August 2012

These Orthodox appear to be Christian, but ...

August 22 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

HORN OF AFRICA – “After I became a follower of Jesus, my husband would always insult me,” Melesse* said. “I tried to share with him from the Word, but he said I wasn’t being a good wife and kicked me out.

“Then one night when I was coming home late from work, he and five men followed me and broke down my door.”

Her conversion was fueling their attack – even though their own churches in the Horn of Africa are filled with crosses and paintings of Jesus.

These predominantly Orthodox Christians are the Horn of Africa’s “hidden lost,” said Aaron Shaw*, who along with his wife Lindsey* first shared the gospel with Melesse. “They appear to be Christian, and on maps that show a country’s religious makeup, this place is marked as a Christian region.”
 
They’re counted as “reached,” though they stone and beat people who carry the gospel, Shaw said.

“The enemy is always at work,” Melesse said, “but God is even more at work. ... Christ promises that no matter what we go through, we will never be separated from Him.”

Melesse survived her husband’s attack. “I prayed to God, and in His power, they were knocked back,” she said. “I called the police, and they arrived quickly.”

It’s not the only time Melesse tells of being attacked for her faith in Jesus. She also has been falsely imprisoned twice.

And about a year and a half ago, Melesse and some other believers were visiting an older woman who had expressed interest in the gospel. It was a great visit, Melesse said.

When they got back to their car, a mob of Orthodox people were waiting for them, stones and sticks in their hands.
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Photo by Daniel Phillips

Aaron Shaw* said when the legend portrayed in this church painting entered the Orthodox religion in the Horn of Africa, “the gospel died” there. In the story, the Virgin Mary rescues a cannibalistic murderer from hell by tipping the scales of judgment with her mercy.


“They circled us and were preparing to beat us,” Melesse said. “We asked them what we had done to offend them, and they brought false accusations about us forcing people to convert. We told them, ‘No, we have come in the faith of our fathers to help the poor and share what it means to follow the Word of God.’“

The faith of their fathers was pure at the beginning, Shaw said. Christianity first came to the region nearly 2,000 years ago, just after the death of Christ.

For centuries, Christ was at the center – until outsiders wove a macabre legend into their religion, Shaw said. In the folk story, a man was approached by Satan in disguise and asked to sacrifice his son.

“Delighted to have been found worthy like Abraham, he did what they asked, cooked and prepared his son for them to eat,” Shaw said. “Satan and the men with him asked him to take the first bite of his own son, and when he did, Satan revealed himself.”

The man snapped and went on a cannibalistic murder spree, Shaw said. The story recounts that after he eventually was sent to hell, Mary “tipped the scales in his favor with her mercy” and redeemed him to heaven.

“This is when the gospel died in this part of the world,” Shaw said.

This is the reason the Shaws, Melesse and other believers say they are gripped by the urgency of sharing the truth of redemption found only in Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ, to as many people as possible.

“We have the hope of new life and are filled with that new life,” Melesse said. “These people who are outside the area of those who have heard the gospel – God is putting on my heart to be able to communicate the gospel to them. Please pray for me to be prepared and to know the time and the place to go.”

Dawit*, another Christ follower in the area, said people’s spiritual need in the Horn of Africa is exponentially larger than any physical need they may have.

“This land has a deep spiritual famine,” he said. “People are hungering for the Word, but there are not enough people to take it to them.”

Dawit said his life is dedicated to Jesus’ last words – the Great Commission.

“We cannot afford to keep this Savior to ourselves,” he said. “Pray for me, that I would live my life as a bondservant. I desire nothing more than to offer my life as a living sacrifice to work in His harvest fields.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. To learn more about how to pray for the people of the Horn and how to reach out to those same people groups living in your area, visit prayforthehorn.com.)

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In African Horn, witchdoctor and Muslim sheik follow Jesus
8/22/2012 1:42:59 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Obama ads’ focus on abortion is unprecedented

August 22 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – In his quest for re-election, President Obama and his campaign have gone against historical precedent and perhaps conventional wisdom by opting to make abortion a major theme in television campaign ads – something no Democratic nominee has ever done in a general election.
 
The Obama campaign launched its third abortion-focused TV campaign ad in mid-August, criticizing the pro-life views of presumptive Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In two of the three ads, a narrator reminds the audience that “Romney supports overturning Roe vs. Wade.” Obama is pro-choice and supports Roe.

All three ads have run in battleground states, according to Politico.com.

