Judges criticize ruling against GuideStone. Five judges on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sharply criticized the court decision against GuideStone Financial Resources earlier this summer. In July, a three-judge panel ruled against GuideStone, along with co-plaintiffs Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International. In a rare move, the entire Tenth Circuit, on its own initiative, took a vote whether to reconsider the panel decision. When the vote narrowly fell short, the five judges issued a dissenting opinion in which they said the panel decision was “a dangerous approach to religious liberty.” The five judges asserted the decision is so “clearly and gravely wrong” it “will not long survive.” The Health and Human Services mandate requires ministries that are not churches or integrated auxiliaries of churches to provide drugs and birth-control devices in their health plans some believe cause abortions. If they do not, the ministries face significant fines. The parties in the case have argued the accommodation offered by the government—which shifts some responsibility to a third-party provider—still forces the ministries to violate their faith. “This is extraordinary—with the powerful opinion from these five judges, we now have 10 appellate judges nationwide who have rejected the government’s attack on religious liberty,” said Harold R. Loftin Jr., general counsel for GuideStone. “This quickly growing repudiation is very important and provides further proof that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear our appeal.” A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the appeal is expected by early October.
S.C. Baptists seek answers from university trustees. Leaders of the South Carolina Baptist Convention have asked officials at North Greenville University to explain circumstances around the departure of the school’s former president after an online video made it appear he was having an extramarital affair. Dwight Easler, chairman of the state convention’s executive board, summoned three university leaders to attend a meeting of the full board Oct. 15. Easler, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C., said convention leaders are “engaged and very concerned” about rumors swirling around the sudden retirement of 23-year President James “Jimmy” Epting earlier this year. In January, university officials announced Epting was taking an immediate sabbatical and retiring in May for various reasons, including concerns about his health. Leaders publicly praised Epting’s leadership, until a video date-stamped prior to the announcement portraying him in a compromising position was published on YouTube Aug. 27. The board of trustees subsequently issued a statement saying all North Greenville University leaders are “expected to lead Christ-centered lives.” Easler asked North Greenville University Board Chairwoman Beverly Hawkins, Interim President Randall Pannell and a board vice chair to appear before the executive board Oct 15 “to give explanation of actions taken, and future actions to be taken to improve accountability and processes.” In the meantime, Easler said, the chairman of the board’s budget and finance committee authorized the delay of payments of the $1.2 million in convention funds budgeted for the university in the current year. Funding will remain frozen, Easler said, until the full budget and finance committee “can determine an appropriate recommendation to the executive board.”