Month: January 2017

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief celebrates 50th anniversary with look to the future





DENTON—Fifty years ago, a hurricane crashed onto Texas shores, and in its wake, Southern Baptist churches partnered to bring relief and recovery to the cities impacted by the storm. Those efforts would become the foundation for what is today known as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), a nationwide emergency ministry.

SBDR state directors and volunteers gathered Jan. 23-27 at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, to celebrate its 50th anniversary by acknowledging the past and anticipating the future.

During the meeting, Gary Floyd of Northwest Baptist Convention Disaster Relief presented an overview of SBDR’s history, which began in 1966 when the Home Mission Board allocated $50,000 for disaster response.

Related Story: NAMB’s Ezell affirms support of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

In 1967, Hurricane Beulah ravaged the Gulf Coast in what Floyd called a “catalytic” event, sparking the involvement of Texas Baptist Men in disaster relief. By 1988, nine state conventions had DR ministries. Today, 45 state, national and Canadian Baptist entities are involved in disaster relief.

“It was not a flash in the pan,” Floyd said of SBDR’s early days. He said SBDR has historically emphasized local church involvement, cooperation, compassion, and changed lives—the “ultimate goal.”

“Our future will be built on servanthood at every level,” Floyd said, citing Ephesians 2:10. “Sometimes we think God is waiting on us. That is not the case. God has already created opportunities from the foundation of the world, opportunities for us to serve.”

Acknowledging that “God is going to accomplish his work of compassion with or without us,” Floyd emphasized the continued primacy of the local church.

Adaptability remains crucial, Floyd said, noting the need to develop methods to engage untrained SUVs, or “spontaneous unsolicited volunteers.”

Floyd referenced statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, Social Security Administration and Executive Committee of the SBC indicating that 700 Southern Baptists retire each day, a “huge amount” that could become involved in DR in addition to younger volunteers.

Floyd mentioned the need to “resource local [church] kitchens” and help churches build kitchen facilities capable of producing thousands of meals a day in an emergency.

“All DR is local,” he added.

In addition to Floyd’s remarks, Georgia Baptist Convention DR director Stuart Lang presented the results of a seven-person steering committee appointed in June 2016 to study the impact of current trends upon SBDR and to provide recommendations for its sustained viability.

Lang’s PowerPoint presentation incorporated statistics from various sources. He noted that SBDR volunteer numbers increased from 3,000 in 1994 to more than 73,000 in 2006 and declined to 63,000 in 2015. In the same period, DR units increased from 95 to 1,570.

Based on results from seven state conventions, less than 3 percent of active DR volunteers are under 30, he said, while more than a third, 38.71 percent, are over 60.

Lang explained trends that show SBDR mass feeding is shifting to smaller, quicker responses through the use of church kitchens. He added that DR teams have mixed opinions on the use of SUVs, or untrained volunteers.

Lang also presented generational data with statistics related to aging, church attendance and giving. As average life expectancy continues to increase in the U.S., Baby Boomers are increasingly involved in caring for aging parents, a group expected to number 6.6 million in 2020. Ten thousand Boomers retire each day, many less prepared financially than they had hoped.

Additionally, less than 15 percent of the population attends church, and church attendance declines proportionately by generation with Boomers making up 35 percent and Millennials only 8 percent of church attenders.

Regarding giving, Lang said, “Every generation gives less than the previous one.” Sixty-eight percent of church giving comes from those age 55 and above. Giving may drop by 75 percent during the next 25-30 years. People over 75 give four times as much of their income as those aged 25-44.

Lang’s bottom line for SBDR: The oldest generations will be gone from the ranks of DR in the next 10 years. Boomers will represent SBDR’s “bread and butter” but will be less engaged than previous generations. Gen Xers will provide even fewer volunteers because they are a smaller generation. And millennials will feel good about DR but may be too occupied with careers and family obligations to have significant time to devote to it.

With these obstacles in mind, Lang’s committee offered state conventions the following recommendations related to DR:

  • Focus on key ministry areas
  • Develop and strengthen relationships with state DR partnerships, sharing resources
  • Identify and develop leaders with mentoring programs
  • Embrace technology
  • Develop strategies for engaging untrained volunteers

“We will not be able to [serve] if our only plan is to retool our past,” Floyd cautioned leaders. “In the Northwest, we remind each other that it’s called a disaster because none of the normal stuff works.”

NAMB”s Ezell affirms support of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

DENTON—“We are on the same team,” Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), told state convention disaster relief directors and personnel assembled at Camp Copass in Denton Jan. 23-27. The conference marked the 50th anniversary of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR).

Ezell’s remarks came Thursday, Jan. 26, a day after David Melber explained the restructuring of NAMB and the vital place of SBDR in NAMB’s compassion arm, Send Relief.

Related Story: SBDR celebrates 50th anniversary with look to the future

Ezell’s reassurances pleased the 165 attendees from 33 state Southern Baptist conventions and Canada, many of whom expressed concerns in recent years about the relationship between NAMB and SBDR.

