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THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In the wake of Saturday’s massive earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, Christian workers asked for prayer for the devastated country:

• Pray for basic shelter, water and food. These necessities are a high priority right now since no one is allowed back in their homes.

• Pray for God’s people to deeply know His comfort and peace during this time. Pray they will share Him with people around them.

• Pray for people in Nepal and surrounding areas during the continuing aftershocks and aftermath of this disaster. Southern Baptist assessment teams will began the damage Monday to find the best ways to respond.


Potential presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson will not address the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference this summer as scheduled, Baptist Press reports. Several Baptists, including the Baptist 21 group of younger SBC leaders and pastors, had expressed concern about Carson’s membership in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that his appearance at the conference could look like a political endorsement.


Three years after the death of Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, Russell Moore reflects on media coverage surrounding the Watergate conspirator’s life and eventual conversion to Christianity. For those who were cynical about Colson’s transformation, writes the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “…we shouldn’t be angered by those who don’t get the full measure of the man. We should instead hear in some of this cynicism the cry of every human heart, a disbelief that there can be any such thing as final and total forgiveness of sin.”


Zondervan announced last week Charles Colson’s last book, “My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most,” will be released Aug. 4. Topics in the collection of writings will include “the rise of Islam, same-sex marriage, the persecution of Christians, crime and punishment, and natural law,” The Christian Post reports.


Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley says local churches should be the “safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”

“We just need to decide, regardless of what you think about this topic–no more students are going to feel like they have to leave the local church because they’re same-sex attracted or because they’re gay,” said Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, at the Catalyst West conference April 17. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.

A controversial Houston ordinance is now in effect, following a judge’s ruling on a petition drive led in part by some pastors in the city. HERO, or Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, made headlines last year when the city subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of five pastors who were against the ordinance. (The subpoenas were later withdrawn.)


Religious leaders are encouraging President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to monitor religious freedom in the Middle East and parts of Asia. The special envoy position has been vacant since it was created last year in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, Baptist Press reports.


Are you one of the many football fans bent out of shape since Tim Tebow’s exit from the NFL? Good news: A Philadelphia pretzel company has created a way to celebrate his return. The “Tebowing” pretzel, shaped like the quarterback kneeling in his famous praying pose, started as a publicity stunt but soon went viral. The New York Daily News reports the Philly Pretzel Factory plans to donate proceeds from the pretzels to a charity involving Tebow, who has signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Amid continuing tension in Ferguson, Mo., church members will engage in a block-by-block outreach initiative to promote relationships–and healing–in the St. Louis suburb rocked by violence and protests since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown last August.

The_BriefingJose Aguayo, a Ferguson pastor and chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the effort to send out teams of church members tasked with getting to know residents on their assigned block. Eventually, Aguayo told Baptist Press, ministries resulting from the outreach could include “sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults.”

First Baptist Church in Ferguson, led by Pastor Stoney Shaw, is one of the churches participating. He told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri, “We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan.” Read more at BPNews.net.


In other news from Ferguson, Christianity Today reports on a dialogue between Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted March 12 on his Facebook page, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” (Read the entire post here.) But according to a group of 31 Christian leaders who wrote an open letter to Graham, the issue is often more complicated.


Family is the most central factor in how Americans identify themselves, Barna found in a new study, followed by being an American at #2, and their religious faith at #3. But the answers change, depending on how old you are.


On the day marking the Iranian New Year, President Obama issued a statement calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has arrested in the country in 2012. “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Obama said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.” Read more at ChristianityToday.com.


Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke about Christianity and liberty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he also announced he will run for President in 2016. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of the Christian university, introduced Cruz but was careful to note Liberty was giving the candidate a platform rather than endorsing him, The Christian Post reported.


More than $2.5 billion is wagered on the annual March Madness basketball tournament, according to the FBI. But Christians would be wise not to throw any money in the pot, says Barrett Duke, a vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

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.

 

 

THE BRIEFING | A Baptist professor who once taught at the convention’s most historic seminary is poised to publicly announce his shift on homosexuality at a national conference in November. Mercer University professor David Gushee, who taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1993-96, will reportedly tell the audience at a conference hosted by The Reformation Project that, “I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections.”

The_BriefingHis proposed remarks, reported by Religious News Service, do not come as a surprise to Baptist leaders who have known Gushee and watched his theological path over the years, Baptist Press reports. “Gushee is not the future of evangelicalism,” blogged Boyce College professor Denny Burk. “He is the future of ex-evangelicalism. He joins a chorus of others who have left the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and who no longer represent what evangelical Christianity is all about.”


A week after Houston pastors were subpoenaed amid their involvement in a campaign to defeat a city ordinance, Southern Baptists leaders and others in Arkansas are working toward the repeal of a similar ordinance in Fayetteville. Adopted by the city council in August, the ordinance is part of an effort by the Human Rights Campaign to expand equality for the LGBT community in southern states, Baptist Press reports. But some pastors and Christian leaders say their religious liberty is at stake.


Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will take part in a Nov. 2 simulcast designed to show support for the five subpoenaed ministers in Houston. Sponsored in part by Family Research Council, “I Stand Sunday” also will feature former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Alan and Phil Robertson from TV’s “Duck Dynasty.”


“Life does not end when tragedy comes into your life,” says Travis Freeman, a one-time high school football player whose life changed drastically when an illness cost him his eyesight. The two-time graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the subject of “23 Blast,” a new film released in Oct. 24. Read more about Freeman and the movie at BPNews.net.


In other movie news, Christian Bale says Moses was “barbaric” and “likely schizophrenic.” Bale portrays the biblical hero in the upcoming Ridley Scott film “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”


Having their credit card information stolen tops the list of crimes Americans worry about most, according to a poll by Gallup. 69% of people said they frequently or occasionally worry about computer hackers stealing the credit card info they use at stores, followed by 62% of Americans who worry about their computer or cell phone being hacked. Farther down the list: having your car stolen or broken into (42%), getting mugged (31%), and being a victim of terrorism (28%).


Winning baseball games isn’t the top priority for San Francisco Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans. “You want your life to point people to Christ,” he told Baptist Press. “It starts for me with my own relationship with Christ. That’s going to direct and dictate what influence I have for Christ in my family, in my marriage and in the workplace.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

As World Cup fever raged across the globe – and even here! – new research from Barna showed most Americans recognize their country’s fascination with sports, and almost two-in-three think the culture cares too much about athletics.

The nationwide survey conducted in February found 89% of adults strongly or somewhat agree that sports are an important part of American culture, with men slightly more likely to strongly agree than women. Interestingly, practicing Christians (55%) were the most likely group to strongly agree.

soccer ballBarna also found 27% of Americans believe the culture cares too much about sports, and 39% agree somewhat. A majority of Americans also agree strongly or somewhat that professional athletes make too much money (86%), and that American professional sports are very corrupt and distract from important global issues (both 62%).

As for America’s favorite sport: Football reigns supreme with regular viewers (53%), followed by basketball and baseball (both 33%). Soccer’s numbers were higher than you might think, especially considering the survey was completed before the World Cup. 11% of Americans regularly watch the beautiful game (that’s what they call soccer), 20% have played it, and 16% say their kids play.

Zamperini remembered as Olympian, war hero, Christian
Former Olympic runner and prisoner of war Louis Zamperini died July 2 at the age of 97. Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book “Unbroken,” also was a Christian. His conversion happened at a Billy Graham Crusade after he returned from a Japanese POW camp, at the height of his bitterness and rage over two years of captivity. Read Denny Burk’s tribute to Zamperini.

Some Nigerian girls escape, more than 200 remain captive
While many Americans were celebrating independence, dozens of women and girls in Nigeria were finding freedom from a much more immediate threat. The Christian Post reports more than 60 women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram on June 22 escaped around July 4. More than 200 girls reportedly are still held by the terrorist group founded to fight the influence of Western education. In a video message released earlier this year, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the kidnapped girls.

Book release: Piper’s ‘Pastor’s Kid’
Barnabas Piper’s new book “The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity,” was written for PKs, pastors and churches, the son of famed pastor John Piper wrote in the introduction. Coinciding with the book’s July 1 release, the author answered questions from culture writer Jonathan Merritt in this Q&A for Religion News Service, including the biggest negative effect of his upbringing (“not connecting with God in a personal way”). Piper also shared a few surprising facts about his dad, like his love for the comedy “What About Bob.”

Four Southern Baptists named to ’33 under 33’ list
Christianity Today’s list of influential young leaders includes four Baptists, Baptist Press reported July 1. They are:

  • Trevin Wax, a blogger and managing editor of LifeWay’s The Gospel Project
  • Hip-hop artist turned pastoral intern Trip Lee
  • Former rapper D.A. Horton, who is now the North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions
  • Saira Blair, a 17-year-old candidate for West Virginia’s state legislature

See the rest of the list at ChristianityToday.com.

 

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Leading up to the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on a case involving Hobby Lobby, culture writer Jonathan Merritt took issue with calling the craft retailer a “Christian business” because of its dealings with China, one of the world’s worst offenders of human rights.

Hobby Lobby currently is fighting for an exemption to the government’s requirement that for-profit companies cover some abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health care plans. The Supreme Court’s ruling is expected this week.

The things Hobby Lobby claims to stand for, Merritt wrote for The Week magazine, including sanctity of life and religious liberty, are grossly undervalued in China.

