Month: October 2014

Houston mayor withdraws subpoenas for sermons

HOUSTON –Mayor Annise Parker during a press conference Wednesday defended the city’s subpoenas of local pastors calling them “legal, and valid, and appropriate” even as she called on City Attorney Dave Feldman to withdraw the court orders.

The withdrawal of subpoenas of five pastors came after two weeks of national criticism from Parker’s political foes and allies including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, who criticized the original subpoenas that called for the pastors’ sermons. But meetings Tuesday with local and out-of-state pastors proved the tipping point in convincing the mayor to backtrack on the orders.

None of the subpoenaed pastors or those involved in the lawsuit against the city were included in the meetings.

Although thankful the subpoenas have been recalled, Pastor Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council and one of those subpoenaed, said the damage to religious liberties has already been done.

“If we have a single person, or two, who have positions of authority who can take away the voting rights of a million, we no longer live in a constitutional republic,” he said speaking on a local radio show Thursday morning.

Welch was referring to the lawsuit against the city alleging Feldman violated the city charter by dismissing thousands of signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of a controversial ordinance championed by the mayor. Invalidating the signatures, which had already been certified by City Secretary Anna Russell, meant the issue would not go before the Houston voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which supports the ordinance, cautioned the mayor with regard to the original petitions.

“While a lot of things are fair game in a lawsuit, government must use special care when intruding into matters of faith. The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute,” the ACLU noted in an Oct. 17 press release.

In her press conference Wednesday, Parker ceded the original subpoenas calling for pastors’ sermons were overly broad and a point of concern for clergy. The call for sermons was withdrawn, but Parker was hard pressed to withdraw the subpoenas in their entirety.

“The existing subpoenas, which are focused solely on the collection of data for the petition, are legal and valid and appropriate,” Parker told the press while surrounded by local pastors.

But criticism of the subpoenas also came from those who supported the controversial ordinance calling for civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Houston Pastor Rudy Rasmus stood with Parker during a press conference in defense of the ordinance when the petition’s 50,000 signatures were delivered to the city July 3. Local pastors Chris Seay and Jim Herrington also supported the city ordinance and its legal fight but joined Rasmus Tuesday in a meeting asking Parker to withdraw the subpoenas.

The mayor said she left that meeting unpersuaded.

More pressure was brought to bear in a second meeting later that day with seven pastors from out of state.

“Our concern was very limited,” Rob Schenck, a minister and president of the National Clergy Council, told the TEXAN.

According to a press release from the mayor’s office other pastors included Pat Mahoney of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Myle Crowder from Utah, David Anderson from Florida, Sean Sloan from Arkansas and two others.

Confronting the mayor about the subpoenas—not the ordinance—was their objective. Schenck said pastors across the country told him they were “alarmed and intimidated” by the subpoenas, particularly the demands for sermons.

Not wanting to distract from their singular mission, Schenck said the group did not meet with the Houston pastors involved in the lawsuit prior to their meeting with Parker. He said they wanted to press the case for withdrawal without appearing to side with her political foes.

Although pleased the meetings proved successful, Welch was frustrated it took pressure from the mayor’s local political allies and out-of-towners to force her hand.

And Parker’s subpoena withdrawal came without an apology.

“They didn’t make any effort to reach out to the five who had been subpoenaed and say, “Oh, we’re sorry. We shouldn’t have done this,” he said on the radio show.

The mayor’s motivation for the subpoenas was clear.

“It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance,” she said in the press conference.

If the legal action against the city fails to produce a referendum vote on the ordinance, the city charter does not allow for a second petition. The law will go into effect.

In response to Parker’s announcement, Erik Stanley, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom representing the five subpoenaed pastors said, “The mayor really had no choice but to withdraw these subpoenas, which should never have been served in the first place. The entire nation—voices from every point of the spectrum left to right—recognizes the city’s action as a gross abuse of power.”

Another group of pastors from across the nation arrived in Houston Tuesday as a show of solidarity with the five subpoenaed pastors. Some of those who traveled to Houston included William Owens Sr., a minister and founder of The Coalition of African American Pastors, Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephens Church of God in Christ in San Diego, Bishop Michael Bates of Calvary Christian Center in St. Louis, Cherilyn Eager of the American Leadership Fund, and Janet Boynes of Janet Boynes Ministries.

They did not seek a meeting with the mayor but held a press conference expressing their concern about the mayor’s overreaching authority and violations of religious liberties. Several of the African-American pastors said the administrations’ dismissal of the petition reminded them too much of voter rights suppression.

