Boy Scouts Likely to Lift Their Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

Two years ago our church rescinded our charter with the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America due to sweeping policy changes within the organization regarding acceptance of gay leaders. The decision to rescind our charter was not an easy one in that Troop 20 had been part of our church for decades. Nevertheless, due to our convictions regarding affirmation of what we deem to be an unbiblical stance (BTW - a reminder is needed here - affirmation and love are not synonyms) we felt obligated to make the decision we did. 

Our story was shared in a previous posting here and in an article featured in the Florida Times-Union here

BSA-665x385The reason this story remains relevant is based on the speech by BSA President Dr. Robert M. Gates presented at the recent 2015 National Annual Meeting.

The Boy Scouts have dramatically changed their stance on gay affirmation over the past couple of decades. At one point, they had won a Supreme Court challenge to their policies of only having heterosexual leaders and boys in the organization. Then, in 2013, they amended their membership options to allow boys who identify as gay to participate in Scouting all the while stating that they would continue to bar openly gay adults from leadership positions. As this was being stated, I thought to myself, "It's only a matter of time. They will change that policy as well. They will feel they have to do so." 

That day has come. 

 

(Begin at the 8:40 mark to hear statements regarding this issue.)

“Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country,” Gates stated. “The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.”

I am not writing this post to bash the Scouts or to bash those who identify as LGBT. There is no value in either type of article.

However, I find this disconcerting for Scouting and for the boys who find such value in the program. Will Scouting fail in the United States? I doubt it. There will still be thousands of boys earning badges and learning valuable life lessons. Will some Troop partners (mostly churches) rescind their charter? Yes, some will, but not most. If a great exodus of churches were to happen for this cause, it would have occurred in 2013.

What will happen is that regardless how this is spun, Scouting will be seen as an organization that effectively capitulated on foundational beliefs and legacy in order to stand firmly upon political correctness in order to simply exist.

Existing alone is not laudable.  

Joe Carter has written on this in an excellent posting on The Gospel Coalition's blog. Here's a sampling:

This is an attitude (based on Gates' statements) that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations. Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization. And it will continue to get worse. Rather than standing for principle and staying true to their integrity, many Christian leaders will follow Gates example and cave in to the pressure to condone ungodly behaviors in order to preserve the “mission.” They will abandon their integrity in a misguided attempt to preserve an organization that is rotting from within.

Carter's full article may be read here.

While there are other groups that have developed as a response to the decisions of the Boy Scouts' leadership, there are still thousands of boys and families involved in Scouting. The tradition is strong and I have discovered that the local groups tend to disavow many of these controversial decisions being made in the Texas headquarters. This creates a very difficult situation for the local leadership.

Therefore, I am compelled to pray for them. I am praying for the boys and parents and the leadership. While our church cannot and will not partner with the BSA due to these actions, we have not rescinded our prayer and love for them.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (ESV)


What About Baccalaureate?

For years, our church has had the privilege of hosting local high school baccalaureate services. There are numerous high schools in our community and we have partnered with two on occasion as the host of this special service for graduates.

When I first began serving on pastoral staff at our church (21 years ago as the Student Pastor) I was asked to serve on an advisory team of parents, students and school representatives to plan the service, since we now had the newest facility in town and became the de-facto host.

I gladly served with these volunteers each year, but soon discovered that the crowd and enthusiasm for the event was determined not by the school (which doesn't officially host a baccalaureate due to concerns over church/state offenses) or the church representation, but by participation of students and parents.

After just a few years, we began to be more intentional in the planning as church leaders and a sense of consistency grew.

However, as the years have gone by, attendance (which is voluntary) has waned at baccalaureate services.

Senior Year Traditions

Times have changed. Graduating from high school is a significant accomplishment. There are new celebrations of graduation that have developed. For instance, the now mandatory senior pictures taken in front of a rusty barn or a random tree with PhotoShop airbrush effects that make every graduate magazine front-page worthy. Then, there are the ridiculous "promposals" that take place each spring (My favorite is the one depicted on the insurance commercial below.)

 

What Is a Baccalaureate?

With all that's new and celebrated, the Baccalaureate has all but disappeared. 

Each of the six high school's in our community have graduating classes of hundreds. Yet, each school seems to only have only a few dozen in attendance for baccalaureate services. Of those in attendance, it is plainly evident each year that the majority are not sure what the event is supposed to be about and only come because their parents heard it was happening and said "We're doing this. You're a senior."

