Two Hispanic pastors in Texas are training up church planters and sending them out, leading to two dozen new churches.
The Texas Legislature does not convene until Jan. 12, 2021. But in September lawmakers and public policy advisers got a head start on discussing the issues legislators should address during a forum hosted by Texas Values, a conservative public policy advocacy organization. Speakers discussed recurring issues of concern to Christians, like education and human dignity. But new conflicts have arisen at the confluence of constitutional liberties and the government’s authority during a global pandemic.
“I think the lesson we have learned is, if we don’t have specific legislation that makes it clear what the limitations of local government are, some of these local officials are unwilling to be held accountable,” said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values.
“It’s gone too far,” he said. “[Churches] feel like they were duped. I think you’ll find some churches that will never close their doors again.”
Texas churches initially extended grace and agreed to comply with government shut-down orders Saenz said. But the sometimes-contradictory mandates issued by state, county and municipal governments became a source of confusion and consternation for many Texans.
Even federal attempts at financial assistance for businesses that were forced to shut down were initially problematic. Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen was prepared to challenge the Small Business Administration’s exclusion of churches from the Paycheck Protection Program. The loan program offered forgivable loans to businesses that kept employees on the payroll during the government ordered shut-downs.
“Cottonwood Creek was at the ready to help churches across the country by being a party to a lawsuit against the federal government regarding SBA regulations that would have disqualified religious institutions from participating in PPP loans,” said Scott Sanford, a Cottonwood Creek pastor and Texas Representative. “The Trump administration was able to fix the issue regulatorily prior to the need to file a lawsuit.”
The U.S. and Texas constitutions prohibit government restrictions on the exercise of religion, but government authorities either ignored or were ignorant of those rights when they issued contravening mandates in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Saenz said.
By late September, churches across the nation were either defying, acquiescing to or suing governing entities over restrictions on church attendance and in-person schooling.
In Washington D.C., Capitol Hill Baptist Church, an SBC congregation, filed a lawsuit against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District of Columbia for declining the church’s application to meet outside for worship services. Bowser’s executive order prohibits churches from meeting in their buildings and limits outside worship services to less than 100 people. CHBC has 850 members.
In the lawsuit filed September 22, CHBC claims Bowser’s prohibition violates First Amendment rights of speech, religious exercise and assembly. It also claims Bowser violated her own executive order by permitting and attending mass protests in the District.
According to the lawsuit, when asked about the discrepancy, Bowser said, “‘First Amendment protests and large gatherings are not the same’ [because] ‘in the United States of America, people can protest.’”
The church responded, “In the United States of American, people can gather for worship under the First Amendment as well.”
During the pandemic Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and First Liberty, a Plano law firm that defends religious liberty, have issued letters warning governing entities against issuing orders that go beyond their authority. For example, on September 4, Paxton warned Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino and the county’s health authority against applying an order prohibiting in-person instruction at religious schools. Paxton said the order violates the Texas Constitution and the Religious Liberty and Restoration Act.
Similar actions by the Attorney General and attorneys at First Liberty have resolved some constitutional conflicts, but Saenz believes the Texas legislature must pass laws that limit the authority of local governments during a crisis or else the problem will persist.
“I do think that continued education about the proper role of government and their limitations is helpful. [But] we’ve been left no choice. The only way to make sure that local government does not violate the rights of churches and businesses and individuals like they’ve been doing this year is to have specific laws that say they cannot,” said Saenz.
The Texas Values forum carved out two sessions for presentations about sex education. The discussions highlighted battles over “hypersexualized” sex education curriculum being introduced at the state and local level. State Sen. Angela Paxton, R- McKinney, said parents have a responsibility to educate themselves on the sex education programs taught in their school districts.
Paxton successfully sponsored a bill in 2019 that requires more transparency in the development of sex education curriculum. Still, she admonished parents to remain vigilant because school districts continue to develop curriculum without community input or even parental knowledge.
Recent successful efforts by pro-active communities and the State Board of Education at thwarting the incorporation of graphic sex education curriculum into local school districts and in textbooks should prove an encouragement to others Saenz said.
Texas lawmakers could also address another ideological battle taking place on public school and university campuses that is shutting out female athletes from competitions.
The Fair Play Act (see sidebar) would require student athletes to compete on teams that correspond with their biological sex, not their gender identity. Texas Rep. Valoree Swanson, R – Spring, and Matt Sharp, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, discussed the need for such legislation.
