April 2010

Coalfields efforts to meet poverty, other needs

April 19 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

Growing up in the Appalachians Dewey Aiken can relate to the people he now serves. Though the Aiken family did not go without food, “We came real close sometimes,” he said. “I know what it is to be poor.”

Thirty-seven of the 100 poorest counties in the United States are in central Appalachia. In some areas 45 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Dewey Aiken and his wife Kathie are Mission Service Corps missionaries with Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM), which serves not only central Appalachia, but the entire 12-state Appalachian region from New York to Alabama.

ARM operates as a ministry of 13 Baptist state conventions in partnership with the North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union. The ministry works to meet physical and spiritual needs of the people in Appalachia, strengthen existing churches and start new churches.

Dewey and Kathie Aiken were in Vermont but are now coordinators with the Coalfields Ministry.

During a break out session at the N.C. Baptist Missions Conference April 9-10 hosted by Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, the Aikens said that for the past seven years they coordinated the N.C. Baptist Men’s partnership in Vermont, which has grown into a Baptist State Convention partnership with New England. They spent half their time at their ministry base in Brevard.

The Aikens did not expect to become full-time missionaries. They both had good jobs, Dewey at Duke Energy and Kathie as a nurse. Yet, “the Holy Spirit moved us,” Kathie said.

Now, the Lord is moving them again. This year the Aikens transition into a new role as coordinators of the Coalfields Ministry.

N.C. Baptist Men, in partnership with ARM, developed the new ministry. While some projects will migrate south, most of the ministry will be targeted in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Mark Abernathy, N.C. Baptist Men consultant for men’s ministry and adults, said the Coalfields Ministry seeks to specifically address poverty issues. Item distributions will be important, such as food, clothing, baby care items and school supplies. Other needs include construction and repair, sports ministry, children’s ministry and Vacation Bible School.  

Twenty-four teams are committed to projects and teams are needed throughout the year. Some teams will spend a week or more in Appalachia; others just a few days.

The Aikens emphasized the importance of relationship building for effective ministry in the Appalachians. While churches are encouraged to send food and baby care items, the Aikens encourage them to go a step further and make the trip north to personally distribute those items.

One way for teams to build relationships is to serve in the same community or with the same church for several consecutive years. While serving in Vermont the Aikens knew people who committed nearly 10 years to serving in the same area.

For the North Carolina Baptists who go, it won’t take long for them to see the people in Appalachia as Kathie sees them — “they are precious, precious people.” For more information visit www.ncmissions.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lilley is a researcher and writer for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
4/19/2010 9:53:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Find It Here churches report exciting Easter

April 19 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

No one will ever be able to put specific numbers to the Find It Here evangelistic emphasis promoted among North Carolina Baptist churches over Easter, but testimonials posted on the www.ncbaptist.org web site and word of mouth indicate those churches that engaged in intentional evangelistic outreach found significant blessing.

“I just want to praise God for what our churches did in preparation for Find It Here,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., Baptist State Convention (BSC) executive director-treasure who indicated this was the first phase of a three-year emphasis that will include discipleship and mission mobilization.

He said people who read the testimonies of Find It Here participants will be encouraged to participate  next year, and will be motivated to action now.

Among those testimonies, Chadwick Tucker said Living Stone Baptist Church in Nashville used no gimmicks or giveaways, but “authentic personal invitations” brought more visitors and regular attenders than members on Easter. 

Welcome Home Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro focused on two weekend events, including an Easter musical and a community egg hunt, which produced a record turnout.

Josh Hyde, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Sylva led teams to pray “over every seat and every space in the parking lot.”

They utilized local advertising and attendance of 500 was 25-30 percent above average and they baptized four.

Of the 150 at Campfield Memorial Baptist Church on Easter, 18 were visitors.

Providence Baptist Church in Providence averaged 83 last year, but had 153 for Easter and baptized three, according to pastor W. Lee Cook.

Kellum Baptist Church baptized six on Easter. Pastor Jody Yopp said Kellum has has 11 converts and 14 new members since it started promoting Find It Here. BSC Board member and pastor of Moon’s Chapel Baptist Church Scott Faw said the church had a record crowd.

John Green, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hudson, called the Find It Here emphasis “a great blessing.” His church saw seven professions of faith and 19 visitors among its 405 in worship.

