News from the Baptist Press

Formed in 1946 by the Southern Baptist Convention, and supported with Cooperative Program funds, Baptist Press (BP) is a daily (M-F) international news wire service. Operating from a central bureau in Nashville, Tenn., BP works with four partnering bureaus (Richmond, Va.; Atlanta, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Washington, D.C.), as well as with a large network of contributing writers, photographers and editorial providers, to produce BP News.

Click on the title to view the full article at the Baptist Press website.


Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 5:40pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – It’s one thing to learn about missions in a classroom, but it’s a totally different experience to share the Gospel face to face with those who’ve never heard. Though summer has barely begun, students from Southern Baptist seminaries have already had that experience.

For Emma Cann, a senior at Boyce College studying education, a trip to the Philippines was a time to seek clarity in her calling. Boyce is the undergraduate school affiliated with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Boyce student Emma Cann pictured in front of Mount Daraitan, Philippines.

“One of my hopes with this trip was to see if this kind of context is somewhere I can see myself,” Cann said. “I have had interest in going overseas for a while, but I haven’t actually been able to go and see what international schooling looks like.”

Cann and 10 other students left for the country in the early morning hours on May 12, the day after graduation.

The group connected with local ministry partners, including some former Southern students, and served various local schools by teaching English reading comprehension.

The trip was led by Melissa Tucker, associate professor and chair of the education department at Boyce.

She told Baptist Press every school the group visited, both public and private, was open to the students’ sharing the Gospel.

Cann told Baptist Press the trip provided a chance to be “thrown into the fire” of international teaching.

Through this process, she found some of the clarity she had been searching for.

“It really grew my desire and interest in working overseas, Cann said. “I felt more confirmation that I should pursue teaching. I think it definitely made me a lot more excited and open to pursuing what that might look like, whether in the Philippines or another country.”

She spoke highly of her experience at her school.

“I have treasured my time at Boyce and to be in this community,” Cann said. “The overall atmosphere of our campus is one of seeking the Lord and wanting earnestly to know Him and to use His Word rightly and obey His commandments faithfully. The Bevin Center presents opportunities for us to take what we’ve learned and to use it in such different contexts. It’s such a blessing.”

J. Keith McKinley is associate professor of Christian missions and director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization at Southern.

He told Baptist Press Cann’s trip to the Philippines was just one of several trips Southern students have taken over the last year, and more will take place this summer.

Trip locations include locations in the Middle East, India, Brazil and Southeast Asia.

In total, the trips encompass more than 50 students and seven different locations.

“It’s fantastic,” McKinley said of the student trips. “I was very happy with our students in both our seminary and the college last year.

“Big things that I want my students to get is what it’s like to be a missionary in that location. We love when we get to work with a missionary family.”

Many of the trips are facilitated through partnerships with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, he said. The goal for all students is to realize their part to play in missions, no matter their specific calling.

“Not all are called to be missionaries, but all of us are called to participate in the missionary mission,” McKinley said. “Let that experience feed your ministry desire for the rest of your life. Let it influence your calling.”

Southern is not the only seminary with students already participating in international missions this summer.

Megan*, a Gateway Seminary student, recently returned from a five-student trip to Southeast Asia.

Much like Cann, Megan was seeking confirmation about her calling to serve overseas, only for her, it was about a specific country.

“I think these kinds of trips can confirm your calling if not already,” she told BP. 

“I think being able to ask the workers out there how they choose their places was helpful. What I did not know before was thinking through the type of place I would need to be in and thinking through the rules of that place and whether or not I could survive in that type of culture.”

Gateway announced a new partnership with the IMB earlier this year titled the GoGrant which will fund one short-term mission trip for each student during their education.

Joe Kim, associate professor of intercultural education, said the partnership has already proved fruitful, as evidenced by the recent trip to Southeast Asia, on which he led Smith and four others.

He said cooperation like this ensures these summer seminary trips are not merely a fun way for students to spend their summer, but a step toward an ultimate purpose.

“I think it’s (partnership with IMB) critical,” Kim said. “We are a Southern Baptist entity, and so we are training our students to be missionaries. I think a natural thing is because we do have the International Mission Board, that is the natural pathway for our students to be sent our as IMB missionaries. All the pieces within the Southern Baptist Convention play a role in not only in training future missionaries, but making sure that there is a pathway for them to get on the field, which is the International Mission Board.”

