January 2013

After football, ‘second’ life begins for former player

January 29 2013 by Roman Gabriel, BR Sports Q&A

Chris Sanders knows all about competing in athletics at the highest level. As a standout three-year starter at wide receiver at The Ohio State University, and a member of the track and field team from 1992 to 1994, Sanders set the school record in the indoor long jump, a record that still stands today.

He was named the “Ohio State Athlete of the Year,” across all sports in 1994. The Houston Oilers (who later became the Tennessee Titans) selected him in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. There, he played for seven years. In 1999, Sanders and the Titans made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV, losing to the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams in one of the closest, most memorable games in Super Bowl history. Since his retirement from the NFL, Chris Sanders continues to use his platform as a Christian, husband, father, track and football coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. In an interview, Sanders talked about life after football and mentoring the next generation of student athletes.
Q: What is it about coaching student athletes that inspires you?
A: The reason why I love to coach is that I’m not building a football player. I am building a young man, with my words and my encouragement. I’m teaching them how to be men and building a foundation into their lives. One thing I tell my players I coach is [that] football is going to end at some point, but your destiny is going to continue. That’s the reason I love to coach. You get to speak truth in these kids’ lives and show them how they can become great like God created them to be.
Q: Many pro athletes retire, and they’re remembered only for what they accomplished in a relatively short time. How has God done an even greater work in your second life beyond the NFL?

The Coaches Channel photo

Chris Sanders uses his time in the NFL as a platform to reach the next generation of athletes.

A: When football [is] over and retirement happens, that life starts. Some NFL players retire and think that it’s all about looking at the sunset and blue skies. It can be rough retiring. You have to deal with beating down depression, self-image issues … and all the stuff that comes along with being finished as an athlete. The good part is that we realize that Jesus is our foundation. Jesus is my foundation regardless [of] what’s going on in my life. I can stand. That’s what guys have to come to understand in the NFL. If you have a vision to play football … you can have that vision taken away from you. And then what do you do? But if you have a vision to serve God, if you have a vision to seek His face, if you have a vision to do what He’s called you to do, that vision never stops.
Q: Being an Ohio State guy, you must be pumped up about new head coach Urban Meyer, who helped turn the Buckeye football program around. They were undefeated this year and finished third in the national rankings.
A: Urban (Meyer) has done a great job. I actually went to a game this year. He’s got the Buckeyes fired up, disciplined, and hungry. … Coach Meyer has found a way to get these guys to come back and win. He teaches his kids to never give up. Even though the situation looks crazy, they found ways to pull games out.
Q: What is so important about focusing on character development in addition to football ability?
A: You have to go back to the coaches, especially those coaches that have a vision. Not to just build a football player only. Then you’re doing a disservice to that person. … But if you have a vision for that student athlete to be a great man, a great father, a great leader, a great motivator, and a great student that understands his craft, then at the next level, the NFL [is] just second nature. And if he’s ready, and he’s ready for that moment, he will be successful in that moment.
Q: This year you have been traveling to military bases to speak. Tell us what you’re doing with the Wounded Warrior Project.
A: We really encourage the troops that are going through some tough things to seek help. … We talk about the correlation between the NFL football player who gets hurt, or has to retire, and being a soldier coming back hurt from a war. … And now they’re not in the army anymore. I just go there and tell my personal story.  And [I] use my life to really encourage these young men and young ladies. It’s been an honor and a blessing to really do that.
Q: How does it make you feel having the opportunity to encourage these men and women?
A: It makes me happy. … I get the opportunity to go in there and thank them for what they did and encourage them [and tell them] that they’re not forgotten. They go to war, and they come back home and hear the clapping at the airport. But what happens after that clapping is over? Do people really care? I take the time to show them that Chris Sanders and the Sanders family really cares. It is truly a privilege. … I really appreciate the opportunity to travel to these bases and do this for some of our soldiers.
Q: Chris, you’re so passionate about Jesus and the gospel. Tell our readers and others why a relationship with Jesus is so important.
A: Before I got saved I had no destiny, no purpose. I was just living life, just out there. … One thing I love about Jesus is He busted up in my life and shook my foundation. And [He]made me have a total dependence on him. Yes, we all mess up. We all come up short. But, the one thing I love about Jesus, is the grace He gives [in] my life. I love him, and I adore him. He adores me and He loves me. It is great knowing [that] I played football at the highest level, the NFL. But if I played without Jesus, it would have meant nothing. The NFL stands for “Not For Long.” But with Jesus, He’s everlasting!
(EDITOR’S NOTE –  Roman Gabriel III is president of Sold Out Ministries. He hosts Sold Out Sports on Saturday nights 8 p.m. EST on American Family Radio, and is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Contact him at (910) 431-6483 or email soldoutrg3@gmail.com. His website is www.soldouttv.com.)
1/29/2013 1:52:45 PM by Roman Gabriel, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Upcoming events to equip, encourage girls, women

January 29 2013 by Melissa Lilley, BCS Communications

About 10 years ago Erin Davis was asked to lead a girls’ Bible study about true identity and beauty. Even as a youth pastor’s wife, Davis was initially unsure about how to lead the study because she, too, once struggled with identity and an eating disorder.
As Davis led the girls in Bible study they learned together and were reminded that their identity is found in Jesus Christ.
“God just lit it on fire from there. I’ve been speaking on it ever since,” she said. “God gives us assurance after assurance that He loves us. My passion is equipping women of all ages to really see the depths of God’s truth.”  
Davis is the featured speaker for the upcoming Mother.Daughter Retreat and GEM Retreat, sponsored by Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

BSC file photo by Alexandra King

Girls help a Cross Road Retirement Community resident play a game during the 2012 GEM retreat. First through fourth grade girls and their mothers served together cleaning inside and outside the facility as well as spending time with residents.

