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New Freedom Pennsylvania (PA)
Southern Baptist churches committed to reaching Texas and touching the world.
An Association of Southern Baptist Churches and Missions, located in Middle Tennessee, joined together to carry out the Great Commission. Director of Missions: Dr. Frank D. Hickman
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What The Bible Says Good Samaritan's Penny Pulpit by Pastor Ed Rice
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Christians hope to address the ethical concerns raised as the country grows more skeptical of Big Tech.For the first time in at least a decade, Americans now view churches and other religious organizations more favorably than the technology companies whose services and devices denominate daily life.Since 2010, most US adults have appreciated the contributions of tech firms, believing they had a positive effect on “the way things are going in the country,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.But in the shadow of cultural and legal battles over privacy, the pitfalls of social media, and the increasing dominance of Silicon Valley behemoths, faith in tech has taken a nosedive.For the past decade, around 7 in 10 Americans said tech companies had a positive effect on the country, peaking in 2015 at 71 percent. Today, just half of Americans agree.No other major institutions examined by Pew—colleges and universities, labor unions, banks and other financial institutions, large corporations, national news media, and churches and religious organizations—saw as severe a decline in support as tech brands.“For many years, there was an inherent trust in technology companies because of the value their tools and services added to our lives,” Jason Thacker, creative director and associate research fellow at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), told CT. “But as the data shows, that trust has been broken as the real impact of these tools are being widely felt.”Just a few years ago, there was “broad agreement that technology companies and small businesses have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country,” Pew researchers stated in 2015. That consensus, as far as the tech companies go, has taken a serious hit, as just ...Continue reading...
Despite financial and immigration hurdles, ministries led by first-generation pastors are more effective than the average church plant, according to a new LifeWay study. First-generation immigrants are leading the Latino evangelical expansion in the US—drawing in more unchurched believers and new converts than the average church plant, despite having smaller congregations, less funding, and tensions surrounding US immigration policy.The study—sponsored by the Send Institute at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, funded by 12 denominations, and fielded by LifeWay Research—surveyed 218 Hispanic church plants along with “new ministry expressions” such as added campuses or church mergers. It found that 80 percent of their founding or lead pastors were born outside the US, as were two-thirds of their members on average.The research was presented to 120 church planters and ministry leaders—half Hispanics—from 65 denominations at a summit at Wheaton College on Tuesday. It comes as the increasing flow of Latino immigrants to the US has sparked heated policy debate. (Note: In this article, Hispanic refers to the churches surveyed by LifeWay, while Latino refers people of Latin American descent, including from Brazil and Haiti.)The Latino population is growing, especially in the South, where 59 percent of the 218 new congregations surveyed are located (half are Southern Baptist). And the evangelical faith is growing with it.New Hispanic ministries saw an average of 53 first-time professions of faith over their first four years, according to the survey. Though they are typically smaller than the average church plant, they have about the same number of new converts per year, making them “evangelistically more effective per capita,” said LifeWay Research executive director Scott McConnell.A quarter of attendees in new Hispanic congregations ...Continue reading...
SBC releases abuse study—condemning past practices and recommending new protections—ahead of the annual meeting in Birmingham.A Southern Baptist Convention report on sexual abuse—released Saturday as the culmination of a year of study, listening sessions, and expert consultation—begins with the story of a woman who was sexually abused by her youth minister and pastor starting at age 14, at a church outside Birmingham, Alabama.Susan Codone, one of more than a dozen survivors whose personal accounts appear in the report, calls herself “living proof that sexual abuse has been overlooked for many years in Southern Baptist churches” and declares the crisis “an epidemic powered by a culture of our own making.”The 52-page document details the practical and theological failures of SBC churches and recommends a more rigorous response to prevent predatory behavior and “care well” for victims.It is seen as a major first step to a denomination-wide movement around addressing abuse. What will come next depends, in part, on what happens in Birmingham this week, as thousands gather in Codone’s hometown for the convention’s annual meeting.The issue of sexual abuse looms large, the subject of ancillary events, outside protests, and official business. The messengers are slated to vote on a proposed amendment to specifically name mishandling sexual abuse as grounds for disfellowshiping a church and may task a new committee to handle claims of misconduct by SBC churches. President J. D. Greear commissioned the sexual abuse advisory group following his election last summer; the group was responsible for the recent report as well as a free curriculum for churches. He will present their findings officially on Wednesday.The report’s tone reflects the kind of frank acknowledgement of the problem recently ...Continue reading...
