January 2013

Land: Gun violence calls for broader dialogue

January 17 2013 by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – With the memory of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., fixed in the nation’s mind, President Obama outlined Jan. 16 what can been described as the most sweeping gun-control policies in decades.

In introducing the president at the White House event, Vice President Joe Biden said the nation has a “moral obligation” to attempt to reduce gun violence.

While acknowledging there is no law or piece of legislation that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, Obama said, “If there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

He urged Congress to restore the ban on “military-style assault weapons,” restrict ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, require universal background checks for weapon purchases and outlaw the manufacture and importation of armor-piercing bullets. Obama also called for more federal funds to support additional school resource officers and counselors for local school districts.

The president signed 23 executive orders, including measures to provide additional information to the background check system for gun purchases, to “clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes,” and to issue a challenge to the private sector to develop innovative gun safety technologies.

In an interview with Baptist Press, Richard Land said he is disappointed with the president’s failure during his remarks to address mental health issues in moral detail in light of the Newtown shootings. He said the president focused on only one issue that had relevance in the Newtown shootings – a restriction on the size of an ammunition clip.

Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at least four factors contributed to the tragedy: an absence of armed personnel at the elementary school, the fact the shooter was evidencing signs of abnormal behavior so serious that his mother was seeking to have him committed to a mental health institution, that he reportedly was walled up in a windowless room playing violent video games for extended periods of time, and that he had access to weapons owned by his mother.

The Connecticut shooter’s mother could have passed all the federal background checks, Land noted.

SXC photo by Agnieszka W.

“The last 30 years of reforms in mental health have made it virtually impossible to commit someone unless they engage in heinous acts,” Land said.

“We need to have a national conversation about all the elements that go into these tragedies and they include far more than merely Second Amendment issues,” he continued. “We must do more than merely genuflect in the direction of these other issues.”

In a letter sent to the White House the day before the president’s announcement, the head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) welcomed the national dialogue on preventing further gun violence, while expressing opposition to “knee-jerk policy responses” that would encumber citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Land wrote that the U.S. needs a complete review of its mental health system, echoing a call he made in 2011 after the Tucson, Ariz., shootings in which six were killed and 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded.

Land told Baptist Press following that tragedy there was a need for a “better mental health system that can identify and deal with these human ticking time bombs before they go off.” The shooter in that case was sentenced to life in prison in November 2012.

In the January 15 letter, the ERLC president called on President Obama to “focus your efforts on practical means to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable, without adversely restricting firearms from law-abiding citizens.” He said the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms “remains one of the surest deterrents of gun violence in our nation.”

Land wrote that it was the arrival of armed officers at Sandy Hook, not a shortage of bullets, that ended the killings.

In the letter to the president, Land supported mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales. He also urged Obama to take the lead in making gun trafficking a federal crime.

The ERLC executive wrote, “We need to address the vastly increased prevalence of graphic violence in both popular entertainment and video games.” Obama’s announcement did not mention violence in films or video games.

During a mid-December interview on National Public Radio, Land said he had “no problem” with teachers carrying guns in their classrooms.

“Law-abiding citizens who are armed are the best last-ditch defense against the kind of horror that we’ve just experienced. If there had been teachers who had been trained and knew how to use their weapons, they could have saved a great many lives,” he said, referencing the Sandy Hook shootings.

Land, who said he is a gun owner but not a member of the National Rifle Association, told NPR he had no problem with loopholes in the background check system being closed. He also said a restriction on the size of ammunition clips was acceptable to him.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
1/17/2013 3:29:42 PM by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Union’s Dockery to transition to chancellor in ’14

January 16 2013 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

JACKSON, Tenn. – David S. Dockery will transition from president of Union University to the role of university chancellor no later than July 2014, and Union trustees will immediately begin the process of searching for his successor as president.

“I am hopeful and prayerful for a good, smooth, joyful and positive transition,” Dockery said. “God has blessed the work of our hands and manifested His favor to this university time and time again during these past 17 years. I am confident that we will continue to see God’s grace made known to Union in the future.”

The announcement comes in the middle of what ultimately will be a three-year transition process at the Jackson, Tenn., campus. Dockery, 60, began talking with the executive committee of Union’s board of trustees in the fall of 2011 about the need to start succession planning for the university’s future, at which time the board approved a five-member succession planning team. Dockery said discussions with that team and with other members of the board have taken place regularly since then.

David S. Dockery

Union trustees will appoint a search committee in the near future and will retain the services of an executive search firm to provide counsel in the transition process. As chancellor, Dockery will continue to serve Union as an adviser for the board and the new president for the next several years.

The search process is expected to take about a year.

“David S. Dockery’s accomplishments at Union University are unsurpassed,” said Norman Hill, chairman of Union’s trustees. “Although much of his work is visible in the form of buildings and numbers, his greater work is in the hearts and minds of the thousands of students and myriads of others that he and his administration have influenced through the years. He has had Union’s best interest at heart in everything he has done as president for the past 17 years.

“With this decision he is once again taking care of the institution by initiating a transition process at a time that he has deemed appropriate for the institution and his family,” Hill continued. “We praise God for David and Lanese Dockery and believe the Lord still has much to accomplish through this beloved couple at Union University.”

At the time of his transition in 2014, Dockery will have served as Union’s president for 18 and a half years, approximating the tenure of president Robert E. Craig as the longest among Union’s 15 presidents since its founding in the 1800s.

The list of Dockery’s accomplishments is lengthy.

Under his leadership, following 15 straight years of enrollment increase, Union has more than doubled in size, growing from a fall enrollment of 1,972 to 4,262 in 2012. Donors have increased from 1,600 to 6,000 annually.

The budget has expanded from $18 million to more than $90 million per year. The university’s net assets have grown from less than $40 million to more than $110 million.