“We have had almost a Holy Spirit type reunification and healing,” Scottie Stice, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) DR director, said. Stice credited Melber’s leadership as vice-president of Send Relief in soothing previous tensions.

On Wednesday, Melber emphasized SBDR as a component of Send Relief, whose compassion ministries also address community engagement, human trafficking, foster care and adoption, refugees, and college mobilization. The official roll-out of Send Relief came at the SBC annual meeting at St. Louis last June, Melber told the TEXAN.

Strengthening Relationships

Ezell opened Thursday’s remarks by wishing SBDR a happy anniversary. He joked about being misunderstood by rental car agents regarding his standard requested “designated downgrade” as president of a missions organization and admitted to enjoying his current rental, a speedy Dodge Challenger.

Lighthearted banter aside, Ezell moved to the serious business of providing a “30,000-foot flyover” of NAMB with its focus on getting “every church on mission.” Of the over 46,000 SBC churches, nearly one-third gave insignificantly to the Cooperative Program or baptized no one in the last two years, Ezell said.

“They don’t see the need in the shadow of their own steeple,” Ezell continued, emphasizing the importance of NAMB’s goal of planting 100 new churches a month since 900 churches drop out of the SBC annually.

Send Network, NAMB’s church planting arm, is “up and running well,” Ezell confirmed, with 5,000 churches engaged in sending or supporting church planters. “We are very thankful for where we are, and we have an incredible amount of momentum.”

As for Send Relief, Ezell said. “It’s something like you’ve never seen in your SBC life.”

Praising SBDR efforts, Ezell affirmed Melber’s earlier description of Send Relief and spoke on Mark 12.

“When you love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and soul and strength, that’s going to transfer over to where you’re going to love your neighbor as yourself,” Ezell said, adding that love is “action.” He also noted the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 25 on ministering to the “least of these” as a sign of faithfulness to God.

“Send Relief is going to help churches understand it’s not about us. … It’s all about [God],” Ezell said, calling for a “whole generation of Southern Baptists who want to love their neighbors as themselves.”

Expressing gratitude for being a Southern Baptist, he laughingly noted that in a “big family” there can be a lot of “crazy uncles.”

“There’s some challenging people out there that you have to work with. I am a challenging person at times. But we are all in this together. We are here for a purpose. We want to do everything we possibly can to be the best partner with you. There are great days ahead.”

When asked about the relationship between disaster relief and church planting, Ezell cited SBDR efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as significant yet characterized by “missed opportunities” that NAMB is now better prepared to address.

Ezell also discussed the challenges of church planting, explaining that NAMB had “raised the bar” for assessments and training. He praised the efforts of bi-vocational church planters, noting examples of successful pastors who kept their day jobs. “It’s not everybody being full time. It’s everybody being on mission.”

Following Ezell’s remarks, Louisiana DR’s Gibbie McMillan asked the audience, most clad in familiar SBDR yellow, to come forward and surround Ezell and Melber with prayer. McMillan previously served as the first DR director for SBTC, serving during the deployment to Hurricane Katrina.

Melber told the TEXAN that SBDR is “a very key part” of Send Relief.

“We are here to celebrate and affirm the 50-year history of the ministry. As we look to the future and see more people involved in mercy and compassion, ultimately [that] will feed more people into DR.”

Send Relief 2017 Goals

Send Relief’s 2017 goals include providing resources for state conventions to use with their churches.

“We will do many labs onsite in mercy and compassion, equipping and training where people come in and learn about certain initiatives, say foster care,” Melber said. Labs will highlight “tangible, easy steps” that can be reproduced in other churches, focusing on the “the best of the best out there.”

Melber said of Send Relief’s role, “We want to see churches on mission. Our purpose is to help churches take their next missional step” by emphasizing “local churches already doing it well,” disseminating that know-how to other churches.

“We have 46,700 churches throughout the SBC. Many are doing great things in mercy and compassion but not all. We want to see all churches doing so throughout North America, the U.S. and Canada.”

Melber noted the SBC contains 16 southern and 26 non-southern conventions, with different needs and challenges. The 50th anniversary SBDR meeting offered separate sessions between Melber and DR directors from both regions to address unique “obstacles and opportunities” and to explore NAMB’s role in assisting the states.

Of the meeting with southern DR directors, Stice said Melber affirmed NAMB’s support of established SBDR efforts.

Melber indicated “he wants to get in his lane and not disrupt what is already working well,” Stice said, adding that Send Relief will deploy media teams and trucks stocked with supplies like rolled roofing, water and containers for victims to use to gather belongings.

Send Relief is also establishing warehouses in strategic locations to house materials for rapid distribution in times of crisis, Stice added, praising NAMB’s past assistance in shipping such supplies as anti-mold treatment and Bibles directly to SBTC DR teams in the field.

With 87 percent of the resources in southern states, where the majority of SBC churches are, varying strategies are necessary in the non-South, Melber said.

Frank McCrary, director of Kansas Nebraska DR, called Melber’s meeting with non-southern states positive, speaking favorably of NAMB’s plan to deploy public information teams and trailers of supplies to disaster sites on day one of emergencies, allowing volunteer DR teams to assemble in the various states.

