December 2008

Keeping St. Nick, the man not myth, alive

December 24 2008 by Kim Lawton, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

‘Tis the season of Christmas and Santa Claus, it seems, is everywhere. Children anxiously await his gift-bearing arrival, but some Christians are worried that most of those children — and their parents — don't know who "jolly old Saint Nicholas" really was.

"St. Nicholas was a real person. Not a fairy, not someone who's flying through the sky with reindeer, but an actual person who lived and worked and died and had a full life," said Canon Jim Rosenthal. "He had a Christian life because he was actually a bishop, a pastor."

Rosenthal, director of communications for the worldwide Anglican Communion office, is founder of the St. Nicholas Society UK/USA, an international movement urging churches to reclaim St. Nicholas.

Every year, Rosenthal dresses up like St. Nicholas, complete with a bishop's staff, called a crozier, and hat, called a miter. He visits churches to help spread the St. Nicholas message.

"If we don't recover this tradition, I believe that we are going to eventually lose Christmas, any semblance of a religious Christmas," he said.

Nicholas was born in Asia Minor when the new Christian faith was beginning to spread across the Roman Empire.

"He came from a very wealthy family," Rosenthal said. "His parents died at an early age. His uncle was a priest, and he became a priest like his uncle."

Nicholas rose to leadership in the early church and was named Bishop of Myra, a city on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. During a period of persecution, he was imprisoned. He was eventually released and continued his ministry until his death on December 6 in 343.

"He was known for his generosity and his goodwill because he was very rich," Rosenthal said. "He literally, by the end of his life, gave away all of his fortune. Many stories talk about the fact that he was so generous that he became known as the 'Gift Giver.’"

More and more churches in the United States and the United Kingdom are finding ways to keep the St. Nicholas story alive. In Chicago, for example, St. James Cathedral recently hosted a special St. Nicholas exhibit.

"The stories of St. Nicholas are wonderful stories of a bishop who cared about his people, who cared very much about the poor," said Joy E. Rogers, provost of the cathedral.

There are numerous tales of Nicholas doing good deeds — performing miracles, calming the seas, stopping famine and rescuing children. Separating truth and myth is sometimes difficult.

"My guess is that some of the fanciful stories that have moved into the realm of legend and miracle had their roots in very concrete acts of very real kindness and generosity," Rogers said.

One of the most famous stories involves a poor family who couldn't afford marriage dowries for their three daughters.

"The parents were going to have to sell them off into slavery or into prostitution or whatever," Rogers said. "And St. Nicholas came by the house at night and dropped off three bags of golden coins."

Some legends say he secretly tossed the bags of gold through an open window, and one landed in stockings or shoes that were drying by the fire, thus launching the tradition of the Christmas stocking. Pawnbrokers have especially embraced that story.

"If you go to a pawnbroker shop you'll see three gold balls," Rosenthal said. "Those represent the three bags of gold, which we now turn into chocolate coins, that St. Nicholas threw through the window to save three girls from slavery or prostitution."

Nicholas has been adopted by many groups beyond pawnbrokers.

"So many people wanted him as theirs that he's the patron saint of almost everything: unwed mothers, children — which, of course, is the most prominent, pawnbrokers, and sailors and merchants and cookie makers, apothecaries. You just name it and he's got something to do with it."

Many European countries have a long tradition of celebrating the Feast Day of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6. Then St. Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus and got all tied up with Christmas.

"If you look at the name Santa Claus, you will see 'Santa' means saint and ‘Claus’ is simply an abbreviation from Nicholas," Rosenthal said. "But the reality is he became a secular image."

American writers and advertisers helped disseminate a new myth that made no mention of the jolly old saint's religious connections.

Church leaders emphasize that Nicholas' generosity was motivated by his Christian faith, that he was following Jesus' command to love others, to help those who are suffering and to do one's good deeds in secret.

"The problem with Santa Claus as it stands now is that it's a substitute for Christmas — Santa Claus instead of the crèche, instead of the manger, instead of the nativity scene," said Rosenthal. "This man we would find kneeling at the nativity scene saying, ‘This is what I'm here to celebrate as well.’''