One of Dockery’s first priorities upon his election as president in December 1995 was to cast a vision for what Union University could become – a vision that included his desire for Union to reclaim and advance the Christian intellectual tradition. Early in his tenure, the university adopted a set of four core values: Excellence-Driven, Christ-Centered, People-Focused, Future-Directed. Those core values have provided the framework for the work of the university over the past 17 years.

He developed five key strategic plans (for 2001, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2015) that have guided the university’s work during his tenure.

Dockery’s administration presided over major development of the Union campus – including such buildings as White Hall, Jennings Hall, Providence Hall, Hammons Hall, Miller Tower, the Fesmire Field House, Carl Grant Events Center, Bowld Commons and several student housing facilities. Union added campuses in Germantown and Hendersonville, Tenn., and the Olford Center in Memphis during Dockery’s presidency, and the school’s athletics program transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division II candidacy.

Academically under his leadership, Union launched the School of Pharmacy, School of Theology and Missions and the Institute for International and Intercultural Studies in addition to new undergraduate programs in engineering, social work, graphic design, ethics, political science, athletic training and organizational leadership, among others. The university also began about a dozen master’s degree programs and five doctoral programs, in intercultural studies, theology and missions, education, social work, nursing and pharmacy.

“By any measure, David Dockery’s presidency at Union University has been the most laudable illustration of leadership success in Christian higher education,” said Greg Thornbury, dean of Union’s School of Theology and Missions. “Many will rightly praise him for Union’s phenomenal enrollment growth, outstanding academic markers and advances in local, regional and national stature.

“But all of this would not be nearly as important had it not been for his vigilant sense for and keen articulation of the university’s distinctive mission,” Thornbury continued. “In my opinion, these characteristics flowed from him being who God gifted him first and foremost to be: a theologian of the first order. By connecting a vision for Union with the great Christian intellectual tradition, he connected the institution he served so ably with something worthy, something noble, something permanent.

“In an age unfamiliar with the concept, we confess that we are profoundly in David Dockery’s debt.”

Dockery guided a major institutional rebuilding made necessary by a tornado that struck Union’s campus on Feb. 5, 2008, causing about $40 million in damage and leveling most of the university’s student housing. Dozens of students were trapped inside collapsed buildings as rescuers worked for hours to free them. Several sustained serious injuries, but nobody was killed.

“The first 36 hours were the most challenging 36 hours of my life,” Dockery said about the disaster. “My theology about angels and my theology about the providence of God carried me through that first 36 hours. I have a deep sense of God’s providence. It moved from theoretical to reality. It was all we had to hold on to.”

Though plunged into immediate uncertainty about the university’s future, Dockery led Union through a rebuilding process in which thousands of donors and volunteers came to Union’s aid.

“Out of the rubble across this campus I am praying that we will see renewal,” Dockery said during that time. “We lost the buildings, but we did not lose the Union spirit.”

Other achievements by Dockery during his administration include:
  • beginning Union’s annual Scholarship Banquet, which has brought such influential national and international leaders as George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Laura Bush and Colin Powell and raised about $5.5 million for student scholarships.
  • starting the Union Forum luncheon lecture series, with speakers including Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, Clarence Page, Ross Douthat, Norah O’Donnell, Margaret Carlson, David Brooks, Robert P. George, Stephen Carter and several others.
  • establishment of the Hundley Center, Vocatio Center, Office of Disability Services and Office of Student Success.
  • increasing the graduation rate from 55 percent to 67 percent, which has resulted in more than 13,000 students who have graduated from Union during these years, approximately 65 percent of all living Union alumni.
  • moving from a second-tier ranking in the regional college division of the U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings to a top-tier recognition among the regional universities in the South (Union ranked 14th in the South in 2012).
  • recognition of Union by “First Things” as one of the top 12 Protestant institutions in the country.
  • selection of Union by the “Chronicle of Higher Education” as one of the best universities to work for in the nation.
  • development of Union’s mission and identity statements and statement of faith.
A prolific author and editor, Dockery has written or edited several major books on Christian higher education and Baptist history and heritage, including “Renewing Minds,” “Shaping a Christian Worldview,” “Faith and Learning,” “The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking,” “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal” and “Southern Baptist Identity,” among others.

He served as chairman of the board for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, as well as serving on the board for Christianity Today International and Prison Fellowship. Dockery was a member of four recent committees and task force teams in the Southern Baptist Convention, and has spoken at major conferences and lectureships at dozens of churches, state conventions, colleges, churches and seminaries.

Dockery also has been an active participant in local programs and organizations. He was named Jackson’s Man of the Year in 2008 and was the recipient of the William D. Smart Racial Reconciliation Award from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2012.

Samantha Adams, a public relations senior from Glendale, Ky., said when she came to Union “I was surrounded by effects of his leadership – Union’s strong commitment to keeping academic excellence while upholding the Christian faith; a thriving, growing campus; and scholarships to make a solid education available to people from a variety of backgrounds.

“While at Union, I have realized his leadership extends far beyond Union’s campus,” Adams added. “He has set an example to students for being a peacemaker among Christians, a reconciler between blacks and whites in the South and a humble student of God’s Word.”

Walton Padelford, longtime university professor of economics, described Dockery’s leadership as “extraordinary” and said his vision for Union –– including improving Union’s academic quality, improving theological education and moving the university into the Christian intellectual tradition – was vital to the university’s success and growth.