Typically, TV ads for presidential candidates focus on themes that can draw bipartisan support – the economy, health care and education, for instance. The Obama campaign’s focus on abortion is unprecedented. Baptist Press watched every Democratic nominee’s television ads, from 1976-2008 – that is, post-Roe v. Wade – and found that only one other campaign (Bill Clinton’s, 1996) discussed abortion in an ad, and that reference (“choice”) came in a TV ad that discussed several issues. (Baptist Press watched the ads on livingroomcandidate.org and pcl.stanford.edu/campaigns, two websites that archive campaign TV ads.)

The Obama campaign in 2008 did run a radio ad that spotlighted abortion, but it did not have a TV counterpart. Also, outside groups such as Planned Parenthood – the nation’s largest abortion provider – have run TV ads in the past supporting Democratic candidates while spotlighting abortion. But a presidential candidate’s own campaign never has gone this far in focusing on abortion.
 
“The Obama campaign is being much more aggressive in campaigning on abortion and using the issue to motivate their base,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, told Baptist Press. “We have not seen this kind of campaigning coming from a presidential campaign before. Most presidential campaigns over the years have talked about jobs and health care and other things. The Obama campaign apparently has decided that the only way they are going to get their liberal base excited and motivated and working is to attack Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on the abortion issue.”

Politico and other news organizations say the Obama campaign is trying to drive up support for the president among female voters. But Tobias believes the ads could also serve to unify pro-life voters. After all, some in the pro-life community have been skeptical of Romney, and the ads remind them of his pro-life views.

In the latest Obama ad, a narrator says, “Both Romney and Ryan back proposals to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. For women, for president, the choice is ours.” The first two ads made the same claim. Independent fact checking websites say Romney opposes abortion, but not in cases of rape and incest – an identical position to Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents, the last three pro-life occupants of the White House. Ryan does oppose abortion in such cases, but his position would not be the position of the administration, Romney campaign officials have said.

The first abortion-themed ad, launched in early July, stated, “Every woman who believes decisions about our bodies and our health care should be our own is troubled Mitt Romney supports overturning Roe v. Wade.” Romney does oppose Roe.

All three TV ads – along with a fourth one that doesn’t mention abortion – blast Romney for wanting to pull federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The ads also criticize Romney for his opposition to requiring that employers cover contraceptives. Romney does oppose requiring companies to offer contraceptives, a stance partially based on his belief that it violates religious liberty. Some of the contraceptives that are required to be covered under the new health care law can cause chemical abortions.
 
Most of Obama’s TV ads in 2008 focused on the economy. The ads of the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, spotlighted the Iraq war, jobs and health care. In 2000, Al Gore’s ads discussed issues such as the debt, Social Security and Medicare. President Clinton’s ads in 1992 and 1996 mostly stayed focused on the economy. The one exception was a 1996 TV ad that tied GOP nominee Bob Dole to then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The ad, which did not have a narrator, displayed the positions of Dole and Gingrich with words on the screen that changed every few seconds. The phrase, “Dole-Gingrich against a woman’s right to choose,” appeared on the screen, but so did, at various points in the ad, their positions on the minimum wage, the family leave act and college scholarships. Abortion also was not mentioned in TV ads by Jimmy Carter (1976, 1980), Walter Mondale (1984) or Michael Dukakis (1988), all Democratic nominees.

“All women are not pro-choice,” Tobias of National Right to Life said. “The country right now is fairly evenly divided on whether or not abortion should be legal. Women are probably evenly divided as well. By President Obama so publicly using this issue, he may motivate some of his supporters, but he is getting pro-lifers activated and motivated. They want to see him out of office. The more he campaigns on it ... the harder pro-lifers are going to work.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)



8/22/2012 1:27:56 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Calvin Miller – author, pastor, professor – dies at 75

August 21 2012 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Seminary professor, theologian and best-selling Christian author Calvin A. Miller died Aug. 19 of complications following open heart surgery. He was 75.
 
A former Southern Baptist pastor and professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Miller had served from 1999-2007 at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, most recently as professor of preaching and pastoral ministry.
 
The author of more than 40 books, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, he was described as a writer of love letters to the Lord.

A reviewer of Miller’s best-selling 1975 trilogy The Singer described Miller as a “troubadour, singing a love song to his Lord,” Beeson dean Timothy George wrote on Beeson’s website.
 
