Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma A Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Fri, 29 May 2020 22:03:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DHD: Another prose in a pandemic Fri, 29 May 2020 22:03:06 +0000 Greetings!

All is going well. I have a busy weekend ahead, so let’s get to this week’s DHD!

Thanks for reading!

  1. Stetzer on church openings

I’ve mentioned before that Ed Stetzer may be the Christian national leader I trust the most. He’s definitely in the top five. He gave great insight and spoke as a voice of reason when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning in March.

This week, Stetzer gave excellent consultation on how churches should approach having in-person worship services. I enjoyed reading his article, “’You Are a Compromised Coward’—Discussing How to Resume Gathering for Worship.”

To sum up, Stetzer said there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. He said each church body leadership should consult local health and regional authorities and commit time in prayer before deciding how to resume meeting. And then communicate effectively with the church body.

Here’s my favorite passage from the article:

“If you became a pastor because you thought everyone would like you, you have chosen poorly. I have learned that if you don’t have 5-10 percent of the church mad at you at any given time, you’re probably not doing significant things.

“If you have 70 percent of the church mad at you, you probably need to slow down a little bit! You will have some people unhappy, but you will need to lead through this, and communicate with people who are restless on either side.”

  1. Include single people in regathering

My church is planning to have in-person services this Sunday. It’s a big deal with many members involved with the process. I’m looking forward to it.

Karen and I were talking this week about how these services will look from the perspective of a single person (never married, divorced, widowed). The next day, Baptist Press published Diana Chandler’s article, “’Chair for One’: Creating community for singles as onsite services resume.”

Chandler’s article gave more depth to this aspect, and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who considered it. I have a passion for single adult ministry, or whatever churches want to call today’s groups of people who are not currently married and are a part of the church. Certain people don’t want to be labeled as “single” because it conveys an idea that they are looking to date or find a spouse. I get how the “single label” can be a negative connotation, but I also know that there are more single people than married people in society, yet it appears the local church does less to reach single people.

I confess, I don’t have any conclusions in making sure single people are welcomed. I guess I’m waiting to see what it will be like when my church meets this Sunday.

As we all know, going through this pandemic, no future gathering opportunities are guaranteed, and everybody is learning how to adjust on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

  1. Illinois churches now have no restrictions

I was so happy to hear that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted his rather unreasonable restrictions on churches wanting to gather.

Liberty Council sent a press release announcing the governor’s decision after its clients filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Within a few hours yesterday (Wednesday, May 27),” Liberty Council stated, “after two Romanian churches filed an emergency injunction pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh ordered Gov. Pritzker to respond by 8:00 p.m. Thursday night. Just before the deadline, Gov. Pritzker issued ‘guidelines’ for houses of worship, none of which are mandatory.”

This is a great relief and should be celebrated. No matter how you view whether or not churches should gather, no government authority should hold churches and houses of worship to a stricter guideline than businesses and other societal organizations and groups.

Pritzker was not going to allow churches to have services of more than 10 people in attendance until there was a vaccine for COVID-19. This is a ridiculous, overbearing ruling, and I’m glad the governor changed his draconian decision.

  1. Mohler and the media

As a fan of Albert Mohler’s podcast The Briefing, Thursday’s edition is a masterful education about the development of the modern media in America.

It’s worth the 23 minutes of your time to listen or read the transcript. Mohler gives a great synopsis of the Wall Street Journal editorial by a former CBS president. He also mentions Jean Kirkpatrick, the native Oklahoman who goes on to serve both a democratic and a republican administration. I especially appreciated this because my mother was a fan of Kirkpatrick during the Reagan years.

  1. Clarence Thomas documentary

I regret to say that I missed the PBS documentary Created Equal, about Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Judge Thomas is someone I find rather intriguing because of how he was falsely accused during his nomination hearing for the Supreme Court.

Thomas is known for remaining silent during Supreme Court trials. Mohler even mentioned Thomas’s reputation in a recent Briefing episode that the justice “went a decade without speaking” but asked an attorney a question mentioning Frodo Baggins of Lord of the Rings fame. I got a kick out of Mohler getting a kick out of the unexpected moment.

