Month: May 2014

Houston passes nondiscrimination law; pastors vow referendum drive

HOUSTON—By an 11-6 vote, the Houston City Council on Wednesday (May 28) approved a controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that broadens civil rights laws to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The measure passed despite the efforts of an ethnically diverse coalition of pastors who called the measure “deeply flawed” and a threat to religious liberty. The opposition pastors vowed to launch a city referendum petition to put the issue to a vote this fall.

Following the roll call vote after nine hours of proceedings, the council chambers erupted in cheers from spectators packing the room to speak overwhelmingly for the ordinance. Many proponents recounted stories of physical and verbal abuse and discrimination against those who identified as homosexual or transgender. Fewer than 20 of the 209 people addressing the council voiced their disapproval, although previous public hearings and rallies had drawn thousands who opposed the law, raising questions by some about the process inside the chamber.

Both sides of the debate invoked God and the Bible to defend their cause.

“I’m also here as a Houstonian who believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again,” John Gorczynski, president of the Texas Young Democrats, told the City Council. His organization fought for passage of a similar ordinance in San Antonio last year.

He said, “Hear me! There are Christians that love you. The opposition is loud. The hateful are loud. But I love you and so do others.”

Gorczynski’s remark may have been in response to chants of “Just say, ‘No!’” filtering into the chamber from an impromptu opposition demonstration formed on the steps of City Hall. The divisive ordinance served to unite racially and politically divergent church leaders from the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Ministers Against Crime, AME Ministers’ Alliance of Houston/Gulf Coast, Northeast Ministers’ Alliance, South Texas Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, South Texas District Council of the Assemblies of God, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Their four-week campaign against the ordinance ended in one final protest as coalition pastors walked out of the council chambers just before the public hearings began when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) supporters of the ordinance were given what appeared to be preferential treatment on the speaker’s roster. Councilman Dwight Boykin had asked for similar consideration for coalition pastors Willie Davis and Max Miller but was rebuffed.

“It was one of the most flagrantly disrespectful actions taken by an elected body toward its own constituency I have witnessed in over 30 years of involvement,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council and a coalition organizer.

The nondiscrimination ordinance—called HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) by supporters—duplicates existing federal and state law but adds sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of 13 other protected citizen classes.

In an open letter to Parker and the City Council, HAPC called the equivocation of sexual behavior and gender identity with the immutable characteristics of race, religion, sex and disability “patently offensive.”

Much of the opposition centered on the “public accommodation” provision of the law, which allows transgender individuals to use the public restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.

Critics argued the provision disregards the privacy of men and women using those same facilities and could put women and children at risk of male sexual predators. The concern, voiced repeatedly in recent weeks, was dismissed during the public hearing as a fear-mongering meme.

Prior to the meeting, David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church, told the TEXAN the public accommodations, although the most obvious red flag, is not the most egregious.

Fleming, Welch, Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church and former Southern Baptist Convention president, Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, and coalition pastors said the ordinance, at its core, poses a threat to religious liberties.

In a letter to the Greater Houston Partnership, an association of 2,000 Houston businesses, Sloan called the law ideological and divisive. The GHP endorsed the ordinance despite dissent in and out of its ranks.

“The proposed ordinance’s political definition of gender identity is simply the statement, by fiat, of what we are required to believe about personhood,” Sloan wrote.

The definition stands in stark contrast to traditionally held religious and philosophical understandings of personhood.

He continued, “Ours is not an arbitrarily understood position, nor is it socio-politically neutral; and the proposed ordinance is not ideologically, or theologically, neutral. It attempts to coerce, by legal definition, our adherence to beliefs and practices with which we profoundly disagree.”

“Now you have a fundamental Constitutional issue,” Fleming said. “The real question is do people have real religious liberty or just churches?”

Without invoking religion, Richard Thompson gave the council one of the most succinct dissents. He said, “If a law disallows disagreement, then the right of conscience, the most fundamental freedom, is deprived. Any law which elevates one side at the expense of the other is inherently unjust.”

The ordinance excludes “religious organizations” from compliance with the law. But Sloan distrusts the government’s ability to define the term, pointing to the university’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act and its requirement that Christian schools abide by its birth control mandates.

 

But several homosexual ministers testifying Wednesday scoffed at such concerns, arguing Christians—even the “misguided” ones opposing the measure—should recognize the need to affirm the LGBT community.

