Baptists give witness in 2013
NASHVILLE (BP) -- So what else happened in 2013?
In addition to Baptist Press' annual recap of the most read-stories of the year (http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=41744), BP's staff suggests the following stories as representative of Southern Baptists' ministry and witness to a world in need of Christ's transformation and healing.
Hannah Gay, Mississippi pediatrician, sees God's hand in baby's HIV cure
Hannah Gay, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, was in international headlines in March after she and her colleagues reported eradicating HIV in an infant. The baby, who remains anonymous, was born to an HIV-infected mother and received aggressive treatment. Upon the mother's return to the hospital after several months, the baby showed no signs of replicating the virus. Gay, a former International Mission Board missionary in the Horn of Africa 20 years ago, credits God with curing the baby, while medical experts have called it a "functional cure." The New England Journal of Medicine reported that only time will tell whether the child, now 3, is only in remission or in fact experiencing a "sterilizing cure," in which all viral traces are completely eradicated from the body. Gay refers to herself as the "shiest pediatrician in America," and with her husband Paul continues to teach Bible drill at Trace Ridge Baptist Church in Ridgeland, Miss.
U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini marks one year in Iran prison
As of Sept. 26, pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, had been in an Iranian prison for more than a year. He was sentenced to eight years in prison last January on charges of undermining the Iranian government by planting house churches and trying to turn the country's youth from Islam, charges the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called "trumped-up." While imprisoned, Abedini has undergone harsh interrogations, torture and solitary confinement and has been denied medical treatment. On Dec. 12, Abedini's wife Naghmeh testified before the U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee. "It has been a struggle as a mom," she testified, "watching my 7-year-old and my 5-year-old cry themselves to sleep every single night for the last 444 days, and knowing that unless we get Saeed out quickly, he might serve the eight years or even more -- or he might not even survive that prison sentence."
Anti-pornography initiative gets national push at SBC
In June, Baptist Press ran a Q&A with Florida pastor Jay Dennis, founder of "Join 1 Million Men" (join1millionmen.org), to preview the launch of a nationwide anti-pornography emphasis at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Houston. The movement calls Christian men to commit to sexual purity and, specifically, to protect themselves and their families from the devastation caused by pornography. In a women's prayer component, Dennis' wife Angie urged women to pray up, speak up and join the fight against pornography. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and WMU (Woman's Missionary Union) are Join 1 Million cosponsors of the initiative.
N.M. court reflects 'seismic shift' to sexuality-based 'state-established religion.'
In August, an attack on religious liberty was evident in the New Mexico Supreme Court's ruling that two Christian photographers violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex "commitment ceremony," Southern Baptist commentators said. Religious liberty, Justice Richard Boson wrote, must be subordinated to the state's anti-discrimination laws, and the photographers -- and by extension others -- are "compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives."
Gay marriage rulings: New ministry situations on the horizon
Though the Supreme Court's ruling against traditional marriage in June was a "dark day in American history," Jeff Iorg and other seminary leaders urged believers to accept the reality and move on to discussing how to minister in a new context. "Challenging new ministry situations are on the horizon," Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary near the epicenter of the gay marriage movement, wrote in a blog post.
Texas enacts abortion restrictions
In July, the Texas legislature passed sweeping abortion restrictions following weeks of protests, lobbying and debate from both sides in the abortion debate. The bill banned most abortions after 20 weeks' "post-fertilization," required ambulatory care standards for abortion facilities and required abortion doctors to have hospital privileges within 30 miles of their practices. The bill also required abortion doctors to be present when any abortion-inducing drug, including RU-486, is administered. In October, a three-judge panel upheld the Texas abortion law, stating that challenges to the law's constitutionality likely would fail. The ruling cleared the way for the law to take effect.
SBC resolution condemns sexual abuse of children
Noting that "instances of sexual abuse have been perpetrated within Southern Baptist congregations, churches of other denominations, and other Christian ministries," messengers to the SBC's 2013 annual meeting reiterated a call to protect children from sexual predators. The resolution, building on the convention's 2008 special report that called on Southern Baptists to report those suspected of child sexual abuse to legal authorities, reminded Southern Baptists of their "legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities in addition to [not in lieu of] implementing any appropriate church discipline or internal restoration processes" (parenthetic supplied). The resolution also called on  churches to utilize background checks for staff and volunteers who work with children;  pastors and church leaders to implement "sound policies" to protect the children placed in the church's trust;  all Southern Baptists to "cooperate fully with law enforcement officials in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators, sexual or otherwise, who criminally harm children"; and  convention leaders and employees to "utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and/or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse."