*Last name withheld for security purposes

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 5:19pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) – A Catholic diocese has won approval to open a charter school in Oklahoma slated to become the first publicly funded religious school in the nation amid concerns of separation of church and state.

Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved June 5, by a vote of 3-2, the bid from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa to establish St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School (SISCVS). The board rejected the proposal in April, but has said the earlier decision was not based on the legality of the request, but rather on problems with the application.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has supported the proposal, praised the board’s decision as “a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state.

“Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice,” Stitt said. “Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”

The legality of such a school is in question. While Oklahoma’s constitution bans the use of public funds for charter schools, John O’Connor, Oklahoma’s immediate past attorney general, said in December 2022 that the state’s ban could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. But Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who succeeded O’Connor in 2023, advised the board against the proposal.

“The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” Drummond said after the June 5 vote. “It’s extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly.”

Drummond said the U.S. Supreme Court will have a chance to settle the issue in the pending case of Peltier v. Charter Day school, Inc., filed in September 2022. The case involves a North Carolina charter school that receives 95 percent of its funding from the government, but requires girls to wear skirts, asserting that Title 9 barring gender discrimination does not apply to charter schools.

“I am hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will definitely rule on this unsettled issue next term,” Drummond has said.

SISCVS could cost taxpayers $25.7 million, Reuters reported in April. The school, named for the patron saint of the internet, would follow a curriculum approved by the Catholic church and as proposed, would eventually serve up to 1,500 kindergarteners through high schoolers. The virtual format is designed to serve students in rural communities.

Some members of the public opposed the charter school at the board’s April 11 meeting, contending it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 4:22pm

Editor’s note: Willie McLaurin is the interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

As far as I can remember, family reunions were a priority in our family. Being a North Carolina native, I remember the many road trips to Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, and Washington D.C. Those gatherings involved travel by automobile, on-the-go lunches prepared by my mother, and the backseat games my siblings and I played during the multi-hour drive.

Once arriving at the family reunion, it was so much fun to reconnect with family members we had not seen in a while. It is amazing how family members we had not seen in months engaged in conversation as if we had seen each other the day before. There was an immediate bond because we are family. There is a saying that says, “Blood is thicker than water.” Like other families, my family has a few crazy uncles, know-it-all cousins, and loving aunts who can run circles around any well-known culinary professional.

Family reunions have been an American tradition that has created a binding force to hold families together. When families attend reunions, they spend time tracing their roots, the uniqueness of their heritage, and what has shaped them into who they are today. Family reunions help to maintain cultural heritage even in uncertain and turbulent times.

The gathering of family is seen clearly throughout Scripture. A wonderful family reunion we read about in the scriptures is when Jacob, his sons and his sons’ families travel to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph. Jacob’s family was far from perfect. There was dysfunction going on as Jacob had loved Joseph more than his other children (Genesis 37:3). This led to his other children hating Joseph (Genesis 37:4). His other sons later sold Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:28). They lied to Jacob by deceiving him into thinking Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:31-33). This brought about intense heartache for Jacob, who bore the pain of thinking his beloved Joseph was dead for years.

Jacob gathers all the family, some 66 persons (Genesis 46:5-25, 26), and travels to Egypt. Joseph gathers the four people in his family, including himself, to meet them (Genesis 46:27). When Joseph and Jacob see each other again, they embrace and weep in a joy-filled reunion.

I have described the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting as the largest family reunion in North America. Thousands of family members from different churches across the country will arrive in New Orleans, Louisiana, to engage in the most prominent business meeting in the country. At least 11,000 family messengers have pre-registered for this Great Commission gathering. We cannot predict all that will take place at our family reunion this year, but here is what I am praying will happen:

Prayerful dependency

In recent weeks, I have been studying the life and ministry of Bertha Smith. Bertha served as an IMB Missionary to China for 30 years. God used Bertha to help spark a spiritual awakening in China in 1920. As we move forward to our annual meeting, thousands of prayer intercessors, like Bertha Smith, are already saturating the SBC Annual Meeting in prayer. I am thankful for individuals whose names may never appear in the book of reports or the daily bulletin but are committed to the ministry of prayer.

On the Saturday before the annual meeting, hundreds of Baptists will saturate the city of New Orleans with prayer. During the SBC Annual Meeting, the Prayer Room will be available for individuals and groups to spend focused moments in prayer. Every session of the annual meeting begins and ends with prayer. We will gather for an SBC-wide Prayer Meeting on Sunday afternoon of the annual meeting. I pray that God will use this family reunion to spark a prayer revival at our convention.