“We’ve been asked in the past, what took you so long?” McCrary said of the advantage of having an immediate DR presence backed up by state teams.

“We want to provide national coordination when it is needed,” Melber added, giving the example of the American Red Cross, a partner agency which, in times of a disaster, will deal with a single point of contact rather than 42 separate state conventions.

“I see NAMB supporting, not supplanting our efforts,” Stice said.

Why should we partner and cooperate to reach the world?

Several years ago I lived in a town with a large institutional independent Baptist church. It was a good evangelistic church, and my kids went to a couple of events over there. Driving by, I recognized the logo they were using; it was the SBC logo (cross, Bible, globe) without the globe. I chuckled at the statement they were unintentionally making about the difference between Baptists who have formulated channels of cooperation and those who cooperate more fitfully and less strategically. Not to say that this good church and its sister independents didn’t do missions, but they did it in the way Southern Baptists found wanting early in our history.

Flash forward a couple of decades. Arguably, many of our churches seem to admire the success of that church—its size, selection of ministries, modern facility and professional staff—more than they admire the cooperative ministry of our convention. As I thought about the cooperation and partnership of our churches, some key concepts rose to the top. Are these values of your church? Should they be?

Participation: This is part of the dictionary definition of “partnership,” a synonym really. How does your church participate in strategic global evangelism? All three of those words are important. Our missions efforts are strategic if they result from a broad consideration of priorities rather than something less formal like supporting missionaries who grew up in our church. Our mission is global if it aids evangelism in several places around the country and world. And of course there is not much reason to go or send or give if the ministry is not intended to tell the good news of Christ to all who will hear. Yet, thousands of our SBC churches do not participate to any degree in Southern Baptist missions. For one reason or another, small size, lack of resources or disinterest in the denomination, some are not involved in missions by any means.

Common effort and benefit: Built into the idea of cooperation is that our work and its fruit become corporate, “ours” rather than “mine.” A legal definition of partnership emphasizes the advantage combined skills and assets. The strengths of our churches could be compared to the giftedness of individual believers. Look at Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-19 for a discussion of how disparate parts of a larger body work together for a common purpose. The contrasting idea to common effort emphasizes the efforts of individual believers or an individual church. These are certainly significant, but for 90 percent of our churches, it’s difficult for solitary efforts to be
strategic.

Submission to a common purpose: Cooperation demands that the individual parties do not each control the work of the body. The work is directed, but it is not controlled or branded by one partner. Our churches are an example of this. My church is not called the “Gary Ledbetter Baptist Church,” even though I serve there as I am able, because my exaltation is not the appropriate mission of that congregation—it’s not why I serve or why hundreds of us congregate each week. A group of churches working together must be willing to let the purpose be more prominent than the acclaim of the partners. The leaders of those churches must be willing to let someone other than themselves make some decisions that direct the overall work.

Commitment to the whole gospel message: Again, I don’t disrespect the ministries of churches that find other ways of addressing the Great Commission, though I do question the advantages of those methods over our Cooperative Program. A New Testament church must address people beyond its own horizon in order to fulfill its commission. Most Baptists outside the SBC, and some within, have discovered that cooperation with other churches bears great fruit in this effort. I would ask my brethren to consider whether the channel they use is the best channel for cooperation in ministry rather just their own channel, or the newest channel.

Encouragement of our sister churches: I have preached at some really small churches in the Midwest and in Texas. It is a kick to see the looks on their faces when I point out that thousands of churches are preaching the same gospel as they are at this time on Sunday. It’s a revelation when they realize that thousands of people around the world have heard the gospel and believed because they participate in partnership through the Cooperative Program. In fact, the partnership with larger churches with nice facilities and a professional staff makes what I tell these small, average, Southern Baptist churches true. Your church, if it’s larger, and my church share in the joy of these brothers across the country because we are willing to do missions with them. This matters, friends, and we don’t think of it often enough.

This not a thorough treatment of cooperation, but these points seem to be significant as we consider how we do missions. We have a lot of options these days. I challenge you to consider the character, fruit and effectiveness of the particular means you use in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Mosque case prompts IMB policy tweak

NASHVILLE—Ongoing discussion of a federal court case concerning religious liberty for Muslims has prompted the resignation of an International Mission Board trustee and a revision of the IMB’s process for submitting friend of the court briefs.

Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., resigned from the IMB trustee board in November based on his conviction the IMB should not have joined a friend of the court brief last May supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal reported Haun’s resignation Jan. 23, and at least three other Baptist state papers (including the TEXAN) published the report.

Amid continuing discussion, IMB President David Platt released a statement to Baptist Press noting, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs. IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”

Clyde Meador, retired executive advisor to Platt, told BP the IMB joined the ISBR amicus brief in an effort “to support the USA’s foundational principle of religious freedom” and “to support Baptist partners and others around the world who seek permission to construct church buildings.”

In December, U.S. district judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the friend of the court brief joined by the IMB and ERLC, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

The amicus brief argued the Planning Board violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws.