Seoul Baptist Church pastor to be nominated for SBTC vice president

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, announced Oct 29 that he will nominate Sookwan Lee, pastor of Seoul Baptist Church in Houston, to serve as vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Barber plans to make the nomination at the SBTC annual meeting, which will take place Nov. 10-11 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s MacGorman Chapel in Fort Worth.

“Pastor Sookwan Lee has served his church with the level of prayerful devotion that exemplifies the highest ideals of the Christian pastorate,” Barber said.

“He has served the SBTC with unrelenting faithfulness and wisdom. Electing Pastor Lee will exemplify the “Look Like Heaven” theme that our state convention has followed this year, not primarily because of his Korean ethnicity, but because of the way his character and spirit bear the marks of Jesus. THAT’S what Heaven looks like.

Hundreds profess faith in Christ at three-day oil field trade show

ODESSA—A Harley Davidson motorcycle may seem an unlikely tool for evangelism, but for attendees of the Permian Basin International Oil Show (PBIOS), Oct. 21-23, a drawing to win a brand new set of wheels also provided an opportunity to hear the gospel. 

Local Southern Baptist churches partnered to provide free lunch across the street from the PBIOS for its participants. Each person received a meal ticket, and if they agreed to watch a three-minute video presentation of the gospel, they could enter that ticket in a raffle for several prizes, including the motorcycle.

“Our heart was to try to reach those in the oil field,” said Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Director of Evangelism Nathan Lorick.

The idea originally came about last year when a group of church leaders in Odessa gathered together to plan a joint effort to share Christ in their city. Pastor Ivy Shelton of Sherwood Baptist Church said when the dates of the oil show first came up, the consensus was to choose another time to hold an event, but they soon recognized the potential gospel impact.

“Not only do we have a great number of people that participate in that expo from the area but also from the state of Texas and the nation,” Shelton said. “We realized it could be an evangelistic event that would not only impact our city but would also send the seeds of the gospel to parts of our world.”

Out of an estimated 1,000 people who came to eat lunch over the course of three days, 600 viewed the video, and more than 200 made professions of faith. Many others also reached out with needs for prayer.

“The big thing was just seeing people bow their heads to pray to receive Christ. That was the most amazing thing, to see that and know there was a change happening in people’s hearts,” Shelton said.

Along with Sherwood Baptist Church, members from First Baptist Church of Odessa, Mission Dorado Baptist Church, Kingston Avenue Baptist Church and Living Word Baptist Church contributed to the event, which they called “Fractured,” playing off of a common oil field term. It was truly a collaborative effort, supported also by local businesses that donated food; the SBTC, which provided gospel tracts to engage oilfield workers; and the Oilfield Christian Fellowship, which gave thousands of Bibles to be handed out.

“A really cool thing for the church was just to see all the different churches and people from those churches coming together and cooperating together to pull this thing off,” Shelton said. “Seeing God’s people come together, seeing people that were ministered to that needed that, and just seeing lives that were changed.”

Lorick is also thankful for the joint effort of the churches in planning the Fractured event.

“The churches really worked hard,” Lorick said. “God showed up. There were many people saved, and many people engaged with the gospel, and we’re extremely grateful for the partnership we have with the churches in this event.”

The oil show has packed up and moved out of Odessa, but leaders look forward to the long-lasting effects on their community, and even beyond.

“As we do the follow-up, we hope to see the people that accepted Christ come into our local churches and strengthen the churches that are here, and in turn, strengthen ministry in our city,” Shelton said. “We also hope that those that were from out of town or other states, that the seeds of the gospel would go back with them and impact those communities also.”

Though the next Permian Basin International Oil Show isn’t scheduled until 2016, Shelton said Fractured was designed with the intention to carry on in the future.

“We branded it in such a way that we can use that name again and there will be some recognition of it and what we’re doing. Our hope is that in two years, we can do it again.”

You have the right to remain silent

Based on nothing but a decent imagination, I believe that Houston Mayor Annise Parker was surprised at the blowback she is receiving for her administration’s effort to intimidate pastors who have spoken against that city’s ordinance giving preferred status to homosexuals. She doubtless knew that some disagreed with her, but I think she underestimated the level of outcry that followed the subpoenas issued for the sermons and other communications of five pastors who’d disagreed with her “personal” campaign to normalize what is not normal. She may have not intended, as she says, to issue such broad subpoenas, but I cannot believe she had any regrets prior to the bipartisan clamor.

Houston’s mayor is one of our current crop of liberal politicians who sincerely do not understand religious liberty. To these leaders, we have the freedom to worship in the privacy of our homes and church buildings, but our freedom to live as transformed people in our weekday life is more inconvenient to a pluralistic culture. Freedom of worship makes more sense to them than actual religious freedom.