Missional vitality

No network of churches is without its challenges. If you ask any number of Southern Baptists what the challenges are, they will articulate those challenges from their culture, context or point of view. We need to ensure that as a network of churches, a network of Great Commission Baptists, we are unified around the core issues. We are unified around the Gospel. We are unified around the fact that there are people who are lost and on their way to hell, and they need Jesus. We are unified around the command that we must take the Gospel to our nations and our neighborhoods. I am anticipating that we will come out of the meeting in New Orleans having approved a budget for sending the largest missions force to the world. I am expecting a new slate of volunteers to serve Southern Baptists on several boards and committees.

Loving relationships

Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds an authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom. For 178 years, churches across the country have partnered for Gospel advance. Many Baptists need the opportunity to interact physically with one another. Messengers will take time to renew relationships and reach across the aisles to develop new relationships. New Orleans is full of dining establishments where you can enjoy some of the most incredible cuisine in the country. Baptists are best when we fellowship around the table together. Messengers will take time to exchange contact information and then spend the next year cultivating loving relationships that will strengthen our work. Committing to pray for others will be a blessing to them and the larger convention. 

“And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 4:08pm

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Unified prayer and spiritual preparation are the intent of a new resource available in advance of the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans. offers four unique supplications and encourages attendees to join for onsite prayer June 11 from 4:30-6 p.m. in the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) Theater on the second floor.

Prayer is intended to prepare leaders and messengers for the meeting’s jampacked schedule of business, inspiration, fellowship, edification, evangelism and worship, said Kie Bowman, pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist & The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, who is helping the SBC Executive Committee develop a national prayer strategy.

“When we work, we get what we can do; but when we pray, we get what God can do,” Bowman told Baptist Press, citing the oft-quoted adage.

Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., and Bill Elliff, founding and national engage pastor of The Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark., will lead the June 11 prayer meeting open to all messengers and guests.

“You may be wondering why we’re hosting a prayer gathering at the Convention when we’re attending for the purpose of a business meeting. The simple answer is that God inhabits the prayers and praises of His people,” Gallaty said, referencing Psalm 22:3. “When the people of God bow their knees before Him, it bends the ear of God to their requests. In Acts 4:31, the place was supernaturally shaken after a corporate prayer gathering of a handful of believers, and it changed the trajectory of the Church.

“What could God do when hundreds of ministers and messengers of the Gospel cry out to Him?” Gallaty posed. “I’m asking and anticipating God to manifest His presence among us on Sunday, June 11. I hope you’ll make plans to join us.”

Elliff said the gravitas of the meeting calls especially for prayer.

“In a moment when we sense the desperately needed winds of God’s Spirit blowing across our nation, will we pray? Will we find where God is moving and join Him?” Elliff asked. “We gather once a year to seek to advance the kingdom of God, but what could be more important than to pay the price of prayer, for prayer can do anything God can do. Prayer brings God into the equation.”

Elliff shared similar inspiration in advance of the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

“We have been praying a deep spirit of repentance would permeate this prayer meeting tonight and a deep spirit of repentance would permeate this week, every session, all the way through, and that when the world looks in and sees the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said at that event, “it would not see us arguing and fighting, but see repenting with humility and brokenness and grace and truth without any hypocrisy.”

Bowman pointed to extraordinary results of prayer in advance of recent SBC annual meetings, including the salvation of a convention center employee in advance of the 2021 Nashville prayer meeting that drew hundreds.

Other prayer events planned for New Orleans include “Power in the Prayer Meeting,” a panel discussion June 12 from 11:10-11:40 a.m. on the Cooperative Program stage in the annual meeting exhibit hall. Bowman will moderate the panel featuring Nathan Lino, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas, and Todd Kaunitz, lead pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview, Texas.

In a Cooperative Program stage panel discussion June 14 from 11-11:40 a.m., Elliff and Tim Beougher, the Billy Graham professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will discuss “The Role of Prayer in the Asbury Awakening.”

“For the past few years, there has been a rising tide of united prayer,” Elliff said. “This spring, we have seen unusual stirrings across our nation. God longs to bring the next great awakening to our nation. Will we cooperate with humble, repentant, extraordinary prayer?”

Throughout the annual meeting, attendees are invited to pray in the prayer room in the main foyer outside Halls D and E of the convention center. The room will be accessible June 11 from 1-9 p.m.; June 12 and 13 from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and June 14 from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

In the prayer room, individuals will find space for personal prayer. Small groups desiring to reserve the prayer room may contact prayer room leader Ray Swift at

“I want to encourage the family of Southern Baptists to experience the power of prayer at the 2023 SBC,” Swift said, “and participate in a time of prayer at their own convenience.”

The 2023 prayer guide is available at


Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 3:19pm

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Through Crossover, the Send Relief Serve Tour and a special Send Network event, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) will feature the impact that local churches can have through church planting, evangelism and compassion ministry.

“I’m eager for our great team to have the opportunity during the annual meeting to spotlight the Gospel impact our Southern Baptist family of churches have had and will continue to have in the years to come,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell.

Crossover and Send Relief Serve Tour

NAMB will help Southern Baptists kick off their time in New Orleans through a concerted effort on June 9-10 to reach numerous communities in and around the city with evangelistic outreach and compassion ministry events.

For months, NAMB has been coordinating with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist seminaries, local associations and churches to help Southern Baptists engage communities with the Gospel through conversations and compassion ministry.

“It’s been exciting to serve alongside our Southern Baptist partners leading up to this special weekend,” said Tim Dowdy, NAMB’s vice president of evangelism. “We are praying for hearts to be open, for boldness in sharing the Gospel and for the Lord Jesus to save souls.”

Send Luncheon

Every year, attendees to the SBC Annual Meeting look forward to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Luncheon. This year, the free tickets went quickly with more than 6,500 registered to attend the event in New Orleans. NAMB photo

Many who attend the SBC Annual Meeting have come to anticipate NAMB’s Send Luncheon that takes place Monday during the SBC Pastors Conference. This year, the free tickets were quickly snapped up, and more than 6,500 pastors and others have registered for the event. The June 12 program will offer attendees an opportunity for entertainment, inspiration and encouragement.

Send Network NEXT

Send Network NEXT will take place the afternoon of June 12, shortly after the Send Luncheon. The event is designed for pastors who want to lead their churches toward multiplication through church planting.

“This will be a milestone event during the annual meeting, and it’s all about mobilizing the church to seek the kingdom,” said Vance Pitman, president of Send Network. “I believe God is birthing churches in North America to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We’re going to talk very practically about what that could look like, about how your church could take its next step in God’s kingdom activity through church planting.”

More than 3,000 have registered, and space is still available for those who would like to sign up.

NAMB presentation and report

Send Network president Vance Pitman and North American Mission Board (NAMB) president Kevin Ezell address the audience during a NAMB-led event during the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif. NAMB photo

As part of the annual meeting on Tuesday, June 13, NAMB will highlight the way it serves pastors and churches in reaching North America with the Gospel. Following the presentation, NAMB president Kevin Ezell will share a report with messengers highlighting the progress and ongoing opportunities that churches and Southern Baptist ministry partners have to help spread the Gospel through evangelism, church planting and compassion ministry to a lost and dying world.

Send Relief breakfast

More than 1,200 people have registered for the Send Relief Breakfast that will take place Wednesday morning, June 14. The breakfast will focus on one of Send Relief’s primary ministry pillars – protecting children and families. The event will help ministry leaders learn how their church can join Send Relief’s global ministry to care for vulnerable children, come alongside fostering and adoptive families and invest in international orphan care.

Honoring chaplains

Before NAMB’s June 12 presentation, Southern Baptists will also recognize and honor their chaplains who serve in North America and around the world. There will also be a special off-site event for chaplains at the WWII Museum in New Orleans.

NAMB and Send Relief exhibit

Throughout the week, NAMB’s booth will be on display in the exhibit hall and will show how evangelism is key to all of NAMB’s ministry areas. This year’s exhibit will feature stories of individual missionaries and chaplains along with information about their efforts. NAMB missionaries and staff will be on hand to help ministry leaders in taking their next step in spreading the Gospel across North America.

Adjacent to NAMB’s exhibit, Send Relief’s exhibit will be hosted by NAMB and IMB missionaries. This year, Send Relief will focus primarily on helping churches learn more about how to protect children and families in North America and around the world.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 2:08pm

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Most churches have some type of security measures in place during worship services. Pastors point to intentional plans and armed church members more than other measures, but compared to three years ago, fewer say they have plans and more say they have gun-carrying congregants.

Numerous fatal shootings have occurred at churches in recent years. In March, an armed assailant killed six people at The Covenant School, a Christian school in Nashville, Tenn. Shootings have also occurred at other places of worship like Jewish synagogues and Sikh temples.

When asked about their protocols when they gather for worship, around 4 in 5 U.S. Protestant pastors (81 percent) say their church has some type of security measure in place, according to a study from Lifeway Research. Still, more than 1 in 6 (17 percent) say they don’t use any of the seven potential measures included in the study, and 2 percent aren’t sure.

“Churches are not immune to violence, disputes, domestic disagreements, vandalism and burglary,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While loving one another is a core Christian teaching, churchgoers still sin, and non-churchgoers are invited and welcomed. So real security risks exist whether a congregation wants to acknowledge them or not.”

Security measures

In terms of security specifics, pastors are most likely to say their congregation has an intentional plan for an active shooter situation (57 percent). Additionally, most (54 percent) also say armed church members are part of the measures they have in place.

Around a quarter (26 percent) use radio communication among security personnel, while 1 in 5 say they have a no firearms policy in the building where they meet (21 percent) or armed private security personnel on site (20 percent). Fewer have uniformed police officers on church grounds (5 percent) or metal detectors at entrances to screen for weapons (1 percent).

“Most churches are small, so security plans often don’t need to be elaborate or expensive,” McConnell said.

Around half of the fatal shootings in churches since 1999 have occurred in the South. Pastors in that region are the least likely to say they don’t use any of the security measures at their churches (12 percent). Conversely, they are among the most likely to report their congregation has an intentional plan for an active shooter situation (64 percent), radio communication among security personnel (34 percent) and armed private security on site (26 percent). Additionally, Southern pastors are the most likely to say they have armed church members (65 percent) and uniformed police officers on site (9 percent).

More worshipers in attendance often leads to increased security measures. The larger the church, the more likely it is to have armed private security personnel on site and radio communication among security personnel. Churches with 250 or more in attendance are the most likely to have armed church members (74 percent) and uniformed police officers on site (27 percent). Those large congregations are also among the most likely to have an intentional plan for an active shooter situation (74 percent).

Pastors at churches with worship attendance of fewer than 50 people (29 percent) are the most likely to say they aren’t using any of the methods of preparation considered in this study.

Mainline pastors (22 percent) are more likely than evangelical pastors (14 percent) not to use any of the seven potential ways of security preparation at their churches. Denominationally, Lutheran (34 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (30 percent) are at least twice as likely as pastors at non-denominational (14 percent), Restorationist movement (13 percent), Pentecostal (12 percent) or Baptist (8 percent) churches to say they don’t use any of the security measures.

African American pastors are three times more likely than white pastors to say they have uniformed police officers on site (12 percent v. 4 percent). African American pastors are also more likely than white pastors to say part of their security measures includes radio communication among security personnel (37 percent v. 25 percent) and a no firearms policy in the building where they meet (34 percent v. 21 percent). Meanwhile, white pastors are more likely than African American pastors to say they have armed church members (56 percent v. 33 percent).

More guns, less planning

Compared to three years ago, pastors say they’re more likely to be relying on armed churchgoers and less likely to have a no firearms policy for their building. Fewer also say they have an intentional plan for an active shooter, compared to a 2019 Lifeway Research study.

Previously, 45 percent of U.S. Protestant pastors said armed church members were part of their congregation’s security measures. Now, more than half (54 percent) include that in their attempts to keep churchgoers safe. In 2019, 27 percent said they enforced a no firearms policy at their building. That has dropped to 21 percent now.

Churches are also less likely to rely on intentional planning to address potential security threats. In 2019, 62 percent said they had such a plan in place for an active shooting situation. Since then, the percentage of pastors who say that is the case at their church has fallen to 57 percent.

“While churches may have different convictions on how to maintain security, it is surprising that fewer churches have an intentional plan for an active shooter than did in 2019,” McConnell said. “As churches cut back on activities during COVID, this may have been one of the initiatives that did not resume for some churches.”

For more information, view the complete report and visit


The phone survey of 1,000 U.S. Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 6-30, 2022. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was completed by the senior or sole pastor at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to reflect the population more accurately. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are made to a phone survey of 1,000 U.S. Protestant pastors conducted Aug. 30 – Sept. 24, 2019.


Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.

About Lifeway Research

Lifeway Research is a Middle Tennessee-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches. For more information, visit

About Lifeway Christian Resources

In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, Christian music and movies, Vacation Bible School and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Based in Middle Tennessee, Lifeway operates as a self-supporting nonprofit. For more information, visit

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 5:36pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released last month an 82-page advisory focusing on an unexpected public health crisis – loneliness.

The advisory, released May 3, points out that a major cause of epidemic levels of loneliness and isolation in the U.S. is a lack of social connection among people.

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health,” Murthy said in a press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives.”

The trends regarding loneliness were evident even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In recent years, about 1 in 2 adults in America reported experiencing loneliness,” Murthy said in the advisory. “And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems, exacerbating loneliness and isolation.”

Research included in the advisory states “evidence across scientific disciplines converges on the conclusion that socially connected people live longer.”

The effects of social isolation on mortality could be comparable to other risk factors like smoking, alcohol consumption or lack of physical activity.

“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders,” Murthy said. “Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”

Brandon Bales joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in 2021 as student ministry associate, after more than 20 years serving in youth ministry at various churches.

He told Baptist Press the research presented in the surgeon general’s advisory is to be expected, particularly when it comes to today’s young people.

“I’m not surprised by it,” Bales said. “The more and more that families are getting away from the church … you see a correlation between church attendance and loneliness in teenagers. In addition to that, as the nuclear family is less and less unified, so goes the increase of loneliness amongst the teenager in that family. Furthermore, you see an increase in social media, you see an increase in loneliness.”

For Bales, a desire to minister to lonely teenagers stems from his own experience.

“I started student ministry even when I was 17 years old in high school … personally having dealt with that (loneliness). It was always something that was close to my heart even stepping into student ministry.

“What I learned is yes, we can experience loneliness, but we are never alone because the Holy Spirit is with us pointing back to the cross, pointing us back to the power and the work of Christ.”

Some of the things Bales would try to emphasize in his youth ministries include having each student identify and connect with at least seven spiritual mentors and equipping parents as the main disciplers of their children.

Bales even helped organize a parental welcome Sunday for parents of teenagers entering the youth group.

He said it will take youth ministers, parents and church and Southern Baptist leaders all cooperating with one another to recognize and fight against the epidemic of loneliness among young people.

“The local church as a whole needs to put our money where our mouth is,” Bales said. “We’re going to say all the time as a church that we want to fight for the nuclear family and encourage the nuclear family, but when you begin to break down the budget of the local church, how much money is actually spent on the nuclear family?

“We need to put money into our budget allocated toward that, that could be family conferences, retreats, family-oriented disciple groups. The student ministry needs to do more family-oriented events. And we need to have specific discipleship groups just for the nuclear family.

“Student pastors also need to get outside of their local ministry. They need to have a regional or national network. If you look at things that NAMB is doing, and Shane Pruitt and Paul Worcester are doing, they are trying to create a national network. If you look at what Ben Trueblood is doing from the Lifeway side, they’re trying to create a national network of student pastors. Likewise, we as state guys need to create even more intentional state networks.”

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 5:30pm

PUTNAM, Conn. (BP) – Green Valley Crossing “has seen around a 20 percent increase in attendance since the first of the year, the vast majority of them being spiritually disconnected with no relationship with Christ,” says Pastor Riley Prather. “If this doesn’t slow down, we’ll baptize 20-plus this year.”

Prather planted the Southern Baptist church in 2013 in the northeast corner of Connecticut, near the state lines of Massachusetts to the north and Rhode Island to the east.

Pastor Riley Prather preaching from John 3:16.

“We are absolutely committed to Southern Baptist ministry here in New England,” the pastor continued. “I want to raise a new generation of Gospel-centered, biblically faithful Christians and, Lord willing, join the hundreds of other faithful BCNE churches in seeing a new New England birthed through revival and awakening.”

Ministry in New England is not easy, but then again, it’s not hard when the congregation lives Christ-centered lives, Prather said.

Green Valley Crossing was and is being built on real spiritual encounters with Jesus and equipping people to share Jesus intentionally in their daily lives, which involves making friends, building relationships and living life as a committed Christ-follower.