(EDITOR’S NOTE — A version of this story first appeared on the PBS program "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.")

12/24/2008 6:28:00 AM by Kim Lawton, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | with 0 comments

Tom Perkins was there when it happened — all of it

December 23 2008 by Rick Houston, Special to Biblical Recorder

Not many events occurred during the last half of the 20th century that Tom Perkins can’t describe in detail.
Odds are, he was there.
During his 30-year career as a sound engineer for CBS News, Perkins flew on Air Force One with no less than four American presidents — Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. He called poet Carl Sandburg a friend. He worked closely with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, the two most legendary figures in the history of broadcast journalism.

When Cronkite announced the death of President John F. Kennedy on that terrible November 1963 afternoon, it was Perkins who put the sound on the air.

When an attempt was made on President Ford’s life in 1975, Perkins was close enough to hear the shots.

Afterward, Perkins followed the presidential motorcade to the airport at more than 120 mph.

He covered Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and Watergate.

No three history books could hold the stories that Perkins can tell from first-hand experience. Incredibly, he remains unchanged by all that he’s seen and done in his life. Surely, though, he had a sense at the time that he was doing something special, right?

“Not at the time … it was a job,” Perkins admits. “It didn’t impress me that much back then. I didn’t realize what I was doing (was out of the ordinary). It was my job. That’s the way I looked at it.”

If anybody’s qualified to comment on the state of the media these days, it’s Perkins. He doesn’t like what he sees.
“(Murrow) was the most thorough and unbiased of all the reporters,” Perkins says. “Too many of them … they had their leanings. They expressed their personal opinion as much as they reported the news. That’s a problem today. We’re not getting the news. We’re getting the reporter’s opinion, rather than the news.”

Perkins chatted with presidents. He provided sound for an interview with gangster Willie Moretti. He’s been to too many White House gala events to count.

But of all the people among whom he mixed and mingled, Carl Sandburg seems to have left the biggest impression. After taking part in a lengthy series of interviews with Sandburg conducted by Murrow for his iconic “See It Now” show, Perkins later returned to the writer’s western North Carolina home several times for personal visits.

On Perkins’ bookshelf are Sandburg’s complete works. One volume, given to him by the poet, is signed, “For Tom Perkins … A man of sound principles and worthy of trust … Carl Sandburg.”

“He was so down to earth,” Perkins remembers. “He was just a man that you would like, if you ever met him. I wasn't into poetry at all. I wasn’t a reader until I got to know him.”

Today, at 91, Perkins is an active member of Maplewood Baptist Church in Yadkinville. He still bakes and cooks for the staff and residents of the nursing home where his wife, Jamie, lived until her death a few years ago.

Living within several hundred yards of daughter Carolyn Graham, son Tommy and their spouses, Perkins also has grandchildren and great-grandchildren close by to keep him on the go.

There is nothing quite like “Papa” Perkins’ smile and the gleam in his eyes as he tells a joke. Have you heard the one about? … never mind. Just know that when Tom Perkins tells a joke — or plays some sort of trick — it’s a good one.

That he’s an absolute spitfire goes almost without saying for the members of Maplewood.

“From his humble beginnings to traveling around the globe with world leaders, Mr. Perkins has remained committed to putting a smile on the faces of people,” says Jimmy Lancaster, pastor at Maplewood. “In our high-tech and impersonal style of communicating, he still believes the real way to truly make a difference in our world is one hug at a time.”

12/23/2008 6:01:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to Biblical Recorder | with 0 comments

Kids say the darnedest things ... about Christmas

December 23 2008 by Kay Campbell, Religion News Service

And so it came to pass a long, long, very long time ago — maybe 100 or even 300 years ago, according to the experts in first grade at Holy Family Regional Catholic School — Jesus was born in a stable with some cows and a sheep ...

"And a dog by him when he was born," said Seth Shannon, one of the students from Mary Kay Mahan's classroom who agreed to tell the story of Christmas.