Donnie Paschall said Oakton Baptist Church in Fairmont baptized the first African-American in the church’s 100-year history. Four others await baptism because in the past 40 days they’ve accepted Christ. On Easter, Oakton had four visitors, which is more typically an annual statistic.

Easter attendance of 221 was the highest in Brandon Ware’s three years as pastor of Walker Road Baptist Church in Morganton.

“In preparation for Sunday, each week we sent teams out into the community knocking on doors, sharing the gospel, and inviting people to church,” he said.  Grace Community in Marion had attendance of 930 with eight people seeking salvation. Members had written the names of 320 family and friends they wanted to bring to Grace.

Michael Shumate was skeptical of the Find It Here challenge to have baptism on Easter, but “I do believe in miracles,” he said.

They saw five decisions for Christ in their Good News Club at the neighboring school and because one of those was by a child in their church, they had an Easter baptism.

Shumate said because of their increased awareness of the lost their prospect list has doubled.

Mark Caldwell said Find It Here efforts brought the best service in his tenure at North Canton Baptist Church, including the best offering and a dramatic confession that he believes will lead to revival.

“Thank you Don McCutcheon for listening to the Holy Spirit,” Caldwell said, referring to the BSC executive leader for evangelization.

Smyrna Missionary Baptist Church blitzed a 10-mile area with information about the church and had attendance of 90; up from the average of 20 three years ago when Mike Willard became pastor. Mount Olive Baptist Church in King prayer walked the community two weeks before Easter and passed out 1000 Find It Here cards in neighborhoods of members. They prayed for 450 and had 570 plus and baptized four on Palm Sunday.

The River Church in Fayetteville had a celebration Sunday April 11 because on Easter four made professions of faith and eight others joined the church. Pastor Todd Brady said he utilized many of the Find It Here resources such as  the website, logos, bookmarks/prayer cards, theme, banner, and he even made powerpoint slides to match his sermon outline.  

Hephzibah in Wendell normally runs 450 and had 645 for Easter, the second highest attendance in the church’s 200-year history.

Interim pastor Aaron Wallace, who was instrumental in promoting the day as a member of the evangelization committee of the BSC board of directors, said the church borrowed the mobile baptism unit from the Raleigh Baptist Association and for the first time in 13 years baptized 11 in the Family Life Center in the morning services.

Baptisms have been in the old worship center during the evening service because that’s where the baptistery is. Ten others made professions of faith that day.

Pine Ridge in Haw River, which is about four years old, opened its new facility on Easter weekend and had 653 people, including more than 65 first time guests and 21 decisions for Christ, according to pastor Tadd Grandstaff.

First Korean Baptist of Raleigh baptized 10, including three college students. The largest crowd in Josh Benge’s two years at Harris Chapel Baptist Church in Hudson of well over 200 saw six people ask Jesus into their life.

You can read more and fuller testimonies at the www.ncbaptist.org web site, under Find It Here.  
4/19/2010 9:31:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Cecil Sherman dies after massive heart attack

April 18 2010 by Carla Wynn Davis, CBF Communications

ATLANTA — Cecil Sherman, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Asheville, and founding coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), died April 17 in Virginia after a massive heart attack suffered April 15. He was 82.

A worship service celebrating his life will be held at 2 p.m. April 20 at River Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. A second service will follow at 2 p.m. First Baptist Church, Asheville on April 23. Visitation will follow both services.

Updates will be posted to www.cecilsherman.com/news.

“Baptists have lost a great champion, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has lost its founding coordinator and I have lost a friend,” said Fellowship Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal. “But I celebrate his fruitful life and the resurrection hope we have in Jesus Christ.”

Born Dec. 26, 1927, Sherman was a native of Fort Worth, Texas. He graduated Baylor University Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary. He was pastor of churches including First Baptist Church of Chamblee, Ga. (1956-1960); First Baptist Church of College Station, Texas (1960-1962); First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. (1964-1984); and Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas (1985-1992).

Photo courtesy of CBFNC and Steve DeVane

Cecil Sherman at CBF of North Carolina’s 2010 General Assembly in March.

He also served at Baptist General Convention of Texas as staff associate in the evangelism division from 1962-1964. As conflict arose in the Southern Baptist Convention over leadership and terminology concerning the Bible, culminating in the election of conservative flag bearer Adrian Rogers in 1979, Sherman was among those who fought against the change, paving the way for the formation of the Fellowship in 1991.

He was then unanimously selected by the Fellowship’s first Coordinating Council to become the new organization’s first coordinator. He began serving on April 1, 1992, and served until his retirement in 1996.

“Cecil had the courage and capacity to look reality in the face and make hard decisions. His leadership was widely recognized,” said Jim Slatton, who chaired the search committee that recommended Sherman for the CBF role.

“Cecil is a genuine churchman, who has a real life-wish for the local church and for the Baptist denomination and for Baptist principles.”

Sherman met Dorothy “Dot” Hair in 1950, and the two were married on Dec. 23, 1953, in Greer, S.C. After 54 years of marriage, Dot died Aug. 1, 2008.

Just days before her death, Sherman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent repeated treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Sherman’s cancer treatments had been largely successful, and he was able to continue serving as a visiting professor of pastoral ministries at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR).

“His devotion to his students was nothing short of legendary. He saw himself preparing a new generation of ministers for local church ministry,” said Ron Crawford, the seminary’s president. “His service at BTSR has made a grand contribution to students.  It is a contribution that will pay dividends in the lives of ministers and churches for decades to come.”

Also an author, Sherman’s writings include a 2008 memoir, By My Own Reckoning, and the Formations Bible study commentary series for adult Sunday school classes.

Recently, he had been writing a new book, which had not yet been published.

Sherman is survived by family including his only child, Eugenia Brown of Madison, Wis.; a brother, Bill Sherman of Nashville, Tenn.; a sister, Ruth Hamm of Edmond, Okla.; and a grandson, Nathaniel Brown.

Memorials to: Dorothy and Cecil Sherman Scholarship Fund, Baptist Theological Seminary, 3400 Brook Road, Richmond, VA 23227.
4/18/2010 10:16:00 AM by Carla Wynn Davis, CBF Communications | with 2 comments

Cecil Sherman suffers massive heart attack

April 16 2010 by Carla Wynn Davis, CBF Communications

ATLANTA — Cecil Sherman, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Asheville and the founding coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), suffered a massive heart attack April 15, and is currently in critical condition in Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Va.  

“All of us in the CBF family are praying for Cecil and his family,” said Fellowship Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal, who is scheduled to preach at First Baptist Church, Marion April 18. “We hold them in our hearts and ask for God's grace and strength for them in this time.”

Sherman, 82, was the first coordinator of the Fellowship, serving from 1992 through 1996.  His pastoral ministry spanned decades, including pastorates at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and First Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C. Sherman, whose wife of 54 years, Dorothy “Dot” Sherman died in August 2008, was diagnosed with acute leukemia in July 2008.

He is the visiting professor of pastoral ministries at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. For more updates visit http://www.cecilsherman.com/news.html.
4/16/2010 6:16:00 AM by Carla Wynn Davis, CBF Communications | with 2 comments

Baptist21 hosts GCR panel at Southeastern

April 15 2010 by BR staff

The young Baptist network Baptist21 and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary will host a panel discussion on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force work during the chapel service at Southeastern at 10 a.m. April 28.

The panel will include the three North Carolina Baptists on the 23-member task force: Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin and pastors Al Gilbert of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and J.D. Greear of the Summit in Durham.

Joining the discussion via live video feed will be task force members Ronnie Floyd, chairman, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBC President Johnny Hunt.

Nathan Akin, son of Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin, who is organizing the event, said Southern Baptists are at “a critical time” and he anticipates the panel discussion will contribute to a “great clarity when the final report and recommendations are given” at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando in June.

Chapel services are held in Southeastern’s Binkley Chapel.  

Nathan Akin, who said Baptist21 will moderate the discussion, said the panel should be able to answer some of the many questions the task force’s initial report has raised, such as consequences of ending cooperative agreements between state conventions and the North American Mission Board (NAMB); whether state conventions would compensate for loss of NAMB shared ministries by lowering the percentage of Cooperative Program money forwarded to SBC national entities; why the task force did not recommend a single, Global Mission Board; is the report just bureaucratic reorganization and many other questions of vital interest to Baptists.

Floyd told Baptist Communicators in Chicago April 7 that the task force’s revised preliminary report to be released May 3 will be significantly different from the Feb. 22 report upon which panel questions will be based. Panel members have stuck to a policy of confidentiality so they will likely not feel at liberty to discuss changes they already know will be in the May 3 report.

