Here you will find the very latest news from the Baptist Press (BP), NAMB (North American Mission Board) and IMB (International Mission Board). Each entry includes the title, source and date of the article and a brief summary.

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BP News Friday, November 27, 2020 - 3:00pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Nov. 30-Dec. 6, focusing on Revelation 7:9 (“I saw a great multitude from every nation and all tribes ….”) The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.

Hundreds of thousands of boys sleep on the streets in Kenya. These children are marginalized, beaten, sexually abused and arrested. Many Kenyans regard them as worthless and not to be trusted. Kenyans call these boys “trash eaters.”

International Mission Board missionary Kristen Lowry and the staff at the Naivasha Children’s Shelter in Naivasha, Kenya, see the value and worth in the life of each boy. They seek out these boys and bring restoration to families and rehabilitation to broken lives.

Kristen’s first interactions with the street boys of Kenya took place in 2009 while she was on a photo assignment with IMB. Throughout the assignment she followed Eunice Murage, a Kenyan woman, as Eunice worked in the streets with the boys. As Kristen witnessed the boys’ living conditions and the way they were treated, she prayed for God to send someone to help them. Six months later, God called Kristen to work with the boys in Nairobi, Kenya.

Once Kristen moved to Nairobi, she moved in with Eunice. If the boys needed a safe place to stay or recover from wounds they sustained on the streets, the two women took them into their home. Eunice and Kristen began to make plans to start a rehabilitation and reunification center but had no means to purchase one.

On Christmas Day, 2013, their prayers for a facility were answered. An orphanage in Naivasha had opened in 1999. Kristen’s mom, a real estate agent in the U.S., met a man through her work who served on the board of directors for the orphanage. When he learned that Kristen was looking for a facility, he and other trustees voted to appoint Eunice and Kristen as co-directors of the Naivasha Children’s Shelter in January 2014.

When a boy wants to be rescued, one of the social workers from the shelter will schedule a time to pick up the boy from the street and bring him to the shelter. Once at the shelter the boy learns skills, participates in counseling, catches up on education, takes responsibility for chores and ultimately, experiences love and a stable environment.

“Before I had my own children, I had street children,” Kristen said. This sentiment rings true with the staff at the shelter; their care for the boys goes beyond the walls of the shelter. Once the boys are reunited with their families, the social workers continually visit the boys and their families to make sure all is running smoothly and provide counseling to both boys and families if necessary.

The shelter is not an orphanage, but a place where each individual child receives personal attention and encouragement, all building to the goal of being reunited with their families. Much like the prodigal son in the parable Jesus told in the New Testament, these boys are ashamed to return home because they think their time on the streets has made them “less than” or “dirty,” Kristen said. As they receive counseling and experience God’s love and kindness through the shelter’s staff, their confidence in who they are and their desire to reunite with their families increases daily.

“If I could tell a friend on the streets one thing about the shelter,” said Frances, a boy living at the shelter, “I would tell him, ‘Come to shelter and change your life and find your family.’”

PRAY that Frances and other boys like him will find new life in Christ.

PRAY that as the boys are reconciled with their families, the families will also find hope in Jesus.

PRAY that God will bless the work of the shelter’s staff as they reach out in love to boys who are hurting.

Watch a video about the Naivasha Children’s Shelter and view a photo gallery below.

BP News Thursday, November 26, 2020 - 2:17pm

WASHINGTON (AP) – With coronavirus cases surging again nationwide, the Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court Nov. 20  in support of an emergency application by Orthodox Jews challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “cluster action initiative” intended to combat spikes in new COVID-19 infections.

The justices split 5-4 late Wednesday night, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

The move was a shift for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

The court’s action Wednesday could push New York to reevaluate its restrictions on houses of worship in areas designated virus hot spots. But the impact is also muted because the Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups that sued to challenge the restrictions are no longer subject to them.

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America have churches and synagogues in areas of Brooklyn and Queens previously designated red and orange zones. In those red and orange zones, the state had capped attendance at houses of worship at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But the those particular areas are now designated as yellow zones with less restrictive rules neither group challenged.

The justices acted on an emergency basis, temporarily barring New York from enforcing the restrictions against the groups while their lawsuits continue. In an unsigned opinion the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the opinion said.

The opinion noted that in red zones, while a synagogue or church cannot admit more than 10 people, businesses deemed “essential,” from grocery stores to pet shops, can remain open without capacity limits. And in orange zones, while synagogues and churches are capped at 25 people, “even non-essential businesses may decide for themselves how many persons to admit.”

Roberts, in dissent, wrote that there was “simply no need” for the court’s action. “None of the houses of worship identified in the applications is now subject to any fixed numerical restrictions,” he said, adding that New York’s 10 and 25 person caps “do seem unduly restrictive.”

“The Governor might reinstate the restrictions. But he also might not. And it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” he wrote.

Roberts and four other justices wrote separately to explain their views. Barrett did not.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday the ruling was “more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else” and “irrelevant from any practical impact” given that the restrictions have already been removed.

“Why rule on a case that is moot and come up with a different decision than you did several months ago on the same issue?” Cuomo asked in a conference call with reporters. “You have a different court. And I think that was the statement that the court was making.”

The court’s action was a victory for the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues that had sued to challenge state restrictions announced by Cuomo on Oct. 6.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, which covers Brooklyn and Queens, argued houses of worship were being unfairly singled out by the governor’s executive order. The diocese argued it had previously operated safely by capping attendance at 25 percent of a building’s capacity and taking other measures. Parts of Brooklyn and Queens are now in yellow zones where attendance at houses of worship is capped at 50 percent of a building’s capacity, but the church is keeping attendance lower.

“We are extremely grateful that the Supreme Court has acted so swiftly and decisively to protect one of our most fundamental constitutional rights – the free exercise of religion,” said Randy Mastro, an attorney for the diocese, in a statement.

Avi Schick, an attorney for Agudath Israel of America, wrote in an email: “This is an historic victory. This landmark decision will ensure that religious practices and religious institutions will be protected from government edicts that do not treat religion with the respect demanded by the Constitution.”

Two lower courts had sided with New York in allowing the restrictions to remain in place. New York had argued that religious gatherings were being treated less restrictively than secular gatherings that carried the same infection risk, like concerts and theatrical performances.

There are currently several areas in New York designated orange zones but no red zones, according to a state website that tracks areas designated as hot spots.

From The Associated Press. May not be republished. AP writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report from New York.

BP News Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 12:55pm

Leaders of the national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) are executing a plan to send hand-written appeals to 20,000 Southern Baptist churches to encourage every church to give to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, National WMU executive director-treasurer, initiated the project after hearing that nearly 50 percent of Southern Baptist churches don’t support the offering. She committed to personally writing 175 letters asking pastors to lead their churches to give.

