ABN Columns & Viewpoints

Editor's Note: This section includes current and past ABN columns - published in the print edition and online exclusives - as well as viewpoints from a variety of Arkansas Baptist and Southern Baptist authors. Opinions expressed are that of the author and are not necessarily an endorsement.

Thursday
Dec112014

When an LGBT ordinance comes to town

FalknorBy Douglas Falknor

Editor's Note: Douglas Falknor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, recaps lessons learned from the Dec. 9 vote to repeal an LGBT ordinance adopted by the city council in August. Read related story here.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP) – Although I have been in the ministry nearly 30 years, the Fayetteville ordinance promoting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda was the first time I felt the need to oppose the local government to stop an action they had taken.

On Dec. 9, Fayetteville voters successfully repealed the ordinance, which the city council had enacted on Aug. 19. While I will be glad for this issue never to occur again, a few lessons have been learned along the way:

Work with others.

From the first days that this ordinance was proposed, many people expressed a desire to stop it from going into effect. I was asked to host a gathering of interested people to discuss what steps could be taken. Leading this meeting was akin to herding cats with so many emotions and ideas from so many different leaders, but it was important to begin the organizational process. While this initial meeting was comprised mostly of pastors and other church leaders, successfully repealing the ordinance required broadening the base of active opposition to include business owners and others from the community. 

Recognize the important role of activists.

Some people are comfortable – even energized – by the role of activist. I am not. Activists sometimes make me uncomfortable. However, successfully overturning bad laws requires someone who will spend hours tirelessly making phone calls, strategizing, knocking on doors and encouraging others. Activists often need us non-activists to keep them more balanced, but we need them to beat the drum for change.

Money is helpful; people are essential. 

In Fayetteville, the supporters of the ordinance received over $190,000 in donations (including "non-money contributions") while opponents received $35,000. The difference, however, was the broad-based support for repealing the law. People from every part of the city spoke out in the city council meeting, gathered signatures for the petition, put out signs for repeal, and, most importantly, voted.

Lead in your own church family.

As a pastor, I spoke for repeal of the ordinance during worship services, addressed the ordinance in newsletter articles, and emailed the church family a reminder to vote. The church, especially pastors, need to remember their responsibility to lead in moral and religious freedom issues. Our words must be gracious and compassionate, but they must also be clear and biblical.

Stay focused on your purpose.

It is tempting to focus all of our energy on stopping a bad law and bringing change through political activism. As important as that work may be, we remain focused on our mission of changing lives by proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Elections will be won and lost. Bad laws could negatively impact us and religious freedoms may be lost. But we will continue to declare "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" and "whoever believes in Him will have eternal life" (John 1:14; 3:16).

Thursday
Dec112014

So this is Christmas...

Tim Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

So this is Christmas. And what have you done. Another year over. And a new one just begun.”

While I didn’t agree with musician John Lennon’s political, social and religious ideology, the anti-war Christmas anthem he wrote many years ago often resonates deeply within me each year I hear it played.

YarbroughI find myself thinking about the year that has passed by so quickly, and I say to myself, “Just what have I done with my life this past year, especially as it relates to telling others about Jesus?”

And every year I am convicted that I could have done much, much more to honor our precious Lord and Savior –  then commit myself to do more in the upcoming year to honor Jesus Christ.

Like you, while I exercise self-examination during the Lord’s Supper throughout the year, there’s just something different and so real about doing it at Christmastime when we celebrate our Lord coming to this sinful earth in human flesh.

It’s so easy to allow the glitz and spectacle of Christmas – with its rampant materialism – get in the way of pausing to truly internalize the significance of what God did by lowering Himself to become one of us, ultimately pouring out His grace for wretched mankind so that we might have eternal fellowship with Him.

I don’t know about you, but as I grow older, I am beginning to see heaven in my rearview mirror approaching oh so quickly like a speeding car on the open highway.

So this is Christmas ... what have you done?

Tim Yarbrough is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.