"There was just a cow and a donkey when baby Jesus was born," corrected classmate Tom Matteson. "And the cow and the donkey were curious about what it was and looked over and saw the little baby and stayed there." ;

Several students from the class gathered in the school's cafeteria one recent morning to explain the basics of Christmas. The elementary school, founded as a mission school for African-American children in the 1950s, was, in 1963, the first school in Alabama to be integrated when white students petitioned for admission. Intentionally limited to about 200 students for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and with a strong religious education program, it's an ideal place to get the facts of the season.

The students were asked to explain the story as though the person they were addressing had never heard of Christmas or Jesus. They were to pretend their listener was from some far-away place. After some discussion, they decided this must be some place in Africa.

"Like Arizona," stated William Davis, as his classmates nodded their heads, agreeing this sounded very foreign.

The season revolves around the birth of this baby, which was something people had longed for, they explained.

"There were people waiting by a window for years and years. And God promised to send a savior. And he sent us Jesus," Seth said.

Then they elaborate.

"Christmas is special because Jesus was born on that day, and he was really special because he was God's child. And Mary's child," said Emily Morgan.

"And Joseph was the foster father of Jesus," Seth said.

But like many theologians, they debate the nature of the Jesus.

"Baby Jesus? He's going to be God," Anthony Gordillo said.

"Not God," corrected Azaria Malone. "He is the child of God."

God, or son of God, either one, Jesus' coming brings joy, they agree.

"God is coming, and all the animals are happy," Anthony said.

"Jesus is a very special person to some people," Seth said. "Because he was the one who made the animals and people. He made all kinds of stuff, and some people are happy about that."

"And he saves us from our sins," Tom said, explaining that sins are when you do something very bad.

"Like when you say God's name in vain, something like that," Emily said.

Jesus saves us, but there's more, they said.

"The Bible tells us that Jesus loves us," Seth said.

"And that's important because he loves us more than anything in the world," Tom said.

"Like today? We were driving from my house, and I saw a dead bunny rabbit," Seth said. "And that makes God sad because he made that, and it was a special thing."

So into this world of dead bunnies and curious cows, came Jesus. But he was born in an unusual place for a human baby.

"He was born in a stable," said Jairus Rice.

"In Israel, I think," Seth said. "It was a magical stable."

And Jesus was born in this magical stable instead of a house because there wasn't any room left for them anywhere else, said Hannah Szcepanski.

And shepherds came, too.

"To gather round," Anthony said softly.

"And angels," Hannah said.

"God sent angels, and angels send messages to people," Anthony said.

"They're our guardian angels," Jairus said.

We humans can't see these angels, "Because they're in heaven, and we're not in heaven yet," William said.

"But they fly down," Hannah said.

After the birth, the baby had more visitors, they say.

"Then guys with camels, saviors, came to see the Baby Jesus," Jairus said.

"So they could visit and see what Baby Jesus looked like," William said.

"And to give him presents," Anthony said.

"Bread and wine," Carson said.

"And a leaf," Hannah said.

"I only know, like, one gift," Tom said. "They gave him gold."

"The Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus, so that's why Santa Claus brings us gifts and toys," Emily said. "And Santa Claus comes every Christmas — comes down your chimney, or your air vent, if you don't have one."

"Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, I think," Seth said.

But Christmas isn't just about what gifts they're hoping for, which include a telephone for Emily, who lost her other one, a portable game system for Thomas, and a bicycle for Seth. The children are part of a school-wide campaign to raise money to buy gifts and to donate food for hungry families through the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.

"We already have, um, $183," Seth said. "That's going to buy two bikes. Or nine. Or it will be enough money to buy a house."

And the children bring food donations for the pantry year round.

"For the poor," Emily said.

"So they don't have to look for food," Thomas said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Campbell writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.)

12/23/2008 5:51:00 AM by Kay Campbell, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

‘Wonderful Life’ actress sees faith in tragedy

December 23 2008 by David Briggs, Religion News Service

It is an iconic moment in American holiday life: The little girl tells her father at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life" that "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings."


