April 2013

Doctrine remains a struggle in churches

April 17 2013 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – While many Christians have a grasp of important doctrinal positions, some church-goers struggle with basic truths about salvation, the Bible and the nature of God.

A LifeWay Research study on “Doctrinal Positions,” released April 5, shows 81 percent of churchgoers agree, in regard to salvation, that “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have confessed your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.”

Yet 26 percent of church-goers concurrently believe that “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity,” while 57 percent disagree.

“Consumers in America are accustomed to having endless combinations of choices for every want in life,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “Biblical truth is radical because it teaches that eternal life is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ alone.”

Other responses regarding beliefs about life after death include:
  • “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have tried your best to be a good person and live a good life” (selected by 7 percent of churchgoers).
  • “You have no way of knowing what will happen when you die” (5 percent of churchgoers).
  • “When you die, you will go to heaven because God loves everyone and we will all be in heaven with Him” (4 percent).
  • “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have read the Bible, been involved in church, and tried to live as God wants you to live” (2 percent).
  • “There is no life after death” (1 percent).
The survey also reveals that churchgoers strongly hold to the accuracy of the scriptures, with 82 percent agreeing that “The Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches.” Ten percent disagree and 8 percent neither agree nor disagree.

While the majority of churchgoers (75 percent) strongly regard the God of the Bible as not the same god worshipped in other world religions, 13 percent say the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Another 12 percent neither agree nor disagree with the uniqueness of the God of the Bible.

The study also shows nearly two-thirds (71 percent) agree with the statement: “God is just and sin has to be punished.” However, 13 percent of churchgoers disagree and 16 percent neither agree nor disagree with the statement.

The research found that churchgoers responded better to the questions when engaged in activities including reading the Bible, participating in small groups or classes such as Sunday School, reading a book about what’s in the Bible, confessing sins to God and asking for forgiveness, or going through a class or training group for new believers.

“If churches stopped to assess their congregation on these biblical truths, many would be surprised to find out how many are struggling with basic doctrinal issues,” Stetzer said.

“Every church has a different mix of mature disciples and spiritual infants who still need a diet of the basic gospel message,” he noted. “A discipleship process must help every person take the next step in his or her spiritual journey. Too many churchgoers are stuck on square one.”

The findings on doctrinal convictions are part of LifeWay Research’s Transformational Discipleship Assessment, the largest research project of its kind, on the Web at TDA.LifeWay.com

Methodology: The survey of 2,930 American adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more was conducted Oct. 14-22, 2011. A demographically balanced online panel was used for the interviewing. Respondents could respond in English, Spanish or French. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 1.8 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin writes for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.) 


4/17/2013 2:02:36 PM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life offers preview lessons

April 17 2013 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – As LifeWay Christian Resources prepares to launch a new and improved Bible Studies for Life curriculum series in the fall, individuals and churches can preview three of the sessions through free online downloads.

“By giving away three sessions of the new Bible Studies for Life, we are excited for people to give them a try and send us their feedback,” said David Francis, managing editor of Bible Studies for Life. “The three lessons give full access to every adult, student and kids resource, 13 different age groups in all. It is a ton of material.”

The free sessions are available at LifeWay.com/FallPreview.

While the new Bible Studies for Life aims to reach many people for the first time, Francis said the 30,000 churches and 1.5 million individuals who already participate in Bible Studies for Life each week will see “it’s everything they liked about Bible Studies for Life and Bible Teaching for Kids, plus a lot of improvements and enhancements.”

“And, it will help groups connect the unconnected,” Francis said. “This material will get your groups talking.”

Bible Studies for Life also will challenge kids to apply the lessons to their lives, he said, adding that the downloadable sessions for kids and students include optional videos that can be used at the introduction and conclusion of the lesson, while life application videos will show kids how the Bible applies to their lives. But, Francis noted, the Bible Studies for Life curriculum will have impact with or without the videos.

Bible Studies for Life is designed to present the same biblical concept across all age levels each week for the purpose of strengthening families, connecting the unconnected and discipling people with wisdom, Francis said.

“We say ‘biblical concept’ because different scriptures may be used across the age spectrum,” Francis said. “Participants in the adult, student and kids sessions will all relate to the material and be able to apply it to everyday life.

“Having a family on the same topic leads to deeper spiritual conversations at home,” he said. “Bible Studies for Life truly does help unite a church in discipling people with wisdom.”

Francis also noted, “One of the best things about the new Bible Studies for Life is how easy it is to use to start new groups. A new leader can be successful the very first session and the members will enjoy a great Bible study experience from the very first session.”

At the same time, “veteran leaders will find tons of supplemental material to keep them challenged,” Francis said. “I am so thrilled about how the materials will enhance Bible study in groups new and old.”

The Biblical Recorder features Bible Studies for Life and Explore the Bible, two Bible studies available through LifeWay. Each printed issue and online, writers from North Carolina share a life lesson to help aid teachers in their lessons. See lessons here. On the BRnow.org site, the lessons are available under “Resources.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin writes for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
4/17/2013 1:55:25 PM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kazakhstan: Never too old to be fined for faith

April 17 2013 by Felix Corley, Forum 18/Baptist Press

OSLO, Norway – Two grandmothers in their 70s were among seven Baptists fined for participating in an unregistered religious meeting in a private home in eastern Kazakhstan on April 4.

Each was fined the equivalent of one to two months’ average wages for local state employees, according to verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service, a religious freedom monitoring organization based in Oslo, Norway.