A friend of the court brief—referenced in legal terminology with the Latin phrase “amicus curiae” brief—allows a person or organization that is not a party to a case to interject legal arguments reflecting concern over precedent the court’s decision may establish.

Haun resignation

Haun, a former Tennessee Baptist Convention president, told BP resigning from the IMB trustees “was one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that I’ve ever had to make in my ministry because I feel like I’ve been a faithful Southern Baptist all my life.”

First Baptist Morristown took up its normal Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in December, Haun said, out of a desire to continue to support IMB missionaries. The congregation is escrowing funds it would have given through the Cooperative Program, the Baptist and Reflector reported, and “praying about their long-term response” to the action of the IMB and ERLC. But First Baptist continues to support TBC ministries.

Haun cited two reasons for his resignation: (1) The amicus brief “at least borders on” an “unholy alliance” with followers of a religion that denies both the deity and the atonement of Jesus; and (2) Joining the brief does not comport with the IMB’s stated “mission and purpose.”

Scripture forbids “unholy alliances” in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Haun said, arguing the brief supports Muslims in their effort to construct a house of false worship.

“I don’t think the IMB advocates the same doctrine as the Muslims,” Haun said. “But I do think that Paul warns us about making these unholy alliances. And I think that’s where we’re scripturally on the edge.”

Regarding the IMB’s mission and purpose, Haun said, “I understand the religious liberty aspect of the entire argument. But I do not understand why the International Mission Board, with our mission to reach the world for Christ, would have to jump into the fray of a mosque being built in New Jersey.”

While Haun was still an IMB trustee, he contacted Platt with this concerns and the amicus brief was addressed at a confidential “trustee forum” in August, the Baptist and Reflector reported.

Religious liberty

Meador, who retired from the IMB in May, said in written comments the amicus brief “speaks to a matter closely related to International Mission Board work around the world. In a great many countries, especially but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, Baptist churches with whom missionaries work find it very difficult if not impossible to receive permission to build church buildings.”

The IMB’s worldwide Baptist partners “emphasize the basic principle of religious freedom” in “seeking to obtain building permits,” Meador said. While religious freedom in the U.S. does “not necessarily” persuade other nations to grant similar freedom, “contrary action by the USA would be quite persuasive.”

“Should it be clear that the USA does not uphold its principle of religious freedom when applied to the building of mosques, an excuse is readily available to any Muslim or other opposing country to deny the building of church buildings,” Meador said.

The Baptist Faith and Message, Article XVII, affirms, “Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others … The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”

The preamble to the BF&M notes “Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty.”

IMB’s mission

A statement on the IMB’s website notes “IMB’s specific interest in the brief arises out of the belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty. … The IMB is responsible for carrying out its ministry consistent with the entirety of the Baptist Faith and Message, not only the portions related to sharing the gospel.”

Platt cited the BF&M in his statement to BP and noted, “We continue to affirm that everyone should be able to freely worship according to their religious convictions.”

Platt continued, “At the same time, our primary purpose as an organization is ‘to partner with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.’“

Out of a commitment to “speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission,” IMB leaders have “revised” their process for filing amicus briefs, Platt noted. He also expressed gratitude for Haun’s trustee service.

Meador told BP he did not know the former or current IMB protocol for joining amicus briefs. The IMB’s legal department was not available to explain its protocol before BP’s publication deadline. The ERLC told BP in an email it “did not ask anyone to sign on” to the brief.

The ISBR amicus brief states it was filed by attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the New York City firm of Reich and Paolella and the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom. No attorneys paid with Cooperative Program funds are listed as having prepared the brief.

Following Shipp’s December ruling and earlier satirical news stories claiming Southern Baptist Convention dollars were being used to construct mosques, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page noted CP funds have never been requested “for the construction of any non-Christian house of worship; nor would we agree to such a request.”

Diversity, smaller churches in Pastors” Conference line-up

PHOENIX—On Sunday mornings in the ballroom of a New Orleans country club, Ryan Rice Sr. preaches to about 55 worshippers at the Southern Baptist church he founded in 2015. The full-time pastor seeking his first seminary degree is among 12 leaders chosen to preach at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference June 11-12 in Phoenix.

“I was humbled and surprised at being selected as a speaker for the pastors’ conference,” Rice, pastor of Life Church, told Baptist Press. “This is such a great honor to be on stage with other great men of God who have a desire to see Christ exalted.”

Rice, an African-American, is among a culturally diverse lineup of pastors including six Anglo, three African-Americans, one Jamaican-American, a Cuban-American and an Asian-American. And nearly all pastor churches that average well under 500 in Sunday morning worship attendance, said Pastors’ Conference President Dave Miller.

Their selection to preach at the event was the result of an intentional attempt to choose ethnically diverse leaders of what Miller describes as the “average-size” Southern Baptist church.

“I’m hoping to demonstrate that the Southern Baptist Convention has some great resources in churches of 150 and 200 and 250 people,” Miller told Baptist Press. “The smaller churches have some really high-quality leadership.”

