Month: September 2016

SBHLA”s Sumners honored upon retirement

ST. LOUIS  In 1979, Bill Sumners visited Nashville for a meeting of the Society of American Archivists and paid a visit to Southern Baptists’ denominational archives while he was in town.

As he stood in the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Dargan-Carver Library, the precursor to today’s Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, he remembers thinking, “This is really where I want to be” professionally. There was no job opening at the time. But eventually his dream was fulfilled.

Now, 37 years later—and after 33 years of service to Southern Baptists—Sumners retired July 29 as the longest-tenured director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s library and archives since its establishment in 1953.

The SBC’s Council of Seminary Presidents, which oversees SBHLA, honored Sumners June 15 at the SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, giving him and his wife Donna a certificate of appreciation along with a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.

Sumners “has watched over our history and our heritage,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Council of Seminary Presidents. “… Thirty-three years is a long time. It’s enough time that Bill Sumners has not only been able to record the history. He’s been able to make some of it and watch it happen as well. And 33 years of service is never to go without thankfulness and gratitude wherever it is found in the cause of Christ.”

After serving as archivist at the Dargan-Carver Library from 1983-88, Sumners became SBHLA archivist in 1988 and director in 1990. SBHLA moved its holdings out of the Dargan-Carver Library in 1985, and Sumners oversaw both collections for three years before transitioning to fulltime work with the library and archives.

Under Sumners’ leadership, the archives have expanded from a modest collection to 12,000 linear feet of archival material, including 8,000 linear feet of records from SBC entities and 4,000 feet of manuscript material from Baptist pastors, evangelists, missionaries and organizations.

“He has made this the best place to conduct research on Baptists,” said Taffey Hall, current SBHLA archivist and Sumners’ successor as director upon his retirement.

A campaign to digitize SBHLA holdings has made available online all SBC Annuals, all Baptist Press stories from 1948-1996 and all issues of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal from 1835-1939 and 2000-2008. 

Bible Conference to focus on the Holy Spirit

AUSTIN—The topic of the Holy Spirit can sometimes seem minimized or ignored in Baptist life because of fear related to excesses in other churches. However, the person and work of the third member of the Trinity is vital for every church and thus worthy of attention, says Danny Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin and president of the 2016 SBTC Bible Conference.

“We live in difficult days where the hopes of many men and women of God are waning. Only the Holy Spirit of God can bolster them and lift them (Romans 15:13),” says Forshee, whose church will host the Bible conference and annual meeting Nov. 13-15.

The theme for this year’s conference will be “The Holy Spirit,” with the theme verse Zechariah 4:6—“ Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”

“I feel it is imperative that pastors in these hard days be reminded that effective ministry comes not from our strength or might but only through the Holy Spirit as Zechariah 4:6 so profoundly teaches us,” Forshee says.

All sessions are free and open to the public, and Forshee says he is especially praying for pastors and their wives.

“So many dear pastors and their families are struggling with discouragement,” Forshee says, “and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit would lift them up through the worship, biblical teaching and fellowship with other pastors.”

Sunday evening’s session, which begins at 5:40 p.m. on Nov. 13, will feature messages by Rhys Stenner, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.; Matt Carter, pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin; and Dante Wright, pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. Music will be led by Terry Hurt of Great Hills Baptist along with Leo Day, dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Sweet Home Baptist Church’s choir and Austin Stone’s praise team.

Additionally, a Spanish session will be held Sunday evening at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin. The session, which begins at 6 p.m., will feature speaker Carlos Navarro, pastor of Iglesia Bautista of West Brownsville.

Monday morning’s session, which begins at 9 a.m., will feature messages by Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, and Steven Smith, preaching professor and vice president for student services at Southwestern Seminary. Following the main morning session, breakout sessions will focus on the Holy Spirit’s character and role in revival, worship, evangelism, preaching, student ministry, and church growth.

During lunch, from noon to 1 p.m., the Ministry Café will offer a panel discussing the Holy Spirit, moderated by Forshee. Panel speakers include Steven Smith, Rhys Stenner, and Jim Henry. Cost for the lunch is $5 and can be pre-purchased online.

The final session, which begins at 1:30 p.m. will feature messages by Rhys Stenner and Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

For more information on the Bible conference, including childcare, schedule, the Sunday evening Spanish session and purchasing tickets for the Ministry Café, visit

GuideStone restructures to become more efficient

DALLAS GuideStone Financial Resources has realigned certain job responsibilities and restructured its workforce as part of its effort to identify and implement new ways to become more efficient. It also announced last month three new executive officers promoted from within the organization.

The restructuring dovetails GuideStone’s update to its long-range plan, GuideStone 100, and flows from the 2015 theme “Year of Efficiency,” when the Southern Baptist Convention entity sought new efficiencies in people, processes and policies. And the changes come as the entity looks to carry the ministry to its centennial in 2018, and beyond 2020. 

“These steps we have taken will enable us to further enhance our ministry as we prepare to enter the second century of our service to Southern Baptists, while maintaining optimum staffing levels going forward,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in an Aug. 15 news release.

This past spring, GuideStone offered an early voluntary retirement option to qualified employees 55 years of age or older. Fifty-nine individuals—about half those eligible and about 10 percent of GuideStone employees—chose the early retirement package.

Nine employees were unable to be accommodated in open positions and were offered severance packages. Many positions were combined or redeployed, and many other employees were reassigned to open positions.

Opportunities to improve efficiency were identified and implemented throughout the organization, including streamlining employee hiring and training, renegotiating energy contracts and bulk mailing services, and adjusting medical group sizes to help assist more churches.

Citing a market environment that continues to be evidenced by low interest rates and sluggishness in the economic recovery, Hawkins noted GuideStone’s commitment to its participants.

“The balance between ministry and God-honoring business practices is what we deal with every day,” Hawkins said. 


As GuideStone participants have indicated a desire for a more self-serve, internet-based operation, internal reviews found ways of reducing the workforce without adversely impacting services.

To increase efficiency, management reduced the number of printed account statements and mailing expenses the entity incurred and worked with insurance vendors to reduce consulting costs for GuideStone’s insurance plan.

Several department responsibilities shifted during the restructuring, including the Customer Service Center, which was merged with the Retirement and Insurance areas to provide continued excellent service.

GuideStone previously reduced its headcount in 2008-2009 through a combination of attrition and a similar voluntary retirement program.

The addition of three new executive officers from within GuideStone ranks, announced during the entity’s July 25-26 trustee meeting, was part of the restructuring.

Mark Borchgardt, with GuideStone since 1996, was named chief services and operations officer; Harry Nelson, who joined GuideStone in 2013, was named chief strategic investment officer; and Harold Loftin, also with the entity since 2013, was named chief legal officer and general counsel. 

Despite “dumpster fire” election season, Christians have reason for hope

NASHVILLE—Months before the start of the 2016 ERLC National Conference leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity, along with like-minded organizations, had already voiced their concerns about the two would-be presidential candidates. No shouts of “Rome is burning” rang out in the convention hall Aug. 25-27, but the terms “dumpster fire” and “presidential election” were used interchangeably.

On the eve of an election that arguably offers two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in U.S. history, religious liberties are threatened, Christianity is marginalized or vilified, and some Christians blur the lines between religious and political fervor. Although speakers often painted a bleak picture, they encouraged Christians to view the election and its aftermath as an opportunity to present the distinct and hopeful message of the gospel.

“A lot of Christians [are] not seeing themselves adequately [represented] in the political space as it is [and are] now coming forth with a distinctly Christian witness and rhetoric,” said Steve Harris, ERLC director of advocacy. “They’re saying, ‘I’m not tethering my Christian identity to any political ideology because that taints the witness.’”

Speakers posited that the presidential offerings may indicate that the church has gone far afield from its Acts 1:8 commission. They said faith in a political party to fix problems and promote the common good exemplified American Christians’ dereliction of duty.

During the panel discussion “2016 and Beyond: Reshaping Evangelical Political Engagement,” Bruce Ashford noted that in Augustine’s The City of God, pagan intellectuals, philosophers and politicians blamed Christians for the crumbling Roman Empire.

“Augustine responded that Rome’s politics, philosophy and religion were corrupt on their own. It is Rome’s corruption that was at fault, and that Rome needed Christianity more than ever,” said Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Seminary.

“As I see it, every modern political ideology has idols lurking underneath.”

Other speakers repeated the allusion to cultural idols and suggested too many American Christians have sought to influence culture through politics instead of the gospel.

People too often find their sense of identity in their political affiliations and assess others by the same standard, establishing “us” versus “them” strongholds, ERLC President Russell Moore said.

“Politics across the board, from the far left to the far right, has become a religion. It has become a kind of transcendent source of authority and a transcendent source of identity,” Moore said during a panel discussion titled “2016 and the Future of Evangelical Politics.”

Just as a Christian’s faith and fidelity to Scripture should inform all areas of cultural engagement from the arts, business, education, and more, one’s political involvement should be tempered by the truth and grace of the gospel.

But in an attempt to expedite cultural change Christians have, via their preferred political party, elected people who promised make changes on their behalf, which has created a lazy electorate, said David French, a veteran, attorney, and writer for National Review magazine.

“You are delegating the fight over fundamental values to somebody else,” French said.

This pattern exemplifies a quest for control, which facilitates the construction of more idols, said Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today.

“The core diagnosis of culture—what’s gone wrong in the human story—is that the image bearers became idol makers,” Crouch said. “The ones who were meant to exercise authority and vulnerability and bring order and abundance to the world turned over that image-bearing responsibility to inanimate things that promised them something other than what they were actually given.”

Christian political engagement—mixing of the sacred and secular—requires diligent self-examination.  Moore said, “We have to dethrone politics as a religion and source of identity while at the same time remaining engaged in our responsibilities as citizens, … including the political process.”

Moore and others argued that engaging in political speech, especially on the topics of marriage and human sexuality, has resurrected the myth that the Christians are to blame for society’s ills.

And those who do get blamed and find themselves in court often receive legal assistance from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Erik Stanley, ADF senior counsel spoke of the increasing number of cases challenging religious liberty and freedom of speech.

“The public square is nothing more or less than a battleground of gods each vying to push the levers of power in its favor,” Stanley said, quoting author Jonathan Leeman. “Therefore churches do not need to take up arms against the state in order to pose a threat to the state. They only need to oppose the gods upon which a nation’s political and economic institutions depend.”

In the midst of those battles and the “dumpster fire” of a presidential election, conference speakers reminded the audience “rage is not a strategy, and despair is not an option.”

Jennifer Marshall, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, believes there is reason for hope.

“I think the positive trends are coming out of the toughest things facing us today,” Marshall said. “So the fact that we are being presented with the challenges to the understanding of the meaning of marriage [and] to what it means to be made in the image of God—male and female. These most basic things have been taken for granted for a long time in the culture and in the church. And, so, the challenges on these issues are causing many people to go back and to think through ‘why do we believe like we believe?’ It’s the good things that will emerge from this crucible.”

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: Attorney, former fire chief, Houston pastor discuss need for Christians” engagement

NASHVILLE— Historically, Christians have often found themselves at odds with society’s sexual standards. But, as a surge in civil lawsuits against Christians reveals, biblically based sexual mores are often deemed bigoted and their harshest critics claim religious liberty is merely an excuse for institutionalized LGBT discrimination.

During the 2016 ERLC Conference in Nashville Aug. 25-27,  an attorney, a Houston pastor, and an Atlanta layman addressed religious liberty issues and encouraged those gathered that relief may not be on the horizon but standing for truth despite the personal cost is its own reward.

“Christ’s church is as much for those not yet in the church as it is for those already in the church,” said Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “And Christ’s voice is as much for those not yet in the church as it is for those already in the church.”

Lino recounted his involvement with Houston-area pastors to defeat a pro-LGBT city ordinance that would have allowed biological males who identify as women to use the women’s restrooms and changing rooms. The 2014 controversy gained national attention when attorneys for then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five prominent pastors.

While Lino was not one of those subpoenaed, the event underscored for him the fact that pastors do not have the option of sitting on the sidelines of cultural battles.

Erik Stanley, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said middle ground in the debate over sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws is fast eroding. Stanley’s daily work defending Christians—like the subpoenaed Houston pastors, fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, and a rapidly growing list of Christian business owners—can be disheartening. But he noted circumstances in 2016 are little different from the experiences of the Apostle Paul, who recognized the “unrighteousness of people who … suppress the truth.”

“We are at a cultural moment where simply proclaiming the gospel and living it out in our daily lives [are] cultural engagement,” Stanley said. “It brings us into conflict with the cultural and sometimes even with the legal authorities in our culture.”

Truth and morality lie at the root of cultural conflict, not politics, he said. That makes a pastor’s call to his church and surrounding community all the more significant.

“When Christ’s preachers are silent at the wrong time, their city—their society—is void of the voice of God,” Lino said. “And society begins to think that God has nothing to say about the values and morals and priorities of a culture.”

Lino, Cochran and Stanley agreed that Christian cultural engagement is not a matter of “if” but “when” and, most importantly, “how.”

The infusion of biblical truths tempered with grace should be a natural part of a Christian’s daily living. But matters central to the gospel like life, marriage and religious liberty compel Christians to speak directly to those issues, Lino said. Silence is not an option.

Inherent in the freedom of speech is the freedom to hear, a notion lost on those who seek to squelch public discourse over issues of human sexuality and marriage, former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran said.

The Atlanta mayor and city council fired Cochran in 2013 after he self-published a men’s Bible study that had a brief mention of biblical marriage and sexual ethics. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution quoted Councilman Alex Wan, who is gay: “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”

In Cochran’s defense, Stanley disagreed with Wan’s statement, arguing Christians must push back on the notion that they cannot speak biblical truth at work, school or any public place. He said, quoting Duke University ethics professor Luke Bretherton, “Consequences upon the church for being the church is the refusal to allow the state to set the terms and conditions of entry into the public square. The state oversteps its limits when it seeks to determine when, where and in what voice the church may speak. Conversely the church falsely limits itself when it only acts and speaks within conditions set for it externally.”

Stanley said the loss of religious liberties has a human cost, most notably in the loss of all other constitutional rights. With no religious foundation upon which to appeal, other rights lose their moral underpinnings.

Cochran’s deeply held religious convictions, which he had applied as a firefighter and as chief and had earned him national recognition, suddenly made him a pariah. And it cost him his job.

But Stanley, Lino and Cochran noted that kingdom consequences are always better than worldly consequences. In his address to the conference, Cochran cited Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“How could you put blessing and persecution in the same Scripture?” he asked. “I’m living proof of it.”

“Culture is unfolding in ways that this country has never seen before. But we have no reason to be scared,” Lino said. “This is time to be exhilarated and emboldened. God is sovereign over all things, and we are the ones he chose to be here at such a time as this.”

“Please come back,” Ecuador missions team told

LAGARTO, Ecuador When you’re on a mission trip and the town’s mayor tells you to keep coming back, you know you’re doing something right. 

But that’s what happened to a 13-member team in late July, when an Ecuadorian village president—the equivalent of a mayor—heaped compliments on team leader Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship. The trip was sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which is in the third year of a five-year partnership to reach the Afro-Ecuadorians people group. 

“The president of Lagarto came to me and he said, ‘You are in Lagarto’s heart. Please come back. Don’t stop coming,’” Mathews told the TEXAN. 

This was Mathews’ fourth mission trip to Ecuador and the most fruitful one yet. The team witnessed many decisions for Christ and deepened relationships that will allow the gospel to continue spreading in the future in an area where there are few Christians.

Team members held leadership development training sessions for men and women that included evangelism as well as training for life and day-to-day skills. Ecuadorian men were taught, among other things, how to be better husbands and fathers. Women were taught relationship and business skills, including how to use the Internet.   

One day, after the sessions, the wife of one of the Ecuadorian men asked them, “What did you do to my husband? He’s a changed man.” 

Team member Roxanne Brown of North Garland Baptist Fellowship said that despite the language barrier, the “women and children that I met were so warm and gracious” that “we had no problems communicating.”

“God has blessed us in the U.S. with so much,” Brown said, “and whether it’s our time, our money, our prayers, or even ourselves to go, we all can be part of the Great Commission in some way.”  

Using SBTC funds, the team also helped begin construction on an external wall to a Lagarto school—a school which previously had only three walls. The ease-of-access to the inside of the building had invited thieves.   

“It was an amazing, wonderful time to see how excited the people were,” Mathews said.

The peoples’ hunger for the gospel was evident and convicting, Mathews said. He visited one home where among the seven children, four of them—all sons—are blind. One of the sons, a man in his 20s, listens to the Bible on audio tape throughout each day. 

“He loved the Lord so deeply,” Mathews said. “Those of us with 20/20 vision have access to reading the Bible and seeing it with our eyes but often don’t read it, but here he is and can’t see, but yet he listens to it around the clock.”

Roberto Cepeda, a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington who went on the trip, said it exceeded his expectations.

“I learned that God can use all our skill sets, whatever they may be, to impact the lives of others,” Cepeda said. 

The multi-cultural makeup of the mission team—three Caucasians, two Hispanics and eight African-Americans—also stood out to Mathews.

“The African-American community is really under-represented [on mission trips], and we are seeing a movement of God in our African-American community and beyond,” Mathews said.

Lagarto has no evangelical churches, but the goal is for that to change in the near future, said SBTC mobilization director Barry Calhoun. In fact, the team found a man who is willing to donate land for the yet-to-be-built church.  

“We’re really excited not only about the salvations but the potential salvations that could come out of this for many, many years to come,” said Calhoun. 

“The idea of going somewhere once or twice does not equate to a lasting relationship,” Calhoun said. “What we see here is what it means to actually be in a partnership for a long period of time.”

Mathews said a long-term partnership makes a difference. 

“They don’t see you as someone who is just coming there to help them spiritually, which certainly is our goal,” Mathews said, “but they also see that we really want to build relationships with them and help them with the other things that are perhaps not spiritual in nature.”

For more information on how your church can be involved, contact Barry Calhoun at 817-552-2500. 

It”s election year, but January Is coming

The 2016 presidential election has spawned an infinite number of pundits, with an infinite number of MacBooks, typing for an infinite amount of time, hoping something wise and clarifying will spill out of their printers. The nomination of two unlikeable candidates this year has made previously tedious presidential campaigns seem like the good old days. But serious people are also asking what we should actually do. We know who’s going to be on the ticket and the party platforms are available for viewing; the facts are before us. What should we do on Election Day?

Within our own Baptist fellowship, the confusion is only slightly less raucous than in the general population. Especially if you watch social media, you’ll see chest beating, caustic remarks and personal attacks from and toward those formerly cobelligerent for the cause of Christ and Christian citizenship. This division worries me more than the election.

Absent a spectacular and merciful act of God, one of two less-than-stellar specimens is going to be president. Many of us expect the next four years to be harder than the last four, regardless of who wins. You can have a relative “favorite” in this campaign and still acknowledge that. I predict increasingly disastrous presidential edicts, court decisions and legislation related to religious liberty, the value of human life and the strength of families. Will Bible-believing Southern Baptists be unified for the building of our heavenly kingdom and the good of our earthly neighbors? Some things are going to have to change if that is going to happen.

It’s time to talk less. As I said, those of us with ears know the shortcomings of both candidates and both parties. Adding volume and exclamations points to repetitions of those themes will drive wedges between us but persuade no one of anything. Give it a rest. I read this week that philosophy is talking to or about God and faith is listening to God. I like philosophy, but I should like faith more.

It’s time to pray more. As I said, listening to God. We do not know what God will do between now and Election Day. We do not know what he will do over the next four years. It is presumptuous to speak as if we do. Asking for renewal among God’s people, asking for wisdom for ourselves, asking for guidance for all our elected leaders, asking for God’s blessings on our pastors and other religious leaders, and asking for his fortifying strength for the coming days is so much more pertinent than my opinion about anything.

We must forgive those who are wrong. Some things that are right and wrong, true and false, will become clear as time passes. Because I remember the past six months, I’m certain that six months from now, I’ll know some things about which I was certain, and wrong. I may know some of those things about you. There will be no unity in the greatest causes if we remain frustrated with each other over lesser issues, past issues. So yes, I need to forgive you when you are wrong, and I need your forgiveness when I am wrong. The resentment and jeering needs to end.

Know and own your convictions. We should have convictions, foundational beliefs that rarely change, as Christians and as citizens. Can you state yours? That’s one of my questions about the classic “undecided” voter or “none” Christian (those who believe in Jesus but will not be part of a church). Do they know their own convictions? What is the source of those convictions? Anyway, you will not be ready for Election Day or its aftermath if you do not know your own core beliefs.

Vote according to your convictions. Don’t be ashamed to do the things that flow out of your convictions. Voting should flow out of your convictions. Perhaps you cannot vote for anyone for president this year. Do you know who else is on the ballot? Most of the best and worst things that have happened in local, state and national government have not been done by the chief executive alone. If you have convictions about this race or that one that prohibit casting a vote, then skip it and make an intentional, wise, convictional decision on the others.

Gird up thy loins like a man. That’s King James Bible for “brace yourself for what’s going to happen next.” When January comes, the consequences of the 2016 election will be upon us, within and without the body of Christ. We must be in right fellowship with our brothers, whom we have seen, and with God, whom we have not seen, if we are going to be ready. We should start now.

IMB trustees appoint new missionaries, affirm mobilization VP

RICHMOND, Va.—International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 27 new missionaries, five of them with ties to Texas, and announced a vice president of mobilization during their board meeting Aug. 23-24 near Richmond, Va.

“Two years ago at this trustee meeting, by God’s grace alone, this body elected me to lead this IMB family,” IMB President David Platt said during the Aug. 24 plenary session. “Now, two years later, I find myself standing here at the end of a deeply encouraging two days with trustees during which we have discussed where the IMB is now and we have dreamed about where God is leading the IMB in the days ahead.

Platt said IMB leaders are hard at work considering, “How do we mobilize this entire Southern Baptist ecosystem of tens of thousands of churches, local associations, state conventions, seminaries and other entities for the spread of the gospel to billions of people who’ve never heard it?” Leaders are meeting with state and national entities and local churches of all sizes to explore how IMB can best serve them and send multitudes more missionaries with them.

Edgar Aponte, who currently serves as director of Hispanic leadership development and instructor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was affirmed by trustees as vice president of mobilization. He will work with other executive leaders in the overall strategy of IMB with particular emphasis on the board’s mobilization efforts, lead teams and networks to mobilize churches in sending missionary teams, and develop relationships across the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Edgar Aponte is an incredibly gifted man of God,” said Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The Lord has blessed him with a wide range of abilities and talents. He excels at whatever he does.”

Prior to his work at SEBTS, Aponte served as the ministry of foreign affairs in Washington, D.C., on behalf of his home nation, the Dominican Republic. His role of minister counselor in the political section involved coordinating the political relations between the embassy and the State Department, Department of Labor, U.S. Congress and Department of Defense; advising the ambassador and authorities on a broad range of policy issues from the bilateral agenda; and engaging in meetings with other embassies and interest groups about specific regional issues such as human trafficking and drug trafficking. Prior to that, he worked in banking for five years.

An avid learner, Aponte earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration; a graduate degree in corporate finance; and a master’s degree in business administration (management). He also earned a master’s degree in Christian ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and is completing a doctorate in theological studies with a concentration in systematic theology from Southeastern Seminary.

In a recent visit with IMB mobilization team leaders, Aponte expressed that he sees the team leading IMB in engaging in strategic partnerships with SBC churches.

“We are Southern Baptists because of missions,” he said. “That is why the SBC started in 1845. Missions is the heart of who we are as a denomination … taking the gospel to where Christ has not been preached. Working together, we can do more than working by ourselves.

“As IMB we have to emphasize the centrality of the CP in our work of cooperation; the CP has shaped Southern Baptist life for almost 100 years, and God has used it as a means to bless our churches and the nations.”

In the pinnacle of the trustee meeting, 27 new missionaries were appointed during a Sending Celebration, which recognized both the new personnel and the churches sending them to take the gospel to the nations.

Appointees with ties to Texas include three people who will work among Central Asian people, including a couple from Rock Creek Baptist Church in Crowley and a woman who was educated in Texas and served a local church in the state. Another couple, being sent by The Village Church in Flower Mound, will serve an American people group. Names are not being used to protect their safety on the field.

“I was born this way” countered by MBTS prof

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Alan Branch has a friend whose brother explained his decision to embrace a homosexual lifestyle by stating, “I have a male body, but I have a female brain. That’s why I’m attracted to men.”

Branch, professor of Christian ethics, classifies that pronouncement as a version of the increasingly common argument that homosexual acts are morally legitimate because homosexuality is “hard-wired into who [some people] are from birth.” As Branch sees it, the argument has been articulated in settings as diverse as the halls of academia, the lyrics of pop singer Lady Gaga and casual family conversations.

The need to equip Christians for countering that spurious notion is why Branch wrote his latest book Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, published by Weaver Book Company, basing the title on a Lady Gaga song.

The book seeks to help pastors and churches understand contemporary scientific research on homosexuality from a Christian worldview perspective while standing firm on the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

“The prevalent claim ‘I was born this way’ is over-simplified and does not fit the evidence to date,” Branch told Baptist Press in an email.

“Biological and genetic factors have a contributing factor towards the development of a homosexual identity, but they are not completely determinative,” he noted. “The big point is that homosexuality is not a trait like hair, skin or eye color. Establishing this basic fact will help in the articulation of a clear Christian ethical stance regarding the morality of homosexual behavior.”

Three key contributors to the misguided “I was born this way” argument, Branch writes, are:

  • Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who helped pioneer the idea some forms of homosexuality are innate;
  • Twentieth-century sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who popularized the falsehood that 10 percent of males are homosexual; and
  • The American Psychiatric Association, which succumbed to political pressure in 1974 by removing homosexuality from its catalog of mental disorders in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.”

An important tool for countering the argument that homosexuality is innate and therefore morally acceptable is the concept of “brain plasticity,” Branch writes, the notion that brain structures and functions change in response to choices and activities.

Like pornography use has been demonstrated to alter a male’s response to women, repeatedly acting on homosexual desires may ingrain such desires in a person’s brain, developing new neural pathways and making them feel “natural,” he argues.

Biological and genetic factors contribute to same-sex attraction, Branch writes, but do not predetermine how a person will respond to such attraction. Among his conclusions:

  • “While prenatal hormones are essential for gender development in the womb and … some real problems can develop when” hormones are not secreted correctly in a mother’s womb, “the born-this-way argument that prenatal hormones unalterably fix same-sex attraction has not been proven.”
  • No definite link between brain structure and homosexuality has been demonstrated, but there have been “intriguing findings” regarding the differences between the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals.
  • Studies of identical twins suggest “a genetic contributing factor to homosexuality may be at work.”
  • “While there have been some intriguing discoveries regarding DNA and homosexuality, as of yet no evidence confirms a simplistic born-this-way argument.” Even if a so-called “gay gene” were discovered, its presence would not uncontrollably compel a person to act on same-sex attraction.

Rather than intimidating Christians, scientific research should help them develop a compassionate, pastoral response to those with same-sex attraction, Branch writes, noting the difficulty in most cases of completely eradicating homosexual temptation.

“We must face the current data with honesty, but also with discernment. Movement on a continuum of orientation change is possible for some, but it is not as easy or as frequent as many of us evangelicals would wish. The majority of research clearly indicates an attempt to change sexual orientation is a daunting task and a rare occurrence,” he writes.

Yet those realities do not trump Scripture’s insistence, Branch argues, that “it is possible for homosexual behavior to be something in which a person once participated in the past, but no longer does so” by virtue of God’s saving and transforming grace.

For some with same-sex attraction, following Christ will entail singleness and godly celibacy, he writes. For others, it will entail heterosexual marriage and combatting occasional same-sex temptations while yet others will marry a person of the opposite gender and be freed altogether from same-sex temptations.

Through every aspect of Christians’ response to homosexuality, Branch argues, “serious debate” must not be “short-circuited by the vacuous claim, ‘I was born this way.’”