Month: August 2021

The Texas Legislature returns for a second special session, but without a quorum in the House

Texas capitol building image

AUSTIN A second, 30-day special session of the 87th Legislature opened August 7 without a quorum in the House of Representatives as at least two dozen Democrats from that chamber remained in Washington, D.C. to avoid debate on an election reform bill. Despite an idle House, Texas Senators began passing legislation within hours of opening the second session. Those bills can advance quickly to the House once a quorum returns.

“So, it’s one of these things where the Senate very well could have the originating chamber work done as early as Friday or Saturday. So, the question becomes, ‘What’s going to go on in the House?’” Derek Cohen, vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told the TEXAN.

Cohen spoke with the TEXAN Monday, Aug. 9, as some Democrats began returning to Austin but the House was still about five members shy of a 100-member quorum.

Distractions

Democrat defectors, a surge in COVID-19 infections just as school is due to open, and visceral partisan disagreements surrounding the election reform bill threaten to overshadow legislation SBTC members want Texas lawmakers to address.

Cindy Asmussen, advisor to the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, urges Christians to press Gov. Greg Abbott, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to add bills to the call and challenge others.

Review the TERLC special session report (PDF) >>

Only the governor can add bills to a special session agenda, also referred to as the call. Asmussen believes that tactic prompted Abbott to add to the call Senate Bill 2. The legislation requires public school students to compete in interscholastic competitions based on their biological sex. Nine states have enacted similar statutes. If passed in Texas, the law would protect female athletes from having to compete against male athletes who identify as female.

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Senate approved the bill after its first reading. The chamber scheduled a second reading and vote Aug. 10.

Bills of concern include the Family Violence Prevention Act which requires schools to instruct middle-and-high school students about dating and home violence, and child abuse. Asmussen argues these topics are covered in other areas of instruction and the new curriculum could draw from sexually explicit Comprehensive Sex Education material.

The bill, SB 9, passed out of committee and will go to the Senate floor for a vote. TERLC opposes the legislation.

Senate Bill 123 passed during the regular session and is due to become law Sept. 1. It requires the State Board of Education to “integrate positive character traits and personal skills, rather than positive character traits, into the essential knowledge and skills adopted for kindergarten through grade 12, as appropriate.”

Asmussen admits this bill passed under the TERLC radar. After a more thorough analysis, she said the law incorporates problematic Social and Emotion Learning and ideological notions of “equity,” not equality into classroom instruction and calls for social action.

Corrective measures can be taken to defund or alter the bill, Asmussen said. But that action has to be put on the call.

Other key legislation not on the call is a version of House Bill 166 authored by Rep. Matt Krause, R- Fort Worth. The bill bans so-called gender modification treatment for minors. No long-term research has examined the practice’s toll on the body. The treatment includes chemically blocking the onset of natural puberty and then administering hormones of the opposite sex which causes a child’s body to develop physical characteristics of the opposite sex.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Foundation prescribe gender modification as the only treatment for gender dysphoria. The organizations advocate banning mental health counseling as a means of treatment. In several states it is illegal to provide such counseling to minors.

Critics like Matt Rinaldi, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, call gender modification of minors “child abuse.” And, on Monday, the Texas GOP joined the TERLC in demanding the state ban the practice.

“Every day we wait more Texas children are irreversibly harmed. Rep. Matt Krause has a bill with enough co-authors to pass the Texas House and others are sure to attract majority support on this important issue. I ask Governor Abbott to add it to the call for the second special session,” said Rinaldi.

Abbott has indicated he is considering adding this bill to the call.

Cohen said such politically-charged legislation could end up being a “double-edged sword.”

“Those kinds of issues address a certain need. But I think there’s also a reticence to give the Democrats something that they – at least in the eyes of their base – could stay in DC for. Because now it went from, “We’re in here for voting rights. Or, now, it’s voting rights and trans rights,” he said.

The Democrats twice fled the U.S. Capitol to avoid debate and passage of the Election Integrity bill, SB 1. They did so first in the waning days of the regular session that ended May 31 and, again, just days after the start of the first Special Session that ended Aug. 6.

Republicans hold a majority in both chambers, guaranteeing passage of the bill. But, with enough quorum-busting House Democrats on the lamb, the lower chamber has no quorum. With no quorum, bills idle.

The election bill is not the only item left to die on the special session agenda Cohen said.

Bills on the governor’s call are, mostly, holdovers from the 87th Legislature’s Regular Session. They include the voter reform bill; bail reform; Title X and border security funding; Senate Bill 2 protecting female athletes; and extra funding for teacher retirements, plus, the bills TERLC wants added to the call. Abbott could also include legislation addressing the rise in COVID-19 infections. (Some cities are mounting a legal challenge to Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates. Challengers to the order say it is necessary, especially as public schools open for in-person learning.)

“You have things that are not advancing, that are bipartisan, such as the bail reform bill that [passed] 27 to 2 in the Senate. That’s quite a quite a spread. And, also, the 13th check for retired teachers. These are things that are largely apolitical, or at the very least, largely bipartisan. And, you know, this is the will of the state that is not being enacted,” Cohen said.