It seems to me that we have been Mirandized—read our rights. Are we willing for anything we say to be used against us in a court of law? We should be, and we should position ourselves for more direct threats than the one we see in Houston. One author I’ve been reading suggests that “homophobia,” which may be defined in our culture as “disagreeing with popular culture about sexual morality,” could one day be classed as a psychopathology. Tyrannical regimes of the 20th century used such a diagnosis broadly against dissenters of any sort. They were drugged, re-educated or just locked up until they were no longer a threat to the state dogma. So how do we prepare; how do we behave wisely in an age when unpopular sermon topics are reasonably seen as actionable by some public officials?

  • Be wise as serpents. One thing that can make trouble for us is foolish talk. Can you adopt the discipline of speaking in email, social media, prayer meetings, sermons and Sunday School lessons in a way that you’d be willing to see it in the public record? Because it is part of the public record and available to those who do not like what you stand for. This wisdom is James’ counsel in James 3:1.
  • Carefully draw your lines in the sand. We all need convictions but sometimes boast of too many—more than we’ll actually stick to. Avoid boasting of more courage than you have as Peter did in John 13:37. Think about your priorities. Which things are more important than your wealth, comfort, physical freedom or even your life? The list will likely be pretty short. Now stand.
  • Be innocent as doves. 1 Peter 2:20 says there is a difference between suffering for the gospel and suffering because we forgot or refused to pay our taxes. Not everything is a conflict over religious liberty. Peter and John refused to stop preaching in the face of threats from the authorities, but they didn’t disdain law and courtesy generally. 
  • Be at peace with all people, if you can. Some of us love a fight and others fear it above all things. Both the bellicose and the irenic among us must stifle the urge to always respond as we prefer, with a fist or a hug, as the case may be. Peace with others should be our intent, not at all costs but in most cases.
  • Pray God’s best on would-be enemies. That’s not the same as praying that they will get what they want or succeed at what they attempt—we should be careful about praying those things for anyone—but God’s best may be conviction, judgment or prosperity. Those determined to oppose righteous things you do cannot make you hate them, by the way. They can hate you, but you have the power to love them.

The current situation in Houston is not the big test of our era, I predict. It’s startling to see the disdain of public officials expressed toward Christians in Houston, but this is an early birth pang. To me, it’s a warning to get my own house in order—to consider the trials of those like Saeed Abedini, even as that situation seems remote from here. If persecution intensifies in the U.S. or if it does not, we are foolish to be too comfortable or feel too safe in a world that hates our Lord and his righteousness. This is not our home, and we are blessed to be reminded of that.

Una Nueva Familia: Anglo church plants Hispanic congregation to reach growing community

Jose and Melissa Medina arrived in the U.S. from their native Puerto Rico in January 2012 with their two young children, two suitcases, a small amount of money and hopes for Melissa to become a schoolteacher in Dallas and Jose to attend seminary in Fort Worth. However, when those plans never materialized, the couple was left waiting on God’s direction.

The Medinas began attending North Richland Hills Baptist Church, where church members welcomed them in like family, helping them find jobs and a home. Jose began working as a Spanish-speaking counselor, where he taught classes on domestic violence, substance abuse, and theft prevention.

Medina was also introduced to Hector Mendez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Fort Worth and church starting center Hispanic consultant for Tarrant Baptist Association. Mendez invited him to serve in his church’s youth ministry and even gave him occasional opportunities to preach.

Around this same time, Normandale Baptist Church in Fort Worth desired to start a Spanish ministry to reach the growing number of Hispanics in its community but lacked financial resources and someone who could lead the effort. So John Mark Yeats, then-pastor of Normandale, contacted SBTC Church Planting Lead Associate David Alexander for help.

A short time later, Medina found himself sitting at a table with Mendez, Alexander and Yeats to discuss the ministry at Normandale. All agreed it was a needed ministry and that Medina would be a great fit to lead it.

When he was told that the church had limited funds for the ministry, Medina simply replied, “OK. I’ll do it without money. I’m going to do it for free.” Members at Normandale, however, insisted on taking up an offering and were able to provide some financial support for Medina and his family.

Medina and his wife started Normandale Espanol, a Spanish ministry of the church, in February 2013. They led a Spanish-speaking Bible study on Sunday mornings and connected with Hispanic families involved in Normandale’s soccer ministry for children in the community.

Through Medina’s connections at the counseling center, he also began to receive referrals for Hispanic families who could not afford the services but were open to free pastoral counseling. As he counseled families, he invited them to the Bible study at Normandale.