“When parents visit me with their prospective students, and we’re talking about Union, many times I will say that this is the best time for your student to be here,” Padelford said. “We’re living in the golden age of Union.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.)
1/16/2013 4:10:34 PM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Europeans launch campaign to declare life starts at conception

January 16 2013 by Alessandro Speciale, Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY – Anti-abortion groups from 20 different countries have launched a petition to ask the European Parliament to recognize that life begins at conception.
The “One of Us” initiative is the first of its kind in Europe and represents a larger effort to forge a cohesive continental anti-abortion movement.
According to the petition’s website, “One of Us” has “greater political potential than any other initiative that has been undertaken so far to protect the dignity of the person and life from conception at a European scale.”
“At the foundation of this challenge is the idea that abortion is not inevitable,” wrote Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, presenting the initiative on Jan. 7.
The petition aims to collect 1 million signatures in at least seven of the 27 countries of the European Union by November, forcing the Strasbourg, France-based European Parliament to schedule a debate on the issue.
Still, anti-abortion groups recognize that the European Union doesn’t have the power to address abortion issues, which are regulated by each member state. In most European countries, with the exception of Ireland and Malta, abortion within the first trimester is generally legal.
The “One of Us” petition, even if successful and passed into law by the European Parliament, would not lead to the outright ban of abortion across Europe. It would, however, block funding from the European Union for activities that entail the destruction of embryos, such as stem cell research.
Nevertheless, organizers – led largely by independent Catholic groups – say that they hope the initiative will lead to “political change” on abortion, because of the “need to respect the wish of so many European citizens.”
Moreover, if the petition were to be turned into law, “jurisdiction at the European Court of Human Rights, where many bioethical cases are pending, could be positively influenced.”
Last year, the Strasbourg-based court ruled against a patent application involving a human embryo, which activists consider a landmark case.
The ruling, in declaring a patent application invalid, implicitly recognized that an embryo is a form of “human life.” If the “One of Us” petition were to be approved, anti-abortion activists would have more recourse to the court.
According to the petition’s organizers, “if a consensus will be achieved among 1 million citizens or more, a concrete ethical standard could be established across Europe” for the protection of human life, “no matter how young.”
1/16/2013 3:58:06 PM by Alessandro Speciale, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Moore explains why adoption is a ‘pro-life’ policy for evangelicals

January 16 2013 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently talked with Religion News Service about why adoption has become his personal cause and why more evangelicals should be joining him.
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Moore said adoption fits evangelicals’ anti-abortion values, even as he maintains adoption isn’t right for every family.
Q: You have written on a range of pop culture, political and social issues, so why have you made adoption – and specifically Christian adoption – your big cause?
A: My wife and I went through several years of infertility and miscarriages and found ourselves going through the process of adoption and we felt very much alone.
So I started to write about the issue of adoption really to address people who are in the same situation that we were, which is not understanding and seeing the meaning of that rich metaphor of adoption in Scripture, not understanding how adoption makes a real family.
Q: What do you see as the biblical metaphor of adoption?
A: Scripture says that Christians have been adopted into the family of God, and so regardless of background, regardless of past, everyone who is in Christ is part of the family.
Q: With gay marriage legislation moving ahead and not as many victories as they would like on abortion, is this a cause where evangelicals could see more success?
A: I don’t really see success in terms of legislative or cultural victory. I see it more in calling evangelical Christians back to a commitment that we’ve always had to shelter the vulnerable.
Q: Are you suggesting that evangelical churches specifically or churches in general be more involved?
A: At the level of the common good, this is something that all people should be concerned about.
But it’s consistent for evangelical Christians to be pro-orphan.
Q: Adoption has been a growing issue for evangelical churches in the last decade. How are they doing, and how much further do they have to go to meet your goals?
A: What most churches want, when they start to think about this issue, is a preprogrammed initiative, a set of instructions. I don’t think this issue works that way. It has to be organic. It has to be flexible. It has to create a culture within a congregation. It will be congregational cultures that start to change with the inclusion of the families who are adopting and fostering and caring for orphans. I think that’s a long-term project over a generation, not something short-term.
Q: Could this be a form of evangelism – the idea that children adopted by evangelicals may become evangelicals themselves?
A: Adoption and orphan care and foster care are not a covert means of evangelism any more than Christians having babies is a form of reproductive evangelism. It’s simply Christians love children, and part of what it means to love children is to share the gospel.
Q: Prospective parents often think of having children that look like them and have all 10 fingers and 10 toes. But should adoption be a nondiscriminatory calling?
A: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why you have many Christians who are particularly adopting special needs children who are in all sorts of points of vulnerability, from AIDS to cleft palate to fetal alcohol syndrome. I also think that any family that’s adopting needs to understand that this child is a person and not a project. Someone who believes that adoption is simply going to meet some void within that person’s life is not someone who should adopt.
Q: Do you think the connection between the anti-abortion movement and the pro-adoption movement has grown?
A: I think it has grown because the pro-life movement has grown. You see that, for instance, in terms of crisis pregnancy centers, which now are expanding to minister to women in all sorts of ways, ranging from child care to job training.
Q: You are living this out. How many children have you and your wife adopted?
A: We have five children. We adopted our first two from an orphanage in Russia; they were a year old at the time, and they’re now 11 years old.
Q: What’s the greatest benefit of being an adoptive parent?
A: The adopting of our two sons demonstrated to us something of the love of God for us and gave us a relationship that we never would have found on our own. We love our sons and they’ve brought so much to our family that we never could have planned out ahead of time.
Q: And the greatest challenge?
A: The greatest challenge is confronting the idea that there’s somehow a difference between adopted children and biological children in terms of affection, in terms of the structure of the family, which is not true.
There’s no such thing as adopted children. There are only children who were adopted. In a biblical understanding, “adopted” is a past-tense verb, not an adjective. So once someone has been adopted into the family, that person is part of the family with everything that that means.
1/16/2013 3:47:55 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Survey examines churches’ Lord’s Supper practices

January 16 2013 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The majority of Southern Baptist churches permit anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ to participate in the Lord’s Supper, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. The survey also revealed that 57 percent of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches observe the Lord’s Supper quarterly.
“Denominational distinctives are often evident in how the Lord’s Supper is observed,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “We sought to measure two attributes of Southern Baptists’ remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection: who may participate in the Lord’s Supper – with five distinct options listed – and the frequency it is observed.”

The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors found 96 percent of their churches allow individuals who are not members of that local church to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Only 4 percent restrict participation to local church members.