Though I missed the documentary, I did enjoy Alexandra DeSanctis’ review of the documentary.

“He isn’t afraid to be blunt,” DeSanctis wrote about Thomas, “saying that opponents of his nomination believed he was ‘the wrong black guy.’ Later, discussing the outright racism against him in the press and the treatment he received from Democrats during the Anita Hill hearing, he says, ‘If you criticize a black person who’s more liberal, you’re racist. But you can do whatever to me, or now to Ben Carson, and that’s fine. We’re not really black, because we’re not doing what they expect black people to do.’”

I hope to find the documentary on a reshowing.

  1. Becky Pippert—a cherished name from college

I was required to read “Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World” for an evangelism class I took my freshman year at Liberty University. This was my introduction to Rebecca Pippert, the book’s author.

It’s a fascinating anecdotal book about her experiences of sharing her faith with people. It’s a great encouragement for Christians to read.

This week, I found an online article by “Becky” Pippert titled “Talking Sin to a Culture That Doesn’t Believe in It.”

Along with rekindling memories, I enjoyed Pippert’s approach of sharing her faith in today’s world. She demonstrated how the Gospel is always relevant, even in a changing world.

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Arriving in July, an expansion of Hope Pregnancy Center Fri, 29 May 2020 18:18:38 +0000 Arriving in July, an expansion of Hope Pregnancy Center - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 1

The inside of the Mobile Unit will include ultrasound equipment allowing sonographers to perform an ultrasound whenever needed.

Arriving in July, the Patty Ann Mobile Ministry Unit, a 27-foot RV, will begin serving women in and around Oklahoma City who are unable or unlikely to come to a brick and mortar pregnancy center. The mobile unit will enable “hope” to reach some of the most vulnerable to abortion. The unit is named after a benefactor’s wife who has always had a heart for the ministry at Hope Pregnancy Center.

Kathy Gibson will serve as the Hope Mobile Ministry director.  Gibson has served in pregnancy center ministry for 24 years, the last 11 as executive director at First Choice Pregnancy Center in Weatherford.  God placed a dream in Gibson’s heart six years ago to “go mobile.”

Arriving in July, an expansion of Hope Pregnancy Center - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 2

Kathy Gibson, Hope Mobile Ministry director, has been serving in pregnancy center ministry for 24 years.

“I know it had to be God because this wasn’t something I had ever wanted to do,” Gibson said. “When I heard Hope Pregnancy Center was beginning a mobile ministry, I began to pray about applying for the director’s position.  Having worked for Hope Pregnancy Center, prior to my role in Weatherford, I was familiar with the organization and am glad to be back with Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children.”

Gayla White, Hope Pregnancy Ministries director, knows the mobile ministry unit will have a great impact on many women and families.

“The Patty Ann Mobile Unit has the equipment needed to offer excellent medical services to women who may never come to a pregnancy center,” White said. “Pregnancy testing and ultrasounds will be provided along with pregnancy-option education to empower women to make an informed pregnancy decision. The ultrasound machine, provided by Focus on the Family and a local family, provides the clearest images for early pregnancy.

“Hope Pregnancy Center’s mission of helping young men and women have hope and choose life will be put into action on the mobile unit,” White continued. “It will allow staff and volunteers to seek more opportunities to share the hope of Christ and shine His light into the lives and circumstances of those experiencing an unintended pregnancy, as well as those seeking abortion. We are excited to have Kathy lead in this exciting new expansion of Hope Pregnancy Center’s work, and we invite everyone to be a part of it.”

Volunteers are needed for various positions including nurses, sonographers, pit crew and intake. Those interested may contact Gibson at 405/343-8830.

God is equipping Hope’s mobile team through partnerships with ICU Mobile, No Boundaries International and other pro-life ministries. ICU was established in 2004 to go to women facing an unintended pregnancy and share the miracle and wonder of life through ultrasound. ICU is training the Hope mobile team how to identify the communities most in need of services, build trust relationships in those communities, utilize a pit crew and more.