Others argued the law justly protects certain classes. Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church, said that though he believed some of the behaviors protected by the ordinance were sinful, the law would not keep him from believing that. And all citizens, as creations of God, should be treated “equally and well,” he said.

Numerous speakers cited “The Golden Rule” as central to the debate.

Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and president of Texas Values, accused council members of ignoring the will of their constituents by voting for the ordinance. His organization facilitated a campaign that forwarded 110,000 emails to the Houston City Council and the mayor opposing the ordinance.

Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church, said Monday (May 26) that two councilmen told him constituency opposition to the ordinance was as high as 10-1. Councilman Michael Kubosh, who attended a rally at Grace Community Church hosted by Hispanic pastors, said calls and emails to his office were 7-1 against the law. Kubosh is an at-large council member.

After hearing that influential community leaders were excluded from the drafting of the ordinance and opposition dismissed by proponents, Saenz filed a Texas Public Information Act request to review all correspondence related to the ordinance.

In response to the vote, Willie Davis, pastor of MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church, said, ““This ordinance was exposed to be nothing more than a political payoff to [Parker’s] national LGBT allies while completely ignoring and excluding legitimate community leaders in the discussions.”

But Chris Banks, quoting an Irish philosopher, told council to ignore their constituents.

Kubosh reminded Banks the City Council is a representative body and asked what he was to do with the 7,000 constituent calls and emails opposing the measure compared to about 1,000 in favor.

Banks replied, “You weren’t elected to do what the public wants. The public elected you to vote your conscience.”

Meanwhile, coalition leaders are preparing for a referendum petition drive, needing 17,000 voter signatures to put the ordinance on the ballot this fall.

“We are together to gather signatures, together in November at the ballot box for the referendum and will remain together in future elections,” said Hernan Castano, pastor of Iglesia Rios de Aceite and director of Hispanic Church Development for HAPC.

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SBTC Disaster Relief continues in Panhandle

FRITCH—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers continue to minister to the victims of the May 11 wildfire that swept through the Double Diamond residential district located near the Lake Meredith National Recreational Area near Fritch in the Texas Panhandle.

“The fire destroyed 225 homes, 143 outbuildings and more than 100 vehicles,” reported Jim McBride in the Amarillo Globe-News.

SBTC DR efforts are focused on four neighborhoods in the Double Diamond area, said Daniel White, SBTC white hat or incident commander for the first two weeks of the combined SBTC/Texas Baptist Men (TBM) relief effort. SBTC and TBM are coordinating joint efforts in the area. White hat responsibilities rotated to a TBM coordinator over the Memorial Day weekend. 

DR volunteers working out of the First Southern Baptist Church of Fritch included 25 SBTC men and women. Local helpers were also assisting the Baptist DR effort.

SBTC workers including work crews, feeding teams, operations personnel, assessment specialists, clean up and recovery crews, incident commanders and chaplains, White said. Some SBTC volunteers like Jim and Carolyn Partlow of Nacogdoches, members of Lufkin’s Harmony Hill Baptist, arrived at the beginning of the DR effort and plan to stay until all teams leave, White said.

SBTC personnel are using the church kitchen and a feeding unit brought from Pampa, to provide meals for local volunteers and the more than 50 out of town workers staying at First Southern Baptist of Fritch, White said.

Relief efforts have focused on “ash-out,” the clearing of burned debris and ashes from properties. Volunteers have also helped residents sift through the ashes for personal items and even the remains of beloved pets. SBTC chaplain assessors have led victims to Christ and seen many others make reaffirmations of faith.

Many of the homes destroyed were vacation or weekend homes.

“About 40 percent of the homes belong to locals; 60 percent are vacation or summer rental properties,” said Monte Furrh of Bonham, leader of the SBTC’s DR team “C” of skid steer operators, ash-out workers, and chaplains including Tim White, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Lamesa.

“We’ve been doing ash-out, clearing where the homes have burned and all that’s left lying on the slab are the roofs; all that’s left are the ashes of their belongings,” said Furrh, describing the effort.

“The work is hard but it is good,” said Elmer Reedy of Kemp, a member of Furrh’s team.

“We are here to serve the Lord, whether it be talking to the victims or cleaning up the ashes of their homes,” said Furrh, who added that he had met with homeowners personally and had even talked to others from Oklahoma over the phone.

