The Legislative Prayer Breakfast is an invitation only event, but we encourage you to pray with us for our governmental officials as they begin the new year.
This week Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, visits the United States, and he may meet with President Obama.
This week there will be prayer vigils across the U.S. and across the globe for Pastor Saeed.
This week marks one full year in captivity for Pastor Saeed – one full year in chains for the Gospel.
Be heard. Become part of one of the greatest letter-writing campaigns in history.
Be heard for Pastor Saeed and the persecuted Church.
Jay Sekulow ACLJ Chief Counsel
SRI LANKA (BP) — It was just a normal Sunday. Around 75 people gathered in the house rented as their church building for worship. Praise music wafted out the door. Prayers lifted to heaven. Pastor Saman Perera* stood behind the pulpit and asked the congregation to open their Bibles. That’s when “normal” came to a crashing end. Local Sri Lankan authorities stormed in from every exit, demanding the church service stop. Church members sat in shock until a bald man in saffron robes appeared. With the entrance of the village’s head monk, people hid in back rooms, jumped out open windows or knocked chairs over to get out the door only to meet up with an angry mob of nearly 1,000 yielding sticks and stones. “Leave or be killed,” the mob chanted.
That was nearly four months ago, yet Perera recounts the story as if it happened yesterday. In a way, it did — he relives it with each visit to the courtroom where he must face those who violently closed his church. Lawsuits, filed by groups of pastors against the attackers, claim that Sri Lanka’s constitution calls for freedom of religion and that their churches should be allowed to meet. The high court agreed, ruling in their favor Aug. 2. Despite the favorable ruling, everyone is holding their breath to see whether the violent attacks on churches by Buddhist extremists will stop. The targeted attacks are becoming more and more commonplace and extremists have vowed in local newspaper reports to shut down every church in the South.
Open Doors USA, which closely monitors the persecuted church, reports that more than 30 churches have been attacked since Perera’s. The pastor explains that when his church was attacked, local authorities ordered them not to operate any longer because they had not been authorized by the state. While registration of religious organizations is not mandatory in this island nation, the government has been contemplating bringing all religious groups under regulation for over a year. According to the 2011 census, more than 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20.8 million is Buddhist. Christians number around 7 percent — Catholic 6 percent and Protestant 1 percent — while Muslims make up a little less than 10 percent. Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest continually Buddhist nation, and extremists told a TIME reporter last month that they want it to stay that way. As a result, persecution is on the rise. Attacks on Muslims have hit the headlines, but the increasing incidence of Christian persecution has received very little attention. “People are afraid to step foot in a church or any religious place,” Perera says. “We cannot start new churches. Churches cannot rent or buy houses anymore.”
The judge’s ruling gave the churches in the court case permission to begin worship services again and registered their buildings as official churches. Perera adds that the judge warned local authorities not to disturb their prayers again. “Our constitution gives us freedom of religion, but in practice it is Buddhist and there will not be any other religion welcome,” the pastor warns. “This [persecution] is going to spread quickly from one district to another.” The veteran pastor is no stranger to persecution. The country suffered through two decades of civil war. Pastors had to walk the perimeter of their church building to check for landmines every Sunday morning. Before the 2004 tsunami hit the island, churches were burned, bombed and shut down. Things settled down and Sri Lanka disappeared off the World Watch List’s top 50 persecuted countries. But now, it has started up again. Almost every week, a church or Muslim business is attacked in some way or another.
Despite this persecution, Perera assures that the church closings and attacks have not hampered spreading the Gospel. “God has been preparing us for this persecution all along. He knew!” Perera says, suppressing a chuckle of amazement. “He opened our minds to a new way of doing ‘church’ last year. Before this even started happening, we were training lay leaders to lead house churches in their homes.” Pastor Thilak Jayawickrama* nods his head and excitedly jumps in to explain that the traditional way of doing “house church” in Sri Lanka was for organized churches to just rent a house and convert it into a church building. These are the types of churches local authorities and extremists are shutting down. But, with the discipleship and church planting method called Training for Trainers (T4T) they began using last year, church is really in someone’s house, a business or even outside under a shade tree. “The thing about persecution is that even if it doesn’t happen to you, you are still afraid. In your mind, you know that it could happen,” Jayawickrama, who is transitioning his congregation to house church, says. “With this new method, we don’t have buildings. There is nothing to ‘shut down.'” Perera’s church now meets in 16 different homes and is growing for the first time in years. Jayawickrama’s divided into eight. The groups are reproducing and starting new churches. Those who were once afraid to go to a religious place for fear of a mob or the monks asking questions are not concerned about going to a friend’s home. “When you ask people to go to your house, they come. It’s your home. They are used to going there. It’s comfortable and friendly. There’s nothing threatening about a house,” Perera says. “And the result is that every week, people are coming and accepting Jesus.”