Forum 18 asked a judges’ assistant at the district court in the town of Ayagoz whether the judges and court officials were embarrassed over punishing religious believers for meeting for prayer. The assistant refused comment.

The oldest of the two grandmothers who were fined is 77. However, another Baptist – former Soviet-era religious prisoner Yakov Skornyakov – was 79 when he was given a large fine for his religious activity in April 2006.

The seven fines, so far in 2013, bring to eight the number of members of the Council of Churches Baptist Church in Ayagoz who have been fined. Another is awaiting trial.

Members of the Council of Baptists have a policy of not seeking state registration, insisting that Kazakhstan’s constitution and the country’s international human rights commitments cannot require registration before they can meet to worship. The Baptists also have a policy of not paying the many administrative fines handed down to their members across Kazakhstan.

The April 4 raid on the Baptist service in Ayagoz came just four days after a raid on New Life church’s Easter Sunday service in Kazakhstan’s Akmola region encompassing the capital of the former Soviet satellite in central Asia.

As well as Council of Churches Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses also are facing an increasing number of administrative fines.

In other developments:
  • After widespread outrage among believers and human rights defenders in Kazakhstan, an appeals court has cancelled a lower court’s decision ordering the destruction of Bibles and other Christian literature confiscated from Baptist Vyacheslav Cherkaso. However, the court left a fine against Cherkaso unchanged.
  • Several prominent members of religious communities have found themselves on criminal investigation lists despite the fact that they have never been prosecuted or investigated on administrative or criminal charges.
  • Atheist writer and human rights defender Aleksandr Kharlamov is in detention in eastern Kazakhstan under investigation on criminal charges of inciting religious hatred for his writings on religion.

‘State registration’

The April 4 raid in Ayagoz was the second conducted in 2013 during a service at the Council of Churches Baptist church. District prosecutor Serik Turdin told Forum 18 on April 10, “Police drew up a record of an offense because they were meeting without state registration.”

Administrative cases against eight church members were sent to the district court in Ayagoz for violating Code of Administrative Offences Article 374-1, Part 2 (“Participation in the activity of an unregistered or banned social or religious organization”).

Turdin’s assistant, Zukhra Shaimukhametova, represented the prosecutor’s office at the seven hearings conducted thus far, according to the verdicts. She was unavailable in court hearings each time Forum 18 tried to reach her on April 10.

In separate trials April 5, Judge Korlan Khalelova sentenced Valentina Dyakova, 77, and fellow church member Tatyana Agaeva, while Judge Nurzhalgas Tompakova sentenced Vera Poltoratskaya and Viktor Poltoratsky.

On April 8, Judge Khalelova sentenced Raisa Bakenova, 76, while Judge Bakdarly Orazbek sentenced Svetlana Zaitseva and Natalya Andryusheva.

Each was fined 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs) or 86,500 Kazakh Tenge ($575 in U.S. dollars), the maximum penalty under the statute. An official of the court who would not give his name told Forum 18 on April 10 that state employees locally receive a salary of between 50,000 and 90,000 Tenge per month while teachers generally would receive about 50,000 Tenge monthly.

At each trial, the court noted the March 1 letter from the East Kazakhstan Justice Department (produced for the earlier prosecution of the church’s leader, Pavel Leonov) that the Ayhagoz church does not have state registration. At Poltoratsky’s trial, according to the verdict, the court examined photographs of the church, with a sign outside that it is a “Prayer House for all Nations of the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists” and an inside room with a pulpit, benches and quotations from the Bible on the wall.

Court officials refused to tell Forum 18 when the case against the eighth church member, Valentina Bliznova, will be heard.

District prosecutor Turdin defended the cases against the eight church members. “They were praying illegally,” he insisted to Forum 18. “If they registered their church, they wouldn’t have these problems.” Asked why people need to gain state registration before they can hold religious meetings, he responded: “It’s the law. They have the right to appeal against the decisions if they’re not happy with them.”

Two of the same judges handed down earlier punishments against Ayagoz Baptist church leader Pavel Leonov.

On March 4, Judge Khalelova fined Leonov 100 MFIs, the maximum penalty under Code of Administrative Offences Article 374-1, Part 1 (“Leadership of an unregistered or banned social or religious organisation”). He was punished for leading a service raided by police on Feb. 28.

Leonov appealed against the punishment. However, on April 1 – three days before the latest raid on the church – a panel of judges at East Kazakhstan Regional Court led by Judge Naylya Nuralyeva rejected his appeal, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. Leonov had insisted to the appeals court that he had the right to invite relatives, friends and fellow believers to his private home for religious meetings. But the court held that the lower court had correctly characterized it as an administrative offence.

Judge Khalelova had also sentenced Leonov in April 2009 to one day’s detention for having “categorically refused” to pay a fine of 100 MFIs handed down by Judge Tompakova in July 2008 under Article 374-1, Part 1, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18.

Meanwhile, two Jehovah’s Witnesses who received administrative punishments in March for conducting “missionary activity without registration” have appealed their fines. Judge Bolat Kenzhenov of North Kazakhstan Regional Court is due to hear the appeal of Valeri Alekseev on April 11, with Judge Abay Ryskaliyev of the same court due to hear the appeal of Nikolai Kokotov the same day, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.

Alekseev and Kokotov were each fined 100 MFIs – the maximum penalty for Kazakh citizens under the charges they faced – at a district court on March 12. Two female Jehovah’s Witnesses were fined for the same offense in January.