As of May 20, DR workers had received 91 requests for assistance; 26 work orders had been completed, with 65 to go, said Jim Richardson, SBTC director of disaster relief.

Daniel White, pastor of Sylvester Baptist Church in Sylvester, expected the number of work orders to increase over the Memorial Day weekend. White assumed white hat duties from the SBTC’s Darryl Cason on Monday, May 19.

“I think we may have quite a few work orders come in on Saturday from homeowners who are working this week and haven’t been able to be out there to see what is being done,” White predicted. “We may get an even greater influx of orders after that.”

While non-profit relief agencies such as the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and other partners refer victims to Baptist DR headquarters, many of the requests for help come from people who have seen the yellow-hatted DR workers in the field, White said.               

“Mostly it’s been through word of mouth,” White said, noting that much of his job as white hat involved coordinating matters with church and local officials in the command center.

“The teams are reporting really good news when they come in each evening,” White said. “Several affected by the fire have prayed to receive Christ as savior and others have been encouraged in their Christian walk. The local church is ready to step in and help these people, some of whom have not been in church in a while.”

The work is expected to continue at least through the week of May 26-31, and perhaps into the first week of June,  White said

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church accepts pastor”s “50/50” challenge

In the 1940s, members of Central Baptist Church in Luling partnered to construct their own church building. When Pastor Beaux Hinote arrived in the summer of 2011, it was clear that some renovations were in order.

“The cost for our congregation would be demanding, but nothing that they were not willing to invest in,” said Hinote, serving in his first pastorate at Central Baptist. “The facilities were in bad condition and it was reflecting badly on our church. And yet, in my heart, I knew God demands that we love others as we love ourselves.”

It was this truth, Hinote said, that spurred him to challenge his congregation with what he refers to as the “50/50 rule.”

“The 50/50 rule is that we spend 50 percent of what God gives us in-house for the necessities of ministry in our local body and 50 percent for missions and outreach, building the kingdom outside the walls of our church,” Hinote said. “And since our vision for our church is ‘Love God, Love Others, Live Holy,’ I told the church we would only go forward with the renovations if we did for others to the same measure. The cost for the physical renovations would be about $15,000, so I challenged the church to raise an additional $15,000 for local ministry and missions.”

It took just over two months for the congregation to raise the sum. In addition to funding the renovations for their church building, the church was able to begin a new ministry partnership in Honduras.

The challenge has already taken root with the people of the church.

“We ask the congregation to give lovingly more than just the bare minimum of the tithe. They do and are very generous with what God has blessed them with,” Hinote said. “If I am doing my math right, we are a little less than halfway to our goal of the 50/50 rule.”

Hinote credits his passion for missions to his involvement in local and global missions projects throughout his life.

“From the border cities in Mexico to the seawall of Corpus Christi, I have seen the joy and growth that comes with being obedient to make disciples,” he said. “Missions is necessary because there are those who do not know the God who loves them.”

Hinote grew up the son of a plumber in the southeast corner of Texas before graduating from East Texas Baptist University and Southwestern Seminary. During that time he served on staff at several Baptist churches in associate positions, all while dismissing his own call to pastor.

“I once used to look down the hall at the pastor’s office door and smile to myself, giving God thanks that I did not have to do that job in the kingdom. I simply wanted to remain in the background, with less exposure,” Hinote recalls. “But he had different plans.”

Since answering the call to pastor and arriving at Central Baptist, Hinote said he has seen God work in incredible ways. The church has responded to his challenge not only with their giving, but also with their time.

In addition to helping establish infrastructure and support a church plant in Honduras, Central also started a local mission that provides the Luling community a hot meal twice a month. Last summer, the student ministry took a trip to do missions training. Also, the church has helped plant two churches through their local association.

“God is working in the lives of our people and they are building the kingdom in so many ways,” Hinote said. “I cannot begin to recount all the ways he is changing hearts to be bent toward missions and outreach, with evangelism at the forefront.”

Since seeing the church latch onto the 50/50 challenge, Hinote said that Central Baptist is an entirely new church.

“Things are visibly different. We have grown closer as a family, as well as grown numerically and financially. We are seeing people come to Christ, starting a relationship with our savior. Families are being restored. The gospel is being shared,” he said. “Our community is seeing the effects of a church obedient.”