No Boundaries International is a local ministry that responds to God’s call by meeting basic needs, providing inner healing, medical care and discipleship to those in devastation. No Boundaries is coaching the mobile team on how to recognize, communicate and provide helpful resources to women in the most difficult circumstances including human trafficking. A founding principle for both organizations is faith in Jesus Christ and seeking opportunities to share the Gospel.

Hope Pregnancy Center and Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children is hosting a dedication service at the Baptist Building, 3800 N. May, on Friday, June 19 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. There will be a special prayer and commissioning time at 12:30 p.m. The unit will be open for tours.

The Patty Ann Mobile Unit will launch in July.

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BLOG: What God intended for good Fri, 29 May 2020 15:35:25 +0000 It’s unfortunate that today, the practice of “herbalism” is more often than not intertwined with ungodliness. Herbalism becomes spiritualism and many times crosses lines that God’s Word tells us not to cross.

Like many facets of life, people take something that God made—something He even intended for our good—and they corrupt it with evil. James 1:5 tells us, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

For this blog, I want to focus on the wholesome use of herbs. My personal journey in growing herbs and wholesome use of herbs began in 1998, when my husband and I bought a honey farm in western Oklahoma. I knew absolutely nothing about honeybees or beekeeping, including the fact that I was anaphylactic to bee stings.

Along with the purchase of this property and business came a stack of faded, hand-written papers. These were the recipes that had been used for many years to make the products that were sold in that little farm shop. The instructions, ingredients and processes were all foreign to me, and I quickly realized that I had a lot of learning to do. My husband had a full-time job; we had four children under the age of six and very little time.

If you recall, the Internet was invented in 1983 but wasn’t recognizable as we know it today until around 1991. Rural Oklahoma had not caught up to this cyber world, so even though all of the information that I needed was out there, connectivity with landlines, dial-up modems and expensive service providers made my research difficult. Even with all of the obstacles, I was motivated and passionate about learning, and I was determined that nothing was going to slow me down.

Genesis 1:29 says, “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.’” Hippocrates, who’s considered to be the father of modern medicine, is reported to have said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I knew that God had given me a special opportunity—a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I needed to learn as much as I could, and I knew that somehow, through that little honey farm, He was going to bless my family and others.

I planted a small garden and began to grow and preserve herbs. I learned that culinary herbs could be used for medicinal purposes as well. I practiced making salves and soaps with beeswax and other natural ingredients. I learned that honey was not only a nutritious food but a powerful medicine. It didn’t take long before I had flowerbeds full of herbs, cabinets full of my own creations and little jars with dried seeds, pods and leaves in them everywhere. Having grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s when antibiotics were the cure-all, I loved knowing that there were alternatives and that I could grow and make them. I was hooked!

Over the past 20-plus years, I have not lost my passion. I have seen a lot of herb collections. From home apothecaries, little stores and shops to professional compounding pharmacies. Regardless of the complexity, I am always amazed. I love the collection of curious labels and recipe books. I love the endless lines of dried herbs packed in little jars sitting on wooden shelves. As I am looking at it all, I know the amount of work that went into it, and I appreciate the knowledge behind it. Personal and public herb collections contain hundreds of possibilities for formulas and remedies. They hold secrets to hours of trial and error. They speak of families and traditions and of time-proven remedies. They tell stories of sickness and sadness along with hope and healing.

During these days when we find ourselves seeking ways to be healthy and to boost our immune systems, consider trying your hand at wholesome activities such as spending time in Bible study and prayer, gardening and creating your own natural remedies. Be sure to thank God for the amazing plants that He has given and ask Him for wisdom in using them. He’s a great God and will give it abundantly.

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175 years of going & sending: International Mission Board celebrates ministry milestone Thu, 28 May 2020 21:27:19 +0000 175 years of going & sending: International Mission Board celebrates ministry milestone - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 1

Lucy Smith was an Oklahoma missionary that served faithfully in China and Japan in the early to mid 1900s.

When 327 delegates met at First Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., on May 8, 1845, they did more than start a new convention of Baptist churches in the South.

They began a missionary movement that would in time start new Gospel-proclaiming churches throughout North America and the world. On Friday, May 8, Southern Baptists celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of what became the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB)—and the corresponding Gospel movement they launched.

