April 2009

Evangelicals split on hate crimes bill

April 30 2009 by Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Hate-crimes legislation passed April 29 in the U.S. House of Representatives drew mixed reviews in the religious community.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913, which passed the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 249 to 175, would provide federal assistance to prosecute hate crimes. It also would add sexual orientation and gender identity to current classes protected against hate crimes, including race, religion and national origin.
Many religious conservatives oppose the measure, saying it could be used to stifle free speech.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it "an irresponsible piece of legislation" that "puts Christians and many other religious groups in the government's crosshairs."
"While we should never condone acts of violence against anyone, for whatever reason, including whether or not that person is a homosexual, this bill proposes to prosecute someone based on their belief about homosexuality and therefore makes religious belief a germane issue in this debate," Duke said in Baptist Press. "Anyone who holds a religiously based belief about homosexuality is immediately suspect of engaging in a hate crime if a homosexual is involved, even if the person was unaware that the victim was a homosexual."
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, called it "anti-Christian" legislation that could allow a pastor's sermon against homosexuality to be prosecuted as hate speech.
The American Family Association said that since the bill doesn't define sexual orientation, it could be interpreted to protect 30 practices including incest and pedophilia.
Progressive evangelicals including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, mega-church pastor Joel Hunter and Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, meanwhile, called the measure both moral and necessary.
David Gushee, distinguished university professor at Mercer University and a columnist for Associated Baptist Press, said he supports the bill "because its aim is to protect the dignity and basic human rights of all Americans, and especially those Americans whose perceived 'differentness' makes them vulnerable to physical attacks motivated by bias, hatred and fear."
Gushee said he believes the bill "poses no threat whatsoever to any free speech right for religious communities or their leaders" and its passage would "make for a safer and more secure environment in which we and all of our fellow Americans can live our lives."
"For me, the case for this bill is settled with these words from Jesus," Gushee said. "As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me."
Sens. Edward Kennedy and Patrick Leahy introduced a companion measure in the Senate April 28, titled the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, after a young gay man fatally beaten in 1998.
If the bill passes both houses of Congress, President Obama is expected to sign it. The House and Senate both passed similar legislation in 2007, but under threat of veto by President Bush failed to agree on a final version. 
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


4/30/2009 4:02:00 PM by Bob Allen | with 4 comments

Hunt declares: ‘Great Commission Resurgence’

April 29 2009 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A declaration released by SBC President Johnny Hunt calling for a “Great Commission Resurgence” among Southern Baptists has drawn more than 700 signatures since it was posted April 27 at www.greatcommissionresurgence.com.
Jim Law, senior associate pastor and administrator of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock where Hunt is the senior pastor, told Baptist Press in an e-mail that the declaration is “a collaborative effort of men whom Dr. Hunt respects greatly. It has been in his heart and mind for months and he has discussed it with a number of people.”
Law said Hunt would be releasing a list of the original signatories, those who helped craft the declaration, at a later date.
Hunt “will be presenting this to the (June 23-24) convention in Louisville and asking the messengers to consider appointing a task force to study this document and bring back appropriate recommendations on it,” Law said. “The purpose of this is so that we may be a more effective people to carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
The 10-point declaration calls for 1) A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship; 2) A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness; 3) A Commitment to the Great Commandments; 4) A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency; 5) A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center; 6) A Commitment to Biblically Healthy Churches; 7) A Commitment to Sound Biblical Preaching; 8) A Commitment to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed; 9) A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure; and 10) A Commitment to Distinctively Christian Families. The full text of the document can be read below.
The declaration resembles the 12 “axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence” set forth in an April 16 chapel address by Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Akin and Hunt were among the first to fix their signatures to the online document.
Among the key Southern Baptist leaders whose names appear as online signatories are three of 11 SBC entity heads and four of the 14 living former SBC presidents. No state executive directors had signed the declaration at press time:
A version of the declaration was posted on www.GreatCommissionResurgence.com April 27 and circulated through several blogs before its official release April 28.
Law told Baptist Press in his e-mail, “A copy of an original statement was sent on Monday to state Executive Directors, State Presidents, Seminary Presidents, Agency heads, past SBC Presidents and current SBC officers to give them the privilege to have input on it. The Great Commission Resurgence web site was released before comments could be made. Therefore, the web site was updated today with the revised copy of the document.”
Law also reported, “There was much response received on the document as a whole. The convention structure was only one of the items. Many encouraging responses were received. As a matter of fact, over 700 individuals have gone on the web site in two days and signed on to support the entire declaration.”
The online declaration’s similarity to Akin’s 12 axioms includes such emphases as the lordship of Jesus Christ, “Gospel-centeredness,” biblical inerrancy and the Baptist Faith and Message.
The difference in the new wording from the original posting and Akin’s address includes a softening of some language.
Both Akin’s address and the version originally released on GreatCommissionResurgence.com had called for Southern Baptists to “rethink our convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission,” saying Southern Baptist methods are aimed “at a culture that went out of existence years ago” and that structures at every level of denominational life are “bloated and bureaucratic.”
The online document as revised reads, “Some of our denominational structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them.
“We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present. We are grateful for God’s gift of Cooperative Program dollars to both state and national entities. Both state and national entities must be wise stewards of these funds, and closely examine whether the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars genuinely contributes to Kingdom work or simply maintains the status quo. We are grateful for those churches and state conventions that are seeking to move more Cooperative Program dollars beyond their respective selves, and encourage this movement to continue and increase in the days ahead.”


