger.

 

 

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Half of all Illinois residents said they’d move out of state if they could, putting the Land of Lincoln at the top of a Gallup survey of all 50 states. But it’s a dubious honor: On average, only 33% of residents in all states would like to move, compared to 50% in Illinois.

19% of Illinois residents said they are extremely, very or somewhat likely to move in the next year, compared to about 14% across all 50 states.

Gallup linked their most recent poll to similar studies that measure how negative residents are about their state’s taxes, and how much they distrust their government. Illinois topped the latter list too – only 28% of residents said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in their state government. As for taxes, 71% of Illinoisans said they were too high, placing the state fourth on a list topped by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

One piece of good news amid the bad: A study from the University of Colorado-Boulder named Chicago the country’s funniest city, largely because of its improv scene. Judging from the Gallup numbers, it may be a good time to learn to laugh at ourselves, too. Read more at Gallup.com.

Supreme Court rules in favor of town meeting prayers
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that prayers before town meetings in Greece, N.Y., can continue. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City had ruled the prayers “had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity,” but the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision overturned that ruling. “This is a victory for all of those who believe in the freedom of speech, including religious speech, as a prized part of our God-given religious liberty,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Oklahoma school district bars pre-game prayers
The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully lobbied an Oklahoma school district to stop pre-game prayers led by baseball coach Larry Turner and his staff. In a letter written by his attorney, Owasso School District Superintendent Clark Ogilvie said his district “will not allow any District employees to participate with any District students in any prayer or other religious activities in connection with any school-sponsored events.” Read more at ChristianPost.com.

Page appoints SBC Mental Health Advisory Council
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, has named a 23-member advisory council to assist churches as they respond to mental health needs in their congregations. The group, chaired by Kentucky pastor Tony Rose, will address concerns brought by messengers at the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. There, Baptists approved a motion by Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd to ask Southern Baptist entities “to assist our churches in the challenge of ministry to those suffering from mental health issues…” Messengers also approved a resolution on “Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God.” Read more at BPNews.net.

Disaster Relief volunteers respond to southern storms
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams moved quickly into the Southeast U.S. following a spate of tornadoes and severe storms two weeks, and are still at work in several states.

“These storms were so strong that the slabs were swept clean by the wind,” said Disaster Relief director Joe Garner in Arkansas, where teams were serving the Mayflower and Vilonia areas. “There is very little chainsaw work to do. It is mainly clearing debris.”

Since April 26, destructive storms have affected 13 states, Baptist Press reports. For more Disaster Relief updates, go to BPNews.net.

browniesTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A new Barna study shows 70% of American adults (and 72% of Christians) are aware of the Lenten tradition of giving something up in order to draw closer to God. But only 17% plan to observe Lenten sacrifice this year. Here’s Barna’s list of what they’re giving up:

88% of adults plan to fast from food or drink:

  • Chocolate (30%)
  • Meat (28%)
  • Sugar (28%)
  • Soda drinks (26%)
  • Alcohol (24%)
  • Fruit (14%)
  • Butter or cream (11%)

31% will give up some form of technology:

  • Social networks (16%)
  • Smartphones (13%)
  • TV (11%)
  • Video games (10%)
  • Movies (9%)
  • Internet (9%)

Barna found the millenial generation (born after 1980) is the least likely to know about Lent, but millenials are more likely than other age groups to fast during the season. Read more at Barna.org.

Other news:

Prayer ‘more popular than ever’ says Reader’s Digest
“Organized religion may be losing members, but prayer is more popular than ever,” according to an article in the April issue of Reader’s Digest. The story points to research in the 2010 General Social Survey, which found 86% of Americans pray and 56.7% do so at least once a day. But how they’re praying may look different. Writer Lise Funderburg cites several examples of how the prayer umbrella is widening, including sidewalk chalk prayers outside a Presbyterian church in San Francisco, and the use of Twitter to start prayer movements like #pray4philippines.

The Illinois Baptist examined prayer and spiritual awakening in a January cover story. And Southern Baptist leaders have met together twice recently to pray for individual and corporate revival. Read more at BPNews.net.

Menlo Park Presbyterian leaves denomination over doctrinal, evangelistic differences
A San Francisco church “increasingly out of alignment” with their denomination has voted to sever ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Earlier this month, 93% of members at the 4,000-member Menlo Park Presbyterian approved the move, Baptist Press reports. The church, led by Pastor John Ortberg, has for years referred to itself as a “Jesus church,” according to a statement by church leaders. “We believe that God has expressed himself uniquely in his son Jesus, who lived, taught, died and rose again for our sakes.”