Each school's service is different. In fact, the services vary each year based on the leadership and planning team. It is clear in the services I have attended, either as a pastor, friend or parent, that many involved in the planning do not understand the meaning and significance of the baccalaureate.

While the history of the service has its roots in medieval Europe as a custom of presenting laurels for those earning their Bachelor's Degree, it has over time been designated as a celebration for those graduating from high school. It is religious in nature, and specifically Christian, though in some areas in the name of inclusivity and tolerance, it has become a multi-faith event. However, the combination of all faiths actually removes the historic significance and true meaning of it being a Christian celebration of worship. Therefore, to have an "all-faith Baccalaureate service" is actually not possible in the truest sense of the word.

That being said, many, if not all American public schools have relegated the baccalaureate service to an off-campus, non-school sponsored community or local church event. It is no wonder why attendance has dropped over time.

What Is The Value of the Baccalaureate Service?

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This is a question that begs to be answered as planning and scheduling of the events continues in our churches. If the event is little more than a pseudo-graduation event. . . a "graduation before the graduation" to just add to the senior and his/her family's schedule toward the end of the journey, then the value is weak, if non-existent.

However, if the gathering is the strategic and intentional gathering of the church to celebrate and honor God as the children He's blessed us to disciple, raise, and journey through life with are experiencing a "Rite of Passage" then there is much value.

The Church Joins the Journey

One service does not a discipling journey make. This is true. Yet, in the midst of the noise and busyness that develops throughout the spring semester of high school seniors, a moment of thankfulness, worship and strategic pause and worship is more than needed.

"There Is No Gain in Hosting These Events."

If a church seeks to host Baccalaureate events for the sole purpose of getting more members, that likely will not happen. Why? Because the vast majority of those who attend these services are already active students in local church ministries and in most cases are members of churches already. Therefore, if the host church seeks to gain new members/attenders from this crowd, the truth is that motivation is based on "sheep stealing" and not Kingdom-growth, even if unintentional.

There is Much Gain in Hosting Together

So, this leads me to the possible shift for our community. With six high schools and dozens of churches (and I'm speaking only of those evangelical churches with like doctrine and teaching) it seems that much value could be gained by hosting ONE BACCALAUREATE SERVICE for our community schools in a central location (a church, theater, school, etc.) with ONE FOCUS - blessing these students through this rite of passage and worshipping God together.

I envision students from numerous high schools walking in, sporting their green, gold, orange, white, blue, white, black, gold, and red. Worship would be rich. The message challenging, yet encouraging but definitely saturated in grace and far from "follow your heart" that often comes at commencement speeches. Parents will be honored. Families will be recognized. Graduates will be walked through a rite of passage unlike many will find elsewhere.

And God will be worshipped.

What's the gain? The church united for the sake of the Gospel. 

The Enemy's strategy is seemingly winning in the culture and in many families. The church, united on the Word of God, focused on His Kingdom (and not our little kingdoms) for His sake and His glory, through prayer and love will push back the darkness.

Maybe next year.


What Do You Do With Mother's Day?

It seems like a strange question.

I'm part of a generation of American Christians who "grew up in church." That means that our family never debated whether to attend church on Sunday morning. I did not know that not attending was even an option. At least it wasn't in our home. I had the requisite "Sunday clothes and shoes" set aside for each weekend. Sunday School started at "Baptist Standard Time" of 9:45am and morning worship was 11:00am. Lunch was often roast, potatoes and carrots at home, that had been cooking all morning in the slow cooker. There was a season when Wendy's opened in our town that Sunday lunch shifted from the home to Dave Thomas' restaurant. We were creatures of habit.

On Sunday evening, we went back to church for "Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training" (the name of this smaller version of Sunday School changed throughout the years) and then evening worship. After church, we would often go to a local restaurant for ice cream. I seem to remember getting a "Jim Dandy" at Friendly's often.

Wednesdays were typical as well with mission groups (G.A.s and R.A.s) and prayer meeting for adults.

Every week was the same. 

Until it was a holiday week. Oh, services were never cancelled. We would meet, but there were special events taking place depending on the Sunday.

I remember having special Easter programs (even egg hunts. . .which causes some of you to shudder, I know,) Christmas programs, even patriotic events near the Fourth of July. However, it was Mother's Day that always had a special emphasis, regardless of the church we attended at the time (Dad was in the Air Force, so we were members of various, very similar churches in different states throughout my childhood.)

