Archives For Southern Baptists

wp-adMore than 100 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders signed an open letter expressing their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. The open letter appeared as a full-page ad in the Feb. 7 issue of the Washington Post.

Two of the signatories — former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin — told Baptist Press their signatures reflect a specific policy disagreement and not a blanket repudiation of the president’s approach to immigration.

The letter addressed to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, stated, “As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement. Our care for the oppressed and suffering is rooted in the call of Jesus to ‘love our neighbor as we love ourselves.’ In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.”

The order, suspended by a lower court, was stayed Feb. 9 by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The president has vowed to continue to the fight which is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court.

The Christian relief organization, World Vision, coordinated the letter. According to a press release from the organization, an additional “500 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders representing every state in the nation” signed the letter but their names did not appear in the ad. The release also states, “World Relief is one of nine agencies nationally authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.”

Seven other Southern Baptists, including Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., were signatories. Stetzer first voiced his opposition to the order last month in an op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26.  The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore was not a signatory to the letter, but wrote his own letter to the president expressing his concern, which appeared in Jan. 30 issue of the Post.

Other well-known signatories include Max Lucado, author and minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX; Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Eugene Cho, pastor at Quest Church in Seattle; Derwin Gray, lead pastor at Transformation Church, SC; and Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL.

Read the full text of the letter.

– Lisa Sergent with additional reporting by Baptist Press

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

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Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

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Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

The BriefingBaptists mobilize after weekend storms in Southeast
Southern Baptists throughout the Southeast have started responding to a deadly storm system that reportedly claimed the lives of at least 19 people from Georgia to Mississippi over a two-day period this past weekend. According to the Associated Press, 39 possible tornadoes were reported in the Southeast.

Ban reinstated on U.S. funds promoting abortion overseas
President Trump signed an executive order blocking foreign aid or federal funding for international nongovernmental organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. The order came Jan. 23, one day after the 44th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal, and days before the annual “March for Life” in Washington on Jan. 27.

U.S. abortion rate hits all-time low
The abortion rate in the United States declined to an all-time low, while the number of lethal procedures dropped below a million for the first time since 1975, according to a new report. The Guttmacher Institute reported the rate fell to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old in 2014, which is a decline of 14 percent since its most recent survey in 2011.

Divinity schools: Stop using ‘he’ or ‘him’ to refer to God
Guidelines at two top U.S. divinity schools have recommended professors use “inclusive” gender-neutral language—including for God, according to documents from both Duke and Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s 2016-2017 catalog says the divinity school “commits continuously and explicitly to include gender as an analyzed category and to mitigate sexism” in its teachings.

Vatican to issue stamp featuring Martin Luther
The Vatican office charged with issuing stamps confirmed that Martin Luther, who broke away from the Catholic Church in a schism 500 years ago, will be celebrated with a postage stamp in 2017. Honoring Luther and the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is an unlikely choice for the Church. Luther, an Augustinian monk, was excommunicated in 1521.

Sources: Baptist Press, The Hill, Life Site News, Heat Street, Christianity Today

Inauguration news round-up

ib2newseditor —  January 20, 2017

small American flags in the background

Time: Trump held a very Godly inauguration
Christianity has been a part of the presidential inauguration since George Washington laid his hand on a Bible for the very first swearing-in. So, it was not unusual that Donald Trump sought to involve faith in his inauguration. But the ways in which the 45th President invoked God in unusually blunt ways in his inaugural address were. He quoted a Psalm of David from the Bible to buttress his policy. “The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.’”

S. Baptist involvement in the inauguration
The participation of at least five Southern Baptist pastors in inaugural activities for President Donald Trump continues a tradition of prayer, Scripture, and references to God surrounding presidential inaugurations dating back to George Washington. In addition to Friday’s activities, a Saturday, Jan. 21 National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington will feature Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, Texas pastors Jack Graham and Ramiro Peña and California pastor David Jeremiah.

Muslims angry imam to participate in prayer service
A popular Washington-area imam’s decision to issue the Muslim call to prayer at Trump’s inaugural prayer service has sparked a heated debate among American Muslim community leaders and activists over the appropriate ways to engage with a president, who they say has repeatedly disparaged Islam. Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam, is the only Muslim leader listed on a lineup packed with Evangelicals and other faith leaders who are scheduled to participate in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

SBC Pres. Gaines pens Christian response to inauguration
Today Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As you know, Mr. Trump won a highly volatile election last November. Some see him as a candidate of much-needed change, readily resonating with his Reaganish slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Others see Mr. Trump as a less than desirable candidate for the highest office in the land. What are Southern Baptists to do?

Three S. Baptists nominated for cabinet positions
Three Southern Baptists — Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and Sonny Perdue – have been nominated to serve in cabinet positions for the Trump administration. Price, a regular attendee at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has been nominated as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Pruitt, a member of Tulsa-area First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been nominated as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, was announced Jan. 18 as Trump’s choice for agriculture secretary.

