BALTIMORE (BP) – Members of two families who are standing heroically for the Christian faith received awards from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and grateful affirmation from messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention.
The ERLC honored the Greens, who own Hobby Lobby, and Saeed Abedini, a prisoner in Iran, Wednesday morning, June 11, during the SBC's annual meeting. ERLC President Russell D. Moore presented the John Leland Religious Liberty Award to Steve and Jackie Green for their family's refusal to abide by the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs to their workers. Moore gave the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award to Naghmeh Abedini on behalf of her husband, Saeed, an American citizen imprisoned since 2012 by Iran's oppressive regime for his Christian service in that country.
Messengers gave extended standing ovations to both the Greens and Abedini when they received the awards. At Moore's request, many messengers knelt on the floor as newly elected SBC President Ronnie Floyd led in prayer for both families.
The presentations preceded the ERLC's annual report to the convention.
In his second appearance at the SBC as the ERLC's president, Moore introduced the awards presentations by reminding messengers of the Baptist heritage of standing for religious freedom – sometimes at great cost.
"We're living in a time right now in which religious liberty is imperiled at home and around the world, and it is time for us to remember that we have been here before," Moore said. "The gospel came to us in letters being written out by apostles from jail cells. The gospel came to us through the centuries from people who were constantly under threat of their liberty to preach.
"[W]e should say to the world around us, 'Don't call it a comeback.' We have been here for centuries, and we will continue to stand here for religious liberty for everyone," he said.
Hobby Lobby's legal challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate is expected to be resolved in a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court before it adjourns in late June or early July. The justices' opinion "probably will determine the next 100 years of what it means for us to be a free people in this country," Moore told messengers.
The Green family's refusal to comply with the mandate, which is a regulation helping implement the 2010 health-care law, has placed the entire business of more than 570 arts and crafts stores at risk. A court loss could result in fines totaling $1.3 million a day.
"It would be really easy for the Green family simply to say, 'Let's just submit to that.' But because of their strong faith in Jesus Christ and because of their courage, the Greens have refused to comply" with the requirement, Moore said.
Steve Green, Hobby Lobby's president, is the son of David and Barbara Green, who founded the Oklahoma City-based company. Steve and Jackie Green are members of a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma City.
Saeed Abedini, an ordained minister of Iranian descent, was arrested nearly two years ago while visiting Iran to complete work on a government-approved orphanage and was given an eight-year prison sentence.
Saeed and Naghmeh, both Muslim converts to faith in Christ, helped in the growth of the Iranian house church movement before moving to the United States in 2005. Reports of Saeed's condition indicate Iranian authorities have tortured him, placed him in solitary confinement and pressured him to deny Christ. Iranian prison officials have threatened to lengthen his sentence because he is leading fellow prisoners to faith in Jesus, Baptist Press reported May 30.
"And at every point, the Iranian government seems to think that Saeed Abedini will get tired of all of this treatment and renounce his faith in Jesus Christ," Moore told messengers, "and at every step no matter the beatings, no matter the imprisonment, no matter the exile, Saeed Abedini has confessed with that great cloud of witnesses that Jesus Christ is Lord."
Naghmeh, meanwhile, has been "a courageous and tenacious voice for her husband and for the persecuted church around the world," he said.
In his report, Moore said the ERLC had worked in the last year on a variety of issues -- including the defense of marriage, the liberty to pray without governmental supervision and the right to freedom of conscience against the abortion/contraception mandate for Hobby Lobby, the SBC's GuideStone Financial Resources, Baptist colleges and all others. The ERLC also "has given great emphasis on equipping churches" to address the issues from a Gospel perspective, he said.
"There are things that we were able to assume in the past that we must articulate now," Moore said of the changing culture. "We must equip those children in Vacation Bible School for a world where following Christ will be seen as strange, will be seen as possibly dangerous, will be seen as subversive. But that is no new situation.
"The Gospel did not come to us from Mayberry," he told messengers. "The Gospel rocketed out of a Roman empire where the strangest idea in the world was a community of people who cared for the vulnerable, for the widowed, for the orphaned, for the unborn, a community of people who were willing to lose their jobs, who were willing to lose their social standing, who were willing to lose the respect of the people around them. They were even willing to go to execution ... because they confessed and believed that a crucified man has presented himself alive."
While applying justice to such issues, Moore said, the ERLC has sought "to always, always, always include an invitation of the Gospel to whosoever will believe."