The church network pushed back against renewed scrutiny around SGC and former president C. J. Mahaney's response to abuse claims. Despite continued calls for an independent, third-party investigation into Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its response to abuse allegations, the network has officially taken the option off the table, calling it “inappropriate, impractical, unjust” and “impossible.”Controversy has surrounded SGC—previously Sovereign Grace Ministries, or SGM—and its founder C. J. Mahaney since at least 2012, when SGM’s flagship congregation faced a lawsuit alleging a sexual abuse cover-up, which was later dismissed on procedural grounds.This year, as evangelicals ramp up their response to abuse, top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have joined the scrutiny over Mahaney and his current congregation, SGC Louisville, which is also affiliated with the SBC.In a statement released this week, SGC declared that there hasn’t been enough credible evidence against its leaders or churches to necessitate an investigation and that an outside query would violate the church’s ecclesiastical accountability structure.“We remain persuaded that an investigation of the sort we’ve been challenged to authorize—both in good faith and otherwise—is inappropriate, impractical, unjust, and finally would be unsatisfactory to all interested parties,” the 2,300-word statement concluded. “Most importantly, as far as we’re able to discern, we believe this course, the theological capitulation it would represent, and the precedent it would set, would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”SGC, a network of 72 evangelical churches with headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, said the decision was made in consult with fellow pastors, Christian ...Continue reading...
by Hohn Chot has been an eventful week on the topic of sexual abuse and the church, as the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles on the scope of the problem within the Southern Baptist Convention, a problem which has been exacerbated by the relative lack of oversight, information sharing, and accountability within the highly decentralized organization. Highly-ranking SBC leaders have already spoken out, acknowledged the magnitude of the problem, and promised reforms, including and most importantly for the purposes of this piece, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.The statement is a good model for taking ownership and responsibility for one's own past words and actions, and although a few critics have persisted in demanding Mohler's resignation or questioning his sincerity, and others are (perhaps more understandably) adopting a "wait and see" attitude, the general response from interested Christians has been appreciation, and gratitude to God, and this latter group includes internationally-recognized sexual abuse expert and survivor advocate, Rachael Denhollander.I was honestly somewhat surprised to see criticism of Mohler from the other direction, however, with one commenter Monday calling it a "gratuitous and unnecessary apology" in the midst of an article that missed the point so badly that I can only assume it originates from a massive blind spot. The author, Doug Wilson, is certainly no stranger to either controversy or verbal pugilism (ha!), and yet despite that fact I cannot recall even a single time over the past decade-plus that he's ever actually issued a material apology or owned up to a significant mistake in thinking, so perhaps the blind spot lies somewhere therein. Perhaps more likely, however, is the reality that Wilson's perspective on sexual abuse is so astonishingly wrong-headed that it has led to tragic results in at least two cases which have been documented thoroughly in the public record. If the records are a bit too dry for you, Rod Dreher went into the Sitler case in some detail a few years ago.Given Scripture's clear admonition to us in Matthew 7:3-5, one might think that perhaps Wilson is not the most appropriate or helpful messenger on the topic of either apologies or sexual abuse, even as Mohler heeds his own conscience in extending his own apology and seeking forgiveness for his own overt statements and actions in support of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly known as Sovereign Grace Ministries). And that is precisely where Wilson misses the point. He spills much ink on the concept of the presumption of innocence, despite the fact that aside from some secular Title IX administrators and other radical left wingers, most people are not really contesting that point, certainly not that I've seen within the church.The point here relates to integrity of speech. Mohler is not apologizing for his presumption of innocence. He is apologizing for going far beyond that in his own past, overt statements of