Russian and Ukrainian Baptist leaders meet in Kiev. The heads of the Baptist unions in Ukraine and Russia met recently for the first time since a political crisis began last November, putting the two nations on the brink of war. Presidents of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists issued a joint statement indicating the two groups want to continue their strong fraternal relations despite geopolitical differences. Vyacheslav Nesteruk, head of the 2,300-church and 125,000-member Ukranian Baptist Union and President Aleksey Smirnov of the 1,800-church and 76,000-member Russian Baptist organization, called on churches “to pray continually for peace between our peoples as well as for those who have suffered during the course of the recent political stand-off.” The Baptist leaders condemned “acts of violence and brutality against persons as well as the resolution of political problems by military means” and appealed to members of various religious groups “to contribute to the process of forgiveness and agreement between our peoples.”
Oklahoma pastor nominee for SBC 2nd VP. Former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt announced he will nominate Oklahoma City pastor Hance Dilbeck for second vice president of the SBC in June. Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City since 2003. Previously, he served seven years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Ponca City, Okla. He earned his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and his master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dilbeck and his wife, Julie, have been married 28 years and have three grown sons, D.H., Dax and Leighton. Other SBC officer nominees announced to date are Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, for president and Clint Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., for first vice president.Dilbeck has been senior pastor of the 4,600-member
Baptist agencies urge court to uphold ministerial housing allowance. Three entities of the Southern Baptist Convention called for a federal appeals court to overturn a decision invalidating the ministerial housing allowance. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief with other religious organizations filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in the church-state case before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The brief urges the circuit Court to reverse a federal judge’s November 2013 opinion invalidating the portion of a 1954 federal law that allows clergy to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. GuideStone Financial Resources also signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief with other denominational benefits boards as part of the Church Alliance, in support of the housing allowance. In her November decision, Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled the allowance violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion but blocked enforcement of her opinion until the appeals process is complete. The Obama administration appealed Crabb’s decision to the Seventh Circuit.
Tennessee Baptist school fights Obamacare. Union University filed a lawsuit challenging insurance coverage of contraceptives mandated for employers by the federal Affordable Care Act. The Tennessee Baptist Convention-affiliated school in Jackson joined numerous secular and religious employers who have gone to court citing religious objections either to birth control in general or to certain forms they believe end a human life. Lawyers for the university claim two pharmaceutical drugs and intrauterine devices on the FDA list of approved methods can prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall. Union University’s president-elect, Samuel “Dub” Oliver, applauded his predecessor David Dockery for taking legal action “to defend religious liberty and protect innocent life.” Oliver’s current institution, East Texas Baptist University, joined Houston Baptist University in a lawsuit challenging the rules of Obamacare in 2012. In December, a federal judge ruled in their favor, ordering the government not to enforce the contraceptive mandate on the two schools affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.