July 2012

Bourbon Street sex industry is ministry’s focus

July 11 2012 by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans’ Bourbon Street is awash nightly in neon light and lewd images. Some in the crowd disappear into the strip clubs that line the street. Others come only to gawk. One Crossover team prior to this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting – all women – came to pray.

Three couples from First Baptist Church in Florence, Ala., joined with Mosaic, a church plant in New Orleans’ Mid-City area, during Crossover to serve alongside Inward, a ministry of women from New Orleans churches that is reaching women in the sex industry.

The Florence team served in New Orleans days after a strip club dancer was found brutally murdered and one day after Inward successfully helped another woman escape her pimp.

“These women [of Inward] are on the frontlines of ministry,” said Rickey “Ric” Camp, pastor of First Baptist Florence and vice chairman of the North American Mission Board’s board of trustees.

Inward, in its third year of operation, goes into the clubs to show God’s love. As a result, several have left the sex industry. One dancer came to faith in Christ.

Photo by Marilyn Stewart

Neon signs light up the night on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street as tourists flood the street. While many come to party and others slip into strip clubs, one group from Alabama came to pray and minister.

The Florence team women, two of them retired, prayerwalked along Bourbon Street while Inward members delivered gift baskets with gift cards and snack items to club dancers and workers.

While the women prayerwalked, husbands gathered at Mosaic to pray. Camp said he texted verses such as Joshua 1:7, “Be strong and courageous,” to his wife, Lisa Camp.

“I was really frightened at first,” Lisa Camp said. “These women showed us how to look at people and see them as God sees them.”

Ric Camp said that while the men prayed, the women sent text message updates. One message read, “Pray that we get into the club,” and later, “We’re in.”

The murder victim worked at the club where Inward has hosted six breakfasts after closing time in order to share the gospel with club workers.

“We felt an urgency to pray,” Ric Camp said. “There is a sense of lostness and darkness there.”

Inward goes into the clubs every third Wednesday and gathers to pray the two weeks in between. Dozens of women from several Southern Baptist churches are actively involved.

Because of the Mosaic-Crossover team partnership, a Friday night outing was added.

Christi Gibson, Inward director and a staff member at First Baptist Church in New Orleans, said they decided to target smaller clubs just off the beaten path of Bourbon Street that Friday evening.

“These clubs are looked down upon, even by the other clubs,” Gibson said. The gift baskets provided by Mosaic and assembled by the Crossover team “allowed us to show them lavish love,” Gibson said.

Lisa Camp said Inward prays when they go out that business in the clubs will be slow so opportunities to talk will be available. God answered. At one club, the women talked to dancers for 45 minutes.

Ashley Burgamy, an Inward member, led the Florence team in prayerwalking down a side street she described as “creepier than Bourbon Street.”

“Sometimes I forget how weird this [ministry] is,” Burgamy said. “Hearing their prayers and how God impacted them was sweet.”

Burgamy said she prays that others will not only partner with Inward but will catch the vision for beginning a similar work where they live.

“Don’t just be excited about what we’re doing here,” Burgamy said. “Take it home.”

Ric Camp said the experience was a lesson that God can use churches of all sizes to reach others. At home, his church is beginning a ministry to homeless children.

“I learned there is a whole world outside the box that I live in,” Lisa Camp said. “I asked myself, ‘What is there back home that I need to be radical about?’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message in Louisiana and a freelance writer. To learn how to be involved with Inward, email Christi Gibson at www.Christi.Gibson@fbno.org.)
7/11/2012 2:37:58 PM by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CBF honors Vestal, passes strategic report

July 11 2012 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist Texan

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Participants in the June 20-22 General Assembly meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship considered what moderator-elect Keith Herron described as “life in the wrinkle of time between the past and the present,” as Coordinator Daniel Vestal was honored for 15 years of leadership and a strategic report to refocus and streamline organizational structures was embraced unanimously.

Twenty-one years after fellowship organizers broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention, moderator Colleen Burroughs praised a refusal to “sign on the dotted line” as she offered her final report as moderator. “The neighborhood of networks and partners escape conventional definition,” resisting a traditional model of what it means to be a Baptist, she said.

