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Top stories of 2017: A year to remember

Top stories of 2017: A year to remember

Jan 11, 2018

FROM AN unprecedented gift to Williams Baptist College, which has announced a name change to Williams Baptist University … to a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University finding her way to a powerful role in the White House … to historic flooding in the Natural State and beyond, along with the response of Arkansas Baptist volunteers in clean-up efforts … to the installation and immediate destruction of a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds, 2017 was a year to remember.

The Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) has compiled the top 10 stories of 2017 based on overall news value and significance to Arkansas Baptists. Following are excerpts and summaries from the original stories published in the ABN in 2017.

1. From Ouachita to the White House, Aug. 10
While President Bill Clinton will go down in history as the most famous Baptist from the Natural State to occupy the White House, the naming of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as press secretary in the administration of President Donald Trump generated multiple headlines after she was named to the position in July 2017.

Sanders, a native Arkansan and graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, became only the third woman in U.S. history to serve as White House press secretary. The daughter of former two-term Arkansas governor and presidential contender, Mike Huckabee, Sanders grew up in the world of politics. She credits her current role in the White House to “the grace of God and so many other people who: one, helped get the president elected and two, helped [me] be blessed enough to be part of his administration.”

2. Williams Baptist College to become university, Oct. 5
Williams Baptist College leaders announced in fall 2017 that the 76-year-old college would officially change its name to Williams Baptist University on July 1, 2018.

The change to Williams Baptist University had been actively considered for more than two years and was formally approved on Sept. 15, 2017.

Williams was founded in 1941 as Southern Baptist College. The name was changed to Williams Baptist College, in honor of founder H.E. Williams, in 1991. The college is owned and operated by Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

3. Widespread flooding hits churches across Ark./Volunteers respond, May 18
As the floodwaters rose, Arkansas Baptists responded. Historic flooding throughout Arkansas in late April and early May 2017 caused extensive damage to some Arkansas Baptist churches and Camp Siloam in Siloam Springs. In response, a torrent of disaster relief (DR) and local church volunteers ministered in the flood’s soggy aftermath.

The governor declared 36 of Arkansas’ 75 counties as disasters, and Camp Siloam experienced more flood damage than it ever had experienced before.

During 2017 Arkansas Baptist DR volunteers also deployed to Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas (ABN, Feb. 23, March 23, Sept. 7, 21, Oct. 5) to assist in relief efforts related to historic flooding following destructive hurricanes.

Southern Baptist DR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 (ABN, Feb. 23).

4. Williams gift of $2.9 million ‘unprecedented,’ Jan. 26
Williams Baptist College received an unprecedented $2.9 million gift – the largest ever received by the college – from the estate of Jonesboro businessman Clifford Toney.
Toney, a 1980 graduate of Williams, died in August 2015 at the age of 57 following a lengthy illness.

5. 2,500 volunteers from 190 churches witness during Acts 1:8 One Day event, Oct. 19
More than 2,500 volunteers from 190 Arkansas Baptist churches fanned out in north Pulaski County in central Arkansas for the seventh annual Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip Oct. 7, 2017.

Numerous outreach activities included street evangelism, prayer walking, home repair and renovation, medical and dental clinics, food distribution, block parties, yard cleanup, car washes and more. By day’s end, 35 people had made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.

6. Ten Commandments monument coming to Arkansas Capitol in June, June 1/ Ark. Ten Commandments monument destroyed, July 13
The Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission approved in early May 2017 the installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol. Construction and installation of the monument were funded by the American Heritage and History Foundation.

Following its installation on June 27, 2017, the monument was destroyed less than 24 hours later after Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren allegedly drove a vehicle into the statue, apparently while streaming the act live on social media. Reed was later committed to a mental institution.

7. Fewer Ark. Baptists give more to missions offerings, March 9
For Arkansas Baptists, fewer give more. Arkansas Baptist giving to the Cooperative Program (CP), as well as international, national and statewide missions offerings, is up, and the number of churches participating is down in recent years, according to Arkansas Baptist State Convention records.

8. Ark. law changes on guns in churches, April 20/What Arkansas law says about guns in churches, Nov. 30
On April 4 Ark. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law bills regarding standards and restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms. Holders of the standard concealed-carry permit are not allowed to carry a handgun into church, unless the church has approved the carrying of a concealed firearm under either a blanket permission for all permit holders or by designating specific individuals or members of a security or safety team to carry handguns, provided those individuals or team members have current concealed-carry permits.

Holders of the enhanced concealed-carry permit are allowed to carry a firearm into a church, unless the church has provided written notice that it does not allow
firearms on its premises.

9. ‘Alt-right’ vote and evangelism draw SBC focus, June 29

Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying the “alt-right” movement were among the highlights of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) June 13-14, 2017, in Phoenix.

A resolution on the “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” decried “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and pledged to pray “both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived.” A vote to approve the resolution was followed by a standing ovation from messengers.

In the annual meeting’s final session, SBC President Steve Gaines announced the members of the 19-person evangelism task force, including Nick Floyd, pastor, Cross Church, Fayetteville.

10. Platt apologizes for IMB amicus brief, Feb. 23
International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined in May 2016 in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.

Platt reported that IMB trustees and staff have revised processes for the IMB legal department filing such amicus briefs and pledged that the IMB would focus on its mission statement.

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