BP reports a 2011 survey of PCUSA pastors found only 41% agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

The decision will cost Menlo Park $9 million because the denomination owns its property. “This points to the fact that theology matters,” Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler said of the decision. “Keeping the faith is worth infinitely more than $9 million.” Read more at BPNews.net.

‘Son of God’ in top 5 over first two weekends
The movie built from last year’s “The Bible” miniseries was the second-highest grossing movie during its opening weekend, and fell to #5 after its second. Some had thought “Son of God” would reach the numbers posted by 2004’s “The Passion of Christ”, The Christian Post reports, but the new movie’s grosses so far aren’t half of what “The Passion” took in during its debut weekend. Read more at ChristianPost.com.

More Africa stories
Five volunteers from Illinois recently spent a week in Guinea, telling true stories from the Bible to people who had never heard them. For people in the West African nation to know Jesus, “it can only be a move of God,” said one mission volunteer. Read more about their team’s experiences in the current issue of the Illinois Baptist.

marriage_buttonsTHE BRIEFING | Lisa Sergent and Meredith Flynn

Vote possible during fall veto session

Same-sex marriage could be on the legislative agenda this week as the Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield for their fall veto session. Meanwhile, people on both sides of the issue plan to make their voices heard at the Capitol.

At issue is SB10, or the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which was passed in the Senate last spring but stalled when it wasn’t called for a vote in the House. Supporters of the bill are calling on the House to vote on it during the fall veto session or in January 2014 when the regular session begins. Due to legislative rules, if passed this fall, same-sex marriages could begin in June 2014. However, if voted on and passed in January, such marriages could begin in February 2014.

In preparation for a possible vote, groups supporting same-sex marriage will rally at the Capitol October 22 for the “March on Springfield for Marriage Equality.” The next day, the Illinois Family Institute (IFI) will host a “Defend Marriage Lobby Day” for supporters of traditional marriage. On the schedule are prayer gatherings in front of the Lincoln statue and inside the Rotunda, and an opportunity to lobby legislators on behalf of traditional marriage.

A major concern of pro-traditional marriage groups is the religious liberty of those who oppose same-sex marriage, should the bill pass in Illinois.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune hosted a marriage equality debate where State Rep. Greg Harris (Chicago), sponsor of SB10, told those gathered he believed the bill protected the rights of religious institutions opposed to same-sex marriage.  But some doubt whether individuals are similarly protected.

Peter Breen, senior counsel with the Thomas More Society, countered Harris by sharing the story of Jim Walder, a bed and breakfast owner in Paxton, Ill., who is being sued for refusing to rent out his facility for a same-sex civil union ceremony. The argument against Walder is that Illinois businesses are governed by the Human Rights Act, passed in 1979, which forbids discrimination based on many factors, including sexual orientation.

The Illinois Family Institute and others argue that the Human Rights Act and SB10 protects individuals from discrimination in regard to sexual preference, but not religious conviction.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 14 U.S states and the District of Columbia. Last month, New Jersey became the latest state to allow same-sex marriage after a state judge ruled that because it already allows civil unions for same-sex couples, the state is illegally preventing them from receiving federal benefits. Same-sex marriage ceremonies officially began in New Jersey October 21.

Other news:

Illinois volunteers join flood relief efforts in Colorado

IBSA Disaster Relief teams have joined with teams from 22 other Baptist state conventions to help Colorado residents clean up their homes after they were damaged by recent flooding.

Veteran disaster relief volunteer Butch Porter called it “the worst devastation” he’s ever seen. “It seemed like a tsunami of mud came down from the mountains and destroyed everything in its path,” he said. Butch and his wife, Debbie, are members of a team from First Baptist Church, Galatia, that served for five days in Lyons, Colorado.

Debbie shared the story of one young man, Brian, who needed help removing the waist-deep mud that had settled in his garage. He and his aunt had had worked for two days shoveling out the mud, but only had a small corner cleared.

“When we pulled up and started getting out of the van he looked deflated,” the retiree laughed. “You could tell he thought, ‘All these old people, they can’t do anything.’”

The team spent two days working at his home, and removed all the mud from his garage. His aunt, a Christian, had been witnessing to him and team members continued along the same track. While he had not accepted Christ by the time they left to return home, Debbie believes he is very close.