Friday
Dec052014

Fayetteville LGBT ordinance: clarity, compassion, Christ

FalknorBy Douglas Falknor

Word began circulating around our community that our city council was considering an ordinance promoting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda. Instead of relying on others' reports, my wife and I, with our 8th-grade daughter, decided to attend the next council meeting here in Fayetteville, Ark.

It was quite an eye-opener.

After a civil discussion by nearly everyone about an overreaching and broad ordinance, that portion of the meeting was ending. Then a councilwoman, commenting on the pastors and other Christians who spoke against the ordinance, shared her thoughts. 

"I am ashamed," she said, "that there is so much darkness in the hearts of this community."

Her comments set an uncivil tone for many of the promoters of this ordinance. It would not be enough to disagree; all opposition must be smeared.

How, then, should followers of Christ respond when our elected local government works to legalize and promote immorality while publicly attacking people faithful to Christ and His Word? 

Let's move forward with: 

Clarity – Our objections to bad public policy need to be presented as coherently and persuasively as possible. How will we encourage sympathetic city council members or city residents -- much less those who are ambivalent or opposed to our view -- to vote against bad legislation if we do not give them a reason?

For example, the Fayetteville ordinance prohibits churches from refusing to hire as a receptionist, childcare worker, custodian or any other "secular" position an individual who is transgendered. If a complaint is filed, the church/pastor could be charged with a criminal violation of the ordinance. Proponents of the law dismiss the charges as "only" a third-degree misdemeanor.

Yet, it is not reasonable for a church, pastor or any other Christian in the community to be charged with a crime for living in obedience to their faith. Would a Sikh man be required to shave his beard? Would a Muslim woman be required to eat pork? Why, then, would Christians be required to accept homosexual behavior?

Compassion – When our words, attitudes and actions about divisive and difficult issues consistently reflect grace and love, God uses our obedience during adversity to grow us and others to be more like Jesus. Instead of speaking words which are cunning, crafty and scheming, the Bible instructs, "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).

My heart must continually grow to be like Jesus so I will see each person like He sees them. Only when the love of Christ for others fills my life can I show His compassion for every person. Words have meaning, and poorly chosen words can convey un-Christlike attitudes and wound the spirit. The goal should be to "let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians. 4:6).

Showing compassion to each person will not result in everyone saying nice things about us. We may still be slandered and attacked. Jesus was. Paul was. And we will be. We will need to develop a thick skin while revealing a compassionate heart.

Christ – The real problem in my city is not elected officials who attack our worldview or bad laws attacking religious freedom while purporting to protect rights. The real problem is people bound by sin. We are all "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3).

In every way, then, we must proclaim the excellencies of Jesus who called us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

We do not choose between involvement in the public square to defeat bad laws or preaching Christ; we proclaim Jesus through every endeavor. As we work in the public square, our focus remains on pointing people to Jesus. Christ alone can change the hearts and minds of each person and even the direction of an entire community.

Douglas Falknor is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
Thursday
Nov272014

Are we paying attention?

Tim Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

Recently, I read an article about the filth on TV and how producers and directors continue to “push the envelope” of morality by prominently featuring sex and violence in their regular story lines.

Even sitcoms today regularly use vulgar punch lines to get a laugh around jokes that once were considered “bathroom humor.”

YarbroughCivilized society has always known that a sense of morality is the glue that holds things together. With historical church culture in disarray, and much of the church looking more like the world, I must ask, “Are we paying attention?”

The secularization of society makes the work of the church harder. While sinfulness of man is inherent in his nature, there was a time not that long ago when each and every sin was not on display for all to see on nightly TV.

When everything is known and nothing is taboo, the result impacts our children, families and the way a society generally conducts itself. For example, children and young adults of the 1960s social and sexual revolution in America are now aging, having passed their values on to their children and their children’s children. It should be no surprise that we are seeing such a degradation and erosion of morality and proper living.

There isn’t a week that goes by that my wife, a public school teacher, doesn’t tell me about foul words coming from the children she teaches – and oftentimes directed toward teachers. While this may not seem unusual, keep in mind that my wife is a preschool teacher.

