Author: Brandon Porter

Canada joins list of nations banning conversion therapy

OTTOWA, Canada (BP) – A Canadian law banning any form of conversion therapy, broadly defined as treatment or counseling aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, went into effect Jan. 7.

Known as Bill C-4, the legislation became law in December 2021, after Canadian Governor General Mary Simon granted the legislation Royal Assent, or signature approval, after it unanimously passed both the Senate and the House of Commons

The law defines conversion therapy as any practice, treatment or service designed to change or repress a person’s sexual orientation, sexual behavior, gender identity or gender expression.

Media reports say the law makes it a criminal offense to cause someone to undergo conversion therapy as well as to promote, profit from or advertise the practice.

The legislation makes illegal the practice of such therapy on both adults and children and whether the person consents to treatment or not. This was Canada’s third attempt at banning the practice after two previous failed attempts.

Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Taiwan are among the nations that have laws banning conversion therapy.

Similar bans on conversion therapy for minors exist in 20 U.S. states and many cities. According to NBC News, three states (Florida, Alabama and Georgia) have injunctions blocking conversion therapy bans that are now in the federal judicial circuit.

Roger Brooks, senior council for Alliance Defending Freedom, has worked on several cases related to a ban on conversion or reparative therapy, including an ongoing case in Washington state.

He told Baptist Press although conversion or reparative therapy is an international issue and term (the United Nations called for banning the practice in 2020), it can often be a misleading term.

According to Brooks, what is actually being restricted by these bans are conversations, ideas or topics counselors would discuss with patients related to sexual behavior or gender.

He explained the U.S. Constitution should prevent any ban on speech, including conversations a counselor may have with a client about how to live out his or her faith with regard to sexuality and gender.

“It’s certainly an international conversation, but our rights as Americans are quarantined by the Constitution,” Brooks said.

“For the government to step in and say you can’t talk about that, that is frankly shocking. It’s shocking from a freedom of speech perspective and it’s unprecedented.”

Brooks theorized the Supreme Court could take up a case on a ban on conversion therapy as early as 2023, but acknowledged these types of things can be hard to predict.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the Canadian law as well as similar proposed legislation in Great Britain on the Jan. 3 episode of The Briefing.

He said such laws not only point to a battle in the counseling and scientific communities but illustrate a battle taking place that could affect churches and people of faith in their own lives.

“These particular bills could have the effect of chilling the preaching, restricting the liberty of the pulpit in Christian churches, and even could extend to potentially criminalizing personal conversations or outlawing certain conversations between parents and children,” Mohler said.

“If the government can tell you it is illegal to teach biblical truth on the issue of human sexuality, the array of LGBT issues, understand two things: Number one, it won’t stop with LGBT and understand, eventually it means the criminalization of whatever Christian speech is no longer politically attractive. And that eventually will mean everything that is revealed in Scripture, most essentially, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Mohler praised the biblical counselors in both Canada and Great Britain fighting against these laws.

“We are about to find out where the biblical Christians are on both sides of the Atlantic, and … on both sides of the American/Canadian border,” Mohler said.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Beaten but not defeated, South Asian women brave persecution for their faith

A powdered plant dye called henna was part of God’s design for bringing South Asian women living in Europe into a relationship with Him. Despite beatings, berating and children being taken away from them, many women chose to write the laws of the Lord on their hearts.

In 2016, IMB missionary Lena Eckhart* met Miriam* at a play group for children in their city. Lena told Miriam she enjoys applying henna designs on hands, and the women began meeting in a public park for henna sessions.

As Lena drew the designs on Miriam’s hand with the plant-based ink, she told her the Bible story that corresponds to the design. Lena asked Miriam if she had any family or friends who might be interested in the henna stories. The group grew to eight, and they began meeting in a private nursing room for mothers in a mall for fear someone might find out.

The group started as a henna group, but they eventually stopped to focus on stories about Jesus.

“God was clearly moving in their hearts,” Lena said. “They were amazed by the deeds and teachings of Jesus. They were especially struck by the fact that Jesus had the authority to forgive sin. They began asking questions about how it was possible for Jesus to forgive.”

Their questions and desire to meet as a group did not go unnoticed by their family members.

Beaten because of the Bible

“One of the biggest challenges we faced with leading this group was persecution,” Lena said describing the spiritual warfare the women faced as they sought to know about Jesus.” These attacks would typically take place after the husbands of these women heard about their wives’ participation in the study group.”