The words of 6-year-old Zuzu Bailey capture the innocence and joy of faith amid the celebration when the town of Bedford Falls rallies around Jimmy Stewart's character, a man on the verge of suicide who comes to appreciate the value of life.


That girl, actress Karolyn Grimes, is now 68. She has experienced more than her share of tragedy. Her parents died when she was a teenager, and she lost an 18-year-old son to suicide. Not long after, her husband of 25 years died of lung cancer.


But she says each stage of her life, beginning with her role as Zuzu — and the happiness her character has brought millions of the movie's fans — was part of a divine plan to use her fame to understand the suffering of others and help them through their pain.


"I do believe that being Zuzu is a bit of a mission," said Grimes, who makes personal appearances throughout the year and offers reflections on her web site,


"The real main message about this movie is faith," Grimes said.


In the movie, George Bailey, played by Stewart, plunges into despair after his Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 deposit on the day a bank examiner is coming to inspect the records of the Building & Loan company the two men run. But even at his most despondent, Stewart's character does not turn on his relative or pray for the money that would save the family from scandal, Grimes said.


He simply prays, "God, show me the way," Grimes said.


In her life, Grimes says she has found hope reaching "for that inner strength that I know will be provided by God."


The movie helps people see the wonder in their lives, Grimes said.


"There are more important things in life than money . . . family, the love that exists from God," Grimes said. "Maybe you can't make your mortgage payment, but you have your daughter, you have your son. You can't put a price tag on love."

12/23/2008 5:21:00 AM by David Briggs, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Atlantic youth go underground

December 20 2008 by Contributors

Youth from Atlantic Baptist Association churches went “underground” Nov. 22 and after being harassed, scared and arrested, some decided they wanted a faith worth living for.

“Every day many strap a bomb onto their chest and die in the name of their faith,” said Travis Crocker, associational youth leader who organized the event. “For them, their sacrificing is over. They are done. It takes real courage and perseverance to live out your faith, carrying your cross daily, despite the costs.”

Crocker, student and family minister at First Baptist Church, Beaufort, said more than 230 young people from about 23 churches confronted the question by the end of a scary night, “Do you have a faith worth living for?”

Youth arrived at First Baptist Church, Havelock, much like they would for any other event, talking, gawking, giggling and texting. They packed the pews and worshiped, led by River Bend Baptist’s youth group.

Director of Missions David Phelps told them about Christians who crossed the border to be baptized in Armenia knowing they faced death or excommunication when they returned home.

Meeting breaks up

Youth learned persecution is not only in other lands, as Chris Leader of Ignite Outreach in Apex told them about persecution in America. Leader’s address was interrupted by a hurried announcement that authorities were on their way to stop this “illegal Christian meeting.”

Youth fled to McCotter Blvd. Baptist Church where they heard Cliff Lawrence, pastor of Colony Baptist Church, describe the duty of every Christian to witness despite discomfort or alienation. Lawrence was then “arrested” as authorities burst into the sanctuary, took him captive, and evacuated the building.

As students left uneasily to waiting buses, they filed past a car engulfed in flames in front of the church, intensifying the unease of their experience.

On their way to First Baptist Church of Morehead authorities at a traffic stop waved regular vehicles through, but they stopped buses bearing church names and searched them for Bibles. They arrested chaperones if they found Bibles.

As they continued to Morehead, a spy on each of the five buses stood to get the attention of all passengers. The spies said they had been sent as suicide bombers to kill all the Christians on board, and then revealed the mock explosive device they were wearing.

Bombing averted

Then they said since watching the persecuted church in action that they no longer wished to die for their faith but to embrace a faith worth living for. They converted to Christianity on the bus ride to Morehead.

Fading to reality once they arrived at First Baptist everyone enjoyed a hot dog dinner. Allen Stabley, River Bend youth minister, led the group through real scenarios that Christians face today such as being persecuted for their faith at school, work or even at home. They were shown tools to respond respectfully to persecution.

Crocker closed the evening with a message on living out an authentic faith and hiding the Word in the hearts where no one can take it away.

12/20/2008 9:22:00 AM by Contributors | with 0 comments

Friends labor daily to create Vietnamese translation

December 20 2008 by Bob Burchette, Special to the Recorder

A sense of intrigue rings the old house in one of Greensboro’s aging neighborhoods as two men greet each other in a foreign dialect and make their way up winding stairs to the attic.

They are on a mission potentially dangerous because many who oppose Christianity don’t like what they are doing. Their success will help thousands.

Soon the two men are busy writing on laptops, and chatting in one of the more than 54 languages found in Vietnam.

For six hours most weekdays, Pastor Samuel (not his real name) and his friend Gene Fuller pour over materials on their worktable, translating the Bible into Samuel’s native Vietnamese language. The pastor wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons if he returns to his homeland.

Some of the Bible was published in Samuel’s language as early as 1955, but they are reviewing that part for accuracy, said Fuller, age 69.

With a translator’s notebook, Greek dictionary, various Bible versions on their computer, Fuller’s translating expertise and Samuel’s native knowledge, they labor over each word in the Book of Matthew.

“We want to get the best understanding that we can,” Fuller said. “We started on this in July, doing an exegetical study.”

They are checking for accuracy, and trying to discern whether Samuel’s people would understand the verses in their language, Fuller said.

Samuel, 44, is the key to that understanding because it is his language. But Fuller has the academic skills after studying the Bible in a variety of languages for more than 30 years. If there is a question about the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence, “I defer to him,” Fuller said.

Gene Fuller and his wife, Carol, are Wycliffe Bible translators, and also work with Montagnards at Rankin Baptist Church in Greensboro where First Montagnard Baptist Church has been established. Samuel is a Montagnard, a French term which means “mountaineer” and refers to the tribal people in the highlands of Vietnam.

The Fullers live with a Montagnard family because “(Bible translator John) Wycliffe’s policy is for you to live with the people you serve,” Carol Fuller said.

Samuel started several house churches in Vietnam, which is considered an illegal activity there. He fled to the United States with his wife and two children and has been in Greensboro for a year. “He mentored two elders to serve in his place while he is gone. He wants to go back when the manuscript is done,” Gene Fuller said.

Both children are enrolled in college, and Samuel and his wife are enrolled in English as a Second Language class.

The Fullers became missionaries and Bible translators in South Vietnam in 1968.

Both said they grew up in families that were “very missions minded” and were impressed to become missionaries. “We both were so burdened about the ethnic languages of Vietnam,” Carol Fuller said. “We felt led to go to Vietnam, and we volunteered after much prayer.

“We had no Bible, no money and didn’t know the language. We raised our (financial) support. Then we knew God had called us to Vietnam.”

They arrived at the height of the conflict and were “scared to death,” Carol said, but they found comfort in the Lord.

The Fullers were in Vietnam for more than six years, laboring in the Central Highlands and on the coast, translating the Bible into a tribal language. They also put together science and civics books and a dictionary for the tribal people.

They had to flee from Vietnam in 1975 because death squads were causing havoc. Carol Fuller was eight months pregnant with their second child. “We heard that some other missionaries had been killed,” she said. “Five Montagnard men were living with us, and they urged us to leave. They said they could make a way for themselves, but not for us” she added.

During two years in the Philippines, Gene Fuller made tapes of scriptures in the tribal language for Far East Broadcasting Co., which broadcast them to listeners in Vietnam.

Fuller was asked to open Wycliffe work in Thailand, and he spent six months there before returning to the United States for more study, earning his doctorate from the University of Pittsburg in 1982.

Carol suffers from health problems incurred while on the mission field.

Fuller became director of Wycliffe work in Borneo, an island in the eastern part of Malaysia. He traveled in the jungles and had 14 translation projects there to help tribes get the Bible in their languages.

They left Borneo in 1991 after eight and one half years. After teaching a semester at the Open University of Ho Chi Minh, Fuller, became director of the North American branch of Wycliffe, where he spent nine years. He was administrator of Vietnam projects for a couple years, before developing serious heart problems.

Since 2003 he has been working on the current project, and making trips back and forth to Vietnam. “They (Vietnamese) are precious people,” Carol said.

The Fullers don’t speak of retirement. In their minds and hearts, their work is not done.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Burchette, a retired writer/editor at the Greensboro News & Record, can be contacted at

12/20/2008 9:17:00 AM by Bob Burchette, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Was innkeeper history’s rudest host?

December 20 2008 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

Tis the season for Christmas pageants everywhere to dramatize one of scripture’s most familiar scenes and cast a cold-hearted innkeeper, who shoos away the holy family to a lowly stable.

But pageants and sermons castigating the infamous innkeeper are giving him an underserved bad rap, scholars say, and are feeding dangerous misconceptions about how Jesus’ contemporaries received him.

“We’re so brainwashed into this idea of the mean old innkeeper and no room at the inn, we don’t even notice that this is a violation of the text that we’ve just read,” says Kenneth E. Bailey, a Bible scholar and author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

The innkeeper’s reputation stems from a single, oblique reference in Luke 2:7. The verse says Mary wrapped the newborn Jesus in cloth “and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

From this text, Christian communities through the centuries have inferred that their Savior was rebuffed at birth.

The reality was possibly much different. The “inn” (or “lodgings” in some translations) was not a hotel or hostel but perhaps a guest room in the private residence of one of Joseph’s relatives, according to Mikeal Parsons, a Baylor University New Testament scholar who’s writing a commentary on Luke. Because that room was already occupied, Parsons says, hosts may have made room for Mary and Joseph within their own family quarters and cleaned up an animal feeding trough (manger) to serve as a crib.

Such details are important, scholars say, in part because the birth narrative is rich with symbolism. The divine infant’s portrayal in modest circumstances suggests, for instance, that God humbled himself to join the commonest of humankind. Hence for later generations to conjure a fictitious innkeeper and make him into something of a villain may be to read a new, unwarranted and potentially misleading significance into the story.

“It’s kind of a ‘gotcha’ moment to recognize there is no innkeeper or reason to castigate an innkeeper, but that’s what we tend to do,” says Thomas Stegman, associate professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. “It’s an easy thing to cast judgment on this figure, (but) anything that gives us an out from examining ourselves first is not a good thing in the spiritual life.

“We need to consider instead how hospitable have we been?”

12/20/2008 9:13:00 AM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

New regulation permits ‘conscience’ exceptions

December 20 2008 by Matthew E. Berger, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — A new federal regulation will allow healthcare workers to abstain from performing abortions or any service they object to on religious or moral grounds.

The regulation, introduced Dec. 18 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is directed primarily at shielding those with religious or moral objections to abortion or sterilization. But its scope could be much wider, including those opposed to assisted suicide, sex change operations or even vaccinations and family planning.

The rule says healthcare workers cannot be discriminated against for refusing to participate in objectionable procedures. The definition of workers is defined broadly, to include volunteers as well as janitors and others not directly engaged in the procedures.

The regulation goes into effect in 30 days, just before the end of the Bush White House. It can be overturned by the incoming Obama administration, and some lawmakers are already taking steps to change it through legislation.

Healthcare service providers could lose federal funds for violating the rule, but HHS officials stress the department will assist entities that are deemed non-compliant before considering legal options.

HHS officials said the 127-page regulation — which will cost about $44 million to implement — is designed to alleviate a trend of isolation and exclusion of people of faith from the healthcare industry.

"Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience."

Liberal groups suggested the new regulation will undermine religious diversity, and place the doctors' views above the patients'.

"Using the guise of protecting the conscience of healthcare providers, this regulation ... denies women the right to follow their conscience and make decisions according to their religious and moral beliefs," said Carlton Veazey, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a statement.

It drew quick praise from religious conservatives, who had sought relief against being punished for not performing abortions.

"No one should be forced to have an abortion, and no one should be forced to be an abortionist," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a statement. "These regulations will ensure that conscience protection statutes will be strongly enforced by the government in the same manner as our other civil rights laws."

12/20/2008 9:10:00 AM by Matthew E. Berger, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Settlement: Church to use former Wal-Mart

December 19 2008 by Lisa Sergent, Baptist Press

CARLINVILLE, Ill. — Carlinville Southern Baptist Church and the city of Carlinville, Ill., have reached a settlement in the church's nearly year-long fight to use a former Wal-Mart building for worship services.

Under the Dec. 16 agreement, the church receives permission to use the commercially zoned building for worship services, reversing the city's previous denial because it wanted to attract a taxable business to the property. The church also will receive $125,000 for legal and other fees from the city's insurance company.
The controversy began when the church purchased the 60,000-square-foot building in January, but the city refused to re-zone it for church use. Wal-Mart, as it has done in many communities, built a new super store in Carlinville, a community of 6,000 residents located between Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis. Wal-Mart sold their former building to the church after six months of seeking a buyer.

The city filed a suit in state court seeking an injunction to prevent the church from renovating the facility or moving any of its offices to the site. The church then filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Springfield alleging violation of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal statute to protect religious institutions from discrimination and unreasonable burdens imposed by land use regulations.

Tim Rhodus, pastor of Carlinville Southern Baptist Church, told The Illinois Baptist newsjournal, "I am so proud of our church family. It is hard to choose humility in the midst of overwhelming injustice. They have endured so much and for the most part maintained amazing attitudes.

"It has never been about the building," Rhodus continued. "The building is merely a tool to enable us to reach more and more people for Christ. We have been on autopilot for over a year basically. 2009 is going to be a fun year ... if for no other reason because the pressure and wear and tear of litigation is gone."

The church plans to hold its first worship service in the unfinished auditorium facility on Jan. 4.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sergent is associate editor of The Illinois Baptist.)

12/19/2008 3:06:00 AM by Lisa Sergent, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious right architect dies

December 19 2008 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Paul Weyrich, a man who worked away from the limelight to galvanize conservative Christian political advocacy, died Thursday (Dec. 18).

Weyrich, 66, co-founded the now-defunct Moral Majority with the late Jerry Falwell and served as the first president of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank.

"He was key behind the scenes in establishing the religious right," said Jerry Falwell Jr., who succeeded his father as president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. "I think he recognized that there were people in many different faiths who shared the same moral values and he saw the need for a coalition to pull those groups together."

Weyrich, who served as a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean, Va., used that coalition and others to advance policies, such as the maintenance of the anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform.

"Paul Weyrich fought tirelessly for three decades to protect the pre-born, preserve traditional marriage and ensure that people of faith had a voice in shaping the public policy that affected their lives," said Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson. "Had there been no Paul Weyrich, there would be no conservative movement as we know it."

At the Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council in 2007, Weyrich urged grass-roots activists to fight efforts to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to give a portion of their airtime to opponents' views.

"The reason I am here is because I want you to talk to radio station owners, particularly those who carry news talk programming," he said at that Washington meeting. "It's going to be up to you to inform them."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Weyrich was a Washington fixture who didn't lose his fighting spirit despite his battle with diabetes. Two years before the summit appearance, Weyrich underwent surgery for amputation of both of his legs.

"He didn't over-intellectualize about Christians ‘jumping into the fray,’" Perkins said. "He recognized early that the fray had jumped onto us. ... Paul Weyrich was the first to show us how we could effectively petition our government for redress of our grievances."

Through his 35 years of work in Washington, including his role as president and chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, Weyrich gained the respect of supporters and opponents.

"I don't think there's anyone who knew more about grass-roots organizing or how to organize grass-roots conservatives to make a difference in political campaigns and in public policy," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "It was always about the cause, not about personal profit or personal gain. He was someone who was dedicated to the cause of conservatism."

Interfaith Alliance President Welton Gaddy, who differed with Weyrich on many issues, nevertheless credited him with sharing a concern for the proper role of religion in U.S. politics.

"The religious right has lost a leader and strategist," said Gaddy. "The nation has lost a patriot. And, I have lost a friend."

12/19/2008 3:05:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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