“I told him, “Your aunt is right, she’s trying to tell you that you need to get closer to God. You need to accept Him.’ I have a feeling we made a big difference and that his aunt will finish the work.”

Read the full story in the October 21 edition of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Bad choices dog many of us
Nearly half of Americans feel weighed down by a bad decision they made at some point, according to a new study by LifeWay Research. The survey found 47% of respondents are still dealing with the consequences of a bad decision, including 51% of self-identified born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians. The better news: 84% of those surveyed believe God gives second chances. Read more at LifeWayResearch.com.

Mormon missionaries top 80,000
Relaxed age restrictions on Mormon missionaries have resulted in a drastic increase in the number of people serving around the world, according to a report on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced earlier this month that 80,000 missionaries are now on the field, 22,000 more than the previous year. The number of women serving has more than doubled since the age requirement was dropped from 21 to 19 last year. Read more at the On Faith blog.

Moody drops faculty alcohol ban
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago this summer lifted a ban on alcohol and tobacco use by its 600 faculty members and employees. Marketing vice president Christine Gorz told The Christian Post, “Employees of Moody are expected to adhere to all biblical absolutes, but for behaviors that Scripture does not expressly prohibit, Moody leaves these matters to the employee’s biblically-informed conscience.” Students at the 127-year-old school are still required to abstain. Read more at ChristianPost.com.

 

Tuesday_BriefingLeaders debate disconnect between millenials and the church

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

“Some millenials, like many from generations before us, want the church to become a mirror – a reflection of our particular preferences, desires, and dreams,” Trevin Wax blogged earlier this summer.

“But other millenials want a Christianity that shapes and changes our preferences, desires, and dreams.”

Those words from Wax, managing editor of LifeWay’s “The Gospel Project,” succinctly explain the debate sparked in July by a blog post by Rachel Held Evans. At issue: the millennial generation (generally defined as those born around and after 1980), the church, and the perceived distance between the two.

Evans, a 32-year-old author right on the edge of the millenial divide, shared on CNN’s “Belief” blog that too often, church leaders think they can bridge the gap with better, cooler style choices in music, technology, and the entire worship experience. But, “we’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there,” Evans wrote.

She gives to church leaders who want to appeal to young Christians: “…I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.”

Evans’ column lit up social media and garnered thousands of comments on CNN’s site, where it’s still getting feedback more than a month after it posted. Other Christian leaders responded too, agreeing with some of Evans’ points but also offering their own take on the problem: 59% of young people disengage from the church for an extended period of time or for good, according to Barna.

It’s an important conversation to have, said Chase Abner, IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist. “Like it or not, Millenials will soon be at the helm of our churches, schools and governments. Let us labor that they might hear and respond in faith to Christ.”

It’s the in’s and out’s and how to’s of that labor that had leaders talking about Evans’ blog post. Trevin Wax noted that although Evans says Millenials long for Jesus in the church, the ideal church she describes may not look like Him.

“When I read the Gospels, I’m confronted by a Jesus who explodes our categories of righteousness and sin, repentance and forgiveness, and power and purity,” he blogged. “I see a King who makes utterly exclusive claims, and doesn’t seem to care who is offended.”

Wax writes later, “Rachel says Millenials want to be ‘challenged to holiness,’ but the challenge she appears to be advocating is one on our own terms and according to our own preferences.”

Several leaders who commented on Evans’ post turned the focus away from the church and took a harder look at Millenials themselves. Are today’s young Christians giving the “me generation” a run for their money when it comes to self-centeredness?

“I’m sorry Millenials, but I’m going to have to throw us under the bus here: we do not have everything figured out,” wrote author Brett McCracken on The Washington Post’s On Faith” blog. “And if we expect older generations and well-established institutions to morph to fit our every fickle desire, we do so at our peril.”

In response to Evans’ suggestion that church leaders sit down with young Christians and talk about what they’re looking for in a church, McCracken proposed the opposite. “Millenials, why don’t we take our pastors, parents and older Christian brothers and sisters out to coffee and listen to them?”

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed that idea in a column on Baptist Press, but took it a step further by calling on church leaders and parents to help young people experience the church as a member of the body, rather than just part of various age-graded programs.

“When they are disconnected from the congregation, it should not surprise us that young adults, who have never known the church as a whole, are disinclined to embrace it when their age-graded group has run its course.”