Spanish Ministry or Church?
As the group grew, Medina and the pastors at Normandale were faced with a choice.

“At some point, we had to make a decision,” Medina recalls. “Did we want to be a church, or did we want to be a counseling ministry?”

Through discussions with Alexander at the SBTC, they agreed that the best decision was to transition Normandale’s Spanish ministry to a church plant sponsored through a partnership with the SBTC and the North American Mission Board. They believed this strategy would best meet the long-term vision of reaching Hispanics while avoiding common concerns of a Spanish ministry becoming over-dependent on the Anglo church, which often results in a lack of indigenous leadership and weaker financial commitment among the ministry’s members.

Iglesia Bautista Una Nueva Familia—One New Family Baptist Church—officially launched in January 2014. Una Nueva Familia uses Normandale’s facilities, shares ministries to children and youth, and maintains a close relationship with Normandale, but it is an autonomous church.

In addition to financial support, the SBTC provides ongoing coaching, resources and encouragement to Medina and Una Nueva Familia. Medina says the SBTC is “always open to help” when he calls.
In describing the SBTC’s role, Alexander says, “We’ve trained Jose as a church planter. Our church planter training is principle-based, so the planter can take the principles and address them to their context. Our coaches are able to help the planter deal with those contextual issues.”

Throughout the year, Alexander says, “Jose has grown in his ministerial experience and his ability to disciple somebody. Those things will continue to grow as he gets more experience with the work.”

Medina uses his training as a counselor to care for his congregation.

“I go to their houses, eat with them, have fun with them. I am their pastor, but I want them to see that I care,” Medina says.

Still, the work is not without its challenges, as Medina strives to overcome cultural barriers and to help those from a strong Catholic background understand the gospel and what a relationship with Jesus is really about. Despite difficult days, he’s encouraged by lives that have been changed by the gospel, as church members shed the problems of their past and embrace new life in Christ.

As examples, Medina points to men in his church who are being discipled and growing as leaders in the church. He also notes the 17-year-old single mother who came to faith in Christ at the church and is now actively connected with her church family. She was the first person baptized at Una Nueva Familia, and they’ve seen six others follow in her footsteps this year.

Rapid Growth
In less than a year, the fledgling Hispanic church has grown rapidly to around 50-60 people on Sunday mornings. In fact, they continue to outgrow classrooms at Normandale, but the limited finances and space concerns don’t seem to affect Medina, who says, “I just want to see the change in their lives.”

Medina calls what God is doing in Una Nueva Familia “a miracle.”

“God is showing us that we don’t need money, we don’t need spaces, we don’t need materials; we just need the heart,” Medina says.

“If God touched me to do this, he will open the doors financially. I tell people not to put up barriers. Sometimes we put up the barriers.”

If it’s just for one family, Medina says, it’s worth it.

“We’re not thinking in material stuff; we’re thinking in how God changes lives. When I see families changing, when I see every Sunday the people are happy, why would we say we’re not going to do the church because we don’t have enough space or enough money to pay me per month—that does not make sense. Jesus didn’t pray in pretty places; he didn’t charge money to anybody; he did it for free.”

Brent Lightsey, youth and missions pastor at Normandale, is excited about what God has done over the past year.

“Each week there are 50-60 Spanish speakers coming to our building, growing in their relationship with Christ, who were not coming here a year ago,” Lightsey says.  

“Our church has a huge desire to reach our community. The language barrier does prevent many of us from actually talking to our Spanish-speaking neighbors about Jesus, but Iglesia Una Nueva Familia allows our church a practical way to still impact our community.”

Special panel on “The Church & Homosexuality” added to Annual Meeting schedule

FORT WORTH — Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling giving government recognition to same-sex marriages in more than 30 states as well as the threat to religious liberty faced by Houston pastors over a city ordinance granting civil rights protections to homosexuals and transgender individuals, many churches are left wondering how they should respond.

For this reason, a special panel discussion on ‘The Church & Homosexuality” has been added to Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting schedule in November. The panel—scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 11 from 9-10 p.m. at MacGorman Chapel on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth—will feature prominent Southern Baptist ethicists and pastors discussing how churches should respond to same-sex marriage legal issues and how to minister to those with same-sex attraction.

Panel speakers include Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Barry Creamer, president of Criswell College and host of the radio program “For Christ and Culture;” Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church; Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics and director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Jim Guenther, senior member of the law firm Guenther Jordan & Price of Nashville, Tennessee, and general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The panel will be moderated by Gary Ledbetter, SBTC director of communications and ministry relationships.