So far, widespread persecution has not come from sharing the Gospel one-on-one. Christian worker Archer Hullett* explains that the T4T model is based on sharing within your own relationship network … your own sphere of influence. The worker admits that there might be some persecution from a new believer’s family but nothing on the scale seen now against churches. Pastor Ruwan Ranatunga* says since he switched to training lay leaders in evangelism and discipleship, the incidence of even this kind of familial persecution went down among those he mentors. He credits it to the fact that as everyone becomes more active and involved in a house church, their faith grows and they become “doers of the Word” — applying biblical truths to their actions. Ranatunga says the entire community sees the genuine changes as Christians live out the Gospel. Their friends and family become curious enough to not just ask questions but to listen instead of angrily objecting to Christianity.
Hullett and the pastors say they have seen more come to Christ in the last two years than ever before. More than 60 new house churches have started with many more small groups on their way to functioning as a church from the Book of Acts. This number doesn’t even include traditional churches that broke up into the smaller T4T house church groupings because of persecution. “The truth is that people here are hungry for the Lord,” Hullett says. “It’s a crucial time right now in Sri Lanka. The Gospel and churches could rapidly multiply or it could shut down completely. There are a lot of barriers right now.”
All three pastors say there’s no telling if the persecution of Sri Lanka’s minority religions will subside or increase. The situation seems to change almost daily. Because of this uncertainty, Ranatunga asks for Christians around the world to pray for wisdom among the Sri Lankan Christian leaders. “It is a time in our country when we need to adjust our traditional thinking of church and spread the Gospel in ways that do not draw widespread public attention,” Ranatunga says. “We need to adjust without endangering the work of spreading the Gospel. Pray that we are able to follow the example set forth by churches in the Book of Acts.”
–30– *Name changed. Susie Rain is a writer in Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Your Church and the Same-Sex Marriage Decisions
By Russell Moore – Jun 26, 2013
The Supreme Court has ruled on the much-awaited decisions on same-sex marriage. How should your church respond? The first way is by recognizing that marriage is not merely a public good, and it’s certainly not simply a “culture war” political issue. Marriage is a gospel mystery, the Scripture tells us, an icon of Christ and the church embedded in the creation (Eph 5:32). When marriage falters, the gospel is eclipsed. On the other hand, the conversation about marriage gives the church the opportunity to point to a different word, the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4).
WHAT THE RULINGS SAY
- The Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It was determined to deprive persons equal liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.
- The Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act means that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law.
- The Supreme Court ruled that the defenders of California’s Proposition 8 did not have legal standing as private sponsors to appeal the federal decision to strike down the ballot.
- The Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 means that same-sex marriage may be allowed to resume in the state of California.
- These Supreme Court decisions mean that religious liberty challenges are soon to emerge in new and unprecedented ways.
WHAT HASN’T CHANGED
- Jesus Christ is still alive, and ultimately will bend history toward his kingdom.
- God, as Creator and Judge, determines the goal of human sexuality and the boundaries of marriage. The United States government, or any human state, didn’t create marriage, and can’t redefine it. The state can only recognize, or fail to recognize, what already exists: the one-flesh union that is the foundation of the family and every human civilization.
- The Bible addresses all of us as sexual sinners (1 Cor 6:18). We do not stand in judgment over others, as though we were righteous and whole.
- Our consciences and our churches are answerable to “another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7) when it comes to matters of sexual morality and marital accountability. The First Amendment recognizes this free exercise of religion. Your congregation cannot be forced to perform same-sex marriages, to provide premarital or marital counseling to persons whose marriages you don’t recognize as biblical, or to jettison your membership requirements.
WHAT SHOULD YOUR CHURCH DO?
- Teach your congregation to avoid anger, outrage, or despair. Jesus tells us marriage has existed as a male/female one-flesh union “from the beginning.” This means marriage is resilient, regardless of what cultures do to minimize it.
- Love your gay and lesbian neighbors. They aren’t part of an evil conspiracy. They are, like all of us apart from Christ, seeking a way that seems best to them. Be kind, and respect all persons as image-bearers of God.