“In 1845, our legacy began in sin and brokenness as Baptists in the South separated from the northern churches over slavery,” said Paul Chitwood, IMB president. “Only God’s redeeming love and the reconciling power of the Gospel could result not only in repentance, but in a convention of churches today that is among the most diverse in the world and whose membership includes thousands of African American churches and many other ethnicities. That diversity, from such a regretful beginning, causes this celebration of what God is doing through Southern Baptists to be even more joyous.”

The founding of IMB marked a change in missions strategy among Baptists in the United States. Earlier organizations of Baptists had funded individual missionaries through an associational method. The convention’s founders preferred an approach where churches would take ownership of the entirety of Southern Baptist missions instead of only supporting individual missionaries. Many believe this decision helped to fuel the growth of mission work of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the next 175 years despite a Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars and multiple global pandemics.

Nathan Finn, history professor and provost and dean of the faculty at North Greenville University, said many missions organizations have drifted away from Gospel proclamation and church planting as their main focus. The IMB, as well as the NAMB, resisted that drift. There has never been a time when the two mission boards were seriously tempted to elevate other ministries over evangelism and church planting.

“These two mission boards have shown how missions can be a part of the DNA of a denomination,” Finn said. “Almost every group cares about missions. They check that box. But the Southern Baptist Convention, if I can use this phrase, puts our money where our mouth is. It has always been at the heart of SBC life. It doesn’t mean that we’ve always done missions well. And it doesn’t mean there hasn’t been controversy. But I don’t think there has ever been a time when Southern Baptists have shrugged their shoulders about missions. That has largely been because these two boards have together gotten that into the DNA of Baptist life.”

Keith Harper, senior professor of Baptist studies at Southeastern Seminary, noted the important part that women have played in the history of SBC missions.

“The incorporation of women as missionaries stands as one of the great accomplishments of SBC missions,” Harper said. “We would not have missions as we understand them today without Southern Baptist women. They are crucial to our story!”

He also pointed specifically to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, whose names are a part of the annual offerings that provide a considerable portion of IMB’s and NAMB’s budget.

“Lottie Moon captured the imagination of the entire Southern Baptist Convention,” Harper said. “She is eloquent in the way she expresses herself. She begins writing for our missions journal. She speaks in churches when she’s home on furlough. People are captivated by this little bitty woman who is just a shade over four feet tall.”

Armstrong, he added, left a major imprint on how Southern Baptists advocate for missions through her work coordinating missions support at the Woman’s Missionary Union.

Harper noted the significance of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan, in the history of the mission boards. With the Cooperative Program’s launch in 1925, the mission boards could more easily project their revenue on an annual basis, allowing for a significant increase in the missions-sending capabilities of Southern Baptist churches.

Finn and Harper noted a number of defining events in the 175-year history of Southern Baptist missions, including the start of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in the 1960s, IMB’s focus on unreached people groups starting in the 1990s and NAMB’s increasing emphasis on church planting.

Oklahoma Baptists and IMB

The relationship of IMB with Oklahoma Baptists is significant, as many Oklahoma Baptists have served as IMB missionaries since the inception of Oklahoma Baptists’ state convention in 1906. One in particular is Lucy Smith who is featured in the Missions Heritage Room at the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City.

“At the age of 15, Lucy Smith sensed God’s call on her life to be a missionary to China,” reads Smith’s presentation in the Heritage Room. “It wasn’t until she was 38 that her calling was fulfilled when she set sail to East Asia. Forced to leave because of Communist threats in 1949, Lucy continued to live the call by devoting her ministry to young people in Hong Kong and Japan.”

IMB interactive timeline

As part of its efforts to mark the 175th anniversary of its founding, IMB launched an interactive timeline on May 1. The timeline can be found at

Many IMB milestones are featured in the timeline, as viewers can scroll through each decade, click on informative videos and read historical moments and missionary profiles. The timeline also includes opportunities for viewers to participate in international missions.