The Democrats’ quorum-busting walkout is not unprecedented. They did it in 2003 and 2009 to avoid passage of new district boundaries. Data from 2020 Census is due to be released this month and some states, like Texas, must redraw voting districts to accommodate population changes. Growth in central and north Texas earned the state two new seats in U.S. House of Representatives.

Abbott must call another special session, perhaps in October, to redraw those lines.

Since Republicans control both chambers of the Texas Legislature, those lines could favor the GOP – and prompt another democratic walkout.

But will they?

Cohen doesn’t expect the current rogue representatives to face backlash in their home districts but he said polling indicates the quorum-busting is “incredibly unpopular.”

Narnia-like ‘Wingfeather Saga’ will deliver a fantasy TV series … for the whole family

Fantasy series are as popular as they’ve ever been on television, but as producer and writer Chris Wall sees it, few are viewable by the entire family.

In fact, many of them—like Game of Thrones—are so vulgar they’d likely make a sailor blush. 

Wall, though, hopes to help change that perception. 

He is the executive producer and showrunner of a new family-friendly animated fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga, which is based on a bestselling children’s book series by Christian singer Andrew Peterson and will be released by Angel Studios, the same studio that produced The Chosen.

Although the series is crowdfunded, Angel Studios had no trouble raising the money for the first season, pulling in $5 million from about 8,000 investors in one month. In fact, it broke the record previously held by The Chosen for fasted crowdfunded TV series to reach $1 million. The Wingfeather Saga passed that mark in 48 hours.  

Season 1 is in production. 

“There’s a scarcity of this kind of material,” said Wall, a veteran of the family-friendly genre with experience as a producer of Veggietales and The Slugs & Bugs Show. 

The Wingfeather Saga tells the story of a family who is living in a fantasy world and must flee evil creatures known as “Fangs of Dang.” The family searches for their place in the world while opposing a mysterious ruler, Gnag the Nameless.

Angel Studios describes the story as having the wit of The Princess Bride, the epic world of The Lord of the Rings and the “deep magic” of the Narnia series.

The series won’t be overtly Christian but will have a Christian worldview, Wall said. It’s important, he said, for viewers to understand what they are getting. 

“If we position the series as Christian fantasy, we will disappoint a number of viewers—because there are dragons, there are legends and fantasy. That could be problematic for some families,” he said. “But if we present a secular fantasy, the secular viewer will go, ‘Wait a minute, I can tell there’s a there’s a hand at work, like in Narnia.’ And so we’re somewhere between that.”

The world of The Wingfeather Saga, Wall said, is similar to those of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings.

“Why would you call Lord of the Rings a Christian fantasy series? [It’s] because Tolkien was a believer, yes, and because the material speaks of Christian values: self-sacrifice, the values of family, the triumph of good over evil, the importance of sacrificial love. And what Wingfeather shares is exactly that. There is value in family and there’s an importance in our identity—who we are, who the Creator made us to be. And while it’s not overt, it is clearly a subversive play, where it’s understood there’s a Christian worldview at work here. The consequences of the choices characters make fall within what we understand.”

For the latest updates on Wingfeather release dates and how to watch, visit The Wingfeather Saga Web site.

Why objective truth is the issue at hand in the transgender debate

weightlifting image

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games take center stage. And while impossible-to-believe feats of strength and athleticism, camaraderie, and sportsmanship regularly wow its global viewership, the Olympic platform has sometimes also thrust prevailing social and cultural issues to the foreground. In some ways, the Tokyo Olympics may have done so more than ever.

As a prime example, one of the cultural issues that took center stage this summer was the transgender debate, seen most notably in the participation of Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand who competed in the women’s heavyweight competition. Though admittedly reluctant to be a mouthpiece for the transgender community, Hubbard, who formerly competed in the sport as a male, has garnered a great deal of attention and sparked significant controversy by participating in Tokyo’s games.

Much of the conversation on this particular controversy revolves around the question of fairness. Namely, is it fair for a person who has undergone a so-called gender transition, especially from male to female, to compete athletically in their “new” gender classification? But while the issue of fairness is critically important in sports and athletics, the truth is that fairness is downstream from the real crux of the issue. At root, the issue at hand is whether we, as a society, will continue to recognize and accept objective truth.

A web of delusion

We are suffering from a self-deception of our own making. The widespread acceptance of transgenderism reflects the fact that our culture has traded objective truth for subjectivism. In effect, we have crowned the self the ruler of truth. And in the midst of this, Sir Walter Scott’s memorable line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” has become uncomfortably poignant. Our culture has woven a destructive web of delusion, allowing feelings to supplant facts and preferences to replace realities.

Human beings do not decree what is or is not true. We are not God or gods. As limited and finite beings, our duty is much more modest. We recognize truth. We share truth. We stand for truth. But we do not fashion or alter what is true. And in our culture today, perhaps our hubris and propensity for exceeding the boundaries of our own authority is nowhere better displayed than with regard to gender.

Rejecting reality

In the case of Laurel Hubbard, we are witnessing the downstream consequences of our culture’s rejection of objective truth. Hubbard’s example demonstrates just how quickly we’re beginning to encounter the consequences of decades of emphasis on self-supremacy and self-actualization.

