Month: March 2011

Abortion rights supporters find new target: crisis pregnancy centers

Updated to note the Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit.NEW YORK (BP)–After years of staying mostly out of the spotlight, pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are increasingly coming under political attack in cities nationwide where some legislators and mayors are demanding the centers explicitly declare — in exterior signs and even in ads — that they do not perform abortions. Such legislation, pro-lifers say, is not only unconstitutional but also could lead to an uptick in abortions because some women — who otherwise would be open to hearing about alternatives to abortion — will be deterred from even entering the building.The latest city is New York, which has approved a law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs at the entrance and in the waiting room stating they do not perform abortions or provide abortion referrals. If the center does not have a licensed medical provider on staff, that information, too, must be posted on the signs. Although other cities have passed similar laws, New York’s law goes a step further by requiring the information also be disclosed in advertisements and over the phone to people who call the centers.Crisis pregnancy centers are needed, supporters say, because Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — is biased in its counseling and has a financial interest in guiding women to abortions. In 2009, Planned Parenthood performed 340 abortions for every one adoption referral it made, its own data shows.The pro-life centers often provide such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide many of these services.The ultrasounds — which show a woman her unborn baby in detail — have been particularly helpful in deterring abortions. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the law March 16, saying it’s needed to make sure women are “fully informed.”Matt Bowman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press that pro-choicers want to “shut down the real help and hope that pregnancy centers offer women.” ADF, a pro-life legal group, filed a suit against New York March 18.”There’s not any question that crisis pregnancy centers are being targeted,” Bowman told Baptist Press. “You can read the pamphlets from the abortion movement targeting them. It’s not hidden. I think these attacks on pregnancy centers are an attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry and to give women fewer choices when they experience an unexpected pregnancy.”For pro-lifers, the good news is that courts — so far — are mostly siding with them. In January, a federal judge struck down a Baltimore, Md., law that required crisis pregnancy centers to post exterior signs stating they do not provide abortions or make referrals for abortions. In ruling that the law violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause, the judge, Marvin Garbis, wrote that “it is for the provider — not the Government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.” Austin, Texas, also has a similar law to Baltimore’s. Pro-lifers also won a partial victory March 14 when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against a portion of a Montgomery County, Md., law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign in the waiting room stating the county “encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.” The law also requires a sign in the waiting room to state that the center “does not have a licensed medical professional on staff.” Judge Deborah Chasanow’s injunction allowed that latter portion of the law to remain but she said she would consider the matter further as the case proceeds.Planned Parenthood claims on its website that crisis pregnancy centers have a history of “giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions.” NARAL Pro-Choice America — a leading abortion rights group — calls the centers a “growing threat to women’s health” and says the centers will “do anything to scare a woman away from choosing legal abortion.”CeCe Heil, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, testified in person against the New York law. ACLJ, too, is expected to file suit against the law.”As an attorney, I don’t have to have a sign on my door that says I don’t do balloon characters. There’s no other situation in the world where in any kind of business you have to say what you don’t provide,” Heil said during a panel discussion at the National Religious Broadcasters meeting in February.The laws, Heil says, are “compelled speech” passed by legislators who “want to control speech with which they disagree.”Even if some centers are advertising falsely, Heil said, new laws are not needed because there already are laws against false advertising.Said Bowman, of the Alliance Defense Fund, “You’ve got political allies of the abortion industry being explicitly lobbied by abortionists and abortion-rights organizations to go after those ‘mean’ pro-life pregnancy centers, and they pass a law and only pro-life pregnancy centers are affected.”

IMB President Tom Elliff describes agenda in editors Q&A

Editor’s Note: Below is the transcript of an hour-long interview by state Baptist paper editors with newly elected IMB President Tom Elliff on March 17, 2011.

Wendy Norvelle, IMB: Today we have Dr. Elliff and Dr. Pritchard with you and you submitted some questions. Dr. Pritchard has served as chairman of the presidential search committee and he also serves as chairman of our Board of Trustees. He is senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Forney, Texas. In just a little while they’re going to have to leave to go be with the missionaries at the appointment service at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Tonight 67 new missionaries will be appointed. Included in that are four deaf families so we’re really excited about the growing ministry we have among the deaf in the world with more and more deaf being sent.

Dr. Pritchard if you would share about the presidential search process and how God led you to bring the recommendation for Dr. Elliff.

Jimmy Pritchard: Our committee consisted of 15 people and we began by setting as much of a profile as we could of what we felt like the new president would look like as far as gifts, abilities and age. We didn’t necessarily disqualify anyone who did not meet the criteria because our ultimate agenda was to get God’s man for the position.

We received about 80 different names from a little over 300 different individuals. Our process was to contact each one, ask for biographical information. Many of those recommended to us did not submit that to us. Of those who did then by simple majority of our committee we would invite the man for an interview. Our procedure we adopted would allow us to invite a man for a second interview with also a simple majority of our committee.