4/29/2009 10:24:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 5 comments

Young evangelicals call for end to nuclear weapons

April 29 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

AUSTIN, Texas — A group of under-40 evangelicals attending a leadership meeting in Texas announced April 28 a new initiative to mobilize American Christians to eliminate nuclear weapons.
“We have all heard about this broadening of the evangelical agenda,” said Katie Paris of Faith in Public Life, a progressive group for advancing faith in the public square. “Today something new is happening. Younger Christians are setting the agenda — elevating and acting on an issue that has been off the popular radar for decades. They are engaging politics in a way that is very different from the generation that came before them, defying easy political categorization and breaking through theological division.”
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, 31, an ordained Baptist minister and member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., is the founding director of the Two Futures Project, a movement of American Christians calling for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.
“The truth that has been recognized in foreign-policy circles over the past several years must now make its way into the public consciousness,” he said in a conference call with reporters to announce the initiative. “In a post 9/11 era the weapons that we relied upon as our ultimate ace in the hole have in fact become the greatest threat to us all.”
Wigg-Stevenson said the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that produced a stalemate between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War “is now obsolete.”
“A two-tiered world of nuclear haves and have-nots will eventually lead to uncontrollable proliferation and an un-deterrable terrorist bomb,” he said, “which would not only cause mass casualties, but catastrophic economic effects that would leave no corner of the planet untouched.”
Wigg-Stevenson said nuclear weapons touch on a number of Christian moral concerns, including protection of innocent life, care for creation and concern for the poor. He labeled reliance on weapons of mass destruction “enacted blasphemy.”
“Who do we think we are to claim authority over life itself and the welfare of future generations?” he asked. “That power belongs to God alone.”
Jonathan Merritt, national spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, spoke in support of the initiative.
“Nuclear weapons are not only unacceptable, they are un-Christian,” Merritt said. “As followers of Jesus we serve a God that abhors the shedding of innocent blood.”
“We understand that those that will be affected by the detonation of a nuclear bomb are not numbers,” Merritt said. “They are objects of God’s love, wonderful creations made in his image.”
Merritt said he is aware that some people think the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide is impossible.
“Calling something impossible is often a tool of distraction employed by those who simply lack moral courage,” he said. “As Christians, our decisions must be made on morality, not plausibility. We serve a God through which all things are possible. So when Christians hide behind the skirt of probability, it is the ultimate act of distrust.”
Merritt said he supports the Two Futures Project as a Southern Baptist, citing the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message article calling it the duty of Christians to seek peace and do all in their power to end war.
Southern Baptists have always placed immense value on human life, which is an important part of the pursuit of peace,” Merritt said. “Therefore I find this effort wholly consistent with both my theological convictions and a long-held Baptist belief.”
Merritt, 26, spearheaded the March 2008 environmental declaration criticizing SBC resolutions as too timid on the issue of climate change.
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions supporting multilateral nuclear disarmament in 1978, 1979, 1982 and 1983.  
The most recent Southern Baptist resolution mentioning nuclear weapons came in 2002. It urged national leaders to prevent terrorist-supporting nations from attaining weapons of mass destruction.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

4/29/2009 10:21:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

New England church plants take root

April 28 2009 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald/The Layman

WEST PAWLET, Vt. — Four years ago in this remote valley hamlet in Vermont, the last eight members of the financially strapped United Church of West Pawlet voted to disband the congregation. Tad Perry remembers the wrenching vote as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

But now on a nine-degree Sunday morning in January, a steady plume rises once again from the chimney behind the steeple.

Inside, nearly 50 people singing catchy hymns with piano accompaniment help make the tiny sanctuary feel close to full. And the voice from the pulpit bespeaks what’s taking place — not only here, but in formerly vacant, old church buildings across northern New England.

“The mission of this church is to see lost people saved throughout this region and to disciple the saved,” says pastor Lyandon Warren in a thick southern accent that gives away his Waynesville, N.C., roots. His drawl also meshes with the new, Southern Baptist affiliation of the church, which reopened in May 2007 as Mettowee Valley Church.

20 churches since 2001
Since 2001, Southern Baptists have planted 20 new churches in Vermont, where the denomination’s count now stands at 37 congregations. Half of the new church plants have taken root in buildings once operated by other Protestant denominations. Where more theologically liberal ministries failed, church planters say, opportunity still awaits for harvesting souls — even here in New England’s notoriously rocky spiritual soil.

For Southern Baptists, the price to acquire church properties in Vermont has been right. In each case, congregation members have transferred church deeds free of charge since they’re just happy a church of any stripe will continue to operate on the sites they regard as sacred, according to Terry Dorsett, director of missions for Green Mountain Baptist Association, which oversees Vermont and New Hampshire.

Securing a building, however, may well be the easy part. Evangelical Christianity can be a hard sell in this state that leans left politically and culturally, such as when the legislature passed the nation’s first civil union law in 2000. Warren courts controversy in Vermont, where tolerance is a much-professed virtue, when he says matter-of-factly, “I hope other people see that without Christ, they’re doomed.”

Theological adjustment
But Southern Baptists are discovering New England may not be as cold to faith as the region’s reputation would suggest.

“I don’t know that I’d say we’ve abandoned the concept of conversion, but we’ve adjusted it,” Dorsett says. “Now instead of going door-to-door and talking to strangers, we’ve urged our people to become involved in their communities and share their faith while they work ... to say, while they’re washing dishes at the soup kitchen, ‘I’m here because Jesus made a difference in my life.’

“Vermonters aren’t interested in a pie-in-the-sky, ‘I’m better than you’ kind of faith,” Dorsett says. “But a roll-up-the-sleeves and help my community kind of faith? There are a lot of Vermonters interested in that.”

Photo courtesy of The Layman

Baptists are finding opportunities for advance in New England in vacated church buildings.

Southerners have arrived in force to demonstrate what’s possible and help get new church plants going in Vermont. Over two summers, multiple North Carolina teams with as many as 30 volunteers have descended on West Pawlet. Each toiled for a week or so at a time before handing the baton to the next team. Workers cleaned out the basement, repaired a caved-in floor, painted the exterior, launched a fellowship hall renovation and framed a new addition. They even helped fix up the damaged porch of an elderly woman in the neighborhood. Through it all, these out-of-state missionaries importantly didn’t make proud New Englanders feel like charity recipients.

Vermont is one of the partnerships that North Carolina Baptist Men has in the United States. To find out how you can help, visit www.ncmissions.org.

A blessing, not charity
“I don’t think of it as charity but as a blessing what the Lord wanted to happen,” says Heather Baker, a former Jehovah’s Witness who’s recently become a Christian.

Not all of the recent witnessing has taken the form of building projects. At a summer fair, church members gave out bottles of water along with tracts and information about the church. A few people came to worship after taking a bottle and a tract on that hot day. Some even appreciated it when Warren went door-to-door in 2007 to announce the church’s reopening.

“I could tell him the names of everybody in town who needed to be here, but I didn’t think I needed to be here,” construction worker Cliff White says. But when he yearned to quit drinking, he remembered the Warrens’ visit and decided to give the church a try. With the congregation’s help, he’s been sober since May 2008.

Figuring out what works in revitalizing rural New England churches has become a pressing challenge for the region as a whole. Tens of church buildings are for sale at any given time across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine (as well as rural New York state). Warren got familiar with the usual explanation: Too many young people had either lost interest in faith or had moved away from small-town Vermont in order to earn a living elsewhere.

“They say there are no people here, but there are people here,” Warren says. “When they hear that a church is preaching the Bible and standing for truth, they want to go investigate.”

