December 2014

Bob Jones University president apologizes to victims

December 12 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

An outside watchdog group hired to investigate sex abuse claims at Bob Jones University (BJU) issued its 300-page report on Dec. 11, concluding that the conservative Christian school responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.
 
Bob Jones, with about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, S.C., tapped Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.
 
Some of those students claimed they were victims on campus; others said they were dealing with child sexual abuse but received a poor reception from campus officials as they struggled with their past.
 
The school’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, discipline and justice shaped how Bob Jones University responded to sexual assault, the report argues.
 
“As a result of the school’s poor responses, many of these students were deeply hurt and experienced further trauma,” a press release from GRACE states.
 
The school has carved out a significant space within fundamentalism after its leadership parted ways with evangelist Billy Graham, an icon of more mainstream American evangelicalism. The school also received national attention when then-presidential candidate George W. Bush visited in 2000, prompting the school to drop its ban on interracial dating, which it had unsuccessfully tried to defend before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983.
 
The school decided in 2011 to hire GRACE to investigate claims of mishandling of sexual abuse after national media reports surfaced. Earlier this year, the school fired, and then rehired, GRACE to investigate allegations. A representative for the university said both parties agreed not to discuss concerns during that time.

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RNS photo by David Gibson
Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., has long been a bastion of fundamentalist Christianity but has recently taken steps to engage the modern world.

 

Bob Jones highlighted findings from the report:

  • BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately.

  • Staff were seen by some victims as insensitive to their suffering.

  • Some victims reported that the school’s counseling was inadequate, insensitive and counterproductive.

  • Some felt staff tended to blame victims for the abuse or sexual assault.

  • Counseling sometimes overlapped with disciplinary actions.

  • Several victims reported that their abuse was not reported to legal authorities by campus counselors.

Some individuals reported hearing themes in chapel, classrooms and counseling sessions that would blame a woman’s style of dress for triggering an assault, or label victims as “damaged goods.” They reported feeling as though the school saw “all sexual sin as equal.” Like many Christian institutions, the school prohibits sex outside of marriage.
 
“The lack of distinction between sexual abuse and consensual sexual sin has caused some victims of sexual offenses to feel impure and shamed even though they did not choose the sexual act perpetrated upon them,” the report states. “Several individuals raised the complaint that BJU counselors had encouraged abuse victims to confess and repent of any ‘pleasure’ experienced during the sexual abuse.”
 
The report suggested that BJU counselors may not be referring abuse victims for appropriate medical evaluation, treating symptoms such as post-traumatic flashbacks and nightmares as “spiritual problems.”
 
The school’s teaching on sin also contributed to how students were counseled, the report suggests.
 
“According to the counseling principles espoused by BJU’s counselors, the occurrence of sexual abuse or sexual assault brings ‘a trial’ upon a victim, to which the victim may choose to respond righteously or sinfully,” the report states. “A righteous response to a trial is one that is most like Christ. An unrighteous response requires a victim to confess sin and conform his or her ‘mindset and choices to accurately mirror his position and identity in Christ.’“
 
The report also suggested that counselors’ teaching on forgiveness shaped how they told students to respond.
 
“Victims also reported that these messages often pressured abuse victims to forgive quickly, to avoid bitterness, and/or to confront their abuser,” the report states. “For many, this pressure blamed them for not forgiving their perpetrators, minimized their sorrow, ignored their cries for justice, and intensified their trauma symptoms.”
 
The report suggested that the school’s leaders lacked a sufficient understanding of justice. Abusers will deceive and manipulate people to achieve their end, the report says.
 
“In the Christian environment, this often means using Christian ideas and theology to manipulate others to avoid responsibility,” the report states. “Leaders in the Christian environment must diligently uphold a fully biblical standard of repentance for the sake of protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable for their atrocious actions.”
 
The school’s counseling is too closely connected with discipline, a hallmark of the school since its founding, the report states. Students also reported breaches of confidentiality during counseling.
 
Ahead of the report’s official release, the school’s president apologized and promised a change in culture.
 
“On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault,” Bob Jones President Steve Pettit said in a statement.
 
“I promise the victims who felt we failed them that the GRACE report is an extremely high priority that has our immediate and full attention.”
 
The university has been historically a family-run operation. Bob Jones Sr., Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III and Bob Jones III’s son, Stephen Jones, have all served as past presidents. A year ago, Stephen Jones resigned due to health concerns and was replaced by Pettit, the first non-Jones family member to lead the school.
 
The investigation was led by GRACE’s executive director, Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and a former child abuse prosecutor, setting up a conflicted relationship given the tensions between the famed evangelist and the Jones family. Graham briefly attended Bob Jones, but the evangelist distanced himself from the school’s more strident fundamentalism.
 
The school still sees itself as fundamentalist, though it describes itself in its promotional materials more broadly as nondenominationally Christian.
 
Tchividjian, who blogs for Religion News Service, also teaches at Liberty University School of Law, writing and speaking on why evangelicals struggle to report sex abuse claims.
 
“Though much in this report will understandably cause readers to grieve, GRACE is encouraged by the willingness of Bob Jones University to take the unprecedented step to voluntarily request this independent investigation and to make these difficult findings public,” Tchividjian said in a statement.
 
“Such institutional transparency is too rare and will hopefully set a positive precedent for Christendom and the watching world.”
 
Campus rape has captured nationwide attention as stories of alleged rape surfaced at the University of Virginia and Columbia University. A number of schools, including Harvard, Princeton, Florida State and Ohio State, are under federal investigation for their response to sexual assault.
 
“We are all awakening to the depth and breadth of this societal problem,” Pettit said. “Colleges and universities across the country are reassessing how they handle cases of sexual abuse and assault. We want to be part of that solution. To do that, we must first take the mote out of our own eye and address our own failings. The GRACE report helps in that effort by helping us identify areas of concern.”
 
Pettit will appoint a committee to review the report findings and recommendations during the next 90 days. He said the school has taken steps to respond to sex abuse. Every faculty and staff must promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse. School staff encourage adult victims of sexual assault to report their experience to the police.
 