For more information, visit http://sbtexas.com/annual-meeting-2014-special-panel-discussion

Southwestern trustees stand with Houston pastors, address admissions policy

FORT WORTH — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees affirmed Houston pastors in response to subpoenas, clarified how they’ll address the admittance of a Muslim student and dealt with various academic matters at their fall meeting on campus Oct. 22.

After five Houston pastors were given court-ordered subpoenas for sermons and speeches, Southwestern’s trustee board urged pastors “anywhere and everywhere to stand strong on biblical issues” without being intimidated by courts, politicians or other groups.

“We go on record supporting Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd in his efforts promoting ‘I Stand Sunday’ on Nov. 2 designed to bring attention to this matter and support these and potentially other targeted pastors,” the trustees said.

The board also said they’ll consider changes next spring to address inconsistencies in the seminary’s bylaws and the admittance of a Muslim student into the biblical archeology doctoral program.

“While not compromising the missional purpose” of the seminary, the trustees aim to “improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities.”

Trustees approved six faculty to occupy academic chairs: Karen Kennemur to the Bessie Fleming Chair of Childhood Education; Steven Smith to the E. Hermond Westmorland Chair of Preaching; Michael Wilson to the Fred M. and Edith M. Hale Chair of Prayer and Spiritual Formation; Mike Morris to the Ida M. Bottoms Chair of Missions; Frank Catanzaro to the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling; and Chris Shirley to the Jack D. and Barbara Terry Chair of Religious Education.

Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president, noted that endowed chairs help relieve the pressure on the seminary’s overall budget—particularly at a time when Cooperative Program giving is down—by paying the professor’s salary.

In cases where an endowed chair provides a sufficient amount of money, Patterson said, it may also pay secretarial support for the professor and may provide funds for special projects.

The board also elected three professors to the seminary’s faculty: Candice Finch as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies; Kelly King as assistant professor of childhood education; and Sarah Spring as assistant professor of English in the College at Southwestern.

Six faculty members were promoted from associate professor to professor: John Babler to professor of counseling; Frank Catanzaro to professor of adult education and counseling; Johnny Derouen to professor of student ministry; James Wicker to professor of New Testament; Michael Wilson to professor of pastoral and applied ministry; and Joe Hardin to professor of jazz and instrumental studies.

Eight faculty members were promoted from assistant professor to associate professor: Robert Caldwell to associate professor of church history; David Hutchinson to associate professor of New Testament; Karen Kennemur to associate professor of children’s ministry; Thomas Kiker to associate professor of pastoral theology; Mark Leeds to associate professor of systematic theology; Mike Morris to associate professor of missions; Matthew Queen to associate professor of evangelism; and Chris Shirley to associate professor of adult ministry.

In other business, trustees approved several new degree plans, including a bachelor of music in performance and a bachelor of music in worship leadership at the College at Southwestern.

Trustees also approved recipients for the upcoming B.H. Carroll and L.R. Scarborough Awards and appointed members to the Southwestern Seminary Foundation and the board of the Seminary Development Foundation.

Steven Smith, vice president for student services and communications, reported a 10 percent enrollment increase for incoming students in the fall semester and a 12 percent increase in overall enrollment, which he said indicates the seminary’s retention rate is strengthening.

Patterson presented his responses to two items that were referred to the six seminaries by the Southern Baptist Convention in June. Regarding a motion for seminaries to survey the views of faculty and students about tithing, Patterson declined a survey and said Southwestern teaches “tithing here very strongly.”

“We feel like probably we have actually a better percent of our faculty and probably even students that are tithing than is the case in the local churches,” Patterson said.

Regarding a motion for seminary students enrolled online to receive assistance from the Cooperative Program, Patterson said online students do get a break at Southwestern Seminary and the institution’s online courses “are much more reasonably priced” than those offered at non-SBC schools.

Patterson ended the meeting with a plea for trustees to attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention next June in Columbus, Ohio.

“We have a strong Baptist convention there, but that is what we have normally called one of the frontier areas of the country,” Patterson said of Ohio. “You’ve got your huge cities—Cleveland and other places up there where we’re trying to do church planting work. It will be a big, big boost to Ohio Baptists if we can go in there.”

Patterson said he has been urging people to take their families to the convention and afterward travel to northern Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum developed by noted creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.

Investigation of admissions policy violation complete, trustees say

FORT WORTH – An investigation prompted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson’s decision to admit a Muslim into the school’s biblical archeology doctoral program is complete, trustees said in a statement Oct. 22.

Patterson apologized to the Southern Baptist Convention in June for making an exception to the school’s admissions policy, which requires a profession of faith and an expression of a call to ministry.

 “We admittedly recognize that there are inconsistencies between the seminary’s bylaws and the actions of its administration and board,” the trustees’ statement said. “We acknowledge an exception should have been requested until such time that the bylaws could have been amended for launching various initiatives.”

The trustees also said, “While not compromising the missional purpose of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are taking steps to amend the seminary’s bylaws to improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities such as the one at the Darrington [Prison] Unit.”

Trustee John Brunson of Houston told the TEXAN that the mention of the seminary’s bachelor’s degree program at the Darrington Prison Unit near Houston “is because the difference in who gets admitted is very significant.”

 “We have not adopted bylaw changes yet. We have merely said that is what we’d be looking to in the spring meeting,” Brunson said.

Inmates at Darrington are admitted into the College at Southwestern without a profession of faith and call to ministry but are not seeking theological degrees, Brunson said.

Because the program is housed in a state facility, “we cannot bar anyone from whatever faith they may come from attending,” he said, adding that the Southwestern population at Darrington is diverse.

 “They are from many different faiths. The intent, of course, is that by the amount of Bible study that’s required in the curriculum, many will be led to Christ,” Brunson said. “But that is not a requisite.”

The program at Darrington is patterned after a similar program provided by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison in Louisiana.

During his report to messengers at the annual meeting in June, Patterson explained that the student who was admitted to the archeology program is a Palestinian from a Muslim background who is “a remarkable young man, very open at this point to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

 “I made an exception to the rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, that the president has a right to make if he feels it is important,” Patterson told messengers. “He was admitted as a special student in the Ph.D. program, and that is not with Cooperative Program assistance.”

Patterson said he was most concerned with “what I will say to God when I stand before the judgment seat of the Lord” regarding the decision.

 

The student, whose identity was revealed online last spring by critical bloggers, has since withdrawn from the program in the wake of the controversy.

The Southwestern trustees, in their statement, said, “We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson. Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.

 “It is our desire and intent,” the trustees said, “to ensure that the seminary’s governing documents allow development of ministries to meet opportunities, as yet unknown to any of us, always being mindful of the great stewardship Southern Baptists have placed in our hands.”

Trustee Mike Boyd of Tennessee, chairman of bylaws and policies, said during the board’s meeting on campus Oct. 22 that trustees will seek to “get all the language where it needs to be.”

Bylaw changes will address student body composition including online students “relative to the various belief systems being admitted,” with board consent, Boyd said.

The changes also will address faith-based and adult education initiatives in state and/or federal facilities, Boyd said, adding that the efforts are “to bring into line our policy relative to our practice.”

A third area trustees could address in the spring is lifestyle expectations relative to biblical moral standards including heterosexual misconduct, homosexual or bisexual behavior, transgenderism and other forms of sexual misconduct, Boyd said.

–With reporting by Tammi Reed Ledbetter

Huckabee, others explain reasons for ‘I Stand Sunday’ rally in Houston

I Stand SundayHOUSTON – The nation’s fourth largest city has become the epicenter in the conflict over religious liberty as pastors around the country face mounting pressure to comply with laws contrary to biblical teaching. Church leaders are calling Christians to engage in this watershed moment that could influence the course of religious freedom in America.

In an Oct. 22 national teleconference promoting the upcoming I Stand Sunday rally Nov. 2, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Houston Pastor Dave Welch said the nation is living with the consequences of an apathetic Christian electorate and the advancement of an aggressive cultural agenda championed by the LGBT community and their allies. The implications, Huckabee said, are chilling.

Huckabee will be one of 13 speakers at the I Stand Sunday rally (www.istandsunday.org), Nov. 2, 6 p.m. at Grace Community Church, Houston where Steve Riggle, one of five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city attorney, serves as senior pastor. Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will lead the gathering in prayer. Other speakers include Riggle and two other subpoenaed pastors; Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church Houston; Duck Dynasty family members Alan and Phil Robertson; FOX News commentator Todd Starnes; and more.

The rally was organized in response to the controversy over City Attorney Dave Feldman’s attempt to subpoena the sermons of five Houston pastors. The court order, which was amended Oct. 17 to remove the sermon requests, is part of the administration’s legal defense preparation. The city is accused in a lawsuit of interfering with the certification of a referendum seeking the repeal of an ordinance giving civil rights status to gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.

 “If we allow the bullying to continue we are going to see the silencing of pulpits and churches,” Huckabee said in the teleconference. “I’m not saying that to be melodramatic, but that’s essentially what we’re already beginning to see across the country.”

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, two ordained ministers—a husband and wife—are being compelled to officiate for same-sex marriages at their business, The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. The city attorney contends because the chapel is a for-profit business Donald and Evelyn Knapp are not exempt from compliance with the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. The couple faces fines or imprisonment for non-compliance. They sued the city Oct. 17 charging the ordinance requires they abandon their religious convictions.

SBTC churches are encouraged to participate in the I Stand Sunday event either in person or via a live stream connection (www.istandsunday.com/techreq). Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees noted the gravity of the situation during its Oct. 22 meeting by approving a motion by vice chairman Mike Boyd.

It read, in part, “In light of recent events in Houston … the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary urges pastors anywhere and everywhere to stand strong on biblical issues without regards of any intimidation from courts, politicians, or any other group who seeks to intimidate any and all of those who seek to propagate biblical positions on said issues. Further, we go on record supporting Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd in his efforts promoting “I Stand Sunday” on Nov. 2 designed to bring attention to this matter and support these and potentially other targeted pastors, teachers, and any/all who communicate on these moral/ethical positions.”

During the teleconference Dave Welch, one of the subpoenaed pastors, told Perkins that being subpoenaed controverted his views of private speech, free speech and freedom of religion. It was unsettling “to now have the fourth largest city, with unlimited resources, with one of the largest law firms in America, bearing down on pastors for simply exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Huckabee said what is being played out across the nation is the predictable consequence of a movement that went far beyond a call for marriage equality.

‘It’s not isolated; it’s coordinated,” Huckabee said. “It’s an integrated approach to try and make gender something that is no longer recognized. It’s not just about same-sex marriage. … It was never about power of attorney, visitor rights or survivorship; it was about something much larger.”

The Houston ordinance, drafted with the assistance of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy organization that has successfully introduced similar policies in municipalities across the country, states access to public accommodations (e.g. bathrooms) cannot be denied to any one of the 15 listed protected characteristic classes.

A subsection of the ordinance specifically requiring public accommodations for transgender individuals was stricken from the ordinance by Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who supported the ordinance for personal reasons. But opponents argue the wording in other sections still allows men presenting themselves as women to use women’s bathrooms and vice versa.

Huckabee said, “I think what we’ve seen is that those who have been advocating for gender neutrality and same sex marriage have built a bridge too far. … This is the real agenda. I’m hoping this may truly serve to be the wakeup call that we apparently have not had.”

The I Stand Sunday event serves, primarily, as a rallying point for a national discussion about the First Amendment, specifically freedom of religion. But Huckabee said it provides an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate they are not against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals but, instead, stand unapologetically for something—biblical truth and natural marriage.

“It gives us the opportunity and a mandate to make sure the very spirit and tone with which we approach this be reflective of the love of Jesus,” Huckabee said. “I think we can be bold in what we say, how we say it, and why we say it. But we want always to carry out everything we do and say with the spirit of compassion.”

Welch added that the attention drawn to Houston has been a source of encouragement for him and the coalition of pastors. He called on pastors across the nation to reach out to like-minded pastors in their communities to promote the cause of Christ. No pastor stands alone, he said.

Creamer envisions students who transform culture

DALLAS––If anyone left the inauguration service of Barry Creamer as president of Criswell College unsure of the new president’s direction for the school, they weren’t paying attention.

The college’s new leader outlined a vision focusing on equipping students to be “transformative agents for the culture” and using the current facility to its maximum capability.

“Our objective is to grow our curriculum and grow our program so that students are graduating and influencing the culture for Christ,” said Creamer, who has managed the school’s day-to-day operations since being named as the school’s chief operating officer last November.

During an Oct. 2 chapel service at the Dallas college, Creamer promised to usher in the same kind of change the college helped bring the Southern Baptist Convention over the last 40 years. The board of trustees officially installed Creamer as the school’s seventh president during the service.

Criswell trustees tapped Creamer as president in July. The school’s former president, Jerry Johnson, left to take the helm of the National Religious Broadcasters organization last November. LifeWay Christian Resources president emeritus Jimmy Draper served as interim president.

Creamer, who earned his master of divinity degree at Criswell, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has served as Criswell’s vice president of academic affairs since 2011 and as a professor of humanities since 2004.

The SBC is Different Because of Criswell

Criswell College has a rich history of leadership, Creamer noted, saying: “We succeeded. The convention is different; the seminaries are different. The denomination is different because of Criswell College.”

W.A. Criswell, known as the patriarch of the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention, founded the school that bears his name in 1970. He was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas at the time.

Creamer said his desire was to build on that success by “expanding our curriculum, strengthening our campus and transforming what we are doing here so that we bring that same kind of transformation to the culture.”