Plan for 6,000 new churches
Now some theological conservatives seem to regard the closure of mainline churches as an opening for a more orthodox resurgence. Southern Baptists planted 24 new churches in New Hampshire, for instance, between 1998 and 2004. The Baptist Convention of New England professes a goal to plant 6,000 new churches across New England.

In smelling opportunity, Southern Baptists aren’t alone. The Assemblies of God (AOG) denomination also is actively recruiting church planters for northern New England. The AOG has planted at least five new churches in Maine and New Hampshire since 2006, including two targeting Indonesian immigrants in southern New Hampshire.

At this point, churches are still learning which approaches might catch fire in a region where mega-churches haven’t blossomed on a large scale and where the vast majority of congregations count fewer than 100 members. West Pawlet’s experience suggests having a coherent strategy and a broad support network can go a long way.

Having received lots of help from North Carolinians, Mettowee Valley Church has been able to free up funds from a tithing congregation to support a few strategic investments. A new $5,000 oil boiler, for instance, means the church is usually warm when the congregation gathers. (As a back-up measure for sub-zero days when the wind is howling, each of the 18 pews is equipped with a crimson fleece blanket).

Transporting teens
The congregation also paid about $7,000 in cash for a 1998, 15-passenger van on eBay last summer. Warren flew to Florida to pick it up and drove it back. Now a driver who’s well-known among area families plies this area’s picturesque, twisty, hilly backroads every Sunday afternoon. He picks up youth for teen night and a meal at the church, and later brings them home.

Informality reigns. Kids playing in the neighborhood holler for parental permission to ride along with their friends and then jump in. Parents sometimes show up in church on Sunday to see what all the fuss is about.

Such active ministries are convincing area families that something interesting is afoot in this working-class town of 1,400. Heather Baker and her husband Steven lived directly across the street from the church building when it was United Church. Though they watched individuals occasionally come and go, they never even thought about attending.

“It just didn’t seem appealing,” says Steven Baker. “I didn’t feel like I needed to be here.”

Now as Mettowee Valley Church settles into its second year, church leaders aren’t worried about failure. They’re laying groundwork for endurance. Citing 1 Timothy 5:17-25, Warren exhorted parishioners in early January to keep leaders accountable for the long term by choosing elders carefully and by regarding church leadership as a group project. Lay leader Lee Perry urged them to remember, “Our Christian walk is a war. It’s a battle. We huddle in here, but then we take it out of here, and that’s the battle.” Hymns underscored his point as the congregation sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “We Want to See Jesus Lifted High.”

“... Little by little, we’re taking ground,” they sang. “Every prayer a powerful weapon / Strongholds come tumbling down / And down and down and down.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Originally published in The Layman, a publication of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, www.layman.org. Reprinted by permission.)

4/28/2009 7:01:00 AM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald/The Layman | with 0 comments

Many of non-religious adults still searching

April 28 2009 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evangelical leaders concerned about possible growth in the number of Americans unaffiliated with any religion may have found some good news Monday: A new study shows that many adults who were raised in an unaffiliated home later became Christian, mainly because they found themselves searching.

The finding is part of a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that examined why Americans change their religious affiliation. It is a follow-up study to Pew’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which found that unaffiliated adults make up 16 percent of the population. That same ’07 survey also found that, among those who were raised unaffiliated — a category that includes agnostics, atheists and those who don’t identify with any religion — only 46 percent remain unaffiliated. That retention rate is far lower than Protestants (80 percent of whom remain Protestants) and Catholics (68 percent of whom remain Catholic).

“It does suggest that many people who are unaffiliated and who are raised unaffiliated are open to religion,” Gregory A. Smith, research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said during a conference call with reporters.

The 2007 survey found that the category of unaffiliateds had grown, so evangelical leaders shouldn’t be celebrating too much. But the new survey — which included follow-up questions to 2,800 people from the original survey and was conducted Oct. 3-Nov. 7 — does provide some good news. Pew asked the 54 percent of adults who were raised unaffiliated but later joined a religion why they left their childhood beliefs; they could give as many answers as they felt necessary. Their leading answers were:
  • 51 percent said their spiritual needs were not being met.
  • 46 percent found a religion they liked more.
  • 23 percent got married to someone from a different faith.
  • 15 percent moved to a new community.
  • 10 percent said someone they were close to passed away.
“If I was a religious leader ... part of the good news is in the low number of people who are raised unaffiliated who stay that way,” Smith said.