School officials will also “make clear that the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.” The school, Pettit said, will provide staff with more training and access to professional counselors with expertise in sexual abuse.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for Religion News Service.)

12/12/2014 11:31:58 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



‘Ebola fighters’: TIME’s Person of the Year

December 11 2014 by Baptist Press staff

“The Ebola Fighters,” many of whom were motivated by their Christian faith to risk their lives in battling the deadly disease in West Africa, have been named TIME’s “Person of the Year,” the magazine announced Dec. 10.
 
Kent Brantly, an American medical doctor with the missions organization Samaritan’s Purse who contracted Ebola while running a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, was one of several medical workers featured on a TIME Magazine cover as part of the magazine’s recognition of ‘Ebola Fighters’ as the 2014 Person of the Year.
 
The magazine’s special issue recognized the group for doing the most to influence the events of 2014. TIME editor Nancy Gibbs wrote in announcing the decision that medical workers in West Africa “fought side by side with local doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams” while much of the world was still “in denial and snarled in red tape” concerning the Ebola outbreak.

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Kent Brantly, an American medical doctor with the missions organization Samaritan's Purse who contracted Ebola while running a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, was one of several medical workers featured on a TIME Magazine cover as part of the magazine's recognition of 'Ebola Fighters' as the 2014 Person of the Year.

 

“Ebola is a war, and a warning. The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease, and ‘us’ means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day,” Gibbs wrote.
 
“The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight. For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year,” she wrote.
 
To date about 6,300 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, mainly in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. There are more than 11,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the area with more than 6,000 additional suspected cases.
 
Among the five people to be featured on the cover of the Dec. 22/Dec. 29 issue of the magazine is Kent Brantly, an American medical doctor with the missions organization Samaritan’s Purse who contracted Ebola while running a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia.
 
“I chose a career in medicine because I wanted a tangible skill with which to serve people,” Brantly told TIME. “And so my role as a physician is my attempt to do that. I’ll probably get tired of talking about my experience some day, but I went to Liberia because I long felt it was my vocation to spend my career as a medical missionary. Deep in the core of my heart, I still think that’s my calling. I don’t want to go on with life and forget this.”
 
Though TIME does not recognize most Ebola fighters by name, Southern Baptists have been on the front lines. Among them:

  • Trevor Yoakum, an International Mission Board missionary, formulated a campaign in conjunction with Baptist Global Response to distribute 15,000 Ebola brochures in Togo.

  • A worker in Guinea used storying and role-playing to teach Africans about Ebola prevention.

“We are able to share what Ebola is, how it is transmitted, simple things people can do to protect themselves from being infected and how to stop the spread of the disease,” the worker reported.

  • A worker in Liberia also said in a previous report, “This nation that thrives on relationships is now being reprimanded for giving a handshake or a hug. Taxi drivers are wearing gloves and masks. Grocery store workers and others are wearing gloves. Tonight we went to the grocery store and before entering, we had to wash our hands with bleach water. A few restaurants and other businesses have shut down until Ebola comes under control.

“Borders to Liberia have been closed except for the three major borders and two airports. And tonight, I read that one of our major West Africa airlines has cancelled all flights between Liberia and Sierra Leone. This invisible enemy must be stopped and there is only One who is able to stop it – the Prince of Peace, Jehovah Rapha,” she said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/11/2014 11:48:08 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Fayetteville, Ark., LGBT law repealed

December 11 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Voters in a Northwest Arkansas city have overturned a pro-homosexual/transgender ordinance that many claimed posed a threat to religious liberty.
 
In a special election Dec. 9, residents of Fayetteville – home of the University of Arkansas – approved repeal of the measure by fewer than 500 votes, with 52 percent (7,523) of voters in favor of repeal and 48 percent (7,040) opposed. The result rescinded a law passed by the city council in a 6-2 vote in August. Opponents of the ordinance collected enough signatures within a month to place its repeal on a special election ballot.
 
The Civil Rights Administration ordinance included protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
 
Local and national Southern Baptist leaders opposed the ordinance largely because of concerns it would infringe upon the freedoms of religion and conscience for individuals, churches and businesses.
 
The ordinance's repeal "represents a victory for religious freedom," Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious liberty Commission, said.
 
"The city of Fayetteville had previously passed one of the most broadly written and troubling non-discrimination bills I had ever seen, which endangered untold number of men and women seeking to peaceably live their lives according to the dictates of the gospel and their conscience," Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement. "Instead, the people of Fayetteville have insisted that religious freedom will not be brushed aside by city officials."

 
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A sign in Fayetteville, Ark., urges voters to repeal an ordinance passed by the city council that many claimed posed a threat to religious liberty. On Dec. 9, voters did repeal the measure by a narrow margin.

Ron Lomax, director of missions for the Washington Madison Baptist Association in Fayetteville, said, "We are very happy with the outcome of the vote to repeal [the ordinance]. It was a bad law and one which was passed by our city council despite what the majority of the city wanted. But many people came together from the faith community, the business community, the political community and thousands of the concerned public to make the election results happen."
 
The rejected ordinance included real or perceived "gender identity," "gender expression" and "sexual orientation" among a list of classifications to receive protection from discrimination in employment and housing. It also barred discrimination by establishments that provide "goods, services, accommodations and entertainment to the public," which would include hotels, restaurants and other businesses. In addition, the measure created the post of civil rights administrator, who would be responsible for investigating complaints and recommending prosecution.
 
The city council amended the original ordinance, but the law's foes believed the measure still threatened freedoms of religion and conscience. Among their concerns:

  • Churches could have been prosecuted if they refused to hire gay or transgender people for "secular" staff posts.

  • Christian schools and bookstores could have been required to violate their beliefs in their employment practices.

  • Business owners with religious objections could have been prosecuted for declining to provide their services for same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies.

The ordinance's opponents also expressed concern about the safety of women and children because they said the measure permitted males who identify as transgender but may be sexual predators to use female restrooms and dressing rooms.
 