“Calvin Miller had a palpable love for Jesus Christ and his church,” George wrote, “and he will be greatly missed both here at Beeson and throughout the Body of Christ.”
 
Miller, in his most recent book Letters to Heaven, wrote letters of love to Christians who died before him, including C.S. Lewis, whose writing style was said to be similar to Miller’s. Life is Mostly Edges, Miller’s memoir, was published in 1998.
 
He was founding pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Omaha, Neb., in 1966, and led that congregation for 25 years, shepherding it from just 10 members to more than 2,500, according to published reports. He pastored Plattsmouth Baptist Church in Nebraska from 1961-66.
 
At Southwestern, he was professor of communication and ministry studies and writer-in-residence from 1991-98 before joining Beeson’s faculty.
 
Miller held a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
 
Survivors include his wife Barbara Joyce Miller and their children, Melanie Sloger and Timothy Miller; sisters, Frankie, Helen, Shirley and Bonnie; and two grandsons.
 
Visitation will be Tues., Aug. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home. Services will be Wed., Aug. 22 at 10 a.m. at NorthPark Baptist Church. Burial will be in Oklahoma. Dean Register will officiate the services.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
8/21/2012 4:28:21 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Frank Page discusses SBC issues at forum

August 21 2012 by Craig Sanders, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – “The local church is God’s plan to attack the gates of hell,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, during a special forum at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern’s president, hosted Page for a discussion of major issues in the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
Among various issues facing the SBC, Page emphasized that the most important issue is not doctrinal, but rather the relevance of the convention to the 21st century. The methodological divide among Southern Baptists, he said, could threaten the future growth of their churches.

Page celebrated the consistent desire among Southern Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission. “I think Southern Baptists have grown weary of slogans and programs,” he said, “but believe in the power of the gospel.”
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Executive Committee Frank Page, right, enjoys a light moment during a forum on SBC issues at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted by SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr.


Page explained that the Executive Committee is lowering its costs so that more Cooperative Program (CP) funds go directly to missions, but he noted that the CP still depends on churches giving to support missionaries who are ready to serve. Mohler and Page discussed the challenges of a generation in which there are more missionaries ready to go than the SBC has resources to send.

Page encouraged Southern’s students pursuing church planting to also consider ministry in traditional church settings, noting that an aging pastoral pool is making it so that some churches aren’t able to find pastors.

Voicing a vision for healthy churches planting healthy churches, Page said, “We don’t need more churches in America, we need more healthy churches” – traditional churches and church plants working alongside each other for the gospel.

Concerning Calvinism, Page stated that he envisions unity in the convention in spite of differences concerning soteriology.

“I challenge the students and faculty at Southern Seminary to be sensitive to our convention and respect those who may not have the same theological positions you have,” Page said, calling for “a dialogue that is Christ-like and filled with the Spirit of God.” Page has appointed a 16-member advisory team to help craft a strategic plan to bring together various groups within the convention who hold different opinions on Calvinism.
 
Page also called for unity around the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, believing it “sufficient to pull people of various soteriological beliefs together strategically and practically” and to do the same on other theological issues among Southern Baptists.

Expanded coverage of the forum can be read at the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s website here.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Craig Sanders is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

8/21/2012 1:26:49 PM by Craig Sanders, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pakistani Christian girl’s arrest leads to probe

August 21 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the country’s Interior Ministry for a report about the arrest of a Christian girl on blasphemy charges for allegedly desecrating pages from the Quran, Voice of America reported Aug. 20.

Police say the girl was taken into custody Aug. 16 after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. Others said she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking.

Police say the girl will be held for 14 days while the case is investigated. President Zardari on Aug. 20 took “serious note” of the girl’s detention and called for a report on her arrest.

There are varying reports of the girl’s age, with some saying she is as young as 11. Others quote police who say she is 16. There are also reports that the girl is mentally handicapped.

Human rights activists say the blasphemy law in Pakistan is sometimes used to harass religious minorities.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Khan Babar said blasphemy cannot be condoned, but no one would be allowed to use it to settle personal scores.

Last year, Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal cabinet, was gunned down in Islamabad. And Punjab province’s governor, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards for opposing the controversial blasphemy law.

On Aug. 20, Bhatti’s brother, Paul, told VOA’s Deewa Radio that “the girl is not mentally fit and also the law calls for medical examination as a prerequisite. She is a 12-year-old girl and we have talked to religious scholars on the issue and hope there will be some way out.” Paul Bhatti currently serves as the prime minister’s national harmony adviser.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about 5 percent of the population.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article is adapted from Voice of America’s news site at www.voanews.com.)