According to the survey, 52 percent of SBC churches offer the Lord’s Supper to “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.” Thirty-five percent say “anyone who has been baptized as a believer” may participate. Five percent of SBC churches serve communion to “anyone who wants to participate,” while 4 percent of churches don’t specify any conditions for participation.

“A single question cannot capture all the nuances of who churches allow to participate. There are many descriptive phrases different people prefer,” McConnell said. “However, the choices provided address key attributes mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message such as believer’s baptism and church membership. Today, many Southern Baptist churches may nuance their answers in different ways, but this gives a helpful picture of where SBC pastors are on the issue when choosing between the provided options.

“Clearly, though, this survey points out a difference between the beliefs expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Lord’s Supper practices of many Southern Baptist churches,” McConnell said.

Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (SBC.net/bfm) lists baptism as a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Article VII also says the Lord’s Supper is for “members of the church.”

While quarterly observance of the Lord’s Supper is the norm for nearly 60 percent of all Southern Baptist churches, 1 percent observe the Lord’s Supper weekly. Eighteen percent offer it monthly and 15 percent from five to 10 times a year. Another 8 percent conduct the Lord’s Supper less than four times a year.

The survey also found sharp regional differences in the frequency with which Southern Baptist churches conduct the Lord’s Supper. Pastors of churches in the Northeast (67 percent) and West (45 percent) are more likely to say they observe the Lord’s Supper monthly than pastors of churches in the Midwest (17 percent) and South (14 percent).

The majority of churches in the South (61 percent) and Midwest (58 percent) conduct the Lord’s Supper quarterly compared to churches in the West (29 percent) and Northeast (12 percent).

Methodology: These questions were asked as part of a mail survey of SBC pastors conducted April 1 - May 11, 2012, that included the option of completing it online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. The 1,066 completed surveys were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay Christian Resources’ corporate communications team.)

1/16/2013 3:34:14 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The Lord’s Supper: who should partake?

January 16 2013 by Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The following article encompassing four reflections on the Lord’s Supper is adapted from SBC LIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The writers are Roger S. Oldham, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention communications and relations and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Martin, Tenn.; Mark Coppenger, vice president for extension education and director of the Nashville extension center of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church; Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Mount Washington, Ky.; and John Floyd, formerly an IMB missionary, area director and trustee, an administrator and professor of missions at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist pastor.)

Meditation on the Lord’s Supper

Roger S. Oldham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Baptists have historically identified baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two ordinances given by the Lord to symbolize the believer’s union with Christ. Baptism commemorates our identification with Christ – a visual reminder of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; the death of the old nature through the reception of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ; and the promise of our future hope when our mortal bodies will be raised incorruptibly for eternity.

The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the means by which God’s salvation was secured on our behalf. The unleavened bread is a symbol of the perfection of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in His body, soul and spirit. The fruit of the vine symbolizes the substitutionary, propitiatory and covenantal blood of an innocent sacrifice, shed for the remission of the sins of the guilty (see Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:5-17; 7:27-28; 9:26-28; 1 Peter 3:18).

The Lord’s Supper, also called communion, demonstrates the doctrine of substitution – Christ died for me (1 Corinthians 11:26). Baptism demonstrates the doctrine of identification – I died with Christ (Romans 6:3-4).

When Jesus identified the bread and the fruit of the vine as His body and His blood, He spoke typologically. The bread did not become His body; the fruit of the vine did not become His blood. Rather, they represented the fullness of His sacrifice for those He came to redeem. How do we know?

First, the Lord’s Supper has its origins in the Jewish Passover, a memorial event designed as a perennial reminder to the Jews of God’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Jesus’ command to receive the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance of Me” establishes it as a memorial meal after the likeness of the Passover “type.”

Second, the specificity of Jesus’ language points to a symbolical understanding of the Lord’s Supper. It is hard to imagine the disciples thinking that Jesus, while physically sitting in their presence, literally entered the bread and the fruit of the vine. He did not say, “This bread becomes My body.” Sitting before His disciples in His pre-glorified incarnate state, He said, “This is My body ... This is My blood.” Though they did not fully understand what that moment meant until after the resurrection, they clearly understood the metaphorical nature of His language, much as they understood so many other metaphorical occurrences of biblical imagery (e.g., the Lord is ... my Rock, my Shield, my Fortress, my Shepherd).

Though receiving the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act, it is nevertheless deeply meaningful. When Jesus’ followers participate in the celebratory meal, their prayerful, introspective reflection demonstrates their desire for and commitment to a continuing lifestyle of deepening devotion, communion, unity, trust, obedience, gratitude and service (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 21; 11:20-34).

The New Testament provides no blueprint for the frequency of participating in the Lord’s Supper. It was instituted as part of an annual event (the Passover). The apostles speak of the breaking of bread (which many interpret as a reference to the Lord’s Supper) as a daily act (Acts 2:46) and a weekly celebration on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Paul referred to the Lord’s Supper in a timeless way (as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, 1 Corinthians 11:26). Regardless of the frequency with which a church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, the meaning is the same – a time to remember anew the value and joy of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, His redeemed children.

Baptists generally have agreed on the biblical insights concerning the Lord’s Supper described in this brief essay, but they have expressed a number of differing perspectives on the proper recipients of the Lord’s Supper within the worship experience of a particular local church. LifeWay’s newly-released research indicates that more than half of Southern Baptist pastors surveyed prefer a form of “open” communion. The following three essays, published prior to LifeWay’s research on this subject, reflect a more traditional interpretation of participation of the Lord’s Supper as described in Article VII of The Baptist Faith and Message.


A journey from more to less open communion

Mark Coppenger

I met a girl in college whose preacher father had what I thought was the oddest practice. He limited participation in the Lord’s Supper to members of his particular church. This meant that, though she was raised in that very church, she couldn’t take part in communion when she was home at Christmas, for she had moved her membership to a church in her college town. Now, decades after my college years, I’ve come around to preferring that approach, not because I think it’s the only licit approach, but because I think it’s the optimal approach.