“You refuse to paint your lips red with creeds or wear skinny jean theology that flatters no one and just makes you unable to breathe,” Burroughs added, urging young leaders who have no memory of “the holy war” to remember their first name by demonstrating a picture of cooperation.

Described as a network of partner churches and individual Christians, communications director Lance Wallace said the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not a denomination, has no doctrine and does not make statements of beliefs or take official stances on social issues, according to an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

By the closing night registration had grown to 1,625 fellowship Baptists as Vestal spoke on the meeting theme of “Infinitely More” drawn from Ephesians 3:20-21. He encouraged listeners to “go into the future boldly” as new leadership emerges in “new wineskins.” At the close of the final session, participants took communion by intinction in observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Earlier in the week, Quaker folk singer Carrie Newcomer offered a concert where Vestal was honored in anticipation of his retirement. Wallace noted, “She helped us grieve Daniel’s moving on while giving us hope for the future at the same time.”

Of the more than 1,800 partnering congregations, 1,500 are dually affiliated with another Baptist organization and 171 were identified by coordinator search committee chairman George Mason as the “most deeply engaged in CBF” according to affinity markers that include attending general assemblies, endorsing chaplains, giving certain amounts of money, supporting CBF missionaries and sending students to the 15 partnering schools of theology.

A relatively flat $12.4 million operating budget was approved for the fiscal year 2012-2013.

In addition to conversing with pastors of those “engaged” churches about the person to replace Vestal as coordinator, the search committee met with ministry partners, prompting Mason, the pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, to conclude, “We are finding confidence that we will be able to take this next step together.”

Officers for the 64-member Coordinating Council include Herron as moderator; Bill McConnell, a partner with Rogers and Morgan, Inc., and member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., as moderator-elect; and Renee Bennett, a marriage and family therapist and member of Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, Ga., continuing as recorder.

CBF commissioned five new field personnel to serve in Haiti, Danville, Va., and Merritt Island. Three new church starters were assigned to Clayton, N.C., Houston and Charlotte, N.C.

“Throughout our history, we have started around 150 new churches,” said David King, associate for church planting. “We also partnered with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baptist General Association of Virginia in an Hispanic initiative to engage over 200 mostly house congregations.” The number of field personnel serving in other countries amounts to 132, with five area coordinators located stateside.

In place of the current CBF Coordinating Council, the adopted strategic report provides a governing board, a missions council and a ministries council to develop resources needed by congregations.

Cooperative agreements will be developed between national CBF and state/regional organizations. The plan also calls on the fellowship community to become “increasingly committed to generosity without strings,” allowing leaders the freedom to allocate funds necessary to fulfill CBF’s mission.

“There’s no missing the point we’re living in the wrinkle of time between the past and the future, between leaders, between structures, living in the interim, seeking, praying, working and trusting,” Herron said, calling the period a preparation to “realign our sights and refocus our energies and rearrange our priorities.”

Workshops and partner meetings filled out the schedule over the course of three days. One of the best-attended workshops showcased the products of CBF partner schools as six young preachers, two women and four men, provided the crowd of about 60 people with samples of their style.

Nearby Broadway Baptist Church provided an introduction to Taize, a contemplative style of worship, and Vespers, a reflective service utilizing dimmed lights and candles, silence and ancient prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Leading worship for Baptist Women in Ministry were Meredith Stone, women in ministry specialist at the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), and Jana Harwell of Arlington, Texas. Other partner events featured Central Baptist Theological Seminary President Molly Marshall, Mercer University Professor David Gushee and Wake Forest Divinity School Professor Bill Leonard.

CBF printed a disclaimer stating that the views expressed at partner events coinciding with the General Assembly do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of, or endorsement by CBF or its members.

The BGCT was the only state convention featured at partner events and on the program as choirs from Baptist University of the Americas, Hardin-Simmons University and Baylor’s Truett Seminary led in worship.

The Greg Warner Lifetime Service Award went to Toby Druin, former editor of the Baptist Standard, during the Friends of Associated Baptist Press Dinner. Current editor Marv Knox praised Druin as “an exceptional war correspondent” who covered Baptist controversies of the 1980s and 1990s.