I don”t fear science, but ¦

A recent Associated Press poll seems to indicate that the concerted effort to convince Americans to just trust the experts on matters like human origins and man-caused global warming/climate change is not succeeding. One item I read described this as “skepticism of science.” This phrase spins leftward a bit. While a little skepticism is not always bad, perhaps we don’t agree on what “science” denotes.

When Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis debated Bill Nye “The Science Guy” last February, they had a fundamental disagreement about the meaning of “science” that ended their ability to dialogue. Ham claims that science can be observational—the realm of engineering, math and modern invention—or historical, the realm of speculation based on a limited ability to extrapolate from current processes. Building an iPhone or developing a vaccine would result from the former type of science and saying the universe is 13.8 billion years old (or 6,000 years old) is of the latter. Ham would further contend that a person’s ability to develop a vaccine today is apart from his beliefs about the earth’s age. Bill Nye denied that this was so. Without accepting the majority opinion about the origin of all things, a person cannot be a credible scientist of any sort, he would say. They never could agree on a basic definition of “science.”

Why would 51 percent of Americans (and 77 percent of evangelicals) remain skeptical that creation began with a “big bang” nearly 14 billion years ago? We are skeptical partly because the certainty of the belief’s evangelists has led them to become elitist. “Agree with us,” they seem to say, “or you are ignorant, even stupid.” A reasonable man can doubt that any other man can by present-day observation know what happened 14 billion years ago. One does not have to doubt the demonstrable mathematics, physics or geology to doubt that creation began from a singularity billions of years ago.

This overreach is also demonstrated in climate science. The experts that claimed we would be out of resources and space, or killed by a second Ice Age, by A.D. 2000 now say that we can stave off a global heat wave by dismantling our economy. Thirty-seven percent of Americans (56 percent of evangelicals) doubt that climate change, to what degree it is happening, is best explained by human activity.

We also seem to doubt that evolutionary theory best explains the origin of man. Forty-two percent of Americans and 64 percent of evangelicals consider this theory to be insufficiently proven. Some of these doubters are Ph.D. physicists and astronomers that you’ll never hear named on MSNBC unless they are arrested for murder. Others are laymen relative to the sciences who begin with a different assumption about what’s possible or likely. We are not unable to understand the claims of the professionals or ignorant to the general processes being cited; we are just unconvinced and sometimes insulted by those who clearly think themselves our betters. 

Evangelicals have not generally made this about who believes in Jesus and who doesn’t. Those of us who’ve lived to adulthood know brothers who disagree with us on things none of us can prove. It’s no real puzzler to most of us that a man could claim to believe in God and yet believe that creation is unimaginably ancient. But when you put the shoe on the other foot you find that theists and biblical Christians are rare birds within “mainstream” science, perhaps because atheists and merely nominal Christians get to define “mainstream.” Religion as a comfort for the weak minded may be acceptable to The Science Guy or to “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson, but when the grown-ups are talking the conversation is purely naturalistic, no supernatural thing is to be considered.

So no, we are not skeptical of science or afraid of it. There are few reasons I’d ever discourage a young believer from pursuing a career in the hard sciences—all have to do with bad theology and lazy thinking they will encounter in the academy. The prophets of popular science are ardent and sincere in their encouragement to send our children into the sciences. It should be no wonder that we consider the intolerance toward Christian doctrine we’ve encountered even outside college faculties to be an obstacle to considering such a heavy investment. 

Today, I’ll trust the brakes on my car and on the car behind me. Tonight, I’ll take my cholesterol pill with no fear that it will strike me blind. I even understand in a limited way how these innovations operate. The difference between designing anti-lock brakes and claiming that all life arose because of blessed randomness is clear to me, even if those more intelligent cannot see it.

When a man tells me “the science is settled” on things as widely debated as these matters, I hear a political rather than a scientific statement. When the U.S. secretary of state says that skepticism about man-caused climate change is “malpractice,” I have to laugh a little. When Bill Nye suggests that doubt about evolution will keep Kentucky (the location of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum) in the dark ages and cause America to fall behind the rest of the world, it rolls off my back much the same way that the precepts of other religions will do. Frankly, the discussions about science that we normally hear really are more about religion and politics than they are about testing theories by observation. Skepticism will grow as our scientific and political leaders continue to deny this self-evident truth.