Let me explain how I’ve gotten here. As I child, I understood that “Christian baptism ... [was] prerequisite ... to the Lord’s Supper,” as the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) puts it. And it was a joy to join in my first communion after I’d become a baptized believer at age 7. Years later, as a pastor, I took pains to explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper before offering the elements, saying that it was for those who had received Jesus as Savior and Lord – and that, in itself, it had no power. I didn’t stipulate that those who partook must have undergone believer’s baptism by immersion, for that was the assumed order of things in our congregation.

But what of our visitors? What if they had undergone infant “baptism” instead? Well, first, I hoped that my description of what we were doing would lead those with a sacramental bent and a keen conscience to abstain. But, more than this, I was squeamish about pointedly excluding genuine believers in other Protestant traditions from joining us, however confused they might be on baptism.

Furthermore, the BF&M teaches that, “The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages.” And it’s reasonable to think that, for instance, such Anglicans as C.S. Lewis and William Wilberforce, whom we celebrate, would belong to that body. And I thought it would almost seem churlish explicitly to “fence the table” from such as these should they, as visitors, wish to join in.

That being said, I believe that infant baptism is one of the gravest errors in church history, one that has caused untold mischief. It gives the recipient and his family the false impression that something spiritually significant has happened. And it can serve as a sort of inoculation against genuine conversion in the future. And, I have to say, it makes the work of the apologist much more difficult as he tries to explain how supposed “Christians” from paedobaptist groups could have perpetrated the Inquisition, the Crusades and the European Wars of Religion. In short, I think the apostles would have been astonished and appalled that some would one day institute the practice of infant baptism.

With so much at stake, you don’t want to err either way – whether suggesting that baptism differences are trivial or that non-Baptists are reprobate. It can be a tricky situation. Which is one reason that, in recent years, I’ve found comfort in a members-only Lord’s Supper, held in a special service in the evening. That became the practice in our Illinois church plant. I have to give Cecil Sims, former executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, some of the credit. He said they had a lot of people up there who liked to visit but never join, and this was one way to show the seriousness of membership. And in our Chicago setting, I was struck by the way some perennial visitors pressed me to hold the Lord’s Supper more frequently, as if it were some sort of ritual service available to the community at large.

So I graciously (I think) announced that we members would observe communion at an evening service, making it clear that this didn’t mean the others weren’t saved, but only that this was a distinctive observance for the fellowship of those who had signed our covenant of faith and mutual accountability.

We made it a real meal, with catered food from a Middle Eastern restaurant. And I have to say, the spirit was both somber and sweet, with the core of our congregation focused on the greatness of Christ’s mercy. As we began, I asked them to recount their most memorable Lord’s Supper, and one of the deacons simply observed, “None, until tonight.”


A short defense of close communion

Paul H. Chitwood

As I write this article, I am preparing to preach and serve the Lord’s Supper at a church holding 10 worship services each weekend on seven different campuses, in multiple languages, with combined attendance averaging more than 3,000 people. If that church practiced closed communion, which it does not, it might be pressing the limits beyond what would be acceptable to some who defend that practice. The diversity of the congregation’s ethnicity, worship times and physical locations has not, however, caused it to accept the arguments for open communion. Instead, the congregation has historically embraced the position of close communion, a position that I, too, have accepted.

Close communion – inviting baptized believers to participate – “fences the table,” but not with proverbial barbed wire. Unlike the closed communion practice of limiting the Lord’s Supper to members of a particular local church, close communion casts a broader net, welcoming to the table any who have repented of their sin, trusted in the atonement secured through the cross and resurrection, confessed Jesus as Lord, and submitted to scriptural baptism. Being a member in good standing of a church of like faith and practice is another qualifying mark typically stipulated.

The distinction between open and close communion is easy to make. Open communion invites anyone present, who claims to follow Jesus, to partake of the Supper. Though commonly practiced in churches of various denominations, open communion can be spiritually dangerous for a host of reasons. And, according to the Apostle Paul, the stakes are high. In his instructions concerning the Lord’s Supper, he wrote, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Paul’s admonition is more than a strict warning against missing the symbolism of the elements. In the broader context of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is obviously concerned about the self-centeredness, gluttony and drunkenness that had come to characterize many of the Corinthian believers and their participation in the Supper. These sins, of which the Corinthians were not repenting, led Paul to alert them of God’s impending judgment.

On other fundamental issues, open communion fails to offer the warning of 1 Corinthians 11. Believer’s baptism is a good example. With baptism being the symbol of one’s profession of faith and a clear command of Jesus, is not the rejection of it a sign of willful disobedience at the most basic level? Offering the Lord’s Supper to the unbaptized is unwise at best; at worst, it leads them into temptation. Establishing scriptural baptism as one of the fences around the Lord’s table seems non-negotiable and moves a church quickly away from the open communion position, drawing a closer circle around the table.

How tight must the circle be? With regard to New Testament exegesis, the argument for closed communion is an argument from silence. Nowhere in Scripture are churches told to refuse the Lord’s Supper to believers visiting from sister churches. Admittedly, “policing” who participates in the Lord’s Supper is easier to do when believers have the intimate knowledge of one another’s lives that should characterize meaningful church membership. Yet, the emphasis in 1 Corinthians 11 is upon believers examining themselves as they come to the table (verses 28 and 31) rather than fellow church members determining who is worthy to partake.

Most close communion churches place the burden of responsibility upon the believer by outlining the basic requirements for participating in the Lord’s Supper and then inviting those who meet the requirements to participate and asking others to abstain. Adding to those requirements the issue of membership in that local church is not scripturally warranted and would seem to harm the fellowship that members of churches of like faith and practice should be able to enjoy around the Lord’s table.

The Lord’s Supper is for believers striving to obey Scripture, symbolizing their absolute trust in the saving work of Jesus upon the cross. It can and should be enjoyed in the close fellowship of those who share in that obedience and trust.


