Archives For Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 10, 2019

Key issues in politics

IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

Former missionary charged with sexual assault
Mark Aderholt, a former International Mission Board missionary and associate executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was arrested July 3 on charges of sexual assault of a child under 17. The charges stem from alleged incidents in 1997, when Aderholt was a student at Southwestern Seminary. He later served as an IMB missionary in Europe, and since 2017, with the South Carolina Convention. He resigned his post there in June.

Gary Hollingsworth, executive director-treasurer of the convention, said July 10, “Our hearts are grieved, but we are trusting the authorities.” Aderholt’s arrest comes amid investigations of assault charges against other Southern Baptist and Christian leaders, leading Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler in May to label this season the SBC’s “horrifying #MeToo moment.”

Supreme Court in the spotlight after Kavanaugh nomination
The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court encouraged many Christians and conservatives, but the pick is troubling for black Christians, writes Wheaton College’s John C. Richards. “The truth is that many Black Christians aren’t so much looking for a more conservative court as they are looking for a more fair and neutral court—devoid of political influence.”

Should Kavanaugh be confirmed, a conservative Supreme Court could reconsider the implications of 1973’s Roe v. Wade, which lifted state restrictions on abortion. Abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights reported which 22 states are likely to ban abortion, should Roe be overturned by the Court.

New research: Americans and the Bible
About half of all Americans count themselves as “Bible users” who engage with Scripture at least three to four times a year, according to the 2018 State of the Bible survey by Barna and the American Bible Society. A larger percentage, researchers found, are curious about what the Bible says.

Most Christians invite their friends to church
Almost two-thirds of churchgoers have invited someone to church in the last six months, according to new data by LifeWay Research. But 17% say they don’t know anyone to invite.

Sources: Baptist Press, Baptist Courier, AlbertMohler.com, Christianity Today, Christian Post, Barna Research, LifeWay Research