I remember people wearing flowers on Mother's Day. Men would most often be in suits and would have flowers on their lapels. Women would wear corsages. These flowers were color-coded based on the individual's mother. If the mother was still living, the flower was red or pink. If the mother was deceased, the flower was white.

Some still observe this on Mother's Day.

The Most Awkward Mother's Day Tradition in Church

We always had a special Mother's Day recognition. As a kid, I thought it was interesting. It seemed like a game. There would be winners and they would receive a prize. It began with identifying the youngest mom in the room. The pastor would inevitably say something like "If you're 30 years old or under and a mom, please stand." Then, he would begin to go down until there was just one standing. The awkwardness became real when the teen mom who was just trying to get through school without drawing too much attention to herself was standing alone in a crowd. 

Then, there was the identification of the mother with the most children. This prize would go to the church's version of Mrs. Duggar, though I don't remember ever having a mom in the congregation with 19 kids. 

There were others awards given, but the highlight was the oldest mother. I remember there was always a lady in the church that probably went to high school with Moses. She would win this one every year. If there were ever any other contenders, it always seemed that Grandma Moses would get upset. She really wanted the prize. What's funny is that regardless the church we were attending, there was always a "Grandma Moses" type matriarch in the congregation. I was always hoping she would win.

Over the years, these types of recognitions have gone by the wayside, for good reason.

Some churches have even stopped doing anything special for Mother's Day at all.

I must confess, I struggle with what to do with Mother's Day on Sunday morning. 

In the past, we have had recognitions, parent-child dedications, "Muffins for Moms," special gifts for all mothers, and a host of other activities and events.

This year, we mentioned the day, but did no special emphases.

I'm not sure either extreme is good. In fact, I'm confident neither extreme is appropriate.

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The Challenge of Mother's Day Recognitions

To emphasize Mother's Day too much leads to concern that worship of God has been ignored. 

To ignore the mothers in the room leads to hurt feelings and presents something that is far from truth -  that the church is uncaring and does not value the God-given role of the mother in the family unit.

In recent years, there have been numerous articles and postings written about how painful Mother's Day is for a significant population in our churches - women who are unable to bear children and have no adopted children in the home. 

Dr. Russell Moore has written about this in an article that is reposted every year or so at this time:

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows. (Click here for Dr. Moore's full post.)

While some dogmatically proclaim that Mother's Day and other man-made holidays or "Hallmark Card holidays" as I've heard them called, should be ignored by the church, I do not agree. There were numerous posts on social media this year about the Mother's Day creator's desire to end the holiday due to commercialization.  This was a news nugget from the last century recycled due to the wonder of social media. I believe the postings were subtle ways to proclaim that the day should not be observed in church, or at all. Nonetheless, that is not my belief.

In all candor, I am not pleased with how I have led our church to celebrate moms on this day while honoring God alone, so I continue to seek God's lead. 

God Alone Is To Worshipped

We are committed to never allow anything or anyone take the place of God in our focus of worship. That is non-negotiable. Yet, there are ways to acknowledge God's goodness and grace in the lives of women within the church who wear the title "Mom."

And. . .there is a way to have recognition without hurting those who have struggled with having children, or may have been through a very difficult storm of life regarding their children.

I am impressed with Amy Young's thoughts on this subject:

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Amy goes on to share ideas of how to celebrate the "wide spectrum of mothering" on this day within the church fellowship:

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
  • This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you (You can read Amy's full blog post here.)

Pastors - What Do You Think?

Pastors, what are your thoughts? How do you celebrate or not celebrate Mother's Day. What are your reasonings? Comments below appreciated.
 

Ladies - What Do You Think?

Friends (who are not pastors) what are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from some moms and from women who are not moms. Your perspectives carry much weight.
 
BTW - we will not be having the youngest, oldest, most fertile moms stand up to receive awards. That's way too awkward. Not going back there.

Active Prayer Needed. . . Now, More Than Ever

This has been an interesting week, to say the least. Ever since the beginning of the year, I have felt convicted to be more adamant in my prayers and to view prayer as a gift. So often prayer is viewed as the passive response to the issues of the day. How many times have you heard someone say something like "I want to help, but all I can do is pray"? It's as if prayer is viewed as the last resort, rather than the first response.

As the world watches, tragedies are unfolding. Some have mode global impact. Others have been regional. Still others are impactful for small communities or individual families. Yet, the pain and uncertainty is just as relevant. 

