Month: February 2014

Texas marriage law ruling portends future religious freedom woes, observers say

A federal judge’s decision striking down of Texas’ marriage law could portend the loss of religious liberties for all Americans, according to some legal and religious experts supportive of traditional marriage.

United States District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling on Wednesday (Feb. 26) against Texas’ 2005 marriage amendment ignores fundamental gender distinctions and the constitutional right of the states to define marriage, said supporters of the law.

“It starts on a false premise that the federal government has the right to regulate marriage,” said Fort Worth attorney Shelby Sharpe in his analysis of the ruling. Sharpe defends religious liberty cases across the U.S.

In just two months federal judges have ruled unconstitutional the marriage laws in six states. Texas became the seventh. Supporters of the constitutional amendment codifying Texas’ definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman are confident the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will overturn Garcia’s ruling but are less optimistic about the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Texas law remains in effect pending appeals.

The case brought by two homosexual couples challenged the law’s two provisions. Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman were married in Massachusetts and filed to have Texas recognize their union. Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss, who share a home in Plano, want to legally marry in their home state.

A decision from the Supreme Court on any of the same-sex marriage cases could nullify Texas’ law as passed by 76 percent of the voters, and elevate homosexuality to a protected minority status, Sharpe said. He argues that the case for minority status should be based, in part, on “factors of non-voluntary conduct” such as skin color, race and ethnicity. Homosexuals are not born into such a group but, by their actions, have developed into one. The Equal Protection Clause does not protect individuals according to their conduct, he said.

But such a distinction, if made by the Supreme Court, would pit Americans’ religious liberties against civil rights. That is a legal battle Sharpe said Christians will lose.

“You are going to be unable to refuse,” Sharpe said

Pastors refusing to perform same-sex marriages could be sued. Christian business owners could suffer the same plight. Sharpe said the undefined right (equal protection under the law) will trump the written law of religious liberty as noted in the First Amendment.

Garcia’s decision, building upon recent court rulings, reinforces the premise that homosexuals are a protected minority group. He stated, “Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.”

Although pleased with the decision, reaction from homosexual rights advocates was tempered by Garcia’s stay of the decision, essentially keeping the law intact while under appeal.

“This is a historic day in the heart of the South, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to move quickly until loving couples in all 50 states feel the full reach of this victory for equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of the politically powerful Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in a prepared statement.

Gay, lesbian, and transgender advocacy groups like HRC have long couched their call for homosexual “rights” in the same terms as the civil rights movement.

Garcia’s written decision reflected that sentiment. He said, “Plaintiffs allege they have suffered state sanctioned discrimination, stigma, and humiliation as a result of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs claim they are considered inferior and unworthy under Texas law,” he wrote.

Many African Americans like Barry Calhoun and Tony Mathews balk at such rhetoric and admit they are offended by the equivocation.

“The civil rights issue was one of ethnicity and not giving the God-given rights to all people, primarily blacks,” said Calhoun, 54, missions director at North Garland Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s director of mobilization and fellowships.

“Basic rights were being withheld based on skin color and not moral character and behavior. No one here is saying that those of same-sex attraction are inferior to those of other ethnicities. This is not an ethnic issue. It is a moral issue,” he said.

Mathews, Calhoun’s pastor, concurred.

“I also think that’s it’s very sad when supporters of same-sex marriage use the dark, tragic history of African Americans to gain special rights for two men or two women who want to marry each other. For me, it is deeply troubling to hear people compare gay rights with civil rights. When the Bible defines something as being incorrect, we cannot declare that act to be socially or legally correct.”

 “The whole premise of that argument is fallacious. Every law creates inequality in some fashion,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council.

If a state’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman discriminates against same-sex couples it also discriminates against polygamists or other group marriages, Welch said. Other laws regulating marriage could be deemed equally discriminatory.

But, Welch added, the argument for same-sex marriage is about more than state-endorsed institutions. There is an underlying subtext nullifying distinctions between men and women, he said.

Calhoun asked, “Who are we as mortal men and women to tell the God of creation that he has been wrong for thousands of years as it relates to marriage? The created thing is saying to the creator, ‘I know better.’”