With the retirement of Vestal at the end of June, much was made of CBF’s future direction, with Burroughs encouraging the next generation not to worry when they are misunderstood.

“From the moment you were born you refused easy identifiers that would confine you inside the walls of another institutional McMansion,” Burroughs said. “We didn’t construct walls for you on purpose. The fluid, nimble nature of your networks and partners’ identity is actually what will save you from sure destruction.”

While CBF parents dreamed about what their child would become, Burroughs said, “Now, on your 21st birthday, you have grown into a beautiful young mother yourself, having given life to countless children who fill in your address as the only Baptist home they have ever known.”

A “neighborhood full of seminaries” now cultivate “even more neighborhoods of ministers trained to think critically about the Bible and theology,” carrying with them the saving gospel of Jesus Christ with “their GPS locked on Micah 6:8.”

Praising the evidence of celebrating their giftedness “just like we knew you would back when women were not allowed to preach,” Burroughs said, “You’re doing it. You have become exactly what we dreamed you would become.”

The 2013 CBF General Assembly will be held June 26-29 in Greensboro, N.C.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at TexanOnline.net.)
7/11/2012 2:30:59 PM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist Texan | with 0 comments

North Carolina pulls plug on Planned Parenthood

July 10 2012 by WORLD News Service

North Carolina has joined a growing list of states that don’t want to support Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars.
Under a new budget approved July 3, the state will send the $434,000 that was formerly sent to Planned Parenthood to county health departments in the next fiscal year. Though Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the budget, lawmakers banded together to override her.
This is the second time North Carolina has passed such a law and overcome a veto by the governor.
In 2011, eight states passed legislation that diverted a combined $61.7 million in family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood to state or county agencies for health screenings and other services that don’t include abortion; today, the Obama administration bypassed the law in Tennessee to directly fund Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis.
This year, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and New Hampshire joined North Carolina, according to the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), which has aided all the states defunding the abortion seller.
“Planned Parenthood is an abortion-centered, profit-driven business, not the caring health provider for women and girls they purport to be. They neither need nor deserve taxpayer dollars,” said SBA President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “This budget adjustment does not cut a dime of family planning funding. It does protect the consciences of pro-life taxpayers by sending funds to county health departments.
“Americans nationwide are firmly resolved to defund big abortion and protect the conscience rights of taxpayers,” she added. “North Carolina legislators will not be the last to take action.”
7/10/2012 2:11:59 PM by WORLD News Service | with 1 comments

‘Orphanology’ author says adoption shouldn’t be ‘Plan B’

July 10 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST – Every adoption story is unique, but the tale of how pastor and author Tony Merida came to see he should adopt – essentially, through his own sermon – likely is quite rare.
When Merida was asked to preach at a youth camp on the subject of poverty, he began studying the subject in-depth, looking at the issue from a worldwide perspective.

He started to see, he said later, that “the poorest of the poor are the fatherless.” He then examined what the Bible had to say about adoption.

“Basically, I got convicted by my own preaching,” Merida told Baptist Press.

Merida and his wife adopted four Ukrainian children – all siblings – in 2009 and then a year later adopted a fifth child from Ethiopia. Within a span of two years, their house went from having no children to five children. And he says he wouldn’t change anything.

Merida is part of a growing movement within the evangelical community that is giving a new look at adoption from a theological perspective, comparing earthly adoption to spiritual adoption. In his book “Orphanology” (New Hope) coauthored with Rick Morton, Merida makes the case for a gospel-centered approach to adoption and orphan care.

“I’m hopeful for the future,” said Merida, lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “There seems to be a great interest in caring for orphans among evangelicals. I’m no expert in this field. I’m just a pastor and trying to help people connect the dots biblically, and I hope the next generation will take it further, practicing true religion.”

Baptist Press (BP) asked Merida several questions about his book and adoption in general. Following is a partial transcript:

BP: In your book you say that adoption does not relate to whether you can or cannot have biological children. Adoption, you write, isn’t merely Plan B.

