Several major happenings took place in the past week’s national conclave of the Southern Baptist Convention. First, it elected its first African American president, Fred Luter Jr., a former street preacher and current pastor of a church in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, reports The Washington Post. Second, thousands of delegates at the denomination’s annual meeting in New Orleans on Wednesday supported a resolution that affirms their belief that marriage is “the exclusive union of one man and one woman” and that “all sexual behavior outside of marriage is sinful.” The nation’s largest Protestant denomination is attempting to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white Southern base. At the same time, leaders said they feel it is important to take a public stand on their opposition to same-sex marriage, reports cnsnews.com. Third, the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” was approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention by a vote of 53 percent to 46 percent after nearly a half-hour debate June 19, reported Baptist Press. The legal name of the convention will remain “Southern Baptist Convention,” however. The idea behind “Great Commission Baptists” was to get away from the concept that the Convention is regional in nature and, in the words of Jimmy Draper, chairman of the name change task force, have as a goal the removal of “any barrier to the effective proclamation of the Gospel in reaching people for Christ.” The measure survived some parliamentary maneuvering. Richard Tribble Jr., a messenger from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Decatur, Ill., objected to the consideration of the recommendation, calling it “divisive in nature, character and application.” Carroll Vaughn, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Bloomfield, N.M., made a motion that the recommendation be tabled indefinitely. “We don’t need to sit around and argue about changing a name when we’re not going to change our name anyway,” Vaughn said. “Let’s be about the Great Commission and let the world describe us as people that turn the world upside down, not as people that sit around and argue about what we’re going to call ourselves.” Vaughn’s motion to table was ruled out of order. Bob Cleveland, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala., said Southern Baptists have failed in their effort to disciple the nation because “at last count about 10 million” of the members on the convention’s church rolls “are not coming to church.” “We are not Great Commission Baptists,” Cleveland said.
- Southern Baptists are currently dealing with a controversy between Calvinists and Arminians in the group. Christianity Today reports that a just-released survey by LifeWay Research has found that roughly equal numbers of Southern Baptist pastors identify their congregations as Calvinist/Reformed (30 percent) or Arminian/Wesleyan (30 percent). However, more than 60 percent of pastors are concerned about Calvinism’s influence on the denomination. The SBC debate over Calvinism shifted to heresy accusations shortly before the denomination’s annual meeting began. SBC president Bryant Wright offered a word for both Calvinists (“A bit of humility would be most welcome”) and traditional Southern Baptists (“The time for judgmentalism is over”) as he told attendees to focus on the Great Commission instead of the theology of salvation. “Let us understand that these two views on election and salvation can co-exist as long as we stay Christ-centered and biblically based in our theology,” he said. Meanwhile, Executive Committee president Frank Page expressed concern about “non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are about winning lost to Christ,” as well as “Calvinists who view those who disagree with them as unintelligent,” according to Baptist Press.
- Unable to feed himself because of a paralyzing accident June 13, Steve Saint is hoping advanced technology will help him walk again. Saint was testing a new device for his ministry when part of it detached and hit him in the head, paralyzing him below the neck, reports cbn.com. Saint followed in the footsteps of his father, Nate Saint, the devoted Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot who was killed in 1956 while trying to evangelize to the Waodani (Auca) people in Ecuador. Saint underwent surgery last Tuesday to relieve pressure on his spine and was able to stand for about a minute with help. Before that, a slight raise of his limp arms is about all the movement he could get his body to make. He described the “pain” and “fear” he’s experienced since his accident. Yet even as he lay in bed facing a reality of future surgeries and grueling physical therapy, Saint said he has not once asked “Why me?” “In these last six days I have been through more pain than I ever imagined possible,” he said. “But the amazing and encouraging thing to me is that, honestly, not one time have I wondered or wanted to ask God why this happened.” He grew emotional as he talked about his life being “turned upside down” and urged people to look beyond their situation and give God their all—no matter how small it may seem. “Let’s give Him everything. No holds barred, nothing held back,” Saint said with tears in his eyes. “He only expects us to give Him what we have. For some of us, that’s not very much, but at certain points in our life, it’s enough.” Saint will now have to teach his body how to move again. Still, his current state hasn’t detracted from his purpose.
- Local pro-life advocates are upset that a pro-life school bus, run by a local Catholic church, has been firebombed, reports lifenews.com. They’re also disappointed the local media has reported very little on the incident. Frank Munda, who runs the pro-life blog ProLife Corner, related, “A large school bus, owned by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy, that is well-known throughout Rockford for its beautiful pro-life pictures and words asking people to ‘pray to end abortion,’ was fire bombed on Friday night. The damage was extensive to the bus as windows were broken in on both sides and fire bombs were thrown inside to cause maximum damage. It has been speculated that this bombing of a pro-life Christian school bus is in retaliation for the closing of the Rockford abortion mill that is located not far from where the school bus was attacked. It’s interesting that abortion supporters in Rockford not only kill children in the womb but may well have destroyed a school bus used by children as an act of revenge for the closing of their child killing center. The Register Star did run a story about another vehicle that was fire bombed in Rockford at approximately the same time the hate crime occurred against pro-life Christians. Thus it is obvious that fire bombings are newsworthy stories. It is speculated by some that the non-bus bombing was nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up for the bombing of a Christian school bus.”
