Month: May 2016

Not my brother or my sister but it”s me, O Lord

The issue of women’s roles in church and home is sensitive, even among those who believe nearly the same things. For that reason, our special report on the subject took two months longer than I expected. More than one or two Baptist spokesmen (and women) declined comment—some possibly fearful that we would mangle their quotes and embarrass them; others maybe concerned that we might quote them accurately. 

We did not make any effort to contact those who torture Scripture to upend the biblical teaching on the roles of sisters and brothers in Christ. Gender roles are not the only place we differ with those who diminish scriptural authority. Give up the scriptural authority and you become a mere passenger as your theology leaves the rails. The people we quoted in these stories agree with me and each other on biblical authority, and on nearly everything else. They believe that wives should submit to the servant leadership of their own husbands and that the pastor of a church should be a man. Beyond these two convictions are interpretations and matters of prudence that lead some to ordain deaconesses, others to appoint sisters to teach co-ed Bible classes or lead singing, and other churches to do none of these things. We spoke with one leader who believes that a woman is biblically qualified to teach nearly any class in a Baptist seminary. A few won’t tell us what they believe, though I’m certain they also affirm a biblical, complementarian viewpoint. 

So what is the rub? First, I think there is a well-founded concern that compromise can lead where we never intended to go. That happened in recent SBC history. Some who “merely” wanted a kinder convention, tolerant of other views of Genesis and Jonah, are now affirming transgender pastors from their pedobaptist pulpits. In a culture that lampoons biblical morality, we want to be very different from that culture. It makes some leaders who would utilize the sisters in every role but elders careful lest they be thought liberal. Second, trust has been wounded for those who’ve been treated disrespectfully because they are women. They still agree doctrinally with the most conservative of us, but they have been offended by condescension  or abuse on the part of some male leaders. 

Taking on the mind of Christ as we try to live in unity does not compromise scriptural truth, but it does move us to root out those places where we have been proud, thoughtless, inappropriately ambitious, bitter, peevish or even rude when we are right.

Gary Ledbetter, Editor

In nearly every debate within the body of Christ not involving the nature of God, man or salvation, go back to Philippians 2:1-11. Taking on the mind of Christ as we try to live in unity does not compromise scriptural truth, but it does move us to root out those places where we have been proud, thoughtless, inappropriately ambitious, bitter, peevish or even rude when we are right. Can you preach Philippians 2 without stepping on everyone’s toes? 

That means the brothers should not speak as though the fairer sex is also a less competent one. That’s not true. Our wives and sisters don’t submit because the men in their lives are smarter or work harder—we are all of the same essence, and our giftedness is fully necessary to the body whether we preach, help, give, encourage or do any other thing the Spirit empowers for the edification of all. We should not behave as if a deacons or elders meeting is a secret society—grown-up stuff in a way that other gatherings are not. It’s proud, even vain, to behave in this way and can needlessly provoke resentment. Christlike humility will move the brothers to seek ways to serve the body of Christ rather than seek position or acclaim offered by fellow sinners. 

The mind of Christ will move the sisters to submit to Christ and the precepts written in the Scriptures that God inspired. It will move them to forgive real and perceived slights more readily. It will help the sisters avoid being easily provoked and less apt to bitterness when provocations inevitably come. It will lead them to seek places to serve their churches rather than seeking recognition and affirmation from fellow sinners.

This is not a “can’t we all just get along?” piece. If we accept that love is an active concept, so is humility. Christ humbled himself by doing something. He tells us to do something—esteem one another better than ourselves. This means look for ways to honor, value, encourage those around you as they seek to serve God with the gifts given to them. We additionally miss some of the gifts God gave our churches when we diminish the other sex. There are consequences when God’s people undervalue humility and servanthood. Certainly this discussion will continue as we seek God’s way in a confused and confusing culture. But we must also stop letting the delightful differences between brothers and sisters be an impediment rather than the complement they were meant to be.

Presidential Elections in the U.S. and the SBC

Pundits are saying that the United States’ presidential election is a watershed. In all likelihood, the next president will shape the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future, which will greatly impact religious liberty. Public policy on sanctity of life and immigration will also shift according to who is elected. The deciding factor for the believer is to determine who will best represent biblical values. It might come down to voting against the one least representing biblical values. Remember there is never a perfect candidate.

Southern Baptists have an election for president too. We will hear glowing nomination speeches in June. Thankfully all three announced nominees are godly men who love the Lord Jesus. They all are theological conservatives, and I am grateful all three are faithful pastors. Although differing in style, their local church leadership is evidently blessed of God, and I am grateful for their examples. On all of these grounds, there is very little daylight between the candidates. Personalities are different. Individual circles of influence are different. Are there other factors to consider between these three deserving men?

I have attended 33 consecutive conventions, and Ronnie Floyd has been one of the best SBC presidents in my lifetime. President Floyd has brought disparate tribes of the SBC together. His emphasis on spiritual awakening must continue. Whoever our next president is, we need prayer gatherings across our convention, and promotion of personal witnessing must remain a priority. President Floyd has led us well in the area of racial reconciliation. Our president’s “team” approach says we need one another. The strongest ways he has demonstrated the value of cooperation is his emphasis on the Cooperative Program. Thank you, Ronnie Floyd, for a job well done.

One of the problems of having a new SBC president every two years is that the convention’s emphasis usually changes. Prayerfully consider the three announced candidates. One of the nominees may best represent an extension of momentum created by Ronnie Floyd’s leadership. Now is not the time for us to change course. We need to keep evangelism, prayer, reconciliation and cooperation in giving as priorities. Our SBC future depends on us staying together. 

Supreme Court ruling good news for GuideStone, ministries

DALLAS The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion May 16 ordering the government to work out a solution in the contraceptive mandate cases that would actually protect the religious beliefs of objecting religious organizations, including GuideStone and the ministries it serves. The court vacated the lower court decision that had gone against the religious organizations and ruled that the government cannot fine the ministries as the cases proceed.

No ministries served by GuideStone have been fined; a temporary injunction has been in place since December 2013, preventing the government from enforcing the mandate or applying penalties against ministries served by GuideStone’s health plans. Churches and closely related auxiliaries of churches were exempt from the mandate from the outset and were not at risk of penalties.

“We are thankful, first and foremost, to the Lord for this decision,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “We appreciate the diligence of our legal teams in working through the legal and constitutional issues that were raised as well as for the men and women of the Supreme Court who took seriously their oaths of office. This is a good day for which we are thankful.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents GuideStone in the case, called the development a victory for religious freedom.

“The Court has recognized that the government has changed its position,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund. “It is crucial that the justices unanimously ordered the government not to impose these fines and indicated that the government doesn’t need any notice to figure out what should now be obvious. There is still work to be done, but today’s decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail in court.”

Hawkins noted that the Affordable Care Act has created challenges for the health care industry as a whole, but GuideStone continues to work on behalf of its participants.

“The federal health care law continues to create challenges for all who provide medical plans,” Hawkins said. “Despite the headwinds caused by regulations out of the law, GuideStone remains committed to providing high-quality and affordable medical coverage in 2017 and beyond.”  

VBS: I Invited 1

Vacation Bible School—it’s not just for church kids! VBS can be a fantastic evangelism event. Catch a vision for how your VBS could impact eternity. 

Here is a simple plan to involve every member of your church or small group to engage unchurched children in life-changing VBS. It’s called: “I Invited 1.”

Issue a challenge.

The goal is for every individual in your church to personally invite one unchurched boy or girl to VBS. Anyone can do that. Specifically call out every child, senior adult, youth, single adult, couple and college student to take the challenge. They personally invite a child in their life who doesn’t attend church—neighbor, acquaintance, schoolmate, stranger, work associate’s child. 

Ask church members to bring the first name of that child next Sunday.  

Make it easy.

As you issue the challenge, give each person a VBS invitation for the child they’ll invite. It can be a business-card size invite or a card. Include the church website for details and online registration. Pray over the invitations, and ask God to direct each person to a child who needs him. 

Make it visual.

Create a huge “Jesus loves the little children” wall display in a visible area of the church. 

  • A couple of Sundays before VBS, give each church member a colorful die-cut paper doll to write the first name of the child they’re inviting, and add it to the wall display as a prayer reminder.
  • Print well-designed, round stickers with large letters “I invited 1” for every person to proudly wear. Purchase and print sheets of circle stickers, or order stickers from a print company. Picture this: grannies and 4-year-olds, teens and newcomers—all wearing “I Invited 1” stickers. Wouldn’t it be fun if some needed a dozen stickers?
  • Announce the total number who’ve been personally invited so far. Pray for them. Challenge others to invite one. 

Create excitement.

  • Strive for 100% involvement. Though many are already fully engaged in VBS planning, the majority of members probably can’t offer hands-on help because of work, schedule or health conflicts. Every person of every age and circumstance can invite one child. Imagine what God can do if every member participates. 
  • Children’s Sunday school teachers give tips on how to invite friends, how to include and welcome newcomers, and how to invite them to your church after VBS.  
  • Just before VBS begins, encourage members to remind the child they invited to come. 
  • Instead of an all-church project, this could be done in your choir, women’s ministry, youth group, deacons, small group, etc. 
  • Plan an enormous follow-up on Saturday after VBS, and prepare to welcome many new parents and children on Sunday.

So wear your “I Invited 1” sticker with pride and prayers. And, VBS staffers—hold on to your hats! God’s at work; his church is excited about inviting; and this may be the most thrilling VBS in history. 

Keep Jesus’ words from Luke 14:23 in mind: “So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.’” 

Diana Davis is a Texas native but now lives in Pensacola, Fla., with her husband, Steve, who serves as the vice president of the North American Mission Board, South Region. 

11 states file lawsuit against Obama administration’s transgender directive

AUSTIN—The state of Texas, joined by representatives of ten other states, filed a lawsuit May 25 challenging President Barack Obama’s directive demanding all federally funded schools apply a controversial interpretation of Title IX requiring schools to define a student’s sexual identity based, not on biological traits, but on feelings.

On May 13 the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a “Dear Colleague” letter giving guidance to all federally funded K-12 schools and universities in their application of Title IX. The one-sentence regulation passed in 1972 as part of the Higher Education Act prohibits discrimination in public education based on sex. The Obama administration interprets “sex” to include “gender identity”—a student’s perceived gender regardless of biological characteristics.

Declaring the federal demands are “unlawful,” “capricious and arbitrary,” the lawsuit calls for a permanent injunction preventing the Obama administration from implementing and enforcing its rules.

In announcing the lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress. By forcing through his policies by executive action, President Obama excluded the voice of the people. We stand today to ensure those voices are heard.”

Although the Dear Colleague letter does not explicitly mention any repercussions for failing to follow the guidelines, previous action by the Obama administration demonstrates that failure to comply comes with a high price tag.

Earlier this year a school district outside of Chicago created its own standards for balancing the needs of a transgender female student—a teenage boy presenting himself as a girl—with those of the student’s female teammates. Demanding full inclusion and affirmation of his gender identity as a female, the transgender student balked at the school’s offer of a private changing area and sued the school district demanding he be allowed to use the same locker room facilities as the girls. Citing Title IX, the Departments of Education and Justice threatened to withhold some of the school’s $6 million in federal funds if they did not submit to the student’s demands.

The ongoing battle over recently enacted transgender student guidelines by the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) demonstrates the dissolution of gender norms that Obama’s interpretation of Title IX require. The guidelines permit students to identify as either gender without medical or parental validation and requires district employees and students to affirm the student’s preferred gender identity. The guidelines also require school personnel expunge gender normative language, such as “boys” and “girls,” from the classroom.

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who demanded the FWISD rescind the guidelines and fire Superintendent Kent Scribner earlier this month, said Obama’s edict “ignores both common sense and common decency.”

“[It] creates a problem where none existed,” Patrick said in a statement supporting the lawsuit. “It will disrupt schools across Texas, creating potentially embarrassing and unsafe situations for girls who would be forced, under his order, to share bathrooms, locker rooms and showers with boys.”

Patrick said he will continue to push back against the local and federal regulations.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Obama’s directive “rule by executive fiat.”

“The President continues to violate the Constitution by trying to re-write laws as if he were a king. The states serve as the last line of defense against an unlawfully expansive federal government,” he said.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the states of Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia; Governor of Maine Paul Lepage; the Arizona Department of Education; Harrold Independent School District (HISD) in Texas and Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona.

HISD issued new guidelines May 23 in defiance of the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, stating a student’s birth certificate will determine a student’s gender identity on campus and all multiple-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities “shall be designated for and used only by individuals based on their biological sex.”

In an effort to accommodate students with special needs, the HISD guidelines state, “The Superintendent or campus principal may make reasonable accommodations upon a person’s request due to special circumstances.”

Defendants in the case include the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice and their leadership, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor and their respective directors. To view the lawsuit, visit:

Racial unity & the 2016 SBC annual meeting

SPRINGDALE, Ark. When I was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 2014 in Baltimore, little did I know God would take me through the open doors of addressing racial challenges in America.

While racial unrest already existed in our nation, it was not until Aug. 9, 2014, and the tragic death of a black teenager named Michael Brown, shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., that we began to see this racial unrest erupt like a volcano across our nation.

God adjusted my path of understanding

From my very first press conference as the newly elected president of the SBC, I began calling upon Southern Baptists to join me in praying extraordinarily and passionately pursuing the next Great Spiritual Awakening in America. When the Ferguson tragedy occurred, God burdened my heart immediately, adjusting my path of understanding.

Politicians, corporate leaders, educators, religious leaders and pastors in America rarely initiate and move forward a positive agenda that leads to racial unity. We should seek to change this.

While this path is still toward the next Great Awakening, God revealed clearly to me and anyone else that has been spiritually alert in America that one of the greatest sins in our nation today is the sin of racism.

Jerry Young, Marshall Blalock, and the racial unity panel

Immediately following my presidential address on June 14, we will move into our National Conversation on Racial Unity.  Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, and Marshall Blalock, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., will begin the conversation.

Dr. Young will speak on “Where we are today and where we must go in the future,” and Pastor Blalock will speak on “The tragedy and triumph of Charleston, South Carolina.”

From this foundation, I will lead a panel conversation on racial unity in America. During this 55-minute section of our Southern Baptist Convention, we will be joined by the following 10 pastors:

  • Marshal Blalock, pastor, First Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C.
  • Jerry Young, president, National Baptist Convention, USA
  • H.B. Charles, senior pastor, Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Joe Costephens, pastor, First Baptist Church, Ferguson, Mo.
  • Timmy Chavis, senior pastor, Bear Swamp Baptist Church, Pembroke, N.C.
  • D.A. Horton, church planter, Reach Fellowship, Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Fred Luter, senior pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, La.
  • Gregg Matte, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
  • Kenny Petty, senior pastor, The Gate Church, St. Louis, Mo.
  • David Um, senior pastor, Antioch Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass.

The entire Tuesday morning session will be powerful, so please do not miss any of it. All scheduled luncheons will occur following the dismissal of the morning session. You won’t want to be late!

Tuesday morning will help set up Tuesday night

One of the areas we will pray about on Tuesday night of the convention in our “National Call to Prayer for Spiritual Leadership, Revived Churches, and Nationwide & Global Awakening” is the racial crisis in our nation. How do we not do this when we are meeting within 20 minutes of Ferguson, Mo.?

Pray now for this national conversation

Would you begin to call out to God daily by name each of us who will be participating in this conversation during our convention gathering? See graphic (included with this article) and put in a prominent place and join me in this prayer initiative.

The sin of racism is a spiritual stronghold in this nation and now is the time this wall must come down. As we repent of it personally, repent of it in our churches, and repent of it in our nation, we will perhaps see the next Great Spiritual Awakening in our generation.