Reading from Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act passed in March, Swanson enumerated the physiological advantages male athletes have over women. The law cited a Duke University study: “The biological differences between females and males, especially as it relates to natural levels of testosterone, ‘explain the male and female secondary sex characteristics which develop during puberty and have life-long effects, including those most important for success in sport: categorically different strength, speed, and endurance.’”
“It’s truly a fairness factor,” Swanson told the forum audience.
Lawmakers could also address school closures forced by local coronavirus mitigation guidelines. Legislators must try to reconcile the school district concerns with the transmissibility of the disease among young people and the advantages of in-person education said Saenz.
Getting a Hearing
What bills eventually receive a hearing in the Texas House of Representatives will largely depend on the new Speaker of the House. The Speaker holds sway over what legislation makes it to the floor for a debate and vote.
Rep. Matt Schaefer, R – Tyler, would not speculate about who that might be but said if the Republicans maintain a strong majority after the Nov. 3 elections, he hopes they can appoint a “center right” Speaker who is pro-life and supports Second Amendment liberties and small government.
“Law makers are sensitive to the demands of the people who elect them. If a greater number of Christians will communicate with their State Representatives and Senators, they will get the message,” Schaefer told the TEXAN. “Far too many Christians ignore politics, but then complain about political decisions that are hostile to Christian values. Far too many pastors cannot even name their state representative, much less know them personally. I can tell you that anytime a pastor calls me it has my full attention because I know he represents the thoughts of a lot of people. Talk to your elected officials. It matters.”
As of late September, Texas lawmakers had not decided whether the 87th Session will be conducted in-person or remotely. Or, if in-person, whether constituents would be allowed in the Capitol building.
“I firmly believe that we have to have a legislative session that is no different than how we’ve operated before,” Saenz said. “Denying people the ability to appear in person in hearings will be extremely damaging to the legislative process. It will leave the public feeling shut out.”
On Nov. 9-10, messengers and guests will gather at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin as the SBTC convenes its 2020 annual meeting. This year’s theme, “Together For the Unfinished Task,” reflects the convention’s ongoing goal to see the gospel spread to all people, both at home and abroad, and echoes a continuation of last year’s “Who’s Your One?” theme with an encouragement toward fulfilling the Great Commission.
“This year in Austin our convention theme is ‘Together for the Unfinished Task,’” said Kie Bowman, convention president and host pastor. “We will focus as much attention as possible on the Great Commission of Jesus while remembering all of the protocols to keep every messenger safe. It will be different, but join me for a convention we will not forget!”
The Scripture attached to the theme this year is the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus commands his followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Similar to years past, multiple sermons are scheduled throughout the convention, each focusing on the theme. Bowman will bring the president’s message Monday night, and Danny Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin and SBTC executive board chairman, will preach the convention sermon Tuesday morning.
SBC Executive Committee president Ronnie Floyd will be joining the convention on Tuesday night to bring the closing sermon.
“Prior to his role with the Executive Committee, Dr. Floyd was one of the most evangelistic pastors in the SBC and has served as president of the National Day of Prayer,” Bowman said. “For years he has led by example and in numerous leadership roles calling on the SBC family to prayer and revival. I’m thrilled he has agreed to come to our convention in November.”
Mickey Henderson, who leads worship at Hyde Park Baptist Church, will serve as worship leader of the 2020 convention along with the church’s choir, band and praise team. Julio Arriola, who serves as executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization at the SBC Executive Committee, will join as a special guest.
Time has also been carved out in the convention schedule this year to highlight and provide time to pray for revival and spiritual awakening.
As is usual, messengers will hear updates from the convention’s cooperative ministries, which includes Criswell College, Jacksonville College and the Texas Baptist Home for Children.
Bowman, who was elected president at last year’s convention, will be nominated for reelection by Todd Kaunitz, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview, and currently is running opposed.
Although there has been much uncertainty throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, convention leaders say they are emphasizing preventive measures and doing everything in their power to minimize risk for messengers and guests who plan to join as the convention gathers in Austin next month.
“We’re taking strenuous steps to conduct our meeting with due prudence,” said Gary Ledbetter, SBTC director of communications. “Our staff will be wearing masks and we encourage all our folks to do that. We have also reduced the number of displays and meals. The meals we do provide will be boxed to minimize the risk to those eating. Of course, we are also streaming our meeting for those who want to observe but shouldn’t attend.”