“I was told in New England it takes almost a year of building relationships before you can have significant Gospel conversations,” the Oklahoma-born pastor told Baptist Press. “Receptivity to the Gospel is not lower here; it’s just slower. So our first question was, ‘How do we make the Gospel fit where we live, rather than where we’re from?’”

With the five-year support of their home church – First Baptist Minco, Okla., – undergirding them, and NAMB church planter assessment behind them, Prather and his wife Kassie arrived in Putnam, Conn., in the summer of 2012, where there was no Southern Baptist church in the entire county.

The couple had brought a youth mission team to Connecticut the year before, and “I found out God was at work in New England, and I sensed that He was inviting us to join Him. I could not shake the feeling we were supposed to be here,” said the pastor of the church celebrating its 10th anniversary this August.

New Englanders like the idea of going “down to the river” to be baptized, Pastor Riley Prather said.

“We have stone walls all over New England,” Prather said. “They come from farmers in the early days, who would move the stones they unearthed as they plowed the land. It’s the same with church planting. You unearth the ‘rocks’ that are in the way, and for New England, that means people have to trust you first, and that takes time.

“It took me a long time, almost a year, before I got my neighbor to wave back at me. Once she waved, [I said to myself,] ‘All right; I’m in! I’ve got a relationship with her now.’ New England is predicated on relationships.”

One way Green Valley Crossing is building relationships currently is through a four-church softball league, where every team has to have at least two non-Christians on it. The Southern Baptist church is planning to launch a recovery ministry where attendees can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, counteracting the influence of local AA and NA groups who prescribe a generic higher power.

But for the most part, Green Valley Crossing joins arms with other charitable groups rather than doing “their own thing,” and this relationship-building cooperation helps people see the church as part of the community.

“In New England, there is not a general acceptance of the Bible,” Prather said. “But, we still faithfully teach and preach the Bible to people, even if they’re skeptical of everything we’re doing. 

“… We had to think through evangelism,” the pastor continued. “The methodology of how we reach people had to be connected to the people here. Evangelism here is a lot about relationships. We call it incarnational rather than attractional.”

“Here there’s a skepticism of ‘bait and switch,’ in part because of abuses in the Catholic church,” Prather said. “Faithful Gospel-saturated living is what we’re seeing work right now. We’ve had six adults saved in the last three months. Those people have not been saved by any event or strategy. They’ve been saved because our members are faithfully living the Gospel and opening their mouths to share.

“Our people see things happening in people’s lives and say, ‘Jesus really is the answer. You’ve tried this or that.’ Then they say, ‘Hey, just come to church with me on Sunday,’” the pastor continued. “There’s nothing I’m doing that’s any different except casting a big vision for people to encounter Jesus and live for Him daily.”  

The congregation of Green Valley Crossing has grown to more than 140. Worship takes place at 10 a.m. Sunday in a former warehouse the church purchased and is currently renovating. Equipping classes Sunday evenings are akin to 20th century Training Union classes, with emphasis on discipleship training, doctrine, evangelism and Baptist heritage. Eighteen members are going through Henry Blackaby’s time-tested Experiencing God; another dozen are in evangelism training, among the classes available.

Life groups for friendship, encouragement, accountability and Scripture study take place throughout the week.   

“There is an intentionality of evangelism in our church, and I believe it’s because we told our church that their friends, family and neighbors are so important to us that we would make Kingdom financial investments to reach them,” the pastor said. “It’s been incredible to watch God at work.

“If we as Christians will go, will live in Him, for Him, through Him – He is why we live – people are going to see Jesus,” Prather continued. “Our people are our strategy because they truly believe people can encounter Jesus through them. We’re seeing that over and over again.” 

In addition to Green Valley Crossing’s support of missions through the Cooperative Program, and of church planting in eastern Connecticut, the church allocates 2.5 percent of undesignated giving to local evangelistic efforts.

“We made a strategic effort this year to pour gas on local evangelistic efforts, and it’s working,” Prather said. “Through the first quarter, we have already baptized one and have six awaiting baptism.” New Englanders like the idea of going “down to the river” to be baptized, the pastor explained.

“We recently had a woman in her 30s give her life to Christ,” Prather said. “When I asked her if she was ready to receive Jesus she said to me, ‘If I don’t, none of the last few months makes sense to me. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.’