It is no accident that the National Day of Prayer is soon here. The first Thursday of May has been this designated moment for years and while it is vital to pray on this special day, we should view prayer as less of an officially sanctioned public gathering and more of an intimate connection between the individual child of God and the Heavenly Father. Of course, that is what prayer should be. Yet, even the disciples showed that prayer is not always easy. In fact, they walked with Christ for three years and still admitted that they were missing something in their prayer lives. 

I guess we're in good company.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us a template to use in our prayers. While reciting the "Lord's Prayer" isn't necessarily bad, remember that it is a template given by the Son of God for us to use when coming to the Father. The template gives us a reminder of His sovereignty and holiness and also gives us permission to plead boldly for the needs and concerns we have.

So, in no particular order, these items have been pushed to the forefront of my prayer list. Join me in seeking God's face and His will in these areas (and others):

11137842_1553289194933616_1856060174_nPray for Nepal

Every time I check the latest on the devastating earthquake in Nepal, the numbers of victims increases by hundreds. Pray for this nation and those impacted by the disaster. Also, pray for our IMB missionaries and other believers serving in the area and offering relief and hope. Click here for some recent information from the IMB regarding the quake. 

Pray for Baltimore

Almost a year ago, my wife and I joined hundreds of others at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in the city of Baltimore. We were struck by the beauty of the city and the inner harbor and now, as we turn on the news, we see pandemonium. The rioting and the unnecessary violence is heart-wrenching. The police need our prayers. The citizens living in fear need our prayers. The latest divide among the races shows that we have far to go when it comes to racial reconciliation. We see how the enemy is using this to appear powerful, but there is hope. We know the Lord can heal and He will. Pastors and Christians in the city are uniting in prayer and we join them. Yes, black lives matter. . .and so do white lives, brown lives, yellow lives, etc. Ultimately, all lives matter and the Gospel expresses that message clearly. Pray for people to have ears to hear and that healing may begin.

Supreme Court Judgments

The SCOTUS is hearing oral arguments regarding states' rights to define legal marriage as that being between a man and a woman. In no other point of our history has the culture seemingly shifted so quickly on a values issue such as this. Those making arguments before the justices need our prayers. So, too, do the members of our Supreme Court. Though it is my conviction that the government shouldn't define marriage in that the government didn't invent it, the facts of the matter are that this family and marriage definition impacts not just the government or a handful of states, but every citizen and every church in our nation. 

Conscience Bill in Florida

I have blogged numerous times about the Florida Conscience Bill (HB 7111) that moved through the Florida House and is now in the Senate Rules Committee. This bill will allow faith-based groups like our Florida Baptist Children's Homes to continue to function based on convictions regarding child placement in adoptive homes. Apart from the passage of this bill from the Senate and the subsequent signing into law by our Governor, the Children's Homes and other faith-based groups serving children will most likely have to find alternate funding and may have to serve fewer children in the future, leaving many to fend for themselves.

Grieving Families

I have preached at twelve funerals this year and attended others from people in our church family. Rarely has a week gone by without a death in our church family or an extended family member. While we all know that death is the "destiny of every man" as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, the truth is the grief that comes in times like these can be overwhelming. The God of Peace is real and our prayers are needed for each other.

There are many other items on the prayer list and at times, "overwhelming" seems to be the descriptive term of the day. Nevertheless, prayer is powerful and God honors the intimate, repentant prayers of His children. May we never be guilty of "just praying" when all else fails, but to respond and even see prayer as a pre-emptive strike against the Enemy's attacks.

Won't you pray with me?


How Must the Church Respond to Transgendered Children & Their Parents?

Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.

This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.

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Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification. 

Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.

As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.

I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.

Some background. . .

Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.

 

As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.

  • "He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgotSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
  • "Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
  • The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
  • Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
  • The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
  • "What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true? 

More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.

How Will The Church Respond?

The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.

The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.

We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.


Florida Senate Action Needed for Faith-Based Adoption Agencies TODAY

If you've been following the news and/or my blog regarding HB7111passed by the Florida House giving faith-based children's agencies (such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes) the ability to remain true to their convictions regarding placement of children in families for foster-care or adoption, you are well aware of the next steps needed.

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I received the following update from my friend and President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes today. Please read this carefully, contact your state Senator (if you live in Florida) and share the information with others in your churches and faith-communities. Previous postings giving a fuller understanding of the issue are linked below, as well.