Some women were beaten by their husbands and family members. One woman was beaten so severely her arm was broken. Another woman had her children taken away by her family. One man brought the local Muslim religious leader to shame his wife.

“Every time there was an attack it would spook the ladies. The group would stop meeting,” Lena said. “After an attack, we would assume that the group was finished, but after a few weeks had passed, they would start making contact again and the group would persevere.”

When Miriam committed her life to Christ, her husband smacked her in the face and left her. However, after a month, he returned and asked her a series of questions.

“First, he asked if she was going to continue to follow Jesus. She said, ‘Yes.’ Second, he asked her if she was going to teach Christianity to their children. She said, ‘Yes, and they can decide for themselves if they want to follow Jesus or Muhammad.’ Third, he asked if she was going to continue to go to the mosque with him. She said, ‘I will if you want, but when I go, I will be worshiping Jesus in my heart.’ He then apologized for hitting her, and she replied, ‘I forgave you as soon as you did it. I forgive you as Jesus forgives,’” Lena recalls.

Miriam followed her profession of faith with believer’s baptism when she was 24 weeks pregnant. After Miriam’s baptism, more women came forward and professed faith and expressed that they wanted to be baptized. This decision always came at great personal cost. One 60-year-old lady was beaten by her husband and brother after they found out she became a Christian.

Still choosing to be baptized, she boldly proclaimed, “I have never felt peace or happiness in Islam. When my husband and brother were beating me, I felt the presence of God. And I was happy because I knew that if they killed me, then I would go to heaven. Jesus died for me. That is why I was willing to give my life for Him.”

Threats lead to an ally

Threats of violence also extended to Lena. Miriam came to a meeting with a black eye and bruises on her arm. Miriam’s sister, Paula*, had discovered her newfound faith and beat her.

“As she was beating Miriam, she was yelling, ‘Why are you not fighting back?’ Miriam responded by saying, ‘Because I love you,’” Lena said. “Miriam’s husband stood idly by and watched as his wife was beaten. In a way, this reminded us of Saul as he stood by and watched with approval as Stephen was being stoned.”

Paula made it known that if she ever found out who told her about the gospel, she would beat her as well. Miriam advised Lena to keep her distance from the discipleship group. At the next meeting, Paula unexpectedly showed up and confronted the group.

A few days later, Lena and Miriam met at a restaurant to talk about how the group was faring.

“Paula once again showed up unexpectedly. She had secretly followed Miriam for the purpose of spying on her,” Lena said.

Paula confronted Lena and demanded to know how they knew one another. Lena decided to leave the restaurant as quickly as possible because she had brought her children. Lena later found out Paula brought friends who were waiting outside the restaurant, intending harm. Lena and her children left the scene without incident.

Miriam was later able to share her faith with her sister. Paula asked to meet with Lena, and the three women arranged to meet at a café. Lena and Miriam shared testimonies of how Jesus had changed their lives.

“How is it that you can be so kind to me when I have been so mean to you?” Paula asked.

Lena explained that her kindness comes from God and that Jesus teaches Christians to love and bless those who persecute believers. Paula revealed she constantly feels rage and anger in her heart, and she doesn’t understand why.

“God’s Word has a lot to say about anger, and God can replace our rage with peace and thankfulness,” Lena told her.

Although Paula has not professed faith in Christ yet, she did become an ally for Miriam. Miriam’s mother began giving Miriam a hard time because she had perceived that Miriam had fallen away from Islam. Paula stood up for her sister and told her mother to leave Miriam alone.

Miriam and the other believers continue to grow in their faith, and their persistence in the face of bodily harm has furthered their witness.

*Names changed for security

Rick and Lena Eckhart* serve among South Asians in Europe.

The post Beaten but not defeated, South Asian women brave persecution for their faith appeared first on IMB.

Recommendation for interim president to be made at EC February meeting

NASHVILLE (BP) – Officers of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will meet with EC vice presidents by the end of January, with a recommendation for one of them to serve as interim president coming at the Executive Committee’s February meeting, EC Chairman Rolland Slade told Baptist Press.

Per the SBC Executive Committee bylaws, officers are given the responsibility to designate a vice president to act as interim when the president/CEO post is vacant. The current EC vice presidents are Jonathan Howe, Communications; Willie McLaurin, Great Commission Relations and Mobilization; and Jeff Pearson, Chief Financial Officer.

“We certainly appreciate the patience that has been shown to us in these critical times,” said Slade. “Our vice presidents are each godly men who have worked cohesively with the officers to provide leadership that has not gone unnoticed.”

In addition to Slade, other officers include Stacy Bramlett, vice chair; Monte Shinkle, secretary, and committee chairs and committee chairs Erik Cummings, Convention Events and Strategic Planning; Andrew Hunt, Convention Missions and Ministry; Jim Gregory, Southern Baptist Relations; and Archie Mason, Convention Finances and Stewardship Development.

The EC president became vacant on Nov. 1 after Ronnie Floyd announced on Oct. 14 his intention to resign at the end of that month. Floyd had served as EC president since May 2019.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

7 practical ways to engage church members online

Is it necessary for a church to interact with members online during the week? Does it matter? Is it even the right thing to do? Many people are asking questions like these regarding church and online engagement.

The truth is that if you don’t show up in people’s feeds on social media, the algorithm has plenty of other things to put there for them. Our news feeds and timelines are discipling us. And we are formed into the image of the content we most consume.

I want to encourage you to recognize that your congregation is on social platforms whether you like it or not. And, with the way we are all conditioned in a digital age, the algorithm is better at getting and keeping their attention than a 35-minute sermon. This is essential to understand because our attention is a pivotal piece in our spiritual formation. John Mark Comer said it this way, “What you give your attention to is the person you become” (The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, 54). Can you, as a pastor or church leader, use these platforms to turn people’s attention to Christ? And in doing so, can you foster his work in and through them? I believe you can.

However, we have to get practical about how to do this, which can be uncomfortable. No one likes talking about the nitty-gritty of how to do this type of stuff because it feels small, ridiculous, or like marketing. You might read some of the ideas I share and think to yourself, “Really? That feels very basic.” But the reality is that engaging your congregation online means using basic social media marketing principles, not to build the church’s “brand,” but to shepherd your congregations during the 167 hours of the week that they aren’t in your building.

It’s one thing to debate if church can be virtual or not. It’s another thing to use these platforms as part of your ministry the way they were designed to be used. The weekly, physical gathering will always be the primary ministry of the church. We should not forsake it (Heb. 10:25). As embodied creatures who are part of the body of Christ, our physical presence is of the utmost importance. Yet, we are a generation who is living out this reality in the digital age. And, it’s important for the church to view virtual space as the grounds for legitimate ministry.

I want to suggest going a few steps beyond just live-streaming, which many have become accustomed to during the pandemic. You may be cautious about adopting new platforms, but your congregation isn’t. They are already on those platforms, being shaped and formed by the content they see that’s not even on your radar. In light of this, here are seven practical ideas you can try in the new year:

Sermon point carousels

Take the sermon points from the week and use Canva to turn them into an Instagram carousel. A carousel is where you use the 10 photo slots available to you on Instagram to create what is essentially a slide deck. One example of this is from The Bridge Church in Tennessee.

This is a great role for a volunteer and might only take about 30 minutes. Send the volunteer the sermon notes and audio. They can take the three to five big points and turn them into carousels. Instagram’s algorithm loves carousels, and it will help people remember what was preached that week.

Live Facebook/Instagram Q&A

Do a Facebook or Instagram Live during lunch with a Q&A on anything people want to talk about. To do this on Facebook, open up the Facebook app, go to your church’s Facebook page, scroll down below the “Create a post” button and click “Live.” Then click “Start Live Video.”

On Instagram, simply swipe right to access the camera, select “Live” at the bottom of the screen, and click the button in the middle of the bottom of the screen.

Make sure to tell people you are going to do it before you go live so they can think about a question. You can do this on Instagram Stories, too. Use the question sticker to accept people’s questions and then respond to them by pressing the question in your notifications and then recording a video in the app responding to it.

It should only take about 30 seconds of your time to ask for questions. Doing this even once a month will show that you care about what is on your congregation’s hearts and minds and that you are willing to connect with them where they are.

Video of cut sermon content

Pastor, you can take one of the points from your most recent sermon that had to get cut and record a video on your iPhone of you talking about it. Make it anywhere from one to three minutes, and post it to social media. If you need help, you can enlist the help of someone on staff who is more knowledgeable about technology.

Maybe it’s that Greek word you found interesting but didn’t think was good to keep in your sermon. Or, it might be an illustration that didn’t quite work but is still powerful. Perhaps, it’s a fourth point you wanted to make but were out of time. Whatever it is, it may not have fit on Sunday, but it probably fits on social. And don’t forget to spend some time replying to the comments after you post. It shows that you want to interact with and shepherd your people, not just preach and leave.

Ask questions on Instagram Stories

On Instagram Stories, use the question sticker to ask something like, “What’s the hardest thing for you to believe this week?” Then, share the answers (which are anonymous). Maybe you can even go first. Resist trying to provide answers; it will help create a culture of honesty and vulnerability in the church. In a time when so many people feel hesitant to express doubt, this is a chance for them to be honest about their struggles without feeling judged or condemned.

Your church will even receive some pastoral insight on how to better shepherd people from the results. Are you seeing common themes? Your pastor can include an aside into an upcoming sermon or make a short video to post later in the week. Pastors might be surprised at what they will learn about their congregation just by asking a simple question on Instagram.

Sermon resources email

Send an email to the church with the sermon sources for the week. Pastor, it will give people a look into what’s influencing your  and an opportunity to dig deeper. Make sure to keep the email brief so that people are more likely to read all of it. Be sure to include links to the resources you used so that it’s easier for your members to access them. Your congregation will benefit greatly from a simple email that someone on staff can help you shape.

Church-wide Discord server or Facebook group.

Start a church-wide Discord Server or Facebook group where there can be an ongoing conversation between the congregation, staff, pastors, etc., and engage with this daily. You can create sub-channels for different topics in Discord. Many people feel disconnected from their church, and this is a way to stay in touch, foster conversation, and provides a window into how your congregation is doing so your staff can better shepherd them. All you need to do is devote just a few minutes every day to observing the conversations and joining in.

To create a Discord server, download the Discord app in the App store, create an account, and on the left-hand side bar, click the “+” button. Follow the process to create a server for your church.

For a Facebook group, open the Facebook app, click the Groups icon in the bottom of the screen, followed by clicking the “+” icon in the top right of the screen. Click “Create a group,” and follow the process to set up a group for your church.

Repurpose sermons into a blog/newsletter

A volunteer who is great at writing or editing can use Descript to transcribe the sermon and remove filler words. Cut it down to about 1,000–1,500 words, and put it on Substack — a service that allows you to write a newsletter that people subscribe to with their email (this creates an email list) and also publish it on a unique URL as a blog.

Having an email list is one of the only assets you can own on the web (for now). All other services such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Discord, and others are rented space. An email list is an asset you own that gives you direct access to people’s inboxes. People can unsubscribe, but you aren’t dependent on a private platform. It’s also the most direct way to reach people. Everyone checks their email. You’re more likely to reach your people because they will open your email if they value the content you send. There are many other creative ways you can utilize email for your congregation beyond this and sending out event announcements, but it starts with building the email list first. This is a great way to do that.

And here’s a pro-tip: Publish the newsletter on a one- to two-month delay from the date you preached it. That way it’s not immediately redundant and can be an easy reminder once it starts to slip from people’s minds.

Start with what you have

All of these suggestions are just a start. There are myriad things you can do on online platforms, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, especially if this prospect is overwhelming to you. These seven ideas — which will be pretty simple once you figure them out — mean you have a strategy for the whole week. If you do one of these a day, you’ve just done more to engage your congregation online than many churches. If you do two to three a week, you’ll be covered for the whole month and still be doing great at online engagement.

We now live our lives in a hybrid of physical and digital, and there’s no going back. Of course, we never want to forsake the physical — we are physical beings made in God’s image who are called to gather together in the name of Christ — but we shouldn’t forsake our people to the digital either. It’s important that we begin to see our ministry extending into the digital spaces, where people spend hours every day. If church members are giving a majority of their attention to online platforms, then let’s find creative ways to grab their attention and point them to Christ.

The post 7 practical ways to engage church members online appeared first on ERLC.

Lifeway Research survey: 2022 focus is health, God and money

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a season in which avoiding sickness was on most everyone’s mind, many Americans say their New Year’s resolutions address their health.

More Americans say their past resolutions have focused on their health, their relationship with God, their finances and their relationship with a family member than other possibilities, according to a new survey of 1,005 Americans from Lifeway Research.

“New Year’s resolutions reflect the changes people aspire to make,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced or encouraged more people to make changes outside of the annual reminder a new year brings. But a New Year’s resolution is still something most Americans have made at some point in their lives.”

As people contemplate their 2022 resolutions, more than 2 in 5 Americans (44%) say previous New Year’s resolutions have focused on their health. More than 1 in 4 say they’ve made resolutions on their relationship with God (29%), their finances (29%) or their relationship with a family member (26%).

Fewer say their resolutions have dealt with their use of time (22%), their work (18%) or their relationship with a friend (15%).

More than a quarter of Americans (28%) say they haven’t made resolutions about any of these, while 4% aren’t sure.

This year’s New Year’s resolutions rankings remained similar to a 2015 Lifeway Research phone survey of 1,000 Americans. Compared to the previous study, finances moved from the fifth most common resolution to third on the list this year. The percentage who selected each of the resolution topics, however, dropped from six years ago.

 

Resolution makers

Young adults (those age 18 to 34) are among the most likely to say they’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past about each of the topics: health (52%), finances (40%), relationship with God (35%), relationship with a family member (36%), use of time (34%), work (29%) and relationship with a friend (25%). Meanwhile, those 65 and older (54%) are most likely to say they have not made a resolution about any of the topics listed.

Church attendance also seems to have an impact on those wanting to make changes in the new year. Among self-identified Christians, those who attend at least monthly are more likely than Christians who attend less frequently to say they’ve made resolutions in each of the options. Those who attend less than monthly (44%) are most likely to say they haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in any of the areas.

“Making a New Year’s resolution doesn’t reveal who or what a person is relying on to make that change in their life, nor how successful such resolutions are,” said McConnell. “But higher numbers seen among younger adults, those who attended at least some college, and church-going Christians indicate they have higher motivation to make such changes at least in the form of New Year’s resolutions.”

Resolutions concerning a relationship with God are more popular among churchgoers, African Americans, young adults and those with evangelical beliefs.

Those aged 18 to 34 (35%) and 35 to 49 (35%) are more likely than those aged 50 to 64 (25%) and those 65 and older (17%) to say they have made a previous New Year’s resolution about their relationship with God.

African Americans (41%) are more likely than whites (27%) to make such commitments at the start of a new year.

Christians who attend a worship service four times a month or more (48%) or one to three times a month (39%) are more likely than those who attend less frequently (20%) to mark New Year’s with a resolution about their relationship with God.

Americans with evangelical beliefs (48%) are more likely than those without such beliefs (23%) to say they’ve addressed their relationship with God in a New Year’s resolution in the past.

Though less than any other religious group, 14% of the religiously unaffiliated say a resolution about their relationship with God has been part of their end-of-the-year reflections.

The unaffiliated are among the most likely to have made resolutions addressing their finances (36%), their use of time (29%) and their work (22%).

Jack MacGorman, long-time professor, SWBTS chapel namesake, dies at age 100

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)—John William “Jack” MacGorman, long-time professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and namesake for its MacGorman Chapel, died today at the age of 100, two days shy of his 101st birthday.

“Dr. Jack MacGorman was a legendary professor of New Testament at Southwestern Seminary for more than five decades,” said President Adam W. Greenway. “His influence in the lives of thousands of students and the churches and saints those students would go on to serve is beyond calculation. A Southwesterner with few equals, we grieve the loss of this great man of God with confidence that he is now worshiping his savior in heaven today. I request the entire Southwestern Seminary family across the world to join me in praying for the MacGorman family during this time of great loss.”

Born in 1920 in Nova Scotia, Canada, MacGorman moved across the United States border to Caribou, Maine, at age 7. From 1937 to 1938, he studied at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. These academic pursuits were hindered, however, by the onset of bronchiectasis, a severe lung disease. In May 1939, MacGorman checked into a hospital for one month’s observation. He stayed for more than two years.

In 1941, despite the aid of a renowned Harvard Medical School doctor, MacGorman was dismissed from the hospital as inoperable. Following the doctor’s advice to leave the Northeast for the “high and dry climate of Arizona,” MacGorman moved south. By the time he reached Austin, Texas, however, he had run out of money. Fortunately, it was there that he recovered from his illness, and in 1945, he enrolled in Southwestern Seminary.

In a journal entry from his first day of classes, Sept. 11, 1945, MacGorman wrote of his “deep, deep sense of gratitude” to God for His mercy, for sparing his life, and for bringing him to Southwestern.

This sense of gratitude led MacGorman to commit to attend chapel as often as he could, regardless of who was preaching or singing. He honored this commitment from his first semester as a student in fall 1945 all the way through the 2010s, more than a decade after his retirement.

MacGorman completed his Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees at Southwestern by 1956. In 1948, he was added to the seminary’s faculty as professor of New Testament. Serving 53 years, MacGorman had one of the longest tenures of service in the history of Southwestern.

Following his retirement in 2001, MacGorman stayed connected to the life of the seminary, helping in classes and faithfully attending chapel services and other campus events. Southwestern honored him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1986 and the L.R. Scarborough Award in 2008. In 2011, MacGorman was present as Southwestern dedicated the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center, named in his honor.

MacGorman’s daughter, Linda, is pictured with with SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway during the transfer of MacGorman’s personal library to the seminary. (BP File Photo)

In addition to teaching at Southwestern, MacGorman taught and lectured throughout the world and wrote and edited numerous books and articles. He also served in pastoral positions at churches in Maine and Texas.

In 2020, ahead of his 100th birthday, MacGorman donated his personal library to the seminary. The donation included thousands of titles from MacGorman’s time as a student and faculty member, as well as many titles from his father, also a minister. Additionally, MacGorman donated many of his files, notes, and records from classes and sermons dating back to the 1940s.

MacGorman’s daughter, Linda, said there is no better home for her father’s books than the seminary he dearly loved. “Those books were so near and dear to him,” she said.

MacGorman was preceded in death by his wife of 71 years, Ruth, and their son Stephen. He is survived by their seven children, Donald, Robert, Linda, Deborah, John, Adam, and Timothy; 13 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

Litton, Wright visit storm-ravaged town, see Southern Baptist cooperation ‘at its best’

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (BP) – Southern Baptist leaders prayed with pastors and residents last week as they continued recovering from the deadly line of storms that stretched across the Midwest and South leaving more than 75 fatalities. According to the National Weather Service, at least 41 tornadoes with winds of up to 190 mph cut a 200-mile path across Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee on Dec. 10 and 11.

“It shocking to see the devastation,” said Bryant Wright, Send Relief president. “I can’t imagine what those folks experienced by going to bed one night and having the storms pounce on them.”

Jamie Ward, co-lead pastor at Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, took Wright, Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton and Sam Porter, national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief with Send Relief, to an area where two entire families were killed on one street and dozens were left homeless.

“We just appreciate Send Relief, the Southern Baptist Convention and the help you all are bringing,” Ward said. “You all are certainly bringing physical help, but you’re bringing spiritual help as well.”

Litton said reaching physical needs opens the door to speak to spiritual needs.

“The Gospel impact of relief is amazing because satisfying an immediate need helps to open the heart,” Litton said. “This is something we’re proud of as Southern Baptists, in the right sense, and we should be.”

Litton hopes Southern Baptists will be encouraged to continue to give and support those affected by the storms.

“This is our life together as Southern Baptists at its best,” Litton said. “Out here, everyone knows we need each other from the associational, state level to the national level.”

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief Director Ron Crow finds hope in knowing that Southern Baptists will continue to respond as the recovery moves forward.

“We’re expecting the recovery process to be several months and the rebuild process to last several years,” Crow said. “Our disaster relief teams will keep coming, and then the rebuild teams will begin coming. That is seeing the Cooperative Program lived out in real life.”

Todd Gray, Kentucky Baptist Convention executive director-treasurer, is overwhelmed by the support pouring in from across the SBC.

“The ministry and compassion is just incredible,” Gray said. “Right now in Kentucky, DR workers from all across the country are wanting to come in. They’re ready the minute they get the word go. All we can say is thank you.”

Litton said tragedies can show what’s truly important.

“It reminds us that material things are easy to destroy, but the basic necessities of life – which are emotional and spiritual – matter most,” Litton said. “My hope is and dream is that people will look on Southern Baptists and say, ‘Oh, how they love one another and how they love others.’”

Wright said it is the love of Christ that opens the door for the Gospel of Christ.

“All of this is about us working together as brothers and sisters in Christ to share the love of Christ tangibly,” Wright said, “but also to share the Gospel as opportunities arise.”

To donate to Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts, go to SendRelief.org.

Additional evidence of Roman crucifixion identified in England

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, England (BP) – Additional evidence for the ancient practice of Roman crucifixion dating back to the time period of Jesus has been identified in a skeleton found in Cambridgeshire, England.

The skeleton, originally discovered in 2017, belonged to a male believed to be aged 25 to 35 at the time of this death and contains a heel bone with a nail going through it. It was found in a cemetery around a newly discovered Roman settlement located in Fenstanton, a village in Cambridgeshire.

The nail, which sticks out a few centimeters on each side of the heel bone, was initially noticed shortly after the discovery, but media reports say the association with crucifixion was not determined until recently.

The crucifixion determination was made by scholar Corinne Duhig, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. The details and explanation of the conclusion was published in British Archaeology magazine on Dec. 8.

Jim Parker, professor of biblical interpretation at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, described the determination as an “important, legitimate find,” that dates about 100 years after the life of Jesus (somewhere between A.D. 130 and A.D. 360).

Parker also serves as the executive director of the Michael and Sara Moskau Institute of Archaeology at New Orleans, and has been on many archaeological digs throughout the world.

Although he praised the great work of the archaeologists associated with this find, he disagreed slightly with some of the conclusions made regarding it.

Some concluded the discovery is the greatest physical evidence of crucifixion in the world. Parker said although the find provides great additional evidence for Roman crucifixion, other older discoveries provide even stronger evidence.

In addition to this current find, there are two other examples of documented and verified evidence for crucifixion. One example is a heel bone discovered in Gavello, Italy, in 2018 with a hole in it, but Parker says the strongest evidence comes from a 1968 discovery in Egypt.

A heel bone with a nail in the exact same position as the one found in Cambridgeshire, was found in Israel in 1968 and is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Parker explained the heel bone discovered in 1968 is well preserved, contains an actual inscription of the man who was crucified and has more overall detail than the Cambridgeshire find.

Regardless, though, he said this recent determination in Cambridgeshire helps reinforce the idea that Roman crucifixion likely resembled what is described in the Bible.

“It’s more evidence of crucifixion and it’s consistent with what we’ve already found,” Parker said. “This is just another piece of information we have that shows us that what we have in Scripture is very accurate.”

He elaborated that the concept of killing a human using a tree or wooden cross by piercing their hands and feet is talked about in both the Old and New Testaments.

In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, a reference is made to capital punishment in the form of hanging someone on a tree, and Paul later references this same passage in Galatians 3:13.

Additionally, Parker added he and many theologians interpret Psalm 22 to be King David vividly describing a prophetic vision he is seeing of Jesus on the cross.

He concluded that no archaeology discovery could ever eliminate the need for faith within Christianity, but such discoveries do provide us with more confidence in the accuracy of Scripture.

“Much of what we have in the Bible is theological, which by its very nature is ideas, and you’re never going to go out and excavate ideas in the sense of empirical evidence,” Parker said.

“But when take the historical and biblical account and begin to put that in an archaeological context, direct evidence that is found can support the text and verify it with empirical data.

“It helps Christians as they read the Word and see the Word to be able to do that.”

Connections build mission partners, says IMB missionary to Panama

NASHVILLE (BP) – Tim Louderback sees connections as a key means to taking the gospel throughout the world. For 12 years, the International Mission Board missionary and his wife, Tina, have been serving in Panama to tell others about Christ and see them grow in a relationship with Him.

The Louderbacks have also worked toward that end through America’s Connect, an effort that helps American churches become more familiar with missionary opportunities in Panama. Potentially, those short-term opportunities can result in long-term commitments to the region.

Louderback recently shared one story illustrating those possibilities in an interview with Baptist Press editor Brandon Porter.

“Three years ago, a pastor led his team to serve alongside us,” he said. “Now, he’s on the field with us in the Americas, all because he stepped out and was obedient to take his church and serve on the mission field. He walked through the doors as God led [him].”

Every bit of assistance helps in sharing the gospel with the 1.6 million people in the Louderbacks’ ministry area. The family was featured on Day 1 of the Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and is extremely appreciative of Southern Baptists support for their work.

“Thank you for giving,” he said. “Whether that is through your praying or giving as an individual, family or church, thank you.”

Those contributions helped support the Louderback family in raising their four children on the mission field. Three of them are grown and living back in the U.S., while their youngest, at 17 years old, still serves with them on the mission field.

America’s Connect, he said, can be beneficial for those wanting to ease into a missions experience. Going on an international trip can be difficult, depending on the location. Panama, however, is a place where many of those challenges don’t factor.

There is always some level of culture shock with international travel. But in Panama, there are no worries about parasites in the drinking water, according to Louderback. Also, commerce takes place with U.S. money. Close proximity to the U.S. also helps.

“We can take a volunteer team that arrives on a Saturday and flies out on [the following] Saturday and engage in seven or eight different ministries in that week,” Louderback pointed out. “Taking in the culture means they utilize what they’ve learned and plug it back into their own neighborhood, into their own backyard and into their own ministries.”

Missions brings a reciprocal benefit for those taking part, he added.

“When we go and serve, we leave the four walls of our church … and always look at how we can make an impact. But it really comes down to [that] we are impacted as well.”

Louderback has witnessed tremendous results when Southern Baptist groups have connected with local Christians, such as the 42 new believers he saw come forward in a week’s time. Stateside Christians have already scheduled trips to the country in 2022.

Teams that serve alongside the Louderbacks will get an opportunity to take part in various ministries during their time in Panama City. At the end of the week, Louderback has asked for members to write down the one that connected with them most. Typically, the answers vary greatly.

“One ministry may impact a person in a certain way,” he said. “Another impacts someone else differently. That’s God working in our lives. As we step out of our four walls and say, ‘Hey, let’s go serve,’ we get in on what He’s doing.”

Pew: Third of U.S. adults ID as ‘nones’ as Protestants decrease

WASHINGTON (BP) –Nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated, 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago, Pew Research Center said in its latest survey.

Protestants suffered the greatest decrease in affiliation, as Catholics held steady.

“The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing,” Pew said in releasing the findings Dec. 14. “The recent declines within Christianity are concentrated among Protestants.”

Specifically, 29 percent of U.S. adults identify as religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” including atheists, agnostics or those who consider themselves “nothing in particular” religiously. Nones are up 6 points from five years ago.

Fewer Americans consider themselves Christian – whether Protestant, Catholic, Church of Latter-day Saints or Orthodox Christian – accounting for 63 percent of the population this year, down from 75 percent as recently as a decade ago. Christians outpace nones at a ratio just over two-to-one, a substantial decrease from the five-to-one ratio in 2007 when Pew began surveying religious identity.

In 2007, 78 percent of U.S. adults identified as Christians, compared to 16 percent who identified as nones.

Protestants comprise 40 percent of U.S. adults, down 4 percentage points from five years ago, and 10 points lower than a decade ago, Pew said. Nondenominational Christians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and many other denominations are categorized as Protestant.

Catholics, who decreased between 2007 and 2014, have held steady the past seven years. Catholics comprise 21 percent of U.S. adults today, identical to the share in 2014.

In a closer look at Protestants, Pew found that 24 percent of U.S. adults described themselves as born-again or evangelical, down 6 percentage points from 2007. Concurrently, the share of U.S. adults who identify as Protestant “but not born-again or evangelical” decreased from 22 percent to 16 percent.

In other survey findings, Pew said:

– Americans are praying less. Fewer than half of U.S. adults, 45 percent, said they pray daily, compared to 58 percent who said they prayed daily in 2007.

– Nearly a third of U.S. adults, 32 percent, said they seldom or never pray, up from 18 percent in 2007.
Four in 10 U.S. adults, 41 percent, consider religion very important in their lives, compared to 56 percent in 2007. The percent of adults who consider religion very important to them has decreased 4 percentage points since the 2020 survey.

– Church attendance has not changed substantially over the past year. This year, 31 percent of U.S. adults said they attend religious services (aside from weddings and funerals) monthly or more frequently, compared to 33 percent in 2020. A quarter, 25 percent, attend service at least weekly, compared to 26 percent last year.

– More than half, 51 percent, of Protestants attend church services at least monthly or more, compared to 35 percent of Catholics.

Pew conducted its National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS) May 29-Aug. 25 online and by mail, including a cross-section of the population. Additional details of the survey sample are available here.