175 days of prayer

A special 175-day prayer emphasis of IMB’s 175th anniversary began May 10. Southern Baptists are encouraged to sign up at to become advocates who pray for specific IMB requests that are distributed through a mobile app and on social media.

The prayer emphasis will culminate with Southern Baptists’ annual Week of Prayer for International Missions Nov. 29-Dec. 6.


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Tom Freeman pastors through association, camp Thu, 28 May 2020 20:39:41 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an expanded article based on the 2020 Cooperative Program Prayer Guide for Oklahoma Baptists. For more information, please visit

Tom Freeman worked in banking and construction when, in 1988, he sensed God calling him into vocational ministry. He was 44.

After graduating from Dallas Baptist University in June 1990 and in December 1992 from Southwestern Seminary, he pastored in Iowa and Kansas. In 2005, he was called to Guymon, Grace Southern.

In January 2018, he was called to serve as interim associational missionary for the Panhandle Association and, in April of 2018, as interim director of Gibson Baptist Assembly, also known as Camp Gibson. “Interim” was removed from his titles in January 2020.

The association has 21 churches and the camp, about 30 acres.

“In our sense of purpose as an association we share a similar purpose as Oklahoma Baptists,” Freeman said. “(Hance) Dilbeck spoke at Guymon, First shortly after he became the new executive. I appreciated what he said, and his vision for Oklahoma Baptists. God used that to help our association find a new vision, a new sense of direction.”

Camp Gibson is in a basin, formed by two creeks that provide nourishment for cottonwood, elm and pecan trees. “We currently have four principal weeks of camp each year of around 100 campers each,” Freeman said. The rest of the year the camp is used for weddings, reunions, retreats, conferences and more.

At the center of Camp Gibson is a tabernacle reclaimed from its original use as a barn. Nearby is the dining hall, and cabins surround the camp’s perimeter.

“It’s always very special to realize how many people over the generations God has reached here through their camp experience,” Freeman said. “Many in the panhandles—both Texas and Oklahoma—are familiar with the camp as a place they revere from their childhood.”

Freeman and his wife, Karen, have two grown children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He hasn’t golfed for 12 years, and fishing lost its lure for him when he first began to pastor at his first church in Iowa.

“Because I came into the ministry later in life than most, I’ve been steadfast in ministry, and I enjoy it,” Freeman said. “I try to allow God to use me as the best pastor I can be to the people I am serving with.”

Because of the generous giving of Oklahoma Baptists through the Cooperative Program, an amazing array of ministries are supported. This unified giving encourages fellowship with other believers all over the world. Collectively, Oklahoma Baptists are advancing the Gospel together. Learn more at

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Messenger Insight 378 – OKC, Wilmont Place Makes Room for More Ministry Thu, 28 May 2020 19:00:53 +0000 Pastor Shawn Nichols, OKC, Wilmont Place discusses how his church is contextualizing ministry to the community by sharing resources with other ministries.

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June 7 designated Southern Baptist Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Thu, 28 May 2020 16:06:23 +0000 RICHMOND, Va. (BP)—On average, eight Christians died for their faith every day in 2019. That equals more than 2,920 people killed for the cause of Christ last year, according to the 2020 annual report from Open Doors’ World Watch List. In addition, 9,488 churches or Christian buildings were attacked, and 3,711 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.

Open Doors reported that 260 million Christians experienced high levels of persecution in the top 50 countries on the World Watch List in 2019. The top five were North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.

In recognition of the persecution faced by Christians around the world, the Southern Baptist Convention last year designated the first Sunday in June as a Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This year, that’s June 7.

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood affirmed the necessity of intercessory prayer on behalf of Christians suffering for their faith.

“Prayer is our greatest resource in the Great Commission, and it is also the greatest act of compassion we could perform for our brothers and sisters around the globe who are enduring persecution,” Chitwood said. “Just as the souls of those slain for their faith cry out in heaven, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood …’ (Revelation 6:10, ESV), we should cry out on behalf of those on earth who continue to suffer.

“We ask God to give them courage and hope. We know that their temporary suffering will be rewarded in eternity and pray that it will result in many being saved from among the nations.”

Not without sacrifice

Throughout their 175-year history, Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations, in spite of famine, war and civil unrest. This commitment has not come without sacrifice.