Literature destruction overturned

In the case involving court-ordered destruction of Christian materials, Judge Nurlan Kurmangaliev of the Akmola Regional Court overturned that part of the decision against Vyacheslav Cherkasov that 121 Bibles and other Christian literature confiscated from him should be destroyed.

A district court judge, Damir Shamuyratov, had ordered the books destroyed March 5 when he fined Cherkasov on Administrative Offences Article 375, Part 1.

The court-ordered religious literature destruction provoked widespread outrage within Kazakhstan. “Information that preparations are underway in Kazakhstan to burn the Bible have raced around the planet,” Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov noted, citing Forum 18’s report on his Facebook page March 26, the same day Cherkasov’s appeal was heard.

“Just tell me, what was this official thinking when they said that the Holy Scriptures will be burnt?” Duvanov asked, referencing one official’s view of how the literature would be destroyed. “Did they realize that by this they had put themselves, their ministry and the Akorda [presidential palace] on a par with the inquisition of the Middle Ages? Had this person heard of the prophetic words of [the German writer] Heinrich Heine: ‘Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings’? I doubt it!”

Duvanov predicted that the decision to destroy Cherkasov’s Bibles and other literature would be overturned in view of the negative publicity around the world. “But this will only happen because someone was able to report on the act of vandalism being prepared to human rights defenders in Oslo and they gave it wide publicity.”

Cherkasov insisted during the March 26 hearing that distributing religious literature to those that want it is not banned and “is his constitutional right, both to freedom of speech and freedom of religion”, according to the appeal court verdict seen by Forum 18. Cherkasov asked the court to return the books. Even the prosecutor called for the cancellation of the part of the verdict ordering the confiscated books to be destroyed. Instead, the appeals court ordered the books to be handed to the Akmola regional department of the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA).

However, the court upheld the verdict against Cherkasov under Code of Administrative Offences Article 375, Part 1 (“illegal distribution of religious literature”) and upheld the fine of 50 MFIs, the maximum under this article for individuals.

“Thank God they didn’t destroy my books,” Cherkasov told Forum 18 from his home in Shchuchinsk on April 9. He said he went to the regional ARA department on April 8, where an official, Galina Bessmertnaya who had been involved in the court case, returned the confiscated books.

Cherkasov told Forum 18 he intends to continue appealing the fine. He also stated that Bessmertnaya is preparing a further administrative case against him. “She refused to tell me when it will reach court,” Cherkasov told Forum 18.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Bessmertnaya at the regional ARA department on April 10. Officials told Forum 18 she was out of the office giving a lecture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Felix Corley is editor of Forum 18. This article was edited for use in Baptist Press; the article as posted at Forum 18 can be accessed here. According to its website, Forum 18 “is a Christian web and e-mail initiative to provide original reporting and analysis on violations of the freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people, whatever their religious affiliation, in an objective, truthful and timely manner. It mainly publishes on the former Soviet states, notably Belarus and Central Asia, but also publishes original work on states such as Serbia and Turkey. Forum 18 works for religious freedom for all on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”)
4/17/2013 1:45:32 PM by Felix Corley, Forum 18/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Pray for Boston,’ local leaders say after deadly bombings

April 16 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

BOSTON – A day after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon Monday (April 15), pastors and other leaders were urging people to pray for Boston as the city grapples with the questions that arise from tragedy.
Three people were killed and more than 170 were injured, including 17 who were still in critical condition Tuesday, according to The Boston Globe. Metal fragments found in marathongoers led investigators to believe the bombs were loaded with pellets or nails intended to harm as many people as possible, the newspaper said.

“I would say first of all to just pray for Boston. This was a huge shock,” Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), told Baptist Press. “Patriot’s Day is a state holiday and a day that the Boston Marathon is always run. It’s an exciting day for Boston. Up here, this far north, it really marks the beginning of spring for us.

“So it’s a day that everybody looks forward to, and this action was calculated, I believe, to cause as much confusion as possible. It has left the city in shock,” Wideman said.

Amid that shock, a group of young adults from the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, were making themselves available to talk with and pray for passersby on the streets near the site of the bombings. 

The group had been in town since Thursday, working with Hope Fellowship Church, a Southern Baptist congregation about three miles away in Cambridge. 

On Monday, the Prestonwood mission team handed out gum and invitations to Hope Fellowship to people who were watching the marathon.

BP photo
Chaos ensued after the bombing near the finish line of the Boston marathon April 15.

“Some of our people actually walked down toward the finish line,” Josh Steckel of Prestonwood told Baptist Press.

Around 2:30 p.m. Eastern, less than half an hour before the blasts went off, the group started heading back to the church.

“Some people said they heard something that sounded like gunshots,” Steckel said. “We were away from the city when it happened, on our way back from the marathon already.”

That night Hope Fellowship opened its doors for people to stop in and pray. Though residents of Boston were encouraged to stay home following what is being investigated as a terrorist attack, a few people from the neighborhood who aren’t normally part of the church showed up to pray and to be prayed for, the church’s pastor, Curtis Cook, said.

“We will have a special service [Wednesday] evening as a time to pray, read scriptures, sing and have a chance for others in the neighborhood who might want to come in as well,” Cook said Tuesday. “Obviously we’ll speak to it on Sunday as well as part of our services.”