Both events will be held March 22-23, with the Mother.Daughter Retreat at Caraway Conference Center and the GEM Retreat at Camp Caraway.
Davis, founder of Graffiti Ministries, will speak to both groups about the importance of studying God’s Word.
“We can always go to the Word for any of our questions about ourselves and the world around us,” she said.
Davis founded Graffiti Ministries to help teenage girls struggling in the areas of identity, self-esteem and true beauty. She will also help participants understand that identity is not based on what others think about them or being part of the crowd.
“We can trace it all the way back to the Garden of Eden. [Satan] is really saying to Eve that who she is isn’t good enough. We are all vulnerable to insecurity.”
GEM (Girls Embrace Ministry) began in 2011 to help girls in grades 7-12 realize their worth in Jesus Christ and His desire to shape and mold them for His Kingdom purposes.
GEM equips girls and their adult leaders for ministry in evangelism, discipleship and missions.
The GEM and Mother.Daughter events will both focus on 1 Peter 3:3-4. The Mother.Daughter retreat, for girls in grades 1-6, also seeks to help teach girls and their mothers how to live a life that is devoted to the Lord and His purposes.
“If you want to invest in your girls, this event would benefit you tremendously. The earlier you start investing, the better your relationship will be,” Davis said. “Parents are the biggest influence on their kids’ spiritual beliefs. They are listening to you.”
Both events feature various break out sessions from leaders such as Marlana Branning, who will soon complete her master’s degree in women’s studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. As part of her course study, Branning served with Embrace director Ashley Allen through an internship and helped with the GEM kick off events. “The women are so hungry to have vibrant ministries, but they don’t have the resources. That’s where Ashley comes in,” Branning said. “I’m thankful for her ministry.”
Branning is preparing to begin a full time position as a girls ministry director, a role she has prayed about since taking her first women’s studies class in college.
“I fell in love with the idea of working with women, and knowing that’s what we’re called to do in scripture,” she said.
“I’m big on relational ministry. That’s what sticks with you; that’s what will always be there,” she said.

Leadership training

Also upcoming for Embrace is the April 11-12 LifeWay You Lead/Embrace Leadership Training in Greensboro. Embrace is partnering with LifeWay Christian Resources to offer a two-day training for women called into leadership roles in local churches and associations for ministry in evangelism, discipleship, missions involvement and leadership.
Training topics include women’s ministry basics, engaging younger women in ministry, ministering to women in crisis, spiritual disciplines for leaders, mentoring, pursuing godliness and a lifestyle of prayer.
Along with Allen, the keynote speakers include Rhonda Kelley, professor of women’s ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Chris Adams, senior women’s ministry specialist at LifeWay.
“The main focus is women’s ministry in the local church,” Adams said. “We want women to know how to reach and disciple women for Christ.”
For 18 years Adams has served with LifeWay in women’s ministry. Prior to joining the LifeWay staff she served in women’s ministry in the local church and the Lord increased her desire to work with women.
Adams said the training event helps provide women with practical ministry tools. 
“We want to equip women to do ministry 24 hours a day, and to not just come to the church and do ministry,” she said.
Adams encouraged women to bring resources to the training that they have found useful in their own ministry, as women will have opportunity to learn from one another and share resources.
“When you see life change, you can’t believe you get to be part of ministry where the Kingdom is being impacted,” she said. “You see that God’s truth really works in the lives of women. It’s an incredible place to be.”
For more information about these events and other Embrace opportunities, visit www.embracenc.org, email embracenc@ncbaptist.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5561.
1/29/2013 1:40:20 PM by Melissa Lilley, BCS Communications | with 0 comments

8-year sentence called ‘rampant denial of religious freedom’

January 29 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian-born pastor who is a naturalized U.S. citizen was sentenced to eight years in a notoriously harsh Iranian prison Sunday (Jan. 27) for “threatening the national security of Iran” by planting Christian house churches.

Reports indicate the sentence came as somewhat of a shock to the pastor’s supporters after Iranian authorities had indicated he would be released.

Saeed Abedini, 32, was in Iran last summer to finish building an orphanage when members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took him away in a bus for prison. He has been held captive and reportedly beaten and tortured since September.

The U.S. government and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have issued calls for Abedini’s release.

“The trial and conviction of Pastor Abedini represent an outrageous miscarriage of justice and yet one more damning piece of evidence pointing to the rampant denial of religious freedom and the absence of any semblance of rule of law in Iran,” USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett said in a statement Jan. 28.

The Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing the pastor’s wife and children living in the United States, said the eight-year sentence “sadly underscores Iran’s brazen violation of international law” and is a “tragic reminder that Iran is one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.”

Abedini’s lawyer apparently learned from a friend of the pastor’s family that the lawyer should report to court Jan. 27 because Abedini was being released, ACLJ said.

Instead, Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court – known as the “hanging judge” for his brutal sentences – verbally convicted and sentenced the pastor despite the country’s law requiring a written verdict, ACLJ reported.

“This is a real travesty – a mockery of justice,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, said in a news release Jan. 27. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release.

“Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed,” Sekulow said.

Upon hearing that her husband had been sentenced to eight years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, described by London’s Daily Mail as “the infamous gulag that houses most of the country’s political prisoners,” Abedini’s wife Naghmeh said the promise of his release had been a lie.

“We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government,” Naghmeh Abedini, an American, said, according to ACLJ. “These false hopes amount to psychological torture. You don’t want to trust them, but they build a glimmer of hope before the crushing blow.

“With today’s development I am devastated for my husband and my family,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil.”

Abedini and his wife have two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

According to World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on the persecuted church, Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000 and helped start house churches in Iran. He had been arrested multiple times by authorities, but Tiffany Barrans, ACLJ’s international legal director, told World Watch Monitor that in 2009 the pastor made a deal with Iran’s intelligence police.

That deal allowed him to come back to Iran to build an orphanage in exchange for staying out of house church work, an agreement his supporters say he kept.

But before Abedini’s latest trip to Iran, the religiously controlled Revolutionary Guard took jurisdiction over Iran’s Christian community from the intelligence police, Barrans said, coinciding with a more aggressive campaign to drive Christianity out of Iran.

U.S. State Department spokesman Darby Holladay called for Abedini’s release and noted that the pastor’s lawyer had only one day (Jan. 21) to present his defense in court.

“We remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini’s trial,” Holladay said before the verdict was announced.

Sekulow had said the trial “apparently is focused on 13 years ago, when Pastor Saeed converted from Islam to Christianity.” Evidence in the trial was based on the pastor’s activities primarily during the early 2000s, when house churches were not necessarily considered a threat in Iran, ACLJ said.

Lantos Swett of USCIRF also voiced concern over the manner in which the case was handled.

“The charges against Pastor Abedini were contrived, the process was irregular and deeply flawed, and the conviction flies in the face of both Iranian and international law,” she said. “Judge Pir-Abassi has been responsible for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. We call on the Iranian government to immediately release Pastor Abedini.

“In addition, we call on the U.S. and the international community to raise Pastor Abedini’s case in all international fora, including the U.N. Human Rights Council. We reiterate our call for the U.S. government to freeze the assets and deny entry into the U.S. of Judge Pir-Abassi and other Iranian judges and government officials who have committed violations of religious freedom and related human rights, including the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, who would have had to approve the pastor’s harsh sentence,” Lantos Swett said.

USCIRF has recommended that Iran be designated a “country of particular concern” for its systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The State Department has designated Iran as a country of particular concern since 1999.

Abedini was granted U.S. citizenship in 2010 through marriage to his American wife, ACLJ reported. In 2008, he became an ordained minister with the American Evangelistic Association. Iran does not recognize his U.S. citizenship.

Nearly 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives had called for Abedini’s release, Christianity Today reported.

In a statement prior to the pastor’s sentence, Lantos Swett said the national security charges were “a typical tactic by the Iranian government to masquerade the real reason for the charges: to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
1/29/2013 1:28:18 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lights for Life event honors victims, offers forgiveness

January 28 2013 by BR staff

A service of healing, repentance and forgiveness was held Jan. 22 for people of all denominations to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand across the nation.
Around 200 people, representing more than 20 churches, attended the third annual Lights for Life service at First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville. The event featured a variety of testimonies, and it offered a time for those who were involved in an abortion to seek forgiveness.
A table at the front of the auditorium held more than 560 candles, each one representing 100,000 abortions. The total number of candles represented 56 million abortions that have taken place since the Roe decision.
The service was co-sponsored by the Henderson County Ministerial Association, Open Arms Crisis Pregnancy Center and area churches.
The event was an opportunity for people of many different denominations to unite on the controversial issue, said Sam Gibbs, with the Carolina Baptist Association in Hendersonville.
There are certain things different denominations disagree on, but the abortion issue brings them together, said Gibbs after the service.

Contributed photo

Participants in Lights for Life light candles at First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville. The third annual event on Jan. 22 recognized the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. More than 56 million abortions have taken place since the Supreme Court decision.

“We can’t speak for the whole country, but we can for Henderson County,” Gibbs said. “And we can save lives and are saving lives [through education and awareness].”
“We as Christians must unite and begin to speak [about] how wrong … killing babies is,” added Becky Garrett, director of women’s ministry at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville.
“I personally have a beautiful, precious adopted boy. Thank God he [wasn’t aborted].”
Between 35 and 40 percent of all women in the United States will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45, said Carolyn Poteet, vice chairman with the board for Open Arms. “That number just blew me away,” said Poteet, who also is on staff at First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville.
“You think how many women are sitting in the church pew who … are carrying this guilt and shame and feel like they’re not worthy of God’s love.”
“We know grandparents who said OK [for a loved one to] have an abortion who are grieving,” she said. “There are a lot of men who suffer silently about this and carry that guilt and shame all of their lives.”
During the service, everyone was invited to write down a sin they had committed on a piece a paper. All of the paper was collected in a metal garbage can and later burned.

‘The scent of abortion rising’

One portion of the service was not planned. A few of the 560 candles unexpectedly melted down and started to catch the table on fire.
An elder used a small fire extinguisher to put out the flame. This caused a plume of smoke to trigger the fire alarm that notified the local fire department.
Those in attendance later chuckled as they recalled the interruption. But the service continued forward as planned, with a few references to smoke added to the overall message.
Bill Campbell, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, seized the opportunity with his message.
“He said, ‘The smoke and the smells that we have right now are like the scent of abortion rising into God’s nostrils,’” Poteet said.
“All these lights have been extinguished, and think about all of the children’s lives [who] have been snuffed out. It was just a powerful image.
“God used it in an amazing way.”
Those involved with the service hope other similar events will be held annually in churches around the country. This service is the first step in helping set people free of the guilt and shame of abortion, said Joyce Wright, director of Open Arms Crisis Pregnancy Center.
“America has been so desensitized about abortion and ‘it’s really not a baby,’” she said. “It really is a baby, and God’s heart is bleeding over this.
“[This event is] not about Hendersonville. It’s about this thing growing and being bigger and spreading all over the country so we can realize the mistakes we’ve made.”
1/28/2013 4:15:22 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Sportsmen for Christ reaches local ‘rednecks’

January 28 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Joe Williams, 57, hadn’t visited the woods in years. For the lifelong fisherman and hunter, being disabled and unable to navigate rugged terrain on foot has been frustrating – even depressing.
Williams, who lives in Sophia, N.C., was diagnosed with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy as a young boy. But the debilitating symptoms didn’t begin until around 2005. The former mechanic now relies heavily on his wheelchair and walker to get around, and he spends most winter days inside.
“The cold makes me shake so bad that I can’t stand up,” said Williams, a member of Glenola Baptist Church in Archdale. “I can’t walk very far … about 50 yards is as far as I could walk.”
But Williams returned to the woods this past December.
On Dec.15, his church partnered with local businesses, the church’s women’s ministry and local hunters to provide an outreach to disabled hunters.
Willie Duvall, a fellow church member, and Tim Steen, pastor of Glenola, both were inspired by Williams’ condition and desired to hold an event that would help get him back in a deer stand.

Contributed photo

Glenola Baptist Church in Archdale organized a special hunt for a group of disabled hunters.

The event is part of a ministry called Sportsmen for Christ. The church started it a few months ago for those interested in hunting and fishing.
Williams was among nine other disabled hunters – nearly all of them in wheelchairs– who participated in the hunt. About 95 percent of the day’s expenses – which included breakfast provided by a local Bojangles’ restaurant – were donated by the community, Duvall said.
“[The church] ended up with only $300 or $400 invested in the whole hunt,” he said.
Hydraulic lifts and a group of hunting guides helped Williams and other hunters get into deer stands about 20 feet off the ground. With a .270-caliber rifle that was provided, Williams ended the day with two deer. The entire group finished the hunt with six deer. It’s an experience Williams said he won’t forget anytime soon.
“The guys that went with me … were super,” he said. “They … did whatever they had to to get me out there. They helped me get the rifle up, so I could shoot it and held it for me.”
“Oh heavens, it was like going for the first time again,” he added. “After seven years of not being able to go, it was just like the first time all over again.”
“Until you see one of these people who are not able to hunt, and they kill their first deer,” Duvall later added. “Just seeing the look on their face. [It] not only changes their life but it will change your life.”
Most of the hunters left with deer meat from the day’s hunt. Leftover meat was given to the church’s food pantry for those in need. Every hunter received a gift bag that included a Bible.
Duvall shared about one hunter who began reading the Bible while someone drove him home that evening. The hunter asked if he could have a ride to church the next morning.
“Whether we killed any deer or not, that made the whole day worth it,” Duvall said.
Duvall hopes the church’s Sportsmen for Christ ministry will impact others in the days to come. The group meets twice a month at the church and invites guest speakers to share tips and information about hunting, fishing and related topics. Duvall said they plan to make the handicap hunt an annual event, and host other outdoor activities throughout the year. This month the group plans to host a squirrel hunt, which will focus more on younger hunters. They also plan to hold a fishing event.
“On my way to church on Sundays when I cross the lake, I always see 10 or 15 boats out there fishing on Sunday morning,” Duvall said. “Those are the people we are trying to reach. Even if we just touch one person … it’s worth it.”
It’s about reaching people where they are at, Steen said. “We’ve got a bunch of rednecks around here,” the pastor added. “I don’t mean that in a negative way, [but] you’ve got to do something that they’re interested in. You’ve just got to adapt to them. It’s not going to reach everybody, but this is one group of people that we can reach by doing this.”
“Whether it’s hunting deer, squirrel or turkey or fishing, whatever … I believe God would be into that.”
1/28/2013 3:57:49 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments

Women in combat move a ‘tragic mistake,’ Baptist leaders say

January 28 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the military will remove its ban on women in combat drew criticism from several Southern Baptist leaders, who expressed concern over privacy and military effectiveness and also warned the move is part of a larger societal effort to blur differences between men and women.

Panetta made his announcement Jan. 24, saying the removal of the ban had unanimous approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. With the removal, about 237,000 positions on or near the front lines of combat are now open to women.

“If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said.

President Obama also announced his support for the move, saying “every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.”

Although Panetta implied the qualifications for service would not change, the opposite could be the case. Politico.com said military officials are reviewing “how to create a gender-neutral way to test troops’ abilities to complete the tasks.” The news site also said “the Marine Corps ... will test 400 female Marines and 400 male Marines this summer for physical fitness to determine if the recruiting PT tests need to be changed to make them gender-neutral.”

The change raised a question that was not addressed: Will young women eventually be required to register for Selective Service, as young men ages 18-25 currently are required to do, in the event of a draft?

The move did come with one caveat, as reported by American Forces Press: Exceptions could be made to keep some positions closed to women, but only by approval from the defense secretary.

Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs and associate professor of women’s ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the change is a bad idea.

“There are biological and logistical considerations that make this a difficult situation: accommodations will have to be made to account for differences in physical strength, living quarters will have to be adjusted – not to mention the issue of pregnancies,” Stovall told Baptist Press. “The first time a woman lays down her life for our country, and we discover she was pregnant, what will be the outcry then? If culture wants to claim equality, then everything should be equal and that is impossible to achieve.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the change a “tragic mistake” that will have “grievous consequences.”

“[But] not because women are not capable of performing most of the combat roles to which they will be assigned,” Land said. “They certainly are capable in modern warfare of flying planes and driving tanks and driving jeeps and operating artillery, etc. The problem is if they are captured, they will be treated very differently than male captives have been treated. This is the reason the Israelis, who used to have women in combat, have taken them out of direct combat roles.

“We discovered in the first Iraq war that our female pilots were treated much more barbarously than the male pilots were that were captured. This has been largely covered up by our government, but the fact is we are dealing with enemies who do not obey the Geneva Convention and they will much more savagely mistreat women prisoners than men prisoners and I’m aghast that our government would put our female citizens in such danger,” Land said.

The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece Jan. 23 by former Marine infantryman Ryan Smith, who described in detail the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which he and 24 other men were crammed into the back of an amphibious assault vehicle that is built to hold only 15 passengers.

“Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles,” he wrote.

That meant the Marines had to relieve themselves in bottles and bags, with no privacy, inches from their comrades. Weeks later, after having not bathed for over a month, they were told to strip off their chemical protective suits, which were being burned in a pile.

“My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers,” Smith wrote. “Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation’s military is to fight and win wars.

“Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units,” Smith added, “has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective? Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society.

“It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex. ... Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms,” Smith wrote.

Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance expressed disappointment in the Pentagon move.

“The point of the military is to protect our country,” Nance said. “Anything that distracts from that is detrimental. Our military cannot continue to choose social experimentation and political correctness over combat readiness.”

Baptist leaders said they also have biblical concerns about the change.

“Gender is more than biology,” Stovall said, “and as much as today’s culture tries to convince us that men and women are equal on all fronts, the truth of the matter is, men and women have been intentionally created with differences that complement each other. And it is through these complementary roles that the gospel is communicated and God’s glory is seen in a tangible way.

“To allow women to accompany men into combat ultimately distorts these roles and therefore distorts the picture of the gospel. Man was created by God with the innate desire to protect. It is part of his DNA. It is not a matter of biological masculinity that makes men better for the task; rather it is a matter of honor and fully embracing his manhood to be the protector of his home, his family, and his country,” Stovall said.

“If a woman is fighting alongside him, I wonder whether he will feel that he must keep a peripheral eye on her and be more protective than he would be if one of his male buddies were fighting next to him. If he is a true man of honor, I believe he would,” she added.

Owen Strachan, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the differences between men and women go back to the beginning of creation.

“[Adam] and his male descendants are made stronger, larger, faster and with 11 times as much testosterone as Eve, as secular research has shown,” Strachan told Baptist Press. “This is why, on average, boys are much more naturally drawn to play-fighting, wrestling, and rough sports than girls. They have over 1,000 percent more testosterone than girls. We’re not talking about slight differences here; we’re talking about foundational realities. It’s just common sense to affirm that men and women are physically different. What does all of this mean for our conversation? It means that men are made for war. Women are not.

“... Feminism, egalitarianism, the juvenilization of culture, and sexual ‘liberationism’ have all deeply affected American men,” Strachan added. “We have become weak. We are ignoble. We prey on women. We ask them to do our work, to break their backs; we ask them to fight our wars, while we play ‘Call of Duty’ on the couch.”

Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., asked on his blog, “What kind of a society puts its women on the front lines to risk what only men should be called on to risk? In countries ravaged by war, we consider it a tragedy when the battle comes to the backyards of women and children. Why would we thrust our own wives and daughters into that horror?”

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

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Q&A: The case against women in combat
1/28/2013 3:27:43 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Q&A: The case against women in combat

January 28 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Even before U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military was lifting its ban on women in combat, professor and theologian Owen Strachan was speaking out against such a possibility, saying it not only went against scripture but also defied common sense.

The new executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Strachan penned a column for Christianity Today late last year outlining the biblical case against placing women on the front lines of combat.

Following the Pentagon’s announcement, Baptist Press conducted an email interview with Strachan, who also serves as assistant professor of theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. What follows is the transcript:

Q: What are the biblical and theological reasons you oppose placing women in combat?

A: My theology of war – and women in combat – is directly related to my theology of sex and gender. When it comes to making mankind in His image, God creates Adam first. He makes Eve from Adam. Her body is literally made from his, which signals both Adam’s leadership and his duty to protect Eve. In other words, Adam gives his body so that Eve may exist. He is called for the rest of his life to give his body so that Eve may thrive. This is the starting place for distinctions between the sexes. God doesn’t make Blob A (Adam) and Blob B (Eve). He doesn’t make gender-neutral people. We don’t believe in a divine creation of Teletubby-esque nature as Christians. The Bible shows as a matter of first principles that men and women are different, distinct and complementary. When Eve is brought to Adam with her distinctive shape and form, Adam rejoices. He cries out, “This at last is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Adam delights in Eve, the one “taken from man.”

All this shows that sexual distinction is not incidental, as our culture says today. Biology to a large extent is destiny. Eve is created with a womb and a bodily system to nurture children (oxytocin is God’s biological call to this duty). Adam is not. He and his male descendants are made stronger, larger, faster and with 11 times as much testosterone as Eve, as secular research has shown. This is why, on average, boys are much more naturally drawn to play-fighting, wrestling, and rough sports than girls. They have over 1,000 percent more testosterone than girls. We’re not talking about slight differences here; we’re talking about foundational realities. It’s just common sense to affirm that men and women are physically different.

What does all of this mean for our conversation? It means that men are made for war. Women are not. Women are far better suited to nurture, though of course this does not mean that women aren’t courageous. Men are made for battle. They are made to protect, and they are called by Scripture to protect women and children. Adam’s sin is first the failure to protect – to physically and spiritually come between the serpent and Eve. When God visits the earth to bring justice following this disobedience, He addresses Adam: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The pronoun is singular. The meaning is unmistakable. This duty of men persists after the fall.

Q: Those who disagree with you point to Deborah, one of the judges in Israel’s history. Why doesn’t her example lead to the allowance of women in combat?

A: One of the sorriest men in Israel’s history is Barak, whose unwillingness to lead God’s people into battle leaves Deborah to do it. Deborah is not happy with Barak, though; she doesn’t roar with delight at the chance to be a warrior-woman. She tells Barak that his failure “will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9). Clearly, this is a shameful reality. Barak has not owned his God-given role as protector of Israel’s women and children.

This pattern is upheld all throughout the Old Testament. The men of Israel make war, protecting the women. You think, for example, of David’s “mighty men” (1 Chronicles 11:10-47). The teeming majority of military leaders of God’s people are men; Joshua, Samson, Gideon, and many others lead the men of Israel into battle, putting their bodies in harm’s way to protect the weaker among them.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of the protector. He makes war against Satan in order to save His bride from hell (Ephesians 5:25). There is no greater example of what a man is to do with regard to his wife and children than this.

It is gloriously true that in Christ, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). But this means that there is no hierarchy, no division of equality, between God’s people. Coming to faith does not make us gender-neutral blobs, to use our prior language. It in fact gives us eyes to see the glory of God’s creative design. Men are called to be elders of God’s church, and that means caring for both one’s home and one’s church, which means being a protector.

For all these reasons, both scripturally and physically, men are called to protect women. If you carefully put different texts and ideas together, you see overwhelming proof of this. So what does this mean for combat? It means that in society, just as in the home and church, men are called to protect women. Men go to war. Women do not, unless men are incapable or dead. Feminism, egalitarianism, the juvenilization of culture, and sexual “liberationism” have all deeply affected American men. We have become weak. We are ignoble. We prey on women. We ask them to do our work, to break their backs; we ask them to fight our wars, while we play “Call of Duty” on the couch.

We are in a shameful time in America, when men would be weak and women would be men. God’s wisdom and design is so much better than this.

Q: Do you also have practical, military-type concerns with the proposed change? In other words, it’s not just seminary professors and theologians who are opposing this change.

A: I definitely do. Before I detail those concerns, I should point out to readers that if they want some really good secular references on the differences between men and women, which relate directly to the risks involved with women in combat, there are two that come to mind: Anne and Bill Moir, “Why Men Don’t Iron,” and Steven Rhoads, “Taking Sex Differences Seriously.” Anne Moir is a scientist with a doctorate from Oxford, while Rhoads is a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia.

I have not served in war. But Katie Petronio has. She’s a captain in the Marine Corps who sparked a firestorm with a piece in the Marine Corps Gazette that detailed her own combat experience. Petronio related that she was a top-notch athlete, registering a near-perfect score in the branch’s official physical fitness test. She was uncommonly strong; when she entered the Corps, she could bench-press almost 150 pounds. This made sense for Petronio, a former college hockey team captain. She was an excellent athlete, strong, capable and ready for war.

Or so she thought. Petronio went to Afghanistan and had an awful time. It’s hard to read her piece in the Gazette, because her decline – due to the pressures of front-line action – was so alarming. She developed polycystic ovarian cancer. Her leg muscles atrophied. She couldn’t sleep due to stress, which made her more exhausted and therefore weaker. Her legs would “buckle with the slightest grade change” when simply walking. Other women under her care suffered with similar severity. Petronio shared in a radio interview with Leatherneck magazine that she allowed a woman soldier in her company to not wear the heavy protective gear required for combat because the woman simply could not sustain herself physically.

Petronio’s experience isn’t monolithic. But neither is it unusual. The Marine Corps has drawn major attention over its decision to relax standards of physical fitness so that women can enter active duty. This spells potential disaster for our military. War is not good in itself; it breaks down even the strongest of men. It’s not really made for anyone, ideally. But women of average strength stand to suffer far more than men of average strength. For this reason, many generals and military leaders have followed the consensus of virtually every civilization in human history and prohibited women – for their good – from fighting on the front lines unless absolutely necessary (as in the biblical case of Deborah and Jael).

Q: Even if it’s a minority of women who could pass the physical exam, why not allow them into combat roles?

A: Everything I’ve said already applies here. Women will suffer greatly if placed in combat roles. On average, they’re less suited for war than men. They will therefore be less able to defend themselves, cover for fellow soldiers, and harm the enemy. The example of Jessica Lynch, captured a few years ago in Iraq, serves as a warning to us. One woman cited by The Atlantic spoke frankly to the difficulties of such situations: “Few of us could make it in the infantry.”

Beyond this, it’s long been considered unseemly for men and women to serve together in the kind of close quarters that many combat situations require. According to many soldiers, there is little opportunity for normal hygiene and personal health on the front lines. I’ve talked with a veteran of Afghanistan who recalled huddling body-to-body with a fellow soldier for hours at a time in order to make it through cold nights. War is not normal; it is by nature far less pleasant than the rhythms of ordinary life. By all accounts it requires uncommon sacrifices and places soldiers in difficult positions. American military efforts for just causes will not be advanced by the kind of compromises and awkward situations that mixed-sex combat will inevitably produce.

These are important things to consider – and again, virtually every civilization on earth agrees on these matters, including those that go to war against one another! Out of love for women, out of a desire to protect them, and because complementarian Christians are the most pro-women people on earth, we can’t help but advocate for a return to biblical wisdom and common sense.

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

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Women in combat move a ‘tragic mistake,’ Baptist leaders say
1/28/2013 3:15:25 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christians stand firm during persecution in Mali

January 25 2013 by William Bagsby, Baptist Press

BAMAKO, Mali – Most International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries assigned to the West African nation of Mali have left the country due to the continuing conflict between Islamist rebels and Malian military supported by French forces.
John Grayson,* an IMB strategy leader in West Africa, said, “Right now we have our personnel spread over a variety of countries because of the situation. All but one family has left the country.”
Early last year, Islamist rebels used widespread instability created by warring factions in the north to impose Shariah law in areas where they gained control. They reportedly destroyed church buildings and sought to eliminate any hint of Christianity.
“Our personnel are concerned for the Malians who are unable to evacuate,” Grayson said, particularly “those who are stuck behind in areas controlled by the rebels.”

IMB photo

Around 230,000 Malians have been internally displaced and another 150,000 people left Mali seeking help in surrounding countries.

Anna Farmer,* a missionary to Mali who plans to return after a meeting in a neighboring country, said, “Believers are being targeted and persecuted.”
World Watch Monitor reports that rebel groups controlled more than half of Mali from April last year until the recent intervention by France. France helped the Malian military push the rebels back north.
According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, about 230,000 Malians have been internally displaced and another 150,000 people left Mali seeking help in surrounding countries.
Grayson said IMB personnel “are concerned for believers who have been forced to leave their homes and villages. They are hoping and praying that they can do as much as they can to reach out to their peoples in these surrounding countries where they have now been evacuated.”
Despite the fighting, Farmer said, “Many believers are demonstrating their faith and care to their Muslim neighbors like never before.
“One of our Baptist churches [in Mali] held a prayer vigil at their church last weekend. This church usually runs 20 people. The prayer vigil had [more than] 100 people, including many non-believers. At the church service the next morning, there were at least 40 people.”
This situation looks grim, but “we must trust God through it all,” Grayson said. “My prayer is that there would be a quick resolution to this situation. I pray that it would be done peaceably.”
Grayson added: “Pray for those behind the rebel lines, that they would be faithful and a strong witness for Christ, which also means that they may lose their lives as they remain faithful to Christ. Pray for them to find places and ways to care for their basic needs.”
Farmer asks for prayer “that believers can point to Jesus as the only way to true peace.”
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – William Bagsby is an IMB writer based in Europe.)
1/25/2013 1:31:48 PM by William Bagsby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

11-year-old tithes on steer winnings of $106K

January 25 2013 by Dana Williamson, Baptist Press

NEWCASTLE, Okla. – “If we didn’t stop him, he’d give away all the money he has,” Stacey Bonham said of her 11-year-old son, Baylor.

And that would be a significant amount, since Baylor deposited $106,000 in his bank account after showing his prize steer, Stripe.

The young member of First Baptist Church in Newcastle, Okla., is tithing on that money to his church.

Born into the cattle industry, Baylor has been in the “show” business since he was about 5.

“Both of our sons, Logan, now 18, and Baylor, started showing as soon as they could pull a steer by a halter,” Stacey said.

Baylor showed Stripe, the grand champion market steer at the National Western Stock Show in Denver last January, and 24 hours later, the 1,315-pound steer brought $106,000 on the auction floor.

Baylor Bonham holds tightly to his prize-winning steer as the animal faces the auction block.

Baylor, who weighs 80 pounds, was in the auction ring with Stripe, and when the amount hit $70,000, the audience rose in applause, frightening Stripe, who jerked and sent Baylor flying into the metal bar on the sale ring. But being the professional he is, Baylor jumped up and returned to center ring to complete the auction, which reached $100,000 before the auctioneer encouraged the $106,000 amount to commemorate 106 years of the National Western Stock Show.

When Baylor was interviewed after the auction, he said to a cheering crowd, “I came here to show and see what it was like so I could come back and show again next year, but it just worked out for me.”

His father Steve, an astute businessman, choked up when he came to the microphone, and according to his wife, was upset because he showed so much emotion in public.

“I told him he just showed people that he has a heart, and is a dad, not just a businessman,” Stacey said. “It was an amazing, memorable moment.”

Steve has been in the cattle industry since he was a teenager, and is a professional licensed auctioneer. He buys and sells show cattle nationwide, and hand selects them, checking to see if they are built right and can walk well, necessary characteristics for a show steer.

“I knew the first time I saw him, Stripe would be perfect on all four feet,” said Steve.

Stacey said her sons spend about two hours a day caring for the steers, brushing, rinsing and blow drying their hair and feeding them a structured diet that promotes good muscle-to-bone ratio.

“We buy pickup beds of shampoo from Sally Beauty Supply,” Stacey said. “The hair has to be long, fluffy and healthy. People can’t get over how much hair Stripe had and how soft it was.”

Fans of Stripe were able to see that soft hair up close as the steer participated in a long-standing tradition at the elegant Brown Derby Hotel in downtown Denver shortly before the auction.

Every year, the grand champion steer is paraded through the hotel lobby on red carpet, accompanied by music from a grand piano, to a makeshift pen where people can have their pictures taken with the prizewinner.

Stripe was somewhat special because only twice in the history of the Denver show has a steer brought more than $100,000, with the high being $110,000 in 2008. The last three years, the winners have brought between $50,000 and $60,000.

Stacey said Logan and Baylor work with four to six head of cattle each year. From participating in stock shows from October-January, they end up losing three of those.

The first time Baylor won significant money was in November of 2011 at a national show in Louisville, Ky., where he garnered $27,000.

When he was interviewed in the ring after that sale, he told reporters he was going to save some of the money for college, but he was going to give part of it to the children’s ministry at his church.

“That was totally off the cuff,” recalled Stacey. “I had no idea it was coming. It took me to tears.”

When the family returned from Kentucky, Stacey took Baylor to visit with the church’s children’s minister Ronda Pinkerton. Baylor, who was saved and baptized at First Baptist Newcastle when he was 8, told her he would like his tithe money to be used to help kids who aren’t able to go to summer camp because they can’t afford it, and also to be used for fees for Upward Basketball and for tennis shoes for those who needed them.

“This time, Baylor and the rest of the family want the money to be used where it is most needed,” Stacey said. “We are getting ready to go into phase III of upgrading the church facilities, so we are going to see if they would rather put the money from his second win into the building program.”

Stacey said that since Baylor is only 11, she assumes he will have a long career and will frequently have winnings on which to tithe to his church.

“Baylor has been so often in the limelight that his intentions with his winnings have become public knowledge, and I think that is a good witness to other kids,” she said. “He has the biggest heart you’ve ever seen. I promise you Baylor would give every dime of it away if you let him.”

Stacey added that God has blessed through the whole ordeal.

“Sometimes I have guilt that things have gone so well.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dana Williamson is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.)
1/25/2013 1:17:41 PM by Dana Williamson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Scripture changes lives, writer says

January 25 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Words from Galatians 5:22-23 adorn Art Toalston’s office at Baptist Press. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are carved from oak, hanging as a bold exhortation on the wall.

They are the first fruit of the writer’s continuing journey of early morning Christian meditation and of scripture memorization that has birthed the ebook, When I Meditate, a scripture-centric call to enjoy the vibrant Christian faith.

“The words of scripture in our souls are, in essence, the language of God,” said Toalston, longtime editor of the Baptist Press news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. “That is hugely powerful in a personal sense. The Christian faith is wondrously vibrant.”

When I Meditate attempts “to enter the secular marketplace with a view of meditation that’s Christian and biblical,” Toalston said, something “not very easy to find in contemporary Christian literature.”

Toalston attempts a view of meditation and scripture memorization that also can be attractive to those who haven’t accepted Jesus, yet they believe there is a supernatural being and may practice another form of meditation.

“What I’ve tried to do is share an experience alongside biblical truth,” he said.

Toalston’s journey began in 2000 when a speaker at church exhorted the congregation to begin memorizing scripture. Galatians 5:22-23 was the first of some 75 scriptures Toalston has since memorized – each over the course of several weeks or months – and often rememorized whenever parts of a passage slipped from memory.

“The forgetfulness factor of the human being is kind of a good thing because you go back to it six months later and it’s totally fresh each time you rememorize it,” Toalston said. “One scripture that’s in your heart and later rememorized is a so much more valuable resource than no scripture. It’s especially true whenever opportunities arise to engage a nonbeliever in conversation about faith in Christ.”

As Toalston began memorizing scripture, he said he gained insights into his life and how he was living out his faith. The carved words from the Galatians passage, a gift from his wife Karen, provide a regular nudge to stay on course.

“The fruit of the Spirit … is an amazing checklist of God’s revelation and His call to repentance,” Toalston said. “God sometimes stops me, it seems, on one of the fruits of the Spirit, like patience or kindness or goodness, and gives me moments to assess whether I’m in sync, as much as possible, with His heart and His intent for my life.”

Meditation and scripture memorization continue to “challenge me on my moments of wrong thinking, uncharitable thinking. It’s regularly there to call me into account, so that my moments of sinning hopefully are less than they were before I started memorizing scripture,” he said. “It’s not wise to say that I’ve arrived through meditation or am now perfect. Ongoing transformation is always needed for us who are human beings. My moments of rejoicing in the Lord, meanwhile, have increased significantly because I have more scripture in my heart.”

It’s “not something you can boast about in some kind of sweeping fashion,” Toalston said, “but it’s a day-to-day change that can give you a new reason to smile, a new reason to enjoy the Christian life in its fuller measures.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. When I Meditate is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers, including ebook publisher eBookIt.com.)
1/25/2013 1:02:20 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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