Since the founding of the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) in 1845, approximately 60 missionaries and children have died in violent circumstances while serving with the organization. Causes include accidents such as drowning, automobile and aircraft crashes and ships lost at sea. Others died as a result of war and criminal or terrorist acts. In some cases, the missionaries were targeted specifically because of their faith or missionary service.

Of those 60, more than 20 FMB/IMB missionaries lost their lives “as a result of human hostility in a cross-cultural setting,” said Scott Peterson of IMB’s global research team.

The first was J. Landrum Holmes, who served in China. Holmes and his wife Sallie were appointed by the Foreign Mission Board in 1858 and arrived in China in 1859. Less than three years later, Taiping rebels murdered Holmes and Episcopal missionary Henry M. Parker. Although family encouraged Sallie Holmes to return to the U.S., the young mother chose to stay in China with her newborn son.

Writing home, Sallie said at the time, “I think I might probably be instrumental in the conversion of more persons at home than here, but if I went home for that and other missionaries acted upon the same principle I doubt if there would be a missionary left in China.”

Sallie Holmes went on to mentor one of IMB’s most famous missionaries, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, for whom IMB’s annual missions offering is named. Lottie Moon also died while in active service aboard a ship docked in Kobe Harbor, Japan, December 24, 1912.

Although both Landrum Holmes and Lottie Moon died while in active service, neither is considered a martyr.

“The IMB does not typically refer to or describe our personnel who have died in active service as martyrs,” Peterson said. “In many cases, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if our personnel (who died due to violence) were targeted because they were missionaries or Christians.”

Terminology notwithstanding, the sacrifice of those who died while serving cross-culturally — regardless of the means or cause of death — is no less significant than those who were targeted specifically for their faith, Peterson said.

“The fact that we do not use the term (martyr)does not minimize the significance of the lives and sacrifice of those who died while serving cross-culturally,” he said. “We memorialize all of our personnel who die in active service regardless of the cause of death. Each of those is a sacrifice because of a life lived in obedience to Christ.”

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BLOG: All’s Not Quiet Thu, 28 May 2020 15:40:58 +0000 As I sit down to write about the heartbreaking, shocking death of George Floyd and other African Americans whose lives we recently learned were taken, many thoughts and emotions are stirred.

While it has been of some help to follow news reports and social media commentary about each of these individuals, it has been even more helpful to reflect back on conversations I have heard and had with pastors whom serve in predominantly African American churches.

In Oklahoma, we are blessed with many wise pastors from whom I’ve learned much. Pastors Walter Wilson, LeRon West, David Hooks, Daryl Hairston, Anthony Scott, Teron Gaddis, Prophet Bailey and so many others I could name, have taught me so much about how racial reconciliation and racial justice are interconnected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some things I have learned and been reminded of by listening to biblically-rooted perspectives are:

  • We, as the Church, cannot sit idly by and silent while injustices take place.
  • America sadly has a long history of racial injustice, particularly toward black people, and we must do our all to root it out.
  • We are all made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and have worth.
  • We can pray more, speak up more, demand more.
  • We unfortunately live in a time in which inflammatory debate is common, but Christians can rise above this.
  • We can unite under the banner of Christ to pursue justice, righteousness and liberty.

The famous novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a stirring and controversial tale of the staggering loss of lives that occurred in World War I and how it can be easy to grow too numb toward death. When the main character, “Paul,” is dying in battle, it’s just one more death among millions, so ordinary that it still seems all is quiet on the western front.

As we emerge from the Coronavirus crisis, these tragedies—which can be looked at one at a time and as a whole–serve as a sober reminder that all is not quiet on the American front. We can and should call for justice, all while we love our country, support good law enforcement and work toward a better justice system. God help us…

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Pastors urge prayer, Gospel outreach as outrage grows over George Floyd’s death Thu, 28 May 2020 13:33:55 +0000 MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (BP)—Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders are lamenting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer used a knee to pin his neck to the pavement for several minutes.

Floyd had repeatedly said he could not breathe.