“Digital immigrants” get crash course in technology seminar for churches

Technology and the Internet have become as commonplace in church life as hymnals and the offering plate. In fact, while technology has not replaced those two particularly well-known church icons, it has presented them in new variations. Worship lyrics can now be projected onto walls or screens, and church members can give tithes and offerings by credit card via an online portal.

In light of this not so subtle shift, the Dallas Baptist Association held a Technology 101 seminar earlier this spring to help bring what presenter Brian James refers to as “digital immigrants” up to speed. Digital immigrants, said James, director of technology and communications at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, are those who remember a time before technology exploded onto the scene. In contrast, digital natives, he said, are those born into the technological age—today’s kindergarteners, for example.

“My son, who is not even 2 years old, already knows how to work this thing,” he said, holding up his iPhone.

But, being born before the boom of technology—when no one had an email, let alone three accounts synched to a phone to which they have access 24/7—does not mean everyone older than 5 gets excepted from the expectation of digital involvement, he said.

“It’s not just our kids,” James said. “It’s me. It’s our adults. It is growing. None of us are really immune to this thing called technology.”
Not even churches.

In its 10 years of existence, Facebook has accrued 1.23 billion subscribers, James said.

“That equals the population of India,” he said. “That’s four times the United States’ population. It took the Catholic church 2,000 years to have that many followers.”

With that many people connecting with friends, family, businesses and organizations through technology each day, James explained, it simply becomes a frontier that churches must learn to skillfully navigate, all to the glory of God.

James highlighted several spokes of the technology wheel including social media, websites, email marketing, videos and church management software. When asked where a small church should begin if they have limited manpower and finances, James said, “Website.”

“Church websites are becoming the front door of your church,” he said. “People searching for a church now don’t go to a phone book anymore; they go online. That is their first impression of your church.”

That first impression, he said, needs to convey that there is current and ongoing activity at the church.

“Content is king,” he said. “If it’s still got last Christmas’ musical on there, it’s static. It needs to be updated. It needs to be fresh.”

James mentioned setting a clear goal for the site to either primarily be a hub for members or to primarily be geared toward visitors. He also mentioned aiming to create a “responsive” site that will acclimate well to viewing devices of varied sizes, such as phones, tablets and desktop computers.

For sending mass emails, James pointed to Constant Contact and MailChimp and advised that midweek is the best time to send email blasts. Monday, folks are busy getting back to work from the weekend, and Friday they’re too busy winding down for the weekend, he said. He also warned not to overload church members with too-frequent emails and to make sure the emails are spam-friendly so as not to end up in junk folders.

In regards to social media, James discussed Facebook, Twitter and HootSuite, a social media “dashboard” that allows users to interact through and manage several social media outlets at once. The obvious positive to these, he said, is their being free. Both Facebook and Twitter offer a church an opportunity to connect and interact with people, to get the word out about upcoming events, to take the temperature, so to speak, of what’s important to people and what gets them talking and to point people to the website. Advertising on Facebook, while not free, he said, is also quite inexpensive.

With Twitter, users have 140 characters or less to get a thought out or a point across.

“Twitter is great for short little nuggets of information,” James said, also discussing how to use hashtags, handles and retweets.

James also suggested integrating video into a church’s technology tool bag by using it for announcements, testimonies and mission reports. This way, he said, the fluff can be edited out and the pertinent information can actually make it through to the intended audience.

Lastly, James talked about church management systems that help to take church records such as phone lists, membership rolls and pictorial directories, among other things, and place them in an easy-to-access and often cloud-based database. This database, he said, can many times be accessed from a smart phone, becoming a clear aid in the ministry of the church.

Pastor Gordon Moore of Galloway Avenue Baptist Church in Mesquite said he picked up several hints and tips that will help his church to continue using technology to bolster their ministry.

“We’re paying for a mail service right now to do email blasts, and with our budget being tight, we’re always looking for ways to cut expenses. So as fellow minister Kenny Moore once said, ‘You can’t cut a thousand dollars in one place, but you can cut a dollar in a thousand places.’ So this will be helpful knowing we can save a little money going to MailChimp than with the service we’ve been using. It was also good to learn about how we can integrate some of our events with Facebook.”