During the course of our time there were four men that we did interview more than once. No candidate received to the point where we seriously were at the point of inviting him to become president. On December 13 we were on a conference call. There were 13 of us on that call and one of our committee members just mentioned that he had had a conversation with Dr. Elliff on a different level — no topic about the IMB involved. And he thought he might be interested or at least willing to talk to us about his becoming our president and in the next five minutes (interrupted)

Tom Elliff – That is the man thought I would be interested – not me. (laughter).

Pritchard – Yes, the man thought. Subsequently after visiting with Tom he said that conversation had nothing to do with the IMB. So at any rate, in the next five minutes as we were on this conference call everybody on the committee sensed that God just spoke. It was a rare moment and I don’t want to sound super spiritual or however that may come across but God spoke to every one of us and at that moment there was a peace that came over all of us that God said this is your man and we hadn’t even talked to him yet.

We had contacted him and I called him and I don’t think he was expecting that call. He claims we ruined his Christmas and probably did. Over the next couple of months we followed through with the process of communicating. It was unanimous, enthusiastic and as was obvious with our board we were 100% unanimous with secret ballot to elect him today. God has spoken and it is a great and a new day.

A couple more things and then I’ll be done. I think that this is a new day. It is a new day in many ways, but it is a new day for us as Southern Baptists who have incredible unity that in my lifetime I’ve not seen, a unity of partnership between the IMB, NAMB, our seminaries, and it is a rare, rare new day and new opportunity and we believe that Dr. Elliff is the glue that is going to hold that together and that the new wineskins that we’re seeing develop across our Southern Baptist Convention that Dr. Elliff is going to put a tenor on a little of the new wine, little of old wine that will keep those wineskins from bursting. So I could not be in any way more excited.

Wendy Norvelle: Thank you we’ll come with a few follow up questions later. Let’s turn to Dr. Elliff to share for a few minutes your heart and a few minutes about that process or whatever God has given you.

Tom Elliff: Dr. Prichard was right, this certainly was not on our radar screen, and right in saying you messed up our Christmas when he called to explained to me what the committee had decided and this was the first time they had been wholly together behind one person. Jeannie and I knew we had to pray about that and so actually we prayed about whether to pray for a few days. I called Brother Jimmy back and said yeah, we’re going to pray about it. There’s no sense in investing that time about something God doesn’t have on your radar. So we spent the next month praying about that. We met again with the committee on the 14th of January as I recall. We had a wonderful time, great conversation, great time of prayer and yet I still, for some reasons that will surface in this interview, I still had some questions whether was this God speaking to us. We sensed it was but we had some questions so I was not interested at all. I told the committee then that I wasn’t interested in being an interim, and if I do come it will be with an agenda, with a purpose. Of course the question about age always enters into that. At 67, that’s pretty remarkable, but you know if you study the Bible when God calls a man the issue has never been his age. It’s been his obedience and we were very sensitive to the fact we felt God very well may be calling us to do this.

Jeannie and I asked the committee to vote again. In fact I said at that time, we’re going to leave, drive back to Oklahoma and I’d like for you to take another secret ballot. You’ll be doing yourselves, the kingdom of God and certainly ourselves a favor if you have the slightest hesitancy that you vote no on secret ballot. I wanted it to be secret ballot again because I did not want anybody to feel pressure. I hadn’t really gotten out of Dallas before Brother Jimmy called and said it was unanimous again. We took that as the final little thread that needed to be bound up in the garment of this call and we agreed, we said yes. We sensed God calling us as well and we’ve never one moment since then felt that we were out of the stream of God’s will. We sensed his favor. We sensed his smile. We have certainly sensed the prayers of people across the Southern Baptist Convention. I could not be more grateful. We could not be more grateful than we are just sitting here now–the privilege to serve the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board, to serve our missionaries. That’s my role really to be a servant. To serve them is an incredibly humbling, experience and we’re overwhelmed by it and we appreciate the prayers of Southern Baptists across the country.

Wendy Norvelle: Jimmy, you said it took a long time for the search committee to come to their conclusion and there have been a few who have asked was it that difficult to come to consensus? And you’ve kind of answered that. But did you consider some long-term missionaries? You said you had an age profile, what were some of discussions you had about that?

Jimmy Pritchard: We searched professionally three areas from within the IMB. We had pastors in our convention that we came across and then we had some from the education side from our seminaries and we never did have consensus. Our committee was never upset with each other. We were never angry, but we could not come to a consensus and as w

IMB trustees unite around former missionary and pastor to lead 5,043-member force of international missionaries

GRAPEVINE?In an unprecedented move, native Texan Tom Elliff got to work immediately as president of the International Mission Board following the unanimous vote of trustees meeting in Grapevine March 15-16.

Texan Jimmy Pritchard of Forney, chairman of the board, as well as chairman of the search committee that has been meeting for the last year and a half to name a successor to Jerry Rankin, called Elliff “the real deal.”

Pritchard told the TEXAN it would be difficult to offer just one quality that set Elliff apart in their process of interviewing various candidates. “But I suppose there is one quality that connects all the others and that is his authenticity. His heart is true as are his convictions [which] are clear because he is authentic. Throughout his extended ministry, which has been well-observed by Southern Baptists, in every role and situation, he has proven genuine and true. His well-deserved reputation as the real deal is a key component in his selection.”

Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney, announced Elliff’s nomination on behalf of the search team a month ago after the committee settled on the former pastor and missionary in their January meeting.

Elliff, 67, assumed responsibility for the 5,043-member international mission force as soon as the vote was taken.

In addition to being the unanimous recommendation of a search committee that admits to being stalled by a lack of consensus near the end of their 16-month process, Elliff was unanimously approved on a secret ballot vote of the 76 trustees present on March 16.While accolades have been flowing from trustees and Southern Baptist leaders, the only expressed curiosity has been over Elliff’s age.

Pritchard acknowledged in a news conference that Elliff had been recommended early and passed over, in part because of his age.

Elliff responded to the issue head on when asked how he perceived the criticism that he was “a safe choice” and possibly an interim solution to a long search.

“I don’t think for somebody to have an observation, even if I disagree with them, makes them a critic of mine,” he told the questioner. “They’re just making an observation.”

The reference to him being a safe choice caused Elliff to recall a humorous story about “the man who took home a little puppy to allow his children to raise it and after about 3 weeks when that pit bull grew into manhood he realized that what he adopted was not safe at all.”

Honing in on the issue, Elliff continued, “I have not thought about being safe. I’ve thought about fulfilling the vision. It’s interesting when God called us to do this at the same time he began to paint a vision, as I said in the acceptance speech, on the walls of my heart.Some of it was already there I just never imagined how it would be fulfilled.”

Elliff said it was unfortunate that the vision for some people stops at 65. “That’s a humanly contrived figure. I have a grandfather who preached until he was 92 and he said he was sure glad. He said, ‘I think about all I’d have missed if I’d let my retired friends convince me to stop.'”

Explaining how he will approach the mandate given by the Board, Elliff said, “I believe ‘as my days are so shall my strength be,’ quoting Deut. 33:25. “People have asked me, ‘Is it five years or 10 years,’ because everybody thinks in five-year increments.My answer is I don’t know, but as my days are so shall my strength be.

“I have no intention now of conjugating when I’m going to stop being president. I have hardly started being president. I have work to do and I’m going to set my heart to the work and my shoulder to the work and we’re going to get busy and start engaging these unengaged people groups and reaching these unreached people groups.Together, if our Southern Baptist Convention will throw themselves into this we can see something of a spiritual awakening perhaps for the third time in our nation’s history?perhaps on a wholesale basis because there are enough Southern Baptists to sway the spiritual barometer in the United States.”

Calling the native Texan a personal friend, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards said Elliff has experience working closely with SBTC. “Tom Elliff is the consummate man of God. He is a man of prayer. No one is better prepared to lead Southern Baptists in getting the gospel to the nations,” Richards shared upon hearing the outcome of the vote. “I praise God for his selection.”

SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy told the TEXAN he looks forward to seeing how Elliff leads the IMB through a period of strategic realignment. “Many people have questions about the implementation of the new affinities strategy and what the implications will be for partnerships. There is a comfort in knowing a man of Tom’s character and abilities will be leading the way,” he stated.

With a dozen Texas trustees serving on the board, many were quick to express their affirmation of Elliff. Though unable to be present for the recent meeting, SBTC President Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Odessa, shared that having known how diligently the committee had worked, when he first heard Elliff was the candidate he knew he was God’s man for this hour in the history of the IMB.

“Dr. Elliff brings proven SBC leadership, conservative theology, a missionary heart and a willingness to make necessary changes to take our mission sending organization to the next level,” McWilliams added, stating his unequivocal support. Furthermore, he stated, “He does not just talk about prayer, he is a man of prayer.”

Last month when Elliff’s name was released, Prichard explained, “When Dr. Elliff’s name came before us, we had a subtle sense of God’s Spirit speaking to our hearts. That may sound mystical, but that’s really what happened,” Pritchard said when the candidate was announced. “Every one of us senses that God spoke and said, ‘This is the moment you’ve been praying for. Here is your man.'”

One year out from having served as a senior vice president at IMB, Elliff has focused on a writing and speaking ministry centered on spiritual awakening, while continuing to do field personnel orientation for missionaries.

Throughout the 16-month search, the selection of a candidate with missions experience was presumed to be a given. Not only did Elliff serve as a Southern Baptist missionary in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, he focused his last church on sending a steady stream of volunteers overseas and personally led crusades in 16 countries.

Elliff’s pastoral experience further strengthens his resume and marks a return to historical precedent. The board’s first six presidents, spanning the first century of its ministry, were pastors without overseas missionary experience, though two had been home missionaries. The next four?M. Theron Rankin, Baker James Cauthen, R. Keith Parks and Jerry Rankin?had primarily served as international missionaries. In addition to their missionary careers, Cauthen had pastored Polytechnic Baptist Church in Fort Worth for four years while serving as professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Rankin had pastored Sadler Baptist Church near Sherman for three years.