"Sexual orientation" normally encompasses homosexuality and bisexuality, while "gender identity," or transgender status, refers to what sex a person identifies himself as, regardless of his or her physiological make-up.
 
After the vote, supporters of the measure pledged to continue to seek enactment of pro-LGBT legislation.
 
Alderman Matthew Perry, the measure's sponsor, said it is too early to announce whether the city council will attempt to pass a different version of the ordinance.
 
"We're going to consider all options," Perry said, according to the Northwest Arkansas Times.
 
The Arkansas director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said her organization remains certain that "the progress of fairness will continue despite this result." HRC will "keep up the fight" for "true equality," Kendra Johnson said in a written statement.
 
HRC, the country's largest political organization that promotes LGBT rights, provided Keep Fayetteville Fair, a committee opposing repeal, with more than $166,000 in "non-money contributions," the Times reported. The ordinance was based on model legislation from HRC, according to the newspaper.
 
Repeal of the Fayetteville ordinance came one day after the Plano, Texas, city council passed a similar, pro-LGBT rights ordinance. The Plano council members voted 5-3 for the measure despite protests from state officials and citizens.
 
The ordinance is a "blatant attack on the religious liberty rights" of Plano residents, the Liberty Institute said in a letter emailed to city council members Dec. 8, the day of the meeting. Liberty Institute, a law firm dedicated to protecting religious freedom, is based in Plano.
 
The measure "is vaguely worded and compels private businesses and employees to violate their sincerely held religious belief," Jeffrey Mateer, Liberty Institute's general counsel, said in the letter. The law would effectively make it "a crime to do business in [Plano] while maintaining Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other traditional religious views of marriage, sexuality and gender identity," he wrote.
 
Increasingly, governments in not only large cities but also in small cities and suburbs are seeking to enact pro-LGBT legislation.
 
The Glendale, Ariz., city council may consider such an ordinance before it hosts the Super Bowl Feb. 1, according to The Arizona Republic. Glendale is a suburb of Phoenix.
 
Murray, Ky., residents held a public forum Dec. 8 about a pro-LGBT measure approved by the city's Human Rights Commission but yet to be voted on by the city council, the Associated Press reported. In October, the Berea, Ky., city council rejected a similar law in a 5-3 vote, according to AP.
 
Repeal of the Fayetteville ordinance appears to be a setback to a new southern campaign by HRC to extend LGBT rights. The effort, announced in April, includes an $8.5 million budget over three years and is aimed at Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. On Nov. 10, HRC unveiled its "All God's Children" religious outreach to persuade Mississippians homosexuality is compatible with Christianity.
 
Four southern states – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee – have no cities with pro-LGBT ordinances, according to HRC. About 200 cities and counties in the United States have non-discrimination laws that include transgender rights.
 
The campaign to overturn the Fayetteville ordinance received a boost from the business sector in early November when the board of the city's chamber of commerce unanimously called for repeal. A chamber representative said the city left "existing and new businesses without guidance regarding how they should train their employees to comply with the law and/or modify any of their policies to comply."
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)
 

Related Story:

Arkansas: America’s current religious liberty battleground

12/11/2014 11:29:41 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBC Hispanic Leadership Network planned

December 11 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Hispanics are strengthening their unity and cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by forming a leadership network set to launch at the 2015 SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
 
SBC Hispanic Relations Consultant Bob Sena announced the network in cooperation with Luis Lopez, director of LifeWay Espanol church resources, at a Dec. 2 dinner meeting in Nashville attended by 65 leaders, including SBC Executive Committee CEO Frank S. Page and Hispanics from 23 Baptist state conventions.
 
Unity and communication among Hispanic Southern Baptists are essential to fulfilling the Great Commission, Sena said.
 
“Without God’s intervention, and all of us, every one of us, working together, we will miss this strategic moment in history to impact the Hispanic world that is in such dire need of the gospel and of Jesus Christ,” Sena told the group. “Let us unite around the Great Commission. Let us unite around prayer. And remember, together we do more than by ourselves.”
 
Sena appointed a five-member “mission and vision” team to organize the network for unveiling at Avance Hispano, the Hispanic gathering scheduled to meet during next year’s June 16-17 annual meeting in Columbus.

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BP Photo by Diana Chandler
SBC Executive Committee staff leaders are shown with mission and vision team members of the Hispanic Leadership Network. Front row, left to right, are Ken Weathersby, Frank Page, Rolando Castro, Fernando Amaro, Victor Rios; back row, left to right, Bob Sena, Daniel Sanchez, Ana Melendez, Guillermo Soriano and Luis Lopez.

 

“This committee will work and finalize what it’s going to do, how we’re going to develop a strategy, and then at the AVANCE meeting at the Southern Baptist Convention they will be announcing the steps that they have taken,” Sena said. “They’ll present us with information so that then we can right there officially, even more officially than today, launch the network that will help us to connect and to communicate with Hispanics around the country. And how interesting would it be if this became a worldwide connection?”
 
Guillermo Soriano, consultant for Hispanic evangelism and discipleship with North Carolina Baptists, will serve as mission and vision team facilitator. Joining Soriano are team members Fernando Amaro, Hispanic ministries facilitator of the Arizona Baptist Convention; Rolando Castro, missionary for church planting/evangelism, language churches and Hispanic church development, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; Ana Melendez, a member of Cristo Es Rey Baptist Church, Bolingbrook, Ill., affiliated with the Illinois State Baptist Association; and Victor Rios, president of the Association of Hispanic Baptist Churches of New York/ New Jersey.
 
Page, who pledged to appoint an Hispanic Advisory Council within one day of his employment as Executive Committee president in 2010, encouraged Hispanics to become increasingly involved in SBC life.
 
“I’m excited about the days ahead, because I believe the work of Hispanic and Latino churches in our convention is going to take a whole new level of importance and involvement. And that’s one of my big concerns that Hispanic churches not be seen as a fringe element,” Page said. “I urge you to step up to the plate to get involved, to be involved, and I encourage you in that. And I thank God that we are partners together in the work of the gospel.”
 