“I mentioned the opportunity to state WMU leaders, and many of them committed to write churches in their state,” she said.

The leaders set a goal of contacting nearly 20,000 churches. IMB senior leadership and some staff members committed to join WMU’s efforts.

“As Southern Baptists, we’ve been inspired by the letters written by Lottie Moon calling the faithful to generosity. WMU’s first leader, Annie Armstrong, was known for writing thousands upon thousands of letters,” Wisdom-Martin said.

Each year WMU partners with the IMB to set the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal and to produce resources promoting the offering. This year’s letter-writing effort reflects the historic vision of WMU.

“At our core is the passion to take the Gospel of Christ to those who have never heard. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is critical to our shared commitment to make Him known among the nations,” Wisdom-Martin said. “It breaks my heart when I hear nearly half of our churches do not contribute to the LMCO. It has been such a meaningful practice of my Christian walk for five decades. By giving and praying, I get to have a part of God’s work through nearly 3,600 missionaries scattered across the world sharing Jesus with those who have little or no access to the Gospel.”

Joy Bolton, WMU leader in South Carolina, made a similar observation, saying: “Some of our SBC churches do not grasp what it means for us to support missions cooperatively through [the Cooperative Program] and the missions offerings. I hope by writing to some of the pastors, they will understand how important the LMCO is to me and lead their churches to give.”

Bolton described her first overseas experience when she was able to witness firsthand the impact of Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving.

“The missionary took us to a church in the bush where the people had built the church themselves out of mud bricks,” Bolton said. “Almost as an aside as we drove up, he said, ‘Oh, and by the way, the tin roof on this building was put here by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.’ I wept through that service knowing that what we do on this side of the world makes a difference on the other side.”

IMB President Paul Chitwood expressed his gratitude for the effort of WMU leaders and Wisdom-Martin’s personal commitment to write 175 notes.

“That’s a lot of letters!” Chitwood said. “To think that our WMU partners across the country are now attempting to write 20,000 letters has blown us away.

“I am confident that these personal and genuine requests on behalf of the lost around the world who need a missionary to come share the Gospel with them are going to result in the biggest Lottie offering in IMB history.”

As the IMB celebrates its 175th anniversary, reaching this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal of $175 million will honor the organization’s rich history as well as support the strategic goal of sending out 500 more missionaries by 2025.

“The number of people applying to serve as missionaries through IMB has grown by several hundred over the past 18 months. Meeting our $175 million goal will ensure we can send them,” Chitwood said.

*Name changed for security

BP News Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 11:55am

OWENTON, Ky. (BP) – Surrounded by cow pastures and hayfields, South Fork Baptist Church is small enough to fit into a corner of many big-city church sanctuaries.

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood has never let that stop him from preaching in this rural Kentucky church that has a long history of supporting Southern Baptist missionaries around the world.

“At South Fork, we take seriously the biblical call to be the Lord’s witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,’” Pastor Roger Alford said. “What Dr. Chitwood’s visit tells us is that he understands the importance that every church, regardless of size, plays in reaching the nations.”

South Fork Baptist Church serves a rural swath of Kentucky that has faced a series of economic hardships in the past two decades. The latest came three years ago when Owenton’s only factory closed, putting hundreds of local residents out of work.

“A number of our folks lost their jobs,” Alford said. “They had no choice but to look for work in distant cities. Many commute daily to the Cincinnati area, to Louisville and to Lexington.”

Chitwood and his wife Michelle are intimately familiar with the community’s plight. Chitwood was pastor at South Fork for two years while he was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He preached his first sermon as a pastor at South Fork 27 years ago this month. He marked the occasion by returning to South Fork to preach in two Sunday morning services.

“South Fork Baptist Church was the perfect place for us to begin in ministry,” Chitwood said. “Michelle and I were welcomed into the small, rural church as members of the family and as the family grew, so did we. I recall a pastor friend telling me at the time, ‘Paul, if you can learn how to work with the people at South Fork, you’ll be able to work with people wherever God might take you.’ I found the people of South Fork to be very easy to work with, and I’ve also found the lessons that I learned from them helpful to me everywhere I’ve served, just as that friend said. Looking back, I realize that the people of South Fork shepherded me more than I shepherded them. And I am grateful for their investment.”

Michelle Chitwood said the church was just as foundational for her.

“Because of South Fork Baptist Church, I was given the chance to be a pastor’s wife,” she said. “Because of South Fork, I made lifelong friendships. Because of South Fork, I was shown grace. Because of South Fork, I grew as a Christian and as a person. Because of South Fork, I saw the beauty of healthy marriages. Because of South Fork, I am not afraid to follow God’s will for my life. For South Fork Baptist Church, I am thankful. This church will always be a spiritual marker and one of my richest blessings in life.”

The church had fallen on hard times over the past decade, seeing average Sunday morning attendance drop to about 20 people. Church leaders were actually considering closing the doors. Alford arrived a year and half ago and found a group of people eager to do whatever necessary to revive the nearly 150-year-old church.

“We began a revitalization process that triggered quick growth before the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” Alford said. “There’s tremendous potential here. The county has a population of more than 11,000 people. Of those, less of 1,000 are in church on a typical Sunday. So we believe the Lord can grow a church in this community that can do significant ministry. Think about it. If we could reach 10 percent of the 10,000 unchurched people in the county, we’d have 1,000 people in church. If we could reach 5 percent, that’s 500 people. If we could reach two and a half percent of them, that’d be 250 people. So we’re jived about the opportunity here.”

South Fork Baptist Church was built back in the days when families walked or rode horse-drawn buggies to church. With a population so sparse at the time, there was no need for a large building. The sanctuary seats only about 80 people.

“To accommodate the community’s unchurched population, we really need more space,” Alford said. “The current economic climate here makes that difficult, but we’re trusting the Lord to take care of that.”

Glenn Mollette is a retired Southern Baptist pastor and writer whose newspaper columns appear nationally.

BP News Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 10:55am
NAMB webinar helps collegiate leaders create “sending culture”

By Brandon Elrod

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – Paul Worcester, national director of collegiate evangelism with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), hosted a webinar called “Creating a Sending Culture in your Collegiate Ministry” Nov. 18. Nearly 500 collegiate leaders registered to participate.

Several speakers from NAMB and The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., spoke during the virtual meeting, including lead pastor and current Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear.

In opening the webinar, Worcester encouraged and challenged those listening with a brief message from Matthew 9 focused on the way Jesus described the harvest and the need for laborers to share the message of the Gospel.

“The problem is not with the harvest. The problem is a lack of laborers,” Worcester said. “There is a direct connection to how many laborers we raise up and send out as a ministry and how big our impact is for God’s kingdom.”