But will the number of unaffiliated adults continue to grow?

“Certainly if recent trends continue, they might,” Smith said. “But, at the same time, remember: Most people who are raised unaffiliated later wind up affiliated.”

Among the 54 percent who are no long unaffiliated, 22 percent are now members of evangelical churches, 13 percent mainline churches, 6 percent Catholic churches and 4 percent historically black churches. Nine percent are members of another religion.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

4/28/2009 6:58:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Women leaders embrace networking event

April 27 2009 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

WAKE FOREST — Networking begins naturally when women get together.

That’s what Chris Adams, senior lead women’s ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources, said about Embrace Leadership Network, held April 25 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest

The one-day event, which was free and included lunch, drew 150 women from around North Carolina who want to build women’s ministries in their churches.

Adams said the turnout “says a lot about the desires of you as leaders.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

When one of the ladies at their table has to leave early from the Embrace Leadership Network, the table of women pray for God to watch over her as she travels and for God to continue to use her in ministry. Other tables continued sharing ideas and stories about how to reach women.

Phyllis Foy, Embrace’s interim director, was “thrilled about (the) diversity” of women who chose to come.

“Our heart is to meet the needs of these women,” Foy said.

Embrace is a new women’s ministry launched in November 2008 by the Baptist State Convention and response has been positive. Registration for the first two Embrace events (including a mother/daughter retreat at Fort Caswell) has met capacity.

Embrace Leadership Network is the first of three such events to encourage women to share ideas for ministry with and to women.

In addition to hearing Adams women leaders learned of resources available to them and discussed their own challenges and successes.

“A woman networks all day,” said Becky Garrett, who has been women’s ministry director at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville for seven years.

Before the prayer she led for lunch Garrett shared what happened the Wednesday before: a morning at the jail with inmates; lunch at church with ladies; counseling session in the afternoon; time with college girls in the evening and home to be mom.

“Oh what a day,” Garrett said. “It was just an amazing day.”

Marveling that all these women she encountered “see the same Jesus,” Garrett encouraged the women in their ministries.

At her table, Garrett steered ladies through discussion questions. To the topic of ministry burnout she said she makes sure she takes time for her family as well as her Lord.

“I’m sorry but as a leader, that’s a requirement,” Garrett said. “Jesus found time to spend with God.”

Being open to change is also key, said Lucy Houser of Gainsville Baptist Church in Lincolnton.

“I think we’ve got to be open to new ideas,” Houser said.

The ladies also discussed how to stay current with the latest ministry resources; motivating women for service; publicizing events; honorariums; maintaining a balance; what events worked and why; recruiting new leaders; incorporating missions and ministry; and what would help them with their ministry.

Adams said the rules have changed for women’s ministry and life is moving at a faster pace. Women expect more in ministry.

“You are a limited resource,” Adams said. “You cannot do it all and be it all. Leadership is a draining experience. It’s just tiring.”

Defining women’s ministry has been a long-time problem. Adams said women’s ministry is, “whatever you’re doing for women in the church.”

“Our job is to listen to be aware of where He’s walking among the women,” she said. “Is it hard? You better believe it’s hard. Is it exciting? Absolutely it’s exciting.”

Two more networking events are planned in the fall:
  • Oct. 3 — Cape Carteret Baptist Church; speaker: Shirley Moses, Texas Baptist Convention.
  • Nov. 7 — Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, Hendersonville; speaker: Chris Adams, LifeWay.
Contact Embrace Ministries, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512; www.embracenc.org; (800) 395-5102; e-mail: embracenc@ncbaptist.org.

What Must We Do?
LifeWay women’s ministry specialist Chris Adams’ advice to women at a recent Embrace networking event:
  • Know your core purpose.
    • “Make that clear to your leaders,” said Adams.
  • Model godly leadership.
    • Encourage women to stay in God’s word.
    • Provide accountability.
    • Set boundaries.
  • Equip women.
    • “We need to be training women all the time,” she said.
  • Embrace all generations of women in church.
  • Invest in younger generations “because that’s the future,” Adams said. “We must invest and embrace those younger women.”
  • Drop stereotypes.
  • Build relationships.
  • Listen to women.
    • What are they saying?
  • Disciple for life change.
  • Be open to options.
    • What are we doing that we should not be doing anymore?

4/27/2009 8:03:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

For Dave Ramsey, sour economy has upside

April 27 2009 by Bobby Ross Jr., Religion News Service

EDMOND, Okla. — In a gloom-and-doom economy, Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey fashions himself as a prophet of hope.