- President Obama’s decision to assert executive privilege over Operation Fast and Furious documents not only failed to delay contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder, but it also raised a whole new line of constitutional questions and challenges about the power of the presidency, reports Fox News. Republicans already are seeking more than 70,000 additional documents to answer their existing questions on Fast and Furious. The executive privilege claim opened up a new avenue of probing. The immediate question was whether the documents contained information so damaging that the president was willing to risk the bad PR by moving to lock them down. GOP lawmakers also questioned whether Obama’s assertion was legitimate, later voting in committee that it was not appropriate in this case. And Republicans repeatedly suggested that the White House had tipped its hand, and acknowledged being involved in Fast and Furious discussions by asserting privilege over the documents in question. “He’s either part of it or he’s not,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, a feisty Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, challenged during Wednesday’s committee meeting on Holder. “If [Obama’s] part of it, then we’ve had a series of witnesses that have misled this committee. And if he’s not part of it, then he’s got no business asserting executive privilege.” The failed Fast and Furious operation, reported Fox News, attempted selling thousands of guns to arms dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border to trace them to leaders of drug cartels. However, many of them showed up in crime scenes, including where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a shoot-out.
- Republican lawmakers aren’t just uneasy about the Obama administration’s move to grant a reprieve to thousands of illegal immigrants who came here as children. Several say they’re not even sure it’s legal, reports Fox News. Though members of both parties have expressed an interest in crafting legislation to potentially let young illegal immigrants stay in the U.S., Republicans took exception to the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement last Friday. Accusing the administration of making an end-run around Congress, GOP officials are increasingly questioning the president’s legal authority for the move. Twenty Republican senators fired off a letter to President Obama on Tuesday asking a string of questions about the legal basis for the policy change. “Not only do we question your legal authority to act unilaterally in this regard, we are frustrated that you have intentionally bypassed Congress and the American people,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the other senators wrote. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, followed up with a letter to Obama Wednesday, likewise asking for legal opinions backing up what he described as “amnesty.” Smith wrote that the move “represents a breach of faith with the American people and our Constitution, blatantly ignoring the rule of law and the separation of powers that are the foundations of our democracy.” Other lawmakers have taken their concerns beyond letter-writing. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Fox News Radio that he plans to sue. “We have to settle this issue,” King said. “And if we don’t take a stand here on this issue, then the door’s wide open for the president to do whatever he shall do with his presidential edicts.”
- Volunteer chaplains in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will no longer be allowed to invoke the name of Jesus in prayers at public events held on government property, reports Fox News. Major John Diggs, who oversees the chaplain program, told WSOC that the policy is a “matter of respecting that people may have different faiths and that it is not aimed at any one religion or denomination.” Pastor Terry Sartain of Horizon Christian Fellowship told FOX News Radio he was scheduled to give an invocation at a promotion ceremony. Before the event, he received a telephone call from his superior major. “I was told chaplains can no longer invoke the name of Jesus on government property,” Sartain said. “[He said] if I could refrain from that during the invocation he would appreciate that.” Sartain said he was surprised by the telephone call. The pastor said he has prayed “consistently” in the name of Jesus at past police department events without any issues. “I’m very sad about it,” he continued. “I’m a pastor and Jesus is the only thing I have to offer to bless people—his life and his person.” “It brings about a very real concern about where we are heading as a nation,” he said. “I serve a God who loves people unconditionally, who died for their sins on the cross, who wants to reconcile himself to them and love them where they are at—and now I’m told I can’t bless people as a result of that.” The police department said he could still pray, just not to Jesus. Instead the police department wants chaplains to deliver a “secular prayer.” “Even when I wasn’t a Christian—in my past—I didn’t even know what a secular prayer was,” Sartain said. “Why even pray if it’s to the one who’s in the room? That could be anybody.” Sartain has since asked the police department to withdraw his name from consideration for future public prayers. “It’s past time when they should’ve made a policy,” American Civil Liberties Union member Jim Gronquist told WSOC. “It’s improper to mix up religion with the function of state agents, and as long as they’re state agents, they should not be able to do that.” Sartain said it is apparent that “Christians for the most part are targeted in these days that we exist in.”
- GOP Rep. Peter King defended hearings on the so-called radicalization of American Muslims and how that potentially leads to terrorism, amid continued arguments about the need and appropriateness of such hearings, reports Fox News. The meeting was the fifth such for the House Committee on Homeland Security, led by the New York congressman and created after 9/11. “The overwhelming majority of American Muslims are outstanding Americans,” King said, however, the threat of radicalism is “a clear and present danger to national security.” King faced some of the strongest objections from Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
- The protesters popping up at Mitt Romney’s rallies throughout Michigan Tuesday looked like run-of-the-mill grassroots liberals—they waved signs about “the 99 percent,” they chanted about the Republican’s greed, and they described themselves as a loosely organized coalition of “concerned citizens.” They’re also getting paid, two of the protesters and an Obama campaign official told BuzzFeed. At the candidate’s afternoon stop outside a bakery in DeWitt, a group of about 15 protesters stood behind a police barricade, a few of them chanting in support of Obama. Asked why he was protesting, a man dressed in a grim reaper costume pointed a reporter to a pair of “designated representatives” standing in the shade. “I can’t talk, you gotta get one of those people over there to talk to y’all,” he said. “They’re the ones who can talk to reporters.” Neither of the representatives agreed to give their names, but two protesters said they were getting paid to stand outside of the rally, though their wage is unclear: one said she was getting $7.25 per hour, while another man said they were being paid $17 per hour. In other news, NBC has been under fire for editing news to make Romney look foolish, reports various sources including newsmax.com.
- House Speaker John Boehner says the Republican-led chamber will move to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t strike it down, newsmax.com reports. “Unless the Supreme Court throws out the entire Obamacare bill, the House will move to repeal all of it,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters in Washington Tuesday.