Elliff served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1996 to 1998 and was an early leader in the SBC’s conservative theological resurgence. A longtime advocate for strong families, Elliff chaired the SBC’s Council on Family Life and appealed for passage

Texas IMB trustees assess Elliff’s strengths

With a dozen Texas trustees on the Board, the state is better represented than any other and many were quick to weigh in on the selection of Tom Elliff as president.

Mike Gonzales of Hurst, Hispanic Initiative Director of SBTC in Grapevine:
“The unanimous recommendation from our search committee in bringing Tom Elliff’s name to be voted by the IMB trustees at this meeting was very positive. It unified our trustees and we all had a sense of God’s presence, power and direction in this recommendation.

“Dr. Tom Elliff is a great statesman and brings a wide range of experience that will help us lead the IMB. My voting for him is as follows: he has served our denomination as president of the SBC twice, he has been on the mission field, he has pastored great SBC churches, he has served on the IMB staff and his testimony as a man of God is impeccable.”

Jay Gross, pastor of West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe:
“Ican’t sayjust one word about Tom Elliff. It wouldhave to be two words–godly vision.Tom Ellifs a great man of God and he’s got impeccable character and leadership qualities. He’s got a vision for the days ahead, where we can go as the IMB.The Holy Spirit fell in that room [when the vote was announced]. People were excited, clapping, and praising God. We knew who it was before we got there, but when we all got together it was such a spirit of unity that everybody wason the same page.”

A. C. Halsell, member of Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio:
“I recall a meeting several of us shared a few years back, called to address a pressing personnel problem at the time. Tom gave a few practical, and yet compassionate, suggestions on resolving the matter. That was the first indication I had that he would someday make an ideal leader for the IMB.

“Later I was able to observe him directing a missionary appointee session prior to their overseas deployment. It was evident that his listeners could profit from his wise counsel and be better missionaries for having had that experience with him.

“But I suppose what impressed me the most was the time several of us, including Tom, were on a shuttle bus to the airport following a trustee meeting. Tom engaged the driver in conversation and very soon used the opportunity to witness to the man about his need for a Savior. It was natural, unhurried, and fit exactly the driver’s circumstances. The driver didn’t make a decision right then, but it gave him the motivation to do so shortly thereafter.

“Tom Elliff will make a great president of the International Mission Board.”

Marshall Johnson, bi-vocational minister, MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving:
“My yes vote was based on an observed consistent pattern of biblical leadership proven over a lifetime of faithful ministry.”

Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church:
“No doubt, you were at least surprised when you heard the name of the candidate being put forth by the search committee. With all due respect to Dr. Elliff, nobody was expecting a 67 year old. I wasn’t either. When the search began, I was expecting God’s man to be of middle age, with the perfect balance of youthful zeal and energy matched by proven leadership and time tested maturity.

“We saw plenty of resumes: insiders and outsiders, younger and older, known and unknown, obvious and not so obvious. We tried really hard to go in the direction of some candidates, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it. We simply couldn’t come to a consensus on a single person for 18 months.

“The unlikeliest of people called our attention to Dr. Elliff and within a very short time period, the fog lifted and we had tremendous clarity for the 1st time in 18 months. A sense of freedom, laughter, excitement, joy and peace pervaded the committee. The weight of responsibility was lifted. It was a God moment. God had spoken and we had His man.

“Though the length of the process was so long, looking back, it was clearly the Lord waiting us out. Due to his age, this committee would not have considered Dr. Elliff at the beginning of the process. I think the Lord waited us out until we were ready for His man.

“We did not settle for Dr Elliff. He is not a compromise candidate. The men and women of the search committee have too much integrity to bring out a compromise candidate. We would have disbanded before we did that. We sincerely believe Dr. Elliff is God’s man for such a time as this.

“Dr. Elliff’s wide ranging ministry experiences have prepared him to lead the IMB during such a unique time as this. With a major reorganization underway at the IMB, shifting winds in the SBC?most notably the GCR?and churches becoming more selective in the allocation of their resources, our organization is experiencing a changing environment. Dr. Elliff has been seated on every side of the table and is well equipped to navigate our changing world and SBC landscape. Southern Baptists can expect great things to come at the IMB under Dr. Elliff’s administration.”

Nathan Lorick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Malakoff:
“Dr. Elliff is God’s man for such a time as this! His integrity is unquestionable. His leadership is proven. His heart for the nations is contagious. His passion is evident. I believe God has anointed Dr. Elliff to lead us into the greatest and most fruitful days we have ever known as the IMB. To God be the glory for bringing us a hero of the faith to lead the way to reaching the world with the gospel.”

Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Odessa:
“Upon first hearing about Dr. Elliff, and knowing how diligently the committee has worked, I knew immediately he was God’s man for this hour in the history of the IMB. Dr. Elliff brings proven SBC leadership, conservative theology, a missionary heart and a willingness to make necessary changes to take our mission-sending organization to the next level.

“He does not just talk about prayer, he is a man of prayer. I unequivocally support Dr. Tom Elliff as my new president and am honored to serve alongside him as an IMB trustee.”

John Mann, pastor of LaJunta Baptist Church in Springtown:
“It was with great joy that I cast for Tom. There are at least four key reasons that I think Dr. Elliff is the man to lead Southern Baptist missions at this point in time:

“1) Above all, he is a man of God who has a great heart for prayer. Tom understands that it is a spiritual battle that we are engaged in. He knows that darkness is engaged and souls are won only as we pray.

“2) He is uniquely qualified. He is regarded as a theologian, which will be of tremendous benefit as we seek to strengthen the future of the work on the field. As a missionary, he can identify with the challenges of those who are in the hardest regions of the world. As a pastor, he is a gifted communicator who will be able to connect the IMB to the local church. Tom’s experience as being a theologian, pastor, and missionary make him uniquely

New IMB president previews strategy and prayer priorities

Before outlining his vision of expecting the International Mission Board to be biblical, balanced and bold, newly elected IMB President Tom Elliff leaned over and kissed his wife, Jeannie, before a receptive audience of IMB trustees, staff and guests.

“There’s a reason our kids say they want to love their spouses like I love mine,” he said, paying tribute to his partner of 44 years before addressing the 76 trustees who unanimously elected him as the 11th president of Southern Baptists’ overseas mission board.

Elliff thanked both interim president Clyde Meador who held the post for over eight months in addition to his responsibility as executive vice president and former IMB president Jerry Rankin whose 17-year tenure ended in July of 2010. Meador was honored by the board for his additional service and continued ministry with a $5,000 gift of appreciation.

“Southern Baptists ought to constitute a veritable furnace of intercessory prayer,” Elliff said, referring to the variety of natural disasters, physical challenges and financial worries rocking the world. “I’m grateful for the manner in which they have determined to provide ministry in Japan based on a long-standing relationship with Japanese Baptists,” Elliff said in reference to IMB staff and missionaries.

Elliff described his theology of missions which will prompt him to ask three questions before taking any action. In asking first whether an action is biblical, Elliff said that priority will keep the IMB from being swept away in tides of either sentimentalism or pragmatism.

“Our doctrines, our beliefs have come to us at too high a price for us to ignore asking this question,” Elliff said, announcing his plan to recommend a candidate at the next meeting to fill the vice presidential position he vacated two years ago. “It will be someone of noted theological expertise, who passionately loves missions and missionaries, who will work closely and carry the banner for God’s Word and among our staff and team on the field, and reach out to our schools and seminaries,” he explained.

“We’re the International Mission Board, but we don’t have the corner on mission strategy,” Elliff said, urging an appreciation for strategy developed by Southern Baptist seminaries and local churches.

Secondly, Elliff said he will ask whether an action is balanced, citing the need to include evangelism, discipleship and church planting in pursuit of the Great Commission.

Thirdly, Elliff said, “There is no way the Great Commission can be obeyed without an incredibly bold, sacrificial, selfless lifestyle,” explaining his insistence on asking whether an action is bold.

“The truth is, with all due respect, this is a whole different world than it was 18 months ago when you resigned,” Elliff said, looking to his predecessor, Jerry Rankin, while also paying tribute to him as one of the great men of faith on whose shoulders he stands. “The urgency of the hour requires a fresh kind of boldness on our part.”

Elliff described a plan that meshed with a desire of SBC President Bryant Wright to see local churches adopt the remaining 3,800 unengaged unreached people groups. “The simple truth behind the Cooperative Program” is “that we can do things together better than we can alone.”

Pleased that the IMB has already developed all the pieces necessary to fully engaged all UPGs, Elliff acknowledged, “Some assembly is required,” asking churches to come on board to embrace the remaining groups by 2012.

“It’s by God’s grace we have 5000 missionaries around the world,” Elliff said, adding, “It also going to require local churches–your church becoming burdened for the unengaged and unreached of this world, signing on, creatingviable partnerships.”

Borrowing what he called an Oklahoma phrase, Elliff said, “Let’s cowboy up and do this thing,” he said, adding, “Your missionaries are anxious for you to do this.”

Elliff made a personal appeal for prayer in seven specific areas, prompting trustees to jot down the list to remember their commitment to uplift the new leader. He and his wife requested:

  • “that there would be in our hearts a looming awareness of the fact that we are ambassadors for Christ and must act in a way that’s consistent with our Lord, but act with confidence;”
  • “a pure heart,” citing David’s attitude in Psalm 24;
  • the exercise of spiritual work in the fullness of the Holy Spirit “so the life of Christ can be manifested through us;”
  • exhibit the gifts and graces of the Spirit, citing Gal. 5 and Isa. 11:2;
  • “that never would we unwittingly place in the hands of the adversary something that he might use to mock our Savior;”
  • “that God wouldprotect our families;”and finally,
  • “that God would keep us faithful to the vision.”

“There’s no better atmosphere than with the International Mission Board,” Elliff said, praising the zeal for Christ and sense of urgency to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.

In Tokyo, assessment team at work

TOKYO?A two-member
Southern Baptist disaster relief assessment team arrived in Tokyo March
12 as the estimated death toll from Japan’s earthquake soared past
10,000 and nuclear plant operators worked frantically to prevent

Thousands of survivors are coping with near-freezing
temperatures for hundreds of miles along Japan’s northeastern coast,
which was wrecked March 11 by the one-two punch of a 9.0-magnitude
earthquake and 23-foot tsunami wave.

The Baptist assessment team
made contact with a representative of Tokyo Baptist Church after
arriving in Tokyo, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of the Baptist
Global Response relief and development organization.

Baptist Church will provide our first point of contact and partnership
for our initial assessment,” Palmer said. “The assessment team will
explore links with Japanese Baptists, the Japanese government and the
NGO community. Once the initial assessment is done, we will create a
blueprint to guide our relief efforts.”

BGR expects to move into a broad relief initiative in partnership with churches of the Japan Baptist Convention, Palmer said.

Japanese government has requested international assistance for the
large-scale relief effort, and two U.S. aircraft carrier groups are off
Japan’s coast, beginning to help deliver food and water, according to
new reports. Two U.S. search and rescue teams arrived March 13.

government, however, has said it does not intend to request large
numbers of international volunteers, so the Baptist Global Response
strategy will be designed around partnership initiatives with Japan
Baptist churches, Palmer said. Working through those congregations, who
have deep ties in their communities, will ensure the effectiveness of
relief efforts. It also guarantees donations will be used efficiently,
since a portion of gifts will not have to be diverted to cover overhead

Search and rescue teams have been buoyed by moments of
good news — like the 60-year-old man whose house was swept out to sea
but he clung to the roof for two days until a military vessel spotted
him about 10 miles offshore, the Associated Press reported. More than
1,400 people are confirmed dead, but a police chief in hard-hit Myagi
state said he believes more than 10,000 people were killed there.

Donations to help with the disaster response can be made through the International Mission Board at

Marriage to be defended after House panel’s 3-2 vote

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives officially got involved March 9 in defending the Defense of Marriage Act when a bipartisan leadership panel voted 3-2 to support the law in federal court.Christian and conservative leaders applauded the move.The party-line move by the House Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group came two weeks after President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending the act, which was signed into law in 1996 and which defines marriage for federal purposes as between one man and one woman. A handful of federal lawsuits against it are pending.House Speaker John Boehner released a brief statement saying the House general counsel “has been directed to initiate a legal defense” of the law, which passed in ’96 by margins of 84-15 in the Senate and 342-67 in the House and was signed by President Clinton. The move by the advisory group does not require approval by the full House. The decision by Obama was highly unusual; presidents often defend laws in court that they personally oppose. Obama said he believes the law is unconstitutional. Although a court ruled it unconstitutional in 2010, other federal courts have upheld it. “This action by the House will ensure that this law’s constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally,” Boehner said. Joining Boehner in voting to defend the law were Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, all three Republicans. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the two Democrats, voted against House action.If the lawsuits are successful, then the federal government, for the first time, would be forced to recognize the “gay marriages” of states such as Massachusetts and to grant federal benefits to same-sex couples. Eventually, all 50 states could be forced to recognize such “marriages.” “I’m delighted that the House leadership is going to take up the defense of DOMA,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. “It’s always better to have an advocate who believes in the case making your arguments rather than an Obama administration flunky going through the motions.”Land and others had been critical of the way the Justice Department was defending the law, saying the attorneys weren’t using the best arguments in its defense. For instance, many courts have upheld traditional marriage laws on the basis that they’re needed to encourage mother-father homes and “responsible” procreation. The Justice Department, though, refused to use those arguments.“I am grateful the House will initiate a vigorous defense of the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. “The principles upon which DOMA was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Clinton remain core values for the majority of Americans. I urge all Southern Baptists to remain diligent in prayer for our nation.”Technically, the current lawsuits only target half of the Defense of Marriage Act — the part that defines marriage in federal law. The other half of DOMA gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s “gay marriages.” Obama, though, has made clear he opposes the law, and a March 2 story in The Los Angeles Times said homosexual groups are ready to target the entire law if they win the current cases. If the entire act is overruled, then pro-traditional marriage laws on the state level likely would be overturned — forcing all 50 states to recognize “gay marriage.”“I applaud the House of Representatives for standing in the gap to defend traditional marriage,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “Historically, human procreation within the context of a loving nuclear family has formed the basis of a stable society. This creational pattern occurs in the union of a man and a woman in marriage, and is a central tenet in all religions. It has been the norm across all generations. It has been the ideal in virtually all cultures. I pray it will remain so in our beloved nation.”Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Brian Raum said the American people “deserve to have their laws defended” and that the “House has stepped up to the plate where the Department of Justice has shirked its responsibility.” The organization supports the law. Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group, said Obama’s lack of defense may be for the best. “DOMA deserves better than the half-hearted defense it has been getting so far,” Feulner wrote in a column. “Now Congress can finally put the case in the hands of legal counsel who can ensure that the law of the land gets the full-throated support it should have had all along.”–30–Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. To read a Q&A about the Defense of Marriage Act, visit

Japan earthquake, tsunami assessment underway

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptist relief workers are assessing needs in the aftermath of an earthquake that struck Japan March 11, spawning a 23-foot tsunami that crashed into the country’s eastern coast and moved on out across the Pacific Ocean.

Police said at least 60 people were killed and 56 missing, according to news reports. The death toll is expected to continue to rise. A complete picture of the destruction in Japan has yet to emerge, and tsunami-related damage in other countries also could cause significant damage.

“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters.

Baptist Global Response has partners in the affected region who are moving to assess the damage, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife, Pam, directs work in the Asia Rim for Baptist Global Response.

We hope to have someone on ground tomorrow for an initial assessment and contact with Baptist partners there, Wolf said. “We have great Baptist partners that we will contact and see how we can initally support them with resources and expertise in the response.

Concerned individuals are asked to pray for families affected by the disaster and for humanitarian workers who are mobilizing assistance, Wolf said. Prayers should be offered that God would move through these circumstances so people would experience his love and discover the abundant life he wants them to enjoy.

Whether Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers will be needed remains to be seen until the assessment is complete and a relief strategy has been defined, said Jeff Palmer, BGR’s executive director.

We hope to have someone on ground tomorrow for an initial assessment and contact with Baptist partners there, Palmer said. We have great Baptist partners that we will contact and see how we can initially support them with resources and expertise in the response.

If disaster relief specialists are needed, Baptist Global Response will mobilize teams from the Baptist state conventions on call, Palmer added. We have notified our call-out states to be on standby, Palmer said. Alabama is the first on call for the month of March.

Updates on Baptist Global Response relief efforts can be monitored on

Graham: No matter the text, make a beeline to the gospel

FRISCO?Whatever the preacher’s text, he should take it and make a “beeline to the gospel” because it is the primary, permeating message of the Bible, Plano pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church told the 2011 Empower Evangelism Conference.

Citing W.A. Criswell’s famous “Scarlet Thread of Redemption” sermon, Graham said the gospel runs “like a Red River of Redemption” from Genesis to Revelation and must be preached not only to the lost world but to ourselves, daily, as a reminder of God’s work in us.

Graham closed the first session of the meeting, held at the Dr. Pepper Arena in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco, on the topic “The Supremacy of the Gospel.”

The Empower Evangelism Conference is an annual event sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

With 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 as his text, Graham said despair in the culture seems more prevalent now than ever before in his ministry. “But we share the greatest good news that a dying world has ever heard,” Graham declared.

“It is the message of the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unless you are preaching the gospel, you are just preaching sermons, you are just talking?until the gospel is proclaimed. The gospel records the most important events in human history and radiates throughout all of God’s Word.”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul described the gospel as primary or “of first importance,” Graham explained.

“We never get over the gospel,” Graham added. “It is the same gospel that brought us to Christ, that saved us, that secures us and keeps us, and I personally believe we ought to preach the gospel to ourselves every day, this beautiful message of salvation.

“The gospel is not incidental. It is fundamental to our faith. There is nothing more important than the gospel. We talk about many issues. The Word of God addresses many subjects such as marriage, family and ethics, happiness and apologetics and church and morality. But all of these are temporal issues. The gospel is the everlasting gospel of Christ?. Everything else we say is secondary to the gospel of Christ.

“We must always, always, always, ladies and gentlemen, be passionate about the gospel. May the gospel never be secondary, may the gospel never be ‘oh, by the way’ in our messages, in our preaching, in our teaching, in our living.”

Emphasizing the power of memory, Graham said: “Teaching is not so much instructing as it is reminding.”

The gospel is not only primary, according to 1 Corinthians 15, but it is powerful, Graham said. Paul writes of “this gospel by which we are saved.”

“Our sins are the reason that Jesus died ? sin is a defiance. It is shaking a fist at a holy God?.”

Graham added: “And yes, there is a Hell. A well-known minister has, yesterday, apparently produced a book that claims there is no Hell, that God’s love will prevail, that all will be saved. How cruel it is to tell people who are on their way to Hell that Hell doesn’t exist. Hell exists, because of the depths and depravity of human sin. The gospel shatters our rationalizations about sin, doesn’t it?”

Sin is not cured by education and cannot be merely excused as a series of moral lapses, Graham reminded.

“Sin is so tragic, sin is so damning that it takes the precious blood of Jesus to transform a sinner into a saint.”

But it is the burden of the bad news that makes the good news so good, Graham said.

“The gospel tells us that Jesus died for our sins. Preach that to yourself every day. Don’t get over that, don’t get beyond that.”

Important also is that he really died and was buried. Why? “To bury our sins with him. Our sins are buried in the grave of God’s forgetfulness?. Baptism signifies this truth of the burial. Every time we baptize an individual in the testimony of faith it signifies the death, and yes, the burial of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the gospel tells us that he rose again, “and because Jesus lives, we will live also. Now, can anything matter more than this? If Jesus is still in that grave nothing really matters, but because Jesus Christ came out of that grave nothing else really matters.”

Graham added: “Spurgeon was the one who said, ‘I take my text from anywhere and make a beeline to the cross.’ Whatever our subject, whatever our theme, it is always ultimately and finally and fully the gospel.”

Celebrate CP Day: Sunday, April 10

April 10 is Cooperative Program Day in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an excellent time to share with your congregation about how we work together through combining our financial resources. Let me share some of the personal involvement you have through the Cooperative Program.

Chuy Avila is in Laredo as a church planting coordinator. He is committed to starting new congregations in one of the most unreached cities in Texas. Chuy and his wife left an established ministry and loved ones to take one of the most difficult assignments imaginable. Your prayers and participation are important. Your gifts through the Cooperative Program are vital.

Texas is a multi-cultural mosaic. Vietnamese is the third most spoken language. One hundred thousand East Indians live in Dallas-Fort Worth. Refugees from various parts of Asia resettle here. The SBTC has people group ministers like the Sorrels and Loreys sharing the love of Christ. You are having a part in their work through the Cooperative Program.
Churches like Faith Baptist in Chandler have struggled. They are beginning to see God’s blessings again because of the assistance they are receiving through the SBTC staff. The Ezekiel Project helps scores of churches come back strong to reach their communities with the gospel. The Cooperative Program makes this possible.

Students at Criswell College like Garrett get a portion of their education paid through the SBTC. Garrett is getting on-the-job training through an internship with the convention. Young men and women are ready to contribute in ministry. Your church has a part in every life through the Cooperative Program.

The churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention send their Cooperative Program gifts with a desire to see the Kingdom of God advance. Forty-five percent of the SBTC Cooperative Program is invested in Texas. Your SBTC is doing more with less in Texas so others in North America and around the world may hear the name of Jesus.

Fifty-five percent of Cooperative Program dollars go to the Southern Baptist Convention. Five thousand-plus International missionaries are penetrating lostness around the world. Southern Baptist missions have been the envy of other denominations and parachurch organizations for decades. Our funding system of the Cooperative Program has enabled us to place unprecedented numbers of missionaries around the world. They have a safety net most independent missionaries do not have.

The North American Mission Board is going through a complete overhaul. Following the mandate of SBC messengers, the missionary service is being refocused in a different way so Jesus may be made known in our nation and Canada.
Fifteen thousand seminary students receive a quality biblical education at a significantly reduced cost because of the CP. Every church that gives to the Cooperative Program is investing in the lives of God-called servants.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission speaks to Southern Baptists and for Southern Baptists on social, moral and first amendment issues. We desperately need this voice for the life of the unborn and for marriage between a man and woman. Defending freedom to practice our beliefs in the public square is a major assignment funded through the Cooperative Program.

The Executive Committee is the administrative arm of the SBC. It operates on a minimal part of CP contributions.
All of these SBC ministries are a part of the Cooperative Program story. Real people make up those stories.

Recently, some factors have negatively affected cooperative missions and ministry causes. Percentage giving in the local church budget through the Cooperative Program has been in a steady decline for a number of years. The local church decides how much should be forwarded to Southern Baptist causes. Some Texas churches decided to designate their funds either through or around the state convention about 20 years ago. Churches have the right to designate, but it will ultimately damage our ability to accomplish the most for the Kingdom. I ask you to consider the original genius of the Cooperative Program, which is undesignated giving.

Another popular practice is to cut cooperative giving in order to do “hands-on” missions. It is commendable to involve church staff and members in direct missions. Funds should be directed to underwrite these efforts but reducing gifts through the Cooperative Program will have unintended consequences on SBTC-SBC missionaries and ministries. “Hands-on” missions and “hands-on” giving through the CP are complementary, not in competition.

Sadly, history could repeat itself. We could return to the days of the offering du jour. Gifts will go to the most emotionally appealing, the one that appears most in need or the one that has some personal connection with the church. This is a failed system of societal giving. Other Christian groups envy the unified budget plan Southern Baptists have in the CP. Those who don’t have it want it. Some who have it don’t use it.

You have heard how the Cooperative Program can be personalized by the stories at the beginning of my column. These are real, live people who minister because of your gifts through the CP. There are literally thousands of stories that could be told about how the Cooperative Program is a tool that advances the Kingdom of God. No church is so large that it can reach Texas or touch the world by itself. No church is too small to have a part in a great work for God impacting millions of lives.

Soon your church should receive a packet of information about Cooperative Program Day, April 10. I ask you to share with your church how we can Reach Texas and Touch the World together. It is important that the people in the pew understand the Cooperative Program. Years ago someone said that denominational leaders made a “sacred cow” out of the Cooperative Program. It is not a sacred cow but it a “sacred how.” God has used the CP to build a platform like no other for the furtherance of the gospel. Please share with your congregation the most unique networking tool available for carrying out the Great Commission. Tell them the stories of the Cooperative Program. Join with others through the CP in Reaching Texas and Touching the World.