Part stand-up comedian, part economics professor, Ramsey built a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing simple financial advice: Live on a budget. Don’t spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund.

Get out of debt and stay out of debt.

RNS photo by Erik Tryggestad

Christian financial expert Dave Ramsey prepares to address live simulcast near Oklahoma City, Okla., on April 23. His advice is gaining interest amid the economic crisis.

One of his favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

Now, with the nation in what Ramsey characterizes as “complete freak-out mode” over the recession, the faith-based approach he touts seems to be resonating even more, he said.

“I would not say that business is booming during the recession, but this economic downturn has made people realize that now is the time to turn their financial life around,” the 48-year-old money-management expert said in an interview.

As evidence of the significant interest in the one-time bankrupt real estate salesman who turned around his financial life based on biblical principles, consider the scene at an Oklahoma City-area megachurch April 23.

About 1,500 people showed up at Life Church that evening to hear Ramsey give a history of capitalism and explain why he believes the economy will survive the current woes.

But the crowd that saw the syndicated talk-show host in person was far from alone.

His free, nationwide “Town Hall for Hope” meeting was simulcast live to more than 6,000 churches, businesses and military bases — 10 times more venues than Ramsey initially thought might participate, he said.

“The one thing America needs right now is hope,” Ramsey said. “All we’re hearing in the news is how bad things are, and no one is talking about hope for the future. The truth is, fear is running rampant in America today, and people are making bad decisions based on that fear.”

Ramsey said he almost bought into the fear himself. But then he prayed.

“I talked to my dad and the fear left me,” he said, referring to God. “Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit.”

Ramsey’s message: “Hope doesn’t come from Washington. Hope comes from you and me. Hope comes from God.”

Three times zones and roughly 3,900 miles from Oklahoma City, Ted Manolas and fellow church members watched Ramsey on big screens in Chugiak, Alaska, northeast of Anchorage.

“You could say that I’ve joined the Dave Ramsey cult,” joked Manolas, director of finance and administration at The Crossing Church at Birchwood, before the simulcast began.

As a result of Ramsey’s teachings, Manolas said, he paid off all his debts — including his home.

The Alaska church has taught Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University,” a 13-week video series, to more than 150 families, Manolas said.

Nationally, 750,000 families have completed the course, according to Lampo Group Inc., Ramsey’s Brentwood, Tenn.-based company, which has more than 200 employees.

Lampo is the Greek word for “light,” referring to the passage in the Gospel of Matthew calling for Christians not to hide their faith.

Ramsey’s fans — who swear off credit cards like alcoholics do beer — include listeners of his daily radio show carried by more than 400 stations and his nightly cable show on Fox Business.

Ramsey is not without his critics. Some financial experts take issue with what they consider to be his overly simplistic notion of becoming financially secure. Others question how he can charge people already in debt for most of his live events and online resources.

But Chris and Tami Burke of Edmond, Okla., said Ramsey’s common-sense approach helped them eliminate more than $23,000 in debt.

The advice they received from Ramsey was worth every cent, they said.

Now, the couple that attends Life Church drives used cars and gives more money to church.

“In the past, many people were just blowing and going, just spending a lot of money,” said Chris Burke, a hospital administrator who arrived more than an hour early to hear Ramsey speak. “Now, more than ever, you have companies downsizing and people losing their jobs. ... So, now’s a better time than ever to really look at your finances and really buckle down.”

Organizers insisted that Ramsey’s 90-minute event was no political rally, nor an investment seminar.

Nonetheless, the self-proclaimed capitalist — an outspoken critic of the federal bailout of big business — spent considerable time railing against Washington politicians and offering his advice on everything from the real-estate market to the disadvantages of investing in gold.

Despite the serious subject matter, he sprinkled his comments with homespun humor.

“When things were going really good, any idiot could make money,” he said. “Even a turkey can fly in a tornado, y’all.”

Concerning President Obama’s call Thursday for a new credit-card law protecting consumers, Ramsey said he used “plastic surgery” to deal with the debt he racked up with Visa and MasterCard.

“I legislated the credit-card companies that were in my life with a pair of scissors,” he said.

4/27/2009 8:00:00 AM by Bobby Ross Jr., Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Studying biblical finance has many benefits

April 27 2009 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Completing an in-depth study of biblical financial management not only dramatically improves a person’s financial position, but it also benefits their walk with Christ, family relationships and contribution to church life, according to research recently conducted by Crown Financial Ministries.