Charlie Howard, former Texas state legislator and co-author House Joint Resolution 6 that became the state marriage amendment, voiced his frustration with the federal government’s imposition into state affairs.

“It was a good law. That’s why we put it up as a constitutional amendment. It gives it more credence,” said Howard from his home is Sugar Land, Texas.

Same-sex marriage was not being pressed so strongly just nine years ago. But, Howard said, “We had the foresight to see what was coming down the pike.”

Regardless of how laws are shaped, the love of Christ is still effective in changing hearts, those the TEXAN interviewed affirmed.

 “As I’ve always said,” Mathews added, “we must never condone the harassment and mistreatment of people based on their sexual orientation. We must, however, be willing to offer the love of Christ to all of humanity who so desperately need the Lord.”



Empower Conference closes with reminder about “Christ in us” & salvation for Buddhist woman who heard “revival” was going on

HOUSTON—John Morgan, pastor of Sagemont Church in Houston, which served as host for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference this week, closed the conference on Wednesday (Feb. 26) by encouraging attendees to remember that the only hope of evangelism is “Christ in us.”

Morgan followed a long list of preachers and speakers, including Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter and New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas, and musicians such as Phillips, Craig & Dean and The Old Paths.

“The ministry of Christ in this world is nothing more and nothing less than Christ in you,” Morgan said, “You know when Jesus went back to heaven, he said it’s best for me to go back, because when I’m in Jerusalem, the people of Capernaum don’t see me. It’s best for me to go back, because if I don’t go back, the Comforter won’t come, and my plan is for me to be in you through the person of the Holy Spirit, so that when you are born again, I move into your life.”

Something is not adding up, though, in the juxtaposition of the number of people who say they’re Christians and the picture the world is seeing, Morgan explained.

“There are 1 billion professing Christians on the planet today,” Morgan said. “If they’re all Christians, that means God is in 1 billion people all over the planet right now. It would look to me like with 1 billion people living and looking like Jesus, the world would say, ‘Behold, they’re not like those religious people. They are different.’ Something would happen around the world. But we would rather sit and argue who’s the most spiritual and who’s doing it right, rather than letting go and let God have his wonderful way—his marvelous way.”

And while those arguments continue, Morgan said, the world watches. And as they watch they form an opinion of the God those Christians they know say they serve.

“You see, folks, the way you treat your neighbor, the way you treat the schoolteacher, the way you act at a ballgame, the way you act at the supermarket, the way you act at the bank, the way you act in everything you do, when you go into the restaurant, determines whether those people ever see God. Do they see God in your life? That’s what I’m asking you. Now really, do they see God in your life, or do you go around doing this church stuff and believe that one day we’re going to hit the key—we’re going to get the right music, the right preaching, the right kind of services and all this other stuff that we spend hours talking about, or are we just going to lift up Jesus who said, ‘If you lift me, up I will draw people to me’?”

When that happens, Morgan said, revival will come.


Though the three-day event at Sagemont was an evangelism conference geared to pastors and church leaders, a Buddhist woman from across town heard a “revival” was going on at the church with the big cross on Tuesday night, Morgan told the conference.

At her mother’s encouragement, the woman drove until she spotted the 170-foot-tall, 97-ton steel cross that sits on 448 tons of concrete in Sagemont Church’s front yard. Once inside, she found a brochure about Buddhism on a table at a missions exhibit. She picked it up, thinking it was about becoming a Buddhist.

“One hour after she left the mission booth, with tears in her eyes, kneeling just behind those television cameras, this 50-year-old lady gave her heart to Jesus Christ, and next Wednesday night she’s going to be baptized right there in that baptism pool, and I say, glory, glory, glory, glory to God!”

Morgan said he prays the conference was indeed not a conference, but a revival, just like the woman’s mother thought she’d heard and as the woman who found Christ experienced for the first time.

“I pray we’ve had revival. That is yet to be seen,” Morgan said. “But now we’re going to blast off like a shotgun.”


Two miles from Kiev riots, FBC Odessa mission team safe, determined to share gospel

Eight adults from First Baptist Church of Odessa, serving on a mission team in Kiev, Ukraine remain safe amid riots that began ravaging the city Feb. 18 after weeks of peaceful protests. The group traveled to Ukraine on Feb. 13 with Michael Gott International and is scheduled to return to Odessa on March 2. Pastor Byron McWilliams said the team is seeing a greater openness to the gospel because of their presence amid the tumult.

