Month: June 2019

REVIEW: “Yesterday” is a modern-day parable about sin and fame

Jack Malik is a talented musician who has a great voice and a flair for playing the guitar.

So far, though, few people have noticed. His late-night gigs draw merely a smattering of applause. His appearance at a music festival attracts a crowd of about 20 — many of them friends.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he tells his manager and friend, Ellie. “… This is my last gig.”

Then a miracle happens, seemingly straight out of a science fiction novel.

Jack is hit by a bus at the exact moment Earth experiences a brief worldwide blackout. He survives the crash but soon discovers everyone has changed.

For starters, no one remembers the Beatles.

“When did you write that”? Ellie asks him after he sings a tune by the ground-breaking group.

“I didn’t write it,” Jack says. “Paul McCartney wrote it.”

“Who?” she asks.

Jack searches his album collection for his Beatles records … and comes up empty. He types “Beatles” into Google … and finds pictures of bugs.

Suddenly, Jack faces a dilemma: If no one on Earth can remember Beatles songs, could he sing them and claim them as his own?

The film Yesterday(PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a man who supposedly becomes the world’s most talented musician by singing songs written by someone else. It stars Himesh Patel as Jack, Lily James (Cinderella) as Ellie, singer Ed Sheeran as himself, and Kate McKinnon as his new manager.

The film is part-science fiction and part-comedy, mixed with a parable-type plot about honesty, money, fame and love.

At first, Jack is incredulous about his situation. But once he becomes a superstar, the weight of his fame becomes unbearable. The studio slaps a label on his album stating, “All songs, music and lyrics by Jack Malik only.” 

“I feel like I’ve become the definition of living a lie,” he says.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)




Minimal/moderate. Jack and Ellie have a budding romance, although it began as “just friends.” We see them kiss passionately one night but Ellie (still clothed) walks out of the bedroom, not wanting a one-night stand. “It’s not for me.” Later, though, they presumably do sleep together. (We see them kiss before the scene cuts away.) Someone makes jokes about them “making sweet love” (they weren’t at the time). Ellie wears several low-cut dresses. Sheeran’s song Shape of Youis heard.

Coarse Language

Moderate. Misuse of “Christ” (5), d–n (4), misuse of “God” (3), OMG (3), GD (2), s–t (2), h-ll (2), a– (1), misuse of “Jesus” (1). We also hear the British word “bloody” (4).

Other Positive Elements

Jack comes from a stable, loving home. His parents support his musical ambitions. Ellie refuses to sleep with Jack on a one-night stand (although they later sleep together before marriage). Jack’s friends care for him when he is discouraged; they buy him a new guitar.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Jack, Ellie and their friends drink alcohol.

Life Lessons

Sin doesn’t bring lasting happiness: Jack achieves his dream of becoming a famous musician yet cannot enjoy it because of his lies.

Your sins will find you out: I won’t ruin the ending, but Jack isn’t the only person on the planet who remembers the Beatles.

Fame and money aren’t the key to joy: Jack discovers this in a big way.

Confession is good for the soul: Jack wants to tell someone his secret. Finally, he does.


Yesterdayimplies God had a role in the science fiction-type plot.

“I think the accident was a message from God,” Ellie tells Jack after he gets hit by a bus. “Yeah, he was very angry.”

“You think me getting hit by the bus was God’s way of telling me not to go back to teaching?” he asks.

“Exactly!” she responds.

And before the accident, the two have a back-and-forth conversation about miracles.

“It would take a miracle [to become a successful singer],” he says.

“Miracles happen,” Ellie says.

The film implies that God was testing Jack to see if he would do the right thing.

Yesterdaycan spark a deep discussion about morality: Would we lie if we knew we’d never get caught? What is our motivation for obeying God’s law? Can a life built on sin bring true joy?

What Works

The plot. The acting. The ending. Good, original movies are rare in Hollywood. This one fits both marks.

What Doesn’t

Kudos to the film’s writers for having Ellie reject a one-night stand. That message would have been even more powerful if she had waited until after they were married.  

Discussion Questions

1. If you woke up in a world like Jack’s world, what would you do? Did he do the right thing?

2. Is our sin always discovered, sooner or later (Numbers 32:23)? Name famous examples of that from history. Are there any examples in your own life?