Related story
Christian Pakistani girl, 11, remains jailed
8/21/2012 1:20:05 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Amid Syria’s nightmare, rays of light appear for nation, refugees

August 21 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

BEIRUT (BP) – Could Syria’s headlong descent into war and chaos get any worse?

Yes – possibly much worse.
 
A grim summary: Civilian deaths in the nearly 18-month-old rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad topped 21,000 in early August. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes, seeking safety from government and militia attacks in shrinking sanctuaries within Syria or in neighboring countries. Army and rebel forces battle for control of Syria’s major cities, as large swaths of the country fall under control of the rebels – or of criminal gangs.

The blood feud between the ruling Alawite sect and Sunni Muslims (the majority of Syria’s population) grows more bitter by the day. Minority Christian communities fear reprisals if the Alawites fall. As the country fragments, Kurds are angling for an autonomous region like the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq, which a wary Turkey vows to prevent at any cost. Sectarian tensions and clashes are spilling across Syria’s borders, particularly into volatile Lebanon. Syria’s civil war is turning into a proxy struggle between Shiite Iran – Assad’s closest remaining ally – and the Sunni states of Turkey and the Arab Middle East. It’s also increasing tensions between Shiites and Sunnis across the region. Jihadist fighters are filtering into Syria to fight government forces, leading to fears of the “Iraqization” of the conflict. Israel watches with mounting alarm.
08-21-12syria.jpg

Photo by Will Stuart

A Syrian Muslim refugee family, fearful of identification, languishes in a border town in northern Jordan. Tens of thousands of Syrians have streamed across the Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish borders as Syria continues its steady disintegration into civil war. Christians are helping refugees in several border areas – and inside Syria itself.


“As the chaos drags on, it has become more complicated,” a Christian observer based in the Middle East says. “The horrible things going on are coming from both sides” – though most atrocities against civilians continue to be committed by the Syrian military and the feared Shabihah militia groups aligned with the Assad regime. Each new defection of a Syrian general or politician, each successful attack by rebel forces, brings predictions that the regime will collapse any moment. But the military remains far more powerful and well-armed than the rebels. The endgame might play out for months, even years to come.

“The regime is done; it’s just a matter of time,” he predicts. “But I would be very hesitant to say that Assad is done. I think he’s going to want to sow chaos [perhaps from the safety of an Alawite stronghold within Syria]. Ultimately the Sunnis will take power, but the Alawites could remain players for a long time. Assad provided stability, albeit oppressive stability. Syria might turn into what Lebanon is – a sectarian mélange. It could get pretty messy. Or, they might trade an oppressive police state for an Islamic state. It will be a challenge either way.”

Yet as the darkness deepens, rays of light appear here and there, both inside Syria and in neighboring countries where Syrian refugees are fleeing for safety.

At significant personal risk, a Syrian Christian couple living in a neighboring country is delivering food and other basic necessities to internal refugees – mostly Sunni Muslims – in an area near one of the Syrian cities hit hard by shelling and army-rebel combat. The nearby area, populated primarily by Syrian Christians, has been spared the worst of the violence.

No ‘safe zone’

“I don’t know that there’s any ‘safe zone’ in Syria, but because this area is largely Christian, it hasn’t been a target of a lot of the fighting,” a Christian worker says. “A lot of refugees who didn’t leave the country went to this area and sought refuge. There’s a great opportunity there. We’re in the very beginning stages of that project. The severity of the need is greater inside the country than what we’re seeing [among refugees leaving the country].”

More than 37,000 Syrians have crossed the border into northern Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa region seeking sanctuary, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. They need food, clothing, medicine and shelter. Assisted by Southern Baptist hunger and relief funds, Lebanese Christians have begun a third round of aid to refugees in border areas in the north. The first round, launched when the Syrian uprising began last year, included deliveries of food and personal hygiene items. When winter set in, the emphasis moved to providing blankets, inexpensive carpets for insulation and warm clothes, since many refugees arrived with only their summer clothes. In recent months the priority has moved back to food and other basics.

“Each time we’re going back to some of the same families and a lot of new families,” an aid worker reports. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of refugees, and they’re coming from farther-reaching areas – even as far as Damascus. At first they were fairly concentrated in the area right there on the border, but now a lot of refugees have made their way farther south.

“Up until maybe three months ago we had fairly open access to the border area. But the violence on the border increased to the point where the army began frequently stopping us from going. We continue to have relationship with Syrian families there, but it’s increasingly difficult to get to them. Some of them have come out to meet with us, but some of them we haven’t seen in weeks. There’s firing across the border.”

Even so, Christians have shared the Word of God – in addition to physical aid and the compassion of Christ – with thousands of Syrians looking for truth they can hold onto in difficult times.

“In the midst of all the violence, you see these bright spots and know He really is at work and drawing the hearts of people to Himself,” the aid worker says. “We’ve shared the gospel with maybe 15,000 people and left Bibles in their hands.”

One is a 16-year-old Syrian girl who received a Bible late last year. Recently Christian workers entered a different household to deliver aid and the same girl was there.

“None of us remembered her, but she remembered us,” the worker recounts. “She pulled one of the workers aside and said she had been reading her Bible and had written down all these questions on a piece of paper. She said, ‘I need you to help me understand what I’m reading. I have all these questions. Can somebody come back and explain the answers to me?’ It’s like the farmer who goes out to plant the seed and he doesn’t know that it’s growing. You come back later and you see a little sprout.”

Multiple Muslim and Christian-background groups – some family-size, some much larger – are reading and listening to the Word together in a “discovery” format that takes them from God’s creation of the world to the life and work of Christ in about a month.

“It’s been amazing to see, even in a group of Muslims, how people are experiencing truth and the power of God’s Word,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is leadership development. They’ll be able to do it better and carry it farther than we ever will.”

Able to love
One of the local volunteers working with the aid team is retired from the military. He participated in many armed conflicts during his military career – most of them clashes with the Syrian army. He was shot three times; the wounds are still visible. When he began helping Syrian refugees, at first he did it out of a sense of obligation. Not anymore.

“Of all the people in the world I probably should hate the worst, it’s Syrians,” he now tells refugees. “But Jesus has changed me so much; He has changed my heart. Now I don’t serve you because it’s an obligation. It’s a privilege because of the forgiveness and love Jesus has shown me. He has filled my heart with that same love, and I’m able to love you and stand beside you.”

In neighboring Jordan, where some 145,000 mostly Sunni Syrians have fled, similar forms of ministry continue in border areas. The Jordanian government has opened a large border camp for the hundreds of refugees arriving daily and will likely open more. But most Syrian families are living in border towns and villages – where they struggle to locate shelter, pay rent and find work. Christians are aiding hundreds of families with food and other needs, listening, forming friendships and sharing hope.

“We encourage them to share with us whatever is on their hearts so that we might know how to best meet their needs and show them His compassion,” says a Christian worker. “Some of the things they have seen and experienced recently are shocking. One man we have helped was shot in the head. Another man was hit by an RPG; his arm is messed up. Some refugees we meet are complete families but many others are missing fathers, sons or brothers. No two situations seem to be the same, except that there are a lot of hurting people pouring out of Syria. We sit with them to hear about what their families are going through. If they want to talk about something from a counseling perspective, we want them to talk, but we are also always hoping for those opportunities God will provide to share and introduce other things that will truly give them peace” – including Bibles and audio players with New Testament stories.

“Despite the awful things that have happened and continue to happen, God is giving us opportunities to share His love and compassion with these refugees. That wasn’t happening a whole lot beforehand. We are finding that during this time in their lives when things are in flux, they find comfort hearing about God’s love for them. After our visits, they expect us to pray with them and we are doing that and more. ... Pray that we would continue to have an open door to share life with these families and that they would see His love in our actions.”

He and other workers in Jordan and Lebanon also ask prayer for continued open doors, for an end to the violence tearing Syria apart, for boldness and for wisdom in how best to use limited resources.

“God is at work in this crisis, and we’re trying to find where,” says one worker. “It will take a higher level of creativity and a higher level of sacrifice. Are we going to be good stewards of the crises of our day – even if that means greater suffering, hardship and risk?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – For updates on how God is at work through the crisis in Syria and ways you can pray and help, write to love4syria@pobox.com and visit http://www.baptistglobalresponse.com.)
8/21/2012 1:03:54 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Adoption community fears impact if tax credit expires

August 20 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A substantial tax credit that couples or individuals receive when they adopt is set to expire at year’s end unless Congress acts, and experts fear that without it fewer families will adopt.