Any rational person can acknowledge that it is generally unfair to ask biological females to compete against biological males in physical athletic competition. This is especially true when the activity is weightlifting. The reasons why are self-evident but bear repeating. Males and females are distinct. Among other things, males and females have different musculoskeletal makeups: “Muscle size and bulk is less in women, due to the effects of the normal sex hormones. Men, given their greater levels of testosterone, have larger and stronger muscles, with a greater potential for muscle development.” Importantly, these physiological distinctions are not able to be altered apart from serious medical intervention — and even then clear differences persist.

The decision to allow Hubbard to compete against biological females because of Hubbard’s current female “gender identity” reflects just how deeply we’ve imbibed this cultural delusion. There is no doubt that Hubbard, and many others, experience true feelings of gender dysphoria, “a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.” Indeed, such people deserve tremendous mercy and compassion. But validating an identity that is not merely flawed but antithetical to Hubbard’s true identity is neither merciful nor compassionate. It is a rejection of reality and a repudiation of the concept of objective truth.

Eroding the foundations

When it comes to sex and gender the answer is not to capitulate to the winds of culture. Instead, it is to affirm that which is apparent by observation, attested via biology, and most importantly revealed in Scripture. It is no accident that the first pages of our Bible clearly describe God’s pattern for human beings in the words “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it is equally important for Christians to affirm that gender is inextricably linked to sex. Regardless of whether a person may “feel” like a man or a woman, their gender is not determined according to feeling but according to a fixed and objective reality. Only males are men; only females are women.

Athletic competition reveals these distinctions acutely. Men and women typically compete in separate categories to ensure a fair and equal playing field. One need not subscribe to the Bible’s view of anthropology to recognize this. We can recognize the injustice of allowing biological males to compete against biological females because alongside our innate sense of fairness is our perception of these biological distinctions.

Beyond sports, we can only guess just how damaging the eradication of these boundaries will be for both individuals and our society as a whole. What we do know is that this widespread rejection of objective truth will continue to erode the foundations upon which our common life is built. As Christians, we must strive resist the tides of culture and hold fast to the truth about what it means that God creates human beings as either male or female. These distinctions are critical, not merely to preserve the wonder that captivates us at the Olympic Games but to honor the pattern of God’s design for those he created to reflect his image back into all creation.

Bowden saw his players as more than a jersey, says longtime FSU chaplain

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP) – Clint Purvis walked the sidelines with Bobby Bowden for 21 years and was his friend for 33. In that time, he witnessed a sporting legend grow as Bowden became one of the winningest college football coaches in history, claiming two national championships and an era of success few programs have experienced.

But for Purvis, longtime chaplain for the FSU football team, those accolades only begin to tell the impact left by Bowden, who died Sunday (Aug. 8).

“He was anointed and had God’s favor,” Purvis told Baptist Press today (Aug. 9). “Tallahassee isn’t exactly like the Bible Belt. Coach was able to present the message of Christ in such a way that even those who didn’t want anything to do with God respected him. He was one of the most competitive men I knew and wanted to win, but he wanted every player who came to this place to know Jesus and that He could make a difference in their life.”

In July, Bowden announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal medical condition that his son, Terry, recently disclosed to reporters was pancreatic cancer.

“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” the 91-year-old Bowden said in a statement July 21. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”

A month earlier Bowden had made his last public appearance at the North American Mission Board’s Send Luncheon, surprising friend and fellow coach Mark Richt. As a head coach at the University of Georgia and University of Miami, Richt’s testimony had become as regarded as his skill in winning football games. Now as Send Relief’s national spokesperson, Richt was asked by NAMB President Kevin Ezell to recount his testimony and Bowden’s influence when Richt was an assistant coach at Florida State.

“If Coach Bowden were here today, what would you say to him?” Ezell asked. Before Richt could finish his answer, Ezell motioned to Bowden, sitting in a chair positioned behind Richt, for the reunion.

“Prayers for Ann and the Bowden family!” Richt posted to Twitter yesterday. “Much love and respect and thankfulness for Coach’s influence in my life!!”

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Bowden was a star athlete at Woodlawn High School who dreamed of being a quarterback at the University of Alabama. He accomplished that goal, but after one semester in Tuscaloosa moved back to Birmingham to marry his high school girlfriend, Ann Estock, and transfer to Howard University.

Bowden played at Howard, now Samford University, but it would also become his first football coaching job when he took an assistant position there. He moved on to be the head football, baseball and basketball coach at South Georgia College before moving back to Howard as head football coach, compiling a 31-6 record. An assistant coaching position at Florida State followed before Bowden moved to become an assistant coach at West Virginia.

In 1968, WVU’s in-state rival, Marshall University, made a strong push for Bowden to be its next head coach. Bowden thought about it, but declined. He eventually would become West Virginia’s head football coach. In his first year at WVU, the plane transporting Marshall’s football team and coaches home from a game crashed, killing everyone on board.

“I’ve thought about that a lot over the years,” he said. “That could have easily been me coaching that team, and I’d have been wiped out just like all the others. … There were a lot of people I knew on that plane. A lot of good people.”