It’s a wonder and only by the grace of God that ministries like the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries are able to operate today in this environment. Commit to pray for its ministry and give to support its work during their Thanksgiving Offering emphasis as they seek to rescue children and change lives.

As Southern Baptists, we need to commit ourselves as never before to hold the banner of Jesus Christ high as we seek to be His hands and feet in a world in such dire need to be transformed through His precious blood.

Let’s commit together to not only “pay attention,” but to boldly act with our prayers, with our resources and by sharing the love of Christ within our own spheres of influence.

If we don’t stand for Jesus, who will?

Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.

Thursday
Nov132014

Times have changed, but the ABN still needs your support

Tim Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

Times change.

I recall when I was a young editor serving at the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission in Memphis, Tenn., how I loved my work, which consisted of educating Southern Baptists about the great mission work Baptist men and women were doing at home and abroad to reach people for Jesus Christ.

YarbroughBoth of my children were born at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis,  and we had many great friends while there – both at the Brotherhood and through our local church.

Many wonderful memories abound from our time of service at the Brotherhood. The Commission was made up of a lot of young denominational workers who didn’t know how to say “no” and never met a challenge they wouldn’t tackle.

I left to serve at the Missouri Baptist Convention in 1995, and in 1997 the Brotherhood Commission was merged unceremoniously into the newly formed North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Change is a part of life. I have witnessed this change as I have grown older and watched my children grow up and serve at various ministries.

Through the years I have discovered that change doesn’t always have to be bad.

As a father, I have loved watching my children become strong in the Lord and pursue their own dreams.

While serving in Missouri for nearly seven years certainly had its challenges, Jefferson City, Mo., was a great place to raise a family. When we left there in 2002 to join the ministry of NAMB, once again, it was a joy to serve in a different way at the Southern Baptist domestic missions entity. There, too, we developed wonderful friends through church and at work.

As I have written in this space before, change in technology and the decline of denominations has dramatically impacted the ministry of state Baptist newspapers like the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN). The ABN, like other agencies and institutions of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), receives Cooperative Program (CP) funds critical to its survival and

to its ability to provide an exclusive and unique voice for Arkansas Baptists.

Though the percentage of CP funds in the ABN budget (45 percent) has gone down slightly the past three and a half years, without this important funding we simply could not exist! The remainder of the ABN budget is supported by investment income, advertising and subscriptions. We are so grateful to Arkansas Baptists for their strong giving through the Cooperative Program!

As you may recall reading about in recent years, the ABN is working hard to increase its advertising revenue. It is vital that we do so to offset growing expenses in postage, printing and other related costs to publishing a statewide newspaper for Arkansas Baptists. 

However, without a strong subscriber base, we can’t sell advertising. It’s easy to see the dilemma.

So, I would like to appeal to churches with the ability to do so to make certain their church subscribes by making the newspaper available to all their resident families. On pages 16-17 you’ll see a list of churches that already have group subscriptions. We are so grateful for these churches and for their support, but we need more!

You know, surveys show church members who read their state Baptist newspaper are better informed of the needs around them, give more and are more likely to support cooperative efforts of their state convention and Acts 1:8 missions at home and around the world. Wow, now that’s a great reason to subscribe if I ever heard one.

I’ve talked to pastors, church staff and members who tell me they don’t subscribe, but read the ABN online, such as on Facebook, Twitter or at arkansasbaptist.org. That’s great, except, (1) if you only  read us online, you are missing 80 percent of what is published in the print and digital editions of the ABN, most of which are stories exclusively about Arkansas Baptists and, (2) most of our current “other budget” revenue is derived from subscriptions (in addition to advertising).

We would like to invite your entire church to subscribe so you won’t miss another edition. It’s less expensive than you think! Through our Every Resident Family Plan, you can have the ABN mailed to every family in your church for 31 cents a copy. Now, that’s a bargain. For more information on our church plans, contact becky@arkansasbaptist.org or call 800-838-2272, ext. 5156.