“The [Ukrainian] students who are coming look at these Americans and are saying, ‘Wow, you’re staying in the midst of this,’” McWilliams told the TEXAN. “It’s building their credibility. The students have said, ‘You care about us enough to stay.’ I think it is opening doors for the gospel more than anything.”

The team is teaching classes, eating and sleeping at Central Baptist Church—the largest Baptist church in the area—just two miles from Independence Square where fighting between police and protestors has now led to 67 deaths, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health. Hundreds have been injured, the ministry reported.

McWilliams said the U.S. embassy in Ukraine knows where the team is, has each team member’s name and would be ready to help evacuate the group should the situation worsen or an order be issued for Americans to leave. He said the team plans to stay because they believe that “God has got them there for this time and that they are not going to come back early unless they are forced to.”

The pastor said the group had their “greatest test” when they met together to decide if they should stay or leave the country.

“They unanimously decided that they feel they are needed more than ever,” McWilliams said.

In fact, in McWilliams’ last email conversation with missions pastor Jesse Gore, he learned the group is only requesting prayer for one thing.

“The team would ask specifically that they would pray that doors for presenting the gospel would be open and that God would use this for his glory and they would be able to present the gospel even more,” McWilliams said. “The families at home are probably the ones who are struggling the most, so pray for them that God would give them a peace that he is in control” and they would be reminded of his omniscience. “They are just as safe there in the midst of a danger zone as they would be in their own home, because God is watching over them,” he added.

The pastor asked that fellow believers pray for the team’s safety.

McWilliams encouraged Gore in their last conversation to remain steadfast and to remember that God is not surprised by the events of the past three days.

“‘Hold the fort, man,’” McWilliams told Gore. “‘Stand firm. Keep doing what God has called you there to do. Share the gospel any chance you get.’ I of course don’t need to tell him that, because he sees it the same way I do. God knew before they went over there that this was going to happen. It’s no accident that they’re there right now.”

In a Facebook post, Gore implored friends to pray—not for his safety, but for the people of Ukraine.

“I again plead with the people seeing this post to lift up the country of Ukraine in prayer. #prayforukraine,” Gore posted.


HeartCall trains women in relational evangelism

Well, duh!

It’s a common response to the 1992 book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” But unfortunately, the fundamental distinctions between men and women are often disregarded when it comes to evangelism. A one-size-fits-all approach dominates.

That’s why Jaye Martin developed HeartCall, an evangelistic series to train women to share the gospel in daily encounters.

She created the material and an accompanying devotional guide in the late 1990s because few women attended evangelism trainings hosted by her church, Houston’s First Baptist. An updated version of HeartCall addresses cultural nuances and includes men in the relationship-based outreach training.

“Most evangelism tools out there were written by men for men,” Martin, president of Jaye Martin Ministries, said.

They involved very direct cold calling—knocking on strangers’ doors and introducing people to the gospel beginning with the sin of mankind and the need for redemption.

Martin said that approach creates an unnecessary barrier for many female hearers.

As a women’s evangelism strategist for the North American Mission Board in 1997, Martin was tapped to create evangelism training for women. But she was one step ahead of the board. Emphasizing women’s God-given, deeply relational character, Martin had already created the HeartCall tract—a symbol-based means of gospel witness in a variety of social contexts. The symbolism proved providential when HeartCall was later translated into foreign languages.

To supplement the tract, Martin compiled the daily devotional “HeartCall: The Call to Prayer,” with more than 300 women from across the country with Southern Baptist ties contributing. An updated version was released last year. Martin, with assistance from her daughter Kelly Martin, is in the final stages of revising HeartCall evangelistic training books that recognize the role of men in relational outreach. Although not due for publication until June, the material is being used in HeartCall training sessions.

Between its initial publication in 1998 and 2009, HeartCall trained more people for evangelism than any tool NAMB had produced. Today the program has been translated into seven languages. The Spanish-language version includes the English translation to accommodate bilingual evangelism.