- Preach and teach on the integrity of conjugal marriage. Don’t assume your people understand the gospel foundations of marriage. Take this opportunity to point to the formation of healthy, gospel-shaped marriage cultures within your congregation.
- Repent of the ways our congregational cultures have downgraded marriage. If your church hasn’t addressed divorce, cohabitation, or fornication through proclamation and discipline, now is the time to repent and rework.
- Make your marriage convictions clear in your confession of faith. If your church assumes a definition of marriage, your confession of faith is now irrelevant. Defend your religious liberty by making your congregational conviction clear in your statement of faith.
- Make your marriage convictions clear in your church by-laws. Address what repentance and gospel fidelity looks like for those seeking membership, for those in good standing with your church, and for those who wish to be married in your church building or by the officers of your church.
- Stop laissez-faire wedding policies. Your church building is not a public space and your church ministers aren’t justices of the peace. Make clear that you will marry, and host weddings, only for those who have accountability to the people of Christ and to the Word of God.
- The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
- The Manhattan Declaration
- The Danvers Statement on Manhood and Womanhood
- Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (Dutton, 2011)
Original Article: http://erlc.com/article/your-church-and-the-same-sex-marriage-decisions
Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right — Are Wrongs Rights?
We should have seen it coming. Back in 1989 two young activists pushing for the normalization of homosexuality coauthored a book intended to serve as a political strategy manual and public relations guide for their movement. In After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s, authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen argued that efforts to normalize homosexuality and homosexual relationships would fail unless their movement shifted its argument to a demand for civil rights, rather than for moral acceptance. Kirk and Madsen argued that homosexual activists and their allies should avoid talking about sex and sexuality. Instead, “the imagery of sex per se should be downplayed, and the issue of gay rights reduced, as far as possible, to an abstract social question.”
Beyond Kirk and Madsen and their public relations strategy, an even more effective legal strategy was developed along the same lines. Legal theorists and litigators began to argue that homosexuals were a class of citizens denied basic civil liberties, and that the courts should declare them to be a protected class, using civil rights precedents to force a moral and legal revolution.
That revolution has happened, and it has been stunningly successful. The advocates for the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage have used legal arguments developed from the civil rights era to their advantage. Arguments used to end the scourge of racial segregation were deployed to normalize homosexuality and homosexual relationships. Over the years, these arguments have led to such major developments as the decriminalization of homosexual behaviors, the inclusion of homosexuals within the United States military, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states.
When Rights are Right
What should Christians think about this? We do believe in civil rights. Taken at face value, civil rights are those rights that a person should be recognized to possess simply because he or she is a citizen. Christians should welcome the recognition of civil rights, understanding that the very notion of such rights is based on a Christian worldview and the affirmation that every human being is made in God’s image, and therefore possesses dignity and certain essential rights. In the language of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Even as secularists do their best to establish some grounding for civil rights without reference to God, the founding language of our nation—in agreement with biblical principles—clearly affirms that these liberties are given to all people by the Creator.
Beyond this fact, we must be thankful that an expanding understanding of civil rights has led our nation to address wrongs and to make moral progress in ending wrongful discrimination. The civil rights movement of the late twentieth century saw America come face to face with the reality that, as a nation, we were not living up to our own commitment to those rights.
The key question we now face is this: Does recognition of civil rights for all people require the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage?
That is precisely what gay rights proponents have been claiming for the past thirty years, and their arguments have gained much ground. In 2003 the Supreme Court struck down criminal laws against homosexual behavior in the decision known as Lawrence v. Texas. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the Constitution does not allow for the criminalization of homosexual acts, since such laws would deny a specific class of persons their basic civil rights. A series of similar court decisions has followed, with several courts ruling that outlawing same-sex marriage is a similar denial of a civil right.
When Rights Are Wrong
At this point Christians have to think very carefully. We do not want to deny anyone his or her civil rights. To do so would not only violate the Constitution but also deny the rights that are granted, not by the government, but by the Creator. But is same-sex marriage such a right? The answer to that question must be no.
Marriage laws always discriminate. Current laws discriminate on the basis of age, marital status, and gender, as well as a host of other issues. The law itself necessarily discriminates. For instance, married people pay fewer taxes and women enjoy maternity leave. The question is whether such discrimination is right or wrong.
Discrimination on the basis of an unchangeable characteristic such as skin color would be wrong. But Christians cannot accept the argument that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic. While recognizing the complexity of issues related to sexual orientation, we cannot define a behavior as an intrinsic characteristic. On that basis, why not grant theft or other sinful behavior the same civil rights protection?