Steckel’s team from Prestonwood was back out on the streets the day after the bombings, handing out granola bars, this time with signs on their bags that said, “Need prayer? We are available.” That simple invitation afforded several opportunities to pray with people and share the hope of Jesus, Steckel said. 

They also secured cases of water and gave them to police and National Guardsmen stationed near the blocked-off crime scene. The mission team was scheduled to leave Boston Wednesday.

“Tell people to pray boldly in Jesus’ name that the gospel-centered church planters and pastors here would have more opportunities to share the gospel and love on the people of Boston,” Steckel said. “Also pray for healing, that God would use this for revival and for His glory.”

Steve Brown, a bivocational church planter who moved to Boston last summer with his wife and two children, was anticipating opportunities to speak with his coworkers at The Container Store as he drove into work Tuesday morning.

“The people that we’re close with, our friends and the people I work with for sure, they know that we’re Christians, and when things like this happen it just creates a lot of questions in people’s minds whether they are up front in talking about it or not,” Brown told Baptist Press. 

Brown was asking God to give him opportunities to share the hope and comfort of Christ with people in the midst of those questions. 

“I think it makes people think about their worldview whether they realize it or not. People think about why these things happen and where such evil comes from and where does God fit into this,” Brown said. 

When tragedy struck in Newtown, Ct., in December, Brown had conversations with coworkers about how to process and respond to evil events in the world. He hopes to build on those conversations now, leading people to place their faith in Jesus.

Josh Wyatt, pastor of Charles River Church in Boston, landed at Boston’s Logan Airport just half an hour after the bombings and expected his wife and three children to be at the finish line to support one of their friends who was running. He was going to meet them there.

“By God’s grace, at a church marathon party that morning, church members talked my wife out of going because the crowds would be too challenging to navigate by herself with three young kids. Instead, she picked me up at the airport, we prayed with our children and began supporting victims and their loved ones and [the] hurting Boston residents,” Wyatt told Baptist Press. 

Wyatt used texting and social media to check on the safety of church members and to issue a call to prayer for Boston. 

“This Friday night we will be holding a community prayer gathering to lift up those who have been affected, plead with God for the redemption and restoration of our city, and to minister to our neighbors,” Wyatt said.

“We’re asking those outside to join us in prayer for the church in Boston, that we would unite to love our city well. Pray also that our city would experience the hope of Jesus,” Wyatt said. “For those who trust in Him, ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’“

Wideman of the BCNE said the convention has reached out to crisis incident management officials and to others who would need trained chaplains and pastors to step in and help people process the bombings. 

“We are always looking for ways to build bridges to people who may not know Christ, and we’re hoping that we have an opportunity here as well,” Wideman said. “It’s brought up a lot of questions and I know that our church planters and our pastors and other lay people will have the opportunity to visit with neighbors and with friends.”

Already, the convention’s Woman’s Missionary Union president has been able to counsel a neighbor who came to her with questions after the bombings, he said. 

“We just want to be sensitive when the opportunity arises to speak a word of hope because of Jesus into the lives of people who have been affected. We ask Southern Baptists to pray that we have those opportunities,” Wideman said.

There are about 100 churches that cooperate with the Greater Boston Baptist Association, Wideman said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – ­Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
4/16/2013 7:48:38 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bankruptcy judge named dean of Campbell law school

April 16 2013 by Campbell Communications

J. Rich Leonard, United States Bankruptcy Court Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, has been appointed as the next dean of Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law. Leonard’s appointment, effective July 15, 2013, fills the position currently held by Interim Dean Keith Faulkner.
“Judge Leonard’s wealth of experience in judicial leadership will prove tremendously beneficial to our students and faculty,” said Campbell President Jerry Wallace. “His commitment to academic excellence and the highest standards of legal education will help shape the future of Campbell Law School for years to come and we are excited to welcome him to this new role.”
A native of Davidson County, Leonard is a 1971 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead Scholar. He earned a master’s degree in education from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973, and then earned a law degree from Yale Law School in 1976.

Campbell photo
J. Rich Leonard

He has served as a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina since 1992 and as Chief Judge from 1999 through 2006. Prior to that time, he was a United States Magistrate Judge (1981-1992) and Clerk of Court of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (1979-1992). For more than a decade, Leonard also acted as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State to work with judiciaries in many developing countries.
Leonard’s professional associations include appointments to the Board of Governors for the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges (2008-2011); Fellow at the American College of Bankruptcy (2005–present); and leadership roles with the Wake County Bar Association and North Carolina Bar Association, among other legal organizations.
His judicial work and expertise have earned him both state and national recognition. In 2011, the American Bar Association awarded Leonard with the Robert B. Yegge Award for Outstanding Contribution to Judicial Administration. He is the 1992 recipient of the Director’s Award for Outstanding Leadership in the Federal Judiciary. In 2011, he was selected as the Editor in Chief of the American Bankruptcy Law Journal.
Leonard has also been active in the classroom. He has worked as an adjunct professor for North Carolina Central University School of Law (1985-1986; 1995-1998); UNC School of Law (1994-1995); and, most recently, Campbell’s law school (2009-present). In 2012, Campbell Law’s Delta Theta Phi Fraternity presented Leonard with the Judge Robinson O. Everett Award for Legal Excellence.
“Although I take enormous pride in my tenure with the federal courts, I am both humbled and elated to be offered this unique opportunity,” said Leonard of the appointment. “I believe in this law school. I appreciate the focus on rigor and discipline, and the emphasis on the practical aspects of law practice.”
“We could not be more pleased to welcome Judge Rich Leonard as the next dean of Campbell Law School,” said Benjamin N. Thompson, chair of the Campbell University Board of Trustees. “He brings a wealth of administrative experience, scholarly work and broad respect from his years of service on the federal bench. He will help take our program to the next level regionally and nationally.”
Founded in 1976 in Buies Creek, the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law relocated to downtown Raleigh in 2009 where it has thrived. Campbell Law outscored all other law schools in the state on the North Carolina Bar Exam in July 2012. It was also recognized in the top tier of law schools by U.S. News & World Report in March.
4/16/2013 3:23:35 PM by Campbell Communications | with 0 comments