MERIDA: I certainly wouldn’t challenge people if they were adopting because of infertility. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad reason. But as you look at the gospel, [spiritual] adoption, to God, was not a Plan B but Plan A. I just look at Ephesians 1:5 and Ephesians 5:1, with Ephesians 1:5 saying we’ve been adopted and Ephesians 5:1 saying “imitate God.” It has great implications for us. As I say in Orphanology, I don’t think everyone should adopt kids, but I think we all should be doing something for the fatherless. Theology is the best reason to adopt, and it’s really sad that most Christians think just like the culture on this issue. The cultural reason to adopt is infertility, but we want to think biblically about everything. A lot of people just want enough kids that they can manage. They don’t want their kids to mess up their career, they want to live out the American dream. Adoption is certainly not that. It’s messy. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. So, therefore, I think theology has to be what holds you.

BP: In the book, you recount a very powerful story of how your four new children had grown up in such poverty in the Ukraine that they were thrilled to get new clothes. Describe that experience and the biblical lesson you learned from it.

MERIDA: They were wearing the same clothes every day, and we were there for 40 days. Rarely, during that whole time, did they have a different outfit on. Obviously, what they were wearing they didn’t own, and they weren’t the most pleasant smelling outfits, either. When we were finally ready to go home, we went out to buy some clothes. In the orphanage, you had to leave all your clothes behind you were wearing – underwear, socks, everything. You couldn’t take anything with you. Basically, you’re a child and you own nothing. You’re leaving behind these old garments, and you’re putting on this brand-new wardrobe. The kids, when dressing, were counting their socks; they were so happy with their socks. It was a great picture of the gospel. As Paul says, Christians are putting off this old garment and putting on new clothes. It’s a great picture of what God has done for us in rescuing us.

BP: How is someone who doesn’t adopt – who isn’t bringing a child into their home – to help with this issue?

MERIDA: Adoption isn’t the only solution to the orphan care crisis. When you look around the world at 140 million-plus orphans, many of them are not adoptable. They’re not available for adoption. And in many countries, you can’t bring these children home. And so I think the church should be thinking creatively and intentionally about how to care for these kids in terms of maybe sponsorship, in terms of helping to educate them, in terms of taking the gospel to them. A big one would be transitional assistance for children who are not adoptable – how can we get them jobs, how can we get them into society and help them have a successful life? Churches could even underwrite an orphanage.

BP: How would a church underwrite an orphanage?

MERIDA: During one year at Vacation Bible School, we found an orphanage at Indonesia that you could basically support for $12,000 a year. It didn’t have a ton of children in it, but had a handful. We decided, why don’t we put $6,000 in the budget, and why don’t we raise the rest in our Vacation Bible School, with our kids, and try to teach our kids about orphan care? So the offering that week of VBS went basically to help sponsor these kids. The goal was to take trips over there and get to know these kids. Another way a church can help is orphan hosting, which basically is bringing kids to your area a couple of weeks out of the year, and doing a cultural exchange, which is what we did one year. You develop a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and use some of the people in your church to take the kids on activities, and get to know and love them. So instead of taking a trip to the Ukraine, we brought the Ukrainians to us, and amazingly, the majority of those kids found a family in the church and were adopted. That was by simple exposure. If a church could just show its members little Vladimir and little Sergei, a lot of their pre-conceived ideas go out the window and they capture their heart. Anything that a pastor can do to make orphan care real and not just theoretical, the better for his church.

BP: The book includes this statement to the pro-life community, “Would you be willing to adopt these kids if they were not aborted?” Where do you think the pro-life community has been lacking when it comes to adoption?

MERIDA: First of all, I would want to commend the pro-life community. I am pro-life as well, and I think the spirit of “Orphanology” is caring for the least of these and valuing human life. I would say keep speaking for life, keep fighting for the unborn. But with that, we need to carry a sense of responsibility to care for those kids who have been brought into the world and have been abandoned. Let’s say Roe v. Wade is overturned and there are more orphans than ever before. Are we willing to pay the price to care for them, to do all that is necessary to provide for them?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
7/10/2012 1:57:26 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Restaurant church discount draws investigation

July 10 2012 by Todd Starnes/Fox News & Commentary

NEW YORK (BP) – A family-owned restaurant in Pennsylvania is under a state discrimination investigation for offering a 10 percent discount for diners who present a church bulletin on Sundays.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission confirmed there is an investigation against Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in the town of Columbia. The complaint was filed by John Wolff, a retired electrical engineer.