Dear Ministry Partner,  

I have a quick update and pivotal call to action for you and your church. The Senate Rules committee heard all the testimony yesterday regarding the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). They asked a lot of good questions, and many responded positively to our testimony. Unfortunately, because time ran out, the bill was temporarily postponed, which means the bill could be tabled. The Senate Rules Committee has the ability to call a special meeting for situations like this, and they have in other cases. Please ask all of your church members and partners to contact their senators today to ask them to do everything they can so that this bill will be passed on the Senate floor this session so faith organizations can continue serving children while remaining committed to their religious beliefs.

The support of our churches is critical for this legislation to pass. Below is a quick FAQ that may be helpful for your members who are willing to advocate on behalf of FBCH and many special children.  

  • Which Florida senators need to be contacted to help pass this bill?  We need every Florida Senator to know about this bill and support it. For a list of senators, visit http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators.  
  • Where does HB 7111 stand? The bill has passed through the Florida House and has been heard by the Senate Rules Committee. However, it has been temporarily postponed because time ran out at the meeting yesterday. Since this was the last official Rules Committee meeting this session, the bill could be tabled unless a special meeting is called to fully hear the bill. Special meetings are often called, and that is what we need to happen.
  • What do I say to my senator? 
    • If your senator is part of the Rules Committee, ask them to support this bill and request a special meeting be called to fully hear the bill. To find out if your senator is on the Rules Committee, visit this page http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/RC/.
    • If your senator is not part of the Rules Committee, ask them to contact their fellow senators on the Rules Committee so that this critical legislation can pass this session. Ask for them to support this bill if and when it is debated on the Senate floor.
    • If your senator is David Simmons, Darren Soto or Andy Gardiner, ask these Senate leaders to call a special meeting and make sure this bill reaches the Senate floor this session.
  • My senator might say: "I'm sorry, but it is simply too late in the session for me or anyone to do anything about this bill." How can I respond? Tell them that you realize the last Senate Rules Committee has taken place, but special meetings are often called and can be called for this critical legislation to pass. The Florida House recognized how important it was for this bill to be passed and did everything they could to expedite it and make sure it was heard on the House floor. That is what we are asking of the Senate, to make this step for children!
  • If this legislation does not pass, will Florida Baptist Children's Homes be forced to shut down? Absolutely not. However, the way we deliver care for children will likely be forced to change as we remain committed to our beliefs.
  • How can my church pray? Pray for our Senate leadership, that they will see the importance of this legislation and will allow it to reach the Senate floor. Proverbs 21:1 says, The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases. 

I am sincerely grateful for your calls to legislators and your personal notes of encouragement. Thank you for standing with us for children. We stand firm on our founding beliefs and are absolutely committed to Help One More Child!

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES


The New "Star Wars" Film & the Longing of the Human Heart

It's almost forty years old. 

It became a game-changer for the film world.

The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.

Even poor sequels made tons of money.

It's Star Wars.

And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.

Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)

According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1

It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.

The Perfect Storm?

Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories. 

I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.

Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.

Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.

 

In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months. 

And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.

The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.

541285_68541146

Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.

And, it's weird.

And dangerous.

The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.

Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.

His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.

For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction. 

In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough. 

It's a longing for peace.

Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)

________________

1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.


The Florida Conscience Bill for Fostering & Adoption Goes to the Senate

Last week the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7111 with a vote of 75 for passage and 38 against. This bill, as referenced in previous postings is a protective one designed to allow faith-based children's organizations such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes to stand upon their convictions when determining with whom to place children. 

While those opposed to the bill state that it is discriminatory, especially to same-sex couples and those in the LGBT communities, it actually is a statement about the viability of religious liberty and freedom to lead organizations based on personal convictions. The term "discrimination" has been attached to the bill and the debacle surrounding the Indiana religious freedom law has moved those in leadership and power positions to a very narrow place if they choose to stand for religious liberty while still leading and ensuring that personal rights are not forsaken.

As stated in previous postings, I am strongly in favor of the passage of this bill into law here in Florida and elsewhere.

Therefore, I share with you the latest update from the President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes regarding this issue.

I wanted to give you an update on the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). The bill has been referred to the Florida Senate Rules Committee which will take place during the afternoon of Monday, April 20. We are thankful for another step! This week, we have been personally meeting with senators on the Senate Rules Committee and would ask that you also contact them directly before Monday to ask for their support of this critical legislation for children.