Nathan Akin is inviting questions to present to the panel.

Contact him at baptist21@gmail.com or visit baptist21.com.    
4/15/2010 4:42:00 AM by BR staff | with 1 comments

Column says steer clear of extremist groups

April 15 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — A former conservative Congressman and ordained Baptist minister says extremists like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church and members of a Christian militia group arrested in Michigan for plotting to wage civil war against the United States are giving Christians a bad name and should be repudiated.

J.C. Watts, a former four-term Congressman from Oklahoma and the first black Republican elected to the House of Representatives since Reconstruction, said in a newspaper column that “depraved people” like Phelps and nine members of the self-named “Hutaree” militia charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes help feed “a growing and troubling anti-Christian bigotry” that is sweeping across the nation.

Along with battles like “Merry Christmas” becoming politically incorrect and negative portrayals of Christians on television and in movies, Watts, now a business consultant who left Congress in 2002, said Christianity now has to contend with “nut cases hijacking the name ‘Christian’ while committing atrocities in the name of Christ.”

Watts, a former youth minister and associate pastor at Sunnylane Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., said every Christian in America should be “outraged” by both the self-described “Christian” militia group and the independent Baptist congregation from Topeka, Kan., notorious for picketing funerals of American soldiers with placards bearing messages like “God Hates Fags.”

“Christians cannot allow the lines to be blurred, which is what the secularists want,” said Watts, who spoke last August at the New Baptist Covenant Midwest Regional meeting in Norman, Okla. “Christians should denounce such groups because what these people are doing does not reconcile with true Christianity or biblical principles.”

On April 7 Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, carried a story repudiating Westboro Baptist Church. The article made it clear the small congregation — composed mostly of members of the pastor’s extended family — is not affiliated in any way with the SBC.

American Baptist Churches USA updated their webpage with a “news flash“ denouncing Westboro Baptist Church’s tactics and pointing out it is not an American Baptist church.

Media in Michigan, meanwhile, reported that David Brian Stone, 45, ringleader of the group accused of plotting to kill police officers, had attended Thornhill Baptist Church, a congregation in Hudson, Mich., affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Elton Spurgeon, pastor of Thornhill Baptist Church, told the Detroit News that Stone had attended infrequently for about eight years. Stone’s 21-year-old son, Joshua, who is also named in a federal indictment unsealed March 29, had recently gotten married in the church, but Spurgeon did not officiate.

Both Spurgeon and his wife, Donna, said they did not condone the group’s activities and had no clue about what was going on. They said they knew the family owned guns and wore camouflage but thought they were hunters.

Donna Spurgeon said she recently had lunch with Joshua Stone, who described himself as “second-in-command” to his father, but she did not know what he was talking about and thought it was odd.

Authorities say the Hutaree (pronounced hu-TAR-ay), the name that Stone picked for the group, planned to kill an unspecified law-enforcement official and then ambush other officers by using homemade bombs to attack the funeral motorcade. They then would retreat to a staging area defended by booby traps. They hoped the attacks and retaliation would become a catalyst for other militia groups to engage in a more widespread uprising against the government.

Authorities don’t know what the word Hutaree means. They suspect it is a made-up word with no meaning except reference to the group.

A Hutaree website defines the term as “Christian warrior.”

“We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ,” the website proclaims. “All Christians must know this and prepare, just as Christ commanded.”

“Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” it continues. “We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren’t. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming.”

The pastor of Thornhill Baptist Church said the group didn’t get its religious views from him. But Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank that focuses on the political and Christian right, said the notion that the end times are an imminent historical event is fairly common for a large segment of American Christianity.

Popularized beginning in 1970 by Hal Lindsey, whose book The Late Great Planet Earth has sold over 19 million copies, Berlet said about 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans believe the end is near and they watch for signs of the times for Christ’s Second Coming.

Such a conception of the Second Coming provides the theological basis for the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which have sold 70 million copies in the United States.