A case for closed communion

John Floyd

A group of IMB missionaries were meeting in a mountain retreat center in Romania. The young missionary who had planned the opening worship service announced we would have a foot-washing service where each missionary would wash another’s feet. He had a basin and towels prepared. It was a good experience for all.

He then said we would observe the Lord’s Supper. Commenting on how much of a blessing the foot washing had been, I said I would need to be excused from the Lord’s Supper because I felt this was a local church ordinance. Another missionary (a professor of New Testament in a local seminary) said he believed the same thing and would need to be excused as well. Our young missionary colleague expressed surprise that anyone would object and decided not to proceed with the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Several issues are involved in deciding who should participate in the Lord’s table. One is the distinction between the church, the Kingdom and the family of God. H. Boyce Taylor masterfully adressed this question in Chapter 9 of his book, “Why Be A Baptist?” He concluded that all believers of all ages in heaven and on earth are members of the family of God (Ephesians 3:15); the Kingdom of God includes all the saved on earth at any given time; and the church is a group of baptized believers in a particular place who have covenanted together to be a church. He wrote, “Men are born anew into the family of God and into the Kingdom of God: but they are baptized into a church of God.”

Using the church of Corinth as an illustration, he wrote, “That local church at Corinth was the body of Christ at Corinth. The members of the church at Corinth belonged to only ‘one body’ of Christ. That body of Christ probably did not contain all the saved at Corinth ... and none of the saved anywhere else except at Corinth. ... [T]hey belonged to only ‘one body’ and that was the local church at Corinth. Christ has no other kind of church or body except a local church.”

Another issue is when the church was founded. Some feel the church began on Pentecost, concluding that both the Lord’s Supper and the Great Commission were given to each individual disciple, not to the church. However, as the late L.R. Scarborough wrote in an article published in The Baptist Standard, “It is certainly true that Christ in His own personal ministry established His church.”

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, His disciples were present (except for Judas). They were the seminal church. It was from this group, baptized by John, that Jesus organized and founded the church; and it was to this church that He said, “This do in remembrance of Me.” His mother was not present, nor were others of His followers. There is no record of her being baptized. The Lord’s Supper, from the moment of its institution, is a church ordinance.

Another issue is the purpose for which the Lord’s Supper was instituted. The ordinance of baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is seen each time a person comes into the local church through baptism. One is not baptized into a denomination. Similarly, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper shows His death (“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes,” 1 Corinthians 11:26), and the Lord leaves it up to the church to determine the frequency of its observance.

Paul indicated the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated as a church (1 Corinthians 11:18). It is important that the church should do so in a spirit of unity (1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27). If visitors from other churches participate in the Lord’s Supper, there is no way to know if there is spiritual unity. Conversion, baptism, church membership and an orderly walk (2 Thessalonians 3:6) are the prerequisites for coming to the Lord’s table. As a church ordinance, it protects the church’s unity to restrict the Lord’s table to the members of the local church.

Further, Paul describes the partakers of the Lord’s Supper as one body (1 Corinthians 10:17). The terms body of Christ or one body in the New Testament always refer to a local church. A person can be a member of only one body or one congregation at a time. It is the Lord’s table (1 Corinthians 12:18). No amount of brotherly love, ecumenical spirit or political pressure should cause one to invite to His table those who have not complied with His requirements.

Some, interpreting the language of Paul, “So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28), suppose that each is to be the judge of his own qualifications, and that the church’s role is merely to spread the table for all who choose to participate. However, Paul is addressing the members of the church at Corinth, not an extended body. Paul praised the Corinthians as having kept the ordinances as they were given, but he warned that the Lord’s Supper was not be taken in an unworthy manner. No discipline could be directed to those who were not members of the church.

In reviewing the biblical evidence, this writer’s conclusion is that the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is for the local church.
1/16/2013 3:15:12 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Waiting on God’s plan: Couple asks for prayer about adoption

January 15 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Peggy and Tommy Lott have known for a long time the risks that come with adoption.
The couple, members of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, adopted their 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, from Russia in 2010. And they experienced the roller coaster ride of emotions that typically come with the adoption process.
Peggy grew up with parents who cared for children in need of a home. She also has a sister who endured a traumatic failed domestic adoption. When the Lotts decided to begin the Russian adoption process for a second child last summer, they felt fully prepared.
That was then.
Unfortunately their past experiences and heartache were unable to shield them from the pain and frustration they’ve faced since Russia passed an adoption ban aimed against the United States.
According to media reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to have signed the U.S. adoption ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, in retaliation for a U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russian human rights violators.

BR photo by Shawn Hendricks

Peggy and Tommy Lott adopted Isabella, center, in 2010 and were in the process of adopting another child from Russia when the Russian government banned adoptions by U.S. citizens.

The Lotts had not yet completed the registration process for their second adoption, but they received a photo and medical information this past fall of a 1-year-old boy.
When Peggy first saw the photo that was sent by email, she went through all of the typical joys and worries an adoptive mother often experiences. Is he healthy? Is he being cared for properly? How soon can we travel?
“[He’s] … a part of you,” she said. “We saw a picture, and he’s in our hearts. We want to bring him home.”

