Monday, 15 June 2020

Southern Masonic Baptist Convention experiences record decline in membership

The following article comes as no surprise to this blogger, although I'm not a member of the SBC and live nowhere near any SBC churches. Some in the SBC have claimed that membership figures have long been inflated, with people still being recorded as members long after ceasing to be active, so it's possible that at least part of the numerical decline may be due to removing inactive people from membership. However, I suspect that the decline is a real trend. In his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster (1984), Francis Schaeffer warned that the Southern Baptist Convention was in the same shape now (now being 1984) that the mainline churches were in in the 1920s and '30s when they were in the process of being taken over by liberals, then generally referred to as "modernists." We're now 36 years past Rev. Schaeffer's warning, and evidence of the SBC's further decline into apostasy can be found at sites such as Tom Littleton's blog Thirty Pieces of Silver.

As reported by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post, June 4, 2020:

Total membership in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination fell at a historic rate between 2018 and 2019, according to an annual report released Thursday.

The Southern Baptist Convention said it had 14.5 million members in 2019, down about 287,655 from the previous year. Membership dropped 2 percent, the largest single-year drop in more than 100 years, according to a survey from LifeWay Christian Resources, the denomination’s publishing and research arm.

The decline reflects a larger trend of Americans leaving Christianity at a rapid pace. According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points during the past decade.

Southern Baptist baptisms fell by more than 4 percent, a key metric in measuring new members of the faith. Average weekly worship service and Sunday school or small-group attendance each dropped by less than 1 percent. Giving was down, and total church receipts fell 1.44 percent to $11.6 billion.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is not immune to the increasing secularization among Americans that is seen in more of our children and our neighbors not having interest in coming to Jesus,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been in a steady decline for nearly 15 years, hitting its peak in 2006 at 16.3 million. The convention has been in turmoil in recent years, spending the bulk of its annual meeting in 2019 on the issue of sex abuse after the Houston Chronicle published reports on the issue in Southern Baptist churches. The convention has also hosted controversies over an invitation for Vice President Pence to speak at its meeting, faced difficulty in passing a resolution to decry the alt-right and held theological debates over the role of God’s sovereignty.

The denomination’s current president, J.D. Greear, a 47-year-old megachurch pastor from North Carolina, has brought a younger face to the convention, adding more people of color to committees than had been more predominantly white. In a forthcoming piece for the Baptist Press shared with the Washington Post, Greear wrote that he was grieved by the news that the denomination was on the decline.

“Too many of us care more about whether our side is winning in the news cycle than we do the souls of our neighbors, sow division on secondary issues more than we point people to Jesus, and focus more on preserving our traditions than reaching our grandchildren,” he wrote.

Southern Baptists place a heavy emphasis on church planting, and the number of churches grew slightly during the same period. The SBC has 47,530 churches in total, and 74 were added between 2018 and 2019.

The survey released Thursday was compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources based on self-reported data from SBC churches. Ronnie Floyd, who leads the SBC’s executive committee, said in a statement that 75 percent of churches participate in the survey, and that “clearly it is imperative for our future that evangelism remains the priority of our churches and convention.”

The convention was supposed to hold its annual meeting next week in Orlando but canceled due to the novel coronavirus.

As fewer Americans identify as Christian, researchers see a growing number of people identifying as nonreligious; 17 percent of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12 percent in 2009, according to Pew.

This story has been updated to include comments from J.D. Greear and Ronnie Floyd. The peak number has been updated with corrected information from LifeWay.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Costa Rica becomes the first Central American country to legalize same-sex "marriage"

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

As reported by Oscar Lopez of Reuters, May 26, 2020:

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Costa Rica gave the go-ahead to same-sex marriages on Tuesday, making it the first country in Central America to do so after a landmark court ruling came into effect at midnight.

The nation’s constitutional court ruled in August 2018 that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and gave parliament 18 months to legislate or the provision would be automatically nullified.

Earlier this month, more than 20 lawmakers tried to delay the marriage ruling by 18 months but the measure failed and the ban was lifted at midnight - although couples will have to opt for online weddings due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“Costa Rica is celebrating today: marriage equality has become a reality in the country - the first one in Central America!” said the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in a tweet.

“We rejoice with you: congratulations to all those who worked so hard to make it happen!”

Costa Rica becomes the sixth country in Latin America to allow gay marriage - after Ecuador legalised it last year - and the 28th U.N. member state to recognize same-sex marriage.