“I did this not out of spite, but out of a feeling against the prevailing self-righteousness that stems from religion, particularly in Lancaster County,” Wolff told the York Daily Record. “I don’t consider it an earth-shaking affair, but in this area in particular, we seem to have so many self-righteous religious people, so it just annoys me.”

According to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, a restaurant is classified as a public accommodation. As such, restaurants are not allowed to discriminate based on religion, among other things.

Sharon Prudhomme, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, said she’s not discriminating against anybody – and plans on fighting the charges. She told Fox News Radio she is bothered the state is “basically agreeing” with Wolff.

“We’re just a mom and pop. We’re not some big chain like the Olive Garden,” she told Fox News Radio.

Prudhomme said the trouble started in April 2011 when she received the first of several letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based organization of “more than 17,000 freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and skeptics,” according to its website. The FFRF demanded that she stop giving discounts to patrons who brought in a Sunday church bulletin.

“I just filed it and blew off the other letters,” Prudhomme said. “I said I have no intention of taking it off the website.”

In late June the restaurant was served with a 16-page complaint from the state of Pennsylvania, accusing her of discrimination.

“I’m an American,” Prudhomme said. “This is America. This is my business, and we’re not breaking any laws.”

She said a representative from the state suggested that she should compromise and sign an agreement that she would offer discounts to any civic organization in the town.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute – you’re asking my husband and I to give anybody coming through my door a discount?’” she recounted. “They said yes.”

“I said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

“We have taxes to pay,” she said. “We have utility bills, payroll, mortgages and they’re expecting me to give everyone a discount?”

She added, “This is our business. We’re the ones paying the taxes. We need the people coming in. Our life is in this – and then to have someone come along and tell me what I can do and what I can’t do?”

She wondered if their other discounts might be considered discriminatory, like the one on Tuesday night where kids under 12 get to eat free. Or what about the senior discount?

“Could someone under 65 complain?” she asked.

Wolff told Lancaster Online that he discovered the church discount on the privately owned restaurant’s website.

“That rubbed me a bit the wrong way,” he told the online publication. “It’s not a big deal in itself and I have no animosity towards Prudhomme’s, but I do bear a grudge against a religious right that seems to intrude on our civil rights.”

If the commission determines there’s enough evidence to support the complaint, it could be referred to a public hearing. Should the restaurant owners be found in violation, it’s unclear what penalty they might face.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard daily on Fox News Radio stations around the nation. He is the author of “Dispatches From Bitter America” and “They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick.” This article first appeared at www.toddstarnes.com. Used by permission.)
7/10/2012 1:50:14 PM by Todd Starnes/Fox News & Commentary | with 2 comments

Chinese baby, in utero, led to mom’s baptism

July 10 2012 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Were it not for newborn Vivian Wang, her family might have missed out. It was Vivian’s life in utero that helped place the Wangs at a Chinese Baptist church on the Sunday when Vivian’s mother Jenny and brother Jerry were baptized along with 14 others.

The family had been preparing to return to China when they learned during a routine doctor’s visit that Jenny was two weeks pregnant with Vivian. What hindered their return was the certain threat of having to abort Vivian under China’s one-child policy, since the couple already had a son.

The mother asked God to give her husband a job that would allow the family to remain in the U.S. long enough for her to deliver their child.

Photo by Martha Willis

Jenny Wang is overwhelmed with emotion after being baptized by Joshua Zhang, pastor of Nashville Chinese Baptist Church, who also baptized Wang’s 8-year-old son Jerry.

“[Jenny] prayed to God to give us direction how we [could] do it,” said Jerry Wang, translating for his wife who doesn’t speak English. “We found a job ... because she prayed to God.”

The answered prayer gave the family a focused view of the Lord, about whom they had studied in lessons led by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student when the family was living in Louisville, Ky.

“We just didn’t know God,” Wang said. “Now we get it.”