At issue is the adoption tax credit – last year it was a maximum of $13,360 – that allows low- and middle-income families who otherwise couldn’t afford it to adopt. Unlike a tax deduction, which only reduces taxable income, a tax credit actually reduces a person’s tax liability.
 
Under IRS rules, an adoptive family can claim adoption expenses – court costs and adoption agency fees, among others – up to the maximum amount allowed under the credit. This means for instance, that if an adoptive family owes $13,000 in federal taxes for a year, and their adoption cost $13,000, then they would owe no taxes for that one year, likely resulting in a large IRS refund.

Many adoptions, though, cost much more – $20,000 and up is common – and the tax credit simply makes an expensive adoption more affordable.

“We are not rich. We are very middle-income, and we have scraped and saved and done everything humanly possible to bring these girls home,” Julie Redden of Houston, who along with her husband, Brett, adopted one girl from China and are trying to adopt another one, told Reuters.
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The tax credit has been a huge boost to the adoptive community but has yet to be renewed by Congress, even though many on both sides of the political aisle – including President Obama – want to see it continued and even be made permanent. One fear is the tax credit could be a byproduct of Washington gridlock – not to mention a congressional desire to cut the budget.

The tax credit has been in danger previously, but this year the adoption community is particularly worried.

“I would say we are very concerned,” Bill J. Blacquiere, president of Bethany Christian Services, a nationwide adoption agency, told Baptist Press. “We are hearing from people on the inside [in D.C.], this may not pass this year.”

Congress, Blacquiere, said, should not view the adoption tax credit as something that costs the federal government money but instead as something that saves it money. That is because, he said, the adoption process – in the long run – prevents children from growing up without a family.

“Children without families, who grow up in foster care ... the statistics show that probably 50 percent of those children end up in our adult prison systems,” Blacquiere said.

CBS News in April quoted a study that showed the average yearly cost of incarcerating one inmate was $31,000. In some states, it was as high as $50,000 to $60,000.

“And that’s just for one year. When you place children with families, you’re preventing incarceration, you’re preventing drug use – which could hurt society by crimes committed or drug rehabilitation. I think investing $13,000 in a child, you are preventing a lot of serious costs to society on a future basis.”

Bethany lists the average cost of its domestic infant adoption fees at $18,000. But the true cost to the agency is around $26,000, meaning Bethany already is subsidizing adoption costs, Blacquiere said. Adoption agencies, he said, cannot simply lower their fees to make up for the elimination of the tax credit.

Eliminating the tax credit, he believes, would result in fewer families adopting.

“I think there would be a lot of families who could not afford adoption,” he said. “Even now, with the adoption tax credit, there [are] families who are taking out loans. They are doing second mortgages. You take away the credit, and they probably couldn’t even get the loans.”

A stand-alone bill (H.R. 4373) to make the adoption tax credit permanent was introduced this year by Rep. Bruce Braley, D.-Iowa, and has 18 co-sponsors. Some, though, believe a stand-alone will make little progress in Congress and that the tax credit – if Congress supports it – will have to be extended through passage of a larger tax bill.

Learn ways to help save the adoption tax credit at http://adoptiontaxcredit.org/ and facebook.com/AdoptionTaxCredit.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
8/20/2012 3:03:55 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



LifeWay awaits study pending Glorieta sale

August 20 2012 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources is awaiting results of a theological study of Olivet University before deciding whether to sell LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center to Olivet, even as media outlets debate whether the California-based university has heretical ties.
 
The potential sale of Glorieta, a 2,100-acre Southern Baptist conference center in New Mexico, is receiving added scrutiny on the heels of media reports of longstanding accusations that Olivet’s founder, David Jang, promotes the heresy that he is the “second coming Christ.”

Marty King, LifeWay’s communications director, said LifeWay is well aware of accusations against Jang and Olivet.

“Those concerns are precisely why we engaged the National Association of Evangelicals to conduct a thorough review of their theological views to determine compatibility with ours,” King said in a statement to the media Aug. 16. “We anticipate completion of the investigation this fall at which time it will be reviewed by our leadership and trustees.”

At issue is whether Jang teaches beliefs contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also spotlighted is the fact that several Southern Baptist leaders have established relationships with organizations seen as affiliated with Jang, although R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president, both have resigned as advisers to The Christian Post online news site.

Long-standing allegations
The Post and Christianity Today have reported on several investigations conducted in Asia to determine whether Jang’s church, the Young Disciples of Christ, promotes Jang as the “second coming Christ” and whether Jang has ties to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

Christianity Today, in an Aug. 16 article, summarized results of several investigations of Jang’s activities:

– In 2008, the Hong Kong-based Independent Enquiry Committee, which included Chinese evangelical theologians, “unanimously expressed serious apprehensions and concerns” about the group and “could not exclude the ... strong probabilities” that Jang’s followers “promoted doctrines similar to that of the Unification church, including ... the first coming of Jesus to the earth was a failure and ... their pastor is the ‘Second Coming Lord’ or ‘Second Coming Christ.’”

– Following the Independent Enquiry Committee’s findings, the substantial Beijing Haidian Christian Church in China “issued a statement terminating their relationship with the Young Disciples.”

– In September 2009, two of Korea’s largest Presbyterian denominations, the TongHap and HapShin, “voted to break relations with Jang’s organizations.”

In an article today (Aug. 17) The Christian Post summarized investigations by the Heresy Investigation Committee of the Christian Council of Korea during the past decade. In four different investigations, according to reports in both the Post and Christianity Today, the CCK found Jang innocent of all charges.

Jang courting Protestants
Christianity Today has accused Jang of building at least an image of credibility by associating with reputable Protestant leaders, including Southern Baptists William Wagner, Olivet’s president and chairman of the board of the Christian Post, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Christian Post’s executive editor.

Wagner has said he is confident the accusations of heresy against Jang are false.

“We look at Dr. Jang as a tremendous leader, not as the reincarnate Christ. I’ve worked with him for about eight years. I’m firmly convinced that they are not lying. I’m firmly convinced that our Christology is solid,” Wagner, formerly a longtime SBC missionary in Europe, told Christianity Today.

Wagner has said that before he accepted the Olivet presidency, he researched the university’s theological beliefs.

“I wanted to be certain that I would not be associated with a cult or a university that had a false theology. After my extensive study, I am thoroughly convinced that the purpose of Olivet University was to win the world to Christ, and that they were missional, they were evangelical and they had a very deep love for Jesus,” Wagner said.

Land was quoted by the Post as saying, “Upon meeting with Christian Post leaders I found them to be earnest, sincere followers of Christ who were interested in using new media to reach a new generation with the gospel. And during the months of relationship with The Christian Post, I had nothing but positive experiences that confirmed their Christian and evangelistic Great Commission emphasis.”

Regarding The Christian Post relationship with Southern Baptist leaders, Land said, “It would be odd for The Christian Post to be a significant news organization in North America and not be involved with the largest Protestant denomination in the United States – the Southern Baptist Convention. That would be an odd strategy indeed.”

LifeWay told Baptist Press in July that, in addition to the theological review, a potential sale of Glorieta to Olivet would entail:

– “Significant protections for individuals and churches that lease land from Glorieta for houses and conference facilities

– “Permission for LifeWay to continue using Glorieta for summer camps

– “Accommodation of use by New Mexico Baptists

– “Preservation of memorials associated with rooms and structures, and,

– “Prohibition of re-selling the facilities in the future without LifeWay’s permission.”

Any sale also would require approval of LifeWay’s board of trustees.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)
8/20/2012 2:54:23 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Student Life joins LifeWay family

August 20 2012 by Marty King, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources and Student Life, Inc., minister to more than 100,000 teenagers each year as two of the largest providers of Christian student conferences. On Aug. 15, Student Life officially became part of the LifeWay family of resources.

Leaders of both ministries emphasized that while their camp experiences are programmatically different, each ministry is committed to seeing the lives of students transformed by Jesus and His Word.

“LifeWay and Student Life share a passion for serving the church and helping the next generation grow in their devotion to Christ and commitment to reach the world for Him,” said Ben Trueblood, LifeWay’s director of student ministries. “That passion for young people makes this relationship possible and beneficial to the Kingdom.”

Student Life, based in Birmingham, Ala., has provided Christian summer camps and conferences for kids and youth since 1993. Because of the unique differences and emphases of each organization’s camp offerings and locations, leaders do not expect significant changes will be necessary in programming or locations.
08-20-12studentlife.jpg

“Both of our organizations provide conferences and camps in slightly different ways that meet needs of individual churches and student ministries,” Trueblood explained. “Many of those differences won’t change so that we can continue to meet specific needs of individual churches.

“Student Life staff members are now LifeWay employees but will continue to work out of their Birmingham offices, and Student Life will continue to promote its own identity and conference offerings,” Trueblood said.

