Nashville—Racial tension, Ebola, ISIS terrorists, Houston pastors subpoenaed, midterm elections and Ice Bucket Challenge are just a few of the topics that may come to mind while reflecting back on 2014. In addition to those, the announcement of pastor David Platt as president of the International Mission Board was among the top stories of the year on Baptist Press’ website.
This year’s list includes stories selected through a combination of Google Analytics, which tracks web traffic, editors’ picks and by considering the issues that seemed to stir the most discussions on blogs, in meetings, hallways and throughout social media.
The following list for 2014 includes a brief description with each headline.
‘Pastor David Platt succeeds Tom Elliff as IMB president’
In August, Baptist Press reported the election of David Platt as president of the International Mission Board. Platt, 36, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, succeeded former missionary, pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president Tom Elliff, 70. Platt’s election drew both praise from many for his youth, passion for international missions and popularity—especially among young pastors—and concerns from others questioning his commitment to the Cooperative Program, which supports IMB’s work and Southern Baptist missions and ministry. Through the years, Platt has drawn media attention for his involvement with international missions, being an advocate for adoption, and speaking at numerous national events that include the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference. He gave the SBC annual meeting sermon in 2011 and wrote the New York Times bestseller “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”
‘Supreme Court finds in favor of Hobby Lobby; Baptists rejoice’
Baptist Press reported in June the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, ruling for the first time “closely held” companies may exercise their religious opinions. They may conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans. Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. Since Hobby Lobby owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for non-compliance with the ACA. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, questioned in a statement that the decision “left unanswered whether the so-called accommodation to the contraceptive mandate provided to religious nonprofit employers is constitutional.” GuideStone filed a legal challenge to the accommodation, which still imposes objectionable requirements on certain religious non-profit organizations. An Oklahoma federal judge issued a preliminary injunction last December that protects ministries using GuideStone’s health plan from the mandate’s penalties. Earlier in December, in a hearing before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the panel heard arguments in the case.
‘Baptists called on to provide aid to Iraqi Christians, Yazadi Kurds’
In August, Baptist Press ran a story reporting that the International Mission Board and ministry partner Baptist Global Response were turning to Southern Baptists to help provide humanitarian relief for tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidi Kurds forced from their homes by Islamic terrorists. The White House called the situation a “looming humanitarian catastrophe.” On Aug. 3, Sunni extremists known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) seized the Iraqi city of Sinjar, forcing Yazidi Kurds to flee fearing massacre. Many Iraqis without transportation escaped to the nearby Sinjar Mountains. While the U.S. has airdropped water, food and other supplies to Yazidi refugees in the mountains, BGR representatives continue ongoing efforts in helping displaced Iraqi refugees who have fled ISIS militants’ rapid advance.
‘Houston mayor to drop subpoenas of ministers’
In October, Baptist Press reported Houston’s mayor, Annise Parker, announced plans to withdraw subpoenas against five local pastors. The word “subpoenas” grabbed national attention after it became known that five Houston ministers were being subpoenaed for sermons and other private correspondence regarding their opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Parker, who is openly homosexual, championed the ordinance known as HERO among its supporters. The subpoenas were part of the city’s effort to defend itself against a lawsuit challenging its disqualification of a petition drive to vote on the ordinance, which has added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Houston’s list of protected classifications such as race, religion, sex and disability. Days after Parker’s announcement of the subpoenas being withdrawn, evangelicals held a rally in support of the pastors, calling for revival and the need for Christians to continue defending religious freedom. A variety of speakers—including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and SBC president Ronnie Floyd—spoke at the event. More than 6,000 people gathered at Grace Community Church in Houston. An additional 765 churches and more than 7,500 home groups logged into the live stream webcast.
‘Third way church disfellowshipped’
Baptist Press reported in September the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, acting on behalf of the SBC, withdrew fellowship from a California church where some members, including the pastor, claim “same-sex marriage can be blessed by God.” Without opposition, the EC voted Sept. 23 to declare that New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., “does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church under Article III (of the SBC Constitution) and that messengers from the church should not be seated until such time as the Convention determines that the church has unambiguously demonstrated its friendly cooperation with the Convention as defined in the Convention’s constitution.” In a Sept. 20 letter to the EC, New Heart’s deacons wrote that “while ‘our church’ remains without an official stance on same-sex marriage, our preaching pastor has officiated a same-sex marriage.” The pastor, Danny Cortez, has called New Heart a “third way” church in which its leaders can hold varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage.
‘Baptists work to educate W. Africa about Ebola’
In October, as the deadly Ebola virus continued to make headlines and claim lives, Baptist Press reported on an effort in West Africa to help stem what health officials were calling the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history. Baptists in the region were implementing strategies to provide basic education about the virus. Trevor Yoakum, an International Mission Board missionary, said false beliefs about the virus continued to spread in West Africa. “Some people believe that if they bathe with water and salt then they will be cured of Ebola,” Yoakum said. To confront some of these beliefs, Yoakum, in conjunction with Baptist Global Response, helped formulate a campaign in Togo to distribute 15,000 Ebola information brochures across the country. Earlier this month, “The Ebola Fighters,” many of whom were motivated by their Christian faith to risk their lives in battling the deadly disease in West Africa, were named TIME’s “Person of the Year,” the magazine announced Dec. 10. Kent Brantly, an American medical doctor with the missions organization Samaritan’s Purse who contracted Ebola while running a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, was one of several medical workers featured on a TIME Magazine cover as part of the magazine’s recognition of “Ebola Fighters” as the 2014 Person of the Year.
‘Ferguson crisis calls churches to ‘unify & pray’
In November, Baptist Press reported on riots in Ferguson, Mo., that broke out after a grand jury reported its decision not to indict a white Missouri police officer in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American. Baptist churches responded by calling Christians to unify and pray for the nation. “We need to be both an empathetic listening ear for the community and herald forth a prophetic voice for justice and compassion in a spirit of humility,” Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., said in a statement to Baptist Press. Williams is also the president of Southern Baptists’ National African American Fellowship. Since then, protesters throughout the country have continued to voice opposition to the grand jury decision. Black and white Southern Baptists also voiced reaction earlier this month to the case involving a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of New York City man Eric Garner. And most recently, in what police and media were reporting as a revenge killing, two New York City police officers were gunned down Dec. 20 in broad daylight by a man who later committed suicide in a subway station. On Dec. 15, SBC President Ronnie Floyd launched a racial reconciliation initiative, calling for Southern Baptists to repent of racism and unite in love. Twenty other Southern Baptist pastors signed the appeal, including leaders from the white, black, Asian, Native American and Latino communities.
‘GOP gain Senate, Southern Baptists win’
Baptist Press reported in November that voters gave the Republican Party a majority in the U.S. Senate in November’s mid-term election, leaving President Obama without a Democratic-controlled chamber in Congress for the first time since he took residence in the White House nearly six years ago. Southern Baptist candidates, meanwhile, won first-time seats in Congress as part of the Republican blitz, but social conservatives did not fare as well on some state initiatives. Several states made decisions on two divisive social issues: abortion and marijuana. Pro-life advocates gained an important win in one state but lost in two others. Tennessee voters approved an amendment affirming that nothing in the state constitution can be construed to support an unfettered right to abortion, thereby giving legislators more authority to regulate abortion. Voters in Colorado and North Dakota, however, defeated pro-life amendments. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the election illustrates that “the pro-life issue persists and can win,” which he deemed the “most important aspect” of Election Day 2014. In other action, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved pro-marijuana initiatives. Florida voters rejected an amendment to legalize medical marijuana, though 58 percent cast ballots for it. The measure required 60 percent for passage.
‘Ice Bucket Challenge hits stem cell snag’
In August, Baptist Press reported participants in the popular, social media-driven Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised millions to combat ALS, may have unwittingly supported embryonic stem cell research. Fueled by online videos of friends, high-profile athletes, politicians and celebrities participating in the challenge, the summer craze involved participants dousing themselves with ice water to create awareness and help generate more funding for ALS research while challenging others to do the same. Pro-life advocates warned the ALS Association, the principal charity benefitting from the challenge, said in a statement that it sponsors one study using embryonic stem cells, though donors can “stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project.” The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission posted a question-and-answer page on its website cautioning those considering donations to the ALS Association. ERLC staff members Andrew Walker and Joe Carter noted Christians should “consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical worldview at odds with Christian ethics. The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful. Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.” The article did note “pathways to participation” in the Ice Bucket Challenge “that don’t require moral compromise.” The ERLC’s website listed ALS charities that only fund adult stem cell research.
‘Former homosexuals: Gospel approach needed’
In October, Baptist Press reported the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission held its first national conference Oct. 27-29 in Nashville with the goal of helping a capacity crowd of more than 1,300 people bolster biblical marriage within the church and protect marriage outside it. The conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” featured prominent speakers and drew national attention from both religious and secular media outlets around the country. David Platt, newly elected International Mission Board president, pointed attendees to the missiological implications of marriage and singleness. Both portray the gospel, he said. “The purpose of marriage is for the display of the gospel and a demonstration of the glory of our God,” Platt said. Russell Moore, ERLC president, said evangelicals must contend for marriage, family and contend for holiness. He noted, “We do this in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today’s cultural climate provides a huge opportunity for gospel witness,” he said. (BP)