I've been blogging about my preaching travels recently and one of the more fascinating privileges in my life is that I get to preach at historic churches. Pawleys Island (or just Pawleys) is a community on the coast of South...
As General Editor of The Gospel Project, I've been amazed and encouraged to hear the stories of how the curriculum has helped churches revitalized their small-group Bible studies. At the same time, we've had churches begging us to provide...
Earlier this week at EdStetzer.com Radical Christianity: A Call to Legalism or a Cause to Live? 5 Reasons I Meet With Strangers (in My Case, via Twitter) & Would Commend It to You. The Parable of the Lost Sheep: A...
A recent Christianity Today cover story by Matthew Lee Anderson has sparked a discussion around the growing "Radical Christianity" movement in evangelicalism (and beyond). It's a conversation that has been brewing for years, but appears to have finally come...
I'd be very cautious about saying a year makes a trend, but I do hope that there is a change coming. The Church of England is experiencing some fascinating shifts, and perhaps there is a change afoot. British Church Attendance...
Our religious freedom is in great peril. Perhaps the greatest threat to this God-given freedom is the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate forcing most employers to provide their employees insurance with free coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization—regardless of religious or moral objections. The religious exemption within the mandate is very narrow, applying mostly just to churches. And every effort by the administration to resolve religious freedom concerns has been grossly inadequate.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a proposed update to its mandate in hopes of allaying concerns. However, little has changed.
The proposal still fails to protect many religious schools and charities. It still fails to protect many businesses such as Hobby Lobby that seek to operate according to deeply held religious beliefs. And it still forces many objecting employers to contract with insurers on plans to offer their employees abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their moral convictions. Employers refusing to comply face fines of up to $100 per employee per day.
This is frightening. No American should be forced by the government to purchase or provide insurance that violates his or her deeply held beliefs. We must not let this assault on religious freedom stand.
This week, members of Congress are in their home districts visiting with their constituents. Now is a great opportunity for people of faith to contact their representatives to express their objections to the abortion/contraceptive mandate and support for laws that protect rights of conscience. I hope you will consider making a call and paying a visit to your representative. You may even want to ask your small group, your pastor, or your fellow church members to attend with you. This is a wonderful opportunity to pray for your elected officials, to encourage them to stand tall in this fight, and to remind them that moral issues are important to you. You can contact your representative in his or her local officehere.
If we do not speak out now, our religious freedom will continue to erode, and this abortion/contraceptive mandate could stand. So I hope you’ll make that call to your representative’s office today to schedule a meeting. Please also consider forwarding this email to your friends. If you are able to make contact with your representative, we would love to hear about it.
As always, thank you for your concern and your action.
In His Service,
Dr. Richard Land
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention
The “brave new world” of human cloning apparently has arrived, and critics are waving the warning flags.
Oregon-based scientists reported Wednesday (May 15) they had cloned human embryos, reportedly the first successful attempt at such cloning, as a means of producing embryonic stem cells. The researchers extracted stem cells from the clones, destroying the days-old human embryos in the process.
The scientists used basically the same cloning method utilized in 1996 by Scottish researchers to create the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep.
News of the successful experiment seemed certain to revive the cloning controversy, which has been dormant in recent years. One of the battlegrounds likely will be in Congress, which could see new efforts to ban human cloning. Those efforts probably will involve debates on the extent of a prohibition — on cloning for reproductive purposes or for both research and reproductive purposes.
Critics — who point out cloning an embryo for experimentation is reproductive by nature because a new human being has been created — criticized the successful research announced in the journal Cell as both unethical and unnecessary. Supporters of the cloning technique sometimes call it “somatic cell nuclear transfer” — which simply is the scientific name for cloning.
“Let’s be clear — what these researchers are doing is creating a cloned human being in order to destroy that human being to harvest its stem cells for the benefit of older and bigger human beings,” Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told Baptist Press. “There are words for such activity — barbaric and uncivilized.”
The cloning technique used by scientists at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and the Oregon National Primate Research Center was a version of somatic cell nuclear transfer, the method used to create Dolly. The researchers transferred the nucleus of a cell that contained a person’s DNA into an egg that no longer had its nucleus. After stimulation, some of the embryos developed to a stage where they produced stem cells.