The conference speaker selection team is not opposed to mega church pastors, Miller said, but simply chose to showcase the resources available in the average-size church. He also hopes the change will encourage the majority of Southern Baptist pastors.

“Just because a church is small doesn’t mean that the leadership is bad or that it’s defective,” Miller said. “There are some great guys out there laboring in [average-size] churches that because of the community, or because of some reason, the church stays a certain size.”

But Miller noted, “The star of the Pastors’ Conference is going to be the book of Philippians, and our men are going to preach through the text, and I believe that will be encouraging. It’s a great book, and it’s about a message we need to hear.”

In addition to Rice, who leads a multiethnic congregation of black, white and Hispanic members, other speakers—with ethnicity and SBC Annual Church Profile average attendance as available—are Jose Abella, Providence Road Baptist Church, Miami, Cuban American, 217; Michael Allen, Uptown Baptist Church, Chicago, Jamaican American, 164; Jamar Andrews, Word Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Ark., African-American; Bart Barber, First Baptist Church, Farmersville, Texas, Anglo, 375; David Choi, Church of the Beloved in Chicago, Asian American, 400; Chris Davis, Groveton Baptist Church, Alexandria, Va., Anglo; Shane Hall, First Southern Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Okla., Anglo, 687; Jimmy Meek, Immanuel Baptist Church, El Dorado, Ark., Anglo, 390; John Onwuchekwa, Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, African-American; Spencer Plumlee, Riverview Baptist Church, Osage Beach, Mo., Anglo, 300; and Nathan Rose, Liberty Baptist Church, Liberty, Mo., Anglo, 171. Attendance numbers were not available for newest church plants.

There are many quality Southern Baptist expository preachers, Miller said.

“We just felt like it was time for the churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention to take a shot at this,” said Miller, who pastors Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, with an average Sunday attendance of 140. “My experience has all been in these [average-size] churches, and I happen to know that there are some really good preaching and some really good people and some quality leadership in these churches.”

A total of 150 preachers were nominated as speakers, according to Pastors’ Conference statistics.

Adam Blosser, a member of the selection team, blogged about the selection process on SBCVoices.com.

“We began by making sure that every preacher was listened to by at least two members of our team. From there we were able to narrow the list of approximately 150 preachers down to about 40 preachers,” Blosser wrote. “These 40 preachers received additional consideration from some of the members of our team. We then gathered together in a hotel conference room in St. Louis, listened to sermons, discussed what we heard, and put together a list of 12 speakers for the conference.”

Trojan Horse: Austin “anti-bullying” program pushes progressive views on gender, sexual identity

AUSTIN—An Austin Independent School District anti-bullying curriculum celebrates diversity and requires inclusivity by abolishing children’s and teachers’ “biased” notions of family and gender norms. “Welcoming Schools: Creating Safe and Supportive Environments for All Students,” which is taught to students as young as 4 years old, affirms same-sex marriage and parenting, gay and lesbian relationships, and transgenderism.

A national LGBT advocacy organization, Human Rights Campaign, drafted “Welcoming Schools” as a means of getting sexually and politically sensitive and controversial material into the nation’s classrooms. Billed as an “anti-bullying” program, school districts across the nation, including AISD, have incorporated it into their curriculum. Critics say the curriculum—and the broader initiative of social and emotional learning (SEL) in which it is embedded—ignores the conflict foisted upon teachers required to teach it and students whose understanding of family and human sexuality are grounded in religious or familial convictions.

“It is not the school’s job to teach or find out what a child feels about sexuality or religion, and especially to usurp parental obligation and authority in order to teach a child what they see as right and proper,” said Cindy Asmussen, advisor to the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.

Former AISD preschool teacher Caryl Ayala said the curriculum crosses a line. During her elementary school campus’s in-service training before the start of the 2015-16 school year, Ayala’s team of pre-school teachers was told to “come up with a definition of homosexual love” that a 4-year-old child could understand. The request was made of all grade level instructors.

Ayala said many of the teachers considered the program a burden on their already overloaded plates; there would be little if any time to implement yet another lesson into their weekly plans. Still others, like Ayala, considered the

LGBT-affirming messages an affront to their consciences and, most likely, to their students’ families as well.
Parents and faith leaders, not classroom teachers, should address issues of human sexuality, gay marriage, and transgenderism with the children, she said.

Who gets bullied?

According to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, students are most likely bullied because of their looks. The research cited in the AISD “Welcoming Schools” lesson plans corroborated the government statistics: the majority of bullied students are targeted for their “looks” (55 percent), “body shape” (37 percent), or race (16 percent). By comparison other students were targeted for being LGBT (14 percent); for family income (13 percent); for religion (12 percent); and disability (8 percent).

The TEXAN questioned AISD about the curriculum’s content and the need for an additional anti-bullying program that assists only LGBT students. In response, the district stated, “Austin ISD’s philosophy is to educate the whole child. That includes helping students understand and express their emotions in constructive ways. Through a variety of innovative programs such as social and emotional learning, anti-bullying programs and a restorative justice approach to discipline, students are taught to be inclusive of people different from them and to treat them with respect.”