Gruesome details continue to emerge from abortion doc’s trial

April 16 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The murder trial of Kermit Gosnell entered its fifth week Monday (April 15) with new media interest in an abortion doctor who allegedly practiced infanticide in his clinic.

Gosnell, 72, faces seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman during a 2009 abortion.

Those seven babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, a grand jury reported in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell – or another staff member – would jab scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cut the spinal cord, according to the grand jury. Gosnell called the killing of these children “snipping.”

Kermit Gosnell

Witnesses recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the clinic during the trial’s first four weeks, but most major news organizations ignored or paid little attention to the trial despite the sensational testimony. 

By Monday (April 15), however, that had begun to change. After an outcry from some in the news media and a pro-life campaign on Twitter, CNN covered the story in prime time April 12. “CBS This Morning” telecast a nearly four–minute report Monday. When the trial reconvened Monday, reporters from The Washington Post and other major news outlets were present in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for the first time.

What local reporters, and some from conservative news organizations, heard in the trial’s first four weeks in the major news media’s absence included: 
  • Former clinic staffer Adrienne Moton told jurors March 19 she “couldn’t give you a number” of how many times Gosnell killed infants outside the womb by cutting their spinal cords, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • Gosnell joked about the size of one born-alive baby he killed, “[T]his baby is going to walk me home,” said Ashley Baldwin, who started working at the clinic as a 15 year old, The Inquirer reported.
  • A “snipping” is “like a beheading,” said former Gosnell employee Steven Massof April 4, The Inquirer reported. When mothers were given drugs to induce sudden contractions, “[I]t would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place,” Massof said. 
  • Former clinic worker Lynda Williams said April 9 part of her job was to pick up the bodies of babies expelled from their mothers’ wombs in the waiting room after the women received large doses of drugs to dilate their cervices. 
  • Firefighters were unable to take a woman on a stretcher through the clinic’s hallways because they were too narrow in a 2009 incident, a Philadelphia Fire Department officer said March 25, according to The Inquirer. Paramedics – who were trying to save the life of Kamamaya Mongar, 41, who went into a coma during an abortion – had to cut through a padlock on an emergency door because no one on staff had a key. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Cheryl Sullenger, pro-life advocate whose research has produced disciplinary action against various abortion doctors, said the witnesses, with one exception, “have given compelling testimony that I think will be nearly impossible for the defense to overcome.”

Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, has followed the case closely since 2010 and was in the courtroom during the trial’s third week. She had read the grand jury report and was therefore familiar with most of what she heard from witnesses in the trial, Sullenger told Baptist Press in an email interview. 

“It was interesting to hear, however, how the people working for Gosnell were needy, desperate people with few options in life. He seemed to seek out people like that for his clinic,” said Sullenger, who added all of the former employees except one seemed “emotionally affected in a negative way by their work at Gosnell’s clinic.”

She hopes the trial “will awaken Americans to the ugly truth about how abortion clinics are run in America and how a lack of oversight only allows abortionists to prey on and exploit women, especially poor women of color.... Maybe the public will now be open to hearing about abortion abuses that go on in clinics every day and realize there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ abortion clinic. We hope it will lead to stronger laws restricting abortion and greater oversight and enforcement. Perhaps if America can begin to understand the truth about the barbaric practice of abortion, we as a nation will finally stop tolerating it.”

BP requested comment from three leading abortion rights organizations – Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-choice America and National Abortion Federation – to two questions involving the Gosnell trial: What is their response to testimony Dr. Gosnell killed viable babies who survived abortions? How can state government make sure conditions similar to those reported at Gosnell’s clinic are not duplicated at other reproductive health centers?

Tarek Rizk, NARAL’s communication director, said in response, “This is an example of what happens to women and basic dignity when abortion isn’t available to all women by safe and legal providers.”

Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation did not reply before this article was submitted.

The Gosnell trial continues as health and safety complaints against abortion clinics mount. For instance, two nurses quit their jobs at Planned Parenthood of Delaware because of conditions at the clinic, they told WPVI-TV, the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia. One told a reporter, “I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was.” On April 10, WPVI-TV reported five patients at the clinic allegedly have been taken to the emergency room since early January.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Board of Health gave final approval April 12 to new regulations that require abortion clinics to comply with hospital-like building standards.

Major news organizations seemed to begin to backtrack on what critics described as a news blackout of the Gosnell trial after Democrat columnist Kirsten Powers wrote a scathing piece April 10 in USA Today. The former Clinton administration official said the “deafening silence of too much of the media ... is a disgrace.”

“You don’t have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy,” Powers wrote. “This is not about being ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life.’ It’s about human rights.”

Some reporters or editors acknowledged their pro-choice affinity and confessed their news organizations should have been covering the trial.

