February 2013

Union Univ. tornado: 5 years of renewal

February 7 2013 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

JACKSON, Tenn. – Union University students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends celebrated God’s goodness and providence on the five-year anniversary of a tornado that destroyed much of the campus Feb. 5.

“Our purpose in gathering tonight is not to be nostalgic,” Union President David S. Dockery said. “What we’re doing tonight is something very biblical, which is to remember.”

The service featured testimonies from students, a devotional from Dockery and singing and prayer in Union’s G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel in Jackson, Tenn.

The EF-4 tornado that hammered Union on Feb. 5, 2008, caused about $40 million in damage, leveling 17 buildings and trapping dozens of students in collapsed apartments. Fifty-one students went to the hospital for treatment, nine of them with serious injuries. But despite the damage, no lives were lost.
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Aerial view of Union University’s devastation by a Feb. 5, 2008, tornado.


“We prayed diligently and desperately beginning that night for God to bring renewal out of rubble, to bring restoration out of ruin, and He has answered our prayers,” Dockery said.

Kevin Furniss, one of the students trapped in the Watters Commons building that night, recounted his rescue. Furniss and several friends were buried under nearly 25 feet of rubble for several hours before rescue workers were able to free them.

“We began to pray,” Furniss recounted. “We began to sing hymns and give thanks to God for protecting us to that point.... We didn’t really feel like we had much hope, to be honest.”

Furniss remembers hearing the chainsaws cutting through the debris and smelling the gasoline, until he was finally able to stick his hand into the cold night air and feel a rescue worker grab it.

“It felt like the first time that I received Christ and salvation – the feeling of knowing that I no longer was a part of my sin and my filth, and God has rescued me from that,” Furniss said.

Danny Song was another former Union student who was trapped in a different part of the same building as Furniss. As the tornado ripped through and crushed the structure, Song was thrown to the ground and a couch was blown and wedged next to him – propping up a concrete wall that otherwise would have crushed him.

“I have heard, and I’ve been tempted to feel that, man, I must be pretty great for God to have spared me,” Song said. “I must have either done something great or am about to do something great, because God spared me.
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Aerial view of Union University’s recovery since the February 2008 tornado.


“It’s just a recent realization that it wasn’t about me at all,” Song continued. “It wasn’t about us. It’s just because God’s good. God’s not good because He saved me. God saved me because He’s good. It’s just that the works of God might be displayed in us.”

Dockery, in his devotional, referenced King Hezekiah, of whom the Bible says that God heard his prayers and saw his tears.

“Somehow God uses tears,” Dockery said. “It’s not that our tears get His attention, but He responds with a kind, benevolent, compassionate heart to our tears that cry out for Him. And we cried out to God during those times.”

Basing his comments on 2 Chronicles 29’s account of Hezekiah’s call for a renewal among the people of Jerusalem, Dockery said the tornado changed the way of life on the Union campus.

“Tonight I invite us to recommit ourselves once again to a Godward kind of consecration, to a Christ-centeredness that comes out of God doing something deep in our lives,” Dockery said.

Dockery said that the original hopes in the days after the tornado were that the campus could be rebuilt within five years. Two years later, in February 2010, Union celebrated the completion of the Bowld Student Commons – the last facility that was destroyed by the tornado to be rebuilt.

“That’s the ultimate story tonight – that God is good, and God did something here in our midst that only God can do,” Dockery said. “He did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. Just as He saved us in Christ, so He brought renewal to this campus.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations for Union University and author of “God in the Whirlwind: Stories of Grace from the Tornado at Union University” available at online outlets such as LifeWay Christian Stores and Amazon.)
2/7/2013 2:54:28 PM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Persecution in China climbs for 7th year

February 6 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Government persecution of Christians in China increased in 2012 for the seventh consecutive year, ChinaAid reported Feb. 4, with the government especially moving to eradicate house churches.

Data collected by ChinaAid in 2012 showed a 125 percent increase in sentencings and a 41.9 percent increase in incidences of persecution over 2011, according to the religious liberty group’s 2012 annual report.

Specifically, a total of 132 cases of persecution across China targeted 4,919 individuals, including 442 clergy; the detaining of 1,441, including 236 clergy; and the sentencing of nine people. In 2011, ChinaAid reported 93 cases of persecution, involving 4,322 individuals, 337 of them clergy; the detaining of 1,289 individuals, including 267 church leaders; and the sentencing of four individuals.

“Compared with the statistics in ChinaAid’s past annual reports, this trend of worsening persecution has persisted for the past seven years,” the report said, “with an average increase of 24.5 percent in the total of all six categories of persecution statistics tracked by ChinaAid.”

A secret Chinese government document issued in September 2011, which was released by ChinaAid, verified the focus on eradicating the house church, as did the number of incidences reported.

The government, according to the secret document, was engaged in forcibly banning and sealing churches, pressuring congregations to join the official “Three-Self” church, detaining church leaders and sending them to labor camps on “suspicion of organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement”; and restricting evangelism targeting college students, the secret document indicates.

In spite of the persecution, ChinaAid indicated the church is persevering.
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A woman offers incense at the temple in Chengdu, China, yet very few in the city are devoted followers of any religion.