Now a champion of sharing the gospel in everyday encounters, Martin admitted that aside from church visitations she was not intentional about engaging her neighbors until about 1990.

Later she met Tracy Jones, whose testimony was a gut-wrenching reminder that Christians disengage to the peril of others.

Jones grew up never hearing about Jesus. Her parents divorced and each married and remarried more than once. That cycle kept Jones on the move, living little more than six months in any one place. At each new address no one shared the hope of the gospel she desperately needed to hear. It wasn’t until she was 22 that Jones heard the gospel and came to faith. She and Martin met 12 years later, became friends and Jones joined the Jaye Martin Ministries team.

Her testimony still haunts Martin. What had she left unsaid in the few years she failed to reach out to her neighbors? What needs—spiritual or physical—went unmet? Who did not hear the gospel because she did not share?

“We’re not asking you to go outside your world,” Martin said. “Our challenge is to open your eyes and look: Who does God have right in front of you?”

Sharing the gospel requires time and effort, luxuries believers are too often miserly about, she said. But it needn’t be complex, confrontational or even time-consuming. And, Martin said, it gets easier each time.

Taking its cue from Colossians 4:2-6, the ministry recognizes that evangelism begins in prayer and thanksgiving. When asking God to “open doors,” Christians should be prepared to walk through them and speak the gospel wisely and graciously. That includes witnessing to neighbors, co-workers, parents of children’s classmates, people who are regularly in and out of their lives, Martin said.

HeartCall training draws on the strength of local congregations to evangelize in their neighborhoods. The 30-hour HeartCall leadership training sessions enlist 30 people at a time, giving them to tools to train others to use the HeartCall tract.

“It is so simple. People have complicated evangelism over the years,” Martin said. “I just want to give people the tools to share Christ.”

For information on training sessions and materials visit

Reaching your neighbors

Here is a list of ways to get involved in the lives of people living in your community.

  1. House of prayer – Ask neighbors how you can pray for them. Keep in touch on needs as well as answered prayers.
  2. Prayer walking – Walk your neighborhood, praying as you go and looking for people and things to pray for. Carry some verses on cards to guide you. Take a small notepad and pen to record requests as people share them.
  3. Schools – Offer to volunteer to help for school functions. Bake things for teachers, assist as needed. Pray for the needs of those you meet. Get in touch and be a part of local Moms-in-Touch groups, as well as other prayer groups or student groups.
  4. Businesses – Ask how you can pray for the businesses in your community. Be available to assist and volunteer as they have needs.
  5. Community service and events – Volunteer for various service organizations to get to know those in the community.
  6. Welcome Newcomers – Get involved in the local welcome wagon or start your own, and encourage newcomers to the area with a note, list of area services including churches, helpful phone numbers, etc.
  7. Services – Look and see what is needed in your community. Maybe you can start a neighborhood watch program or a window washing service.  See the needs and fill them. Use your opportunities to pray and share Christ.
  8. Lessons – If you are gifted in a particular area, offer lessons or extra help.  A few ideas: tutoring, teaching piano, running errands, cleaning houses, yard work/gardening, window washing, etc.
  9. Clubs – Just about every area has some clubs that you can get involved in. Things like gardening, cooking, lunch or dinner groups, singles groups, play groups, shopping groups, tours, etc., are great ways to meet people for the cause of Christ.
  10. Co-ops – If you need any of the services of a co-op, this is a great way to meet people. Try baby-sitting, farmers market or other co-ops.
  11. Newsletters – If your community has a newsletter or newspaper, consider offering to help distribute, type or even submit articles and tips.
  12. Block or street parties – Host a block party for your neighbors. Offer to provide the meat and let everyone bring a covered dish. You can add other attractions such as clowns, face painting, water balloons and games to encourage interaction.
  13. Coffees or teas – Open your home to coffees or teas.  Keep it simple and build it around a theme such as back to school, summer fun, holidays, etc.
  14. Seeker studies – Start a Bible study using a book of the Bible. Set a starting and ending date, time, etc. Four to six weeks works well. Introduce Christ during the study.
  15. Topical studies – Start Bible studies on topics that would be of interest to the unchurched such as: parenting, friendship, stress busters and other areas of interest.
  16. Holiday parties – Celebrate the holidays by inviting your neighbors to celebrate your Christian traditions with you.
  17. Political involvement – Getting involved in campaigns and elections is a great way to meet your neighbors.
  18. Sports teams – Look for ways to host parties in conjunction with sporting events, or offer to help with coaching and other sports-related activities.
  19. Scouting – Volunteer to help with area scouting and camping events.  This is a great way to meet parents as well as kids.
  20. Support groups – Various kinds of support groups abound, and a Christian perspective is always needed. Offer your prayers as well as help as needed.
  21. Recreation centers and parks – Volunteer to help with planning and activities in the parks and recreational centers near you.