Meanwhile, pro-lifers took to Twitter to get their message out. Actress Patricia Heaton, who starred in the television sit-com “Everybody Loves Raymond,” tweeted about the lack of news coverage. On April 11, she tweeted, “Media treats footballer’s imaginary girlfriend as real, treats murdered babies in Philly abortion clinic as imaginary.”

Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (EST) April 12, more than 166,800 tweets were posted with the hashtag #Gosnell, LifeSite News reported.

Mollie Hemingway, a Washington, D.C., reporter for Federal Times, questioned other reporters about their lack of coverage and analyzed the under-reporting of the trial in a podcast for the Get Religion blog to which she contributes. She pointed to the assumption the reporters in question are pro-choice and don’t want to hurt the abortion rights cause, as well as the possibility there “may be an element of racism,” since those exploited in Gosnell’s clinic were minorities.

She also said the case does not fit the narrative some like for such stories. 

“The standard narrative is: ‘If you’re pro-life, you’re misogynistic and you treat women poorly,’” Hemingway said. “And if you’re Planned Parenthood or someone who is running an abortion clinic, then we’re supposed to believe that you are very pro-female.... This turns that narrative upside down quite a bit, and I think it might be hard for reporters to figure out how to keep that narrative going if they have stories like this. 

“When the media don’t give this story what it deserves, are they not sort of being accomplices to these types of crimes? Those are very serious charges that I am making,” she said, “but I do think as a profession we need to always shine a light on the defenseless, whether we are talking about poor immigrants who are going to a horrifically disgusting clinic to take care of what they perceive as a problem that they can’t handle otherwise and end up dead or whether it’s these children who were born alive and ... screamed as nurses clipped their spinal cords.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.) 

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4/16/2013 3:16:31 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trial shows abortion’s ‘coarsening’ impact

April 16 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Philadelphia murder trial of Kermit Gosnell reveals the debasing effect of abortion on humanity and American society, Southern Baptist ethicists say.

A jury of a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court will decide if Gosnell is guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman during a 2009 abortion.

Those seven babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, a grand jury reported in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell or another staff member would jab scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cut the spinal cord, according to the grand jury. Gosnell called the killing of these children “snipping.”

After four weeks of a trial that may last as long as eight weeks, Baptist Press asked several Southern Baptist ethicists to respond to this question: “What is the lesson that should be learned from Kermit Gosnell’s abortion practice and his trial?”

– Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC):

“There are several lessons. First is the Gosnell trial exposes the murderous, ugly face of the killing of viable babies. While this doctor is on trial for murder, it should be noted that legally the only reason he is on trial is he was killing babies who were already born as opposed to fully viable babies who had not yet escaped their mothers’ wombs. There is no moral distinction between what he did and what is being done in abortion clinics across America every day. This is the ugly reality of a procedure that has killed over 50 million Americans. 

“A second lesson is that this shows the more one falls into the brutalization of human life, the more insensitive to that brutalization one becomes. How else do you explain the doctor’s continued brutality and those who assisted him in it?

“The third lesson is the outrageous bias of the American media, which refused to cover the story until shamed into doing so by Fox News and Kirsten Powers’ column on the subject. They refused to cover a story of national consequence because it presented the pro-choice position that most of them espouse in such a horrible light. What is being exposed in a Philadelphia courtroom is but a glimpse of what is taking place in abortion chambers across the land.”

– Russell Moore, president-elect of the ERLC and currently dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary School of Theology, as well as an ethics professor:

“The Gosnell trial demonstrates the uneasy American conscience on the question of abortion. The ambient culture is fine to talk of ‘choices’ and ‘procedures’ and ‘pregnancies,’ but averts its eyes when it comes to the reality of blood and bones and screams. What people want to ask in the face of such horror is the ancient question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”

– C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University and biomedical and life issues consultant for the ERLC:

“The Gosnell case reveals in gruesome detail that abortion on demand creates calloused consciences, not just among abortion providers but even in the wider culture. Once a culture permits the killing of its most vulnerable members, devolution into barbarism is not far behind. His clinic was a house of horrors, and the media silence in this case is an egregious symptom of the chilling of human compassion in the name of political ideology.”

– Steve Lemke, provost and professor of philosophy and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary:

“The atrocities committed by Dr. Kermit Gosnell are sickening. His actions were racist (he treated black and Asian women differently than white women) and misogynous (his horrible medical practices caused physical harm to uncounted women and even caused the death of a couple of women). Most of all, his actions reflect a callous and heartless indifference to the sanctity of human life – consistently and repeatedly doing late-term abortions by inducing the birth of these children and then beheading them by severing their spines while the babies screamed in pain, and then throwing away their lifeless bodies like trash.

“The lessons that I hope we learn from this tragedy regard the need to counterbalance the power in our culture that the for-profit abortion industry wields in covering up such atrocities as were going on in Gosnell’s clinic. First of all, the Pennsylvania governmental and medical authorities who are charged with regulating the abortion industry overlooked these atrocities despite numerous and repeated reports alerting them to the problem. Second, the strange silence of the mainstream media about this trial and the unthinkable barbarity practiced daily in Gosnell’s clinic – a silence so deafening that it smacks of an intentional cover-up – should lead us to doubt the objectivity in their reporting and to be wary of the liberal agenda that they appear to be promulgating.”