Pre-registration for messengers is currently open and is encouraged for anyone who plans to attend as a messenger. Otherwise, messengers will be required to stand in line at the Credentials desk before checking in to receive ballots and materials.
Resolutions for the Annual Meeting
Resolutions give convention messengers an opportunity to express a consensus statement on timely public issues, or to speak prophetically regarding issues of specific interest to Southern Baptist churches. Any member of and SBTC church may submit a resolution to the resolutions committee. The committee will consider submitted resolutions and produce a report to convention messengers for their consideration.
The deadline for submitting a resolution for the 2019 annual meeting is Monday, Oct 26. All submissions must include the name, church membership, phone number and email address of the submitter. Mailed submissions must be typewritten for the sake of legibility. Email resolutions to Gayla Sullivan at email@example.com or mail to SBTC, Gayla Sullivan, PO Box 1988, Grapevine, TX 76099.
Although childcare has been offered in years past, due to the pandemic it will not be available this year.
For more information about the annual meeting or to find out how to join the livestream, visit sbtexas.com/am20.
FORNEY—On Sunday, Oct. 11, Paul Chitwood, President of the International Mission Board (IMB), will speak at First Baptist Forney during both the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. worship services.
Chitwood has served as president of the IMB since 2018. He previously served as executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, starting in 2011. For 18 years prior to that, Chitwood served as the pastor of local churches of varying sizes. Chitwood earned the Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as a faculty member of the seminary between 2002 and 2018. Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He and his wife, Michelle, have four children.
Since its beginning in 1845, the IMB has had one goal: bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost peoples of the world. Technological advances have provided unprecedented opportunities for missionaries to spread the gospel, and Southern Baptists have reached into areas previously considered forbidden by political barriers. The IMB currently has 3,613 field personnel who engage 1,209 of the 11,732 people groups globally.
Every person in the community is invited to hear Dr. Chitwood speak. First Baptist Forney is located at 1003 College Street in Forney, Texas, 75126 (across from Claybon Elementary). For more information, call the church office at 972-564-3357 or visit the website at www.fbcforney.org.
Texas lawmakers could consider a bill next session that will halt the practice of allowing biological males who identify as female to compete on girls’ and women’s athletic teams in public schools and universities. If introduced, it is sure to face fierce opposition from Democrat legislators who advocate for transgender rights. But one Texas representative said it is simply a matter of fairness.
“This issue is one that is just amazing we even have to talk about,” State Representative Valoree Swanson, R – Spring, told attendees at the Texas Values Faith, Family, and Freedom Forum. “It’s truly a fairness factor.”
In a February, four female Connecticut high school athletes filed a lawsuit claiming they had lost opportunities to win track championships and college scholarships because, since 2017, two boys who identify as girls have been allowed by the state’s sports authorities to compete as girls. The two transgender athletes have racked up state titles and broken track records once held by female athletes.
In 2018 a Texas female high school wrestler who identified as male won her second straight state championship wrestling female athletes. The girl was taking testosterone as part of her so-called gender reassignment treatments. Competitors complained the transgender student’s increased testosterone levels gave her an unfair advantage and argued, unsuccessfully, she should have been disqualified.
In March, Idaho lawmakers passed, and Gov. Brad Little signed, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly filed a lawsuit challenging the law as “discriminatory” against transgender student athletes. A federal judge imposed an injunction on implementing the law until the suit works its way through court.
Texas Democrats, who have sponsored legislation establishing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights, oppose laws like the Fair Play Act. But there are dissenters Swanson said. Some feminists within the Democrat Party recognize the disadvantage female athletes have when forced to compete against biological males, she said.
“One of the things we’re going to have to do is turn this around on the Democrats,” Swanson said. “They’re split. It’s a women’s rights issue verses a transgender athlete’s issue. Well, they’re not going to know which side to get on.”
Proponents of the Fair Play legislation argue allowing biological males to compete against females violates Title IX of the Education Amendment. That amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act ensured women equal access to academic and athletic opportunities. But Title IX applications are being challenged by transgender activists pushing to change the meaning of “male” and “female” to affirm gender identity instead of biology.
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 22 would amend Title IX to restore its original meaning and intent. Four U.S. senators, including Sen. James Lankford, R- OK, a former Southern Baptist youth pastor filed the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act that states “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” If passed, schools that violate the law by allowing boys and men to compete in women’s sports could lose their federal funding.