Bowden became the head coach in Tallahassee in 1976. The Seminoles had won only four games over the previous three seasons. Florida State went 5-6 in Bowden’s first year, and it would be his only losing record at the school. Success came so quickly that in the ‘80s, head-coaching offers came from LSU, Auburn and Alabama. The Crimson Tide actually had two opportunities to hire Bowden, passing on him the first time for Bill Curry. In 1990 it was Bowden’s chance to say ‘no thanks,’ and Alabama hired Gene Stallings.

By that time, Bowden was 60 years old, and he considered Florida State “his school.” Time had become a factor, and instances like the Marshall plane crash had given Bowden a perspective on eternity that became intertwined with his coaching philosophy.

The 1986 death of lineman Pablo Lopez led Bowden to present the Gospel to his team the next morning, a stand that led Richt to faith in Christ. Hours after Bowden’s death, Purvis posted to Facebook a handwritten letter from Bowden to his children that he wrote after a car accident took the life of his grandson and son-in-law the week of the 2000 Miami game. The letter explained that though they mourned at the moment, their faith continued to be in Jesus.

“[T]his is why my LOVE & RESPECT for COACH BOWDEN runs DEEP!!! And why I miss this man so much now!!!” Purvis wrote.

Bowden was a member of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee for 43 years before joining Bradfordville First Baptist, another area church, in May 2019. Alongside his duties as FSU football chaplain, Purvis also serves in ministry through First Baptist.

Bowden’s high profile opened up opportunities to witness, but he was strategic about it, said Purvis, who prayed with Bowden a week before he died.

“He was very good at doing it in such a way that it didn’t offend others,” he said. “If those of other faiths respected him as a man, they’d respect his message. You have to earn the right to be heard and he earned the right to present the message.”

But the truth is that in the world of big-time college football, the right to be heard doesn’t come without winning. In the early ‘90s, stacked FSU teams had heartbreaking back-to-back losses to in-state rival Miami when each year a wide-right field goal in the final seconds dashed the Noles’ championship hopes.

Not even the team chaplain was safe from ridicule, as people told Purvis he hadn’t prayed hard enough for those footballs to curve left. He’s fairly certain they weren’t kidding.

“Any loss was tough on Coach, but at the same time he saw the big picture and knew that anything he did was sovereign under the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” Purvis said. “God’s will was bigger than his wishes.”

In 1993, Florida State finally celebrated its first football national championship. For Bowden, the weight of winning the big one had finally lifted. FSU’s success would continue throughout the decade, which would end with another national title after the 1999 season.

Under Bowden, the FSU team would attend church every Sunday, in keeping with a promise the coach made to parents in living rooms across America while on the recruiting trail. Those of other faiths or who didn’t want their son to attend were not compelled to do so, but the overwhelming majority were thankful, Purvis said.

That became part of Bowden’s legacy as well. Many of his players didn’t come from Christian backgrounds or have a Christian witness. They grew up around drugs and gangs. Those influences and decisions often followed them to Tallahassee. When it came to administering discipline, Bowden relied on his Christian faith.

“He learned to not take a situation at face value,” Purvis said. “There was always another side to the story. Some people make mistakes with their heart, some with their head. When that mistake comes from the heart, it’s probably a character issue. A lot of these players, though, make mistakes with their head. They’re young, naïve and need correction.

“He always said he treated his players the way he would want someone to treat his own children. He didn’t see them as just a number or position. He saw beyond the uniform they wore to the people they are.”

Church leaders react to new Facebook prayer tool

Facebook already asks for your thoughts. Now it wants your prayers.

The social media giant has rolled out a new prayer request feature, a tool embraced by some religious leaders as a cutting-edge way to engage the faithful online. Others are eyeing it warily as they weigh its usefulness against the privacy and security concerns they have with Facebook.

In Facebook Groups employing the feature, members can use it to rally prayer power for upcoming job interviews, illnesses and other personal challenges big and small. After they create a post, other users can tap an “I prayed” button, respond with a “like” or other reaction, leave a comment or send a direct message.

Facebook began testing it in the U.S. in December as part of an ongoing effort to support faith communities, according to a statement attributed to a company spokesperson.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen many faith and spirituality communities using our services to connect, so we’re starting to explore new tools to support them,” it said.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was among the pastors enthusiastically welcoming of the prayer feature.

“Facebook and other social media platforms continue to be tremendous tools to spread the Gospel of Christ and connect believers with one another – especially during this pandemic,” he said. “While any tool can be misused, I support any effort like this that encourages people to turn to the one true God in our time of need.”

Under its data policy, Facebook uses the information it gathers in a variety of ways, including to personalize advertisements. But the company says advertisers are not able to use a person’s prayer posts to target ads.

Jacki King, the minister to women at Second Baptist Conway, a Southern Baptist congregation in Conway, Ark., sees a potential benefit for people who are isolated amid the pandemic and struggling with mental health, finances and other issues.

“They’re much more likely to get on and make a comment than they are to walk into a church right now,” King said. “It opens a line of communication.”

Crossroads Community Church, a nondenominational congregation in Vancouver, Wash., saw the function go live about 10 weeks ago in its Facebook Group, which has roughly 2,500 members.

About 20 to 30 prayer requests are posted each day, eliciting 30 to 40 responses apiece, according to Gabe Moreno, executive pastor of ministries. Each time someone responds, the initial poster gets a notification.