Despite considerable opposition from religious groups, gay marriage has become increasingly accepted in Latin America, with gay couples now allowed to marry in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and parts of Mexico.

Enrique Sanchez, Costa Rica’s first openly gay congressman with the center-left Citizens’ Action Party, said this represented the culmination of a fight over many years by many people, some through activism and others anonymously.

“With their experience, their struggles ... they have helped build a society where there are no second-class families or second-rate people,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In a region marked by religious conservatism and widespread violence towards LGBT+ people, Costa Rica’s gay marriage ruling was welcomed by many local rights activists.

“This offers us peace of mind,” said Margarita Salas, an LGBT+ rights campaigner in Costa Rica and president of the VAMOS political party. “This measure gives us the ability to protect and provide security to our family.”

Legalizing gay marriage was a major campaign promise by President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who took office in May 2018.

“This change will cause a significant social and cultural transformation of the country,” Alvarado Quesada said in a video posted on Twitter late on Monday.

“(Gay and lesbian people) will have the rights and the same rights as any other person, couple or family in this country.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests microchipping children

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Revelation 13:16-17

Reading Biblical prophecies about the end times helped bring me to Christ in 1975; the prophecies seemed to be describing many things that were true at the time, and there was a lot of preaching and writing about the end times. In those days and the years immediately following, I tried to imagine how the prophecies would be fulfilled. It's one thing to imagine how prophecies will be fulfilled in the future, and it's another to live long enough to see them being fulfilled in the present. End times prophecies are more true now than they were in 1975, yet there's a lot less preaching on these scriptures than there was then, despite the fact that the prophecies are increasingly being fulfilled before our eyes--no doubt because it doesn't fit the Church Growth Movement paradigm of Peter Drucker, Rick Warren and company.

It would be ironic if the mark of the Beast were to originate in Israel. With everything else going on these days, you might have missed this item from a few weeks ago, as reported by Leon Sverdlov in The Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2020 (link in original):

Cyber experts slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his proposal to "microchip" children who return to schools and kindergartens as the coronavirus lockdown is lifted, Ynet reported on Friday.

While speaking at a press conference on Monday, Netanyahu suggested the Health Ministry use new technology to help Israel adjust to its new routine as the state is lifting the coronavirus lockdown. "That is, technology that has not been used before and is allowed under the legislation we shall enact," he clarified.

"I spoke with our heads of technology in order to find measures Israel is good at, such as sensors. For instance, every person, every kid – I want it on kids first – would have a sensor that would sound an alarm when you get too close, like the ones on cars," the prime minister said.

"It will be hard to do it to more than a million schoolchildren who return to their educational institutions in order to ensure one student sits at the distance of two meters from another. It is fictional and dangerous," cyber resilience expert Einat Meron told Ynet.

"Theoretically, I get the idea behind it," she said. "But although such distance-sensitive microchips exist in vehicles, it is different in humans." According to Meron, "a beeping sound telling me I got close to someone is not enough. Who says it will change anything? I would have gotten closer either way."

The expert added that "the actual issue is the enforcement, and here everything changes." Meron told Ynet that "microchipping children will not pass any test – both practically and legally." Similar to Meron's notion that notifying citizens on their distance will not affect their actions, many fear the state would make use of the information available from the sensors.

"If the information with the kids' location is uploaded to the internet, a pedophile with some cyber knowledge may invade the system and stalk them outside their schools, follow them and distribute the information on other platforms," Meron said. "Can the state take responsibility for that?"

The Prime Minister's Office responded to the report, telling Ynet Netanyahu's suggestion "is not to be implemented through databases, but through simple technology notifying [the citizens] about their distance. It is a voluntary option that is designed to help children keep their distance, like Mobileye with vehicles."

The office added that the prime minister's suggestion is "an idea that may help maintain social distancing, and there will not be any violation of privacy."

On Wednesday, Walla reported the movements of all vehicles in Israel were tracked by police and stored in an unregulated database named Eagle Eye. A source cited by the media site said the information "may be kept for years on end."

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reportedly submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act that police disclose the extent of the operations of Eagle Eye, as well as the time the information on citizens' movements is stored in the system.

Israel Police responded to ACRI, saying the system's activity was not standardized internally despite several years of operations. "Either way, once finalized, the procedure will not be disclosed to the public," police added.

In late March, Yediot Aharonot reported a classified Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) database stored information on all Israeli citizens and most Palestinians from the West Bank. The data tracked by the security agency included movements, phone calls and text messages.