What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “Various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “Various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

About Those Red Cups (or: A Lottie Moon Giving Challenge)

Starbucks-Red-CupsWe’ve all probably seen the Facebook links, read the news, and rolled our eyes. Some guy somewhere with a YouTube account is claiming Starbucks’ plain red and green Christmas cups are a war against the Christian faith. Yawn, and bah-humbug to him.

When Jesus prayed, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14), he wasn’t talking Starbucks cups or cheery Happy Holidays! from retail employees. And that isn’t what this post is about anyway.

Our brothers and sisters in other countries, especially Middle Eastern countries and Southeast Asia—they know persecution, and they know it because they know Christ in the midst of a harshly anti-Christian environment. Part of what we pride ourselves on as Southern Baptists is our ability to send missionaries all across the world, including zones of great persecution, in order to take the love and gospel of Jesus to people who are without him. Our aim is to make it so that no people group goes unreached and no person dies without hearing the gospel.

But…

We have a problem. An anticipated 21 million dollar budget shortfall for the year, coming off several years of the same, is resulting in 500+ foreign missionaries returning home. That is over 10% of our mission force simply because we lack necessary funding to sustain them.

This reality has been analyzed to death on blogs, and that hasn’t changed its inevitability. Yet, here’s the thing: if we Southern Baptists truly banded together it would not take much to see that shortfall erased. We claim somewhere around 16 million Southern Baptists. We all know that more realistically our churches only have about half that figure on any given Sunday. So let’s go with 8 million.

Do the math: divide $21 million across 8 million people, and it would only take $2.63 per person to erase the shortfall. Four dollars per person would result in $32 million given; ten dollars, $80 million.

We can erase the IMB’s budget deficit for a sacrifice equal to the price of fancy-big-name-coffee-in-a-red-and-green-cup per person. In other words, we really don’t have to sacrifice that much to make a massive difference. Jesus said we are to give up our lives for him (Luke 9:23), are we willing to give up a couple of cups of coffee, or a burger, or a new pair of socks, or a small bag of chips and a fountain drink to keep hundreds of our missionaries from coming home? And maybe even send hundreds more out?

We have a great opportunity that is approaching: the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The week of prayer for LMCO kicks off on November 29th. Your church might begin advertising the offering at that time or before. What if we challenged our people as we advertise it to give an additional $5 each to the offering this year? In a family with kids, say four individuals, this might be $20 (equivalent to a couple of large Pizza Hut pizzas). When I say additional, I mean: if you were planning on giving $100, give $105; if you were planning on giving $50, give $55; and if you were planning on giving $0, give $5.

Again, our actual numbers are debated, but at 8 million people an additional $5 each results in an extra $40 million—bye, bye $21 million shortfall and then some. And it’s entirely possible that some people can and will give more than the extra $5 per person; some might give ten or twenty or a thousand.

Even if it’s the pocket change we’ve collected throughout the year, if we all band together then it will add up quickly. (Side note: imagine what would happen if we actually sacrificed…)

Let’s make this our aim. Let’s do what we can to keep our missionaries going to the nations.

Our New Missions Partnership in Lithuania: Co-laboring with the IMB

We recently took our first trip in a new missions partnership with our IMB missionaries in Lithuania. In early October, we flew out of Norfolk International to JFK, then to Helsinki, Finland, and on to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. We spent an incredible week in Lithuania that I’ll be reflecting on in this series of posts.

Why Lithuania?
This was my first trip to Europe. I’ve always wanted to visit the continent, but never envisioned Finland as my entry point nor one of the Baltic states as the place I’d spend my time there. Earlier this year, the SBC of Virginia hosted Milton Magalhaes, IMB missionary to Lithuania, at one of our monthly pastors’ lunch gatherings. Milton told us about the work they had been doing in Lithuania for nearly 20 years. He told us that he and his family were the only full time IMB presence in a country with nearly 3 million people. He told us their greatest need wasn’t for us to send money or construction crews. They were looking for churches who would send people to evangelize and serve by helping to plant churches.

vilnius_pano

Our church, New Song Fellowship, had been looking forward to the day we could play a part in international missions by going ourselves. I’m thankful for the increased giving we’ve been able to see through the Cooperative Program and especially the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. As lead pastor, I knew I wanted to find a partnership where we could really invest ourselves. I wanted us to be able to stay in contact over a period of at least several years—regular communication, sending encouragement and teams, staying committed in prayer.

The SBC of Virginia was organizing this Lithuania partnership with the goal of several small churches teaming up, each sending one or two small teams per year. That way we would have a regular presence in Lithuania without overwhelming any one church. This all seemed like a perfect intersection for our church. Our people are the best resource we have. I knew we could send teams of godly, willing, capable people who would be ready to serve in any way asked. I knew our people are ready to share the gospel out of their comfort zones. I knew financial resources might be a hindrance to the big dreams we might have, but that this partnership offered a great opportunity to minimize that hindrance and jump in, ready to go.

And go we did. One of our church members and I joined pastors and members of three other SBCV churches and one of our SBCV staff to spend a week in Lithuania. I’m typing this on our flight back to New York, reflecting on an amazing trip and the possibilities that lay ahead.

Our Trip Schedule—Camp and the City
There were two main goals for our one-week mission trip. The four Lithuanian Baptist churches have several retreat camps throughout the year. Our trip coincided with one of these retreats, so the pastors from our trip were going to do some of the teaching for the conference. Our church members were going to teach and lead the small group time. The camp would be the first major part of the trip. Meeting the Lithuanian church leaders and members was unforgettable and I’ll post again soon about this part of the experience.

camp_group_photo

The second major part of our trip was traveling to the city of Panevežys (pan-a-va-ZHEES), the fifth largest city in Lithuania, and the city where we’ll be working to plant the fifth Baptist church in the country. (Four of the largest cities already have churches that have been started and nurtured by Milton and his wife Lara.) While in Panevežys, we were planning to visit some possible lease locations for the church plant to meet, talk with people about our plans for the church plant, and even try to arrange a meeting with the mayor of the city (this last goal deserves a post all by itself, just wait ’till you hear this story!).

Through this series of posts, I’d like to convey some of the following points that were compelling takeaways from my time in Lithuania:

  1. We have incredible IMB personnel on the field. We saw, in a very personal way for our church, incredible servants’ hearts from Milton and Lara.
  2. We saw a recently retired couple volunteering to help and coordinate missions work in Lithuania. They are freely giving of themselves, their money, their time, and many other ways in order to see our SBC mission work multiplied in a country they’ve grown to love.
  3. We saw spiritual warfare unlike what we’re accustomed to seeing here at home. Not only that but we saw God clear paths in some very unexpected ways.
  4. We saw great value in the IMB vision of limitless mission teams.
  5. We saw a state convention in the SBC of Virginia who is operating with excellent stewardship to make sure priorities are where they should be.
  6. We saw a small but vibrant group of Lithuanian churches whose existence, growth, and continued health is due in large measure to the faithful work of Milton & Lara.
  7. We saw a country, Lithuania, with amazing people, a heartbreaking history, and a deep need for the hope the gospel brings.

My hope is that this series of posts will encourage you as you hear about the incredible trip we had, but also intersect well with the discussions about the IMB we’re having as a convention right now.