– Craig Mitchell, associate professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement:

“We can always count on the fact that when something immoral is made legal that we will eventually find unimaginable evil carried out. The fact that most of the media has not even reported on this situation shows the coarsening of the media and society as a whole. Such evil must be stopped, or the judgment of God will soon be upon us. The church is at least partially to blame for this state of affairs. We are to be salt and light to the world. That means that we must call sin, sin. It also means that we must tell people about the bad news before we give them the good news. Hell is a real place, and those who do not repent are sure to go there. We must remind lost people that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. If we truly have Him, then we will live like it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

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4/16/2013 3:12:10 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Page sees ‘headway’ in SBC for ethnic leaders

April 16 2013 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

SUWANEE, Ga. – Fred Luter’s election as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was more than symbolic. For Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, it represents the future.

“I want our leadership to look like our convention,” Page said.

In meeting with Korean-American Southern Baptist pastors at the April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference, Page said his commitment to broader leadership has deepened.

“I think the day will come when we will see several ethnic groups involved as president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Page said. “We will see more and more involvement on our entity boards.”

Photo by Jim Burton
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, preaches during the April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference, with Sung D. Choe, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Tacoma, Wash., serving as translator. Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church hosted the event.

Page recently learned from the SBC Committee on Nominations that Southern Baptists will have the largest number of Native Americans ever nominated to serve on SBC boards and key committees.

“I think we’re making headway,” Page added. “With every breath I have I’m going to encourage that.”

Of the approximately 45,000-plus Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions, about 10,000 are ethnic congregations. Percentage-wise, non-Anglo churches represent the fastest-growing segments within the SBC.

Ethnic diversity has long been a reality in the SBC, with people group studies indicating that Southern Baptists worship in more than 100 languages in North America on any given Sunday. Yet, secular media rarely report this long-standing reality.

“It’s not the caricature that the media likes to promote and even to laugh at,” Page said. “The reality is that we are extremely ethnically diverse. I am encouraging the brothers in meetings like this to become more involved at every level.”

Dennis Kim, senior pastor of Global Mission Church of Greater Washington, D.C., welcomes Page’s overtures.

“As I’ve observed for a long period of time, it’s changing,” Kim noted concerning the involvement of ethnic leaders. “I feel we are connected to the mainstream of the SBC.”

Kim represents the expanded leadership involvement that Page welcomes. Global Mission Church has started multiple churches in North America, plus one in South Korea that has up to 35,000 attendees each Sunday. In Silver Springs, Md., where Global Mission Church meets, the church has five Korean-language services and three English-language services each Sunday.

For Kim’s generation of Korean-American pastors, there is a strong sense of history that connects them to the SBC. Besides Southern Baptist missionaries who took the gospel to South Korea, Kim noted how Anglo churches gave or rented space to Korean church plants.

“We are indebted to American leaders and churches for their support for our own churches in America,” Kim said.

Sung Ho Kim, chairman of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches, also welcomes closer bonds to the SBC.

“We are trying to be closer to each other,” said Kim, pastor of Livingston Baptist Church in Dallas. “That’s want I want myself. Most of our Korean Baptist churches are very appreciative of the SBC.”

Page recognizes the need for intentional progress, and that progress may not be easy. Cross-cultural relations often results in misunderstandings. That’s why he is increasing opportunities for dialogue.

Already, Page has formed advisory councils among African American and Hispanic leaders. Working with Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board he leads, Page announced the appointment of an Asian Advisory Council in February, which held its first meeting April 11.

Page sees relationships as the key to growing a diverse leadership base. Rather than some type of quota system, Page prefers to “chart a course of deepening involvement.”

“I’ve asked our leaders to look for qualified ethnic brothers and sisters,” Page said. “Please be intentional to enlist those dear ones.”

Ethnic churches typically have not embraced the Cooperative Program (CP) at the same level as many Anglo churches. CP is Southern Baptists’ channel of support for state, national and international missions, education and other ministries. Instead, ethnic churches in the SBC often have directed the larger portion of their missions giving through their respective ethnic fellowships. However, Page found Korean-American pastors open to the CP challenge.

Pastors like Dennis Kim of Maryland have seen the benefit of investing through the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board has appointed more than 51 individuals from Global Mission Church. CP and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering help support those families.

“I really appreciated the current leadership leading us toward the bright future to partnership,” said Kim of Maryland. “We feel joyful. It is a blessing.”

The Korean Global Mission Conference conference was hosted and organized by the Atlanta-area Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist in Cumming, Ga., and bivocational pastor of Sugarloaf International Fellowship: An Intercultural Worship Gathering in Suwanee, Ga.)

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4/16/2013 3:04:34 PM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Korean S. Baptists expand N. American vision

April 16 2013 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

SUWANEE, Ga. – The April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference may help shorten the hyphen between Korean and American for Southern Baptists.

Nearly 500 people from throughout the United States were on hand as leaders cast a vision for multiplying church planting among the 1.7 million-plus ethnic Koreans in the United States.

Many Korean-American leaders appeared ready to accept a new paradigm, having received strong overtures from North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell to participate in Send North America, NAMB’s strategy for rapid church multiplication in the U.S. and Canada.

Photo by Jim Burton
Bong Choi, senior pastor of Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church, greets participants at the Korean Global Mission Conference, hosted by the Atlanta-area church and focusing on church planting in North America.   

“I am so encouraged by the Korean pastors I met at the conference because of their passion for starting new churches,” Ezell said after addressing the conference, hosted and organized by Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga. “We need churches of every ethnicity that are committed to starting new churches.