Dallas pastor employs disappearing act to explain how Christ can remove sin guilt

DALLAS—In one moment, Rene Lopez is a seminary professor reading dissertations. In another, he’s the pastor of a Spanish-language congregation in Dallas. In a third scene, Lopez pulls a wardrobe change and appears as an illusionist answering to the stage name Ariel. It’s often all in a day’s work for Lopez.

Lopez, pastor of Iglesia Biblica Nuestra Fe, also serves as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and assistant professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary Online while also running a ministry he began in 2005—Scripture Unlocked Ministries. Through Scripture Unlocked Ministries, Lopez began his “illusions with a message” gospel presentation that he now presents across Texas and much of the nation.

“Besides my primary passion for God’s Word, I always had another passion that now I’ve been able to develop, and that is doing illusions and mixing it with an evangelistic message at the end,” said Lopez, who began his ministry work in the mid-1990s. He said it was five years ago that he and his wife purchased a briefcase full of beginner magic tricks while on vacation in Nevada.

“That night I must have stayed up till two or three in the morning looking at that like a little kid,” Lopez said. “I thought, ‘Why not incorporate this into the ministry?’”

He eventually grew the evangelism-illusion program from a few small tricks into a full lights, sound, smoke and stage performance. The entire show is laced with gospel nuggets, and at the end, Lopez gives a clear gospel presentation. Lopez said that since he is meticulously careful to never give someone the chance to accuse him of “selling the gospel,” he adapts the end of the program depending on whether tickets have been sold for the event or if a church or organization has offered free admission.

“If a church decides that selling tickets to provide such a show is the way to go, we always advise to separate the show from the message at the end, so as not to be accused of selling the gospel,” Lopez said. “I’m very sensitive to that. Throughout the show I make biblical references, lightly, using illustrations, but at the conclusion I give the punch line in how all those marvelous illusions witnessed are not real, but illusions. I then introduce everyone to the real miracle worker, Jesus Christ, who can take nothing and make it into something and who can make things we want gone from our lives disappear.”

Lopez said he then goes on to use small illusions to demonstrate the necessity of being a part of a local church and preparing to meet Christ face-to-face. At the conclusion of a show for which tickets have been sold, Lopez tells the crowd that the show is over and that they may leave, but that he has a short message he will share if anyone would like to stay to hear it.

“A handful of families get up and leave,” Lopez said. “Most people stay.”

When a church pays for the program and offers it as a part of its ministry and outreach, Lopez said he includes more of the gospel message throughout the show, still stopping to give a clear presentation at the end to invite people to accept Christ as Savior. He said he has seen people come to faith in Christ and recommit their lives to him through the evangelism-illusion shows. The churches then assume the task of following up with those people from their own communities, he said.

In addition to the shows being an evangelistic tool, Lopez said they simply provide family-friendly, wholesome entertainment that is “lacking in today’s culture.”

“Obviously it’s entertainment,” Lopez said of the show, which includes him slicing someone in two, escaping from a padlocked box, making a girl disappear and getting a table to float in mid-air. “But the end is where the punch is. I think doing something like this in churches will not only go over big with the youth and adult believers in the church as being great wholesome entertainment, but even better and more important, this is a venue to attract non-believers to a non-threatening setting.”

Lopez is bilingual and presents the evangelism-illusion show in either English or Spanish. His ministry website is scriptureunlocked.org.

Cruz shares platform with Sloan addressing “Faith and Freedom in the Public Square”

HOUSTON—While Robert S. Sloan said same-sex marriage is certainly not a civil rights issue, the Houston Baptist University President barely batted an eye when Sen. Ted Cruz, the junior Republican from Texas, speaking at a “Faith and Freedom in the Public Square” forum at HBU May 2, said “school choice” is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

The conservative politician and the university president met to discuss a wide range of issues including religious liberty, immigration, same-sex marriage, and the state of education in America with World News Group’s editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky, who asked an array of questions before a packed audience of nearly 1,200 in the Morris Cultural Arts Center.

Mostly directing questions to Sloan and Cruz, who is a member of Houston’s First Baptist Church, Olasky often shared his own thoughts in a 50-minute session that frequently erupted in laughter and applause.

Warren Cole Smith, vice-president of World News, shaped questions from a social media feed and directed them to the three men for a 30-minute session at the end.

Sloan rejected same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue on equal footing with the civil rights of African Americans—a question Smith posed.