Student Life’s president, J. Roger Davis, said the ministry “has been faithfully serving churches for nearly 20 years by creating events and experiences for people to have an authentic interaction with God.”

“This new season of ministry for us is exciting as being a part of the LifeWay family will allow us to continue to serve the churches we have served and also partner with new youth ministers throughout the country as we all work together to raise a generation of devoted Christ-followers,” Davis said.

Earl Roberson, who will continue as vice president of operations for Student Life, said he is eager to finalize the transition “and continue the great ministry of Student Life as a part of the LifeWay family.”

Even though LifeWay and Student Life leaders have begun the necessary behind-the-scenes transition, both organizations already have a full schedule of 2013 conferences available at their respective websites: LifeWay.com/Fuge, LifeWay.com/WorldChangers, LifeWay.com/PowerPlant and StudentLife.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marty King is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
8/20/2012 2:45:26 PM by Marty King, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Penn State sees Baptist chaplain’s resolve

August 20 2012 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – Johnny Pons has experienced God’s sense of humor.

Pons grew up around Southeastern Conference football, pulling for Vanderbilt and Alabama, having been reared in Hendersonville, Tenn., and its First Baptist Church.

Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa., was the “beast of the East” and Pons admitted he “hated” the school, strictly from the perspective of football.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Pons has long graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and he and his wife Kathy have answered God’s call to campus ministry, serving at none other than Penn State. Pons has come to respect the school that has a strong presence in Pennsylvania.

“One in 70 Pennsylvanians are Penn Staters,” he said. “We knew we could come in and hopefully influence a broader region with the gospel.”
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Tennessee native Johnny Pons and his wife Kathy stand beside the Lion Shrine, a landmark at Penn State University where Pons has ministered for 22 years.


And Pons has done that. He has represented Southern Baptists, a minority on campus and in the greater community, as director of New Life Fellowship at Penn State for 22 years.

He’s in place to bring healing in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Pons says he was stunned when the story broke last November, having counted Sandusky a friend.

Sandusky, once one of the most respected citizens in the community, known for his lighthearted and gregarious personality, is now considered “a sullen, stone-faced, defeated” human being, Pons said.

Pons and others on campus are trying to process what has happened. Pons has the added responsibility of ministering to those perhaps least able to handle the turmoil – the students.

While everyone on campus sees the evil of the abuse and subsequent cover-up, Pons said, many are struggling to reconcile the Sandusky they knew personally with the Sandusky of the scandal. The legal battle and the university-sanctioned study led by former FBI director Louis Freeh revealed the late Joe Paterno and other university administrators concealed the abuse.

The cover-up has opened Pons’ eyes to his own sin, he said.

“On the personal level, I am capable of prideful blindness to my own sin. In fact I am sure that I have my own blind spots and areas of sin that I need to deal with honestly,” he said, a revelation he has shared on his personal blog site, ponsanity.tumblr.com.

Pons said he is also capable of harboring information to protect himself or loved ones.

“This is perhaps the area of the whole mess that should strike the fear of God into each of our hearts,” he said.

Pons shared pertinent questions he must address and help students face:

– How do I respond in truth and love to Sandusky and his family?

– How do I respond with compassion towards the abused?

– How do I reflect on the life and legacy of Paterno and others involved in this scandal? Should a person be judged by his best or worst moments?

– What sins do I tolerate and why?

– Am I prepared for the same level of intense personal scrutiny that these men and Penn State have endured for the past few months?

These are tough questions Pons is ready to tackle not only personally, but with those seeking his counsel.

As a minister, Pons believes God has a purpose in the aftermath of the scandal.

“This scandal has touched students and community alike in a way that jars us from a business-as-usual pattern, and I believe there is hope for real change,” Pons said. “I believe God has a redemptive purpose in every storm.”

God will open hearts to the gospel, Pons believes, and is confident the coming months might reveal Penn State’s finest hour.

“We have a window but it won’t stay open forever. People are wounded and it’s time to step in with the healing that only God can provide,” Pons said. “God does not waste any circumstance. He will open people’s hearts.”

As to the feelings he had for Penn State nearly 25 years ago, that has changed.

“We have planted our lives here and I am totally invested in this university,” Pons said with conviction.

Knowing that many Tennessee Baptists have already prayed for him, he requests prayer.

“It [prayer] has been encouraging. God is good and I feel that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)
8/20/2012 2:36:44 PM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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