Deniece Flippen, a moderator for the group, turns off the alerts for her posts, knowing that when she checks back she will be greeted with a flood of support.

“It’s comforting to see that they’re always there for me and we’re always there for each other,” Flippen said.

Members are asked on Fridays to share which requests got answered, and some get shoutouts in the Sunday morning livestreamed services.

Moreno said he knows Facebook is not acting out of purely selfless motivation — it wants more user engagement with the platform. But his church’s approach to it is theologically based, and they are trying to follow Jesus’ example.

“We should go where the people are,” Moreno said. “The people are on Facebook. So we’re going to go there.”

From The Associated Press. May not be republished. AP video journalist Emily Leshner contributed. APreligion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

David Jeremiah’s grandson carries on ministry legacy through video devotional series

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) – As the grandson of a well-known minister, David Todd Jeremiah is eager to be part of carrying on his family’s ministry legacy. This is partly why he helps oversee “PassagesTV,” a video devotional series aimed at young people.

David Todd is the grandson of David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. His father, David Michael Jeremiah, is Turning Point’s COO.

Although ministry has always been a part of his family life, Jeremiah said he views it as something he gets to do, rather than something he has to do.

“It (ministry) has kind of been something that’s been normal for my whole life,” Jeremiah said, adding that he’s very close to his famous grandfather.

“To me he’s just my grandpa,” he said. “Because of the influence that my grandpa had, I have the potential to use that to glorify God.

“Seeing what he’s done and the lives he has impacted, for me it’s like ‘Yeah I’d love to be a part of that.’ Part of his ministry legacy is that these things can continue long after he’s gone. I try to view it as an opportunity and not something I’m obligated to.”

The younger Jeremiah first began noticing a desire to minister to young people after earning his undergraduate degree from Liberty University. He began talking with the creative director at Turning Point about his desire to reach that age group.

The two agreed that a huge opportunity was available online due to the enormous amount of time young people spend on social media.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, more than 90 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 have access to a smartphone at home, which was up from just over 70 percent in 2014-2015.

In the study, 45 percent of teens say they are online “almost constantly,” while 44 percent report going online “several times a day.” YouTube and Instagram were the most popular social media platforms with 85 percent saying they use YouTube and 72 percent saying they use Instagram.

Turning Point had already made plans to develop a devotional video series for young adults, and Jeremiah agreed to take the lead for the project.

Each episode of PassagesTV, ranging in length from five to 15 minutes, features a short devotional geared toward young people as well as footage of Jeremiah and friends traveling around the country in places such as New York, Alaska and San Diego.

Jeremiah said the name Passages is supposed to refer to both the Scripture passages presented in each episode as well as the passages each person takes in the journey of life. The theme of the content is how those two should go together. Topics covered in episodes include anxiety, perspective and servant evangelism.

Since 2019, more than 15 episodes of PassagesTV have been produced and released on YouTube and the PassagesTV website. The series has gained more than 1,000 subscribers on YouTube and 3,000 followers on Instagram.

Although much of the content is geared to young adults, Jeremiah said the messages can apply to kids as young as middle and high school. During a time when young people are making important life decisions, he wants to help teach them how to follow God in those decisions as well as how to be a Christian in community.

He said the purpose of the series is not to replace authentic community, but to point to the importance of it.

“The internet is where people always feel connected because you can always see what people are doing and things, but it’s not genuine community,” Jeremiah said. “Our goal is to catch their eye where they already are, and be a light in that place.”

PassagesTV is aimed at Christians but is evangelistic too. The Next Steps tab on the series’ website includes a detailed explanation of the Gospel and how to become a Christian, as well as practical steps such as joining a local church and getting baptized.

“Anything that we did was essentially pointless if the Gospel wasn’t the central message,” Jeremiah said. “We didn’t want there to be any ambiguity, and we thought the easiest thing on our site to find should be the how to become a Christian section. We want people to see Christianity is completely centralized around love.”

Jeremiah is now attending seminary at Liberty, and is considering working in young adult ministry full time with Turning Point after graduation. In addition to his part-time work for Turning Point, he is also the head graduate student assistant for the evangelism department at Liberty.

David Wheeler, head professor of the department, said Jeremiah “has a unique combination of a pastoral spirit with a real heart for evangelism.”

Wheeler, a former state evangelism director for Baptist conventions in both Ohio and Indiana, often partners with the SBC of Virginia on evangelism initiatives.

He laments the fact that many of his students, who come from a variety of church and denominational backgrounds, do not know what the Great Commission is, cannot verbalize what the Gospel is and have not heard their pastors talk about evangelism.

“It (evangelism) is either assumed and then it’s not done, or it’s just not done at all,” Wheeler said. “So either way it does not get done. We’ve lost a sense of urgency for explaining the Gospel.”

The goal of Wheeler’s Evangelism 101 class is to teach students both to serve those around them “incarnationally,” but also to tell them the hope of the Gospel.

“The incarnational aspect is we’re putting feet and flesh to our faith so that we’re living it out in front of the world to open the door for a verbal conversation about the Gospel, not in place of,” Wheeler said. “It’s both/and not either/or. We serve in order to share. The Gospel becomes real to us as we share it and see if transform lives. It becomes life-giving.”