“I am disturbed, brokenhearted and deeply grieved when I see and read that another black man’s sacred life has been unjustly snuffed out,” said Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The life of George Floyd was ended by those charged to protect and serve. They became judge, jury and executioner.”

In a video taken by a bystander Monday, May 25, an officer later identified as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck as Floyd lay face down on the pavement. “I cannot breathe,” Floyd is heard saying several times as the pressure continues. After seven minutes in the hold, Floyd is limp and unresponsive. He is placed on a stretcher and put into an ambulance.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, tweeted that he was “astounded by what happened in Minneapolis relating to the death of George Floyd… This is ungodly and inhumane.”

The video begins with Floyd pinned by the officer. The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement released Monday that officers were responding to a report of forgery and that Floyd “physically resisted officers.”

Four police officers involved in the arrest were fired after the incident. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Wednesday, May 27 for Chauvin’s arrest. According to USA TODAY, Frey said: “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”

Floyd’s family members have called for the arrests of the officers involved. Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, told CBS News: “They did not have to use this excessive lethal force that killed George Floyd. They did not have to do it, and that’s why simply (firing) them is not enough, because black lives matter.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating. Minneapolis Police announced Tuesday the FBI would join the investigation, as well.

As Floyd’s death has sparked national outrage, it has inflamed tensions locally. Thousands of protestors marched Tuesday, May 26 from the scene of the incident to a Minneapolis police precinct station. Some chanted “I can’t breathe.”

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the march was peaceful but tension grew when the protestors arrived at the precinct station, where windows and a police car were damaged. Police wearing riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Protestors threw rocks and water bottles.

Chris Reinertson, director of missions for the Twin Cities Baptist Association in Bloomington, Minn., said local pastors are leading their congregations in prayer and discussing ways to respond. Reinertson pastors Bloomington, Minn., Southside.

“It’s so fresh,” Reinertson said, “and of course, we want to help people connect with Christ, and that deals with all of the situation at hand… Don’t ever think I’m saying this is a fresh racial issue. I’m saying this African American man, George Floyd, being arrested and then the white police officer putting his knee right on his neck—that specific incident. I’m not talking, ‘Oh, this is the first incidence of racism.'”

Ausberry, who is pastor of Fairfax, Va., Antioch, pointed out the sanctity of human life.

“Ultimately, the lack of respect for the dignity and sacredness of all human life is sin,” he said. “If we hold that all human life is sacred, then why is it that black and brown lives are ended way before their time? The facts speak for themselves. There is a striking racial problem in America.”

SBC President J.D. Greear noted several black Americans who have died tragically in 2020, including Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and killed by two armed civilians as he jogged on a neighborhood street, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her own bed by police who had entered her home in the middle of the night while searching for someone else.

“#ahmaudarbery, #breonnataylor, #georgefloyd—Hashtags that represent people made in God’s image—souls tragically lost,” Greear tweeted. “These tragedies move us to lament ongoing racial tension and the severe and lasting damage racism has caused in our country.”

In a subsequent tweet, Greear added:

“If we want to join in the Gospel movement against racism and toward equality, our struggle must continue well after these hashtags fade. Lord, help us search our own hearts and commit to bear one another’s burden.”

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SBC leaders commend CDC guidelines to churches Wed, 27 May 2020 21:31:48 +0000 WASHINGTON (BP)—Southern Baptist leaders commended to churches the new federal guidelines for restoring in-person worship gatherings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, even as efforts to resolve conflicts between state governments and faith communities continue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued interim guidelines May 22 that reminded state and local officials to take the First Amendment right of religious liberty into account when they institute reopening policies. No church or other religious group should be called on to enact “mitigation strategies” stricter than those requested of “similarly situated entities or activities,” the CDC said.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the guidance “seems reasonable and helpful.”

“The tone is, appropriately, not a directive to churches but counsel based on the medical data,” Moore said in a news release. “The CDC guidance is not a blueprint, but it is a prompt to help leaders as they think through what questions to ask.””

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said the government should “trust the churches” as it does businesses and other entities, but urged pastors to carefully consider the CDC guidance in determining how to safely reopen their churches.