The TEXAN obtained lesson plans used for introducing “Welcoming Schools” to teachers and, ultimately, their students. Module 1, “What is a Family?” begins with the deconstruction of the traditional family as the societal norm. It cites statistics on how many children are raised outside of the two-parent (Mom and Dad) home and features a film narrated by 6-12-year-old children talking about their same-sex parents or their parents’ gay friends.

In module 4, “What is Gender? Examining the Continuum of Gender Identification, Gender Expression, and Stereotypes,” teachers are asked to answer questions about their preconceived ideas about gender (i.e. gender bias). The lesson states, “By embracing the richness of the gender spectrum, teachers and other adults can help broaden children’s understandings of gender in order to help every child feel seen and recognized.”

By Module 5 children are told they can choose their gender identity even if that identity conflicts with biological reality. Questioning the child’s choice of gender is not an option for teachers or students.

The possibility that the lessons might conflict with the consciences and faith convictions of AISD teachers, students and families is never acknowledged in the modules.

Asmussen said “Welcoming Schools” curriculum highlights a bigger problem of progressive educational overreach. Promoted as a means of helping students achieve academic success through character development, an initiative known as social and emotional learning (SEL) is being introduced nationwide.

The Collaborative for Academic, Emotional, and Social Learning (CASEL) is one purveyor of the ideologically driven program and in 2011 tapped Austin ISD to pilot the program. Today the SEL initiative is on all 129 campuses and is being introduced in El Paso, Houston and Dallas school districts.

Asmussen said the SEL educational model is another iteration of the 1990’s Outcome Based Education that required educators to teach and test students’ attainment of subjective character traits. She has presented her findings to lawmakers and special interest groups warning them against the “social engineering” of SEL programs marketed as educational tools for building character and enhancing learning.

“That’s how they sell it,” Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project, told the TEXAN. “You can say that to a very conservative and a very liberal legislator, and they would agree.”

Asmussen said CASEL “competency goals” are laudable: developing self-awareness, social awareness, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making skills. But Texas educators and legislators must ask whose character development standards are being taught as normative and what will be done with a student’s test results?

A review of the organizations that supply CASEL’s curriculum and that fund the non-profit organization reveal a consortium of social and political progressives. Robbins said CASEL “partners with organizations that openly seek to change the world in areas such as health care, climate regulation, and sexual politics.”

Asmussen encouraged parents and teachers to proactively stave off the introduction of “Welcoming Schools” and social and emotional learning initiatives in their districts.

“There are already good character education programs to be found that stay clear of social and political agendas,” Asmussen said. “We must demand more transparency in our schools and focus on academics; provide clear, parent-approved guidelines for character education; and protect against over-sexualization in the classrooms.”

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Church ladies’ befriend adult dance club owner, lead her to Christ





LONGVIEW—Teresa’s Club was a staple along Highway 80 in Longview for 25 years until the owner, Teresa Fears, met Jesus Christ through friendships with members of Mobberly Baptist Church. Afterward, closing down the adult club was Teresa’s idea.

The Mobberly “church ladies,” as Teresa calls them, have changed her life. And she has changed theirs.

Mobberly’s involvement with Teresa began more than three years ago when worship team member Laney Wootten began praying about the club.

“The Lord made it clear that I was not just to pray but to do something,” Wootten said. She searched the club’s Facebook page, surprised the owner was a woman with a passion for helping special needs children.

Teresa accepted Wootten’s friend request, and the two began messaging on Facebook. The parent of an autistic son, Wootten found common ground with Fears, who regularly volunteered at Gladewater’s Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center for medically fragile children and youth.

“We talked online for two weeks,” Wootten said. “I knew we needed to come into the club to really reach her.”

Teresa was initially reluctant after visits from groups from other churches. Since she also regularly fed homeless people from the club, she asked for help with that instead.

“We said yes,” Wootten explained. “We wanted Teresa to know we were validating what she was doing to help others and wanted to support her.” Wootten talked to Mobberly pastors and invited children’s minister Sharon Brooks to accompany her to Teresa’s.

“They got to be my friends. They did not automatically try to shove anything in my face,” said Fears, who explained she had “been on her own” since age 14.

Brooks and Wootten began visiting Teresa’s and continued messaging her. On Mother’s Day weekend, Fears proved unreachable on Facebook.

“We knew she was depressed and in chronic pain,” Brooks said. Armed with beans, cornbread, flowers, and a book, Brooks and Wootten went to Teresa’s home for what Brooks called “our first truly meaningful spiritual conversation.”

“Teresa said later the tangible things we brought to meet her physical needs spoke to her and the fact that we went to the trouble to track her down because we were concerned,” Wootten said.

That day Fears asked why God allowed bad things to happen to children, giving Wootten an “open door” to share both the gospel and her son’s struggles with autism.

Mobberly associate pastor Gregg Zackary and his wife, Tina, were also instrumental in reaching Teresa. Gregg had formerly struggled with depression, so Brooks and Wootten thought he could minister to Fears.

