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The Briefing

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a June statement from Paige Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe. His statement is available in full at Baptist Press.

Southwestern trustees issue unanimous decision to terminate president emeritus
The executive committee of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously resolved to terminate former president Paige Patterson May 30, following weeks of controversy and a previous decision to remove him from office and name him president emeritus.

According to a statement from the trustees, the decision was based on “new information…regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Patterson was named president emeritus of Southwestern May 23 after trustees deliberated for 13 hours in a meeting to address Patterson’s comments on women and domestic abuse. The day of the meeting, the Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson in 2003 told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was president at the time, not to report an alleged rape to the police. The student, Megan Lively, later identified herself on Twitter.

Trustees reported after their May meeting that Patterson had complied with reporting laws regarding abuse and assault, but later indicated their findings dealt with a 2015 rape reported at Southwestern. While it was reported to the authorities, trustee chair Kevin Ueckert said following the decision to terminate Patterson, the former president sent an email to the chief of campus security that discussed meeting with the student alone so he could “break her down” and “that he preferred no officials be present.”

“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email,” Ueckert said, “is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.”

On Monday, June 4, Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, issued a media release defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.” Among Sharpe’s claims, “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Megan Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”

Sharpe also said “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”

Patterson is still slated to preach at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this month, a role he was elected to at last year’s annual meeting. SBC President Steve Gaines said in May that in order for Patterson not to preach, messengers in Dallas would have to vote to remove him, or Patterson would have to step down.

In other Southwestern news, Nathan Montgomery, the seminary student and dining hall employee who lost his job after retweeting an article calling for Patterson’s retirement, has been reinstated as an employee.

Church apologizes for treatment of abuse victim
Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., issued a detailed statement of apology and repentance to the Washington Post regarding how church leaders reacted to former member Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly call attention to Larry Nasser’s horrific abuse of gymnasts. Immanuel’s statement reads in part, “…we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.”

Baker wins high court case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 in favor of Jack Philips, the Colorado baker penalized by his state for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The 7-2 decision is a win “not only for those of us who are Christians who hold to a pro-marriage, pro-family viewpoint,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, “but also for all Americans for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.”

American Bible Society adopts employee doctrinal statement
Even 200-year-old organizations aren’t too old to tweak their employee policies, leaders at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society have decided. Effective next year, ABS will adopt an “affirmation of biblical community” and ask employees “to uphold basic Christian beliefs and the authority of Scripture, as well as committing to activities such as church involvement and refraining from sex outside of traditional marriage,” Christianity Today reports.

-Baptist Press, Immanuelky.org, The Christian Post, Christianity Today

 

 

The Briefing

Seminary president sorry for comments ‘hurtful to women’
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued an apology May 10 for comments he made in sermon illustrations about domestic violence and the physical attractiveness of women. After the comments from 2000 and 2014 resurfaced online last month, more than 3,000 people signed an open letter from Southern Baptist women calling on Southwestern’s trustees “to take a strong stand against unbiblical teaching regarding womanhood, sexuality, and domestic violence.” Another letter in support of Patterson has garnered more than 500 signatures.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines addressed the Patterson controversy in a statement to Baptist Press, expressing his disagreement with the comments and noting, “The church especially is no place for misogyny or disrespect for anyone.”

The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will meet May 22 at Patterson’s request.

Sermon stirs up Old Testament debate
North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley’s encouragement to Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament revved up debate online about its place in the life of modern Christians. Theologian David Prince countered Stanley’s view, writing “Any attempt to sever Jesus from the entirety of Scripture amounts to fashioning a Jesus for your own purposes, one that changes with the times.”

High court ruling permits sports betting in all states
In a 6-3 ruling May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that prevented state authorization of sports gambling. The decision — which reversed opinions by lower courts — means all 50 states may legalize and operate betting on professional and college sports.

Willow Creek elders apologize
The elders of Willow Creek Community Church have walked back their initial defense of former pastor Bill Hybels, saying they owe apologies to women who accused Hybels of misconduct. “The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light,” said outgoing elder board chair Pam Orr. “We are sorry.”

Hybels stepped down from his role at Willow Creek in April.

Americans suffering from ‘loneliness epidemic’
A new survey by healthcare company Cigna found nearly half of Americans sometimes or always feel alone or left out. One possible solution: more frequent in-person interactions.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), The Christian Post, Chicago Tribune, Cigna

 

The Briefing

Supreme Court hears pro-life and free speech case
On March 20, the Supreme Court will hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act requires pregnancy facilities to post a disclosure to inform clients that “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women,” according to the law.

WA to ‘monetize wombs,’ legalize ‘baby selling’
Washington state is set to legalize commercial surrogacy, a move children’s rights advocates say amounts to the selling of babies, bases the definition of a parent on “intent,” and opens avenues for child abuse and other horrors. On March 14, the Washington state House of Representatives passed the “Uniform Parentage Act.” As the bill stands, no limits are placed on how many children can be procured through surrogacy arrangements.

Turkey wants life imprisonment for US pastor
Turkish prosecutors demanded life imprisonment for jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson in an official indictment presented to Izmir’s 2nd Criminal Court on Tuesday. Arrested without bail since October 2016, the government of Turkey has detained Pastor Brunson largely based on a purported ‘secret witness’ and secret evidence, which they refuse to make public.

IMB missionaries retire to heaven
International Mission Board missionaries Randy and Kathy Arnett, 62 and 61, died March 14 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The missionaries served as theological education strategists for Africa.

‘I Can Only Imagine’ ranks 3rd with $17M
The faith-based film “I Can Only Imagine” brought in $17.1 million at the domestic box office during its opening weekend, going far beyond early expectations and ranking third, behind “Tomb Raider” and “Black Panther.” The Christian-themed movie beat out Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” and a new film about a gay teenage romance, “Love, Simon.”

Sources: Fox News, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Christian Post (2), CBN

The Briefing

David Platt is ready to leave the IMB
When David Platt became a teaching pastor at a DC-area megachurch last year, onlookers wondered whether the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) could really do both jobs. Platt answered them announcing that he will end his three-and-a-half-year tenure at the IMB to work at McLean Bible Church as soon as the Southern Baptist missions agency can find his replacement.

Christian baker wins Calif. court battle
A California trial court has upheld a Christian baker’s right to refuse to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, but the decision comes as a similar case is already pending in the nation’s highest court. Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller’s freedom of speech “outweighs” the state of California’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace, Judge David R. Lampe said in his decision in the Superior Court of California in Kern County, one of the state’s 58 trial courts.

CBF nixes ‘absolute’ LGBT hiring ban, maintains it for leaders
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Governing Board has voted to lift the Fellowship’s “absolute prohibition” of hiring homosexual and transgender employees. But CBF “leadership positions in ministry” and missionary roles still will be limited to individuals “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and man,” according to a hiring “implementation procedure” also adopted by the Governing Board. Other positions will be open to “Christians who identify as LGBT.”

Beth Moore, other evangelical leaders publish a letter urging action on immigration
A diverse group of evangelical leaders have put their names on a full-page ad in the Washington Post urging the President and Congress to act on immigration and refugee policy. It has some of the same signatures who have long focused on the welcoming part of immigration. However, it also adds some interesting names, including Bible teacher Beth Moore and popular author Jen Hatmaker, two women who have become increasingly vocal in the Trump era.

Changes in abortion legislation sweeping the country
2017 saw more wins for pro-life legislation than pro-abortion legislation. Including those adopted in 2017, states have enacted 401 abortion restrictions since January 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Legislators in 30 states have introduced abortion bans, with six states enacting new laws in 2017.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press (2), Washington Post, Stream

Fully staffed Court poised to rule on religious liberty issues

Christians and other conservatives hoped the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April would tilt the court toward a favorable view of religious liberty concerns. As a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gorsuch’s rulings supported Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

So far, Gorsuch’s previous rulings have extended to his time on the High Court. In June, he was part of 7-2 ruling that found Christian schools should have the opportunity to be awarded government grants for playground upgrades. And this year, the court has agreed to hear the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.

In 2017, other cases related to religious liberty played out elsewhere in the judicial system:

On Oct. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules to provide relief from the requirement that employers provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions. But a Dec. 15 ruling by a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the new rules.

And late last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the state did not violate the First Amendment rights of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 in 2015 for refusing to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that found the Kleins’ refusal was based on unlawful discrimination against homosexuals.

While Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court was a victory for religious freedom advocates, mixed results from other courts could indicate a contentious year ahead, and new territory for the church to navigate.

– With reporting from Baptist Press

The Briefing

Christians divided on Jerusalem decision
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was met with strong reactions from Christians on both sides of the issue. While some applauded the Dec. 6 announcement, others worried it could increase hostilities in the Middle East. Trump also announced the U.S. will being the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Generation gap on support for Israel
While a majority of Americans with evangelical beliefs express at least some measure of positivity about Israel, many younger evangelicals are indifferent in their support for the country. According to a new survey by LifeWay Research, 77% of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security, and prosperity of Israel, but the number drops to 58% among those 18 to 34. And 41% have no strong views about Israel.

Baker gets High Court hearing
The Supreme Court will likely rule next year in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. During oral arguments Dec. 5, comments and questions from Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy were encouraging to lawyers supporting Phillips, Baptist Press reported.

Texas churches turned down for FEMA assistance
A judge ruled against three churches seeking federal aid after Hurricane Harvey, citing a policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that denies grants to facilities primarily used for religious activities. The Texas churches, who argue that FEMA’s policy is unconstitutional, have filed an appeal.

What we say vs. who we are
LifeWay Research found 24% of Americans self-identify as evangelicals, but only 15% are evangelical by belief. The survey also measured the percentage of people in each U.S. region who fall into the two categories.

Supreme Court will hear pregnancy center case
The Supreme Court announced this month it will rule on a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients of abortion options available elsewhere.

The FACT Act, passed in 2015, shares some similarities with an Illinois law that requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers. Multiple pregnancy centers in Illinois sued Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year over the law, and were granted a preliminary injunction.

Dockery elected to lead theologian group
The annual meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society focused on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The group also elected David Dockery, a Southern Baptist and president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as president.

Zimbabwe’s Christian leaders see unrest as ‘opportunity’
The conflict between Zimbabwe’s president and its military could be resolved by a “winner-takes-all-mentality,” many of the country’s religious leaders wrote in a letter following President Robert Mugabe’s military arrest. But it doesn’t have to, they said, calling the the situation an opportunity for “permanent healing” in Zimbabwe.

Hillsong pastor won’t change marriage views, despite Australian vote
While Australian voters decided in November to legalize same-sex marriage, Brian Houston, who pastors Sydney megachurch Hillsong, said his view of marriage as between a man and a woman “will not change.”

Coming to the big screen: Apostle Paul
A silver screen version of Paul’s life is set for release next Easter. “Paul, Apostle of Christ” tells the story of a persecutor of Christians who became the world’s most famous missionary and martyr. James Faulkner stars as Paul, and “Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel is Gospel-writer Luke.