The Hispanic and Latino population is the largest of all ethnic groups within the U.S., Page said, and is projected to outnumber Anglos by the year 2050. Page encouraged all Southern Baptists to be “pure in heart.”
 
“In the Hispanic culture, we need leaders who will be pure in heart, so that when the people see you, they know there is no agenda, other than the agenda of Jesus Christ. And when they see me, they need to know there is no agenda other than that of Jesus Christ,” Page said, encouraging pure hearts as Jesus emphasized in Matt. 5:8. “When Hispanics and Anglos and African Americans see leaders with that kind of heart, there will be unity. There will be a revival when they see a purity in heart. He did not say blessed are the perfect, he said blessed are the pure in heart.”
 
Sena affirmed Page as a man of his word, and also thanked Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, for his leadership.
 
“I’m so grateful to both of my leaders, to Frank Page and to Ken Weathersby,” Sena said. “I can tell you from experience that I wouldn’t be at this place or having accepted the responsibility as Hispanic consultant for the Executive Committee, if I didn’t believe that Dr. Frank Page was a man of his word.... I have not seen one thing that has been an indicator of his not honoring his word.”
 
Lopez, who hosted the meeting at LifeWay Christian Resources, said God is accomplishing unity among Hispanics.
 
“This [meeting] is a testimony that God is bringing a sense of unity among Hispanic churches that we haven’t seen in many years, and we’re grateful for that,” Lopez said, extolling Page as a catalyst for diversity within the SBC.
 
“Dr. Page, let it be known that we as Hispanic leaders pray for you,” Lopez said. “We are thankful for your leadership and we’re here to hear your heart and also to let you know that we support the work that God is doing through you.”
 
Daniel Sanchez, who co-chaired the Hispanic Advisory Council with Sena, called the meeting a significant moment in SBC life, as it follows through on one of the council’s key recommendations issued in a 79-page report during the council’s final meeting in March.
 
“It is our prayer and hope that this network will expand the Kingdom of God, bring unity, reach the lost, strengthen churches, see more leaders involved in the life of the convention, increase giving to the Cooperative Program and participation in missions in North America and around the world,” he said, speaking in Spanish as he read the recommendation from the report.
 
Sena encourages all Hispanic Southern Baptist pastors, church planters, denominational leaders, lay leaders and churches to support the network through prayer, pleading with the Lord for revival.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/11/2014 10:50:33 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Survey: Church remains key part of Christmas

December 10 2014 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay/Baptist Press

Most Americans believe Christmas goes better with a visit to church, religious Christmas songs in public school concerts, and more focus on Jesus, a LifeWay Research survey shows.
 
And while there’s much banter on cable TV talk programs about a “War on Christmas,” most Americans are fine when people wish them “Happy Holidays,” according to the study. This year’s latest controversy regarding Christmas involves atheist billboards featuring a fictional letter from a little girl who says she’s too old for fairy tales. “Dear Santa,” the billboard reads, “All I want for Christmas is to skip church.”
 
No thanks, say most Americans, according to the survey. The study asked 1,000 Americans about their views on Christmas in a phone survey Sept. 26 to Oct. 5, 2014.
 
Scott McConnell, vice-president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, noted “Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with the Christian faith continue to multiply. Still, most Americans want more of Jesus in their Christmas rather than less.”
 
Among the findings:
 

Church remains an essential part of Christmas.

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans agree Christmas should include a trip to church. A third (32 percent) disagree, while 4 percent are unsure.
 
Younger Americans are least interested in church at Christmas time. Fewer than four in 10 (38 percent) of those 18 to 24 say church is an essential part of Christmas, followed by 55 percent of those 25 to 34.
 
Christians (77 percent) are more likely to agree than those from other faiths (44 percent) and the Nones (28 percent).

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Americans prefer the sacred to the secular at Christmas.

Eight out of 10 Americans (79 percent) agree with the statement: “Christmas should be more about Jesus.” About one in five (18 percent) disagree. A few (3 percent) are not sure.
 
Southerners (86 percent) are more likely to agree than Midwesterners (76 percent) and those in the West (69 percent).
 
Older Americans are more interested in focusing on Jesus at Christmas than younger Americans. Nearly nine in 10 Americans who are over 65 (88 percent) agree. Among those 18 to 24, the number drops to six in 10 (61 percent).
 

Americans want to keep Christ in Christmas. Younger people aren’t so sure.

Seven in 10 Americans believe “Christmas would be a better experience if it had a more Christian focus.” One in four (26 percent) disagree, while four percent are not sure. Three quarters of women (73 percent) agree and two thirds of men (66 percent) agree.
 
Younger Americans – those 18 to 24 (46 percent), and 25 to 34 (57 percent) – are less likely to agree than those 35 to 44 (70 percent) and 65 plus (83 percent).
 

Americans want to let school kids sing “Silent Night.”

Most Americans (86 percent) say children in public schools should be allowed to sing religious Christmas songs in school-sponsored musicals. About one in 10 (12 percent) disagree. Two percent are not sure.
 
Nine in 10 women (89 percent) and eight in 10 men (83 percent) agree. So do most Westerners (80 percent) and even more of those in the Northeast (90 percent) and South (88 percent)
 
Most younger Americans – those 18 to 34 – (80 percent) agree, as do 9 in 10 of those 35 and older.
 
Even many Nones – those who claim no religious faith – don’t seem to mind religious Christmas songs in school. Three quarters (73 percent) of Nones agree school kids should be allowed to sing religious songs in Christmas concerts. So do most Christians (92 percent), almost all (96 percent) Evangelicals, and even those from other faiths (71 percent).
 

Most people are fine with Happy Holidays.

One of the staples of the “War on Christmas” debates is the fact that some store clerks and businesses have substituted “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.” But few Americans seem to mind “Happy Holidays.”
 
Less than a third (29 percent) agree with the statement, “It is offensive when people say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.” Two-thirds (67 percent) disagree.
 
Four percent are not sure.
 
Four in 10 evangelicals (41 percent) and about a third of Christians (35 percent) say the phrase is offensive. That drops to one in five (20 percent) for people of other faiths, and one in 10 (11 percent) for Nones.
 

Some are bothered by “X-mas.”

Using the term “X-mas” in place of Christmas bothers Americans more than “Happy Holidays.” About four in 10 (39 percent) say using “X-mas” is offensive. More than half (55 percent) disagree, while 6 percent are not sure.
 
Women (43 percent) are more likely to be offended by X-mas than men (36 percent.) And more than half of Americans age 55 to 64 (52 percent) are offended by X-mas.
 
Younger Americans don’t seem to mind X-mas. About one in five (18 percent) of those 18 to 24, and a third (35 percent) of those 25 to 34 find the phrase offensive.
 
About a quarter (26 percent) of Hispanic Americans say using X-Mas is offensive. Whites (44 percent) are more likely to find the phrase offensive, as are African Americans (39 percent).
 
About half of Christians (47 percent) say they agree, along with about a third (32 percent) of people of other faiths. Only one in five (19 percent) of Nones are bothered by X-mas.
 
Meanwhile, more Protestants (51 percent) than Catholics (37 percent) take offense.
 

Theology remains a bit shaky, even at Christmas.

Traditional Christian theology, based on the Gospel of John, teaches Jesus existed with God the Father at the beginning. “He was with God in the beginning,” says John 1:2. But, Americans aren’t so clear about the details of the incarnation and the Trinity.
 
A little more than half (56 percent) agree with the statement, “God’s son existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” Three in 10 (29 percent) disagree. Fifteen percent are not sure.
 
Those living in the Northeast (64 percent) are more likely to agree than those in the Midwest (44 percent) or West (52 percent).
 
Young Americans are less likely to agree Christ existed prior to His birth. About half (48 percent) of those 18 to 44 agree, but that number jumps to nearly two-thirds (64 percent) for those over 44 years.
 
Evangelicals (70 percent) have the highest agreement. Christians (64 percent) are more likely to agree than those from other faiths (52 percent) and the Nones (31 percent).
 
“The entire Christian narrative is fulfilled in Jesus further humbling himself to become obedient to the point of death on a cross,” McConnell said. “Without Jesus coming to take the punishment for sin men deserved, there would be no point to celebrating His birth.”
 
Methodology:
The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 26–Oct. 5, 2014. The calling utilized Random Digit Dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.5 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Those labeled Evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian.” Those labeled Christian include those whose religious preference is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Non-denominational Christian.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Smietana is senior writer for Lifeway’s Facts & Trends magazine (FactsandTrends.net).)
 

Related Story:

Atheist billboards: Christmas a 'fairy tale'

12/10/2014 12:08:07 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mental illness headlines stir pastors to help

December 10 2014 by Staff of LifeWay Christian Resources

Evangelical leaders are increasingly speaking out about mental health issues. Many have begun to open up about their own bouts with depression or a family member’s illness.
 
Last month, The New York Times ran a front page story about pastors breaking the longtime silence around mental illness. The Times story led with the account of Southern Baptist pastor Matt Brogli receiving an anonymous phone call from a suicidal man.
 
Brogli, pastor of Eagle Springs Baptist Church in Eagle Springs, N.C., was new to the pastorate and admittedly ill-prepared for the exchange. Fortunately, he was able to talk the man out of taking his own life. Two years later, Brogli is the unofficial mental health counselor for the rural community of Eagle Springs.
 

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The Times article cited a study by LifeWay Research, which revealed 59 percent of Protestant pastors have counseled someone who was later diagnosed with a mental illness. Nearly a quarter of pastors say they, too, have experienced some kind of mental illness.
 
In November, LifeWay Research in partnership with Focus on the Family released the findings of a study on faith and mental illness. The study included surveys of senior Protestant pastors, Americans diagnosed with mental illness, and family members of people with mental illness. LifeWay Research also conducted in-depth interviews with experts on spirituality and mental health.


The study found most Protestant pastors seldom speak to their congregations about mental illness. And 22 percent of pastors admit to being reluctant to help those who suffer from mental illness because of the time commitment. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of family members and those with mental illness want their church to talk openly about mental illness.

 
“Because of the way we have ignored mental illness, we are hurting people,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. “We’ve sent the message that there’s something wrong with you if you’re a Christian with mental illness. The truth is there is something wrong with you – you’re ill and you need help. And the church can be part of the healing process.”
 
The challenge is many pastors and churches aren’t sure how to help those in need. The Winter issue of Facts & Trends, a LifeWay publication, tackled this issue offering insight from experts in the field as well as personal testimonies from those affected by mental illness.
 
In the cover story, Facts & Trends senior writer Bob Smietana unpacked the findings of LifeWay Research’s study on mental health. Author Amy Simpson discussed growing up watching her mother battle schizophrenia and the toll it took on their family. And pastor Art Greco shared his own journey through depression. An interview with Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, revealed several ways churches can minister to those living with mental illness.
 
In his column, LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer addressed depression among pastors. And Executive Editor Ed Stetzer wrote about the stigma of mental illness and challenged church leaders to shape a new, more helpful approach to serving people with a mental disorder.
 
“There is an incredible need for churches to speak more about mental health,” Stetzer wrote. “Attitudes are certainly shifting. Churches are moving toward a greater level of awareness and engagement on issues of mental health.”
 
Mental illness affects a significant portion of Americans – 1 in 4 adults suffer some form of mental health disorder every year. Clergy are often the first point of contact when someone is going through times of stress, grief or depression.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - This story was provided by LifeWay Christian Resources and first appeared in the Winter issue of Facts & Trends magazine. All the Facts & Trends articles related to mental health and the church can be found at FactsAndTrends.net/MentalHealth.)

12/10/2014 11:54:43 AM by Staff of LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Atheist billboards: Christmas a ‘fairy tale’

December 10 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Holiday billboards sponsored by an atheist group that call the Christmas story a “fairy tale” are indirect evidence of the “continuing cultural strength of Christianity” in the view of a Southern Baptist apologist.
 