Allen wrote he wants his children to get to know people at all stages of life in the church – from young couples to senior citizens. That focus on relationships is increasingly important to young Christians, Abner said. In a day when technology can make anyone an expert on anything – even Christianity – young people want to know whether the information we have is making a difference in the world.

“They can’t see that just from shaking your hand before or after a service. They can’t see that just because you teach the Bible well,” Abner said. “But they can see it in the way you love your spouse and children. They can see it in the way you follow Jesus at work. They can see it in the way you refuse to compartmentalize your devotion to the Gospel.”

Read more about young people and the church in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist, online this Friday at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

Kazakh Baptists fined for meeting
Authorities in Kazakhstan fined 18 Baptists this summer for participating in religious activity not authorized by the state, Baptist Press reports. The country’s Administration Code bans participation, leadership or financing of any unregistered religious community. Forum 18, a religious freedom organization based in Norway, reported three Baptists fined an two months’ average salary for leading the meetings, and 15 others were fine one month’s average salary for attending worship.

Kazakhstan’s Council of Baptists don’t seek state registration, maintaining that the country’s constitution and international human rights commitments forbid requiring government approval for worship. Read more at BPNews.net.

Doves offer something for everyone
The nominees for the 44th annual Dove Awards showcase Christian music’s diversity, from rock to hip-hop, Southern Gospel to praise & worship. “The Doves represent the best of the best – in all genres of Gospel music, celebrating talent, ministry and outstanding performances,” said Jackie Patillo, executive director of the Gospel Music Association. The Dove Awards will be presented Oct. 15 and broadcast Oct. 21 on the UP network. Worship leaders Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin each received nine nominations, and will vie for song of the year with “10,000 Reasons” and “Whom Shall I Fear,” respectively. Read the full list of nominees at DoveAwards.com.

NAMB offers online resources to encourage church leaders
With Pastor Appreciation Month coming in October, the North American Mission Board is providing churches with resources to encourage and support their leaders. NAMB is encouraging churches to pick one Sunday to lift up their pastors during a worship service. The web page NAMB.net/honoring_pastors offers posters and bulletin inserts with 50 practical, specific ways lay leaders can encourage their pastors and their families year-round. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago held a prayer vigil last Wednesday evening after a drive-by shooting at the corner of Sheridan Rd. and Wilson Ave. rocked their neighborhood two days before. The church was in the middle of a prayer service when the shots were fired from a passing car, seriously wounding five men. One victim has since died.

Police believe the violence is gang-related.

“Just left the prayer vigil @ ubc tonight,” Pastor Michael Allen tweeted last Wednesday. “Great night. Proud of the Chicago Bride of Christ. We cried, sang, quoted Bible, prayed, hugged…”

Allen also shared through social media that six people were baptized Sunday at Wilson Ave. beach: “‘Out of the ashes we rise…there’s non like You’ Oh God!”

The Chicago Tribune interviewed Allen about his neighborhood shortly after the shooting. Read it here.

Other news:

Christian photographers fined for refusing to photograph same-sex ceremonyA New Mexico court ruled against Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, photographers who declined an assignment to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006. Fox News reports the Huguenins turned down the “because their Christian beliefs were in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony.” New Mexico has no statute for or against same-sex marriage; the court ruled the photographers were in violation of the state’s Human Rights Act. Read Fox News reporter Todd Starnes’ full story here.

Florida pastors take message of racial reconciliation on the road
The pastors who helped keep the peace in Sanford, Fl., during George Zimmerman’s trial and following his acquittal are on a multi-city tour to help other leaders deal with race issues in their communities. (Zimmerman was on trial for the murder of African American teen Trayvon Martin.) Christianity Today reports the pastors, who took turns sitting through Zimmerman’s trial in a show of unity with one another, were in Detroit last week and will soon visit Toledo, Charlotte, New York, Denver and Minneapolis. Read more at ChristianityToday.com.

Abedini denied reprieve from Iranian court
Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran since 2012, still faces the remainder of his eight year sentence, even as Abedini’s attorneys and others from the international community fought on his behalf. “The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran’s continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice. The Christian Post reports prayer vigils are planned for Abedini around the world on September 26. The pastor, an Iranian-American, is charged with threatening national security, but his representatives believe his imprisonment is more a result of his Christian faith. Read the The Christian Post’s full story here.

Survey measures American norms a decade after 9/11Americans report being less committed to getting ahead in life, more concerned about the future, lonelier and more stressed out in the years since September 11, 2001. Barna’s fascinating survey looks at how the last decade has changed us.