Greear, the keynote speaker, discussed how The Summit Church, with its proximity to several different colleges in the Raleigh-Durham area, developed a sending culture within their church among college students.

Read the full story here.

Longtime music ministry leader Jon Duncan joins SWBTS faculty

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Jon Duncan, a longtime denominational music ministry leader, has been appointed senior professor of church music and worship in the School of Church Music and Worship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“I’m very pleased by the addition of Dr. Jon Duncan to the faculty of the School of Church Music and Worship as senior professor,” SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway said. “Dr. Duncan brings a wealth of ministry experience at two state Baptist conventions, where his impact has touched the lives of thousands in music ministry in the churches and throughout our denomination. I’m delighted to welcome this legacy Southwesterner to begin a new chapter of ministry as senior professor investing in the next generation of future music and worship ministers at Southwestern Seminary.”

Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship, said, “I am thrilled and honored to welcome to our faculty someone of Jon’s vast experience and expertise. He is an astute worship theologian, a wonderful musician and choral conductor, and a pastor to pastors. I can’t think of anyone more well-suited to help us with our new initiatives in the D.Ed.Min. in Christian Worship.”

In his role, effective January 2021, Duncan will teach courses and provide direction to the Doctor of Educational Ministries in Worship degree.

Duncan joins the faculty with more than 40 years of local church and denominational service, primarily in Oklahoma and Georgia. Since 2002, he has served as the worship consultant and catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, overseeing ministry consultants who worked with local churches in all areas of worship ministry needs.

Read the full story here.

Leavell College launches house system

By Gary D. Myers

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Leavell College at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary launched a new initiative to promote fellowship and community and foster spiritual growth among undergraduate students – the house system.

During the launch meeting and house placement event Nov. 16, NOBTS and Leavell College President Jamie Dew challenged the students to make the most of this new opportunity. He said that the House System can reshape and reenergize the college experience at Leavell College, but will only reach its potential if students support the effort.

“If we do this right and do this well, the House System will change everything about Leavell College,” Dew said. “For the house system to work, you, the students, have to buy into it. You, the students, have to pour yourselves into these communities. The administration … we are behind you 100 percent. We are willing to make the changes needed to empower this.”

Patterned after the college systems at Oxford and Cambridge, the house system will impact every aspect of the Leavell College student’s experience. From discipleship to missions, from fellowship to friendly completion, the house system will enhance the student experience at Leavell College.

“The house system helps to round out Leavell College by connecting academics, fellowship, missions and ministry, and just good fun,” said Thomas Strong III, dean of Leavell College. “The house system will provide a great framework for the life of a Leavell College student. The excitement that has been generated by the system already has been noticeable. “

Each undergraduate student was placed in one of three houses named for historic Christian leaders who exemplify the values listed in the school’s mission statement, which reads: “Leavell College prepares servants to walk with Christ, proclaim His truth, and fulfill His mission.”

Read the full story here.

BP News Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 9:55am

NASHVILLE (BP) — This weekly Bible study appears in Baptist Press in a partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through its Leadership and Adult Publishing team, LifeWay publishes Sunday School curricula and additional resources for all age groups.

This week’s Bible study is adapted from the YOU curriculum.

Bible Passage: Romans 10:9-17

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is confession an important part of our salvation?

  • How would you describe the power inherent in calling on the name of the Lord?

  • What are the implications that the Gospel message is for all people?

Food for Thought:

As much as we would desire to help rescue a loved one who is physically lost, God has a greater desire for those who are spiritually lost. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of the world’s population is without Christ and in need of a “spiritual search and rescue.” One way we reflect our commitment to Christ is by sharing His commitment and desire to reach those who do not yet have a relationship with Him. Being committed to the mission of God means that each of us looks at this monumental task as our own personal responsibility and calling.

Read Romans 10:9-10. The scripture provides a powerfully concise explanation of the Gospel message. We don’t have to follow a list of dos and don’ts in order to have a relationship with God. God knew we couldn’t be perfectly obedient to Him and follow all the rules, so He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to this planet and did what we could never do. He lived the perfect life of obedience to God we could not. His obedience was so complete that He even gave His life as a perfect sacrifice to pay the price for our disobedience.

The Christian life is about belief. Paul used two verbs to describe this:

  • “Jesus is Lord” is the Christian confession that Jesus of Nazareth is fully God. How do we know that Jesus is God? We look at His life. He taught like no other and the miracles He performed gave authority to what He said. Jesus said He was the only way to God (John 14:6) and, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Christianity is centered on Jesus’ resurrection, by which God the Father authenticated Jesus as the Son of God.

  • Our confession is an outward expression of our belief in who Jesus is: the resurrected Savior and Lord, the Son of God. Confessing and believing are not steps one and two for salvation. They go hand-in-hand. What we believe in our heart we will openly confess. Our “role” in salvation is as simple as that.


YOU is committed to providing a complete Bible study experience for small groups and classes. Every session is written through an urban and multiethnic lens that provides relevant, engaging and applicable studies that not only encourage and equip people, but also motivate them to mission. This flexible, non-dated, all-in-one quarterly resource offers weekly Bible study for leaders and learners, devotionals and teaching plans, as well as articles on hot topics and missions. For additional downloadable online teaching resources, visit

Other ongoing Bible study options offered by LifeWay for all ages can be found at or ordered at LifeWay Christian Resoruces.

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 4:35pm

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to halt enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions in New York state that it says withhold equal treatment from religious groups.

The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court Nov. 20 in support of an emergency application by Orthodox Jews challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “cluster action initiative” intended to combat spikes in new COVID-19 infections. The brief called for the justices to provide guidance to lower courts during the public health crisis, saying Cuomo’s order “imposes a substantial and disparate burden” on religious free exercise and “falls far short” of the Supreme Court’s previous decisions.

In early October, Cuomo focused his initiative on the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as three counties in the state. In the three-category approach, attendance at houses of worship is limited to 10 people or 25 percent of capacity in a red zone, 25 people or 33 percent of capacity in an orange zone and 50 percent of capacity in a yellow zone.

Agudath Israel of America, a national organization, joined two synagogues and two synagogue leaders in its Nov. 16 application seeking an injunction because of what they described as the initiative’s “discriminatory targeting of the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, said, “This pandemic is a fraught time in the country, for both public health and for public trust. The government must apply its public health policies without prejudice, treating similar activities and gatherings the same, as we’ve advocated from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our brief in this case argues for this needed relief because restrictions that target religious exercise undermine the credibility of, and the public’s confidence in, legitimate public health measures.”

In its brief in support of the Orthodox Jewish application, the ERLC said “sensible public health measures” to counter the spread of the virus are “legitimate, important, and necessary,” but the New York initiative targets “religious individuals and entities for the imposition of disparate treatment that substantially burdens their religious exercise.”

The oppressive and unequal effect of policies such as the cluster initiative is especially consequential for groups such as Orthodox Jews and Southern Baptists whose faith obliges them to gather corporately for worship, according to the brief. Such communities are willing to assemble outdoors in masks and at proper distances to prevent COVID-19’s spread, but “a prolonged prohibition on in-person gathering represents a substantial burden on the free exercise of their faith,” the brief said.

The ERLC also contended that restrictions that burden religious freedom undercut public confidence in legitimate health policies. “Open and obvious double standards, including ones targeting religious exercise (and minority faiths in particular) degrade the public’s trust in government officials and institutions,” according to the brief.

The high court should intervene immediately to prevent the harm to the Orthodox Jews in question from stretching “from weeks into months into years,” the ERLC said in the brief. “Just as justice delayed is justice denied, so too free exercise delayed is free exercise denied.”

In their request of the Supreme Court to block the 10- and 25-person limits, the Orthodox Jewish applicants contended the Democratic governor’s targeting of their community is “widely understood.” In an Oct. 9 interview on CNN, Cuomo denied his initiative was a religious liberty issue but said “the cluster is a predominantly ultra-orthodox cluster … the issue is with that ultra-orthodox community.”

Cuomo imposed his worship restrictions on several Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods despite the synagogues’ previous compliance with mask, social distancing and capacity requirements, the applicants told the high court. His cluster initiative has made it impossible for members of their synagogues “to exercise their religious faith,” they said.

The governor’s “targeting of a religious minority for blame during a pandemic, falsely tarring them as perpetrators rather than victims of the virus, is incompatible with” the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, said the applicants, who are being represented by the religious liberty organization Becket.

In a Nov. 20 response, New York expressed opposition to an injunction, telling the Supreme Court the cluster initiative is neutral and does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.

“The focus zones affect a variety of secular businesses and other activities, and, indeed, impose on the synagogues at issue, like all houses of worships, limitations that are similar to or less severe than those imposed on secular gatherings that pose a comparable transmission risk …,” the state told the high court. The zones “also affect numerous religious institutions” outside of Orthodox Judaism, according to the state.

The order does not target other areas in New York City with sizable Orthodox Jewish populations, the state said. The initiative has resulted in the elimination of the more restrictive red and orange zones in which the two synagogues bringing suit are located, according to New York’s reply. The Orthodox Jewish applicants have not challenged the yellow zone category, which permits attendance of 50 percent of capacity.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn also has asked the Supreme Court for an injunction blocking Cuomo’s order.

Both the Jewish and Catholic injunction requests were made to Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who was handling emergency applications from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals at the time.

Many states and cities have been careful in their pandemic policies to seek to provide churches and other religious organizations with equal treatment, but others have imposed restrictions – such as those by Cuomo – that have produced legal challenges.

In October, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., ruling the District of Columbia likely violated its free exercise of religion. Capitol Hill Baptist Church filed a lawsuit after the D.C. government rejected its request for a waiver to meet outdoors despite the church’s commitment to require social distancing and the wearing of masks.

The ERLC has worked with state and local officials across the country and has reached out consistently to all 50 governors’ offices to provide guidance regarding religious liberty considerations during the pandemic, a staff member said.

Southern Baptist leaders commended guidelines issued in May by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for restoring in-person worship gatherings. The guidance reminded state and local officials to take the First Amendment right of religious liberty into account when they institute reopening policies. No church or other religious group should be called on to enact “mitigation strategies” stricter than those requested of “similarly situated entities or activities,” according to the CDC.

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 3:43pm

DULUTH, Ga. (BP) – The Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB) has offered voluntary early retirement to 50 employees to “right-size” the organization in the midst of dwindling revenue, GBMB Executive Director Thomas Hammond told Baptist Press.

“We’re trying to right-size our organization based upon our revenue, based upon our anticipated revenue and the employee costs,” Hammond said of the offer, which was extended to eligible employees Oct. 21. “Our desire is to push as much money to the field as possible to help our pastors, their families and churches to be healthier.”

Fifty employees are eligible for the retirement package, which retains certain longstanding benefits that will no longer be offered in 2021, according to Hammond. The GBMB’s website lists 97 employees.

“There was a very gracious benefit package in the retirement package offered to our staff. The (GBMB) executive committee voted to remove that benefit package,” Hammond said. “So what we’re doing is, we’re telling our staff who’ve been working for us for a number of years, ‘If you want this benefit package, you need to take this retirement. Because after January 1, that offer goes away.’ … We’re being as gracious as we possibly can.”

The decrease in GBMB employee retirement benefits was among various budget cuts approved in September by the executive committee in an attempt to deal with years of declining revenue, The Christian Index reported. The 2021 GBMB Cooperative Program budget of $37,835,000 represents a 6 percent cut from the current year.

Hammond said he doesn’t anticipate all 50 eligible employees will accept voluntary retirement, but that the GBMB will “continue to do everything necessary to right-size the organization. We’re obligated to do this.” Eligible employees have until Dec. 4 to accept the offer.

Hammond said even if all 50 eligible employees took the early retirement option, the GBMB would “still have the largest number of fulltime staff of any state convention.”

“While the losses to Georgia are great, we still have a very large workforce that’s extremely talented and hardworking,” he said. “We want to continue to do all that we can to help our pastors and our churches. But to do so, we’ve got … to be better positioned financially, to be a stronger mission board.”

In previous 2020 personnel decisions, the GBMB furloughed some employees but returned some of them to active work, Hammond said. “There were some folks that were furloughed that we did let go of,” he said.

Hammond was elected GBMB executive director in September 2018.

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 3:34pm
Mission:Dignity gifts matched up to $400K #GivingTuesday

By Roy Hayhurst

DALLAS (BP) – Gifts to Mission:Dignity will be matched for those giving during the annual #GivingTuesday emphasis Dec. 1. The first $400,000 raised on the #GivingTuesday, which falls the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving each year, will be matched thanks to the generosity of donors.

The fundraising emphasis comes on the heels of a successful Mission:Dignity Sunday in August, when, for the first time, gifts exceeded $1 million.

Mission:Dignity – the GuideStone ministry that provides financial support for retired Southern Baptist pastors, workers and their widows – serves as a tangible expression of the vision of GuideStone founder William Lunsford, who led the ministry from its inception in 1918.

“We are thankful for the donors who understand the importance of the God-birthed and God-honoring ministry of Mission:Dignity and are willing to help double the impact for our recipients,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “We would encourage anyone who is interested in giving this year to consider multiplying the effectiveness of their gift by giving it on Tuesday, Dec. 1.”

Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program gifts; it is funded entirely by the gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes and local churches. One hundred percent of gifts goes to help retired pastors, workers or widows in need. Administrative costs are provided for by an endowment established many years ago for that purpose.

Mission:Dignity director Aaron Meraz said he constantly hears from recipients about just how much these financial gifts mean to them, especially in a year of such uncertainty.

“For some, it means being able to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own home,” Meraz said. “For others, it covers the cost of groceries, utilities, prescriptions and other necessities. But for each of them, it’s an expression of the love and care of their Southern Baptist family.”

Read the full story here.

Marvin Jones elected president of Yellowstone Christian College

By Norm Miller

BILLINGS, Mont. — By unanimous vote, the Yellowstone Christian College Board of Directors elected Marvin Jones Oct. 31 as the school’s eighth president. He will begin his new role on December 7.

Jones will take the YCC helm as he leaves Louisiana College (SBC) in Pineville. During his tenure there since 2013, Jones served as chair of the Christian Studies Department and assistant professor of theology and church history.

“Dr. Marvin Jones is a man of great stature, and we are excited for him to lead Yellowstone Christian College,” said Lee Merck, YCC’s presidential search committee chairman and chairman of the board. “I believe God has prepared him for such a time as this. As we move forward with the mission of the college, his skill set will be invaluable.

“Dr. Jones is a tremendous scholar and a proven administrator. He is a tested leader ready to face the challenges of a new era that is consistently being shaped by an ever-changing culture. Bringing strength to the Baptist work in Montana, he will be a great president of the college.”

Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Yellowstone Christian College is a crucial part of what the church needs to do in Montana and in this region. The college provides a way to train our pastors and laypeople right here at home.

“We don’t have to send students to another state to get a superb education grounded in a biblical worldview. God will raise them up here and keep them here to strengthen the work of the gospel in our region.”

Jones has served the Southern Baptist Convention at the national, state and associational levels. Since 1991, he has served local churches as senior pastor and interim pastor, traveled nationally and internationally for academic and missions purposes and earned significant academic credentials.

Read the full story here.

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 12:35pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – Two of the most powerful words in the English language are: Thank you.

Jesus did things for people continually, but rarely would anyone say “thank you.”

According to Luke 17:11-20, Jesus passed by 10 people who had the most dreaded disease of His day. When they called out to Him to have mercy upon them, Jesus chose to heal these 10 people from leprosy. While their disfigurement from the disease was gone and their isolation from society was over, only one of the 10 returned to Jesus to say “thank you,” giving glory to God and thanking Jesus personally. Jesus made him whole inwardly and outwardly.

While Jesus loves all people regardless of their gratitude or ingratitude, we become endeared to others when they express thanks for something we may have done for them.

Conversely, people are not drawn to an ungrateful person. Their ingratitude leads them to act as though nothing is ever enough for them. This is not the will of God for anyone. The spirit of ungratefulness is a warning sign of being emotionally unhealthy. Ingratitude is a walking billboard of living in an unhealthy manner.

Who do we think we are when we live with an ungrateful heart? What is wrong with us when our pride is so out of control that we fail to walk with a “thank you” in our hearts and flowing from our mouths?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God wants us to give thanks and overflow with gratitude. Giving thanks is being grateful and expressing this gratitude personally, privately and publicly.

It is always God’s will to live with an attitude of gratitude. It is always God’s will to articulate in a meaningful way the two powerful words: Thank you.

When you live daily without a grateful heart, you are on the brink of entering into a downward spiral. The inability to say “thank you” is like a plague, a disease that takes away life.

God wants you to be thankful, not unthankful. God wants you overflowing with gratitude, not ingratitude.

Rise from the ashes of ingratitude with a grateful heart to God and to others. When you do, you are living in the will of God.

If you do not choose to do this, you will begin to feel a sense of entitlement. When you believe you are entitled to certain things, you are entering into dangerous territory. You deceive yourself into thinking you know more than anyone else and everyone is wrong except you.

Author Seth Godin, in a brief article, writes about how ENTITLEMENT FAILS:

An attitude of entitlement doesn’t increase the chances you’ll get what you want. And it ruins the joy of the things you do get. Win or lose, you lose.

This is greatly evident in our nation today. People think they are entitled. Sadly, even some Christians believe and live like everyone owes them. It is wrong and unbiblical.

God owes us nothing. He has already given us everything through His Son’s death on the cross for us. The blessings from the Heavenly Father are great and are innumerable.

The more contented you are, the more grateful you are. Sadly, ingratitude leads to feeling entitled, and this leads to falling into a land of discontent. Ingratitude always leads to discontentedness.

This is why America, including much of the church today, is filled with skepticism, abounding with criticism, and inwardly destroying itself with cynicism, which is a sneering disbelief in people, their words and their motives. This exists not only in media and politics, but also in business, education, entertainment, law and religion. Creating disbelief and casting continual suspicion is highly disturbing and limits the level of success in our nation.

Dissecting every word someone says and acting like a police force toward other people is pride and arrogance. What a poor testimony before the world.

We must return to having hearts overflowing with gratitude. Gratitude to God for all He has done. Gratitude to others for what they have done for us. Gratitude that still values two of the most powerful words in the English language: Thank you!

“Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Now Is the Time to Lead.

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 12:32pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – Four hundred years after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Bay, the Pilgrims’ legacy has fallen on hard times.

Contrary to the traditional portrayal of Pilgrim families gathered around their tables with heads bowed in prayer, some historians question whether deep Christian faith should be associated with the Mayflower Pilgrims and their first Thanksgiving. The New York Times’ 1619 Project claims the Pilgrim story is among American history that needs reframing in light of “anti-black racism” already “in the very DNA of this country” when the Mayflower reached the New World.

Not so fast, say evangelical Pilgrim scholars Richard Land and Michael Haykin, who assert that the settlers who arrived at Plymouth were neither irreligious nor enslavers. Their vision for America was among the purest tributaries to feed U.S. democracy and helps confront contemporary challenges to freedom – from the sexual revolution to unreasonable pandemic-era restrictions on worship.

Pilgrim principles were “the ground out of which the Declaration of Independence grew,” said Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The Pilgrim colony’s governing document, the Mayflower Compact, is “the American Magna Carta.”

After an 11-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, 102 Mayflower passengers reached Cape Cod, Mass., Nov. 21, 1620 (Nov. 11 on the older Julian calendar utilized by the Pilgrims). About 40 of them were from a religious group known as Separatists – Christians who had separated from the Church of England because they rejected the notion of a state church in favor of a church comprising only born-again believers in Christ. They had fled religious persecution in England, settling first in the Netherlands before making the journey to America in search of continued religious freedom, better economic prospects and removal from the influence of poor Dutch morals on their children.

The rest of the Mayflower passengers, known as “strangers,” focused on economic prospects in the New World, not sharing the Separatists’ deep commitment to Christ.