“Permitting biological males to participate in women’s sports rejects the very spirit of Title IX, which was intended to create an equal playing field for women and girls,” Lankford said is a press release. “This bill upholds and reiterates congressional intent and promotes actual equality for women and girls in sports by respecting the dignity of biological female athletes across the nation.”
President Kie Bowman has given you a tremendous outline of the upcoming Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. There are different viewpoints about what is prudent in the way of gathering during these days. The SBTC staff will do all we can to follow proper protocols. I hope you will plan to attend. It will be a time of encouragement we all need.
A recent message I preached included Hebrews 9:22-24. There are three commands to believers found in these verses. One is to draw near (v.22) to God. If there ever was a time our hearts need to turn to heaven it is now. The words used imply a continual and repeated drawing. The plural pronoun in that verse includes corporate worship as well as individual worship.
A second command to the believer is to hold on without wavering (v.23). We are to continue in faithfulness because he is faithful even when we are not. The “hope” we have is not wishful thinking; it is calm assurance. Success in the Christian life is not measured by metrics but by faithfulness to the Father.
The third command is to watch out for others (v.24). This refers to the mutual reciprocity of the members of the Christian community. Believers are to recognize their responsibility to one another.
Because we are in the family, we have love for one another (1 John 3:14). We are either a stepping stone or a stumbling block. Believers are to help each other by living the example. This is continual consideration of the wants and needs of our brothers and sisters. We are to stand ready to render mutual help and counsel.
“Provoke” is an odd word to use for Christian encouragement. We usually provoke people by criticizing their faults and failures. The Greek word means to incite or irritate. The word carries intense emotion. It is almost always used in the negative sense. Here it carries a positive meaning for believers to have mutual care for one another.
Some of the readers of Hebrews were abstaining from worship. We do not know the reason but some possibilities are indifference, fear, ignorance or self-centeredness.
Thank God for modern technology. YouTube, Facebook and other means of broadcasting the gospel are wonderful. But these are not the church gathering. The New Testament gives ample examples of believers gathering for worship. They faced ridicule, persecution and even death—but they gathered. Gathering is more than just getting together. Fraternal organizations, political parties and Home Owners Associations meet.
While the term ekklesia is not used here, it is impossible to have “church” without gathering together in one place. ”Neglecting” or “forsaking” means “to abandon” the gathering together of Christian believers for worship and exhortation in a particular place.
Not meeting can limit believers in the ability to give and receive encouragement. Regular fellowship with other believers is essential for Christian growth. Results of not assembling with other believers may be illustrated in verses 26-31. Spiritual dryness and uselessness is certain. Even contempt for Jesus can arise.
Episunagoge is the Greek word for “gather together.” It is only used here and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 where it refers to all believers gathering at the coming of the Lord Jesus. When we come together on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people (the church) it is a pre-figure of the great day when Jesus comes and gathers us together unto himself. It is nearer than it was yesterday, last week, last month or last year. He is coming!
I know the annual meeting of messengers of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is not the church, but we need one another as never before. If you have the liberty to attend, I’ll see you there.
How will we remember 2020? A friend of mine was called to pastor a megachurch and was immediately confronted by the tsunami of demands associated with leading such a large church. One day I asked him about the transition; and his truthful but humorous answer will never be forgotten. He said, “Before I came I couldn’t imagine it. Now that I’m here I can’t describe it.”
Maybe most of us can relate—especially when we think about what we’ve been through in the last few months. Before the disruption of COVID-19 we couldn’t imagine it—now it’s hard to describe it!
As a pastor I’ve seen plenty of disruption and setback in this season of pandemic, but two challenges that stand out are the interruption of fellowship and the hindrances imposed upon evangelism. On Nov. 9-10 in Austin, I propose we do something about both of these problems. Let’s meet in Austin for good Christian fellowship, stirring Bible preaching, excellent worship, and the joy of seeing and being with our friends in the SBTC. Also, we are planning a convention focused on reaching the lost!
I believe the biggest challenge facing us right now is the lack of effective evangelism throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. There are, of course, wonderful exceptions in many places including here in Texas. Let’s hear from these leaders who are finding a way to reverse negative trends. I’ve invited some of our best preachers and most effective Great Commission practitioners to address us. This year’s convention preaching will all be focused on the theme of reaching the lost.
We are also planning excellent panel discussions for our breakouts focusing on outreach and revitalization in the post-COVID world. The music will be provided by Hyde Park Baptist Church’s “Choir of Fire” and our band, orchestra and praise teams. The convention’s worship leader will be Mickey Henderson, the well-known Worship Pastor at Hyde Park Baptist Church. Our special guest artist will be the incredible Julio Arriola. Julio is a world-class worship leader with a heart for God who currently serves as executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. You will be blessed by this gifted singer.