Atheists “feel that they need to do this sort of thing to mark themselves out as brave and distinct,” Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press. “If Christmas had just been watered down to nothing, if there was no longer something of a theistic consensus in America, then I think they would find these billboards pointless.”
 
Beginning Dec. 1, the New Jersey-based American Atheists sponsored billboards in Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Ark., featuring a picture of a young girl with the caption, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.” The bottom of the billboard has information about the American Atheists’ national convention in April.
 
The Milwaukee billboard is cosponsored by the Southwest Wisconsin Freethinkers, according to a press release from the American Atheists. The atheist group said it was unable to secure a similar billboard in Jackson, Miss., because billboard companies rejected the content of the sign.
 
The billboards are located in residential areas near schools and churches in order to target “in-the-closet atheists who are pressured to observe religious traditions during the holidays,” according to the American Atheists press release.

 
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Image from Atheists.org

“Even children know churches spew absurdity, which is why they don’t want to attend services,” American Atheists President David Silverman said according to the release. “Enjoy the time with your family and friends instead. Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth.”
 
Memphis resident Eric Hart raised enough money to purchase a competing digital billboard in his city that reads, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to keep it sacred without being bullied. Peace, dignity, and respect for all,” Deseret News reported. The American Atheists responded with new billboards in Memphis and Nashville Dec. 5 reading, “Dear Christians, I share my toys. Why won’t you share the season? Happy holidays for all!”
 
Coppenger said the freedom to erect such billboards is part of “the glory of America.” He invited observers to judge for themselves whether the atheist or Christian message is more compelling.
 
“Those of us in apologetics find some challenges more daunting than others,” Coppenger said. “But when these billboards go up, they just seem so lame. And I take some encouragement from that. Put your wares up there, and then let society judge.”
 
The past two years, the American Atheists have purchased similar billboards in New York City’s Times Square. Other billboards sponsored by the group date back to at least 2010, the Washington Post reported.
 
Silverman said atheist persecution by Christians is one reason his group must stand against religious holiday traditions.
 
“Millions of American children are forced to go to church under the threat of being denied meals, losing household privileges, having their college tuition cut off or being kicked out of their homes,” Silverman said. “Many atheist adults are forced to go to church under threat of divorce or lose custody of their children. We must ask the question, who are the real bullies? Those who are unafraid to stand up for our views on billboards, or those who destroy families from the inside out?”
 
Coppenger hopes atheist billboards have a “bracing effect for Christians” and help dispel the myth that everyone in the Bible Belt is a follower of Jesus.
 
“Some people think that by just living in the South you’re saved,” Coppenger said. But atheist billboards “draw sharper lines. They show there is a contrast between Christianity and secularism and these people are serious. So you’re cast upon the task of asking, ‘Am I serious?’ There really is a difference, and so I need to know whether I’m on the right side of the line.”
 
Rob Phillips, leader of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s apologetics ministry, said the billboard campaign is a “great opportunity” to show that “atheism is a belief system, not a proven fact.” He critiqued an American Atheists spokeswoman’s statement that what “religious people” believe “is not true.”
 
“How does she know that?” Phillips, who also serves as the Missouri convention’s communications team leader, told BP in email comments. “What evidence can she produce to prove that God does not exist? Has she thoroughly and objectively examined all the evidence that supports the possibility of a divine designer – from cosmological arguments to the existence of universal moral standards?
 
“The simple truth is that when atheists proclaim as fact that there is no God, they are blind to their own beliefs. As Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek are famous for saying: ‘I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,’“ Phillips said.
 
Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, called it ironic that “these billboards are pressuring kids to skip church because they’re ‘too old for fairy tales,’ but they seem to have no problem with kids writing letters to Santa Claus, an obviously mythical character.”
 
“Ultimately why do atheists care what our children, or their parents, believe?” Ham wrote in a blog post. “After all, if there really is no God and death is the absolute end, why does it even matter what anyone believed during their time on Earth? According to atheism, once you die, that’s it – it’s over. What a hopeless, purposeless message!
 
“But the message of Christ offers real hope and purpose,” Ham wrote. “Jesus Christ came to Earth, lived a perfect life and died on the Cross to take the penalty of death that we deserve because of our sin upon Himself. Three days later He rose again and now offers eternal life! The message of the Bible is a message of hope, and it is truth.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/10/2014 11:37:54 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Two nights that changed Graham’s & Zamperini’s lives

December 9 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Two October evenings in 1949 brought together an alcoholic war hero and a fiery young evangelist. From then on, neither would be the same.
 
The preaching in that rented circus tent in Los Angeles changed Louis Zamperini, then 32 – who put away the bottle forever and devoted the rest of his life to Christian testimony and good works.
 
And those Los Angeles nights also changed the preacher, Billy Graham, and the future course of American evangelicalism as well. In Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am, he calls that chapter of his life, “Watershed.”
 
On Christmas Day, a movie of Zamperini’s extraordinary survival amid the horrors of Japanese POW camps opens in theaters. “Unbroken,” is based on the award-winning book by Lauren Hillenbrand.
 
The film version of “Unbroken, however, ends before he reaches Graham’s tent revival, the climactic chapter of Hillenbrand’s best-seller.
 
Yet it was this eight-week sin-slaying marathon where the story of “Billy Graham as an icon begins,” said Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker. He’s the author of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, published just before Graham’s 96th birthday last month.

 
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Poster image courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Billy Graham’s 1949 crusade in Los Angeles was originally planned for three weeks but ballooned to six with media attention – and famous conversions.

Every element of what became the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s crusade juggernaut came together for the first time in this early campaign, said William Martin, author of the acclaimed biography, “A Prophet with Honor.”
 
Graham didn’t invent these trends, but he pulled them together to knit a new creation – the prototype evangelistic crusade as a religious, social and political force.
 
What you see him doing in Los Angeles he began to do all the time – “recognizing and amplifying patterns already at work,” said Wacker.
 