Presidents who mentioned God in inaugural address
Every U.S. President has mentioned God in their inaugural address, even if speaking of the Lord in their own way, fitting with the times. With thanks to Bill Federer in America’s God and Country, consider this sampling of mentions.

Sources: Time, Baptist Press Washington Post, Baptist Press (2), Christian Post

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

Standing on the promises

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Donald Trump (left), Mike Pence (right)

A third of Americans (34%) think Donald Trump will be a “good” or “very good” president, while 23% say “average” and 36% expect a “poor” performance. The survey by CBS News was conducted the second week of December, after Trump began announcing cabinet appointments.

The ratings fall along party lines: 70% of Republicans expect a good presidency, while 60% of Democrats predict poor results. That means evangelicals, who mostly supported Trump, have high expectations—but for what?

Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, on her Washington Post blog, points to a half-dozen areas where Trump’s campaign promises intersect with evangelical interests. Some are the expected areas involving religious liberty. The nomination of Supreme Court justices who will uphold pro-life legislation topped the list. Trump also said he would defund Planned Parenthood, sign a bill that forbids abortions after 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. It prohibits use of federal funds for most abortions. And Trump has expressed support for a group of nuns who have battled provisions in the Obama Affordable Care Act that mandate contraception as part of an organization’s health care plan. Southern Baptists have supported their lawsuit.

Trump promised to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the U.S. tax code, which prevents pastors from endorsing or opposing political candidates, or else lose their church’s tax exempt status. And he has taken a position on education funding that allows families to choose private, charter, or home schooling, with a promise to set aside $20 billion for vouchers in his first budget.

The U.S. will be a “true friend to Israel,” Trump said, a position common among evangelicals favoring Israeli interests over others in the Middle East and urging movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Many Southern Baptists would support these actions, if they came to pass. For SBC leaders who have been in contact with the future administration, the Trump presidency represents a new way of thinking about the White House. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Southern Baptists in general have viewed Republican administrations as allies in the causes of pro-life, families and marriage, and religious liberty. They have, at the least, been sympathetic to evangelical causes, and even co-laborers in the faith. (Remember the stories of George and Laura Bush singing hymns at the White House piano with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the keyboard?) Democratic presidents, on the other hand, have often been at odds with evangelicals’ causes, even if they claimed to be Baptists, as in the case of Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump represents a third way of relating to the White House: a president who made promises to evangelicals and drew their support at the polls, but who shares no apparent faith commitment with the born-again community. (There are no stories of Trump walking on the beach with Billy Graham and committing his life to Christ. And the tycoon-turned-president has said he sees no need to ask for forgiveness for his sins.)

The evangelicals closest to Trump, including incoming vice president Mike Pence, take on the role of Joseph in Egypt—keeping the interests of God’s people before pharaoh, hoping to keep his ear and hold him to his promises.

High hopes for high court

Some voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump said they did so because of concern for the U.S. Supreme Court. The February death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy, and three of the Justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, Stephen G. Breyer, 78—may be looking toward retirement in the next few years.

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson supported Trump. He told Christianity Today, “The next president will nominate perhaps three or more justices whose judicial philosophy will shape our country for generations to come.”

A LifeWay Research survey found 23% of evangelical pastors were most concerned about the candidates’ likely Supreme Court nominees. And 36% of Trump-supporting pastors cited the high court as a major factor in their choice.

Trump released a list of his potential Supreme Court nominees—20 judges and one senator, Mike Lee of Utah. Each met two criteria: they are pro-life and support the Second Amendment. The list was vetted and reviewed by the Federalist Society, which is comprised of conservative and libertarian lawyers, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Commentator Denny Burk told Baptist Press the list “does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.” Because Trump didn’t promise to pick someone from the list, Burk said, “The list means nothing….And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily…” Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Reince Priebus, future White House Chief of Staff, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on December 14 that the President-Elect will likely name Scalia’s replacement near the January 20 inauguration.

Priebus said Trump may choose a younger nominee. “Well, I tend to believe younger is better, too, but I can tell you what the president (elect) believes is that the most qualified, best person to serve on the Supreme Court is what’s most important….Certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor. Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.”

Tension between leaders, pews

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Russell Moore

The 2016 presidential campaign and election exposed deeper divides than many knew existed in the U.S.­­—and within evangelicalism. White evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump, even while some of their leaders voiced their opposition.

As Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said after the election, “The evangelical leadership is out of touch with the evangelical rank-and-file,” during a Christianity Today podcast.
Tension over the election appears to be at least part of a rift between some Baptists and the SBC’s public policy entity, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In November, Louisiana Baptists voted to ask their convention’s executive board to study recent actions of the ERLC.

Will Hall, editor of the state’s Baptist Message newspaper, noted that the motion did not elaborate on the issues of concern, “but ERLC President Russell Moore has come under fire nationally from Southern Baptist laymen and leaders for a number of controversial actions and statements, including…his aggressive attacks on Southern Baptists who supported Donald Trump.”

Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in May in which he said the election “has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” His article caught the attention of Trump, who tweeted that Moore was a “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals.”

The op-ed also sparked a fervent debate on the SBC Voices blog, where Baptists posted a variety of opinions on Moore, from “he did what we pay him to do,” to “it is difficult for me to imagine Russell Moore functioning as ERLC President if Trump wins in November.”

The questions about Moore and the ERLC are just one example of the impact the 2016 election could have on religious organizations and denominations, and on the nature of Christian leadership. The tension leaders face, Ed Stetzer said, is between recognizing the responsibility to speak prophetically, and realizing they represent a constituency who largely feel very differently than they do.

For Christian leaders, their influence in the next four years may well depend on how well they strike the balance.

Election 2016Since the big June meeting between Donald Trump and about 1,000 evangelical leaders, including a handful of Southern Baptist pastors, the political conversation involving conservative Christians has dropped off noticeably. Christians have grown quiet on politics. Even the Twitterverse is quiet right now.

One exception: an op/ed piece in USA Today by Hobby Lobby CEO David Green pointing to the pivotal nature of the U.S. Supreme Court. “Make no mistake, the vacancy left by Justice Scalia and the subsequent appointment to fill his seat makes this presidential election one of the most significant in modern times.”

Green’s company was at the center of a 2014 judgment that allowed his corporation to refuse to pay for abortion-inducing drugs as part of its health insurance plan because of religious objections, despite requirements under the Obama Affordable Health Care Act. The high court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby was 5-4. “It’s frightening to me to think that we—and all Americans—were just one vote away from losing our religious freedom,” Green wrote.

That’s the reason he gives for supporting Donald Trump. “(Hillary) Clinton has made no secret she believes government interests supersede the protection of religious liberty.”

Green’s concern for religious liberty is understandable and even commendable, but his essay serves to show that evangelicals are no longer a one-issue people.

Beginning with the emergence of the Moral Majority, evangelicals became a force and a voting bloc. Their anti-abortion theology drove evangelicals to candidates who were expressly pro-life. Fortunately, those candidates were often in agreement with conservative Christians on many other issues as well, so supporting them advanced a whole bundle of issues. It worked for 30 years.

Not so today.

Green’s commentary underscores that evangelicals are not all in agreement on the importance of any one issue any more than they support any one candidate. The world is too complex for a single-issue approach.

In this head-scratcher of election cycles, some evangelicals are valuing other issues as highly as pro-life and religious freedom: What about a candidate’s trustworthiness, honesty, temperament, and character? What is his or her history of relations with dangerous nations, prudence in peacetime or courage in war? What about the prospect of handling the nuclear codes?

Maybe many in the Christian community are relatively quiet on this presidential election because they’re still thinking about it.

And scratching their heads.

– DER

The Midwest Takeover

ib2newseditor —  September 8, 2016

The Midwest has been big this summer. Big enough that we in our office coined the phrase, “The Midwest Takeover,” as a way to describe how Baptist leaders from our region have been significantly more visible than in recent years.

The takeover started with the new slate of officers elected at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis: An Illinois pastor and three Missourians were chosen to fill national SBC posts, while an Iowan will head up next year’s Pastors’ Conference.

Then, Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who led Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union before moving to Texas, was chosen to lead National WMU.

There’s even evidence of a Midwestern swing in the national election, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence works to bring solid, traditional values to Donald Trump’s controversial campaign.

Our region isn’t the buckle of the Bible Belt…but God can do things people say can’t be done, like growing a church in the Midwest.

The national election has crystallized the need for “Midwestern values,” as the culture shifts in ways most thought it never would, and as leadership we can be proud of seems hard to come by.

In the SBC, the election of Midwestern leaders may well represent a new day for the denomination. One with the understanding that Baptist thought and doctrine isn’t just rooted in the Deep South, and that while traditionally SBC-strong states have much to offer in the way of ministry innovation, so do “pioneer” regions.

Like Illinois, where FBC O’Fallon pastor and newly elected SBC First Vice President Doug Munton has served for more than 20 years. He is strong in his support for the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ chief method for funding ministry and missions. But he’s also honest about the challenges of pastoring in a suburban community made even more transient by its proximity to Scott Air Force Base.

Midwestern leaders understand the challenges Baptists face in a changing world, because they’ve met those challenges as workers in regions with few evangelical churches. Our region isn’t the buckle of the Bible Belt, Munton told the Illinois Baptist in May, but God can do things people say can’t be done, like growing a church in the Midwest.

We usually think of pioneers as starters, people who are willing to do hard, unheard-of things—impossible even—for the sake of a better future.

As the work of sharing the gospel and making disciples gets more difficult, this influx of the “pioneer spirit” could be just what the SBC needs.

– MDF