The members of the Senate Rules Committee are: 

Chair: Senator David Simmons  850-487-5010 Simmons.David@FLSenate.gov
Vice Chair: Senator Darren Soto 850-487-5014 Soto.Darren@FLSenate.gov
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto 850-487-5030 Benacquisto.Lizbeth@FLSenate.gov
Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla 850-487-5040 Portilla.Miguel@FLSenate.gov
Senator Don Gaetz 850-487-5001 Gaetz.Don@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Galvano 850-487-5026 Galvano.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Audrey Gibson 850-487-5009 Gibson.Audrey@FLSenate.gov
Senator Arthenia L. Joyner 850-487-5019 Joyner.Arthenia@FLSenate.gov
Senator Jack Latvala  850-487-5020 Latvala.Jack@FLSenate.gov
Senator Tom Lee 850-487-5024 Lee.Tom@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Montford 850-487-5003 Montford.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Joe Negron 850-487-5032 Negron.Joe@FLSenate.gov
Senator Garrett Richter 850-487-5023 Richter.Garrett@FLSenate.gov

As you contact these senators, here are two points to consider:

  1. Contrary to opposing views expressed by some, Florida's old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will not protect us. Without the conscience protection bill, we will face lengthy and costly litigation. We need every resource we have to be focused on the care of children, not legal battles.  
  2. The same sex adoption bill (SB320/HB7013) passed in the Senate this week. The conscience protection bill (HB 7111) will allow us to continue to help children without violating our religious beliefs. The bill covers foster care, care for victims of child sex trafficking as well as adoption. FBCH helped 1,026 children in the care of Department of Children and Families (DCF) this past year.
We ask that you pray at 1 p.m. on Monday for the Senate Rules Committee as they take up this bill. I will be testifying before the committee and would appreciate your prayers as I represent the children we serve.
 

As we pray for our leaders, Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind: The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

JointheCause-MinistriesPrograms


Indiana Was Just the Beginning - Discrimination or Religious Freedom?

For the past couple of weeks, I have shared details regarding a proposed bill moving through Florida's House of Representatives. The bill - HB 7111 - was passed on Thursday in the House, but not without some powerful debate.

Depending on which version of reporting on the issue you read, this was either a "declaration for religious freedom and conviction" or a "license to discriminate." Sound familiar? These are the same elements that Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana legislature were facing just a few weeks ago.

The Bill As Viewed From Both Sides

HB 7111 is a bill, developed quickly as a response from constituents who declared the dangers of a previously passed bill intent on helping foster and adoption within the state. The new bill is designed to allow faith-based foster and orphan care organizations in the state to stand firmly on their religious convictions when placing children in foster homes or adoptive families. 

Ultimately, the issue is the placement of children in homes where both parents are of the same gender. In many faith-based groups, being forced to place children in such homes would cause a conflict with deeply held convictions.

The divide is clearly visible.

Groups opposing the passing of the bill on the grounds of LGBT discrimination have made the following statements:

 

 

During the debate on the House floor, representatives on both sides of the issue at hand were vocal and clear in their personal convictions. Scripture was used. . . by those opposed and by those in support of the bill. Applause was heard numerous times within the chamber, leading the Speaker to call for quieter support throughout the remainder of the discussions. By and large the debate was civil, but it is clear that this issue will fester and grow and become a political hot button for our state, regardless what the Senate and the Governor eventually do.

To give you better understanding of the depth of the debate, click on the video link here or the image below. The debate on HB 7111 begins near the 58 minute mark.

Screenshot 2015-04-11 18.42.28

To be clear, I am biased regarding this bill. As a pastor of a Baptist church who supports financially and in other ways the work of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, I firmly believe the passage of HB7111 was needed. In fact, I believe more is needed as we now await possible movement in the Florida Senate and then a potential signature from Governor Rick Scott. Religious liberty is at stake, regardless how the argument is framed. I am not "hiding behind religious freedom" as some politicians have stated, in order to discriminate against those in the LGBT community. Nevertheless, some will never view it this way. The hashtag #KidsFirst has been used by those opposing the religious freedom declaration of HB 7111. In my opinion, the push against this bill and potential law has little to do with the #kids and much to do with adults, agendas and those who oppose any who have religious convictions that are not concurrently held by all.