LeAnn Snow Flesher, a professor at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, countered in a 2006 book that the Left Behind novels “perpetuate a massive misunderstanding of the nature of scripture and how scripture should be studied” and “create and support a separatist worldview in which all who disagree are deemed ‘the enemy.’“

She said the book of Revelation, frequently quoted as Bible prophecy, does not contain a call to arms or contain any examples of human combat. In fact, she says the book’s fundamental message is non-violent resistance to evil and faith in the power of suffering love as revealed through the cross of Christ.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has been investigating the Hutaree since 2009, said the 1990s saw the rise of several anti-government paramilitary groups, but they moderated after the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building, which killed 168.

With the election of America’s first black president, the group said the movement is back and this time, fueled by a concurrent influx of non-Anglo immigrants to the United States, is more racialized.

In a report released in March, the SPLC documented 512 anti-government “Patriot” groups, which include armed militias, operating by the end of 2009. That represents a 244 percent increase over the previous year’s count of 149. The number of armed militia groups rose from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009.

The SPLC documented a total of 75 domestic terrorism plots between the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and 2009. The majority of those plots were concocted by individuals with extreme anti-government views.
4/15/2010 4:37:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

BSC sends $50,000 for N.Y. church planting

April 14 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) has sent $50,000 to its new urban partner, the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MYNBA), for church planting.

Following initial discussions in December and vision trips in February, the BSC wasted little time in sending help to New York Baptists. North Carolina churches already are signing up for mission projects in New York.

BSC photo

Ed Yount, left, president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), and Milton A. Hollifield Jr., right, BSC executive director-treasurer, present George Russ, executive director of Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, with a $50,000 check for church planting efforts.

“I am so appreciative for the Kingdom-minded leadership of the BSC that allows us to make an eternal difference in the lives of New Yorkers through church planting. Only eternity will reveal the spiritual dividends of souls through this $50,000 investment,” said Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for church planting and missions development.

BSC President Ed Yount presented the check to MNYBA Executive Director George Russ during the N.C. Baptist Missions Conference in Charlotte April 10. Russ shared about MNYBA work and led a break out session.

The funds will help five association churches, such as Graffiti II in the Bronx. Graffiti II, led by church planter Andrew Mann, began 18 months ago in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in New York City. “Andrew will need assistance for quite some time as he grows a church comprised of a low-earning, multi-ethnic demographic,” Russ said.

Other church planters receiving assistance from these funds include:
  • Karim Camara, a 35-year-old bi-vocational African-American church planter who launched Crown Heights Church in Brooklyn in late January.
  • Won Kwak, who is planting a multi-ethnic English-speaking church in a very diverse and densely populated community just across the George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, NJ.
  • Richard Perez, 29, a Dominican who grew up in the predominantly Hispanic Washington Heights area of Manhattan. He is a bi-vocational pastor who also teaches school.
  • Vladimir Danaila, a Russian-speaking Moldavian and an experienced church planter and evangelist. “I have been working for a year to bring Vladimir to New York City as a catalytic church planter amongst Russians and Jews,” Russ said.
BSC Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr., looks forward to the two-way nature of the partnership.

“Our Convention will be blessed because Baptists from this huge metropolitan area will be able to teach Baptists in North Caroling how to be more effective in reaching the cities and urban parts of our state.”

To learn how to get involved with ministry in New York, visit www.ncmissions.org.    
4/14/2010 10:22:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 1 comments

Student missionary dies in motorcycle accident

April 14 2010 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A 21-year-old student missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) was killed April 12 in a motorcycle accident in the southeastern African country of Mozambique.

BP photo

Jeremiah Johnson

Jeremiah Johnson, a member of Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., and driver of the motorcycle, was riding with an interpreter (name withheld for security reasons) when the accident happened. Reports from overseas personnel say Johnson was killed instantly in the accident and his passenger was injured. Details on the interpreter's condition and how the crash happened were not available at press time.

“Our hearts are broken,” said Charles Lord, pastor of Royal Palms. “We’re very proud of Jeremiah. God had been working in his life.... He was serving the Lord to reach people who were unreached with the gospel.”

Johnson was working with the IMB’s Hands On initiative among an unreached people group.

The program enables college students to work on the mission field for a semester.

Johnson was a student at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College. Johnson is the son of Diana and David Johnson. David is director of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary's Arizona campus. Jeremiah also is survived by sisters Rachel and Talitha and brother Merritt.

Lord described Johnson as courageous and willing to go wherever God was calling him to serve.