“It’s simply not ethnicity (or) skin color,” Sloan said. “Same-sex behavior is different. Any sexual experience celebrated outside the confines of marriage is a ‘denigration of this great gift of God,’” Sloan said.

SCHOOL CHOICE

Olasky, in asking Cruz a question about education, asserted that Texas as a “red state” doesn’t have much by way of school choice.

“I think it is an absolute outrage,” Cruz said. “I think school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century and I think we need to have real passion for kids who are trapped right now in failing schools. Education is foundational to opening up opportunities to having a chance at the American dream.”

Cruz said as far as school choice, there is “political failure” on both sides of the issue, and instead there needs to be passionate people who are willing to speak for the kids.

“What choice is all about is to being willing to give low income kids the same opportunities the middle class and rich kids have always had,” Cruz said.

Answering a slightly different question, Sloan said university tuition has become inflated as a result of teacher tenure and government money. There is “increased inefficiency where government money is given,” he said.

On the challenge of HBU becoming a place of “religious faith” with some things unquestioned, but also a place of “open-ended inquiry,” Olasky noted a natural tension.

“I think it is in the nature of the Christian faith that we hold both of those in tension,” Sloan said. “In the first place we have a great confession of Jesus Christ as Lord  over all things visible and invisible.”

In making a confession of faith, a person “simultaneously” asserts and confesses, he said, describing it as a confession that assumes man’s sinfulness and comes with humility. “So the very presupposition that he is Lord is that we are not. And so we humble ourselves,” he said, by listening to God.

“All truth is God’s truth. I’ve got to be open to it.”

Responding to Olasky’s query about the role of religion in college, Cruz said there is good news in looking at the American people and bad news in higher education.

“Much of the academy has been captured by the far left and there is this orthodox teaching that is secular in nature that teaches one particular worldview and that does not permit debate,” Cruz said.

Noting a commencement service in which he participated at the University of California at Berkeley a few years ago, Cruz said students tried hard to be rude, even when they were amused by his jokes. He reminded those students if they wanted to change the world it would be helpful to understand the views of those on the other side.

“So often in public debate, those on the other side are caricatured as either stupid or evil,” he said.

Olasky agreed, remembering a time a group of protesting students wore T-shirts with conflicting messages on either side.

“That sounds a bit like the U.S. Senate,” Cruz quipped.

UNNECESSARY ENEMIES

Describing the U.S. Senate Dining Room like a “Mean Girls” movie, Olasky asked Cruz if he had made any unnecessary enemies.
Cruz said his primary focus is not on Washington, D.C., but on the job he was elected to, representing 26 million Texans. “We have got enormous challenges in this state. We are facing fiscal economic challenges; we are facing stagnant growth. We are facing an administration that is consistently infringing on the constitutional rights of Americans,” he said.

Olasky asked Sloan about decisions he made at Baylor University, where he served as president for 10 years prior to coming to HBU and if the changes made were necessary.

“I’m certain there had to be some unnecessary enemies because I am a fallen creature,” Sloan said. “I look back on any experience in life and I assure you I’ve made many mistakes. I failed to understand appropriately, failed to communicate well. I think the best thing to do is to acknowledge mistakes you made and to go on—ask the Lord’s forgiveness, ask other people’s forgiveness and do the best you possibly can.”

With acknowledgement that “we live in a Freudian age,” Sloan said there is a lot of time spent in introspection and Christians should have humility, but also a certain courage. “We ought to say, ‘Here look—this is what I believe.’ I don’t want to have to apologize for what I believe. I want to live with integrity and faithfulness and collegially bring people along.”

MISTAKES

Deflecting another question about mistakes at Baylor, Sloan told Olasky: “I am much more concerned thinking about what Houston Baptist University should be. I’m committed to Christian higher education. I think the country needs institutions that are unapologetically committed to Christ; they are committed to academic excellence; that have a deep sense of free inquiry. They are not afraid of the truth. [They] are not just hunkered-down regional religious schools, but are also not private schools that are so worried about prestige and image that they leave their heritage of their faith and religion.”

Continuing after sustained applause, Sloan said: “I think that faith and academic excellence are not a zero sum game. … I think if we are committed to a God of all truth, that the Christian faith is not something to fear, that we can ask any question, that we not fear any question … and so we want here to have a faculty that are excellent, that are committed to Christ, that do research, that teach, and by the way, not only do they write books and do blogs, but we play NCAA Division I football.”