A genius for networking: Long before before that term became a verb, Graham pulled together contacts from his early preaching days with Youth for Christ, the powerful Christian Businessmen’s Association of Los Angeles, and hundreds of local pastors to support the heavily advertised L.A. campaign.
 
Personal magnetism: Graham may have been the first evangelist to pace the pulpit with a lapel microphone like a modern talk show host. With a commanding voice, the tall and movie-handsome evangelist seemed to connect eye to eye, ear to ear with every person in the tent.
 
Celebrity power: The willingness of famous men such as Zamperini and radio host Stuart Hamblen to testify to their “born-again” experience led to massive crowds in Los Angeles. By 2005, when Graham retired from the sawdust trail of evangelizing, it became impossible to count the celebrities who found faith through Graham. On the cover of Just as I Am, Graham wears a denim jacket, a gift from Johnny Cash. Years later, critics say he allowed his moral stardust to brush onto the coats of some arguably undeserving folk as well, including close friend Richard Nixon.
 
A forceful anti-communist voice: The Los Angeles campaign began just days after the U.S.S.R. tested an atomic bomb and ignited fresh fear of the Red Menace. This drew the powerful admiration of anti-Communist media giants William Randolph Hearst in Los Angeles and later Time-Life kingpin Henry Luce.
 
The outlines of what became the 1980s Religious Right can be seen here, too, said Susan Harding, a retired religion professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a biographer of the late Jerry Falwell.
 
“Graham was not just becoming a great evangelist, he’s becoming an evangelist with a political profile,” said Harding, noting Graham’s talent for “riding the crest of the moment.”
 
Equating the American way with Godliness: “He was speaking to – and from – the heartland’s moral world. He personified the moral dimension of a Norman Rockwell world of small towns and summer nights – and clear overlay of right and wrong. He delineated the strongly normative path to salvation for individuals and for the culture,” said Wacker.
 
Los Angeles not only changed Graham, but also his audience.
 
As Wacker details in Christian History magazine:
 
“He had preached 65 sermons to an aggregate audience of 350,000 – maybe 400,000 – souls jammed into a Ringling Brothers tent pitched near the city’s central shopping district. The meetings ran every night and Sunday afternoons from September 25 to November 20. Around 6,000 people either committed or recommitted their lives to Christ. Graham spoke to countless civic, school, and business groups, making three to four appearances a day. He gave dozens of interviews. He even schmoozed with Hollywood celebrities such as Cecil B. DeMille, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn.”
 
By the time the Los Angeles campaign ended, Graham was rocketing to national and international acclaim.
 
“He sells papers,” said Wacker.
 
“Everywhere we turned, someone wanted us to come and do for them what had been done in Los Angeles,” Graham wrote in Just as I Am. No longer could he see himself as a “country preacher” leading  “a little evangelistic team.”
 
He codified the lessons of California, established the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and eventually made it a powerhouse of efficiency across multiple platforms – print, broadcast, film, interviews and, of course, more than 400 crusades.
 
Los Angeles fame opened doors for Graham to a different level of people and power: presidents and the national press.
 
“People want to come and hear a person who is famous,” said Martin, who directs the Religion and Public Policy program at Rice University’s Baker Institute. Had it not been for the 1949 national exposure, “he would have been a one-night wonder.”
 
By 1957, Graham could pack Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden for weeks on end.
 
And by then, he had the staying power to withstand critics from his fundamentalist early years when he began opening ecumenical doors, first with Catholics, later with Jews.
 
“What Graham did was normalize the idea that you can cooperate with others,” Wacker said, “He wanted to retain a core of belief without breaking fellowship with everyone else” who believed in God and Christ, moral values and patriotism. He represented the possibility of a consensus, of a bridge.”
 
He shifted from firing “turn-or-burn” thunderbolts to a mesmerizing, almost crooning, invitation to people to step toward the pulpit and change their lives by seeing them differently, through the prism of a new relationship with God.
 
“Words. That’s all he’s got,” said Harding, describing the power that Graham mastered so early on.
 
“No ritual. No liturgy. No paperwork. Graham speaks the gospel, and invades the listeners’ minds to strip away their old ways of understanding and experience. He adds their life up anew and asks them to tell their life stories from now on in gospel terms.”
 
On the night of Oct. 23, Zamperini heard Graham say: “If you suffer, I’ll give you the grace to go forward.”
 
Hillenbrand, drawing on 70 interviews with Zamperini for “Unbroken,” tells how he recalled all the miraculous moments when he might have broken and yet did not.
 
But on that night, Zamperini broke down. And so he walked down the aisle toward the preacher just as Graham encouraged him. Over the next six decades, hundreds of thousands more followed him.
 
“God has spoken to you,” Graham said. “You come on.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

12/9/2014 3:33:53 PM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Typhoon Hagupit steamrolls the Philippines

December 9 2014 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Global Relief

MANILA – One year after Typhoon Haiyan steamrolled through the Philippines, another typhoon is carving a path of destruction through the islands.
 
Typhoon Hagupit, or ‘Ruby,’ as it is known locally, made landfall Saturday evening. The slow-moving storm is expected to strike six Philippines islands before it moves out to sea Tuesday (Dec. 16).
 
Filipino disaster response teams are poised and ready to respond as needed and Baptist Global Response (BGR) is on standby for a full report on the damages, said Patrick Melancon, BGR’s managing director of disaster response and training.
 
“The Philippines is somewhat better prepared for this after having learned a few lessons in Haiyan last year,” Melancon said. “Right now, the information I have is that there is little loss of life and mostly a lot of rain.”
 
As many as 48 million people live in the path of the typhoon. Ahead of the storm, up to 1 million evacuated to shelters – including a school building on Gibitngil island rebuilt by BGR volunteers earlier this year.
 
Last year’s Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and rendering 200,000 people homeless. Before it made landfall, Typhoon Hagupit weakened to the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane. The storm is expected to weaken further as it moves over the islands.
 