The bottom line is that Florida Baptist Children's Homes, as well as other groups within our state may be forced to cease offering services for fostering and adoption if religious liberty is not protected. While many faith-based groups do receive state money, it should be noted that there exist areas where religious conviction and categories of conscientious objection allow for services to not be offered (i.e. abortion services in certain hospitals and clinics) even when it would be legal to do so. Since there are over eighty children's services organizations within the state of Florida, it stands to reason there would remain many that are not religiously affiliated and therefore, would not have a conscientious objection to certain placements as would others.

106,000 Children

If the Florida Baptist Children's Homes were to forced to cease offering these services, over 106,000 children would not be served annually. Truly, this is for the kids. 

 


Religious Liberty, the Gay Adoption Ban & Florida Faith-Based Orphan Care

As you are likely aware based on previous emails, blog posts and the announcement shared this morning, there is a vital bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives designed to allow faith-based children's service organizations working with the state to place children in foster homes and with "forever families" through adoption to be able to stand firmly on their religious convictions in determining home placement.

Our local state representatives (for most of Clay County it's Rep. Travis Cummings - 18, and for the southern region, it's Rep. Charles Van Zant, Sr. - 19) and senator (Sen. Rob Bradley) are fully aware of the bill in the house and the need for this to pass.

However, at this late stage of session, the rules for introducing new bills in the state Senate are very restrictive. Therefore, while there is a need and many seek to move forward, the guidelines and rules will prove to be a great hurdle in this case. Bills can only be introduced at this late stage by committee. Senator Bradley's committee does not hold jurisdiction over such matters and therefore will be unable to introduce a Senate bill coinciding with HB7111.

Nevertheless, Senator Bradley has stated clearly that he is interested in fixing the faith-based children's program problem that will develop without intervention. 

When the House introduced HB7111 shortly after the beginning of session, they did so to address the problems present in the present bill (HB7013). 


Here's the history as presented by The Donaldson Adoption Institute:

FLORIDA HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE GAY ADOPTION BAN FROM LAW

03/11/2015 - AUTHOR: BRENDAN FARRINGTON

The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday, March 11, 2015, that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law. The bill still needs a House vote but has wide support.

Florida-House-Bill-300x206The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law.

The vote came five years after an appeals court ruled that the state’s gay-adoption ban is unconstitutional. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision. While some Republicans voted against the bill amendment, none spoke out against it and it was quickly approved. It is part of a larger bill (HB 7013) that would create incentives to adopt children in state care.

———————————————

HB 7013 – Adoption and Foster Care

Revising requirements for agreements between the Department of Children and Families and specified entities for the provision of educational services; requiring the community-based care lead agency to contact by telephone the child’s adoptive family within a specified period after the date that the adoption is finalized; authorizing a direct-support organization established by the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to accept donations of products or services from private sources to be given to the recipients of the adoption achievement awards; requiring licensed child-placing agencies that provide adoption services for intercountry adoptions to meet specified requirements.

———————————————

“It’s an acknowledgement of different times. The language that was essentially repealed was put into statute in 1977,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach. “Sometimes it’s about people and not about politics.”

The full bill still needs a House vote, but it has wide support. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve the bill before the gay-adoption language is deleted from law.

Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the vote isn’t necessarily an endorsement of current policy that allows gays to adopt.

“Philosophically, I’ve never really been there on that, but I’m somebody who operates under the letter of the law,” he said. “I recognize that this has been taking place for five years, so our bill is going to reflect that.”

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said there were conservative members who quietly said no when the amendment was passed on a voice vote.

“It’s a sad acknowledgement that we already lost in the courts on this discussion. I still think a mom and a dad are what kids need,” said Baxley. “A lot of us didn’t vote for that amendment today. It was a pretty weak no vote.”

Asked if he was one of the quiet no votes, Baxley said, “I was just quiet.”


I am confident our representatives and senator from our districts are on-board to protect the religious liberty of faith-based children's service organizations. As is the case often, that which seems "logical" and "easy" (i.e. just pass the bill and present a Senate version) is never as easy as it sounds. 

Nevertheless, the challenge remains. 

Pray for those who represent you in local, state and federal government. God is sovereign and no one holds a position of leadership apart from His design. 

Regarding HB7111 (the fix to a problem on an otherwise good bill) passage is needed.

If you contact your representative and senator, encourage and be brief. Recognize the limitations of their position. Once the campaigns end, the signs are removed, the babies have been kissed and the speeches have been made, the minutia of the job sometimes can be overwhelming.

_______________________________________

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov