January 2012

2012 could be make or break year for future of gay 'marriage'

January 26 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The effort to redefine marriage nationwide could take a critical turn either way this year, with as many as four more states potentially legalizing gay “marriage” or as many as six states possibly voting to protect the traditional definition of marriage.

Gay activists also could reach one of their biggest goals: a first-ever victory at the ballot box.
All of the states involve legislatures or voter initiatives in what is shaping up to be the busiest year yet in the political battle over marriage’s definition – even more so than 2004. During that year, 13 of 13 states voted to amend their constitutions to define traditional marriage during a year that saw a social conservative wave. But no legislature in 2004 was threatening to pass a gay “marriage” bill, as is the case this year.

Washington is one of those states.

“Ultimately the people will decide on marriage [in Washington],” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the conservative Family Policy Institute of Washington, the state currently in the spotlight. “And in 31 out of 31 states, they’ve voted not to redefine marriage, and we don’t expect that Washington will be any different.”

Democratic-controlled legislatures in Washington, Maryland and New Jersey are set to consider gay “marriage” bills, while Maine citizens are set to vote on a gay “marriage” referendum in November. If those four states redefine marriage, it would provide gay activists with a milestone: same-sex “marriage” would be legal in 10 states.

But conservatives – who warn that religious liberty will take a hit if those bills pass – also could win in each of those states. Washington and Maryland allow citizens to place recently enacted laws directly on the ballot, and New Jersey’s governor has threatened to veto that state’s bill while also urging it to be placed before voters. Elsewhere, North Carolina and Minnesota citizens will consider constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. In New Hampshire, the Republican-controlled legislature is poised to vote on a bill that would reverse that state’s gay “marriage” law. When including Maine, voters in at least six states could have their say on marriage.

All total, the action in the states could make gay “marriage” a major presidential campaign topic.

“[It is] already shaping up to be a ‘make or break’ year for marriage in America,” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a traditional group, wrote in an email to supporters.

For the moment, all eyes are on Washington state, where Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire announced in early January her support for a gay “marriage” bill and where the state House and Senate apparently have the votes to pass it. Adding to momentum for the bill, some of the nation’s top companies based in the Pacific Northwest – Microsoft, Nike and Starbucks – have endorsed it. Unlike its border state of Oregon, Washington does not have a constitutional amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage.

Voters, though, will make the final decision in Washington. If it is signed into law, opponents will have 90 days to gather about 150,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. The petition drive likely will be successful: In 2009, conservative groups successfully placed on the ballot Referendum 71, which attempted to overturn a domestic partnerships law that granted gay couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. Voters retained the law, 53-47 percent. This year’s gay “marriage” bill is even more controversial.

The purpose of marriage, Backholm said, is not individual happiness and governmental benefits.

“The purpose is a recognition of the fact that children come from heterosexual sex and that we want to unite the parents of those children to each other and parents to their children as often as possible,” Backholm said. “The purpose of marriage is to create the greatest likelihood that children will be raised by their mother and father.”

Despite what supporters of gay “marriage” argue, mothers and fathers are not “interchangeable and replaceable,” Backholm said.

Washington is the latest example of gay activists using civil unions or domestic partnerships as a stepping stone to pushing for gay “marriage.” That happened in several other states, including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, used his January State of the State address to call for the legislature to pass civil unions.

Traditionalists warn the legalization of gay “marriage” would have a widespread negative impact on society, affecting the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, the religious liberty of private businesses and curriculum in elementary schools.

Following is a 2012 state-by-state overview of the marriage political battle:
 
North Carolina: Voters in the Tar Heel State will get a chance May 8 to define marriage as between a man and a woman. All four states that border North Carolina already have constitutional marriage amendments. The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” The amendment also would prohibit New Jersey-style civil unions that grant all the legal benefits of marriage, without the name. For information, visit www.VoteForMarriageNC.com.

Maryland: One year after seeing a gay “marriage” bill die in the House of Delegates, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has made a bill one of his priorities this year. A bill passed the Senate in 2011 but did not receive a vote in the House, partially because of opposition from black pastors. Democrats control both chambers. Even if the bill is signed into law this year, Maryland citizens could collect signatures and place the issue on the ballot.

New Jersey: Leaders in the Democratic-controlled legislature have made a gay “marriage” bill one of their top priorities, even though Republican Gov. Chris Christie has vowed a veto. “We are going to send this to the governor’s desk somehow,” Senate Democratic leader Loretta Weinberg told the Associated Press, which reported the bill does not have veto-proof margins. Christie says he wants the issue to be placed on the ballot.

Maine: Three years after Maine voters rejected a gay “marriage” law, 53-47 percent, gay activists in the state are set to place the issue back on the ballot. They’ve collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot and are hopeful they can make the state the first where voters embrace gay “marriage.”

New Hampshire: The Republican-controlled House and Senate have veto-proof margins, and they’ll need them in order to get a bill overturning the state’s gay “marriage” law past Democratic Gov. John Lynch. Lynch signed that bill in 2009 when Democrats were in charge, but Republicans took back control during the 2010 election. The compromise bill would reverse the law but allow existing “marriages” to remain intact while putting civil unions back in place. Lynch is certain to veto it.

Minnesota: Voters in November will consider a constitutional amendment that says “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.” Conservatives say the amendment is needed: a lawsuit that would legalize “gay marriage” is making its way through state court. A majority of states – 29 – already have similar amendments. For information, visit www.MinnesotaForMarriage.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/26/2012 1:57:13 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



St. Louis: 75 new churches is goal

January 26 2012 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

ST. LOUIS – Southern Baptists in St. Louis hope a revitalized city is on the horizon. Yet they’re not banking on economics or politics to make it happen.

Instead, they’re counting on the gospel.

“I’m thinking that there can be a faithful gospel presence literally in every community in St. Louis,” said Kenny Petty, a Southern Baptist church planter in St. Louis.
 
“What would that look like? ... You’d see crime go down. You’d see the dropout rates lessen. You’d see teen pregnancy go down,” Petty said.

“These things are heart issues. And there’s only one thing that can deal with the heart of man and that’s the gospel of Jesus.”
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Photo by Elizabeth Comer

With more than 2.8 million people in the metro area, St. Louis is among North America’s great unreached urban centers. Less than 15 percent of the city’s population is affiliated with an evangelical church and nearly half of the population is unaffiliated with any religious group – Christian or otherwise. Through Send North America: St. Louis, local Southern Baptists plan to start more than 75 churches in the city during the next five years.


Yet, only 14.8 percent of metro St. Louis’ 2.8 million people are affiliated with an evangelical church, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Even though Southern Baptists have been in the city for as long as there has been an SBC, there’s only one SBC church or church-sponsored mission for every 7,037 residents.

Local Southern Baptists have begun efforts to start more than 75 new SBC churches in the city over the next five years through their Send North America: St. Louis initiative.

Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national strategy to mobilize and assist individuals and churches to get involved in hands-on church planting in 29 major cities and other areas throughout the continent. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.

A team of St. Louis Southern Baptists has been meeting since August to develop the local strategy. While there are vast church planting needs throughout the metro area, starting churches among the mostly African American urban core is one of the highest priorities of those developing the strategy of Send North America: St. Louis.

“We’re like most Southern Baptists in urban environments in that we vacated our cities 30-50 years ago to go and move to the counties and suburbs,” said Jim Breeden, executive director for the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association. “So there is a huge need and gap for new church plants in the urban core – or what we call ‘the city.’”

Send North America: St. Louis organizers have been particularly aware of the city’s racial divide. While penetrating the large pockets of lostness within the city is the primary objective, many believe intentionally cultivating indigenous African American church planters can help bridge that divide.

“I think people want to see real gospel change,” said Kenny Petty, a St. Louis native who is starting The Gate in University City, an inner-ring suburb of St. Louis. “And the gospel changes things like no other – even race. Racial issues, economic issues are changed through and from the gospel.”

St. Louis also needs more non-English speaking church plants. Local Southern Baptists say the city has more than 60,000 Bosnians and receives some of the largest amounts of Iraqi refugees in the country. Those planning Send North America: St. Louis would like to train indigenous leaders from these nations to start new churches within their communities.

Reaching the city’s international population won’t be easy. Just ask North American Mission Board church planter Yoshi Ubukata, who started a church five years ago to reach the city’s growing Japanese population. At the time, Ubukata said, there were no Japanese-speaking churches that he knew of in the state of Missouri.

Nearly five years into the life of Japanese International Harvest Church, the congregation has grown steadily to around 35. “Most of the Japanese people don’t know anything about Christianity because they were brought up in a totally pagan culture,” Ubukata said. “The gospel is very strange to them.”

Yet Ubukata knows the Japanese people are much more likely to respond to the gospel in North America than back home in Japan. “They don’t like to be different from other ‘normal’ Japanese people,” Ubukata said. “The Christian population among the Japanese people is still said to be less than 1 percent. If you’re Christian, you’re very different from other Japanese people.”

St. Louis Southern Baptists realize they can’t reach their goal of 75 new church plants alone. A vast increase in partnerships will be needed.

“I’ve found that one of the great things that a church planter needs in that season is other congregations, other churches, other friendships that will come around him, and where he can know people are praying for him. And when they say they’re praying for him, they mean it,” said Jason Zelmer, who planted Peine Ridge Church in nearby Wentzville in 2010.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To learn of opportunities for involvement in Send North America: St. Louis, visit namb.net and click on the “mobilize me” button. The site includes videos that can be viewed and downloaded for church settings about the need in St. Louis and other major cities in North America.)

Related story
Barbershop patrons stir a church plant
1/26/2012 1:49:22 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Barbershop patrons stir a church plant

January 26 2012 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

ST. LOUIS – You can tell a lot about a community from the inside of a barbershop. Just about everyone, at some time or another, needs a haircut.

Yet of all the patrons at the beauty and barbershop operated by Sean and Taquella Boone in metro St. Louis, one group stood out to the couple – young African–Americans who wanted no part of the traditional church.

The Boones saw them every day. They needed to hear about Jesus, but most wouldn’t have felt comfortable in the aging churches nearby.

“There’s this huge generation of people who just have never heard the gospel in a language they can understand,” Sean Boone said.

So Boone started a church, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, three years ago to reach people no one else was reaching – the kind of people who frequented his barbershop. Now a North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter working bivocationally, he is one of a handful of church planters engaging metropolitan St. Louis with the gospel in new and fresh ways.

St. Louis Southern Baptists hope to see at least 75 new churches started in the next five years through Send North America: St. Louis.

Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s national strategy to mobilize and assist individuals and churches to get involved in hands–on church planting in 29 major cities and other areas throughout the continent. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
01-26-12stlouisside.jpg

Photo by Elizabeth Comer

North American Mission Board church planter Sean Boone cuts the hair of a patron at the barber and beauty shop he and his wife Taquella own. God used the shop to help call Boone to start New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, a Southern Baptist church plant in metro St. Louis.


The community that New Beginnings Christian Fellowship calls home – Hazelwood in the North County communities of St. Louis County – has been in the midst of nearly constant change over the last seven years Boone has lived there. He estimates that the African–American population has grown from around 55 percent to more than 75 percent, with much of the increase stemming from the relocation of those living in public housing to the area.

“We still have some Anglos in the community,” Boone said. “But they no longer are doing life with the African–Americans. Their kids no longer go to school with our kids – they’re either in private schools or homeschooled. We’ve experienced ‘white flight’ in our area. For the most part, North County has become an urban environment.”

Boone believes the vast majority of the community doesn’t attend church – mostly because surrounding churches are speaking a different language and meeting a different set of spiritual needs.

“Established churches exist to meet the needs of established church people,” Boone said. “A person who has a history of attending church wants to see things done a certain way and wants to have programming that meets their spiritual needs.

“For the unchurched person, none of those things are important. In fact, most of those things are unattractive to the person because they’re seen as part of a system of religion.”

Boone initially came to metro St. Louis to pastor a traditional church in the city. But he soon realized “I was trying to be this professional clergyman, this established church pastor. And it was costing me too much of my individuality to try to fit that mode.”

Now at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, Boone has sought to make sure the church isn’t doing anything that unnecessarily stands in the way of guests hearing the gospel.

That includes changing a variety of terms for typical church activities. Instead of preaching a sermon, Boone teaches a lesson. Instead of having an altar call, he provides guests with a life–change opportunity.

Boone loves to tell the stories of people once far from God who’ve connected to New Beginnings and turned their lives over to Christ in the process. For example, Boone worked every day with Reggie Jackson at the barbershop. After a painful experience at a church, Reggie began searching spiritually and eventually joined a cult. Reggie frequently talked and sometimes debated scripture with Boone and eventually the two started studying the Bible together regularly.

“Through that, he was able to hear the gospel in his own heart language,” Boone recounted. “He responded to it, and he and his family decided to come and be a part of our church plant. Now several other family members have responded to the gospel just because the two of us had a conversation in the barber shop.”

Boone believes church plants can be more effective when they’re connected with strong partner churches. A partnership with Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., has been particularly helpful for New Beginnings, which has 50 people in attendance most Sundays. Second Baptist has come to St. Louis and helped the church with a block party, door–to–door ministry and mail–outs.

Since most of the people at New Beginnings are new believers, Boone said many don’t fully understand their part in the church’s ministry. That’s why the partnership with Second Baptist has been so crucial.

“They’re not only helping us with their resources,” Boone said, “but they’re giving our congregation an example of what it’s like to live on mission.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To learn of opportunities for involvement in Send North America: St. Louis, visit namb.net and click on the “mobilize me” button. The site includes videos that can be viewed and downloaded for church settings about the need in St. Louis and other major cities in North America.)

Related story

St. Louis: 75 new church is goal
1/26/2012 1:42:40 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Lawsuit aims to remove cross from water tower

January 26 2012 by Connie D. Bushey, Baptist & Reflector

WHITEVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – To show support for a Tennessee town facing legal action against a cross atop its water tower, area residents carried a 12-foot cross nine miles to Whiteville, where it was presented to city representatives during a rally that drew about 350 people.

The effort was organized by Jimmy Sain, a member of First Baptist Church in Bolivar, Tenn., where the Jan. 21 walk originated.

The controversy, which has drawn local and national attention to the town of 3,000, has brought Whiteville residents together, several residents told the Baptist & Reflector newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Many homes and businesses in Whiteville bear crosses to show support for the cross on the water tower.

A federal lawsuit against Whiteville is being pressed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit group based in Wisconsin which represented a complainant that the town is displaying “a patently religious symbol such as a Christian cross on public property,” according to an article on the foundation’s website.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation also has sent complaints to Somerville, Tenn., which also has a cross on its water tower. But the foundation has taken no further action because, according to its website, “FFRF ... currently lacks a resident willing to be a plaintiff.”
01-26-12cross.jpg

Photo by Jacob Moore/The Jackson Sun

A cross atop the water tower in Whiteville, Tenn., has prompted a federal lawsuit that, in turn, has stirred local residents to place crosses in their yards.


Whiteville Mayor James Bellar, who attends Morris Chapel Baptist Church, has represented the city during much of the fray but has been instructed by attorneys not to speak further on the matter. Bellar had planned to accept the cross carried from Bolivar but was advised not to. Instead, a local businessman who has made most of the crosses for Whiteville residents’ yards accepted the cross.

When the foundation learned of Bellar’s intention to accept the cross on his private time on a Saturday, Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, told WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tenn., “[T]his is what the founders of our nation really wanted to avoid, the union of religion and government, the appearance that government officials were part of religion or promote religions.”

Gaylor said it made no difference whether the mayor accepted the cross as a citizen or the mayor. “He’s accepting the cross in his behalf as mayor of Whiteville. He’s on record using his mayoral powers to promote religion to defend religion and government, so you have to look at the pattern,” she said.

After the federal lawsuit was filed last October, the city removed an arm of the cross and removed crosses posted on public land, but the FFRF lawsuit has not been dropped.

The cross was bought and installed on the water tower eight years ago after an effort led by a ladies Sunday School class of First Baptist Church in Whiteville. Members of the class were familiar with the cross on Somerville’s water tower, checked with the mayor and, after receiving the go-ahead, launched a fundraising effort for the cross.

Sain said he has watched all that has occurred and decided to let Bellar know of his support and to take a stand for Christianity, he explained, by organizing the walk, which was dubbed the Cross Walk.

Sain said he doesn’t agree with the way FFRF is interpreting the law and lauds Mayor Bellar for being courageous against the demands of the foundation and the unnamed complainant.

He also said he doesn’t think an organization from so far away and with a lot of money should “pick on” a small town with little money and its mayor.

According to reports, the city of Whiteville will not suffer financially from the lawsuit because it has insurance to cover such a situation.

Sain, who works for a helicopter operation, said he was glad to organize the walk/rally. He was helped by Martha Anderson, a fellow member of FBC, Bolivar, who constructed the cross, which weighed about 50 pounds. A group or individual carried the cross for a mile and then transferred it to the next responsible party as organized by Sain.

Bill Sorrell, pastor of First Baptist in Whiteville, said he understands the issue of separation of church and state but believes the majority should rule in a city such as Whiteville where most residents want the cross on the water tower. He and other residents wonder why “a Northern, godless organization can tell us what to do.” The pastor added that residents have become “very emotional” about the cross issue.

One positive outcome of the controversy is how it has united the community, Sorrell said.

He said he heard one astute quip from a resident: If the person who is offended by the cross is an atheist, why are they looking up anyway?

Sorrell also noted that “it takes more of a spiritual effort to put up a cross in your heart” than put up a cross in your yard. “If everybody who put a cross in their yard would go to church, it would make more of a spiritual impact in Whiteville.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Connie D. Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

1/26/2012 1:33:44 PM by Connie D. Bushey, Baptist & Reflector | with 0 comments



Young people dominate Washington pro-life march

January 25 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON –President Obama and another massive turnout of pro-life Americans gained attention in Washington as the country passed the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion.

The president reaffirmed his commitment to abortion rights, even urging continued efforts to protect those rights for “our daughters.” The White House issued his statement Jan. 22, the date in 1973 on which the Supreme Court issued companion decisions – Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton – that struck down all state abortion restrictions and effectively legalized the procedure for any reason throughout pregnancy.
 
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro-lifers joined together Jan. 23 for the annual March for Life that followed a weekend of pro-life events in the Washington area. The march drew its usually immense crowd in spite of intermittent rain and a temperature in the mid-30s. Young people, especially teenagers, dominated the march.

“Every year the crowd gets younger,” said Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Duke joined in the march, which stretched along the National Mall to the Supreme Court.
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Photo by Doug Carlson

An abundance of young people participated in the annual March for Life in Washington on Jan. 23.


“There was probably only one gray head for every 40 or 50, maybe more, this year,” said Duke, whose first March for Life came in 2004. “I’ve watched that change every year I’ve been in the marches, and this year was utterly astonishing to me. Not only are the young people there – elementary grade kids, high school kids, college kids – but they’re there with a vibrancy, just an excitement about them being part of a movement that is about saving innocent human life. They’re singing; they’re chanting; they’re doing calls back and forth to each other. One of them was: ‘I love babies, yes I do, I love babies, how ‘bout you?’”

He said, “I saw what almost certainly could be described as an emerging pro-life culture among young people in this country.”

Duke said he has “no doubt that we are going to see Roe versus Wade overturned in this country.”

Young people “will change the culture in this country, and they will be part of a movement that will rein in abortion on demand,” he said.

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., one of Congress’ leading pro-life advocates, said preventing Obama from winning re-election in November was vital.

“The past three years of abortion extremism by President Obama is a mere foretaste – a mere foreshadowing – of what will be if he is re-elected,” Smith told marchers, according to prepared remarks. “Given four more years, Mr. Obama will further pack the courts – including and especially the U.S. Supreme Court – with litmus-tested pro-abortion judges perched to retain the infamous holdings of Roe.

“Unhindered and unfettered by any concern over a future election, Mr. Obama will aggressively use the coercive power of the state to compel abortion conformity and complicity,” Smith said. “The predictable consequence: more dead babies, more wounded moms.”

Citing Obama’s intention to call for a “return to American values” in his State of the Union speech the next night, Smith said, “Mr. President, abortion is not, never was and never will be an American value.”

The National Right to Life Committee, one of the country’s leading pro-life organizations, announced Jan. 23 its political action committee’s top priority for the year “is defeating Barack Obama and electing a pro-life president.”

With the aid of a Democratic Senate, Obama has opposed pro-life legislation approved by the House of Representatives. His administration has:

– enacted health-care reform that permits federal funds to subsidize insurance plans that cover abortion.

– restored grants to a United Nations organization that supports China’s coercive population control program.

– approved money for stem cell research that destroys human embryos.

– ordered religious employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives that can cause abortions even if to do so would conflict with their consciences.

– nominated two Supreme Court justices who, both sides of the debate agree, likely would uphold Roe.

In his Jan. 22 statement, Obama said:

“As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption. And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

It was the first time in three years the president expressed a determination to “reduce the need for abortion.” After doing so in 2009, Obama dropped the comment the following two years in his Jan. 22 affirmation of abortion rights.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
1/25/2012 4:17:02 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Survey: Half of churchgoers’ lives not affected by time in pews

January 25 2012 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Almost half of churchgoing Americans say their life has not changed a bit due to their time in the pews, a new survey shows.
 
Barna Group, an evangelical company based in California, found that 46 percent reported no change. About a quarter of Americans said their life was greatly affected by church attendance and another quarter said it was somewhat influential.
 
Two-thirds of respondents said they had felt “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church.
 
Among weekly church attenders, 44 percent said they felt God’s presence every week and 18 percent said they had that experience once a month.
 
In a finding sure to disappoint pastors, three out of five church attenders said they could not recall an important new religious insight from their last church visit. Of those who attended in the previous week, 50 percent could not recall walking away with a significant new understanding.
 
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said the research shows that many churchgoers see the benefits of connecting with God and others in congregations.
 
“Yet, the research results are also a reminder that faith leaders cannot take these things for granted,” he said. “Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking.”
 
The survey results are based on a random sample of 1,022 adults and have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

1/25/2012 4:13:17 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Tahrir Square reflects ongoing tensions, deeper needs

January 25 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

CAIRO, Egypt – Lucy Hamilton* can’t really explain it – even on a normal day, the air just feels strange in Tahrir Square.

People bustle about the giant traffic circle in downtown Cairo, going to the Egyptian Museum, to McDonald’s, to kebab shops. Most days, Tahrir doesn’t look anything like the place the world saw on the news a year ago – a square filled with thousands of angry protesters, government soldiers and tanks.

“But there’s always a feeling when I go through there that something’s about to happen,” said Hamilton, a Christian worker who has spent some time in Egypt.

The eerie feeling isn’t eased by the fact that the burned-out government building of ousted president Hosni Mubarak sits on the circle, or that the walls of the large mosque nearby are covered with graffiti about the revolution.

“It just feels volatile even when nothing is really going on,” Hamilton said.

That sentiment sums up most of Northern Africa and the Middle East ever since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010, found its momentum in Egypt in January 2011 and spread across the region, experts say.

“In Egypt at least, there’s a revolution attitude of ‘I can do what I want’ because people are disillusioned, desperate and the police force is unable to keep up with petty crime problems,” Hamilton said.

Protests and violence still break out from time to time, with little if any warning. And international news sources report one after the other that the Egyptian people don’t feel like they have gotten the jobs, economic improvement, new opportunities or respect for which they passionately protested.

“Last year’s revolution was not the revolution that activists ... had been dreaming of,” reported BBC News’ Robin Lustig in Egypt. “The winners, at least for now, were not the socialist and communist activists of Egypt’s labor movement, but ... the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi al-Nour party, who espouse an even stricter form of Islam.”

The new Egyptian parliament met Jan. 23 for the first time since Mubarak was pushed out and arrested, with Islamic political parties holding 73 percent of the parliament’s seats, according to BBC News.
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Genesis Photo.

A year after Egyptians flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the change they demanded is still in limbo. The post-Mubarak parliament has met, but some people fear their new leadership. Some are disillusioned, some are desperate but all have need of the change that only Christ can bring, believers familiar with the region say.


“Many people are still optimistic, but by far not all. One man I talked with said Egypt isn’t ready for a democracy,” said Beth Judson*, a Christian worker who visits Egypt from time to time. “Another woman I spoke with is terrified of the new government. She became visibly upset talking about it and thinks things will be much worse. When we talked about how the people voted, she said, ‘What have we done?’“

The changes in Egypt haven’t been as deep as many expected, but they have still made a region-wide impact, said Nik Ripken*, who has served 25 years with the International Mission Board and is an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts.

“I believe that the Arab Spring and what has happened in Egypt has begun to redefine the Arab if not the entire Muslim world,” Ripken said. “What has happened to Mubarak has so terrified the leaders of countries like Yemen and Syria – and, of course, we saw what played out in Libya – that no dictator or leader is now willing to participate in a peaceful transition to a more democratic or less corrupt form of government.”

It seems to those leaders that the only option is to die or go to jail, he said.

The people seem to want something as different as possible from the leadership they had – and that may mean a more Islamic form of government, Ripken said.

Citizens of these countries may have viewed their leaders as “something less than true, practicing Muslims” because of their dictator-like rule and ties with the West, Ripken said. “So what I would expect of these countries, if they do actually experience something nearing an Arab Spring, is that the population in general will turn to Islam more now than before.”

But with this, much like Tahrir Square on its peaceful days, things may not be exactly as they appear, he said.

“This is not necessarily a bad thing from a believer’s point of view, because having conversations concerning faith and religion are more important for us than conversations about government and corruption,” Ripken said. “Often it is in the most conservative of Muslim hearts that we are finding God appearing to them in dreams and visions and sending them on a spiritual pilgrimage that can last for years, where they secretly read the Bible many times and have quiet discussions with followers of Jesus Christ.”

Hamilton said a sense of hopelessness in the government also can bring them to Christ.

“We hear that many are turning to the One whose Kingdom is just and merciful and has no end,” she said. “The church in Egypt also seems to be waking up as never before. It is great to watch Him use His church in the work of revolutionizing hearts.”

In the light of this, prayers for the Arab world could look different from what believers in the West might normally pray, Ripken said.

“If you were talking to many Western Christians and we asked ourselves how to pray for places like Egypt, we might pray for stable government, government that is not corrupted, for government that is representative. But those are often very Western prayers,” he said. “We want to pray that we will take every opportunity we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give that cold cup of water in Jesus’ name. We must pray for the absence of fear for both believers in country and those from the West who are seeking to meet the needs of both the body and soul inside these countries.”

In many countries in revolution, the violence is so dramatic and unpredictable that access to the gospel is “almost impossible,” Ripken said. A sound prayer, he said, would be to ask for people to have access to the gospel through any means possible.

Another, he said, would be that believers would begin now to learn the languages and cultures of unstable areas so that they would be ready at a moment’s notice should doors open to take the gospel there.

“One mistake that believers in persecution have taught us that we often make is that we prepare for open doors once they are open,” Ripken said. “Yet now we have time to prepare the next generation for going to people groups and countries that have experienced massive change.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)

Related story
1/25/2012 4:04:28 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Human trafficking event stirs fight against ‘modern-day slavery’

January 24 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Tasha is a 15-year-old runaway who was kicked out of a troubled home. An older man took her in, and he offered to care for her. Instead, he beat her and forced her into prostitution. Having nowhere to go, Tasha felt trapped and afraid to leave.
 
This is just one of the stories of human trafficking shared Jan. 20-21 at the Summit Church in Durham during an event called “Project Freedom: Human Trafficking Training – A Call to Action.” The event was presented by the Wake County Salvation Army.
 
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BSC photo by Mike Creswell

Erica Snyder, who works with Wake County’s Salvation Army, talks Jan. 20 to a group about human trafficking. She encouraged churches to get involved in fighting this modern-day slavery.

More than 200 people attended the event to learn how they can become educated and involved in fighting human trafficking, and ultimately, help victims find a new life.
 
It’s an issue everyone – especially Christians – should be involved in fighting, said Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling for The Summit Church.
 
“It is a subject … so easy to ignore,” Hambrick said. “[We can] become the hands and feet for something that is very strong on the heart of God.
 
“Some of Jesus’ strongest words were spoken against those who would do anything to harm a child.”
 
Some studies show that 12.3 million people are being trafficked for sex, labor or domestic servitude in the world today. Others contend that 30.5 million are trafficked. Because the industry is underground there is no way to know for certain the number of human trafficking victims, said Erica Snyder, with the Salvation Army’s Wake County office.
 
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” she said. “With the Emancipation Proclamation slavery ended [in the United States], but in fact, it is just more underground than ever before.”
 
Human trafficking – which can involve force, fraud or coercion – has become the second largest criminal enterprise. Right now it is tied with the sale of weapons, Snyder reported during the event.
 
According to Snyder’s report, the largest criminal industry is drug trafficking. Human trafficking, which has become a $32-billion industry, is a growing problem that is happening in both the inner city and the suburbs. Human trafficking victims can be found in a nail salon, restaurants, a neighbor’s house and many other places.
 
The Wake County office began offering emergency and long-term case management services to foreign-born victims of human trafficking about six months ago. Since then the office has begun work on 19 cases of human trafficking – cases that involve 26 individuals.
 
“We’ve seen sex and labor trafficking here in North Carolina and know that we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg,” Snyder said.
 
The Southeast accounts for 19 to 23 percent of human trafficking in the United States, Snyder said. Snyder addressed reasons why N.C. is vulnerable to human trafficking.
 
One reason involves the interstate highway system.
 
“We are really well connected … you can go from New York to Florida [on Interstate 95],” Snyder said. “The same roads that drugs go up and down, [trafficked] people go up and down.”
 
Though the industry is growing, the monetary value of a human life has gone down through the years, Snyder said.
 
“In 1810 a person was valued at $5,000 to $6,000,” she said. “Today, a person can be sold for $550.”
 
There are things that people – specifically churches—can do to help fight human trafficking, Snyder said. 
 
Some ways include offering more training events, providing counseling, donating a week’s offering to a local organization that fights human trafficking or donating clothing or food to shelters for trafficking victims.
 
“There are trafficking victims who identify with a particular faith,” she said, “and would be comfortable going to somebody in the faith community to get spiritual guidance and healing.”
 
Lisa Shaeffer is a member of the Summit Church and lay leader of its human trafficking ministry. She and a small group of members started the effort last fall to find ways to help victims.
 
The group plans to go to a South Asian country in September with Tiny Hands International. There, they will work with partners in the country who fight human trafficking.
 
The three purposes of the church’s human trafficking ministry, Shaeffer said, involves education, prayer support, and partnering with organizations that have a Christian perspective, such as the Salvation Army and Tiny Hands International.
 
“We don’t want to just save the body, but we want to reach the soul, too,” Shaeffer said.
 
“At Summit our motto is love God, love each other and love the world,” she said.
 
“We’re really trying to take a Christian approach to trafficking because it’s great to rescue people out of it, but … we’re trying to rescue the whole person.”
 
For more information about how your church can help, contact the Salvation Army at keepthebellringing.org. To report cases of human trafficking call (888) 373-7888.

1/24/2012 7:38:20 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



‘R’ movies make less money

January 24 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – R-rated movies continued to generate smaller profits for Hollywood last year, though the movie industry released 205 R-rated films compared to just 18 G-rated movies.
 
“Year in and year out, our statistics show that moviegoers prefer family friendly movies with positive Christian, wholesome, patriotic, conservative and traditional moral values,” Ted Baehr, founder and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, said.
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In 2011, R-rated movies averaged $10.8 million, compared to $12.6 million in 2010 and $14.9 million in 2009. But G-rated movies averaged $34.6 million last year compared to $56.6 million in 2010 and $19.9 million two years ago.

Not only do G-rated movies make three to five times more money than R-rated movies, they also surpass R-rated films on DVD and Blu-Ray, Baehr said, adding that PG movies also do better on average.

“Middle America wants to see, rent and buy entertaining movies with Christian, biblical values that they can show to their whole family,” Baehr said in a news release Jan. 4. “They want to see good triumph over evil, justice to prevail, truth to defeat falsehood and purity to conquer lust. They reject movies with explicit, graphic sex and violence.”

Baehr said Hollywood does not know how to market to the average American.

For more information, visit movieguide.org.
1/24/2012 7:30:36 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Girls Embrace Ministry to hold retreat Feb. 3-4

January 23 2012 by BSC Communications

Pam Gibbs is passionate about girls ministry not only because she knows it’s a great need, but more importantly, because she has seen the fruit that comes when adults invest in the lives of girls.
 
“Do not give up on these girls. The fruit is not going to come for a long time, and that makes ministry hard, but after adolescence they will come back and thank you,” said Gibbs, Girls Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
“We have a generation of girls who have no one mentoring or discipling them. The next generation depends on the church stepping up and doing what the church is supposed to do.”
 
Gibbs is the plenary speaker for the Girls Embrace Ministry (GEM) retreat Feb. 3-4 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
 
GEM is a ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that seeks to encourage 7th-12th grade girls to walk with Christ in their everyday circumstances and to begin building a legacy of faithfulness.
 
Gibbs said girls today face more challenges than she ever thought possible, and the intensity of these issues continues to deepen. From lacking a sense of self-identity and value to struggling with what it means to be modest, girls struggle with a number of issues and they need to know where to turn for help.
 
“I really want them to grasp God’s love for them,” she said. “I want them to come away from the retreat with a sense of the depth and height and breadth of God’s love that is beyond comprehension.”
 
Girls also need to learn how to process their faith in a digital world. “We have the most connected generation in history – but we are the most disconnected generation,” Gibbs said.
 
“We are relying on technology to do things we were supposed to do face-to-face.”
 
Today’s generation is also a busy generation, and so Gibbs encouraged girls ministry leaders to focus on building community and less on doing activities and events. Girls ministry cannot become just another item on the to-do list that gets crossed off each week.
 
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“Be really intentional in ministry,” she said. “Girls ministry is all about relationships.”
 
The GEM retreat is an opportunity for girls and their leaders to discover the value of mentoring and the lifelong difference it can make. Many adults are hesitant to mentor because they do not think they know enough to mentor, and they doubt anyone wants them as a mentor.
 
Gibbs said the reality is just the opposite.
 
“This generation is saying, ‘please disciple me,’” Gibbs said. “They are craving mentoring. Only a godly woman can teach a girl how to be a godly woman.” 
 
Ashley Allen, Director of Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries, said many adult women are still working through things that happened to them as girls and teenagers. Whether they lacked godly role models in their life or did not have someone to mentor or disciple them, what happens during childhood and adolescence impacts adulthood.
 
“Older, mature women in Christ investing in younger women who are just beginning or learning to walk with the Lord is a biblical mandate outlined in Scripture,” Allen said. “Titus 2:3-5 outlines this principle for women of all ages in the church.”
 
The theme for this year’s GEM retreat is “More precious than jewels,” based on Proverbs 31:10. The weekend retreat will include worship, plenary sessions and break out sessions.
 
“Our desire is to help girls and their leaders understand their worth in Jesus Christ,” Allen said. “He alone has made them worthy because of what He has done and who He is. We want girls to understand that their worth is not based on what they do.”
 
Break out sessions will be offered for girls as well as their leaders. Cathy Moffett, director of student ministries at Burlington Christian Academy, is leading a break out session for girls about peer pressure and a session for leaders on understanding issues girls face today.
 
“One of the issues girls face is not having good role models,” Moffett said.
 
“We’ll look biblically at how to be empowered to help girls face different issues, how to build healthy relationships, and how to build the right discipleship steps into their lives during this season.”
 
Moffett will also address the issue of identity and the idolatry that comes when girls try to find their identity in anything other than God. She will help girls learn to base their opinion of themselves not on what others think about them, but on the fact that God loves them where they are.
 
“Girls need to be encouraged and they need help finding their way,” Moffett said. 
 
“A lot of the messages girls get are destructive. They need people who care about them. I deeply care about them. I want to see them joyfully becoming the women God intended them to be.”
 
The breakout sessions are based on input from girls and girls ministry leaders from across the state about the topics they most wanted to learn about.
 
Break out session topics include:

Topics for girls: “Sharing my faith with my peeps,” “Face time with God,” “Mean girls,” “Living pure in an impure world” and “Who am I: Identity in Christ.”

Topics for leaders: “Setting a godly example,” “Social media savvy,” “Connecting with parents,” “Mentoring generation millennial” and “Praying for the girls in your ministry.”
 
The registration deadline is Friday, Jan. 27. To register or for more information, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gem, call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5561 or email embracenc@ncbaptist.org

1/23/2012 1:33:36 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments



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