Furthermore, we recognize that marriage, like human rights, exists prior to the law. Christians understand that marriage was instituted by the Creator, who designed marriage and the family as the foundational social unit of human society. Marriage unites a man and a woman in a holy covenant that should last as long as they both live.
From the very beginning, marriage was designed as the union of one man and one woman. Every human society has recognized this meaning of marriage, and all successful civil societies have honored, protected, and defended heterosexual marriage as the union that should govern human sexuality, reproduction, intimacy, and rearing of children.
Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage have been tremendously successful in convincing many people—and several courts—of their argument that same-sex marriage is a civil right. But this is a confusion of categories that Christians cannot accept.
The argument for the legalization of same-sex marriage fails in terms of any constitutional logic that our nation’s founders would have conceived. Beyond this, faithful Christians cannot accept such arguments because an even greater authority—the authority of the Bible as the Word of God—binds us.
The Bible is clear in terms of its teachings on both sexuality and marriage. As Jesus Christ declared, God intended marriage as the union of one man and one woman “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:4–6). The legalization of same-sex marriage would confuse and greatly weaken the single institution that is most central to human society and most essential to human flourishing.
Christians responding to demands for the legalization of same-sex marriage cannot accept the argument that the right to marry a person of the same gender is a civil right.
We are living in an era of moral revolution and seismic cultural change. Christians must remember that our ultimate authority is the Word of God. We are thankful for the recognition of civil rights, but we also understand that these rights will be confused in a sinful world. We must understand that the claim that same-sex marriage is a civil right reveals more than constitutional confusion—it reveals the need of every human being for nothing less than the forgiveness, healing, and redemption that can come only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the day, the argument over same-sex marriage is never just about same-sex marriage, and debates about civil rights are never just about civil rights. Deeper truths and worldview implications are always at stake, and it is our responsibility to make certain that we know what those are and stand humbly and compassionately for those truths, regardless of the cost.
SBC Leaders Russell Moore and Kevin Ezell address the recent burst of anti-Christian rhetoric in the U.S. military:
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Two Southern Baptist leaders have issued a statement voicing concern about religious freedom within the U.S. military but also cautioning Christians to refrain from jumping to conclusions about recent incidents in the military that have been perceived by some as threats to religious liberty.
The statement was issued by Russell Moore, president-elect of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The ERLC is the SBC’s public policy arm. NAMB oversees the endorsement of chaplains to the U.S. military on behalf of the SBC.
“We have no interest in fomenting conspiracy theories,” the statement reads. “We have no interest in misrepresenting our military leaders. At the same time, we do not want to ignore potential threats to religious liberty.”
The statement addresses several reported incidents that have raised concern among Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians in recent weeks.
“These reports have elicited a great deal of concern and confusion among military chaplains, pastors and congregations,” the statement reads. “In some cases, misinformation has been mixed with fact, with the possible result of furthering already tense relationships between military and religious communities.”
Ezell said he hopes the statement will serve two primary purposes.
“We want our chaplains and troops to know their religious freedoms are a top concern for us,” Ezell said. “We want the U.S. military to know we are a friend. But right now we are a friend who has some serious concerns.”
The statement includes a detailed section listing concerns about how the Department of Defense defines terms like “evangelizing” and“proselytizing” as it relates to military personnel who want to share their faith with others.
“With a subjective interpretation and adjudication of such cases,” the statement says, “we need reassurance that such would not restrict the free exercise of religion for our chaplains and military personnel.”
Moore, who will begin his responsibilities at ERLC June 1, called on the military to engage in a dialogue with Southern Baptists and other evangelicals on such issues.
“We agree that no one should engage in coercion when it comes to sharing their faith with others,” Moore said. “But there must also be room for freedom for our chaplains and military members to be distinctively Southern Baptist and for others to be distinctively Catholic or Jewish or Muslim as the case may be.”
Doug Carver, the retired (Major General) Army Chief of Chaplains who now heads NAMB’s chaplaincy ministry, echoed the concerns expressed by Moore and Ezell while reiterating SBC support for members of the military.
“Those who serve in our Armed Forces have no better friends than Southern Baptists who pray for their safety and work for their ability to worship freely,” Carver said. “We are grateful for all of the sacrifices our military heroes make each day and we are honored to be able to stand alongside them in times of war and peace.”
By Mike Ebert – vice president of communications for the North American Mission Board.
Original article here: