3 - Volunteer chaplains restricted in public prayers
There is quite a bit of confusion out there regarding the rights of officials to pray according to their own unique faith perspective. Quite commonly, we hear about municipalities and other government entities that have issued restrictions on the content of prayers used in accordance with public meetings.
And, the latest site of concern is Charlotte, North Carolina, where, according to the Christian Examiner, volunteer chaplains in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Police Department will no longer be able to use Jesus’ name in prayers at public events, such as police graduations, promotions, and memorials.
Major John Diggs, overseer of the chaplain program, told a local television station that the goal is to be more sensitive to all religions.
Terry Sartain, pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship and a police chaplain for seven years, said he got the news shortly before he was to give the invocation at a promotions ceremony last month. When he was told not to use Jesus in his prayer, he asked to be excused, according to the Charlotte Observer, which quoted him as saying, "I don’t want to jam my beliefs down anybody’s throat. But I won’t deny Jesus."
Based on past experience, I would say that this policy will receive its share of public comment. In this case, the Constitutionally-guaranteed free expression of religion is being restricted, and officials who are trying not to offend some faith groups are running the risk of offending Christians.
2 - Supreme Court rules on indecency fines, but not law
As we await major rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on health care and immigration in the coming week, the high court did issue a ruling on a case involving instances that have been on the radar of Christian groups and media monitoring organizations for some time now. According to CitizenLink, the court ruled unanimously in a case originating with a 2003 episode of the long-cancelled ABC show “NYPD Blue,” which contained a seven-second segment of nudity, and vulgarities aired during live award shows on Fox in 2004.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined ABC $1.2 million and criticized Fox for the incidents; the networks complained that the broadcast standards were too vague before the incidents, and only clarified afterward. The court sided with the networks, saying, "The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent. Therefore, the commission’s standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague, and the commission’s orders must be set aside.”
So, the length of the objectionable material was at issue here and the timing of the enforcement. But, the Supreme Court did not adjust current law on indecency. Patrick Trueman of Morality in Media is quoted as saying, “While the ruling is not what (we were) hoping for, it should be understood that the high court did not strike down the federal indecency law, nor did it uphold the decision of the U.S. court of Appeals finding that the FCC enforcement regulations of that law were unconstitutional."
A previous Supreme Court ruling dating from 1978 gave the FCC the power to police the networks, particularly between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m., when children are more likely to be watching TV.
“Broadcast decency rules have existed to protect children since the dawn of the broadcast medium,” Parents Television Council President Tim Winter said. “It is for their sake that there will still be decency rules and the TV networks will be required to abide by them.”
This ruling did not involve the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime case, or other instances. The FCC now must review more than a million complaints about broadcast indecency and vulgarity that were lodged while the case was pending review. For the time being, rules on what can be shown during prime-time television are intact, but there continues to be the threat that the FCC will either voluntarily or by a court mandate revise its policies, which could lead to a loosening of content regulations on prime-time broadcast TV, which will be of great concern to Christian parents.
1 - Southern Baptist messengers choose first African-American President, pass groundbreaking resolutions
The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention took place in New Orleans this week, and hometown pastor Fred Luter, who had served for the previous year as convention first vice-president, was elected as the first African-American President of the convention. This is being hailed as a step forward in race relations for the denomination, which had been chided in the past because of its history. According to the Christian Post:
It was less than 20 years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention officially apologized for condoning and perpetuating racism. The SBC was formed in 1845 out of a split with northern Baptists over the right to own slaves. Many in the denomination supported segregation.Baptist Press reports that since that apology in 1995, the Convention has seen the percentage of non-white churches grow, from 5 percent of the SBC in 1990 to 19 percent in 2010. Last year, messengers approved a landmark report encouraging ethnic diversity in committee appointments.
Almost 7900 messengers attended the two-day convention in New Orleans, which featured a number of other notable developments (according to Baptist Press), including:
- the descriptor, "Great Commission Baptists", was authorized for voluntary use by churches, by a 53-46 margin. The convention will still be known as the Southern Baptist Convention, but there was sentiment that the descriptor would help churches outside the South and ethnic churches who are trying to reach people who might view the name "Southern Baptist" negatively
- messengers overwhelmingly passed a resolution called, "On Cooperation and the Doctrine of Salvation," which said in part, "We affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation, so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission." There is a theological difference among Southern Baptists that was highlighted from the podium from outgoing convention president Bryant Wright and Executive Committee President and former convention president Frank Page, who called for unity between those who embrace Calvinism and those who do not. Page plans to convene a group of advisers to help maintain unity on the issue, and Wright, in his convention sermon, said: "If we pride ourselves more on being a traditional Southern Baptist or more on being a Calvinist or a Reformed theologian, more than we are thankful that we are Christ-centered and biblically based ... then it is time to repent of theological idolatry."
- messengers strongly approved a resolution saying that homosexuality is not a civil rights issue, reaffirming opposition to same-sex marriage, and calling for Southern Baptists to "stand against any form of gay-bashing" and that messengers "express our love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle."
- a resolution on the sinner's prayer said the prayer is "not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the Gospel." It further said that messengers "promote any and all biblical means of urging sinners to call on the name of the Lord in a prayer of repentance and faith."
- Tom Elliff, President of the International Mission Board, followed up on a challenge from the 2011 convention, when he called on Southern Baptist churches to claim responsibility for evangelizing all of the world's then-3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups. He said 1,281 Southern Baptist churches and entities have indicated an interest in embracing such a group, and 474 have indicated a deeper level of commitment.
- Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, the "home missions" arm of the convention, highlighted the goal of a net increase of 5000 Southern Baptist churches in the next 10 years.
- more than 1100 decisions for Christ were made during the yearly evangelistic emphasis in advance of the convention, known as Crossover.
Going in to the convention, LifeWay Research had released the results of a membership and attendance survey for the denomination. The Christian Post reports that the denomination has lost members for 5 straight years, and now has less than 16 million members, after an almost 1 percent drop from 2010 to 2011. Primary worship attendance has also dropped by 0.65 percent to around 6.16 million.
There is some good news, though. After reporting its lowest number of baptisms in decades in 2010, the SBC saw an increase in baptisms in 2011. According to the report, baptisms increased by 7/10 of one percent. And, there are 37 more churches this year, bringing the total to over 45,764.
But, it's a tough neighborhood - there is a rise in secularism throughout the culture, and more choices for church consumers. But, if the week in New Orleans is any indication, Southern Baptists, or "Great Commission Baptists", are strategizing to face the future and to remove barriers that would keep people from accepting and following Christ.