Jeremiah agreed, saying that although social media is important for churches, having an impact on people in the local church is more important.

“I would encourage local churches to find ways to love young people and show them that you care and that you’re interested in who they are.” Jeremiah said. “The best way to get somebody to listen to you is to relate with them.”

$2.7M government grant goes toward fetal tissue harvesting, report says

PITTSBURGH (BP) – According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, at least $2.7 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has gone to support a project at the University of Pittsburgh that includes the possible removal of organs and tissue from pre-born babies who are still alive.

An Aug. 3 press release from Judicial Watch and The Center for Medical Progress uncovered public records from the National Institutes of Health (a part of HHS) related to “government-sponsored fetal experimentation” that focused on minimizing the amount of time aborted fetal organs go without blood flow.

The goal of the project, according to the document, is “to generate an inventory of genitourinary tissue throughout normal human development” that will “develop a pipeline for the acquisition, quality control and distribution of human genitourinary samples.”

The samples to be collected, the university said, would be gathered “throughout development (6-42 weeks gestation).”

In its application for the grant, the university set quotas of 50 percent for white patients and 50 percent for minorities, 25 percent of which would come from Black women. CMP noted that Allegheny County, the major metropolitan area around Pittsburgh, is 80 percent white and only 13 percent black.

A representative for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called the findings “disturbing” and “horrific.”

“Once again, the conscience of our nation should be pierced,” said Elizabeth Graham, ERLC vice president of operations and life initiatives. “For years, Christians and other pro-life voices have pleaded with policy makers to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. We should not be a society that tolerates the harvesting of organs from born-alive infants of any race, for any reason or under any circumstance.

“Every aspect of this investigation should be reviewed by lawmakers who must not waste a single moment in ensuring taxpayer resources aren’t used for these heinous acts and outlaw them from ever occurring again.”

CMP submitted a FOIA request a little over a year ago, and said it only received the documents after enlisting attorneys from Judicial Watch. The grant itself was awarded to the university in June 2019.

In its application, Pitt cites more than 18 years of experience in collecting body parts from aborted babies as well as minimizing ischemia time.

The National Institutes for Health classifies warm ischemia time as “the time a tissue, organ or body part remains at body temperature after its blood supply has been reduced or cut off but before it is cooled or reconnected to a blood supply.”

According to the document shared by Judicial Watch, the application stated, “We record the warm ischemic time on our samples and take steps to keep it at a minimum to ensure the highest quality biological specimens. We get feedback from our users and utilize this feedback to tailor our collection processes on a case-by-case basis to maximize the needs of investigators.”

The Center for Medical Progress called this an admission of taking organs from babies as they still lived and breathed.

“If the fetus’ heartbeat and blood circulation continue in a labor induced abortion for harvesting organs, it means the fetus is being delivered while still alive and the cause of death is the removal of the organs,” it asserted in a statement.

On Tuesday (Aug. 3), CMP founder David Daleiden described the findings as “like an episode of American Horror Story. … People are outraged by such disregard for the lives of the vulnerable. Law enforcement and public officials should act immediately to bring the next Kermit Gosnell to justice under the law.”

David Seldin, assistant vice chancellor for news at the University of Pittsburg, told Fox News that researchers had “no part in any decisions as to timing, method or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy.”

The Center for Medical Progress gained notoriety in 2015 when a series of undercover videos claimed to show Planned Parenthood representatives in discussions over trading body parts from aborted babies. Daleiden and his associate, Sandra Merritt, were subsequently charged with recording the meetings illegally and under false pretenses.

When Daleiden’s videos were seized during a raid in April 2016, he claimed it was due to the close relationship between Planned Parenthood and then-California Attorney General (now U.S. Vice President) Kamala Harris. A few months later federal charges filed by Planned Parenthood were dropped against Daleiden and Merritt, but in March 2017 then-California AG Xavier Becerra (now secretary of Health and Human Services in the Biden administration) charged them with 15 felony counts each. In June of that year, a court dismissed all but two of the charges.

Planned Parenthood would file another suit against CMP and in November 2019 was awarded $2.2 million by a federal jury in San Francisco on grounds related to the recording acts, but not to defamation. In December 2020, another judgement ordered Daleiden and associates to pay Planned Parenthood $13.6 million in legal fees. Both cases are under appeal.

“Regardless of what any court decides, the videos of Planned Parenthood speak for themselves,” said then-ERLC President Russell Moore after the November 2019 ruling. “They reveal an organization whose profit structure is built on violence against women and their unborn children.”

History professor to use Vision 2025 to show Baptists’ ‘cooperative venture’

HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP) – As a professor of Christian studies and religious history at Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU), Miles Mullin is always looking for ways to communicate the history and impact of Baptist work to the students in his charge.

During the upcoming semester, one of Mullin’s tools for his Baptist history class will be Vision 2025, the strategic initiative adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville earlier this summer.

“As I’m teaching Baptist history and heritage this fall, I always want students to be thinking about, not just our heritage, but how our heritage connects to the future and what ministry will look like for them,” Mullin said.