“They made it very clear that they have a desire to partner in planting churches of all ethnicities, not just Korean,” Ezell said. “The only way we will be able to start the number of churches that are needed over the next few years is for pastors to share their passion.”

For many Korean-American Southern Baptist pastors, church multiplication versus mega-church growth represents a non-traditional vision for their population segment.

“Any conference focused on church plating is a hard sell,” conference organizer Bong Choi, senior pastor of the Sugarloaf congregation, told Baptist Press, because Korean-American pastors more readily attend church growth and small group seminars.

Despite the tough sell, the attendance surprised Choi as it was larger than expected for the gathering that Sugarloaf began planning in late January.

“From the very beginning I felt that God wanted this,” Choi said. “I believe that if God likes this, He will bring the people.

“I think He [God] really wants this.”

Korean-Americans represent a vibrant segment of the SBC. Richie Stanley, team leader for NAMB’s Center for Missional Research, noted at the conference there is ratio of one Korean Southern Baptist church for every 2,018 Koreans in America. Nationwide, Southern Baptists average one church for every 6,169 residents.

While Korean-American church growth has kept pace with their overall population growth, Stanley also set forth some opportunities. For instance, there is no Korean Southern Baptist church in Pittsburgh, Penn.; Connecticut; Nebraska; or Nassau County, N.Y.

With an expanded mindset, Southern Baptists could see fast and broader growth of Korean-American churches, said Jason Kim, a national mobilizer on NAMB’s church mobilization team.

Given the enormous mega-churches in South Korea, many Korean-American pastors have come to North America with similar goals, Kim said in addressing the conference.

About 90 percent of Southern Baptists’ estimated 45,000-plus churches have 100 members or less. Does that mean that 90 percent of Southern Baptist pastors are failures? Kim contended that the answer is no.

“There is no such thing as a failure because a church is small,” Kim said. “We need to get out of that failure mindset.”

The 2013 Korean Global Mission Conference grew out of an informal meeting of about 15 Korean-American pastors last October. In 2009, a similar conference was held in Dallas, with an emphasis on international missions. Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board (IMB) had appointed approximately 300 Korean-Americans as of 2008. The Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches had set a goal of 1,000 appointees by 2010. Though the number of appointees fell short of that goal, the IMB’s Gihwang Shin reports that the board has communication with about 1,000 potential Korean-American candidates.

Choi recalled the days when IMB’s predecessor, the Foreign Mission Board, appointed only Anglos. Later as it began to appoint ethnic Americans, the board did not allow them to serve in their country or region of origin. Korean Southern Baptist churches consequently found ways to mobilize missionaries through other channels. Changing times, new leadership and better relationships among IMB and ethnic leaders have created a new dynamic.

Now, Korean-American Southern Baptist leaders are poised for a similar relationship with NAMB through Send North America. With more than 70 seminary students attending the conference via scholarships from NAMB, many observers are hopeful for an increase in Korean-American church plants and intercultural church plants by Korean-Americans.

“That’s what he [Ezell] wants,” Choi said. “We are excited to work together as partners.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist in Cumming, Ga., and bivocational pastor of Sugarloaf International Fellowship: An Intercultural Worship Gathering in Suwanee, Ga.)

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4/16/2013 2:55:18 PM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

White House council calls for action on modern-day slavery

April 16 2013 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – A White House advisory council of religious leaders called for a global fund to address human trafficking and urged a new labeling system to help identify consumer goods that were not created with slave labor.
With a 36-page report released April 10, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships hopes to build awareness of the estimated 21 million people worldwide who are subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor.
“Abraham Lincoln said if slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong, and we know that sadly 150 years later slavery still exists,” said Susan K. Stern, chair of the council and an adviser to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “Today with this report we say, ‘Enough.’”
The 15-member council made 10 recommendations to the White House, saying what they’ve learned about the scope of trafficking has driven them to galvanize national action.
One recommendation calls for a “Global Fund to Eradicate Modern-day Slavery,” modeled on a fund that combated AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she and other council members think such a fund “would encourage coordination and participation of philanthropists, governments and both religious and secular nonprofits to work toward abolishing modern slavery.”
The council recommended a label for products similar to “Energy Star,” which identifies energy-efficient merchandise, to counter sales of goods produced with slave labor. That would build on President Obama’s executive order last fall that made it harder for federal contractors to engage in trafficking-related activities.
“We are all potentially, likely wrapped in garments that were produced with the suffering of enslaved people,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism.
Other recommendations include a national summit that could better coordinate the anti-trafficking work already being done by religious and secular nonprofits. Council members also hope a toolkit, an Ad Council campaign similar to Smokey the Bear and a designated hotline will help build awareness and strengthen prevention efforts.
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, welcomed the report on human trafficking, which she called “one of the gravest crimes the world has ever known.” She said the Obama administration would fight it in “lock step” with faith and community leaders.
Referring to the Bible’s Book of 1 Corinthians, the administration’s ambassador-at-large for trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, said the White House would be “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” if it did not execute the group’s recommendations.
“We want to make beautiful music with you, and we want that music to be music of freedom,” said CdeBaca, whose State Department office was recommended for upgrading to “bureau” status by the advisory council.
During a brief comment period, several advocates for human trafficking victims welcomed the recommendations. They included Lisa Williams, a sex trafficking survivor and executive director of Georgia-based Living Water for Girls.
“Thank you for hearing us,” she said, “and thank you for understanding we are not invisible.”
4/16/2013 2:50:43 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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