The university experience plays a large part in the lives of the mostly 18 to 22-year-olds who look at the practices and behaviors modeled all around them—“and we have refugees from the 1960s who are standing up as professors,” Sloan said.

After a long silence following a question about the biggest mistake he has made in the past 16 months on the job, Cruz said it could be that he hadn’t persuaded his colleagues to his point of view on issues.

TRADING ROLES

Olasky asked Cruz and Sloan to predict what they would do if they were to switch roles.

Sloan said he wouldn’t necessarily create any new laws because the problem is not enough laws, but that the laws are not enforced. “I think I would try and pursue not more laws, but transparency in the ways things are practiced. I think when the light shines on unconstitutional or illegal practices and you just sort of hold them up you can make a real difference. Whatever senators can do, promote hearings, founding principles, making sure textbooks are honest about our history, there are many practices I would try and promote to protect religious freedom.”

Citing Obamacare, Sloan said it is “absolutely unconscionable. It is against our religious liberty and is a violation of those things that we hold most dear” to force the school to provide abortion-inducing drugs through its insurance company.

“I guess our administration just thinks that our religious views don’t matter, or they are not sincerely held or that they define religion, or that they are the neutral ones and we are the sectarian ones,” Sloan said. “Again, how can you improve upon the fact that ‘Congress will make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.’”

Cruz said if he were the university president, he would inculcate young people with a focus on the understanding of the principles on which this country was built. Free market principles—the free enterprise system and religious liberty.

Counting religious liberty as the “first and foremost of the ‘extraordinary constitutional liberties reflected in the Bill of Rights’” and noting how the foundation protecting our individual liberties created the “most incredible nation in the history of the world,” Cruz said, “We can’t protect those principles if young people aren’t trained.”

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Drawing on recent court decisions regarding homosexual activists embroiled in court activities with Christian cake decorators and photographers, Olasky asked how each one would proceed.

“I’m a lousy cook!” Cruz joked, before he said seriously, “Everyone has to reconcile their faith.”

“In my own perspective, I am perfectly willing to interact with anyone,” Cruz said. Look, I work in the U.S. Congress. But at the same time I don’t think the law should be forcing Americans to be violating their religious faith.”

Sloan said he recognizes business owners who are “on the horn of a dilemma” in providing a same-sex marriage as a wedding photographer or baker. He would refuse to photograph a ceremony.  Sloan said part of the problem lies in having to be licensed for those jobs. “Having a license should not cause you to violate your religious faith and if we have laws like that those laws ought to be opposed,” Sloan said.

Speaking transparently and truthfully about such topics comes at a cost, Sloan said. “Now if you speak to the topic and oppose same-sex marriage, you are a hater, a bigot and so on. The conversation has just shut down. There is no religious freedom. There is no freedom of speech. There is this immediate assumption that ‘the debate is over’ and therefore you have to be silent. Our culture has shifted. It is easy for us to bemoan the state of our culture. …”

Olasky credited liberal journalists for having been “very adept at finding highly sympathetic people who love each other and want to be together” to represent the cause of same-sex marriage. “And gee, who’s gonna be against that except someone who at least in the typical journalistic slant has some homophobia or something?”

Sloan recommended HBU’s apologetics program as a means of preparing students to defend their faith in the culture. Responding to a question about the growth of atheism, Sloan said he believes the growth of religious indifference exceeds any increase in atheism.

“We are made by God and there is a longing for God in the human heart,” he explained. “To be an atheist requires an extraordinary suspension of mind and will.”

With scholars like Lee Stroebel serving on the HBU apologetics faculty, Sloan said students are equipped to defend their faith. “It’s important for people to know what they believe and why they believe and how to articulate that.”

Olasky added, “The way to fight on that issue and on every other issue is to try and bring people as best we can with God’s grace to a deeper understanding of what the Bible says.”

Cruz expressed gratitude for the preparation he received as a student at Houston’s Second Baptist School. He told Sloan, “I am grateful for the work you do every day to train young people academically and strengthen their faith and strengthen their walk for Christ and strengthen their ability to stand and witness to others.”

The event was presented by the new Center for Law and Liberty at HBU and Hashtag Productions, along with World Magazine.