My Hope America with Billy Graham garners national support
Billy Graham marked his 95th birthday with My Hope America with Billy Graham, a layperson-led evangelistic outreach in homes, churches, prisons, businesses and public venues across the U.S. that was billed as Graham's last public sermon. As the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association continues to receive stories of the initiative's impact, Graham's own pastor Don Wilton, who helped BGEA develop My Hope, is keeping the outreach alive through the church he leads, First Baptist in Spartanburg, S.C. The church is "designing and devising a multiple approach to continue sharing My Hope with Billy Graham with small and large groups as well as individuals and we see no end in sight," Wilton said in one of several articles Baptist Press published in December on My Hope.
Miss. church seeks racial reconciliation
First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., ushered in a celebration of racial unity when it apologized for its 1968 decision to bar blacks from worship there. Since apologizing, First Baptist has participated in a community-wide interracial worship service, taken aim with local black congregations for partnerships in evangelism and ministry and experienced moments of personal reconciliation between white and black believers, Baptist Press reported in October. "The bottom line is that something has been done that is wrong," First Baptist Pastor Eric Hankins said of the 1968 exclusivity. "We've recognized it, and we're going to leave our gift at the altar until we go get this right so we can be correct in our worship. That's the appropriate response to a sin of the past."
Chinese couple's legacy in NYC is 7-story multi-church meeting place
The frugality and faithfulness of New York City church planting couple Samuel and Katty Wong enabled them to build the seven-story Chinese Promise Baptist Church, funded largely from their personal savings. Why seven stories? "We hope every Sunday we will have many churches inside the building. Somebody can use each floor to worship on," Wong said when Baptist Press ran the story in September. "In New York, it is not easy to get space, and we want to share the building."
At BYU, Mohler cites theological divide with Mormons, common religious freedom concerns
In October, Baptist Press reported on an address by R. Albert Mohler Jr. at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in which the Southern Baptist seminary president noted key theological differences with Mormons, while asserting common religious freedom concerns. "I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together," said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at the Latter-day Saints' premier educational institution. The "moral revolution" occurring in America will have "grave and devastating human consequences," Mohler said in calling for Mormons and evangelicals to work together in defense of religious freedom and traditional marriage. Mohler is scheduled speak again at BYU on Feb. 25 in a nationally televised campus-wide forum.
Church's Hmong, Hispanic, deaf outreach parallel its Cooperative Program commitment
Valley Baptist Church in Appleton, Wis., was one of a more than a dozen churches featured in Baptist Press in 2013 as strong proponents of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' channel for supporting state, national and international missions. Valley Baptist members aim to "take seriously supporting the work of taking the Gospel to all places in the world," says Larry Creamer, pastor of the church where about 200 people worship on Sundays. Creamer led the church to increase its CP giving from 10 percent to 14.5 percent. "People without Christ need to be prayed for," he said. "They need to have people around them living a solid Christian life before them." Valley Baptist members are active in a variety of community, associational and state convention activities as well as their support of the Cooperative Program. Read at the entire article here or search for Northborough, Mass.; Marion, Iowa; Grand Prairie, Texas; Price, Utah; and Vacaville, Calif., among other articles from 2013 that show Southern Baptist churches active in reaching out with the Gospel and supporting Kingdom work through the Cooperative Program.
World Hunger Fund now 'Global Hunger Relief'
In June and September, Baptist Press published articles about a major new initiative related to global hunger. To help raise awareness about Southern Baptists' effectiveness in hunger ministries, a new name -- Global Hunger Relief -- is taking the place of the World Hunger Fund. Because hunger donations are channeled through the International and North American mission boards, those funds become a vital part of Southern Baptist mission strategies to impact the world for Christ. A new website is being developed at www.GlobalHungerRelief.com, and the GHR initiative will officially launch at the 2014 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston, with sections from Erin Roach, Baptist Press assistant editor; Diana Chandler, BP general assignment writer/editor; Laura Erlanson, BP operations coordinator; James A. Smith Sr., executive editor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Mark Kelly, media strategist for Baptist Global Response; and Karen L. Willoughby, national correspondent for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).