Creamer’s hopes for the school are not surprising. He’s well known in evangelical circles and beyond as a well-spoken apologist for the Christian faith and is a leading voice on cultural and theological matters. Creamer hosts a radio program, “For Christ and Culture,” on KCBI-FM in Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Creamer said he understands some who look at the size of the school and do not believe it possible to have such an impact. Giving credit to God, he continued, “We look at where we are, and we think we can get to the point where we graduate students who are influential in this culture and who actually bring about transformation.”

“God is able to do far above what we think or ask,” he said, citing Ephesians 3:20. “He has so much more in store for Criswell,” he added.

Speaking directly to current and prospective students who were on campus for the school’s Preview Day, Creamer said, “It doesn’t matter if we do anything else if students don’t graduate and go out and change the culture for Christ,” he said.

Biggest Need is Alignment

During meetings held on the same day, Creamer told trustees the college’s biggest need is “alignment,” that is, “making sure that every part of the school is going where the whole school is trying to go.”

“We want every person who is serving in any way on this campus to have in mind that their goal is to provide every student a way to move forward to graduation,” he promised, noting there must be awareness and agreement on the school’s goals among faculty, staff and students.

Creamer said the administration has reasonable goals for growth over the next several years, with hope the school would exceed these goals.

The administration set a benchmark 7-percent growth rate that envisions the school with a headcount of 600 students in 8 years and over 1,000 students in 16 years, he explained. The school has goals to establish a balanced cash flow, driven in part by the plan to sell non-essential property, freeing up $400,000 annually that is now dedicated to debt service.

The school must be intentional in its outreach to churches, prospective students and people who want to support what Criswell College is doing, Creamer said, emphasizing, “It’s all about relationships.”

The school also needs to increase its endowment, he said, noting a strong school is most often built on a healthy endowment.

Not Just Surviving But Thriving

Creamer said he didn’t want Criswell to be just another school students can choose from. “For 40 years this school has been at the center of the denomination,” he said, insisting the school can’t be content to rest on its laurels.

Creamer said his long-term goal for Criswell was to be “one of the premier schools in the country with exactly the same values commitment we have now.” He said he looks forward to a day in which “people are begging to get in here” to study so they can excel in their chosen field.

“It doesn’t matter if we teach well or not,” Creamer said. “What matters is if students have learned well and actually are equipped to go out and change the culture.”

Creamer said recruitment has to improve as well as student retention, calling the school’s current nearly 80 percent freshmen retention rate “fantastic.”

“We are a totally different type of school than before,” Creamer said.

“We must refocus our attention on the short-term intermediate goals we have right now and how we rebuild our reputation,” he continued, explaining he hoped his statements wouldn’t be negatively construed.

“We want people to know we are not just surviving but that we are thriving. We want to build confidence in our donors that what they are investing in is long term not just immediate survival.”

Plans to Leverage Existing Property

In a change of plans from the previous administration, Creamer said his plan is to maximize use of the school’s current campus. He told the trustees he was confident the college could grow into what it needed to by remaining in its present location for the foreseeable future.

“It means we have to leverage our resources to do that,” Creamer said. “It means we ask someone who is an expert on what is the best use we can get out of these facilities so that in 10, 15 or however many years we are in a good position to do whatever it takes to become the college God wants to make us then.”

Staying in place makes sense for the school, Creamer insisted, saying, “Dallas is a good fit.”

“I am not committed to a piece of land. At some point I think the vision does include a piece of land. But now the vision is to become a great school. Whatever that takes,” Creamer said.

Trustees affirmed Creamer’s vision, reversing an October 2012 vote that gave permission for the school’s former leadership to consider moving the college to a “new location.”

The trustees’ 2012 directives to “expand the current college curriculum toward a university model” and for the school to establish a “residential campus” remain unchanged.

The school is actively working to sell “non-essential properties” to eliminate the college’s only remaining debt, Creamer explained. He anticipates having a detailed proposal available for the trustees’ consideration in the spring. Tentative plans are for a residential campus with a 180-bed dorm on the downtown Dallas campus in place for the 2016 fall semester.

He said Criswell’s lack of on-campus housing for non-commuter students is a turn-off for many parents considering sending their child to the school.

Creamer said he didn’t envision a final plan calling for the demolition of any existing buildings but that many of them would be extensively remodeled. He said the preliminary cost estimate for the work is somewhere near $5 million.

In documents provided to the trustees, the new administration indicated a property study revealed it is feasible to serve nearly 2,000 students and provide residences for 720 students on the existing campus and nearby land. Currently the school has 350 students.

Other Board Decisions

During their meeting, Criswell’s board of trustees also elected Joe Wooddell as vice president for academic affairs and Bill Watson as assistant professor of Greek and New Testament.