Baptist history and heritage is a required course for all students in the Christian studies program at HLGU, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention. Mullin said the class covers history all the way back to the Reformation, but the majority of the second half of the class is specifically devoted to studying the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Topics covered include the formation of the SBC in 1845 and the 75 Million Campaign, which ran from 1919-1924 and led to the creation of the Cooperative Program in 1925.

Mullin plans to show students the connection between how Southern Baptists have partnered throughout their history, and how that enables their cooperation through an initiative like Vision 2025 nearly 100 years later.

“It strikes me that the six points [of Vision 2025] tie into our institutional organizational work, and shows how the entities of the convention help to do the work of the cooperative venture of the churches that is the convention,” Mullin said. “You’ve got the North American Mission board, you’ve got IMB [International Mission Board] in there, you’ve got the seminaries in there with calling out the called, it includes local church missions, talks about the Cooperative Program as well as involves Lifeway and the work of the ERLC.”

Though he was not able to attend the annual meeting in person this year, Mullin said he was impressed by the Vision 2025 presentation and by messengers’ approval of the strategic actions and wanted to share it with his students.

“I was very excited about Vision 2025 and seeing it come up,” Mullin said. “I thought the five points that came out of the Executive Committee were great, and I thought the sixth point that the messengers added from the floor made it even better.”

A graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mullin served as the vice president for academic administration and dean of the faculty for Hannibal-LaGrange before returning to teaching in 2015.

He said he plans to display a small Vision 2025 poster in his classroom and is even considering including Vision 2025 as part of the curriculum of the class as students learn about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program.

“I think the Cooperative Program is brilliant,” Mullin said. “It really provides the mechanism whereby Southern Baptist churches can cooperate together in an organized format for the things that they have as a convention identified as priorities. I think it allows us to simultaneously persevere congregational autonomy, but also have a more cooperative and unified presence in the world. I think it’s critical.

“Students don’t know about the Cooperative Program and when they find out about it, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’”

Because the course tends to have only about 12-15 students, Mullin said he also hopes to have open discussion and dialogue with students about Vision 2025 with an opportunity for them to make suggestions about things they would have included had they been crafting the initiative.

He said the inclusion of strategic action No. 6 about the elimination of sexual abuse and racism from churches shows that although Southern Baptists have not been perfect, they are taking steps to treat all people of all nations with dignity.

“For point 6 we talk about how Southern Baptists haven’t always lived up to what the Bible teaches about treating people of different races or women well, but that we strive to do that in accordance with the Scripture,” Mullin said.

“We learn two things from history: We learn what our forbearers did well, and this can help us to do the same things well. It also helps us see where our forebears didn’t do some things well and to hopefully avoid some of those errors.”

Mullin said he hopes to help students understand that the aspects of Vision 2025 such as church planting, evangelism, calling out the called and reaching the next generation have always been an important part of Southern Baptist ministry.

Knowing many of his students will go on to serve in missions within the SBC, he hopes to inspire his students not only to learn about Vision 2025 but also to become a part of fulfilling its goals through both in their own ministry contexts and through supporting the Cooperative Program.

“The Cooperative Program still works really well, and I still think that we can do more together than we can do apart,” he said.

 

Missionaries use trading pins as bridge to gospel conversations

IMB missionaries Tara Rice (left) and Natalie Nation (right) use Olympic trading pins to share the gospel on the streets of Tokyo. IMB photo

Standing outside train stations, on street corners and in neighborhood squares, IMB missionaries hold signs advertising “Free Pins.” When people stop, missionaries use the “bridge” trading pins to talk about grace, hope, love, community and faith.

With international spectators and Japanese fans unable to attend the Olympics or be in the vicinity of venues, pin trading has not made much of an appearance, except, that is, for IMB missionaries, who’ve been giving pins they designed to share the gospel to people they meet.

Missionary Scott Bradford said they are primarily handing out their bridge pin, but they have others used to open faith conversations. The team distributes a pamphlet that explains each of their pins. If people have time, they share their faith and use the pins to talk about faith, grace and God’s redemption.

Missionaries had longer conversations with many people during a Sunday outreach event in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Missionaries handed out 24 full sets of pins and 50 bridge pins.

Missionary Tara Rice and Journeyman Natalie Nation used the Tokyo bridge pin at an outreach in the Ikekuburo neighborhood to share with Kenta, a physical fitness trainer, who left with more than an Olympic souvenir.

This pin uses the colors of the Olympic rings and the image of a bridge to initiate a gospel conversation and lead into using the other five pins.

Kenta initially approached the women to practice speaking English and get a free pin. He left with the knowledge that his sin separates him from God, and there is no way to bridge that separation unless he puts his trust in Jesus.

Nation transitioned from talking about his life story into the story of the bridge pin. Without accepting the grace Jesus offers, there is no way to build a bridge back into relationship with God, Nation told Kenta.

“He completely changed his body position from away from us to toward us when we started sharing the gospel. When we got to the part about sin and being forever separated from God without the blood of Jesus, his eyes completely lit up in almost confusion and also intrigue,” Nation said.

Kenta asked if he could go and get his friend so he could also hear how his sin could be absolved.

He plans to attend an outreach event Nation and other missionaries are hosting in a park for Japanese young adults on August 7.