“We’re really going to miss him,” the pastor said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.
4/14/2010 10:19:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious student group case heads to High Court

April 14 2010 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Can a public law school exclude a Christian student group from recognition because the group’s rules forbid gays and non-Christians as members in violation of the school’s anti-discrimination code?

The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh constitutional questions around universities and religious rights when it hears arguments April 19 in a case centered on the University of California’s law school in San Francisco.

The case, Christian Legal Society (CLS) v. Martinez, pits a campus chapter of a Christian legal group against the Hastings College of the Law and its 20-year-old nondiscrimination policy.

“Our main argument is that Christian student groups shouldn’t be forced to deny their faith in order to receive equal treatment on campus,” said Gregory Baylor, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is helping represent the CLS chapter before the high court.

“At stake in this case is the right of every student group to organize around shared commitments.”

The law school lists more than 60 registered student organizations on its web site, including groups for Catholic and Jewish students as well as golf and ballroom dance clubs. As official student groups, they have access to meeting space, e-mail communication with the student body and limited funding for some activities.

Ethan Schulman, the San Francisco attorney who successfully argued on Hastings’ behalf in two lower courts, said the CLS chapter is the only group that has sought an exemption from the anti-discrimination policy.

“What CLS is seeking here is not equal treatment,” said Schulman. “What they’re seeking is special treatment. They’re seeking to be exempt from a policy that applies to every other group.”

Though the case at first glance centers around student rights and the First Amendment, some national organizations are taking a broader view. Their friend-of-the-court briefs suggest the court’s ruling could influence public discussion of gay rights and rules about religious hiring.

The CLS considers “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” to be inconsistent with its statement of faith. Two gay groups — the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders — argued in a joint brief that CLS’s membership policy is blatant anti-gay discrimination.

“It would be like saying if a white supremacist group said we’ll admit blacks as long as they admit they’re inferior, or if a male group said we’ll admit women as long as they admit they’re inferior and their place is in the home,” said Cliff Sloan, a Washington lawyer who filed the brief for the gay organizations.

Baylor, the former director of CLS’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, said the CLS rules for official members and campus leaders refer to premarital and extramarital sexual activity, not just homosexual conduct.

“CLS has a rule that says its representatives should abide by Christian standards of sexual morality, and that means a representative of CLS should not be engaged in activity that most Christians have considered to be immoral for two millennia,” he said. “The bottom line is that Hastings refused to recognize CLS because of what it believes.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also weighed in, urging the court to consider the consequences of too broad a ruling in the case.

“If this court treats (or allows Hastings to continue to treat) CLS’s moral and religious opposition to extramarital sexual conduct as `discrimination,’ CLS and very many others of like mind will be stigmatized as bigots and correspondingly marginalized and punished by government,” the bishops warned.

While supporters argued for CLS’s right to associate with participants based on its beliefs, the Anti-Defamation League and several other groups said the rules are different when public funds are involved.

“Under this novel standard, as relates to religious groups, the federal government and the states will effectively be stripped of their long-recognized powers and discretion to condition the grant of taxpayer funds on compliance with neutral nondiscrimination policies,” the ADL and others said.
4/14/2010 10:17:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Polish Baptists ‘weep with the weeping’

April 14 2010 by Art Toalston and T. Patrick Hudson, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “We weep with the weeping,” Gustaw Cieslar, president of the Baptist Union of Poland, stated in an e-mail to Baptist Press (BP) April 12.

Cieslar answered several questions from BP in the wake of the April 10 airplane crash that claimed the lives of Poland’s president and numerous high-ranking officials in one of the greatest losses of national leadership in modern history.

“In all our churches we are praying for the families who suffer the most and for the leadership of our country,” Cieslar, who ministers through churches in Gdansk, Krakow, Warsaw and Szczecin, wrote. (Cieslar’s comments appear in full later in this story.)

Two Southern Baptist seminary leaders were in Poland at the time of the tragedy: R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and Jerry A. Johnson, the seminary’s academic dean.

Johnson told Baptist Press April 12 the Polish people are “not only grieving but also thinking about the sudden nature of death. In a country that is well over 90 percent Roman Catholic, most lack assurance of their destiny at death. In contrast, Baptists can speak of an assurance that comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again for our justification and salvation.”

“This is an enormous loss for the people of Poland,” Roberts said April 12. “Many of the leaders killed in the crash were instrumental in the Solidarity movement. They were the spear point for bringing liberty and democracy to the country.