“Hobby Lobby reminds us why for-profit businesses should resist calling themselves ‘Christian,’” he wrote. “The free market is messy and complicated and riddled with hypocrisy. Conducting business in today’s complex global economy almost ensures one will engage in behavior that is at least morally suspect from a Biblical standpoint.”

Merritt invited Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to respond to his article. Moore recently presented the Green family with the John Leland Award for Religious Liberty.

Forsaking business in China, Moore wrote, likely won’t help improve human rights there. Historically, he said, “open trade, in most cases, tends to help the development of political rights rather than hinder them.” If the Greens believed boycotting Chinese business would turn the nation’s government toward improved human rights, Moore said, they would.

But, “The Greens cannot control the decisions made by the Chinese government. They can, however, direct their own actions. And, as Americans, they can participate in a democratic republic in which the people are ultimately accountable for the decisions of their government.

“Buying products from companies that operate in a country that aborts children is not the same as being forced by the United States government to purchase directly insurance that does the same.”

Meriam Ibrahim released from prison, then rearrested
A 27-year-old mother of two imprisoned for her Christian faith was released June 23, but rearrested just hours later, The Christian Post reported this morning. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a Sudanese doctor, had been imprisoned with her young son and newborn daughter after she was found guilty of apostasy and adultery. (Because Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a Christian, their government does not recognize their marriage.) Her death sentence was to be carried out in two years. After Ibrahim was freed and her sentence commuted Monday, she was rearrested with her husband and children as they prepared to leave Sudan. Ibrahim’s case has drawn attention internationally and in the U.S., 38 members of Congress signed a letter asking the government to intervene on her behalf. Read more at ChristianPost.com.

Benched basketball star says ‘I know God has a plan!’
Isaiah Austin, a center for the Baylor University basketball team, was expected to be a first-round pick in the June 26 NBA draft. Instead, a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome will end his career, reported The Christian Post. He sat down for an emotional interview with ESPN, but was hopeful on Twitter and Instagram, using social media to talk about his faith in God.

“I know God has a plan!” Austin posted as part of a message on Instagram, with the hashtag #NewBeginnings. “I would love to thank EVERYONE who has reached out to me,” he tweeted under the handle God’s Child. “Toughest days of my life. But not the last! Life goes on. GOD IS STILL GREAT!”

Mohler: PCUSA marriage vote helps establish ‘clear divide’
When the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to allow pastors to conduct same-sex marriages, their decision set a dividing line in culture and in Christianity, said Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler.

“That very clear divide puts on one side those who stand with 2,000 years of Christian witness and on the very clear statements of Scripture, and, on the other side, those who stand with the moral revolution of the era…,” Mohler said on his daily podcast.

The Presbyterian denomination not only voted on the policy change for pastors, but also to amend their constitution to define marriage as between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman.” A majority of the PCUSA’s presbyteries must approve the amendment for it take effect, Baptist Press reported, but the departure of many conservative congregations makes the change a likely prospect.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Barna reports the same percentage of Americans are Bible-engaged as are Bible-skeptical. The annual State of Bible study, produced with the American Bible Society, found 19% of people say they read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God. And 19% say the Bible is “just another book of teaching written by men that contains stories and advice.” The number of skeptics has almost doubled over the past three years, according to a summary at Barna.com.

Baptists may meet with gay author
Southern Baptist leaders who authored a response to Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian,” said they’re willing to meet with the author in person. Vines’ book was released April 22, the same day Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and a group of professors released an e-book to respond to Vines’ belief that Scripture allows monogamous same-sex relationships.

“I will be very glad to meet you in person and not merely in print. I am thankful for a respectful exchange of beliefs,” Mohler tweeted in response to a message from Vines thanking him for engaging in a Religion News Service Q&A about the book. Read more at BPNews.net.

‘Family Talk’ wins in court
A ministry run by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson was issued a temporary injunction against the federal government, meaning the organization does not have to provide abortion-inducing drugs in its employee health care plans. Dobson’s “Family Talk” radio program, newsletter and website has 28 full-time employees, according to an Associated Press report. The U.S. Supreme Court currently is considering a similar case involving Hobby Lobby. Get the full story at ChristianPost.com.

Midwest leaders meet to pray
Around 100 Baptist leaders and church planters from the Midwest gathered in Wisconsin for an April prayer summit hosted by the North American Mission Board. “It was a wonderful time of focused prayer for our personal life, in a small group, and corporately in a large group setting,” said IBSA President Odis Weaver. “We prayed for personal holiness, for the Midwest Send cities, and for revival and spiritual awakening.”

Coach denies proselytizing charges
Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney, an outspoken Christian, defended his program’s policies after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint detailing “several serious constitutional concerns.” FFRF’s concerns include Swinney’s appointment of a chaplain for the team, scheduled devotionals, and the team’s attendance at a 2011 Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast.

“Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character,” Swinney responded in a statement. CBS News reported the coach said in a teleconference he would continue to run the program like he always has. Read more at