In the city of Tacloban, hardest-hit by last year’s storm, 48,000 people were moved to shelters ahead of Typhoon Hagupit’s arrival. Adore and Hope Sabido, Filipino BGR project directors, and Glen and Marvella Thompson, also BGR project directors, will soon travel to Tacloban to begin damage assessments.
 
The assessment team will connect with Carl and Suzie Miller, International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries in Tacloban and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (click here to read their story of survival).
 
The Millers reported strong wind and rains in Tacloban but they say the storm damage is much less than that caused by last year’s typhoon.
 
Cell phone lines are down in some areas, including Eastern Samar, a province bordering Tacloban. The BGR team and local IMB missionaries are waiting for an update on believers in the area.
 
Stan and Dottie Smith, IMB missionaries on the island of Cebu, expressed concern about Gibitngil, an island situated just north of Cebu.
 
“Being a [smaller] island exposes them to the effects of the storm much more intensely than the mainland,” Stan Smith said.
 
Early reports indicate rain and wind were strong on Gibitngil. Families on the island are gathered in the local school for safety. Volunteers with BGR helped rebuild this school after Typhoon Haiyan left its mark last year.
 
BGR’s desire is for Filipino believers to lead out in Typhoon Hagupit disaster relief efforts, but help from American Southern Baptists will be needed, Ben Wolf, the Asia Rim director for BGR, says.
 
Southern Baptists played a crucial role in recovery and rebuilding after Typhoon Haiyan.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Caroline Anderson is an international correspondent for BGR. This story was originally found at goBGR.org/news.)
 
You can help BGR respond to disasters by donating to BGR’s Disaster Response Fund at www.gobgr.org. Donate $10 by texting BGR to 80888.*
 
*$10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. Must have account holder permission to donate and premium texting unblocked. Terms: igfn.org/t Privacy Policy: igfn.org/p Text STOP to 80888 to stop; Text HELP to 80888 for help.

12/9/2014 11:15:59 AM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Global Relief | with 0 comments



Same-sex attraction and repentance

December 9 2014 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS

Christians experiencing same-sex attraction should repent of those desires, but God can transform a person’s sexual identity, said panelists at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, Nov. 19.
 
“This is what I would say to guys in my church, is ‘If you are in the moment feeling an attraction for a person of the same sex, that’s an occasion for repentance,’” said Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “‘Well, I didn’t choose that.’ That’s still an occasion for repentance.”
 
Burk presented a paper titled “Is Same-Sex Orientation Sinful?” and participated in a panel discussion on the issue with fellow lecturers Preston M. Sprinkle, vice president of Boise extension at Eternity Bible College, and Wesley Hill, assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry and self-described celibate gay Christian.

 
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SBTS Photo
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In his paper, Burk assessed three components of same-sex orientation: sexual attraction, romantic attraction and identity. Burk acknowledged same-sex attraction as a predisposition, but categorized it with sinful predispositions such as pride, anger and anxiousness. Emotional attraction to the same sex, Burk argued, is sinful so long as it contains “sexual possibility.” The notion of same-sex orientation as a person’s identity is also sinful because “it invites us to embrace fictional identities that go directly against God’s revealed purposes for his creation,” he said.
 
The terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were “ways to describe an identity based on a person’s pattern of sexual passions,” Burk added in the panel discussion. “That is not going to be helpful to us or useful to us at the end of the day if we add our endorsements to those identities.”
 
Burk, however, noted the necessity of using the terminology of sexual orientation, while “scrutinizing it from a biblical perspective” to focus on God’s purpose in creation for sexual desires.
 
Hill and Sprinkle likewise emphasized the importance of using the terms, even though they are not found in Scripture, for the purpose of recasting that language in a gospel context.
 
“To say that Christians will simply avoid altogether the language of sexual orientation – gay, lesbian, homosexuality – that would mean in my own experience forfeiting a lot of conversations with people from my own generation who that’s just the language they speak,” said Hill, author of the forthcoming book, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.
 
Sprinkle’s paper, “Sexual Orientation in Paul’s World: It’s Not What You Think,” focused on the absence of understanding sexual orientation as identity in the first century. In the discussion, he affirmed Hill’s statement in line with Paul, who “infuses” Greco-Roman terms with “new meaning or gutted them where they needed to be gutted and transformed them.”
 
In the panel discussion, the participants clarified the terminology and found themselves in agreement on the sinfulness of experiencing same-sex attraction. Burk distinguished the act of feeling same-sex attraction from the predisposition to sinful desire.
 
While same-sex attraction cannot be reduced to sexual desire, Burk said, it is the “defining characteristic.” Burk insisted on clarifying that orientation is not feeling sexually attracted “at every moment” but that a person is inclined to have desires in a certain direction.
 
Same-sex “orientation is not a natural evil to be swept away with tornadoes and earthquakes” as issues of moral indifference. Rather, Burk argued, “it’s a moral concern” with which every disciple of Christ must come to terms.
 
Hill affirmed Burk’s approach to call for repentance when experiencing same-sex desire and added: “I want to be able to say to someone who experiences no shift at all in their unchosen patterns of same-sex attraction, that a life of faithful, Christian holiness is still open to them, every bit as much as if they experienced a dramatic shift in their sexual attraction or their sexual desire.”
 
Burk added that repenting of illicit sexual desire, whether heterosexual or homosexual, does not mean it will instantly disappear. “Repentance is a way of life,” Burk said. “We’re talking about wrestlings that are deep and visceral” and could go on indefinitely.
 
Panelists also noted the principles of temptation and sexual desire apply not just to same-sex attraction but to heterosexual lust outside of marriage, providing an opportunity for repentance and growth in Christian discipleship.
 
“The moral space between a sinful lust and a benign recognition of beauty,” Burk said, is the “apprehension of beauty in which there is no sexual possibility,” just as brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
“If you’re looking at a woman with the purpose of pursuing this illicit lust that’s wrong. But I would also say the experience in any degree of that desire is sinful and it’s something we should repent of when we become aware of it.”

12/9/2014 9:24:22 AM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS | with 0 comments



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