A survey of 1,429 people who had completed Crown's Biblical Financial Study indicated, on average, the following results within three years:
  • Personal debt, down 38 percent
  • Savings and investment, up 58 percent
  • Closer relationship to Christ, 35 percent
  • Prayer frequency, up 46 percent
  • Bible reading frequency, up 64 percent
  • Stronger marital relationships, 78 percent
  • Giving to church, up 70 percent
  • Service to church, up 47 percent
Of the 1,429 graduates surveyed, 11 were unbelievers but came to Christ either during the class or afterward and reported a close walk with Christ.
4/27/2009 7:59:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Angelou, Carter urge Baptists to unite

April 27 2009 by Lance Wallace, CBF Communications

WINSTON-SALEM — For two days more than 1,000 Baptists continued the spirit of the 2008 Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant by putting aside differences and focusing on the shared work of addressing the world’s needs.
The theme of the third of five scheduled regional gatherings was “God’s Year to Act,” and worship services and workshops emphasized the importance of Baptist Christians responding to the Luke 4 call of preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, releasing the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor — all at a time of economic recession.

Photo by Carla Davis

Writer and Wake Forest University professor Maya Angelou encourages Baptists to be “a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

Writer and Wake Forest professor Maya Angelou opened the gathering with a call to be “rainbows in someone’s dark cloud” and former President Jimmy Carter closed by reminding the audience of the New Baptist Covenant’s vision of achieving unity among Baptists.
Other keynote speakers included Wake Forest Divinity student Matt Johnson, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church pastor Clifford A. Jones of Charlotte and Park Road Baptist Church co-pastor Amy Jacks Dean of Charlotte.
Practical ministry workshops included “Addressing Healthcare Issues in Our Parish/Communities,” “Beyond the Vision Statement: Strategies for Faithful Ministry,” “Creation Care: Rationale and Resources for Congregations,” “Strangers in the Land: Ministry to Immigrants and Refugees,” “Baptist Identity Then and Now: Why and Why Not?” “Inviting in the Stranger: Ministry to the Homeless,” and “Enabling the Church to Meet the Educational Needs of Youth.”
There was also a gathering of students held on Friday night designed to generate discussion and build new relationships.
In the opening time of worship, the 81-year-old Angelou entered singing a line from a 19th century slave song — “When it looks like the sun ain’t gonna shine  no more, God put a rainbow in the sky.” She wove a poetic narrative of people who were rainbows in her life and how Baptists can be rainbows in the stormy lives of others.
“When Rev. (Serenus) Churn called and asked me to speak, I thought ‘What am I doing? What am I doing? Then I thought about you, and I thought about rainbows. For 400 years  you have been a rainbow to someone. That’s what Baptists have tried to be — a hope.”
Referring to the 400th anniversary of Baptists being celebrated this year, Angelou claimed her Baptist heritage as a positive influence on her life. She asked the Baptists in attendance to be part of the solution of the problem of racism.
“We see the blight of racism still assailing us,” she said. “At some point we have to stop letting differences divide us … a smile and ‘good morning’ to someone who looks different than you can lift someone’s spirits … in a second, you can qualify someone to be on this earth.”
In the Friday night service, Jones asked if the poor had a reason to say “Amen.” He suggested a relationship with Jesus was a compelling reason to say “Amen” and that Baptists can play a powerful role in solving poverty by working together.
“I like this gathering that former President Carter has brought together because it maximizes our strengths,” he said.
As the messages in worship built toward Saturday afternoon’s final service, the message and music dealt with setting the captive free, as described in Luke 4.
“Mercy isn’t a feeling like ‘bless his heart,’” said Jacks Dean on Saturday morning. “Mercy isn’t pity. Mercy isn’t a sentiment. Mercy is an action. It’s something that we do… mercy has something to do with how we treat people who are captive.”
Carter capped the event by reviewing the 2008 Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant and the need for unity among Baptists.
“Since I left the White House, Rosalynn and I have visited 125 countries,” he said. “We learned that Baptists are known all over the world for our disagreements and being argumentative … Arguments about interpretation of scripture are like a cancer in the Christ’s body … It’s directly opposite of the gently and loving nature of the one we worship.”
He offered a list of rhetorical questions for the audience about issues Baptists have disagreed on over the years, including women in ministry, the death penalty, accepting homosexuals into church membership among others. He then asked the audience if they could affirm two statements: salvation comes from the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and Baptists should put aside their differences to work together to help the poor. Both statements received enthusiastic applause.
“Let us pray that all other Christians can be bound together in a spirit of peace, freedom and love,” Carter said to conclude his remarks, which were followed by a standing ovation.

