International Mission Board

Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

After a week in Puerto Rico on a Christian Chronicle reporting trip, I'm still catching up on my sleep — and my reading.

Speaking of reading, here are three interesting religion stories from the last few days.

The first concerns the latest #MeToo case facing the Southern Baptist Convention. The second is an in-depth analysis of religious freedom vs. gay rights in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care. The third is a feature on the Sunday school class in Plains, Ga., taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

1. Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest

Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, delves into how the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board handled allegations that a 25-year-old seminary student sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl.

A crucial question: Why didn't the board report the matter to police?

Smith meticulously reports the facts of the case and gives all the relevant parties ample space and opportunity to comment, even if some choose not to do so or to issue brief statements that shed little light. This is a solid piece of journalism.

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Budget woes on the mission field? Wall Street Journal has the intriguing story

Budget woes on the mission field? Wall Street Journal has the intriguing story

When giant corporations or major industries downsize, what better newspaper to report the news than The Wall Street Journal?

But cutbacks at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board?

OK, I was a little surprised — pleasantly — to see the Journal delve into that important religion story.

The byline on the story belongs to Tamara Audi, who describes herself this way on her Twitter profile:

L.A.-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering news in the West, and religion all over the place.

Audi does a nice job with this relatively concise — at about 825 words — report. I'm going to need to pay more attention to her byline.

Three keys that make this story work:

1. Real people.

Starting at the very top, the Journal puts a face on the news by focusing on a real missionary couple:

Peter and Jennie Stillman felt a divine calling to preach the gospel abroad. So the Southern Baptist couple left Texas with their three young daughters 25 years ago and became missionaries in Southeast Asia.

Now, the Stillmans are responding to a new call: early retirement. They are among hundreds of Southern Baptist missionaries working abroad who are being summoned home in a move to slash costs, after years of spending to support missionary work around the world led to budget problems.

“There’s definitely a sense of this being premature, but definitely a sense, too, of sovereign direction from God,” said Mr. Stillman, 59 years old.

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Note to journalists: When reporting on charismatics, please try to get details right

Note to journalists: When reporting on charismatics, please try to get details right

Pentecostals and charismatics are the world’s fastest-growing form of Christianity. On a trip to India years ago, I was interviewing evangelical Protestant leaders when I asked them which churches were growing the fastest. Without hesitation, they all responded: Pentecostals. And they didn’t even agree theologically with those folks.

On this side of the pond, most denominations – which were initially opposed to charismatics (who are essentially Pentecostals who’ve stayed in mainline denominations), have made their piece with such groups. Not so with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Years ago, pastors who got caught up in the charismatic renewal got kicked out of their churches. More recently, the opposition was more subtle; in 2005 the SBC’s International Mission Board ruled that none of its missionaries could pray in tongues. That is, candidates would be asked when applying to be a missionary if they did so, even in their private prayers. An affirmative answer was an automatic disqualifier. The spiritual gift of tongues, mentioned in some detail in 1 Cor. 12-14, along with several mentions scattered through the book of Acts, is the most controversial of the gifts. But the Apostle Paul specifically said not to forbid it (at the end of 1 Cor. 14), so the Baptists’ decision in 2005 was a contested one, to say the least.

Which is why I did a double take when RNS broke this story announcing that after 10 years of  forbidding the gift of tongues, the IMB had done a 180 and was allowing its missionaries to do so. 

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