“They were going to Teresa’s, providing meals for her and the ladies who worked there before the club opened Saturday evenings,” Zackary said. “Before I went, I thought and prayed about it seriously.” He consulted accountability partners and other Mobberly pastors, asking for prayer.

“We didn’t want anything to happen that would not glorify the Lord,” Zackary said. “My wife and I went to the club. I shared my testimony. We listened to Teresa and were heartbroken over the pain she had endured. We prayed for her.”

Wootten called Zackary’s visit “a huge turning point,” the first time a pastor had come through Teresa’s doors to offer help. The Zackarys also began messaging Fears with Scripture and biblically based questions.

The Zackarys went twice to the club before Teresa started attending church at Mobberly’s Marshall satellite and later at the Longview campus. She brought friends to church, including homeless people and club workers, and was welcomed by members who had ministered to her at the club.

On Aug. 2, Teresa trusted Christ after meeting with Mobberly staff, including Zackary, pastor Glynn Stone, and two women’s ministry leaders.

“We listened to Teresa and invited her to share the things on her heart,” Zackary recalled. “Pastor Glynn and I had a chance to explain the gospel to her.”

When Teresa said her religion was “kindness,” Zackary explained that kindness is a character trait of God, exhibited through people controlled by his Spirit. They discussed repentance. Zackary shared Romans 2:4, that God’s “kindness leads us to repentance.”

“Pastor Glynn asked if Teresa was willing to be ‘all in,’” Zackary said. “That was the day she surrendered to Jesus.”

When Teresa left the meeting, she posted on Facebook that she was closing the club, Zackary said. 

“Her perspective changed totally, and she saw it as evil, not honoring to the Lord. She was not pressured. It was the Holy Spirit who convicted her.”

Teresa has since donated the club’s furniture to a non-profit. The “church ladies” remain her friends. Wootten’s mother teaches a Bible study in Teresa’s home attended by dozens, many veterans of the sex industry.

Fears was baptized Dec. 4, and three women who accompanied her to the service placed their trust in Christ that day, Zackary said.

Wootten, Brooks and Zackary agree that Fears has taught them much about reaching the lost with the gospel.

“God used Laney and Sharon and many other women to get outside of the walls of the church, care for people and share Christ’s love,” Zackary said.

“Our [church] mission for the next 10 years is Engage 10K, to engage 10,000 households with the gospel of Jesus Christ, mobilizing the entire body of Christ to have relationships with people outside the walls of the church and to get to know their households. For Teresa, her household was really her club, the people she did life with.”

Friendship with Teresa has been transformative for Brooks, Wootten and others in what has become a network of supporters of more than 30 women.

“We realized we had to go into the club expecting absolutely nothing,” Wootten said. “Not keeping any sort of tab on the good we were doing. We learned to come in with literally zero strings attached, out of our love for Christ. We never pressured them to make changes. We allowed the Holy Spirit to do that. We came in with truth. We looked for opportunities to speak the truth as God opened doors for us. We had to allow the Lord to work. He did more than we could have asked.”

“God led Laney to Teresa at the start of our church’s gospel challenge,” Brooks added. “It has changed the way our church perceives evangelism.”

Tennessee pastor resigns as IMB trustee

Editor’s Note: An update (Jan. 27) to this story can be found here: Mosque case prompts IMB policy tweak.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn.—A Tennessee Baptist pastor has resigned as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board in response to an action taken by IMB leadership last summer. He had another year to serve on his present term.

Dean HaunDean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown, told the Baptist and Reflector his resignation was in response to the IMB’s May 2016 decision to sign an amicus brief in support of a mosque to be built in New Jersey. 

“I love our IMB leadership and our missionaries and their work across the globe.  I am not a rabble rouser and my heart is not to take down the IMB,” he stressed, adding, however, that he has to stand up for his convictions that he feels are based upon Scripture.

In the meantime, the church’s members are praying about their long-term response to the IMB’s decision. The church is currently escrowing its Cooperative Program funds to the Southern Baptist Convention in response to the action taken by the IMB and the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commissions (ERLC).

Haun said the church is continuing to send funds to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for missions and ministries in Tennessee.

First Baptist, Morristown, gives 11 percent of its gifts to the church through the Cooperative Program.

In March, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., filed a federal lawsuit because they had been denied a building permit to build a mosque on land owned by the Islamic Society. In May an amicus brief was filed in court by 20 different faith-based organizations arguing and agreeing that the mosque project should be approved. Among the signers of the brief were the SBC’s ERLC and the IMB.

After the two SBC entities’ actions were made public and featured in a story posted on a satire and parody website called The End Times, Haun received questions about the IMB’s decision.

Related article: Rumor that Southern Baptist Convention is building mosques exposed as lie

Haun, who chaired the Northern Africa and the Middle Eastern Peoples Committee of the IMB for two years, said he received dozens of phone calls and e-mails from pastors across the state. “I had to tell them I knew nothing about the IMB joining in this amicus brief because we (IMB trustees) were not informed about its signing at our early May meeting,” he said.