The Lotts are far from alone in their frustration. The couple shared their concern for the other impacted families – many who were further along in the process. “Our focus has always been for those 52 families,” Tommy said.
“In some of the cases the parents had already met the children,” Peggy added. “Some of them were older children. … Adoptive parents told them, ‘We’re going to come back and get you and bring you home.’ And now it has all been stopped.
“Our prayer is that God will open Putin’s heart and that he’ll allow those adoptions to be completed,” she said.
“God was not surprised by it. God knew it was going to happen. God has a plan, and we know He has a child for us. How that is going to happen I don’t know.”
For now, the Lotts have turned in their information to the U.S. State Department with the hope it will help persuade Russian officials to allow the impacted families to complete the process.
“[The U.S. State Department is] keeping an eye on all the families,” Peggy said. “They’re probably taking the ones that already had their court date and already met the children, so we may not qualify for one of the ones to be pushed through. But we might. We never know.”
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Tommy, who described their life right now as “on hold.”
“We have this peace about it from God. We know He’s in control. [And]... we feel like our family is not done yet.” 
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) around 740,000 children are living without parents in Russia.
The U.S. State Department reports that Americans have adopted about 60,000 Russian children in the last 20 years.
Without her faith in God, Peggy said she’s not sure how she’d be able to process this latest development.
Having her “heart ripped out” is how Peggy still describes the feeling of having to leave Isabella, who was a year old at the time, after their first visit to Russia. The couple returned weeks later to complete the adoption process.
Peggy makes it clear that their little blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty has been a tremendous blessing to their family, which includes 16-year-old step brother, Ben, and dog, Joe.
“I can’t imagine my life without her,” Peggy said. “The minute she was placed in my arms … it was like I knew I was put on this earth to be her mother. No question, no doubt … that moment … It’s unlike anything.”
“We totally believe God’s hand was in this adoption,” Peggy said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
The Lotts recalled a tense moment near the end of their last stay in Russia as they rode with Isabella to the airport in Moscow to return home.
The couple noticed their Russian interpreters were listening intently to a news report on the radio. They appeared to be concerned as they spoke back and forth in Russian.
The interpreters told the Lotts that an American woman, who had adopted a boy from Russia, later decided she could no longer care for him and put him on a plane back to Russia. The incident quickly made headlines. Some speculated at the time that it could have an immediate impact on Russian adoptions involving the U.S.
Hearing the news from their interpreters, Peggy turned toward her husband, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “I’m leaving with this baby."
“They told us everything would be OK,” Tommy said.
“I think we were pretty scared at the time as to how [Russian officials] would react in the airport. You have to go through security and check points and things like that.”
“Our families were worried of course once that news story broke,” Peggy said. “They were praying. When we got to Washington Dulles, we called both our parents and said, ‘We’re OK. We’re in the United States.’
“So everything was OK.”
As this year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across the nation, Tommy and Peggy said they are especially thankful to Isabella’s biological mother for bringing their daughter into the world.
“Her mother aborted a pregnancy prior to Isabella,” said Peggy, as Isabella sat quietly in Tommy’s arms, watching an episode of Curious George on television.
“Even at that point,” Peggy said, “God was protecting her because her mother could have aborted her.
“And she didn’t. I got to tell [Isabella’s] story to somebody that was pro-choice. …
“This girl had tears in her eyes. She said, ‘I never thought of it that way before.’”
Describing adoption as a “calling” and the alternative to abortion, Peggy shared memories of sitting with Isabella in her rocker, telling her their “adoption story.” 
“I’d tell her ‘God gave you to me. He picked you to be my daughter,’” she said.
“We want people to know that adoption is worth it, every step of the way, no matter how hard it is,” she said.
“It’s worth it. If anyone can experience [adoption], it will change your life forever. I think it’s a definite picture of God’s love and grace extended to us.”
1/15/2013 2:46:41 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby finds short-term way to avoid fines

January 15 2013 by Baptist Press

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hobby Lobby says it has found a way to avoid for “several months” being penalized by the federal government for not covering abortion-inducing drugs in its employee health care plans.

Beginning Jan. 1, Hobby Lobby reportedly was facing fines of around $1.3 million per day for defying the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion/contraceptive mandate. Jan. 1 was the date its new employee health care plan was to take effect.

But Peter M. Dobelbower, an attorney and vice president for Hobby Lobby, said in a Jan. 10 statement that that date had been delayed, although he didn’t provide specific details.

“Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months,” Dobelbower said. “Hobby Lobby does not provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plan. Hobby Lobby will continue to vigorously defend its religious liberty and oppose the mandate and any penalties.”

Hobby Lobby eventually could face fines despite the fact that for-profits have a record of 9-5 (nine wins, five losses) in federal court against the mandate, according to a tally by the legal group Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Hobby Lobby – the largest business to sue the government over the issue – is among the four for-profits to have lost in court. So far, each of the nine victories has been limited to the business that sued, although if those wins stand on appeal, they could cover Hobby Lobby.

Under the mandate, businesses and even some religious organizations are required to carry employee insurance that covers contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and ella that can kill an embryo after fertilization and even after implantation. Pro-lifers consider that action a chemical abortion. After a federal judge in November ruled Hobby Lobby must cover the drugs, Becket unsuccessfully appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees emergency appeals from the Tenth Circuit. Sotomayor did say the lawsuit could proceed in the lower court and be appealed back to the high court at the appropriate time.

The Hobby Lobby suit also includes Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain. The same family – the Greens – owns both of them.

“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful,” David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, said in September. “... We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

In total, there have been 43 lawsuits against the mandate. Many of them involve religious organizations such as Christian colleges and universities.

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

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/15/2013 2:40:20 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

States deliver 43 pro-life laws in 2012

January 15 2013 by Angela Lu, World News Service

As the United States approaches Roe v. Wade’s 40th anniversary, pro-life advocates have gained ground in restricting the number of abortions taking place every year. In 2012, 43 pro-life provisions went into effect in 19 states, the second highest number after states enacted 92 pro-life laws in 2011. 
The numbers come from a report published by pro-abortion group Guttmacher Institute, which calculated the number of pro-life provisions rather than bills or laws, since bills often have multiple provisions. 
And while the Guttmacher Instituted bemoaned the number of states restricting abortions, pro-life advocates rejoiced over lives saved.
“For those who have been in the pro-life trenches for years, the remarkable passage of so many pro-life pieces of legislation should give these faithful warriors much hope and encouragement,” bioethics analyst Dawn McBane wrote on CitizenLink
Arizona led the number of pro-life laws, with seven, followed by Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which all enacted three or more laws.
Most of the provisions focused on banning late-term abortions, limiting abortion coverage under Obamacare, and medication abortions, Guttmacher said. Late-term abortions are described as abortions after 20 weeks, which studies found is the time when preborn babies feel pain. Currently seven states ban abortions at 20 weeks, while similar laws in Arizona and Georgia are facing court challenges.
Four states enacted provisions to counter President Obama’s healthcare law by banning abortion coverage in insurance exchanges, except in cases of life endangerment. Three states prohibited the use of telemedicine, which allows physicians to dispense abortion drugs through webcams. The practice has killed dozens and injured thousands more.
Many provisions also require pregnant women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. In Virginia, women are given the option of hearing the fetal heartbeat, while Louisiana and Oklahoma required making the heartbeat audible. According to Option Ultrasound, when a women sees an ultrasound of her baby, she is 60 percent more likely to proceed with the pregnancy.
Some states also increased regulation on abortion providers so that they follow the same safety laws as other medical centers that perform outpatient surgeries. Other provisions included securing admitting privileges at hospitals near abortion centers in the case of botched abortions.
And the trend looks like it will continue: Texas lawmakers plan to introduce six pro-life bills in 2013, with the support of Gov. Rick Perry. The bills range from banning late-term abortions to banning abortion insurance coverage to end-of-life care. 
“Now, to be clear, my goal, and the goal of many of those joining me here today, is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past,” Perry said in December. “We cannot, and we will not, stand idly by while the unborn are going through the agony of having their lives ended.”

Related story

Guest Column: Is the pro-life cause winning?
1/15/2013 2:14:54 PM by Angela Lu, World News Service | with 0 comments

Iranian-American pastor threatened with death

January 15 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

TEHRAN – Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor currently imprisoned in Iran, is being threatened with death as the country continues its longstanding pressures against Christians, according to a U.S. organization advocating in Abedini’s behalf.

The Iranian-born Abedini, a U.S. citizen who planted a network of house churches in Iran, was imprisoned last September and recently indicted on secret charges. According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Abedini’s case recently was handed to Iranian Judge Pir-Abassi, known as one of the country’s “hanging judges” for the number of people he has sent to their deaths.

Also languishing in prison in Iran are attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah and pastor Benham Irani.

The ACLJ reported Jan. 10 that Abedini had released a letter to his family members in Iran describing his ordeal.

“The life of Pastor Saeed is in grave danger,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said in a news release. “When you read Pastor Saeed’s own words, you understand that Iran has absolutely no regard for human rights and religious freedom.”

In his letter, a copy of which was posted by the ACLJ, Abedini writes of sleeping in a room with a bright light constantly lit, blurring day and night, and of the difficult process by which he says God is making him a godly man.

“It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel,” Abedini wrote. “This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my family and kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy. These hot and cold days only make you a man of steel for moving forward in expanding His Kingdom.”

Abedini also wrote of the joy he felt when he heard how Christians around the world were supporting him, and that other prisoners were “shocked” by the love followers of Jesus showed each other.

“I told them how in the Bible we are all considered brothers and sisters (despite race, color, or nationality) and we are to share in each other’s pains,” Abedini wrote. “This comes from our Lord. The Word of God says that when we are persecuted for our faith we are to count it all joy. When I think that all of these trials and persecutions are being recorded in heaven for me, my heart is filled with complete joy.”

The Iranian government does not recognize Abedini’s U.S. citizenship, the ACLJ says, which he gained in 2010 by marriage to his American wife, with whom he has two children. Abedini had traveled back and forth from Iran freely until his arrest. The ACLJ, which represents his wife and children (who reside in the U.S.), claims the U.S. State Department has done little to help the pastor.

“We continue to press the Obama Administration to engage this case – to speak out forcefully on Pastor Saeed’s behalf and put pressure on Iran’s allies to free this American,” Sekulow said in the ACLJ’s news release. “Time is of the essence.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a British religious rights organization, meanwhile reported on Jan. 7 that prominent Iranian human rights attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, who led in securing the release of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from prison, was jailed and disbarred for 10 years in September 2012, and his health is deteriorating. Dadkhah had faced the prospect of imprisonment for more than a year.

“Moreover, official attempts to justify his imprisonment by attempting to coerce an ‘on air’ confession are not only reprehensible, but are also clear indications that the charges levelled against him were spurious,” Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s chief executive, said in a statement on the group’s website. “CSW calls for the immediate release of Mr. Dadkhah and for an end to the campaign of harassment of civil society.”

International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington advocacy group for the persecuted church, meanwhile has kept its spotlight on the plight of pastor Benham Irani, who since his 2011 arrest has suffered severe health problems due to beatings by Iranian prison authorities and other cellmates and has been denied medical treatment.

Serving a six-year sentence for “acting against the interests of national security,” Irani wrote a letter from his prison cell to fellow Christians, ICC reported, speaking of his love and faith despite his suffering.

“My brothers and sisters, I love you all,” Irani wrote. “Christ has given you to me on Calvary. Even if I were sentenced to many years behind bars for the salvation of one of you, there would never be any complaint.”

ICC also relayed a report from Mohabet News, an Iranian Christian news agency, that Tehran house church pastor Vruir Avanessian was released on bail from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison on Jan. 10 after 15 days in custody. Avanessian, apparently arrested due to his alleged contacts with Christian converts from Islam, was in poor health and required dialysis while in prison.

And Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Iranian pastor Nadarkhani was re-arrested and released several days later. Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity, spent nearly three years in an Iranian prison before his acquittal in September of apostasy charges that could have led to his execution. He was convicted on lesser charges and sentenced to three years in prison but released due to time already served. On Christmas Day 2012, he was returned to prison but subsequently released on Jan. 8 of this year, CSW reported.

According to a recent International Christian Concern report on Iran, the country saw a steep increase in persecution of religious minorities in 2011, which continued in 2012. Among the issues the report identified were arrests and detentions, harsh interrogations, raids on church gatherings, torture, long detentions without charge, violations of due process, and exorbitant bail demands.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer based in Houston.)
1/15/2013 2:03:34 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 41-50 (of 90)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  >  >|