“Just as the government is trusting others to reopen businesses, sports and entertainment experiences, the government also needs to trust the churches who have been providing care and love for their communities during this crisis,” Floyd said in written comments. “Pastors and churches should understand the CDC guidelines, work within their local contexts and take necessary actions to reopen their facilities in a safe and responsible manner.

“Also in this regathering process, each community of faith will need to operate weekly in a very agile manner to make any needed adjustments.”

In developments after the CDC guidelines were released:

—Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order May 23 permitting worship services to resume May 27 at 25 percent capacity if religious groups abide by social distancing and other public health instructions. Walz’s order came after some church groups said their congregations would begin meeting without his permission.

—A Southern California church has asked the U.S. Supreme Court, in an emergency appeal, for relief from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order so that it can resume corporate worship.

The CDC released its guidelines the same afternoon President Trump identified religious bodies as “essential” and called on governors “to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” according to The Washington Post. Trump threatened to “override” them if they did not do so, according to the newspaper.

The CDC guidance offers various safety recommendations but stops short of across-the-board mandates. It encourages churches and other faith groups to promote social distancing, to urge the use of cloth face coverings, to increase cleaning and disinfection of objects and facilities, and to reduce the sharing of worship materials such as hymnals.

Moore commended the guidelines, which are available at the CDC website:

“Such counsel is hard to make specific since practices differ so much from congregation to congregation, even within the same religion or denomination,” he said. “Every church I know is working through a staging plan, telling their members what benchmarks they are looking for to know when to re-gather, how they will then phase that re-gathering in, and what steps they will take to ensure safety when they do.

“People want to be confident that when their church reopens every reasonable precaution is taken, and that’s exactly what I see church leaders doing. The CDC guidance will come as a reassurance to many churches that their hard work in planning out the path back to worship is, in most cases, in line with the recommendations of health officials.”

In Minnesota, Walz’s previous executive order allowed 50 percent capacity in retail stores but limited worship services to no more than 10 people. In a May 20 letter, the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in Minnesota wrote Walz to say that despite the order, their churches would resume worship services May 26 at 33 percent capacity with social distancing and strict hygiene rules.

In issuing the new executive order May 23, Walz said it was issued after consultation with faith leaders.

“As the CDC allows for places of worship to reopen, I have partnered with faith leaders to ensure there are clear public health guidelines to do so as safely as possible,” he said.

Catholic and Lutheran leaders welcomed Walz’s new order. Eric Rassbach—vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a religious liberty advocacy organization representing both groups—commended Walz “for seeing the light.”

“Minnesota is setting an example by recognizing the importance of giving equal treatment to churches and other houses of worship, and that worship services can be conducted safely, cooperatively and responsibly,” Rassbach said.

Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, said after a May 22 conference call with Walz’s office: “The general sense among the evangelical denominational executives is that we want to be careful, but we want a road map, clear guidance and churches being treated on an equal basis. Everyone plans to take precaution with social distancing, masks, sanitizing, etc.”

In California, Newsom’s executive order allows retail stores and restaurants to open with social distancing in Phase 2 of reopening but postpones worship services until Phase 3.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and its pastor, Arthur Hodges, asked the Supreme Court May 24 to grant an injunction that would enable it to hold worship services, Politico reported. The church’s request of the high court came after a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to provide relief in a 2-1 decision May 22.

In a May 19 letter, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband told Newsom: “Religious gatherings may not be singled out for unequal treatment compared to other nonreligious gatherings that have the same effect on the government’s public health interest, absent the most compelling reasons.”

Church United, a coalition that represents more than 2,500 pastors in California, has announced worship services will resume with their congregations May 31 regardless of the governor’s order.

Bill Agee, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, encouraged Newsom in a May 15 letter to move churches to Phase 2 of his reopening plan, according to a spokesman for the convention.

As of 12:30 p.m. EDT May 26, more than 98,400 deaths from COVID-19 and 1.67 million confirmed cases have been reported in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The overwhelming majority of churches and other religious bodies have abided by government policies during the pandemic. This has resulted in such alternatives as online and drive-in services instead of in-person, corporate worship.

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