support for Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, which he made without sufficiently investigating the other side of the story per Proverbs 18:13 & 17, and with partiality in judgment per Proverbs 24:23 & 28:21. Obviously, Mohler is personally convicted over these matters, and when one has erred publicly, one ought to make amends publicly as well. As someone in a position of spiritual authority myself, I would be loath to get in the way of a man moved by the Spirit to correct himself, lest he risk grieving the Holy Spirit per Ephesians 4:30 or searing his conscience per 1 Timothy 4:2. And for any Christian minister, we know from 1 Timothy 1:4-5 that maintaining a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith are fundamental to efforts toward loving instruction and advancing the Kingdom of God.There's another important point to consider here, however, and that is the fact that an elder must be above reproach and have a good reputation with those outside of the church, as clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. One need not discard either the presumption of innocence or the requirement in 1 Timothy 5:19 for a charge against an elder to have two or three witnesses in order to note that there exist differing levels of proof, and that the Bible nowhere requires conviction of a crime—which requires "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" under our criminal justice system—in order to establish that an elder is not qualified for the office, as Wilson seems to imply. Indeed, for many matters relating to moral failure, there will never be a criminal conviction, because adultery, to use one example, is simply not enforced as a crime in any US jurisdiction.Instead, in even the T4G statement itself (since deleted) that Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan released to defend Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, they indicated in an apparent nod to being above reproach and having a good reputation with those outside of the church that "A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry."What Mohler now seems to acknowledge is that the charges against Mahaney and Sovereign Grace were more serious than he'd initially believed. As a trained attorney, Denhollander has done an admirable job of highlighting precisely why this is, and her devastatingly detailed March 1, 2018 summary not only provides a credible charge with witnesses that has existed for years, for those who took the time to investigate,[*] in my view it basically establishes a prima facie case that demands a substantive response. It is simply light years more substantial than mere gossip, or biased axe grinding, or anonymous complaints.Sadly, from my perspective, the response from Sovereign Grace has been to attack straw men, disingenuously deflect, point to procedural maneuvers as a vindication, and steadfastly refuse to address the issue in an (increasingly vain) effort to move along in the apparent hope that people will just forget about it.[**] They're also eager to tout their relationship with "Ministry Safe" as an apparent talisman against criticism, but given the fact that Ministry Safe has become the go-to organization for many major insular entities when accused of sexual abuse (including Doug Wilson's own denomination, and others such as the United States Olympic Committee, Bob Jones University, and Nazarene Global Ministries), at the risk of seeming jaded, I've become rather skeptical of how strong the safeguards implemented by the husband-and-wife legal team at Ministry Safe truly are.Regardless, in light of this background, I literally laughed out loud when Wilson scolded, "[Denhollander] has gotten out of her lane." It's a backhanded insult that attempts to define and confine her only in relation to her direct testimony as a survivor, when in fact she has become the best advocate for and expert on sexual abuse reform that I have ever known. She's really a textbook example of what earnest and well-intentioned Christian "social justice" advocates might be able accomplish, were they laser-focused on a real and present issue with tangible and measurable injustices, and proposing specific and effective reforms consistent with biblical principles. Her "lane" is precisely sexual abuse and the law, and despite Wilson's patronizing comment about not being trained to identify ambulance chasers, the legal code of ethics which Denhollander presents and teaches on actually requires lawyers to identify and avoid ambulance chasers.The comment was so ludicrous, so lacking in self-awareness and situational understanding, that I have to wonder whether any of it stems from discomfort that Denhollander has righteously barged into the lanes of coddlers and enablers of abusers who would vastly prefer that she simply shut up and allow them to remain under cover of darkness, rather than expose them pursuant to Ephesians 5:11.On that note, as someone who deeply appreciates statistics as a basis of measurement and comparison, especially in relation to demographics, I wanted to challenge Wilson's attempt to dismiss the Houston Chronicle articles. First, the reporters were only able to catalog cases where reporting could be found, so the count necessarily excludes many rural areas that have very limited reporting, and cases that were not considered newsworthy. Second, obviously, the cases fail to include situations where direct or indirect or cultural pressure resulted in no report being made, this number is currently unknown due to a lack of studies on the topic, but investigations into various organizations such as the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Bob Jones University, Ethnos 360 (formerly known as New Tribes Mission), the Independent Fundamental Baptists, the Southern Baptist Convention as mentioned previously, and Protestants generally all sadly seem to indicate a major problem. Third, it has been known from insurance reports since at least 2007 that the scale of the sexual abuse problem in Protestant churches is arguably at least as large as the one in the Roman Catholic Church, which nearly all observers (including Wilson) agree is a genuine scandal.Finally, I wanted to say a word about Wilson's concerns regarding the trajectory of "woke" justice and capitulation on biblical principles to the worldly spirit of the age. Candidly, I share a number of his concerns, and have said as much on this blog, many times. I'm well aware that numerous egalitarians are using legitimate concerns over sexual abuse to attack the notion of biblical complementarianism itself, just as certain other social justicians are using a legitimate hatred of the sin of racism to attack a biblical understanding of what it means to regard no one according to the flesh, in true unity, which refuses to elevate the importance of trivial surface distinctions between Jew and Greek.But whether from the left or the right, pragmatic concerns over trajectory and potential results should never trump basic biblical ethics. Mohler obviously believes that in his prior full-throated defenses of Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, he spoke too soon, with partiality, and without sufficient investigation. It is right and proper that he make equally public amends for that, just as it is right and proper that Mahaney and Sovereign Grace provide a substantive response for their actions in light of Denhollander's prima facie case. The alternative is a cloud of scandal persisting over their ministry as they remain subject to legitimate reproach, and establish and confirm an increasingly poor reputation with those outside (and inside) the church.An independent investigation, which Denhollander, Mohler, and even all Wilson appear to support, despite the latter's skepticism about the existence of an appropriate organization—and by the way, my understanding is that although Denhollander has spoken well of Boz Tchvidjian's GRACE organization, she has not at all insisted it is the only legitimate organization—would be one way of commencing to clear that cloud. With every passing day of intransigence, however, Mahaney and Sovereign Grace make the dispersal of that cloud more and more difficult, and at this point I do wonder whether they will ever recover any credibility whatsoever. Like Wilson, they've badly missed the point, whether it's their responses to sexual abuse cases, their attitudes and actions toward survivors, or their doubling down on a continuing strategy of stonewalling and diversion after being called on it.Learning from Mohler's apology, rather than Wilson's defense, would perhaps be the bare beginnings of a start.Hohn's signature[*] I was one who failed to do so, instead simply accepting the assurances of people like Dever, Duncan, and Mohler, until a bit under two years ago when a blogpost commenter pointed me to Mahaney's May 22, 2014 statement in which he claimed, "I look forward to the day when I can speak freely. For now, the simple and extraordinarily unsatisfying reality—for myself and others—is that in the face of an ongoing civil lawsuit, I simply cannot speak publicly to the specifics of these events." And yet even after the dismissal of that lawsuit, Mahaney has refused to address any of it substantively, an omission that seems so out of step with his May 22 statement that it again implicates the issue of integrity of speech.[**] A point-by-point establishment of these patterns I've perceived is beyond the scope of this blogpost, but pick just about any public response by Sovereign Grace over the years, and I'd be happy to break it down and fill out my opinion more specifically.
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