Daniel Sulmasy, a professor of medicine and a bioethicist at the University of Chicago, told National Public Radio (NPR), “This is a case in which one is deliberately setting out to create a human being for the sole purpose of destroying that human being. I’m of the school that thinks that that’s morally wrong no matter how much good could come of it.”
Opponents of cloning and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), which is lethal for the human embryos, pointed to other stem cell research that has surpassed ESCR in therapies in human beings and is not ethically controversial. Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, giving hope for the development of cures for a variety of diseases and other ailments.
Research with adult stem cells in human trials has produced therapies for more than 70 afflictions, including cancer, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart damage, Parkinson’s and sickle cell anemia. Work with induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells also has shown promise. This technique, first used in 2006, involves reprogramming adult skin cells into stem cells virtually identical to those in human embryos. Research with neither adult nor iPS stem cells involves the destruction of embryos, unlike ESCR.
ESCR — though highly touted because of the capacity of embryonic stem cells to transform into any cell or tissue in the body — has yet to treat any disease in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said iPS cells “make the supposed necessity of embryo-destructive research increasingly unnecessary. I am perplexed as to why we continue to pursue such dehumanizing research when morally preferable alternatives are readily available.”
David Prentice, a stem cell expert and a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said, “Modern science has passed this by…. [T]he entire faulty concept of using the cloning technique has been superseded by uncontroversial techniques.”
Opponents of cloning and ESCR also warned about a potentially nightmarish future now that the human cloning barrier has been broken.
The cloning technology “will open the door to human engineering and a brave — but highly dangerous — new world,” Prentice said in the written statement.
“Given that science has passed cloning by for stem cell production, this announcement seems simply a justification for making clones, and makes reproductive cloning and birth of human clones more likely.”
Sulmasy, a member of President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, said, “We already know there are people out there who are itching to be able to be the first to bring a cloned human being to birth. And I think it’s going to happen.”
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led the cloning effort by the research team, rejected such fears.
Human cloning “is not our focus, nor do we believe our findings might be used by others to advance the possibility of human reproductive cloning,” Mitalipov said in a written release from OHSU.
There is no federal prohibition on any form of human cloning. The House of Representatives passed legislation to ban cloning for both research and reproductive purposes in 2001 and 2003, but the Senate never voted on a comprehensive ban. Some senators supported the prohibition of cloning to produce a child but not cloning for research.
The entire nation is aware of the horrific acts of Kermit Gosnell, the late-term abortionist. The stories that have come out during his trial for multiple counts of murder of young babies are heartbreaking and bewildering. We can breathe a little easier now that he has been found guilty of first degree murder.
I can understand the disgust that most Americans feel toward this man. I share it. Yet people like this were bound to emerge from the carnage of our abortion culture. We shouldn’t be surprised that some of those who can do the unspeakable to a human being inside the womb would have no moral qualms over doing the same thing outside the womb. The abortion culture has subjugated the unborn to the interests of their mothers. If the mother doesn’t want her baby, an abortionist like Kermit Gosnell feels no different about that baby before or after birth.
Given that mindset, we must ask if there are more Kermit Gosnell’s out there. Is he the worst of what the abortion culture has produced, or is he just the one who got caught? As responsible citizens, we all need to know. The lives of babies and the wellbeing of mothers are at stake.
That’s why I appreciate the recent effort by the leadership of two committees of the United States House of Representatives. The House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week sent letters to every state attorney general and health officer asking them the kinds of questions that can help all of us get some answers.
Their letters ask such questions as “Does your state license abortion clinics?” Can you imagine not needing a license to perform abortions? It is unthinkable to me that some states have become so abortion-friendly that they wouldn’t even require some kind of licensing process for these places. The congressmen also ask if abortionists have been prosecuted for performing unlawful late-term abortions in their states. Considering what Kermit Gosnell was doing that question certainly makes sense. The state of Pennsylvania received multiple complaints about what he was doing, yet did nothing.
The House committees asked the states to answer their questions within two weeks. One week has already passed. In the meantime, more than 23,000 more abortions have been performed. Do our states even know under what conditions these lives were taken? What about the mothers? What were they subjected to during their ordeal? Does anyone even know how they are now?
Abortion is a violent act with multiple victims. Many in Congress are trying to get a clearer picture of just what is happening across the country. I applaud them for this first step in bringing some accountability to bear on those who kill our nation’s purest treasure and scar our mothers for life.