Photo by Carla Davis

Former President Jimmy Carter speaks to a crowd of more than 1,000 at Wake Forest University as a part of a regional New Baptist Covenant gathering.

Carter has committed to speak at each of the scheduled regional meetings, offering a word of encouragement to continue to work toward the ideals of the New Baptist Covenant. Event organizers pronounced the Winston-Salem event successful on many levels.
“It’s been beyond our wildest imagination in terms of the multi-racial, inter-church and multi-generational involvement,” said Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and chief organizer of the event. “This effort was a genuine people’s movement and so many individuals and churches contributed to it.”
Churn, senior pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and one of the co-chairs of the steering committee for the event, expressed excitement at  the progress the New Baptist Covenant is making at bringing together Baptists of all races.
“This is the first local expression of that event in 2008, and this has been a tremendous response,” Churn said. “It has been wonderful, and it’s just the beginning of worshipping and working together.”
The next regional gathering is scheduled for Aug. 6-7 in Norman, Okla., with another one in Chicago, Ill., in 2010. New Baptist Covenant program chair Jimmy Allen said there are efforts underway in Los Angeles and Philadelphia to organize regional meetings in the future.
“There is something going on,” Allen said. “God is building bridges among us. We’re not trying to control it. We’re not forming a new denomination. If Paul and Silas had waited until a missions organization had been formed, we would never have heard from them again. We need you to go from this meeting and take action.”
The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. The organizations have united around the shared vision found in Luke 4:18-19.

4/27/2009 7:55:00 AM by Lance Wallace, CBF Communications | with 0 comments

SBC missions giving rises; baptisms fall

April 24 2009 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptists gave 2.3 percent more to missions last year despite the economic downturn, but they lost members and baptized the fewest number of people since 1987, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile, the yearly statistical report compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with 42 Baptist state conventions.

Total giving to missions reached $1.36 billion in 2008. Through the denomination’s Cooperative Program and special mission offerings, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world. For example, Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.

In addition, Cooperative Program funds support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and other SBC entities, with the exception of LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding. At the state level, Cooperative Program funds support a variety of ministries, such as children’s homes, disaster relief efforts, colleges and universities.

The uptick in giving during a time of economic stress speaks well of Southern Baptists, said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay.

“Southern Baptists are among the most generous and mission-minded people in the world,” Rainer said. “They will give even when they’re hurting so the spiritual and physical needs of others are met.”

Offsetting the rise in giving, along with a slight increase in the total number of SBC churches and primary worship attendance, was the fourth consecutive year of decline in baptisms. Southern Baptists recorded 342,198 baptisms in 2008, a drop of 1.1 percent from the previous year.

“The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did,” Rainer said. “It still takes 47 Southern Baptists to baptize one person for Christ. I pray that all of our churches and our entities will become totally focused on obeying Christ’s commission so that our convention will truly experience a Great Commission resurgence.”

The number of baptisms is regarded as a key measurement of the Southern Baptist Convention’s overall effectiveness in evangelism. Baptism is a public act administered by the local church in which new followers of Christ are immersed in water. Baptism symbolizes believers’ identification with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection, signifies their new life in Christ and anticipates the day in which Christ will raise them from the dead, demonstrating His victory over sin and death.

Total SBC membership fell by 38,482, or 0.2 percent last year, to 16,228,438. Sunday school enrollment dropped 123,817, or 1.6 percent, to 7,752,794.

The total number of churches increased by 152 to 44,848, for a .34 percent gain. Primary worship attendance rose 35,449 to 6,184,317, an increase of .58 percent.

Rainer pointed out that numeric/percent changes for certain categories could not be accurately figured for the 2008 compilation. Some state conventions did not ask for certain items to be reported, or asked in a way that yielded results not comparable to totals reported in 2007.

Those categories and their 2008 totals include:
  • Discipleship training enrollment: 1,798,330
  • Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $11.1 billion
  • Music ministry enrollment / participation: 1,416,694
  • WMU enrollment: 795,379
  • Men / boys mission education enrollment: 403,575
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

4/24/2009 10:06:00 AM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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