The Separatists and strangers intended to land the Mayflower farther south, in present-day New York. But having veered off course, they found themselves outside the area where the king of England had granted permission to settle. To maintain order while waiting for new permission, the adult male settlers signed the Mayflower Compact.

They covenanted together to form a “civil body politic” that became known as Plymouth Colony to “frame such just and equal laws” as “shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony,” according to the Mayflower Compact. It was democracy by consent of the governed, a religious people with a secular government, a free church in a free state.

The democratic experiment worked. Despite a brutal first winter in America and a mediocre harvest, the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 to thank God for His providential care over their colony.

Plymouth Colony disappeared by 1691, absorbed into Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony to its north. Yet Plymouth’s legacy lived on. It has been cited since the Revolutionary period as a foundational part of the American story.

In recent years, however, its foundational status has come into question – along with the notion the first Thanksgiving was a deeply spiritual occasion.

Historians James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz claimed, for example, “Thanksgiving as we think of it today is largely a myth.” The original celebration was a “secular event,” which “transformed over time” because America “needed a myth of epic proportion on which to found its history.”

The Times’ 1619 Project – originally published in 2019 and named for the year the first slaves arrived in North America, was controversial and prompted pushback from some historians. It claims America’s racist course was set a year before the Mayflower set sail, and “our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written.” The Pilgrims did not change that reality, according to The Times.

Such revisionist notions misrepresent the Pilgrims and their significance, said Haykin, co-editor of “Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth: Remembering the Mayflower Pilgrims, 1620-2020.” The Pilgrims did not own slaves, he said, and they were deeply committed Christians who helped establish “religious liberty as a concept in Western culture.”

Philosopher John Locke, “one of the great architects of the concept of religious toleration,” studied church-state relations in the English Puritan and Separatist tradition, said Haykin, a church history professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Founding Fathers then drew from Locke as they crafted the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

“It really [was] quite radical” in the Pilgrims’ day “to believe that the state should allow individuals to worship according to their conscience,” Haykin said. “Virtually nobody believed that in Western Europe.”

But that minority view prevailed in America, spawned in part by the Pilgrims.

“The Founding Fathers were very educated,” said Land, who studied historical theology at Oxford under English Separatist scholar B.R. White. “They studied the Pilgrims.”

In addition to religious liberty, Land said, the Mayflower Compact articulated other early principles of American democracy, including the notion of a religious people living under a secular government. By the American Revolution, the story of Plymouth was widely known and Pilgrim descendants fought in the Continental Army. Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln seemed to draw from the Pilgrim tradition in the Gettysburg Address when he referenced a “government of the people, by the people [and] for the people.”

“Lincoln understood the Pilgrims in his bone marrow” because they were part of every 19th-century American education, Land said. “The Gettysburg Address came from that.”

Pilgrim ideals remain relevant in the 21st century, he said, as some U.S politicians seem to ignore the need for consent of the governed. When governors unilaterally restrict the size of family Thanksgiving gatherings or worship gatherings, “the Pilgrims would say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s vote on that.’”

The Pilgrim tradition also stands against government attempts at restricting Christians’ right to oppose homosexuality and transgenderism, according to Haykin.

“The issue is quite different from what the Pilgrims faced,” he said, but “the principle is still the same: the state has no right to dictate to the church various aspects of her belief.”

Eventually, the Pilgrims’ descendants in Massachusetts Bay both participated in the slave trade and diluted their commitment to religious liberty (as when they exiled Roger Williams, founder of the first Baptist church in America). Their sad failure to live out Plymouth’s ideals in the long term “is a recognition of the weakness of humanity,” Haykin said, and has fueled Pilgrim critics.

Nonetheless, the Mayflower voyage and original Pilgrim settlement remain “one of the great turning points in Christianity.”

BP News Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 11:18am

NEW YORK (BP) – New York Southern Baptist leaders don’t expect the COVID-19-induced limitations to change much before next spring, if then.

George Russ

George Russ, executive director of the Metro New York Baptist Association, spoke of walking a week ago in a commercial district in Manhattan where a number of stores were boarded up, and later that Thursday being on a train platform in Queens that was virtually empty – at rush hour.

“It was eerie to walk and not see what you used to see,” Russ said. “We’re wondering what will be the fallout from this. The biggest hesitation for us: We don’t know the economic impact of this.”

Russ and Terry Robertson, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York, headquartered in upstate New York, talked with Baptist Press about the challenges leaders, churches, associations and the state convention are facing.

Relationship restrictions

Pastors are beset on every side with an unrelenting series of crises in the church family, their personal family, and the community family, the men said.

Terry Robertson

“Quick” pastoral phone calls to members struggling with COVID-related isolation, financial strain or family strife might take an hour or more each. Funerals – COVID-related or not – take time. Longsuffering wives and school-deprived children take time. Learning and using new technology to stream services, Bible studies and daily or weekly online devotions take time.

And too often “immediate” needs take precedence over the pastor’s essential need to spend time in personal prayer and Bible study, thus weakening him at a time he needs to be at his spiritual strongest, Russ and Robertson said.

The Barna Group’s State of the Church report recently projected one in five churches across the nation will close in the next 18 months, Robertson noted, and researcher and author Thom Rainer recently wrote that the majority of current pastors are considering resigning.

“If that was true three weeks ago it’s more true now with this added new wave of COVID,” Robertson said. “Pastors across the state are carrying such a heavy load I am concerned for their well-being and the well-being of their families and the well-being of every Southern Baptist in New York state.

“Our pastors have been strong throughout this pandemic but with the current resurgence of COVID cases and the restrictions by state and local governments, some of our pastors are beginning to feel they are fighting a losing battle. Pray for them. God certainly knew this was going to happen and He has equipped us to go through it. Our hope and trust is in Him alone.”

Nonetheless, with 515 churches in the multi-state convention, if 100 of them – one out of five – were to close, “It would set us back at least five years,” Robertson said.

Economic restrictions

Boarded-up businesses, restricted business hours and the loss of perhaps half a million Metro New York residents this spring and summer reflect the financial turmoil in the city that as of January included almost 9 million people (22 million-plus throughout the metro area,) Russ said, citing numerous news articles.

“This is Ground Zero,” Russ said. “It’s a mixed bag. Some churches are doing very well because they’re embedded in their community, serving food relief. They might not be open fully but they have increased exponentially their footprint in the neighborhood.

“Churches with rented space often are not able to come together; others with a small space say it’s not worth it because of the limited capacity allowed. Another reservation we have is the warning of another shutdown on restaurants, gyms, spas and again, schools. Plus a lot of retail space for rent.”

The economic turmoil means more unemployment, which results in a decrease in tithes and offerings. Metro New York Baptist Association (MNYBA) is careful to spend less than half of what they budgeted last year, and too much of that is from the association’s reserves, Russ said.

“We’re operating at less than 50 percent of budget; that’s a big concern,” Russ said. “We really can’t continue this forever.”

The multi-state convention, BCNY, which includes parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as New York, was doing better financially, in part because churches outside the five boroughs of New York were not as severely impacted as was metro New York. But region-wide offerings that had balanced out last spring’s losses withered in the wake of a recent new spate of COVID-closures and other restrictions.

“October hit us hard and we’re not sure what to expect for November and December,” Robertson said. “That being said, giving 30 percent [to missions through the Cooperative Program] indicates we as a convention and our churches continue to be very committed to the Cooperative Program.”

A hiring freeze is one way the state convention conserves its funds. Two men retired in February, before COVID changed so much of ministry. This leaves Robertson as the only vocational staff for 515 churches.

Gospel restrictions

In a normal year, dozens of short-term mission teams descend on the state to help Southern Baptist churches reach the millions of non-Christian New Yorkers who speak one or more of 640 languages heard across the state. But this year, not one team since the first of March, and “we’re not sure what will happen next spring,” Russ said.

Travel restrictions require quarantining for 14 days after arrival in or traveling outside New York, curtailing the work of those who only have a week or two to serve.

“This tough and unprecedented season has brought sickness, displacement and sorrow to so many, while at the same time creating an openness to the Gospel and opportunities for ministry,” Russ said, citing several churches immersed in food ministry.

“Crisis and opportunity is how I would describe the season we are in. It’s a crisis of life and death and an opportunity for Gospel proclamation and ministry.”

BP News Monday, November 23, 2020 - 5:33pm
Biblical Recorder to become monthly magazine

By Seth Brown/Biblical Recorder

Beginning in January, the Biblical Recorder’s historic print edition will transition to a monthly magazine. The new format will put additional tools in the hands of our staff to keep you informed and inspired. The move also falls in line with a slate of cost-saving innovations that our staff began implementing last year. All in all, we think it’s the right move at the right time to ensure our staff is serving North Carolina Baptists faithfully and efficiently.

As executive editor, I look for solutions that add value to our organization without swelling our expenses. That strategy is important in any era, but it has been especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic consequences of the virus on advertising revenue and Cooperative Program giving spurred us to act strategically and decisively.

Through the years, many people have suggested that the Recorder consider a magazine format. The higher quality paper and image quality of a magazine will benefit our readers and advertisers. Magazine layout and design also tends to be more dynamic and visually engaging. Our staff is excited about how that will enhance our storytelling abilities.

“A magazine format allows us to expand our creativity in telling the stories of Southern Baptists,” said Liz Tablazon, assistant editor at the Recorder. “We’ll keep sharing the ways God is working through and in His people – in greater depth and on more visually compelling pages.”

The first issue featuring the new magazine style should arrive in mailboxes mid-January. We will debut the new format with an emphasis on a topic close to our hearts: the sanctity of life.

Read the full story here.

Baptist Message changes 2021 print schedule to offset costs

By Baptist Message staff

Starting in January 2021, the Baptist Message will change its annual production run from 24 editions to 14. The new printing schedule is basically a monthly plan, plus two additional editions in October and January to provide coverage of Louisiana Baptist cooperative missions and ministries as well as key organizational events, including the fall annual meeting as well as winter evangelistic meetings.

Yearly subscription rates will remain the same: $14 for an individual subscription and $9.25 for a church group discount.

Will Hall, executive editor of the Baptist Message, said the $14 individual subscription rate went into effect January 1, 2003, and since then has lost about 31 percent of its buying power.

“We need to do something to make up the shortfall that has taken place during that long haul,” he said. “However, the economy in the state and the financial pressure it is placing on our households and our churches, means instead of raising rates for subscribers, we will cut costs, moving from 24 to 14 printed editions each year. Taking this step will reduce our costs an estimated 35-40 percent, which essentially makes up for the loss of buying power incurred during the 17 years the subscription rate has remained the same.”

Read the full story here.

Mohler elected ETS president

By Jeff Robinson/SBTS

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler was elected president of the Evangelical Theological Society Thursday (Nov. 19) during the organization’s 72nd annual meeting. Due to the pandemic, the meeting of evangelical scholars met virtually. The meeting was originally scheduled to be in Providence, RI.

Previously, Mohler had served as vice president of ETS, having been elected to that office during the 2018 annual meeting in Denver.

“I am deeply honored to serve as president of the Evangelical Theological Society,” Mohler said. “As a young evangelical, I came to respect and admire this society for its identity as a society of evangelical theologians that would demonstrate the highest quality of theological and biblical scholarship.

“Formed by men of the stature of Carl F. H. Henry and others, this has been the central point of scholarly conversation for evangelicals in the United States for well over half a century. I’ve been pleased to serve as an officer of the society and I’m now very honored to be its president.”

Mohler is the third member of the Southern Seminary faculty to serve as ETS president in the past 11 years. Bruce Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, served in the role in 2009, and Tom Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament, was elected in 2014. Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology, is the current secretary of ETS.

Read the full story here.

BP News Monday, November 23, 2020 - 5:31pm
Arizona Southern Baptists celebrate CP at multi-site meeting

By Elizabeth Young/Arizona Southern Baptist Convention

Despite an uncertain year caused by the pandemic, Arizona Southern Baptists celebrated increased Cooperative Program giving so far in 2020 at their annual meeting Nov. 13, where they also adopted a 2021 budget that will send more to Southern Baptist Convention causes for the seventh straight year.

In a first for Arizona Southern Baptists, messengers gathered at four sites linked electronically throughout the state to conduct business and worship together.

The single afternoon worship and business session was conducted at CalvaryPHX Church in Phoenix and simulcast at Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson, Iglesia Cristiana Tierra Fertil in Yuma and Greenlaw Baptist Church in Flagstaff. During business portions of the program, messengers at all sites could see and interact with one another.

The meeting, with the theme “Above & Beyond,” was attended by 160 messengers and 27 registered guests from 73 of the convention’s 469 churches.

Messengers adopted a $4,336,337.04 operating budget for 2021. The operating budget includes $3,461,200 in anticipated Cooperative Program giving from churches, the same as the 2020 budget.

The Cooperative Program budget allocates $1,263,338 or 36.5 percent to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries, a .5 percentage point increase.

The increase represents another step in reaching Arizona Southern Baptists’ Centennial Vision goal of giving 50 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to missions outside the state through the SBC by 2028. It’s the seventh consecutive year for an increase, resulting in a total rise of 10.5 points.

The remaining Cooperative Program budget will be distributed as follows: Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, $1,713.294 (49.5 percent), a decrease of .5 percentage point from 2020; Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries, $242,284 (7 percent); and the Arizona Campus of Gateway Seminary, $242,284, (7 percent).

The operating budget is $615,660.04, a 12.4 percent decrease from the 2020 budget.

Income sources in the AZSBC operating budget beyond Cooperative Program giving by Arizona churches include $224,250 from the North American Mission Board – down from $1,077,514.50 in 2020 –  and $383,387.04 in fees and other revenue.

Other reductions reflect a change in church planting funds needed as well as the discontinuation of a ministry partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources.

Savings were also realized in reducing Portraits magazine, Arizona Southern Baptists’ official publication, from six to four issues per year starting in 2021.

Jack Marslender, senior pastor of Avondale Baptist Church in Avondale, was unanimously elected president. He succeeds Ashley Evans, pastor of 22nd Street Baptist Church in Tucson, who completed a second one-year term as president at the annual meeting.

Ramon Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Phoenix, was elected first vice president in a ballot vote of 85-32 over George Lyman, outgoing second vice president and pastor of Desert Shores Community Baptist Church in Bullhead City. Lyman was then unanimously elected to a second one-year term as second vice president.

Read the full story here.

Iowa Baptists approve 10-point increase in CP allocation

By BCI Staff

The Baptist Convention of Iowa Executive Board’s decision to move the convention’s meeting online proved to be providential as COVID-19 cases in Iowa surged in mid-November, new restrictive guidelines were issued by the governor and many churches temporarily closed to in-person gatherings, including what was to be the host church for the meeting.

Rather than a live streamed meeting or Zoom call, the BCI staff opted to create four one-hour episodes featuring interviews with key SBC leaders, BCI pastors, and ministry partners.

BCI Executive Director Tim Lubinus conducted in-depth interviews with Ronnie Floyd, Ben Mandrell, Russell Moore, Kevin Ezell, Jason Allen, and Paul Chitwood. The complete interviews with SBC entity heads and BCI pastors and partners are available at

Since there was no in-person meeting, much of the convention’s business was voted on by the BCI Executive Board. In order to ensure pastors and members of BCI churches had input into the decisions, the board conducted virtual town hall meetings via Zoom during the last half of October.

The BCI Executive Board voted to approve a budget of $1,537,850 for 2021, a decrease of 9.8 percent from 2020.

The board voted to increase the budget’s allocation to national Cooperative Program causes from 50 percent to 60 percent. The Baptist Convention of Iowa also gives 10 percent of regular undesignated receipts to 10 Iowa nonprofit organizations through the Iowa Ministry Fund. The budget does not include any shared ministry expenses with the SBC.

Officers elected by the executive board 2021 are: President Michael Felkins, pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames; First Vice President Todd Stiles, pastor of First Family Church in Ankeny; Second Vice President Ricky Rohrig, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Red Oak; and Secretary Jerome Risting, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Mason City. All officers were unopposed and were elected by unanimous vote.

Elected as regional representative executive board members were Tim Trudeau, Central Region; Darin Ulmer, Northeast Region; Dave Miller, Northwest Region; Ben McKim, Southwest Region; and Paul Miller, Southeast Region.

Read the full story here.

In lieu of meeting, Alabama Baptists hold online missions celebration

By Grace Thornton/The Alabama Baptist

Rick Lance said when he read the story of the demolition of the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., he was captivated.

“There was an explosion, there was a lot of smoke, but when the smoke cleared, the stadium was still there,” said Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

The steel was so strong that it was not easily destroyed, he told viewers of the Online State Missions Celebration Nov. 17.

“I think our churches need to be like that – so strong, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, that come pandemic or whatever, when the smoke clears we’re still there,” he said.

During the hour-long celebration, Lance encouraged Alabama Baptists to keep moving forward in ministry even in these tough times and thanked them for their continued cooperation in the Great Commission.

The celebration was held instead of an in-person Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual meeting was originally slated to include an International Mission Board sending celebration, which also moved to a virtual experience Nov. 18.

The cancellation of the annual meeting also resulted in the state’s budget, budget allocations and slate of officers remaining unchanged for the next year.

The mission board’s budget of $37.5 million will be split 50/50 between state causes and Southern Baptist Convention causes.

Read the full story here.

BP News Monday, November 23, 2020 - 5:26pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist and government pro-life supporters welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that enables the state of Tennessee to enforce its ban of abortions based on disability, ethnicity or sex.

The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed Friday (Nov. 20) a federal judge’s order that had blocked enforcement of the “reasons ban,” as it is known. The measure – which prohibits an abortion when a doctor knows the request for the procedure is driven by the unborn child’s ethnicity, sex or a diagnosis of Down syndrome – was part of a pro-life package enacted in July and enjoined immediately in federal court.

The state requested the Sixth Circuit Court permit the “reasons ban” section only to be enforced while the case works its way through the courts, and a panel of judges agreed in a 2-1 decision.

“All Christians know that the state has a duty to protect the most vulnerable. Tennessee has been taking much-needed proactive steps to become a state that does just that,” said Elizabeth Graham, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president of operations and head of life initiatives.

“Too many have been using a diagnosis of Down syndrome as a reason to rob preborn children not only of their inherent dignity but also of their lives. This court ruling ensures that will no longer be the case in Tennessee.”

Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, tweeted his approval after the Sixth Circuit action.

“Every life is precious and every child has inherent human dignity,” he wrote. “Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives. Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, an estimated 6,000 children are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. The syndrome occurs when a person has an extra copy of chromosome 21. A 2012 study published in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis calculated an abortion rate of 67 percent after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Lee presented to the legislature this year and signed into law a package of provisions that included in its final version the “reasons ban” and:

  • A prohibition on abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks.

  • A requirement of an ultrasound test and information on the unborn child’s gestational age for a woman before she undergoes an abortion.

  • A ban on abortion for a juvenile in custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

Abortion rights advocates who challenged the pro-life package charged that the “reasons ban” was motivated by opposition to abortion and failed to help the disabled or address discrimination based on ethnicity.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a written statement. “We will continue to fight these bans in the courts.”

In its decision, the Sixth Circuit panel rejected the federal court’s finding that the “reasons ban” section of the law is unconstitutionally vague. The unlikelihood of success for the vagueness arguments and the continuing harm suffered by the state called for a stay of the federal court’s injunction, the panel majority said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners in the suit asked a federal court later Nov. 20 to block enforcement of the “reasons ban,” this time because it violates the right to abortion.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Tennessee joined the Center for Reproductive Rights in challenging the ban on behalf of abortion providers in the state.

Tennessee is one of 17 states that have enacted prohibitions of abortions based on disability, ethnicity and/or sex, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

The Supreme Court struck down state bans on abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In a 1992 opinion, the high court affirmed Roe but also ruled states may regulate abortion to protect the lives and health of women.