I am grateful that our nation is becoming more pro-life. But that pro-life conviction must be channeled into action. It isn’t enough to simply say one is pro-life and not do anything to protect the unborn. A good starting place for action is to know what the states are and are not doing right now. Let me encourage you to contact your governor’s office and ask if they have received these letters from the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees. If they have, encourage them to provide the requested information as soon as possible.
I pray you will care enough to get involved. God is watching what we do, and He is holding us accountable. May we hold ourselves accountable before He passes His own judgment.
Dr. Barrett Duke is Vice President for Public Policy and Research for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and also serves as Director of the Commission’s Research Institute of the ERLC. Read more of his work here. He is also a regular contributor to the For Faith and Family radio broadcast.
The Boy Scouts of America, with 2.6 million youth among its ranks, bills itself as “the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.” The organization’s mission—“to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”—would seem to buttress that claim. A pledge to stay “morally straight,” after all, is widely considered a noble requirement of its young people.
Which helps explain why a proposed resolution—set for a May 23 vote by the BSA’s 1,400-member national council—to roll back the BSA’s longstanding membership ban on youth “who are open or avowed homosexuals” is drawing widespread opposition.
And the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is standing alongside those urging the BSA to stay the course for moral values.
On May 15, ERLC President Richard Land sent a letter to BSA Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock and BSA President Wayne Perry expressing “strident opposition” to the proposed membership resolution and urging “no change to the BSA’s existing membership policy.”
“Our position on the BSA’s latest proposal—an elimination of the membership ban on openly homosexual youth but retention of the ban on openly homosexual adults—differs in no respect from our position on the ‘local option,’” Land said in the letter. “In short, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission remains opposed to any change in the BSA’s membership policy.”
The BSA announced the proposed resolution last month in response to its decision to refrain action on a January proposal to remove the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation for both youth and adults and instead allow each scouting unit to decide membership standards. Yet the resolution set for consideration by the national council next week is likewise objectionable to the ERLC.
“First, we consider the proposed policy a serious departure from the BSA’s moral foundation and traditional values,” Land said, noting the BSA’s stated values-based mission. “We do not believe […] the admittance of openly homosexual youth into Scouting comports with this mission. Nor do we believe it compatible with the Scout Oath, which requires a commitment ‘to keep myself…morally straight,’” he added.
The faith community has particular cause for concern. Nearly 70 percent of the more than 100,000 scouting units are chartered by churches and other faith-based organizations, with Southern Baptists representing a sizable number of those churches.
“By introducing homosexual identification into Scouting, the Boy Scouts would effectively require church-sponsored Scouting units to endorse that which they consider incompatible with Scripture,” Land said, adding that “allowing openly homosexual youth into Scouting would cause many Southern Baptist churches, as well as many churches from other denominations, to withdraw their sponsorship rather than compromise their convictions.”
Further, Land said, admitting avowed homosexual youth into scouting but barring them as adults is “inconsistent and unworkable.” Under the plan, an openly homosexual teen could work his way up the scouting ladder only to be forced out of scouting when he turns 18. “To foster youth toward a future in Scouting only to bar them from the ranks on their 18th birthday is an inconsistency many find irreconcilable,” Land said, noting potentially widespread objections from the LGBT community.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts had a right to maintain the longstanding policy on homosexuals because it was a “core” part of the BSA’s mission and purpose. Yet adoption of the resolution could put the BSA on shaky legal ground.
“The proposed resolution abandons this ‘core’ principle as merely a preference, thereby inviting lawsuits and jeopardizing the policy’s sustainability, according to many legal scholars,” Land said.
The BSA national council vote will arrive less than a year after the BSA announced “there would be no further action taken on a resolution” to change its existing policy that bars open homosexuals from Scouting. That July 2012 decision came after a nearly two-year study of its membership standards. The longstanding restriction concerning sexual orientation, the BSA stated, “remains in the best interest of Scouting,” adding that a “majority of our membership agrees with our policy.”
Many see adoption of the resolution as the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. “If the BSA takes one step in compromising a long-held core value,” Land reasoned, “what would prevent it from soon taking a second step to abandonment of the value altogether?”