3. Does money and fame bring joy? Why or why not?

4. Why was Jack unable to enjoy his fame?

Entertainment rating:4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.

SWBTS responds to sexual abuse lawsuit

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is committed to protecting survivors of abuse and being a safe place for the vulnerable, SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway said in response to a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges being raped by a fellow student.

“While we cannot address issues in ongoing litigation, it is important that the Southwestern Seminary community know that we take these matters seriously and are committed to our campus being a safe place for the vulnerable and for survivors of abuse,” Greenway told Baptist Press today (June 24). Both Southwestern Seminary and former SWBTS President Paige Patterson are named as defendants.

“As I said in my report at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, I realize in a Genesis 3 world that there may be times when our seminary may fall short of expectations,” Greenway told BP. “In any and every area where this has been the case, I am sorry. It is my resolve for our seminary to do better.”

Greenway responded to a personal injury lawsuit that alleges “Jane Roe” was forcibly raped at gunpoint on at least three occasions from October 2014 through April 2015 by a fellow student with an extensive criminal history who also was employed as an SWBTS plumber.

Roe alleges neither Patterson nor SWBTS sought to protect her when she reported her abuse. Instead, the suit claims, Patterson in particular intimidated Roe, disparaged her and told her being raped was “a good thing,” “because the right man would not care if she was a virgin or not.” Also, the lawsuit claims, SWBTS had no system in place to prevent and address the sexual assault of students.

The lawsuit was unsealed June 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.

Roe’s attorney Sheila P. Haddock of San Diego, Calif., told BP the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct constrain all parties involved from commenting on the case. Her client hopes to avoid further traumatization and to maintain privacy by pursuing the case as “Jane Roe,” Haddock said.

“What I can say is this: Jane Roe is an extremely courageous young woman who is still struggling to put the pieces of her life together,” Haddock told BP, “to build a future for herself and to find her voice. This case is a step forward for her on this journey.” Roe is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages currently unspecified.

Baptist Press was unable to reach Patterson for comment by deadline. Attorney Shelby Sharpe, who has represented Patterson in the past, said Patterson has been out of the country and likely has not been served the summons. In previous statements, Patterson has denied accusations related to mishandling reports of abuse.

The SWBTS Board of Trustees fired Patterson in May 2018 “regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

The case was originally filed March 11 under the plaintiff’s official name, but was refiled May 22 after the court granted use of the pseudonym Jane Roe, according to court documents available online. Summonses to SWBTS and Patterson to inform them of the lawsuit are dated June 18 and allow 21 days from the date of service for replies.

REVIEW: “Toy Story 4” is the perfect family film

Bonnie is a timid little girl who doesn’t want to start kindergarten.

She hides behind her bed on the first day of school. She begs her parents not to make her go. And when she arrives at class, she sits alone and cries.

That’s OK, though, because her toy doll, Sheriff Woody, has tagged along to help, without her knowledge.

He stealthily climbs out of her backpack, finds a few crayons and craft supplies (from the trash), and tosses them her way. Bonnie picks them up, fastens a plastic spork and beady eyes to pipe cleaner, and — voila!— creates a strange-looking “doll” she calls Forky.

Forky quickly becomes her favorite toy; even he feels out of place.

“I am not a toy. I am a spork. I was made for trash,” Forky says.

Forky has a propensity to throw himself in the garbage. Woody, realizing the importance of Forky to Bonnie’s happiness, always rescues him. It’s a full-time job, similar to a parent keeping a crawling toddler out of trouble.

Yet Forky eventually escapes — tossing himself out of an RV window during a family road trip. Woody jumps out of the window, too, hoping to find Forky and convince him to accept his new identity. There’s also the not-so-small problem of catching up with a speeding RV at the next campground.

Will Woody and Forky ever see Bonnie again?

The Disney/Pixar filmToy Story 4(G) opens this weekend, nine years after its predecessor, Toy Story 3, ended with Bonnie receiving a box of toys from the previous owner, Andy. It stars Tom Hanks as Woody, Tony Hale as Forky, Madeleine McGraw as Bonnie, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Annie Potts as Bo Peep. The late Don Rickles even makes an appearance as Mr. Potato Head.

The series tells the story of toys that come to life when their owner isn’t in the room. They exist for only one thing: to bring children joy.

“You are going to help make happy memories that are going to last for the rest of her life,” Woody tells Forky.

The movie has a series of new characters and voices, including Forky, Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively), and the Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).

The film follows Woody and Forky as they search for Bonnie but get sidetracked and then sidelined in an antique store.

Toy Story 4 is a worthy addition to the Toy Storyseries, even if it’s not as good as its predecessors. (Although some would say that’s debatable.)

It’s also a perfect family film. It has no language and no sexuality. It includes a couple of semi-disturbing moments, but the violence is minimal. 

Like all Pixar films, it includes serious lessons about life.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. The film’s most disturbing moments involve spooky-looking ventriloquist dummies in an antique store. It stays in G-rated territory, although the dummies — who chase Woody and the others — may trouble sensitive children. Buzz Lightyear gets punched in the head a few times by two new characters. Bo Peep gets her arm pulled off. (It’s bloodless and played for laughs.) Later, she uses her staff to hit a few people.


None. The romance between Woody and Bo Peep escalates. They don’t kiss, but they do hug.

Coarse Language


Positive Elements

Bonnie comes from a loving family, and we see her mom and dad several times. Woody’s loyalty to Bonnie and the other toys is commendable. He serves as a father figure to them.

Other Stuff You Might Want to Know

Woody and Buzz Lightyear discuss the importance of listening “to your inner voice.” (See Worldview, below.)

Life Lessons

Loyalty is honorable. For Woody, loyalty is a doll’s purpose, and he risks his life multiple times to find Forky for Bonnie. 

Change is inevitable. Yes, that’s one of the themes of the entire series, but Toy Story 4takes it to another level with Woody, who eventually finds purpose in life after being placed in a closet. Bonnie, too, is experiencing change.

Humility can bring purpose. Woody is searching for meaning in life after being set aside for other toys. He seems to find it through a series of selfless actions. 

Different is OK: Forky is different from the other toys. Verydifferent. But Woody — like a friend to the new kid in the neighborhood — introduces Forky to the other toys and defends him. No one ever bullies Forky.


How do we receive guidance each day when important decisions arise? Woody thinks he knows. He listens to the “voice” inside of him — the voice that “tells you … what you’re really thinking,” he says. At first, Buzz Lightyear doesn’t understand what Woody is referencing, but by the end of the film, Buzz is on board when they’re confronted by a critical matter. 

“Listen to your inner voice,” Buzz tells Woody.

But such advice can lead to disaster in the real world. What if that inner voice conflicts with God’s will? What if it’s wrong?

God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, but also through prayer and the Holy Spirit. We should train our “inner voice” to align with God’s “voice” — not our own.


Toy Story 4 has more than a dozen partners. Among them: McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Danimals and Juicy Juice.

What Works

The new characters. (I could have taken moreForky). The emphasis on loyalty. The humor. (Bonnie exclaims after the first day in school: “I finished kindergarten!”) 

What Doesn’t

Some moviegoers will love the ending. I didn’t.

Bo Peep’s outlook on life also deserves inspection. Had she found purpose in the midst of tragedy? Or had she become anti-kid? (“Who needs a kid’s room when you can have all this?”)

Discussion Questions

  1. Should we listen to our “inner voice”?
  2. Did Woody make the right decision in the end?
  3. Is loyalty always a virtue?
  4. What is the “secret” to finding purpose?
  5. What does Toy Story 4teach us about accepting those who are different?

Entertainment rating:3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:5 out of 5 stars.

Toy Story 4 is rated G.

Bill to shield churches that report abusers passes

Texas capitol building image

AUSTIN The Texas Legislature unanimously passed a bill initiated by Southern Baptists to provide civil immunity to churches that disclose credible sex abuse allegations.

The Texas Senate passed House Bill 4345 late May 22 without opposition, two weeks after the House approved the measure and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law June 10. The bill is written to protect charitable organizations, their volunteers and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

Texas pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, helped initiate the bill.

“For it to go through without opposition in the House and the Senate is pretty remarkable,” he told Baptist Press, “especially on an issue where there are a lot of people that have different views on how we ought to deal with these issues. 

Wright worked with Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, and others to recruit Rep. Scott Sanford, a Southern Baptist executive pastor, to introduce the bill in March. Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy and general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, helped draft the legislation to comply with state laws and meet intended purposes.

Wright told BP, “This couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the sort of partnering relationships we have in the SBTC. 

“This bill, without any of the people who were involved, it probably couldn’t have happened,” he said. “Obviously Rep. Sanford deserves the lion’s share of the credit, but I think it’s just a testimony of what we can accomplish when we work together on things, and when we have relationships like we have here in Texas and beyond.”

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards expressed gratitude for the bill.

“We are grateful for the passage of this bill and pray that it will serve to make our church ministries safer,” Richards told BP. 

The bill is designed to help prevent abusers from continuing the crime in a series of workplaces, Rep. Sanford has said.

“Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy,” Sanford noted when the bill passed the House, “and this bill provides the protections for nonprofits to come forward to prevent any future harm.”

Informing churches and other nonprofits of the legislation, if it becomes law, is important to its success, Wright told BP.

“This bill doesn’t do a lot of good if churches don’t realize that they can pass on information to prospective employers,” Wright said. “The goal we’re all aiming for here is to reduce opportunities for offenders to get further opportunities to commit crimes and misconduct. We need to get the word out for the legislation to have that effect.”

Wright also believes the bill could serve as a model for other states.

“We would hope that other pastors, other legislators in other states would see what’s been possible here in Texas, and use similar strategies and help protect the vulnerable,” Wright said. “We had representatives and senators urging us, thanking us as Southern Baptists for our engagement on this issue and on a wider range of issues. And I know in a lot of other state legislatures there’d be similar sentiment.”

The bill “would make charitable organizations and their employees or volunteers immune from civil liability for good-faith disclosure to an individual’s current or prospective employer,” according to the official House bill analysis, “information reasonably believed to be true about allegations that the individual, while an employee or volunteer of the charitable organization, engaged in sexual misconduct, sexually abused another individual, sexually harassed another individual, or otherwise committed a sexual offense or an offense of public indecency.”

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and Texas Private Schools Association are among others who supported the bill.

The bill’s full text is available at 

Mature manhood cited as antidote to abuse

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Upholding the biblical ideal of mature manhood is the best antidote to sexual abuse, said speakers at a Founders’ Ministries event preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

“Our calling as men is to protect and to provide and to stand up against abuse,” said Josh Buice, pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga., “and to believe in the dignity and value and the image-bearing picture we see not just in men, but also in women.”

Founders—a ministry that promotes church health and advocates Calvinistic doctrine—convened June 10 at The Westin Birmingham for a day-long conference on “mature manhood in an immature age.” The conference occurred in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting, where sexual abuse awareness and prevention were spotlighted.

Among Founders speakers, Buice pointed to Jesus as the ultimate example of manhood. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Mark Coppenger noted common maxims on manhood that have been misappropriated, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Owen Strachan called men to discipline themselves for godly living.

Preaching from Ephesians 5, Buice said God-ordained gender roles are the solution to sexual abuse.

A low view of women was common in first-century Ephesus, where temple prostitution and other forms of sexual immorality abounded, Buice said. Ephesus was a city “filled with abused women.”

To counter such a culture, Paul cited Jesus as the “prime example of mature manhood,” Buice said. Christ cared for his bride, the church, by dying for her in the physical realm and seeking to make her holy in the spiritual realm.

“Step out in front. Care for your wife,” Buice said to husbands. Risking safety and even life to protect a woman physically is “not male chauvinism. That’s not misogyny. That’s not sexism. That’s not macho male ego. That’s what you call male headship up on display in the context of marriage.”

Yet a husband’s care for his wife should extend beyond the physical realm, and beyond stereotypical notions of manhood, Buice said.

“You may hold a coral belt in Brazilian jujitsu and be able to bench press 300 pounds,” Buice said. “And you may be able to climb a high mountain, skin a deer and shoot class-three weapons like a champ. But if you don’t know how to care for your wife spiritually, you’re not a biblical, mature man.”

Coppenger, professor of Christian philosophy and ethics at Southern, said “there is a grain to creation. And when we act as though gender doesn’t matter, then we’re going cross grain and actually making fools of ourselves.” 

But in an effort to uphold the natural order of creation, Coppenger said, well-meaning believers sometimes misapply common maxims related to manhood. Among the misapplied maxims:

On a man’s deathbed, he won’t ever wish he spent more time at the office.

“I think more men ought to say, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work,’” Coppenger said. Men have callings in life that include work outside the home, and they must pursue those callings. “There is something worthy outside, and you can overdo the inside” even though family is of great importance.

God first, family second, ministry and career third. 

While the maxim contains wisdom, Coppenger said, at times a wife or child may seek mistakenly to dissuade a man from accomplishing his God-given calling outside the home. In such instances, a family member’s desire should not trump God’s call.

Christians sometimes imply wrongly, “If you’re not [home], you’re slacking,” he said.

At times, God calls wives to support their husbands’ work at great cost, Coppenger said, as in the case of military and police wives, whose husbands are away from home for long periods of time.

“All of us ought to have the attitude that at a moment’s call, if God desires, we’re up and going,” Coppenger said. “And the wife should have the attitude, ‘You go. You get after it.’”

Men never should ignore their families, he said. Yet idolizing family is antithetical to godly masculinity.

“It seems like all the push is toward just making the man less of a man,” Coppenger said. “And so I’m doing some awkward pushing back.”

Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern, critiqued western culture’s view of manhood as “schizophrenic.” 

American culture “is not set up for the flourishing of women,” Strachan said. “American culture today tells us not to commit abuse, which is right. But it schizophrenically also tells us to do whatever we want sexually … That is a schizophrenic, double-minded culture that is not set up to bless and protect women. It says it is. But it is actually set up to destroy women.”

To withstand the cultural onslaught against women, Christians must “train men in the image of the warrior king, Christ Jesus,” Strachan said, noting Jesus was “so disciplined and so controlled.”

A key facet of male discipline is “to kill lust,” Strachan said. Men should not merely “bounce our eyes.” They should combat sexual immorality “at the level of desire” by confessing and repenting “the instant” sinful desire emerges.

Men also should discipline themselves “to win a woman’s heart” in marriage and pursue the biblical ideal of what it means to be a man. 

Among other truths Strachan said men must learn:

  • Same-sex attraction is never a man’s identity.
  • Identity and anatomy are one. The Bible knows nothing of transgenderism.
  • Men may be called to marriage even if they don’t desire it during a particular phase of life.
  • Even men called to singleness must allow God to change their ungodly desires.

“By the power of Christ’s atoning cross and empty tomb, we must embrace our God-given manhood,” Strachan said. “Manhood is not fundamentally defined by American culture or any culture … There are implications of it in any culture, and there are some wisdom issues in any culture.” But “the core of manhood” is “God-defined and God-given.”

Our annual meetings should remain “live”

About every other year, someone suggests conducting denominational meetings virtually. The idea is that the state or national convention meetings would go on as normal but that more people could vote, offer motions and other things that messengers do, while sitting at their computers. The expense of travel, numerous other national meetings that pastors find appealing and the small percentage of Southern Baptists that attend the meetings are behind the idea. The idea has not caught hold because of the complicated aspects of trying to do business and guarantee messenger rights when some or most of messengers are not actually in the room. One day, we may overcome some of these difficulties as technology develops. If we do, I still think the idea sounds better than it would actually be. Some of the main reasons for conducting large face-to-face meetings would be vacated if we opened the door to bathrobe messengers. Consider these.

If voting becomes as easy as a social media post, it could become as ill-considered or trivial. Messengers to the annual meetings are in some way immersed in what’s going on. We talk about our business over dinner, we have handouts in front of us, in some places (Birmingham comes to mind) cell coverage is so horrible that you can’t even distract yourself with business back home. A vote from your couch would rarely be as considered as one in the presence of your fellow messengers. Perhaps it would be like letting anyone with a Twitter account use the platform for voting for U.S. president. That’s how Bugs Bunny moves into the White House. 

Business is essential to the continued ministry of the SBC but it is not nearly the only crucial thing that happens. The reminder that we are joined in cooperation is only real when we are in the same place. It may be that only 10,000 of us make the trip each year, but that number would drop if we could do all our business online. Being in the hall and exhibit area with fellow Southern Baptists is decidedly not the same experience as talking online; it is more polite and more Christian. Only in person am I reminded that we have things in common that are more important than the opinions that divide us. A virtual convention would be a more fractious one.

On a related note, the most-impactful things that happen in our personal ministries are likely the time we spend with others around the table or standing in line. Fellowship with old and new friends from other time zones has always been huge at our meetings. Niche meetings and online discussions can’t replace it.

Side meetings matter. Alumni meetings, late night affinity fellowships, panel discussions on the issues of the day, commissioning events—all would have to happen in some other venue, at additional expense or not at all. I’m guessing some folks attend the convention meeting primarily for these side meetings. These have become more of a draw and more numerous in recent years. It’s pretty hard to get that benefit from a chatroom. 

In most places, particularly medium-sized cities like Birmingham, Nashville and Columbus, the local churches are excited to have 8,000 or so fellow Baptists descend on their “parish,” share the gospel and drop a few million dollars into the local economy. This encouragement can move the work of that state convention or association ahead by a year or more. 

Every year, we win a few friends among those who are not Baptists. The old jest says that a Southern Baptist comes to town with the 10 Commandments and a twenty-dollar bill, and leaves town having broken neither. I doubt either those things are true but we aren’t big business for the “sin” industries, and we aren’t extravagant. Nonetheless, we are mostly kind to hotel staff, convention center folks (who see and hear everything), cab drivers and restaurant staff. We aren’t obnoxious drunks or mindless of those who serve us. Local reporters learn terms like “voluntary cooperation” and notice that we aren’t fixated on Twitter wars when we actually get down to business. They may shake their heads to learn that truly smart and kindly people believe in the Resurrection, but they do learn it. This broad kind of civility and graciousness bears fruit.  

We also share the gospel. Each year, during Crossover events and during commerce with waiters and bus drivers, people profess Christ after a witness by a convention messenger. There will be thousands of people in heaven because Southern Baptists came to town. 

Travel is a pain, and it is often expensive. Some convention cities are more delightful than others. And we’ll likely never again see 40,000 messengers show up for a business meeting. But all our churches are qualified to send messengers, and each of those messengers will have a chance to participate if they come. Our annual meetings are much more than voting. We’ll lose most of that “much more” if we codify long-distance fellowship.  

Minister”s Housing Allowance case over for now; remains constitutional

Litigation challenging the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance has formally ended after the Freedom From Religion Foundation chose not to appeal a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The FFRF, which won a challenge to the housing allowance in a district court on December 31, 2017, lost during an appeal to the Seventh Circuit when a three-judge panel ruled unanimously to overturn the lower court’s decision. The minister’s housing allowance was codified in federal tax law in 1954,

GuideStone® Chief Legal Officer Harold R. Loftin Jr., who has monitored this and other challenges to the housing allowance, and attended the oral arguments before the Seventh Circuit panel in Chicago, praised the ending of the case. GuideStone has actively engaged in the various challenges to the housing allowance exclusion, filing amicus briefs alongside Southern Baptist and other denominational benefit plans and advocating with legislators and regulators.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation said that they believed given the composition of the Supreme Court that the could not prevail in the case,” Loftin said. “We believe that their case had no merit, regardless of the ideological makeup of the court, but regardless, are thankful that this matter has been put to rest for the time being.”

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins echoed Loftin’s sentiments.

“We are thankful for so many, including the U.S. Justice Department, that so ably argued on behalf  of the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance,” Hawkins said. “It is our belief that had the case made it to the Supreme Court that the housing allowance would have been upheld as constitutional. Regardless, pastors and churches needn’t worry about in the near-term about the housing allowance.

“GuideStone will continue to monitor alongside our Southern Baptist family, and as part of a coalition of large and historic pension boards, both litigation and legislation related to the housing allowance to advocate on behalf of the pastors we are privileged to serve.”

In 2017, the Freedom From Religion Foundation won a district court ruling that declared the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. That decision was stayed, pending the resolution of all appeals. It was overturned early in March 2019. A similar ruling, made by the same judge in 2013, was overturned on appeal in 2014.

Avila becomes Hispanic church planting strategist, Diaz continues church planting support in El Paso

GRAPEVINE  Chuy Avila has begun a new role at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as Hispanic church planting strategist. He joined the SBTC 10 years ago as a missionary church planter, first in Laredo, and then in El Paso, developing a Project Borderlands Reach strategy to train local leaders and utilize volunteers from across Texas.

A native of Juarez, Mexico, Avila previously served the Tennessee Baptist Convention, Midland Baptist Association and on the Hispanic Task Force of the North American Mission Board.  

In his new role Avila will help facilitate church planting in first generation Hispanics, according to Doug Hixson, SBTC director of missions and church planting. “Chuy will be based in DFW and focus half of his time here, but also be working in other major cities as well as smaller communities that have seen a flip in ethnicities where Hispanics are the major people group.”

Jorge Díaz will work part-time in El Paso to continue support and encouragement of church planters, as well as recruiting partnering/sponsoring churches for church planting.

Since 2012, Díaz has planted three churches, following a lengthy tenure with Hispanic World Publishers in El Paso. From 1985 to 2011 he pastored Del Centro Baptist Church in El Paso. He earned a Ph.D. In religion from Logos Christian University, a master’s degree in pedagogy and science of education from San Carlos National University in Guatemala, a master of theology from the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Columbia. 

SBC meeting keeps gospel at forefront

The Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham was my thirty-seventh consecutive to attend. The battle for the Bible was taking place when I first began participation as a messenger. The call for biblical fidelity in our institutions was front and center. Once inerrantists were in leadership attention was given to trimming the bureaucracy. For several years the convention looked at how to make the system work more efficiently. Through the years there have been different pressing issues that needed attention.   

It seems that for a segment of time the convention was concerned with internal matters. In my fourth decade of participation in the Southern Baptist Convention a new generation of leaders is emerging. We are facing unique and unforeseen challenges prior generations could have never envisioned. Southern Baptists have not shied away from controversial topics.

A greater awareness of sexual abuse in the churches was brought to the forefront this year. A moving worship experience was in one of the sessions. It focused on repenting, lamenting and seeking forgiveness for failures in the area of protecting the vulnerable. This year’s annual meeting took historic steps to address the sexual abuse crisis. The SBC constitution is being amended, seeking to deal with churches that do not reflect the convention’s position on protecting the vulnerable. The SBC is not a confessional fellowship. A church does not have to affirm the currently adopted Baptist Faith and Message Statement in order to be affiliated with the convention. However, the convention does retain the authority to declare a church no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC. A newly formed standing Credentials Committee will review concerns raised about churches.

Birmingham was an appropriate city to seek racial reconciliation. Racial oppression reached horrific proportions in the 1960s. Southern Baptists confronted the evils of racism in word and deed. Panel discussions explored paths to better understanding. A very diverse platform presence modeled the call to love one another. Messengers acting decisively approved a constitutional provision to declare a church not in friendly cooperation (excluding the church from the SBC) if the church exhibited discrimination against any ethnicity. Someone remarked that none of the founding churches could be a part of the SBC today had that provision been in the original constitution. This step alone fundamentally changes the SBC. 

With much-needed change in these areas and others, there are some core values that have not changed. Although founded with flaws, there was a biblical mandate in the origins of the SBC. Churches had the burden to reach the nations with the gospel. This desire has never wavered. In fact the stack pole for churches working together is the effort to get the good news to those who have never heard. 

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood drove home the call for churches to unify around sending missionaries to the unreached of the world. The heartbeat of the SBC from 1845 until today is to go until the whole world knows about Jesus. I have witnessed a number of IMB commissioning services, but this year was one of the most moving ever. We are at our best as Southern Baptists when we are focused on missions.

Ronnie Floyd as the president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee issued an optimistic challenge to know that the future is bright if we stay together for the gospel. His strong leadership will help keep us on task. SBC President J. D. Greear reiterated the theme of the convention “The Gospel Above All,” in issuing an appeal to each individual believer to find their “one.” While racism, abuse and other heartrending matters must have our attention, the level ground at the foot of the cross is where real transformation begins. Missions and evangelism remain the sine qua non of the Southern Baptist Convention. With an inerrant, sufficient Bible we proclaim a supernatural Christ who can cleanse every sin, empower every life and enable victory until we get to heaven. May Southern Baptists remember the gospel above all!