Look for places where there are people, and you will find numerous other ways to get involved in and reach those in your community.

The “why” and “how” of SBTC”s Look Like Heaven emphasis

The American School Board Journal says school systems champion diversity because it helps produce capable citizens.

Forbes magazine says the business world touts diversity because it boosts profits and spurs corporate success.

The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management says individuals and organizations perform better and yield the maximum benefit when diversity is a priority.

But churches say it pleases the Lord and draws sinners to the savior.

The secular institutions seem to define the importance of diversity using what could be called a gumball-machine mentality: Put in whatever is necessary to get out whatever is desired—a pragmatic and self-serving tactic. 

For churches, diversity is not about making money, making better people or even making people feel better. Instead, diversity is only about pleasing the Lord. Terry Turner, who finished his second term as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention last fall and the visionary behind the SBTC’s “Look Like Heaven” emphasis, said as much in describing his joy over the statewide plan.

“I am so proud and thankful for our convention, that took the initiative to make it a five-year plan to have churches be a part of,” Turner told the TEXAN. “It’s just exciting to be a part of a convention that thinks like that and is moving in that direction. I can see how it is really going to be a blessing to congregations and pastors as they represent heaven during that time. God is going to be really pleased.”

The Look Like Heaven emphasis is an endeavor adopted by the SBTC last fall. The goal: To promote and encourage the building of cross-cultural relationships among SBTC pastors and churches.

Greater diversity translates into more effective evangelism, said David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church and chairman of the committee that presented the emphasis to messengers at the 2013 SBTC annual meeting.

“As a convention, we understand we can more effectively reach our community for Christ when we more intentionally reflect the diversity that is in our community,” Fleming said. “The New Testament world was divided and diverse as is our world today. God did something amazing in the early church. He brought Gentiles and Jews together. So as we come together, [we’re] celebrating unity in the midst of diversity. As a convention, we are looking beyond our differences and embracing our diversity to see Jesus in each other and to let him be the draw that brings us together.”

But churches have not always led the way. Martin Luther King Jr. called the 11 a.m. hour on Sundays the “most segregated hour of America” when he preached in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968.

Research suggests most Christians want that to change.

According to a recent LifeWay study, only 13 percent of non-Catholic pastors say that in 2013—45 years after King’s observation that churches had not kept pace with national integration—their churches have more than one predominant ethnic group represented among their congregation.

Eighty-five percent, though, say they want to see their churches become diverse. So how can they do it?

Pastors, you could:

  • Swap pulpits with a pastor of another ethnicity
  • Combine choirs
  • Plan a joint revival
  • Take another pastor to lunch or coffee
  • Plan an outreach in each other’s communities
  • Stop by another pastor’s church to pray for him
  • Model diversity by hiring a diverse staff
  • Launch foreign language ministries
  • Invite smaller ethnic churches to meet on your church’s campus
  • Incorporate multi-cultural worship styles

Church members, you could:

  • Use the 1Cross app to share the gospel in other languages and invite people to church
  • Personally invite people of other ethnicities to Bible studies and events
  • Participate in joint worship services
  • Intentionally build relationships with members of churches unlike your own
  • Go out of your way to make every visitor welcome in your church service, especially those who may feel they don’t blend in
  • Learn another language
  • Help teach ESL classes
  • Teach your children what the Bible says about God’s love for people of all nations
  • Practice biblical hospitality in your home by welcoming people who don’t look like, talk like or live like you
  • Be willing to joyfully give up some comforts of “church as I’ve always known it” as your leaders design church services to reach and include a more diverse congregation.