“Timeless values,” said Land, “that have served the BSA well for a century should not be discarded hastily—or ever.”
Timeless and values, after all, go hand in hand.
If you share the ERLC’s concerns, please contact the Boy Scouts of America today and tell them to vote “no” on the resolution to allow openly homosexual youth in the Boy Scouts. You can reach them by phone at (972) 580-2000 or by email here. You can locate and contact your local council here.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm has made it clear to United States senators it will “actively oppose” immigration reform legislation if it includes provisions for same-sex partners.
In a Tuesday (May 14) letter, Richard Land told Judiciary Committee leaders the “issue is a deal-breaker” for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“On this point we seek to be ‘Waterford’ crystal clear: If [any] same-sex partner reunification provision is included in an immigration reform overhaul, the [ERLC] would not merely hold a neutral position on the broader bill, but would instead actively oppose it,” said Land, the ERLC’s president.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has filed amendments supported by homosexual activist organizations to a Senate immigration reform bill. One of Leahy’s amendments would recognize for immigration purposes a same-sex marriage that is legal in a state or foreign country. His other amendment would enable a same-sex partner of an American citizen to gain legal residency in the same way a husband or wife of a citizen does.
Land told Baptist Press, “We felt that it was very important for the Congress to know that as much as we support immigration reform we cannot condone same-sex partnerships and that it would be terribly unwise of Congress to confuse the issue of immigration reform with the issue of so-called gay rights.”
The ERLC’s opposition to same-sex provisions in immigration legislation is nothing new. Land has expressed disfavor with such proposals in recent months as the latest effort at immigration reform has built momentum and efforts to include same-sex measures have been promoted. In the letter to Leahy and lead Republican committee member Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Land spoke in stark terms about the ERLC’s opposition and provided three reasons for its stance:
— “First, we have biblical concerns. As a matter of interpretation of Scripture, Southern Baptists do not condone any sexual relationship beyond the sacred bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. Most Southern Baptists, therefore, could not in good conscience support efforts by the government to aid the reunification of same-sex partners.
— “Second, same-sex partner reunification would violate the spirit, if not also the letter, of the law. The Defense of Marriage Act specifies that, for federal purposes, marriage is the union of one man and one woman. While its future remains uncertain, DOMA is currently the law of the land. Immigration reform is not an appropriate place to challenge it.
— “Third, a majority of the American people is ready, even eager, for Congress to break partisan divides and find a workable solution on immigration reform that balances respect for the rule of law and care for the stranger among us. Yet support for a same-sex partner reunification provision remains mixed at best. To ignore this reality is to risk poisoning reform.”
The Judiciary Committee will resume its consideration Thursday (May 16) of amendments to the immigration bill, but it has not publicized if the same-sex proposals will be acted on.
Land and other evangelical supporters of broad immigration reform said upon its mid-April introduction the Senate bill — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744 — marked a solid, though imperfect, start but did not endorse it. The product of about three months of negotiations among four Democrats and four Republicans, the proposal is the first serious congressional attempt since 2007 to repair what seemingly everyone acknowledges is a broken immigration system.
The lack of enforcement of the current system has resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Land and the ERLC actively participated in efforts to reform immigration in 2006-07, and messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed a resolution in support of immigration reform with specific guidelines.
That resolution from the SBC meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
Land and other supporters of broad immigration reform had urged Leahy before the May 7 filing of his same-sex amendments not to push such measures in the bill. Among the signers with Land on the May 1 letter to Leahy were representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The 844-page Senate bill includes a universal employment verification system, as well as border security and fence plans. When the border security plans are in place, undocumented immigrants can seek temporary status. To achieve such provisional status under the bill, each immigrant must, among other requirements, pass a background check, pay taxes and $2,000 in fines, and wait at least 10 years behind legal immigrants who applied before him. He will receive no federal benefits during this provisional period.
Some conservatives have said the border security measures are inadequate, and others have criticized its cost to the government.
A Heritage Foundation study released May 6 predicted the Senate bill would cost taxpayers at least $6.3 trillion. Some advocates of immigration reform disputed that forecast.
Supporters of immigration reform have warned there is only a narrow window of opportunity for passage in this two-year, congressional session, which closes at the end of 2014. Land has predicted approval must happen by the Fourth of July or Labor Day this year.