Haun contacted the office of IMB President David Platt and was referred to the IMB’s public relations specialist, Julie McGowan, who then referred him to several websites discussing religious liberty issues.

“I understand religious liberty implications but I do not understand why the IMB felt it necessary to jump into the fray,” Haun said. “When I look at our IMB mission and purpose statements, I cannot see how this action meshes with them.”

Haun also called the ERLC and listened to an explanation of the entity’s rationale for signing the amicus brief. He noted that after a lengthy conversation with Daniel Darling, public relations leader for the ERLC, they ended the call by, “agreeing to disagree.”

Related article: An Open Letter for Preserving the First Freedom of Universal Religious Liberty

In mid-July, Haun e-mailed Scott Harris, of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, and chairman of the IMB trustees, and Platt. He informed them a number of pastors had contacted him about the IMB action. “David promised me that at our August trustee meeting he would address the mosque issue and why the IMB signed the amicus brief along with the ERLC.”

Haun said Platt kept his promise and addressed the issue.

Haun said, “Brother David (Platt) read a statement that is now on the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section of the IMB website.” According to the statement: “IMB supports freedom of religion for all people both in the United States and around the world. IMB signing the amicus brief regarding the New Jersey mosque is an agreement that all people deserve religious liberty, but it does not in any way support the mosque financially or with human resources.”

But Haun asked, “Are CP dollars not used to pay the salaries of our legal team who filed the brief?”

Haun shared with Platt that “as a trustee it was my responsibility to protect our organization and that I saw all kinds of danger in this action for our future.”

Haun said the pastors who contacted him were having a difficult time understanding why the ERLC would sign the brief but an even more difficult time understanding why the IMB chose to do so. Haun said he had spoken with a trustee of the North American Mission Board who told him that NAMB “would not touch it.”

In regard to supporting the mosque, Haun asked, “If we defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship are we not helping them speed down the highway to hell? I want no part in supporting a false religion even if it is in the name of religious freedom,” he said.  “Our Baptist institutions’ names will be on this brief setting legal precedence and supporting the right of mosques to be built all over our nation for years to come.” Haun said he believes Islam does not deserve to be protected like other religions in America because it is not a religion. “In my opinion Islam, which means to ‘submit,’ is a geo-political movement that seeks to replace our values and even our faith with Sharia law.  I doubt if the situation were reversed if the Muslims would stand up for our religious liberty.”

Haun stressed that the greater principle to him is not religious liberty but an ungodly scriptural alliance forbidden by II Corinthians 6:14-15.  “While I love the IMB and have been grateful to serve for the past six years I personally cannot be a party to our action.

“By all means, let’s stand for religious liberty in America. But first and foremost let us stand on our firm convictions that our alliance with God is paramount, that He will accomplish His ends without the necessity of evil alliances.”

Haun said he does not want to hurt the International Mission Board. He intentionally did not publicly announce his decision to resign during December when Southern Baptist churches were collecting the 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. “We promoted and took up our annual LMCO this year because we did not want to injure our great missionaries.  They had nothing to do with this decision,” Haun said.

Haun said he would have gladly rescinded his resignation and continued serving as a trustee if the IMB had taken action to remove the entity from the amicus brief.

“While we believe the Cooperative Program is the tried and proven method of supporting missions and ministries worldwide, we respect the autonomy of every Southern Baptist church,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “I personally know Dean Haun and have the utmost respect for his convictions,” Davis said.

A former pastor at First Baptist, Morristown, Davis said he also is very familiar with the “heart and make up of the church. I have the highest respect for their leadership and members.”

He added that FBC is “made up of people that are global in their focus and sacrificially generous in their financial giving for missions. They are among the leaders in Tennessee of Great Commission financial support.”

Davis expressed hope that leaders of First Baptist and the IMB can come to a greater understanding of the issues involved and that there will be a “day of reconciliation.”

IMB President David Platt expressed gratitude for Haun’s service to the IMB. “He has contributed much to Southern Baptists’ cooperative work around the world,” Platt said in a written statement to the Baptist and Reflector. “While our desire was to see him complete his term as a trustee, we respect his decision to resign.”

Platt also wrote, “In light of The Baptist Faith and Message, we continue to affirm that everyone should be able to freely worship according to their religious convictions. At the same time, our primary purpose as an organization is ‘to partner with churches to empower missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.’ IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to this mission.”

Trustee chair Scott Harris, missions minister at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, also issued a statement to the B&R. “One challenge as an IMB trustee is to represent, with wisdom and discernment, a wide variety of perspectives from God-honoring people in the many issues that affect Southern Baptists’ global missions endeavor.

“While we have heard Dean Haun’s perspective on why he feels compelled to resign as a trustee, we cannot comment on the extensive discussions and varied opinions that took place during IMB trustee forum on this particular topic. IMB trustees commit to respecting that IMB trustee forums are closed, confidential, non-public sessions, and I’m committed to maintaining the confidence of those discussions, in accordance with the policy for current and former IMB trustees.”

—This article first appeared on the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector website.