“People think New England is cold and dead,” the pastor continued. “It is spiritually dark. There’s a lot of work to do. But I’ve seen what God can do when His people are living faithful, Gospel-saturated lives. I can assure you. We are very much alive!”

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. 

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 4:24pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – As Southern Baptists prepare to gather in New Orleans for the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting, churches have given more than $130 million through the National Cooperative Program Allocation Budget in the first eight months of the fiscal year, with more than $16.3 million given in March.

“The sustained giving through the Cooperative program after the first eight months is another reminder that SBC churches and state conventions continue focusing on reaching the lost at home and around the globe,” SBC Executive Committee interim president and CEO Willie McLaurin said in a statement. “As we fix our eyes on fulfilling the Great Commission, our faithful God has taken gifts given through local churches and multiplied these gifts to accomplish his purpose on a scale much greater than what we can do individually. I want to thank every church for every gift.”

May National Cooperative Program giving:

  • Monthly budgeted amount: $16,022,500.00

  • May 2023 giving: $16,360,572.36

  • Above/under budget: $338,072.36 (2.11 percent) above budget

Total National Cooperative Program giving:

  • Year to date budgeted amount: $128,180,000.00

  • Year to date giving: $129,993,817.73

  • Above/under budget: $1,813,817.73 (1.42 percent) above budget

Designated giving:

  • May giving: $17,261,114.18

  • Year to date giving: $150,987,550.07 

  • Previous year total: $157,443,290.90

  • Above/under previous year: $6,455,740.83 (4.10 percent) under previous year

The convention-adopted budget for 2022-2023 is $192,270,000 and includes an initial $200,000 special priority allocation for the SBC Vision 2025 initiative. Cooperative Program funds are then disbursed as follows: 50.41 percent to international missions through the International Mission Board, 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to theological education through the six SBC seminaries and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. If national CP gifts exceed the budget projection at the end of the fiscal year, the balance of the overage is distributed according to the percentages approved for budgetary distribution. The SBC Executive Committee distributes all CP and designated gifts it receives on a weekly basis to the SBC ministry entities.

CP allocation budget gifts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 4:19pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – A federal district judge has ruled unconstitutional a Tennessee law prohibiting gender-bending drag performances in front of minors, which had been the only such law in the nation.

Tennessee’s Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) violates constitutionally protected freedom of speech, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker ruled late June 2 in the Western District Court of Tennessee.

“The AEA’s regulation of ‘adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors under § 39-17-901’ does target protected speech, despite Defendant claims to the contrary,” Parker wrote in the 70-page decision. “Whether some of us may like it or not, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment as protecting speech that is indecent but not obscene.

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit – but not obscene – speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” Parker wrote, referencing Ashcroft v. A.C.L.U. of 2002. “It is also well established that speech may not be prohibited because it concerns subjects affecting our sensibilities,” Parker quoted Ashcroft v. A.C.L.U.

Southern Baptists’ stance against sexually explicit material and entertainment is well established. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Southern Baptists’ statement of faith, says, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”

Friends of George’s, Inc., a venue that produces drag shows, comedy sketches and plays in Memphis, challenged the Tennessee law, taking Shelby Country District Attorney Steven Milroy to court. Parker’s June 2nd ruling followed his initial March 30th stay on the law that was set to take effect April 1.

Mulroe defended the law as a move to protect children from obscenities, but Parker disagreed.

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that – despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children,” Parker wrote, “the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech and permanently enjoins Defendant Steven Mulvoy from enforcing the unconstitutional statute.”

Tennessee was the first state to enact such a law, standing out among more than a dozen states that attempted such legislation but failed to secure passage before their 2023 legislative sessions ended.

Sen. Jack Jackson, a Republican from Franklin who sponsored the bill, had said it was designed to prohibit “sexually explicit adult-themed entertainment” from being performed in front of children. But those who opposed the law said its language was too vague to determine which shows would be illegal.

“If someone wants to have a drag show that is totally fine, my legislation doesn’t do anything to change that,” Jackson has said. “It’s just while you’re having your drag show, you can’t simulate sex acts.”

Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Nebraska are among states that attempted similar bills in 2023, including bills prohibiting drag shows and cabaret performances, and a Missouri bill that would have outlawed drag queen story hours targeting minors.

Arkansas’ attempt to ban public drag shows was amended to drop references to drag shows, instead prohibiting “adult-oriented” shows from public spaces. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the bill into law Feb. 27.