“China’s churches, especially house churches and church leaders, suffered greater pressure and persecution last year; they also demonstrated great endurance and perseverance,” the report said. “In this police state where Domestic Security Protection agents run amuck, in a society suffering a serious loss of ethic[s] and morals, and when spiritual pollution is worse than Beijing’s air pollution, only Christ’s church stands out like a lamp in the dark, preserving light, hope and peace like a light in the darkness.”

Bob Fu, ChinaAid founder and president, added in the report that China’s house churches “put their trust neither on potentates nor power, much less in man’s wisdom and intellect.”

“Rather, they trust in the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Jesus Christ,” Fu said. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither persecution or freedom, nor poverty or wealth. In the coming year, China’s churches will face new challenges, and they will continue to renew people’s hearts, influence society and glorify the holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

ChinaAid, based in Washington, D.C., is a Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler.)
2/6/2013 2:48:20 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



11th injunction issued against abortion mandate

February 6 2013 by 11th injunction issued against abortion mandate Michael Foust, Baptist Press

ST. PAUL – An appeals court has blocked enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate against a Minnesota business, marking the 11th win by businesses or organizations against the controversial federal policy.

The mandate forces businesses to carry insurance that covers contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B and ella.

The issue likely will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, but so far, the opponents of the policy are winning. Of the 14 cases involving for-profits that have been decided, opponents have won injunctions in 11 cases. Injunctions were denied in three cases, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom.

The case likely is headed to the nation’s highest court because appeals courts – the level directly below the Supreme Court – have issued split rulings. The Seventh and Eighth Circuits have issued injunctions against the mandate, while the Sixth and 10th Circuits have upheld it. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the government in December, although that order did not involve an injunction but instead an order requiring the government to issue new rules for non-profits.

In the latest ruling, the Eighth Circuit unanimously ruled that Annex Medical, Inc., which is owned by a Catholic man, Stuart Lind, does not have to follow the mandate while the case proceeds.

“Lind was unable to secure a plan without the objectionable coverage, because the statute and regulations require all insurers to include such coverage in all group health plans,” the court wrote.

The Eight Circuit panel said Lind is likely to succeed in the case. The ruling involved nominees of Presidents Reagan (Roger L. Wollman), George W. Bush (Steven M. Colloton) and George H.W. Bush (James B. Loken).

Lind is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Americans have the God-given freedom to live and do business according to their faith,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior legal counsel Matt Bowman. “Honoring God is not just important within the four walls of a church; it is important every day, in all areas of life, including in our work. Freedom is not the government’s to give and take away when it pleases. The court did the right thing in issuing its order, and we are confident that this unconstitutional mandate’s days are numbered.”

Of the 44 lawsuits against the mandate, 15 involve for-profit businesses and 29 involve non-profits such as Christian hospitals, universities and charities. A court has yet to issue a ruling on the merits in any of the non-profit cases, and opponents have yet to win an injunction in them. That’s mostly because courts have ruled the non-profits aren’t yet impacted – some had until August 2013 to comply – meaning the cases weren’t, in court terminology, “ripe” to consider. But if the Supreme Court rules against the mandate in the for-profit cases, it would impact the non-profits, too.

Covered under the mandate are emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and ella that can kill an embryo after fertilization and even after implantation. Pro-lifers consider that action a chemical abortion.

The mandate was announced by HHS in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last June, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups and some business owners the most controversial part of the law.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
2/6/2013 2:36:31 PM by 11th injunction issued against abortion mandate Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In India, Bangalore hospital reflects on 40-year legacy

February 6 2013 by Hope Livingston, Baptist Press

BANGALORE, India – A barren tract of land marked the spot in India – no trees, no fences and no buildings, only a dream.

Forty years later, a countless variety of trees and buildings have multiplied on that same tract of land where, now, the Bangalore Baptist Hospital (BBH) has garnered a lasting legacy.

Past and present physicians, staff and students filed into the new Smrithi Auditorium in mid-January. As the strains to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” faded, Benny Woods, director of chaplains at BBH the past five years, delivered three concise points: We can give God thanks for past accomplishments; we can enjoy a sense of His peace in the present; and we can look to the future with hope.

“Our hope is found in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. As symbolized behind me [by a cross], Jesus died for the sins of the world,” Woods said.

The beginnings

The hospital began with the gospel and a high school essay. They inspired the dream of Jasper McPhail, the first Southern Baptist missionary to India, who eventually obtained permission from the government to build a Baptist hospital.
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Photo by Will Stuart

Rebekah Naylor, in her nearly 40 years at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital in India, performed innumerable surgeries, delivered countless babies, trained physicians and administrators, served as director and began the nursing program. Naylor returned to the hospital for its 40th anniversary celebration.


With the general region chosen, Ralph Bethea arrived, searched for and chose the site – a dusty 13-acre strip of land.

John Wikman arrived in 1967 as the first surgeon who supervised the beginnings of the hospital – first as a clinic out of his home in Bangalore, then in a converted cow shed on the property.

“When we got here, we hit the ground with evangelism work,” Wikman said. “We had medical clinics in slum areas where our church work was going on.”

BBH planted its first church in 1968 in Sonnen Halli, known as “Mosquito Village.”

“Before we had the hospital, we couldn’t go into the villages,” Wikman said. “It opened the door to share the gospel.”

As church planting progressed, architects had designed plans for a 200-bed general hospital when an unforeseen messenger arrived.

Franklin Fowler, medical consultant with the then-Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, brought news that the board would prefer an outpatient medical clinic rather than a hospital.

Wikman took Fowler to the state health minister to discuss the proposal.

The minister stated that Southern Baptists received an invitation to build a hospital and anything less would probably result in a revocation of the invitation.

“That meeting saved the hospital,” Wikman said. The architects altered the original plans to begin with 80 beds instead of 200.

BBH broke ground on Feb. 27, 1971, and celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 15, 1973, with Wikman in charge of hospital administration.

Arriving in 1974, William C. Mason, who later took over administration of the hospital, said, “As we were putting the finishing touches on the hospital, I wanted a Christian symbol to put on the wall.”

Today the carved plaque with the scripture – “I am the way, the truth and the life” – can still be seen in the hospital.

After the hospital was completed, the contractor, Arasekia Vasudavan Paramashivan (AVP), would visit every day. “He would come at 10 a.m.,” Mason said, “and ask before leaving if anything needed to be fixed.
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Photo by IMB/Kelvin Joseph

Gift Norman, a physician at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital in India, sees a patient at a community clinic. In a densely populated area of urban Bangalore, doctors and staff from the hospital hold an evening community health clinic in a local church.


“I don’t know of any contractor in the United States who would do that,” Mason said. “They usually disappear when a job is done.”

When asked why he was willing to do this, AVP told Mason, “There are many contractors in India but only a few are chosen to build a temple.

“This is God’s temple, and it is my responsibility to make sure God’s temple works perfectly.”

Growing together

In keeping the hospital doors open, Rebekah Naylor dedicated her life – beginning in 1973 – to BBH.

“I and BBH sort of grew up together,” she said.

The first day Naylor went to work, there were 12 patients.

As BBH expanded, Naylor arrived early and stayed late – performing surgeries, delivering babies, teaching doctors, mentoring one-on-one, training staff, taking up administration, planting churches and more.

“I loved what I was doing, so I was happy in the work,” Naylor said.

Among her many accomplishments, she served as director, trained physicians and administrators, and began the nursing program; yet she managed to make time to write family every other day.

“Letter writing was just what you did, and I did a lot of that – it recorded history,” Naylor said.

During the early years, Van C. Williams came to develop the pediatric department in 1975 and served nine years alongside Naylor.

By 1976, the hospital began to sponsor students from the Christian Medical College in Vellore for medical training.

“One of the students we sponsored is Dr. Naveen Thomas” and another is the current chief executive officer, Dr. Alexander Thomas, Williams said. “That’s what’s helped build the hospital staff – by sponsoring these students.”

In 1978, a nutritional rehabilitation center opened, made of traditional mud brick and a thatched roof.

One day, a lady carried a child covered in a cloth to the pediatric clinic. The 6-year-old weighed only 15 pounds.

She experienced many complications before Williams was able to move her to the nutritional rehabilitation ward.

“I’ll never forget being able to discharge her,” Williams said of the child who then weighed about 30 pounds.

Handing over management

One of the biggest turning points in the hospital’s history was the request – which came to Naylor in 1986 – by the mission board to sell the hospital.

“That was a very bad time for us,” Naylor recalled.

After three years, the International Mission Board (IMB) handed over management to the Christian Medical College (CMC) and on Jan. 1, 1989, a partnership formed among IMB (then Foreign Mission Board), CMC and the leadership at BBH.

In retrospect, “I think the hospital could never be what it is today without that,” Naylor said. “God turned a seeming bad thing into something good.”

Some of the expansions and schools may never have happened under the leadership of the IMB, which did not allow fundraising.

Without proper leadership, the change of management “still could’ve been bad,” Naylor said, but the IMB remained present, the CMC is a “great place” and by 1989, “the ethos ... was pretty well imprinted” like a child who reaches the age of 16.

“Adding all that together, it has turned out to be a remarkable partnership and it’s been working 24 years,” Naylor said.

Once the partnership formed, Naylor quickly learned how to fundraise in order to find $400,000 to build a private wing, which opened a couple years later in 1991.

“I’m still raising money today for the hospital,” Naylor said.

Alex Thomas, the current CEO, became the first houseman (junior doctor) under Naylor.

During the opening anniversary event on Jan. 11, Thomas said, “It is my pleasure [to introduce Naylor] because I had the privilege of serving under her,” and he recounted with laughter having to be at BHH at 6:30 a.m. every day.

Near the start of his leadership, a man offered to give BBH $1.5 million for the next five to six years on the condition of being allowed to serve as a member of the board.

Thomas refused his offer.

“God has been able to give us much more,” he said.

International reach

With the growth of competitive hospitals nearby, BBH began to train medical students from Malaysia. BBH also has focused on making every division more patient-focused; keeping each department aware of its finances; and instituting performance-based salaries.

Today, BBH is considering additional private beds, increasing its intensive care beds, adding a nine-story hostel for the staff and “looking at whether we need to start a medical college,” Thomas said.

Even as BBH leaders look to the future, former CEOs Naylor, Williams, Mason and Wikman traveled to the hospital’s anniversary in memory of the past.

BBH leaders honored the special guests in traditional Indian fashion with the draping of shawls.

The honorees cut ribbons during their visit to inaugurate a new auditorium annex, hand surgery unit and plastic surgery unit. Before cutting the ribbon, Mason said, “This is the first time I have been back to Bangalore Baptist Hospital in 35 years. I am absolutely stunned.”

Later, over a cup of tea, Carolyn Woods, wife of Benny Woods, said to Mason and the others, “I’m just so happy to be here with all of you who went before.”

That evening, a lamp lighting and a special dance honored the visitors with a cultural flare.

The anniversary celebration concluded Jan. 15 with the planting of 40 trees – one for each year of the hospital’s existence, a groundbreaking ceremony for a new nurses’ hostel and a trip down “Memory Lane” by the guests.

A final testimony by Michael Dean, pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, brought the gathering to a close.

During one of his trips to BBH, Dean visited room-by-room, prayed along with the staff and shared the gospel. One man, who was not doing well, accepted Christ as his Savior during that room visit. The next day when Dean returned to the man’s room, the bed was empty.

“In the night, he went to heaven,” Dean said. “That man is in heaven today because of the ministry of Bangalore Baptist Hospital.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hope Livingston is a writer in South Asia. For more stories on Baptist Medical Missions, go to www.asiastories.com.)
2/6/2013 2:11:34 PM by Hope Livingston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘So God made a farmer’ Super Bowl ad inspires

February 5 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – The late Paul Harvey’s tribute “So God Made a Farmer” was given new life during Super Bowl XLVII Feb. 3, propelling a simple and somber Dodge Ram ad to the top of the popularity chart, past scantily-clad women and the usual commercial hype.

The iconic radio broadcaster delivered his ode in 1978 at a Future Farmers of America convention, adding to the Genesis creation account by stating, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on His planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”
 
He went on to list the daily toils of the American farmer: “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.”

The two-minute Dodge Ram ad, which aired in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, ranked third in the USA Today ad meter, just behind Anheuser-Busch and Tide.

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, tweeted that the Dodge Ram commercial was the best of the Super Bowl “and nobody was half-dressed.” He later added, “After all is said and done with the #SuperBowl, I just want to be a farmer.”

Owen Strachan, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, tweeted, “The commercial breaks show the polar Americas: one loving nobility & honor & country, the other loving lust & hedonism & self.”

Strachan later added, “Is it exaggerating to say that the RAM commercial has potentially restored some civic hope? I think not. We are not alone. Fight on.”

Dave Miller of the blog SBC Voices wrote, “Right after the Dodge Ram commercial about farmers, my Twitter feed lit up. For the people I follow, that commercial was the unquestioned winner of the night.”

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted in regard to the ad, “Loved it!!!”

Secular commentators also raved about the truck ad, with TIME magazine columnist James Poniewozik tweeting, “loved the Paul Harvey Ram ad in spite of myself. Almost Johnny Cash-like raw Americana wordpower.”

Chrysler said the Ram brand commissioned 10 noted photographers including one from National Geographic to take photos of American farmers and farm scenes for the commercial.

The Ram brand has declared 2013 the Year of the Farmer, according to its website, ramtrucks.com. The website urges visitors to “Join the movement. Help the next generation of farmers. Support FFA.”

“From healthy food to reliable American jobs, farming is a vital part of the American way of life,” ramtrucks.com states. “So for every view of our ‘Farmer’ video, the Ram brand will make a donation to FFA. Help us reach our goal of $1 million.”

Harvey’s tribute to farmers ends, “It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed and breed and rake and disk and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk.

“Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh and then reply with smiling eyes when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what dad does. So God made a farmer.”

Theologians have long referred to Adam, the first man, as the first farmer. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

 

Related stories

For more about the Super Bowl, including photos and videos, visit here.


2/5/2013 3:14:24 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Leaders’ national ad exhorts Scouts to avoid ‘grave mistake’

February 5 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – With Boy Scouts board members potentially set to lift the organization’s ban on homosexual troop leaders and members, some of the nation’s leading pro-family groups ran an ad in USA Today Monday urging the Scouts to stand by their current policy – and the groups urged readers to contact the Scouts as well.

The Boy Scouts board is meeting this week, and it could lift the prohibition a mere six months after reaffirming it. Boy Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith told Baptist Press via email no decision had been made on whether the board will vote on the issue, but if there is a vote, it would take place Wednesday.

The Scouts apparently are receiving significant pressure via phone calls and emails to keep their current policy, which prohibits open homosexuals from being troop leaders or members.

The half-page USA Today ad ran on page 9A Feb. 4 with the headline: “To the Boy Scouts of America: Show courage. Stand firm for timeless values.” Changing the policy, the ad said, would be a “grave mistake.” Among the organizations that signed the ad were the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionFamily Research CouncilLiberty CounselBott Radio NetworkAmerican Family Association and Concerned Women for America. More than 40 national and state pro-family organizations signed it.

The Boy Scouts, the ad says, are considering a change only because of pressure.

“Every American who believes in freedom of thought and religious liberty should be alarmed by the attacks upon the Boy Scouts, who have had core convictions about morality for 100 years,” the ad says. “Every Scout takes an oath to keep himself ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts have every right to include sexual conduct in how they define that term. Many of our organizations stood with the Boy Scouts when the Supreme Court of the United States upheld their right to maintain their membership standards. To compromise moral principles under political and financial pressure would teach boys cowardice, not courage.”

The ad concludes: “Every parent concerned about guiding and protecting their own children should also be alarmed by the proposed change to Boy Scout policy. As the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) confirmed as recently as last July, ‘the vast majority of the parents’ of Boy Scouts reserve to themselves the right to introduce and give guidance on sexual topics.

“In addition, the current policy is part of the BSA’s efforts to protect Scouts from sexual abuse. Last year BSA released their so-called ‘perversion files,’ which contained the names of hundreds of sexual predators who had managed to hide their attraction to boys and enter the Boy Scouts. How will parents be able to entrust their children to the Boy Scouts if they trade the well-being of the boys for corporate dollars?”

The ad urges readers to call the Boy Scouts (972-580-2000) and “tell them not to change their membership standards.” It also lists a website (FRC.org/bsa) to obtain contact information for individual Boy Scouts board members.

Under the proposal that could be considered by the board, the national policy would be rescinded in favor of a policy allowing local councils to determine their own policy. That means that a council in one city might allow gay leaders while a council elsewhere might not.

About 70 percent of all Scouting units are operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leads all faith-based organizations with 38,000 units (and 420,000 participating youth), followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth) and the Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000). Baptists are sixth (4,100; 109,000).

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, penned a letter to the Boy Scouts Jan. 31, asserting that changing the current policy defies common sense.

“[W]ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the BSA would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys, which invites real human tragedies. We are not saying homosexuals are pedophiles,” Land wrote. “However, how many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not – not because they believe that such heterosexual men are pedophiles, but because they realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur.”

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

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2/5/2013 3:10:00 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Supreme Court urged not to ‘disqualify’ religious conviction

February 5 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Support by religious citizens of laws affirming traditional marriage does not make those measures unconstitutional, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity and other organizations have told the U.S. Supreme Court.

In two friend-of-the-court briefs, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and other religious groups in urging the high court to rule in favor of a federal law and a state amendment that define marriage as between a man and a woman. The briefs, filed Jan. 29, are in cases for which the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 26 and 27 and likely issue rulings before its summer adjournment.

The Supreme Court’s much-anticipated decisions in the cases could prove momentous in an ongoing, national debate – resulting in either the legalization of same-sex marriage or the affirmation of laws protecting traditional marriage.

The ERLC, NAE and others urged the court in one brief to overturn the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ invalidation of Proposition 8, a 2008 amendment approved by California voters that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In the other brief, they called on the high court to reverse the Second Circuit’s ruling against a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that also defines marriage in federal law as only a heterosexual union.

ERLC President Richard Land said the briefs seek to combat anti-religious discrimination.”

Such discriminatory treatment by courts “would seek to disqualify the votes of people of religious conviction or to say, ‘If your vote was based on religious conviction, it’s somehow disqualified from the debate,’” Land told Baptist Press. “That’s anti-religious bigotry, and these briefs point that out and defend the right of people of religious conviction to be treated with equal value with those who don’t have such convictions. Anything less is anti-religious bigotry by any other name.”

In their brief in the Prop 8 case, the ERLC and its allies contend the Ninth Circuit unjustly depicted the amendment as “a product of anti-gay animus,” or hostility.

Support for the proposition was based on “sincere beliefs in the value of traditional marriage for children, families, society, and our republican form of government,” the brief says. “Only a demeaning view of religion and religious believers could dismiss our advocacy of Proposition 8 as ignorance, prejudice, or animus.”

The ERLC and the others say in the brief they “are united in condemning hatred and mistreatment of homosexuals.” They believe “God calls us to love gays and lesbians” while defending traditional marriage, they say.

Prop 8 “must be judged on its merits according to settled rules of laws – not on a more demanding standard born of antipathy toward religion or religious believers,” according to the brief. “That Proposition 8 was supported by some religious voters or is in harmony with some religious views is constitutionally irrelevant.”

Heightened scrutiny of a law by a court “because of its support by religious voters or its relation to religious beliefs would raise serious First Amendment concerns,” the ERLC and the others argue. “Increased scrutiny could result in the disenfranchisement, or at least dilute the voice, of religious voters.”

The brief acknowledges Prop 8 “takes sides in the moral debate over same-sex marriage” but says such a value judgment cannot be escaped.

“California’s endorsement of traditional marriage as a policy preference does not transgress constitutional limits any more than the thoroughly moral judgments expressed in laws regulating obscenity ... or abortion ...,” the brief says.

In the DOMA brief, the ERLC and its allies contend using DOMA’s adherence to “traditional moral and religious beliefs” would contradict previous Supreme Court rulings that do not permit government to treat religion and religious adherents as subversive.

A “taproot of American citizenship would be damaged if votes cast by the religious – or by their representatives when influenced by religious values – were evaluated more critically by courts than other votes,” the brief says.

“DOMA is entitled to be judged on its merits according to settled rules of law – not on a more demanding standard born of suspicion toward religion, religious believers, or their values.”

In addition to the ERLC and NAE, the other organizations signing onto the Prop 8 brief were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America and Truth in Action Ministries. The same organizations joined in the DOMA brief except for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court’s invalidation of Prop 8, the 41 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage could be forced to do so. If it agrees with overturning DOMA, the federal government would have to recognize gay marriages in the nine states where it is legal.

The states that have legalized same-sex marriage are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Vermont. Gay marriage also is legal in the District of Columbia.

California voters approved Prop 8 after the state Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage earlier in 2008. Congress passed DOMA, and President Clinton signed it into law, in 1996.

The Prop 8 case is Hollingsworth v. Perry, while the DOMA case is United States v. Windsor. Oral arguments in the Prop 8 case will be March 26, while they will be March 27 in the DOMA appeal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
2/5/2013 2:44:51 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In Madagascar, SWBTS sees responsiveness

February 5 2013 by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – A previously unreached people group in southern Madagascar received the gospel eagerly from a team of students and faculty from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, with 180 people professing faith in Christ.

Heeding International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff’s call for Southern Baptists to “Embrace” the world’s unreached, unengaged people groups, Southwestern Seminary has endeavored to reach the Antandroy of Madagascar for Christ.

The Antandroy received their name – literally, “People of the Thorns” – from the cactus plants and thickets native to their homeland.

The Southwestern team began by sharing the gospel in the city of Toliara during the trip in late December and early January, focusing their efforts on two pockets of Antandroy people in the university and among “pousse-pousse” drivers (similar to rickshaw drivers in Southeast Asia). Among both groups, the Southwestern team saw God move.

During the second week of their trip, the team journeyed into the heart of Antandroy territory, driving an average of 10 mph over a rough 300-mile dirt road that is impassible for much of the rainy season, which was just beginning.

Along the way, they prayed for the villages they passed and shared the gospel when possible. They finally arrived at their destination in the town of Ambovombe, which missionaries called the “Wild West” of Madagascar – an appropriate place for a missions team from Texas, said Keith Eitel, dean of Southwestern’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions.

Ronnie*, a student in the College at Southwestern, saw proof of the Antandroys’ readiness to hear and receive the gospel while preaching the gospel on the streets of Toliara, a city on Madagascar’s southwest coast. When 20 men and women responded by professing faith in Christ, the new Antandroy believers immediately asked Ronnie to help them find a church where they could grow in the faith.

Cody*, another student in the seminary’s undergraduate college, recounted the responsiveness in villages surrounding Toliara when sharing the gospel with IMB missionary and Southwestern Seminary graduate Adam Hailes as well as a pastor from the island. Hundreds of people would gather around the team to hear the message of Christ, and many of them professed faith and provided contact information for follow-up.

“People would come up to us to talk about Christ,” Cody said, adding that people’s hearts were opened through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. “The missionaries said it had never been like that before, that the people had never been so open.”

Such an open embrace of the gospel among the Antandroy “is an indication of the ripeness of the timing of God,” Eitel said. While some Antandroy people have been touched by some form of Christianity, much of this is now mixed with pagan practices.

The Antandroy have no Bible translations in their dialect, and less than 2 percent of the people are evangelical Christians. Moreover, until recently, no one has made any strategic efforts to embrace the Antandroy with the gospel and plant churches among them.

IMB missionaries with aid from Southwestern Seminary now are beginning to reach the Antandroy amid significant changes in their society, Eitel said.

“There is a cultural shift that is happening,” Eitel said. “And as the Antandroy are emerging out of the obscurity and the isolation that they’ve lived in, their culture is morphing – by their own design. And what we’re seeing is that, historically, where this has occurred elsewhere in Africa as people emerge into the modern and postmodern world, it is a ripe time for the introduction of the Christian faith because that gives them a global connection. It gives them a sense of enduring worldwide religious substance to their belief.”

Eitel told of a young Antandroy man who was “right in that transitional generation.” While listening to a seminary student present the gospel, the man showed cynicism even about the existence of God. So, after the student shared, Eitel approached the young Antandroy man.

“I went up and sat down beside him,” Eitel recounted, “put my arm around him, and I said, ‘My friend, you are the first African I think I have ever met who is willing to say that he does not believe there is a God. I just wanted to meet you, because you’re unusual. I’ve never known an African who doesn’t believe there is something that he calls God.”

As their conversation progressed, Eitel asked the man why he doubted God’s existence.

“And then [the young man] said, ‘I have nothing against your message or against you. May I really just tell you why I feel this way?’” Eitel said. Then, the man told Eitel how his younger brother had become an evangelical Christian and afterward he lost his sanity and died.

“I’ve never gotten over that,” the man said. “I have grieved over that.”

“So you think that is somehow God’s fault,” Eitel replied.

Since the Antandroy man admitted that his younger brother had been joyful as a Christian, Eitel added, “There could be a thousand reasons your brother died.... Don’t blame the God who gave him that joy for his loss of life. Instead, celebrate the redemption, and don’t ignore that that same God wants to be in your heart.”

At this point in their conversation, Eitel noticed an older man who had been intently listening, and he asked him whether he would like to follow Christ.

“He raised his hand and said, ‘Yes, I do,’” Eitel recalled, adding that the man immediately surrendered his life to Christ. Then, the cynical Antandroy man prayed with Eitel and expressed interest in learning more.

Art Savage, associate director for global mission engagement at Southwestern, also believes “the time is right” for taking the gospel to the Antandroy. He recounted how, soon after leading a young man named Merci to Christ, a crowd of 20 to 30 people gathered around them. After sharing the gospel with the group, Savage asked if anyone would like to step forward and follow Christ.

Immediately, an elderly man in the back of the crowd pushed his way forward.

“I will be the first,” he said, raising his hand. “I want to follow Christ.”

Then another person called out, “I will be the second,” and another one called out, “I will be the third.” That day, dozens of Antandroy men and women professed faith in Christ.

As another team prepares to return to Madagascar this spring, Southwesterners are praying that God will add to these numbers and continue to bring forth a harvest among the “People of the Thorns.” In the meantime, Hailes and other missionaries to Madagascar have begun follow-up and discipleship efforts with those who made professions of faith.

*Names withheld for security reasons.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is senior newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
2/5/2013 2:41:02 PM by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Marriage takes work: Pastors share struggles, victories

February 4 2013 by Shawn Hendricks & K. Allan Blume, BR Managing Editor & BR Editor

Jim Henry will never forget the time his wife made an appointment to see him.
 
Henry, who was pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. at the time, said he thought his wife, Jeanette, was playing a joke on him at first.
 
“Mrs. Henry, is there anything … I can help you with?” he asked her playfully.
 
Jeanette looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’ve got time for everybody else, and now you’re going to take time for me.”
 
“The church was growing, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job at home,” Henry said. “And I realized I wasn’t.”
 
Henry, who today is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Orlando after 28 years of service there, said that was his “kum-ba-ya” moment when he realized he needed to adjust his routine.
 
After 53 years of marriage, three grown children, five grandsons and one great grandson, Henry said that was a defining moment in his ministry. It stirred him to do a better job of balancing his schedule, not over committing himself to ministry, and carving out more “family appointment” time.
 
“Nobody taught me … these things,” said Henry, who pointed out that most young pastors aren’t properly equipped to juggle family and ministry. “I was not taught anything like this at seminary.”
 
And today’s pastors are paying a heavy price – with divorce or leaving the ministry.
 
Now on an advisory committee with Care For Pastors, an organization that ministers to church leaders, Henry said 1,600 pastors are leaving the ministry every month.
 
And one of the main reasons is linked to marriage trouble. Every year more and more pastors are getting divorced, and church leaders – like Henry and others in North Carolina – are looking for ways to curb the trend.
 02-04-13marriage-(1).jpg
Matt Chewning, a church planter in Boston, admits the first two years of giving birth to Netcast Church weren’t easy on him and his wife, Beth, and their four children.
 
“It really was difficult on my wife and me,” said Chewning, who got his start as an intern at 1.21 Church in Winston-Salem.
 
“There is a real enemy who is trying to attack your family. If the enemy can un-unite the husband and wife, that trickles into the church, and there will be disunity in the church.”
 
Finding the balance meant saying “no” more often to the demands of ministry and saying “yes” to his family.
 
“Number one, it says to my wife, ‘You are more important to me than our church,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to cheat on you with the church God has given us.’ If I don’t do certain things, I’m not hindering God’s ability to build this church. 
 
“Jesus is going to build this church.”
 
Too many pastors transfer their loyalty from their families to their church once they begin their ministry, added Eddie Thompson, senior consultant for marriage and family ministry at the Baptist State Convention of N.C. Thompson counsels with pastors and their families and leads a variety of marriage conferences throughout the year.
 
“They don’t mean to [transfer loyalty], but it’s just the nature of the job,” he said. “This really hurts them in the long run.”
 
The sooner pastors learn their families are a critical part of their ministry, the better off the ministry becomes, said Thompson. Pastors often become isolated from their families and friendships over time.
 
“Even though they are around a lot of people … many pastors feel isolated,” Thompson said. “Ask most women, ‘Does your husband have a close friend? No. He doesn’t.’”
 
“When somebody feels isolated this really opens up the doors strongly to temptation.”
 
In addition to infidelity, pornography is a growing “plague” and “cancer” in the lives of many pastors, and it wreaks havoc on their families and their ministries.
 
“This is the number one call I get from staff members from across the state,” Thompson said.
 
“Some are trapped in a world of pornography and don’t like it one ounce. The access to pornography is just too easy.”
 
Thompson cited a poll done by Focus on the Family a few years ago that surveyed 2,000 pastors. The study asked them if they had viewed pornography in the last 20 days. Sixty-seven percent responded with “yes.”
 
Pastors and church leaders must realize they are an “easy target,” Thompson said. “You have the biggest target on your back than anybody.”
 
Facebook creates another temptation for people – including pastors – to engage in inappropriate relationships and extramarital affairs. A study involving 600 divorce attorneys revealed that two thirds of divorces in the United States are linked to the social networking site.
 
“We see Facebook really as [having] an intensely negative effect on the family right now,” Thompson said.
 
“This has really opened the door for pastors, just as much as everybody else.” 
 
Couples must establish boundaries with Facebook and other social networking sites. And congregations must also learn to be sensitive to the fact that pastors, and their families, deal with the same temptations and struggles everyone else encounters.
 
“Many of these pastors and wives are hurting deeply, but they never tell anybody,” Thompson said.
 
“They’re so afraid, and they’re so ashamed, that they can’t make progress on their own. They just continue to exist in a marriage, in a family relationship that’s not very good.”
 
Thompson challenges pastors and their wives not to settle for “less of the marriage that God intended [them] to have.” He said pastors and their wives can schedule an appointment for free counseling anytime. There also are convention-sponsored marriage conferences available throughout the year.
 
But in order to get the help they need, pastors must overcome their fears and reach out for help.
 
While pastors face their own troubles, they usually have a church full of laymen, church staff and leaders struggling to hold their marriages together.
 
Scott and Holly Ladner, who have been married for 12 years, were one of those couples.
 
Today they co-teach a Sunday School class at Apex Baptist Church in Apex for young married couples. But during their first few years of marriage the couple, who now have a 6-year-old daughter, went through a “dark time.” They shared how for months they didn’t even kiss.
 
“What was amazing was that nobody knew what was going on,” Holly said. “There was not any infidelity. There was not any addiction. We were just fighting like cats and dogs.”
 
“We would go to church on Sunday morning, and we were great,” she said.
 
“We would smile. We were participating in Sunday School. To this day, we will have people tell us, ‘Are you kidding me? We had no idea.’ We were really wearing the mask well.”
 
But the couple sought counseling. They also started attending LifeWay’s Festival of Marriage at Ridgecrest.
 
“The only reason[s] Holly and I are still married is number one, Jesus Christ,” said Scott, who is a deacon in the church. “Number two, the … Festival of Marriage. It has saved our marriage, besides Jesus. And that’s no joke.”
 
Attending the annual marriage conference continues to be a part of their “an annual check-up.”
The Ladners hope their story inspires others to know that they aren’t alone and that marriage is worth the fight.
 
Holly said marriage is a journey, one that can be revealed and studied throughout scripture.
 
“The whole Bible is about marriage,” Holly said. “It’s about how much Christ loves His bride … this picture of us being the bride of Christ. It’s been beautiful the way the Lord has taught me through His Word about marriage. It is all about Him.” 

 

Books

  • Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro
  • Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Visionary Marriage by Rob and Amy Reinow
 

Marriage events

  • The Pastor’s Juggling Act: A Pastor and Wife Getaway, Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, June 6-8
Also Oct. 24-26 at Fort Caswell on Oak Island
 
For more information contact Eddie Thompson at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5644. Thompson can also plan events for your church.
  • Festival of Marriage, LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, Oct. 11-13. For more information call (800) 588-7222.
2/4/2013 3:20:58 PM by Shawn Hendricks & K. Allan Blume, BR Managing Editor & BR Editor | with 0 comments



Land urges Scouts to protect values, boys

February 4 2013 by Tom Strode & Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land has urged Boy Scout officials to uphold their long-standing moral values and protect young males by abandoning their proposed policy change on homosexuality.

In a letter Thursday (Jan. 31), the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called on the Boy Scouts of America’s leadership to reverse course on a proposal to lift its ban on homosexual troop leaders and members.

The Boy Scouts national board is expected to vote next week on a recommendation to enable each local Scouting unit to determine its policy on the issue of homosexual inclusion.

Such a change would not only represent a break with the moral values the Boy Scouts of America (B.S.A.) has held for more than a century, but it could have tragic consequences for troop members, Land said.

“[W]ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the B.S.A. would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys, which invites real human tragedies. We are not saying homosexuals are pedophiles,” Land wrote. “However, how many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not – not because they believe that such heterosexual men are pedophiles, but because they realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur.”

Such a policy change would result in huge losses among Scouting units, Land predicted.

“Ultimately, this decision, if adopted, would lead to a mass exodus of traditional faith congregations from the Boy Scouts, including many Southern Baptists, who presently account for a sizeable percentage of sponsoring Scout units and members,” he wrote in his letter to Wayne Brock, BSA’s chief executive, and Wayne Perry, B.S.A.’s president.

About 70 percent of all Scouting units are owned and operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) leads all religious organizations with 38,000 units and 420,000 participating youth, followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth) and the Roman Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000). Baptists are sixth (4,100; 109,000).

Land joined other Southern Baptist leaders who had expressed disappointment with and opposition to the B.S.A. proposal. Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, already had spoken out against the possible change.

Page urged Brock, Perry and another official in a Jan. 28 conference call not to change B.S.A.’s “sexual orientation” policy. “I believe this will be a death blow to Scouting.... I think this is a self-inflicted wound,” Page said.

In a Jan. 30 column for Baptist Press, Page called for Southern Baptists to pray Sunday (Feb. 3) for the B.S.A. board to defeat the recommendation. Many churches will observe Scout Sunday Feb. 3, a date established by the B.S.A.

“Focused prayer on Sunday; board meeting on Monday,” Page wrote. “What a divine moment!”

Critics of the B.S.A. proposal said it would be difficult for Scouting units that agree with the current national policy to maintain it for themselves.

Troops that retain the ban on homosexual leaders “would experience increasing pressure to capitulate on their convictions,” Land said in his letter.

Lawyer Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said the policy change would undermine an important victory the Boy Scouts achieved at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. The justices ruled 5-4 against a challenge to the B.S.A.’s ban on homosexual leaders and members, based considerably on the organization’s teaching that homosexual behavior violates its values, Whelan said.

“But if the national group abandons that teaching against homosexual conduct, it paves the way for activists to sue troops that adhere to the traditional policy and to threaten troop leaders with personal liability,” Whelan wrote Friday (Feb. 1) in the New York Post. “Few troops could afford the expense and hassle of defending against these suits.”

B.S.A. leaders told Page in their conference call they are receiving internal and external pressure to revise the current policy – one they affirmed only six months ago after a two-year review. The Boy Scouts have lost at least three corporate sponsors in recent months: UPS, Intel and the Merck Foundation. All cited the Scouts’ policy on homosexual leaders in their decisions.

The Scout Oath includes these words: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” In it, a Scout also pledges: “To keep myself ... morally straight.”

In his letter, Land said, “The acceptance of open homosexuals into the Boy Scouts ranks would bring this commitment to biblical moral values into question.”

In a Jan. 28 statement, the B.S.A. said the recommendation to revise its policy “would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust is associate editor.)
2/4/2013 3:06:23 PM by Tom Strode & Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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