Photo by Kaylin Bowers

Mourners in Warsaw — grandparents, parents and children — reflect on the nation’s future after the April 10 airplane crash that claimed the lives of Poland’s president and numerous other government and civic leaders.

“There are many in the country asking the question, ‘Why?’” Roberts continued. “For the Christians here, there is a great chance to step up and help the people work through their grief and suffering. Now is a time to help them in answering some of life’s toughest questions, including the ones about eternity that often surface when events such as this occur.”

Johnson, preaching Sunday, April 11, to a Baptist congregation in Sopot, the hometown of Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, who was not on the ill-fated plane, spoke from Revelation 1:18 in exhorting the worshippers “to look to Jesus as ‘the Living One’ in time of trouble, who says, ‘I was dead, but look — I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”

Johnson subsequently had an opportunity to speak with two Polish women about the brevity of life and of spending eternity with Jesus. “Pray for Agata and Agnes,” he asked of Southern Baptists.

“Southern Baptists should also pray that God will use our Polish brothers and sisters to reach their country with the message of Jesus at this strategic time,” Johnson added.

Cieslar, the president of the Baptist Union of Poland who also served as president of the Warsaw Baptist Theological Seminary for 10 years, shared the following reflections in response to questions posed by Baptist Press:

BP: What are some of the questions that people seem to be asking of God in these circumstances?

Cieslar: It is very sad and tragic time for our nation. In all our churches we are praying for the families who suffer the most, and for the leadership of our country. People seem to be in a shock. Questions about God are surely asked, and people are more sensitive to the gospel. They are, however, more focused on learning about “earthly” causes of the accident (technical difficulties, failure to observe procedures). Transcendent issues would be secondary. God seems to be far off to them, if He is at all.

BP: What answers can Baptists and other evangelicals provide to neighbors and friends who may be asking why God allowed this to happen?

Cieslar: These are difficult questions, time will show this. The tragedy happened close to the place where 70 years ago over 20,000 Poles were killed, a very symbolic place (the Katyn forest in western Russia, where Soviet secret police perpetrated the massacre of a broad segment of Polish society at the time).

We are at a stage when the wound (from the April 10 crash) is still very fresh and we need to be very sensitive about giving our answers and interpretations. We weep with the weeping.

BP: Are these answers the same, or different in some way, from what Catholic clergy would tell people?

Cieslar: Catholic clergy are talking about God’s mercy. Poles are very religious and they try to find hope in rituals in the churches, which are probably more important to them than searching to find the truth in God’s Word. Without the Word of God it is difficult to find Him personally through Jesus. Without it, a few weeks after this tragedy people will return to the same pattern of life. Catholics would adapt to a rather humanistic view (of the tragedy). They might name them martyrs. They seek comfort in praying for the souls of the dead.

BP: Have you had a conversation with someone who needed reassurance, and what did you tell them?

Cieslar: We point to Christ who is the sovereign, whose Kingdom was not shaken by this accident, and that even this accident had a place in His plan.

BP: Were any of those killed Baptists or evangelical believers?

Cieslar: No, there was not Baptist among them. Only a Lutheran pastor, Adam Pilch, who was serving as an army chaplain and pastor of a church in Warsaw. I know him and his family personally. We were born in the same town in the south of Poland and finished the same schools, though he was about 10 years younger than me.

BP: Did you know any of the officials who were killed, and were they friendly to Baptists and evangelicals?

Cieslar: Yes. I was attending every year an ecumenical prayer meeting at the presidential palace. The president and his wife (Lech and Maria Kaczynski) were always present. There was a time for conversation. The president’s chaplain was very friendly to all of us; (the chaplain’s) uncle was a member of First Baptist Church in Warsaw.

BP: What are the joys and challenges of being a Baptist or an evangelical in Poland?

Cieslar: The evangelicals count less than 100,000 (among them are Baptists who count about 5,000 members — and 10,000 including children and seekers) in the country of 38 million. To be in minority is always a challenge. But we do believe that we have some doors open for witness. We try to be faithful to God’s Word and not be ashamed of His name. Please do pray that our fellow citizens will turn to His Word for truth and guidance.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Toalston is editor of Baptist Press; Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.)
4/14/2010 10:06:00 AM by Art Toalston and T. Patrick Hudson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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