I’m also really excited about something extra special. The SBTC will offer “a gift to the Body of Christ” on Tuesday night when we offer a dynamic citywide prayer gathering for spiritual awakening. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, has agreed to speak and assist in leading the prayer gathering. Prior to his role with the Executive Committee, Dr. Floyd was one of the most evangelistic pastors in the SBC and has served as president of the National Day of Prayer. For years he has led by example and in numerous leadership roles calling on the SBC family to prayer and revival. I’m thrilled he has agreed to come to our convention in November.
Julio Arriola and the Hyde Park praise team will lead worship, and we will invite believers from across this highly unchurched city to join us as we cry out for God’s touch for revival. Imagine hundreds of Christian brothers and sisters appealing to heaven to revive his work and heal our land. Imagine the testimony to our city as we unite with believers for the common heart cry of spiritual awakening. The entire prayer gathering will be led by SBTC pastors and leaders.
We are planning and preparing for an exciting and memorable convention, in spite of all of the challenges. We will observe all of the appropriate protocols for the well-being and peace of mind of everyone present, but it won’t be the same without you there. Meet me in Austin Nov. 9-10 as we join Together for the Unfinished Task!
Southern Baptists were among several invited speakers at a public policy forum presented by Texas Values and hosted by Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin Sept. 18-19. Topics at the Faith, Family, and Freedom Forum included the state of religious and personal liberties, education, abortion, identity politics and the role of the church in each arena, especially, in the midst of a pandemic.
“There’s got to be that education,” Jonathan Saenz told the TEXAN. “They’ve got to understand what’s happening and have a true appreciation of it before they’ll ever make a decision to care about doing something and then decide to back that up with some action.”
Saenz is president of Texas Values, a non-profit, conservative public policy advocacy organization.
Is the Church Essential?
Danny Forshee, pastor of GHBC, joined fellow pastor and state representative Scott Sanford, and religious liberty attorney Hiram Sasser in a panel discussion about the essential role of the church in society. In March and April government authorities ordered all “non-essential” businesses to shutter, including churches, in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Churches had to convince authorities of their essentiality.
Sanford said the church’s role in promoting a civil society and caring for their communities often goes recognized and, therefore, unappreciated. The oversight contributes to the notion of whether or not a church is “essential.”
“It helps feed the poor. It helps alleviate poverty and hunger and serving the widow and the orphan,” Sanford told the forum audience. “So, the government needs to take a hard look at the very practical things that churches do through its ministries day in and day out that reduces the cost and excessive services that the government has to provide.”
Forshee said the church’s essential nature might be more recognizable if churches were “more conspicuous” about serving their communities.
The pandemic has given parents and teachers unprecedented views into each other’s worlds – for better or worse. Remote learning made the classroom accessible to parents like never before said Texas Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
Parents who don’t like what they see in their child’s virtual classroom have told school administrators. But Paxton, a former math teacher, said the feedback can be constructive as she reminded the audience that some of their students’ teachers and principals are fellow believers.
“One of the things we need to recognize is that [their] ministry and they are under attack from both sides many times. We have to remember to give our public schools support to do the right thing,” she told the audience of 500 that attended in-person and on line.
“I think we are seeing, because of the COVID situation, public schools are more responsive and engaged with parents, and parents with their kids’ schools more than I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I think parents are more aware of what’s happening in the schools these days. They’re more aware of their own responsibility.”
But some criticism is well-deserved, according to speakers on two separate panels discussing sex education.
Critics decried the graphic nature of the material making its way into the classroom and Texas textbooks. They reserved their harshest criticism for the Austin Independent School District. Last year AISD approved K – 12 curriculum created by Planned Parenthood. But legislation authored by Sen. Donna Campbell, R – New Braunfels, ended taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.
AISD sought to circumvent that law by using sex education material crafted by a Canadian abortion provider. But AISD withdrew the curriculum after it was discovered they did not obtain permission to use the copyrighted material.
Paxton and Saenz praised a group of well-informed and determined school district residents who fought against both plans. Their work should serve as an encouragement to others to stay informed and engaged they said.
Pro-life discussions covered protecting human dignity from assaults by abortionists and transgender ideologues.
Former Bryan, Texas, abortion clinic director Abby Johnson and Central Texas Coalition for Life director Heather Gardner recounted their story of being on opposite sides of the abortion debate until God convicted Johnson of abortion’s harsh realities.
Johnson founded And Then There Were None, an organization that has helped 600 abortion industry employees, including physicians, leave that trade.
Janet Porter, president of Faith2Action, and Rep. Briscoe Cane, R – Baytown, discussed heartbeat laws that ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected in an unborn baby. Porter’s pro-life organization secured passage of a bill in Ohio. Cane authored the Texas Heartbeat Bill in 2019 that never made it out of committee.
Two panel discussions addressed the rapid accommodation of transgender ideology into society, courts and the law.
One discussion featured Walt Heyer and Jeff Younger. Thirty years separate the beginning of their stories, but their tales illustrate the rapid cultural shift that has taken place in that time.
When Heyer was 42, he succumbed to his gender dysphoria and underwent “gender reassignment surgery.” He lived as a woman for eight years. But, according to his biography “through effective psychotherapy and faith in God,” he accepted his God-created male body. He shares his sex-change regret story and his faith in Christ – much to the chagrin of transgender activists who deny the reality of transition regret.
Thirty years later, Jeff Younger, is fighting to save one of his twin sons from their ideologically driven mother, doctors, counselors, courts and activists. When Younger and his wife, Anne Georgulas, divorced, Georgulas began presenting one of their now-8-year-old sons as a girl. The mother insists it is at the boy’s request.
Younger contends his son has not indicated to him that he wants to live as a girl. The parents are waging a custody battle and Younger is asking the courts to give him a say in their son’s medical treatment.
When Heyer sought medical transitioning three decades ago, his counselor advised therapy first. Today, some states have outlawed counseling that allows patients to discuss their gender confusion before beginning “gender reassignment” that can leave them sterile. Not ironically, a court ordered Younger and his sons to attend weekly counseling with a judge-appointed therapist.
High ranking Texas politicians have advocated for Younger and his son. But whether those same politicians will support legislation prohibiting “gender reassignment” for minors is yet to be seen.
Some measure of protection against transgender ideology was introduced, and passed, in Idaho. The bill, signed by Gov. Brad Little and immediately challenged by transgender-affirming American Civil Liberties Union, requires student athletes to compete on teams according to their biological sex and not gender identity. (See sidebar “Fair Play Act”). Similar bills have been introduced in other states and would prohibit biological males from competing in girls’ and women’s (college level) sports.
Trusting God or Caesar?
The Texas Values forum starkly contrasted the divide between secular and Christian ideology. Participants were encouraged to stay informed and engage their local authorities.
But how do Christians strike a balance between civic engagement and relying on God’s will for the outcome?
It begins with a high view of Scripture, not politics, the pastors said.
“The Bible has become, regrettably, one of the most neglected sacred books in the church today,” said Forshee. “While affirming what we can in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, etc. is always helpful, our allegiance must always be first and foremost to Christ and the Word of God.”
And leave the results to God.
“By staying focused on God’s word and teaching it faithfully with love, the Holy Spirit will honor and move in the hearts and minds of those who would hear,” said Sanford.
I don’t hear much reference to “mid-life crisis” anymore, but it was a thing in the 1980s. The idea is that a person, usually a man, reaches a point when he realizes he will not be an astronaut or write the great American novel; he’s tubby, struggling to pay the bills and disappointed in himself. This leads to an irrational fling with a red Corvette or a swimsuit model. There were movies about this but they weren’t great.
Something true lurks behind the silliness of the concept. Things happen to us, sometimes terrible things, which “unfairly” change the arc of our lives. I know people who are bound to the infirmities of a beloved family member. Others were hobbled earlier in life by the death or misbehavior of a parent. Some are victims of crimes or accidents that leave them permanently changed. None of this was supposed to happen, we think, and this lament becomes the dark cloud that rests on our heads for the rest of our days.
There is certainly a temptation toward this hardwired into the aging process. I remember being outraged at the universe when I was told my eyes were going bad 30 years ago. The hits keep coming but I’ve stopped being outraged by them. Nearly everything will disappoint us if we live long enough.
I find the story of Joseph, starting in Genesis 37, encouraging when my expectations of life aren’t met. Joseph expected to be exalted over his brothers, but he didn’t expect to be enslaved, betrayed and imprisoned. He lost years out of the prime of his life. Even after his release he did not go home. Where did Joseph go to get back those years? The Lord was in Joseph’s life, start to finish, but when he was in prison for years he had only faith that the Lord was in it.
Joseph’s expectations as a young man were not what the Lord had willed to give him. My youthful expectations and yours have not come to pass and we don’t know how many times we’ve been blessed by that. We can only project an idyllic “what might have been.”
It goes on from there. Moses was a member of Pharaoh’s household until he lost that and became a fugitive shepherd with a nice, safe life. From there he became the enemy of Egypt and later the object of scorn by the people he led. He wandered until the end of his life. Elijah was likely a shepherd on the east side of the Jordan until the Lord sent him to confront, become the enemy of, an evil king. Mary was on track to be the wife of an honorable craftsman in Nazareth. The Lord made her the best-known widow in history.
These things are only blessings from God in hindsight. In the midst of the suffering it is tough, discouraging, bitter.
We don’t enter our seniority having accomplished the exact things we set out to do. That’s okay. But what about physical infirmity? Can we leave behind the dream of being as strong, handsome and whole as we were at 30? I know the choice is not entirely ours but I also know a lot of people who are hesitant to let others see them as they’ve become, the best they’ll be for the rest of their lives. Our bodies are scarred by accidents, illness and life-saving surgeries. We lose things—teeth, organs and appendages. Each one of those is a nail in the coffin of our perfect youth. As chipper as we might be about the seriousness of aging (“It’s not for sissies!”), we also groan a little at the loss; it changes our view of ourselves and of life if we’re not careful.
But these are our lives. None of us gets all we wanted, thank the Lord.
There’s more to our lives, though. We know that but it’s hard to move our focus from this existence, so familiar to us, to an eternal one. The Lord helps us with that. He began helping me when my eyes starting going bad. Little by little we become less enamored with the perfection of our bodies and our dreams as God gives us years to see them more clearly.
In our spirits, our eternal selves, we live as God’s children, but in our flesh and in this place we live as his creatures. We gather experience, skill, scars and failures as we serve God here. But we must not forget that we are his creatures, vessels made for his purposes, to be used and used up.
Our dreams and expectations are trifling things; again, we know that. My stubborn heart resents that the Lord’s path is not the course I set. I only regret it in the present tense though. Looking back I see his hand, his goodness and his sovereignty in it all.
Take comfort today in the goodness of the Lord to you thus far. Trust him while you’re still in Joseph’s prison that he means it all for good.
For SBTC pastors Bart Barber of Farmersville and Dwight McKissic of Arlington, next month’s presidential election is an opportunity to exercise not only their right to vote, but also to disagree with civility. While the two men both affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, matters of conscience and priority have brought them to different decisions regarding how they will cast their ballot come Election Day.
“So much of this election is a referendum on President Trump,” Barber, who voted third party in 2016, said. “For a lot of [my friends], they would point out critiques of President Trump and his performance and his persona and his agenda. And almost all of those critiques I agree with.
“The president does not seem to be a man who exhibits—at least in his public persona, I don’t know him privately—but in his public persona, he doesn’t seem to extend common courtesy, doesn’t seem to abide by some common tenets of Christian ethics and morality, and that’s concerning,” he said.
Yet despite his critiques of Trump, Barber said that if the election were being held today he would be voting for the president.
“And it bewilders some of those people who are my friends,” he said. “The interesting thing has been trying to find a way to explain to people who are voting differently this time through, but with whom we share the same critiques that we make of the administration, how do I wind up at a different conclusion?”
For Barber, he said his decision largely comes down to “an accident of history.” He said that, as a 50-year-old, his earliest memories of politics are from Jimmy Carter’s presidency, which he described as somewhat of a foil to the Trump administration.
“We may have had men who were as nice and as moral and as kind as Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office, but I don’t know that we’ve had any who were more kind, compassionate, respectful, nice, than Jimmy Carter. I still think he’s a great man. I don’t agree with his theology on a lot of things, but he’s just a good man,” Barber said.
“But it was a horrible four years for our country. People suffered under the Carter administration in every possible way. As a child, the first things I knew about economics were the new terms that were being added. The word ‘malaise’ came to be popular in the American lexicon as a description of the state of the country under President Carter.
“The major economic term that I heard on the news when I was eight and nine years old was the ‘misery index,’” he added. “The economy was terrible, and everybody suffered under that. Black people, white people, Hispanic people, old people, young people. Everybody was hurting, a lot, under the economic policy of the Carter administration.
“But President Trump’s policy toward the poor has been the opposite of the effect of the Carter administration. Instead of the misery index, everybody’s done a little better. It’s been the lowest unemployment I’ve seen in my lifetime. Even during this pandemic, when you would think it would just be economic calamity and doom and gloom, it hasn’t been. It hasn’t been great, but it could have been a lot worse. So I think in general, people of all demographics are doing better under the Trump administration,” Barber added.
“The fact is, these economic factors, there’s a character aspect to them too that makes people’s lives better or worse. I think that’s why I look and I say, we have a man who would not be qualified for membership in my church by a long stretch, but the policies of a Biden/Harris administration, so radically in the pocket of Planned Parenthood, concern me greatly.
“Because I’m 50 and because the very first presidency I ever knew about was this presidency where we had a wonderful, wonderful man leading the country to ruin, the effect of that on me has been that, although personal character matters to me for electing someone into office, I also believe policy is an extension of character as well. And not that one has to be disregarded and the other has to be everything, but I think both have to be considered,” he said.
“And so because of that—and because my confidence in third party voting, although not gone, has changed somewhat from the last time around—I expect I’ll cast my ballot for President Trump.”
McKissic, on the other hand, said that he has different priorities motivating his decision.
“I would think most Americans would say the most immediate, pressing national and international issue that’s a threat to our country at the moment that has still not been resolved, and we don’t know when it will be, would be the pandemic. It’s the number one issue for me because it impacts education, the church, the economy, everything,” McKissic said.
“Secondly, with thirteen grandchildren and with police brutality being an issue—it’s been an issue, really, throughout the history of America—but because of cellphones now, smart phones, we see it often,” he said. “That’s a very critical issue for me.”
He said he views both of these to be issues regarding the sanctity of life and that in his opinion, the president’s response to both of them has been lacking.
“I thought [President Trump] handled the pandemic horribly, which he more or less admits now,” McKissic said. “He dismissed the pandemic council that was in place when he got there to be on top of these things, which has proved to be one of the worst situations you can make.”
McKissic also pointed out Trump’s critique of how Obama handled the H1N1 flu outbreak, which resulted in the deaths of some 15,000 Americans, and compared those numbers vs. the current U.S. death total from COVID-19.
“Now we’re moving toward 200,000 people,” he said. “He graded Obama with an F for that, but what does he say about 200,000 in America if the grade is going to be based on the number of deaths due to governmental management of a virus? So for those reasons and more, I definitely will not cast a vote for Donald J. Trump.
“I believe whoever occupies the White House sets a tone and a tenor for communities and police departments. And to some degree, the temperatures they set, the policies they enact, and their willingness to bring federal oversight investigations and accountability to cases of police brutality somewhat has an impact on how widespread that practice might be,” he added. “I want somebody who will have a zero-tolerance policy for something like that, and I want somebody who will enact federal policies designed to prevent it, or hold people accountable when it happens.”
McKissic made clear that he is fully supportive of the police, referring to himself as a “back-the-blue man all the way.” But qualified immunity for policemen “contributes to this problem because that sort of protects them from being held accountable, to a great degree,” he said.
“George H.W. Bush, during the Rodney King situation, he just called a spade a spade, called it police brutality. He was appalled at the beating of Rodney King and was shocked at the policemen responsible being let go,” McKissic said.
“I’ve yet to hear President Trump say anything about the man shot in the back seven times, unarmed,” he added. “He may have deserved to be arrested, he may not have. I don’t know the facts, but I do know there was no justification for shooting that man in the back one time, let alone seven times. I need a president who will address an issue like that. He tends to not be objective, in my opinion, on police brutality issues but will side with the police, regardless. That is not somebody I’m comfortable casting a vote for.”
According to McKissic, he isn’t trying to sway anyone one way or the other when it comes to how they decide to vote in November.
“I’m not a partisan in the sense that I want to persuade somebody—definitely not for, but not even against Trump. I’m just speaking, as Joshua said, as for me and my house. My conscience, my convictions, will not allow me to cast a ballot for a man that I believe has made some racial remarks that I find extremely offensive, and I think it would be an exercise of self-hatred if I voted for him.”
While McKissic says he does know for certain that he won’t be voting to reelect the president, he also said that his mind wasn’t yet made up on how he will vote.
“After watching the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I concluded that the Democrats sincerely despise racism and the Republicans sincerely despise abortion,” McKissic said. “I despise both, with a passion. That’s what makes voting for either major party candidate difficult for me, particularly this year.”