- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014
Southern Baptist membership declines for 7th year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The nation’s largest Protestant denomination saw membership decline for the seventh straight year in 2013, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

The report by the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm, Lifeway Christian Resources, puts total membership in the Nashville-based SBC at 15.7 million. That’s down from 15.9 million in 2012, a decrease of a little less than 1 percent.

Weekly church attendance decreased more than 2 percent last year, falling to 5.8 million as a weekly average for the year.

The report also notes a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of baptisms, falling to 310,368. Baptisms are an important measure for the denomination because of its strong commitment to evangelism.

The convention has been concerned about the membership and baptism trends for several years. After 2012 saw a drop in baptisms of 5.5 percent, a task force was convened to study why. The group of pastors released their report earlier this month and recommendations included praying for a “spiritual awakening in our churches and our nation.”

Lifeway President and CEO Thom S. Rainer said in a news release about the 2013 declines, “I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness.”

___

Abortion doctors restrictions take root in South

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - From Texas to Alabama, laws are being enacted that would greatly restrict access to abortion, forcing many women to travel hundreds of miles to find a clinic. The laws, requiring abortion doctors to have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals, could have a profound impact on women in poor and rural sections of the Bible Belt.

In many places in the South, clinic doctors come from out of state to perform abortions and don’t have ties to a local hospital. Critics say the laws mean hospitals, leery of attracting anti-abortion protesters, could get veto power over whether the already-scarce clinics remain in business. They say the real aim is to outlaw abortions while supporters say they are protecting women’s health.

The laws are the latest among dozens of restrictions on abortions that states have enacted in the past two decades, including 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent and ultrasound requirements.

“You’re looking at huge swaths of the country where women’s options are becoming severely limited,” said Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

The requirements are already in effect in Texas and Tennessee. Laws in Mississippi and Alabama are on hold during court challenges. Louisiana and Oklahoma are about to enact their laws, which would bring the total to 10 states, according to figures from the Center. If the law there is upheld, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic would have to close, meaning women in some parts of the state would have to travel at least three hours to an out-of-state clinic.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant bluntly gave one reason for signing that law in 2012: “…we’re going to try to end abortion in Mississippi.”

Story Continues →