Rice said they also shared with a woman named Hitomi, who offered them candy. When Hitomi discovered Rice speaks Japanese, their conversation deepened.

Rice showed Hitomi the five pins and explained the meaning of each.

The Tokyo Tower is visible from around the city, and Japanese people see it as a symbol of their country’s post-World War II economic growth. Looking to God gives us hope, and we have the promise that we will thrive in our relationship with Him.

Holding up the hope pin, Rice said, “Our turning away from God left us in darkness … but God made a way for us to be restored.”

Hitomi, who was familiar with some of the tenets of Christianity, exclaimed, “Oh so that’s why this pin is hope!” Rice said she quickly internalized the meaning behind each of the pins.

“The version of Christianity that she had learned was to be a good person and good things will happen to you. And I told her that Jesus actually takes that pressure off of us by taking on the results of our sin,” Rice said.

“We serve Him out of genuine love for Him, and when I told her that, she was so excited by the idea.”

Nation and Rice hope her excitement will lead her to decide to trust in Christ. They also invited her to their outreach event on August 7.

Olympic pin trading has a 122-year history, dating back to the first Olympics in Athens in 1896. Pins are designed by organizations and companies to represent the Olympics, the host city and their organization. People can trade pins with one another, buy them from companies or receive them in exchange for listening to a presentation.

Pin trading is a fundamental part of the Olympics, and pins historically have been used by evangelicals as a method of sharing the gospel.

“Historically, in the Southern Baptist Convention, we have been using pin trading as a gospel bridge,” Daniel Rice said.

Bradford explained their Tokyo bridge pin contains the same colors in the Olympic rings.

“That becomes a bridge for us to talk about the five pins that we have created on love, grace, hope, faith and community that bridge to the gospel booklet that explains each of those pins,” Bradford said.

Each pin features a bridge, which symbolizes the connections that Christians make between the Japanese language, culture, landmarks and the gospel.

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.

The post Missionaries use trading pins as bridge to gospel conversations appeared first on IMB.

Cooperative Program giving remains strong through summer months

NASHVILLE (BP) – Summertime often negatively impacts church attendance and giving as families travel for vacations. But even as the country experiences more than usual travel this summer and a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, giving through the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget remains consistent, meeting the expected budget again in July.

“Even as the complexities and challenges remain before the churches of the SBC relating to the ongoing global pandemic, our churches are continuing to be faithful to give towards fulfilling the Great Commission regionally, statewide, nationally, and globally,” SBC Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd said in a statement. “This financial rebound is continuing as we move through this pandemic. We are grateful for all of the churches’ faithfulness in giving. When our churches are giving through the Cooperative Program, they are advancing the Gospel regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

“As lostness continues to abound across America and the globe, we must always keep before us the 3,105 unengaged, unreached people groups around the world. Billions of people have not yet heard and believed. We must get the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world. Together, we can do this and together we can impact the world for Jesus Christ. This is why our Convention of churches is uniting together now through our Great Commission vision called Vision 2025 – reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation.”

The total amount given through the national Cooperative Program Allocation Budget in July 2021 totaled $15,740,795.38, which was $1,044,780.59 (6.22 percent) less than the $16,785,575.97 received in July 2020 but $167,878.71 (1.08 percent) more than the monthly budgeted amount of $15,572,916.67.

As of July 30, gifts received by the EC for distribution through the CP Allocation Budget total $162,046,287.12. This is $47,354.98 or 0.03 percent more than last year’s budget contribution of $161,998,932.14 and ahead of the $155,729,166.70 year-to-date budgeted projection to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America by $6,317,120.42 or 4.06 percent.

Designated gifts received in July amounted to $9,278,152.38. This total was $211,815.69, or 2.23 percent, below gifts of $9,489,968.07 received last July. Also, this year’s designated gifts through the first 10 months of the fiscal year amount to $181,840,510.93, which is $18,505,563.00, or 11.33 percent, more than the $163,334,947.93 given through same period in the previous fiscal year.

Total Cooperative Program giving includes all monies given by churches through state conventions to be used for Great Commission ministry and missions within the respective states, across North America and around the world. Begun in 1925, the Cooperative Program is the financial fuel to fund the SBC mission and vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation. Monies are distributed according to the 2020-2021 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

State and regional conventions retain a portion of church contributions to Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program to support work in their respective areas and forward a percentage to SBC national and international causes. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.

The convention-adopted budget for 2020-2021 is $186.875 million and includes an initial $200,000 special priority allocation for the SBC Vision 2025 initiative. Cooperative Program funds are then disbursed as follows: 50.41 percent to international missions through the International Mission Board, 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to theological education through the six SBC seminaries and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. If national CP gifts exceed the $186.875 million budget projection at the end of the fiscal year, 10 percent of the overage is to be used to support the SBC Vision 2025 initiative with the balance of the overage distributed according to the percentages approved for budgetary distribution. The SBC Executive Committee distributes all CP and designated gifts it receives on a weekly basis to the SBC ministry entities.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the timing of when the cooperating state Baptist conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the number of Sundays in a given month, and the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted.

Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief, Disaster Relief and other special gifts. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

CP allocation budget gifts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly and posted online at sbc.net/cp.