Their daughter Vivian was four months old at the Easter Sunday baptism service at Nashville Chinese Baptist Church. The family returned to China the next week, where as much as 10 percent of the population is Christian.

“I think that a baby [is] a gift, from God,” Wang said. While he wasn’t ready to get baptized, he said he may get baptized with Vivian, as his wife was baptized with their son.

Joshua Zhang, pastor of Nashville CBC, baptized the new converts in the concluding service of a three-day revival led by Peter Leong, consulting pastor of Grace Chinese Baptist Church of Sugarland, Texas, the professions of faith accumulating during the previous months. Leong also is president of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship of the U.S. and Canada.

Eight-year-old Jerry Wang was the youngest of those to make a public profession of faith; the oldest, a 78-year-old man who chose baptism by sprinkling because he was too frail to enter the baptismal pool.

“I can go up into heaven,” Jerry Wang said. The second-grader had accepted Jesus four months earlier and had been awaiting baptism. “Everything is free,” he said of salvation.

The worship service put in perspective Scripture’s day of Pentecost. Even to those not fluent in Chinese, language was no barrier to the Holy Spirit’s presence, evidenced by the universal clapping of hands and audible “Amens.”

In a three-day revival that began on Good Friday, Leong focused on renewal. Preaching daily, Good Friday through Sunday, he culminated with a message to stand fast in faith, speaking almost entirely in Chinese.

David Liu, a 53-year-old member of Chinese Baptist Church who attended the revival, converted to Christianity more than 10 years ago after growing up in polytheistic Chinese Buddhism. He said he appreciates monotheistic Christianity.

“It’s refreshing,” he said of Christianity. “I think you find your true God. You certainly have more hope.”

Zhang holds baptism services at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, depending on the number of converts, he said. Last year, he baptized 30, half of them at Easter.

After the baptism service, Leong explained to Baptist Press the points he made during the sermon he had preached in Chinese. Leong had focused on Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, emphasizing Philip’s surrender to the Lord’s call, his patience in service, his preparation in being able to explain the Scripture and his willingness to let the Lord use him.

Leong had also given the congregation a brief history of the Baptist faith, focusing on John Smyth, the 16th-century defender of religious freedom, and pointing out the autonomy of each Baptist church.

“I’m so proud to be a Baptist,” Leong said.

Leong was baptized in Malaysia on October, 22, 1960, a Saturday, by a Southern Baptist missionary. He joined the church that same year and received a call to ministry two years later. After graduating from a Hong Kong seminary, he led Tai Po Baptist Church in Hong Kong before moving to Texas in 1985 as senior pastor of Southwest Chinese Baptist Church.

According to the latest U.S. Census figures available, 15,400 Chinese live in Tennessee, about 0.2 percent of the state’s population, but no official figures estimate the number of those who are Christian.

The baptisms added to the congregation of some 180 Chinese believers.

“This was a blessing from the Lord for sure,” Zhang said. “I think more and more people will come.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
7/10/2012 1:43:24 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Verdict reversal requested in Fla. suit

July 10 2012 by James A. Smith Sr., Florida Baptist Witness

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) – The Florida Baptist Convention has filed two post-trial motions seeking reversal of an “inconsistent” jury verdict in May that found it liable for sexual abuse committed by a former church planting pastor.

While the jury found the convention liable for sexual abuse of a minor committed by the pastor, it also agreed with the convention’s contention that the pastor was not its employee.

“You can’t make a finding that we’re responsible for, in essence, behavior that is associated with someone who’s under my employ and then turn around and make a decision factually that the person was never under my employ,” E.T. Fernandez III, who is representing the convention, said in a June 7 interview with Florida Baptist Witness.

“Legally, we call that an inconsistent verdict,” Fernandez, of Jacksonville, explained.

Fernandez has filed a motion for a new trial and a motion for “judgment notwithstanding the verdict.”

Lake County Circuit Judge G. Richard Singletary has scheduled an Aug. 1 hearing to consider the convention’s motions, as well as a motion from the plaintiff seeking a final judgment on behalf of his client, Fernandez said.

Although Fernandez is not optimistic the judge will rule favorably on the motions, he said the judge “would have to realize there is a flaw in the verdict.” If the post-trial motions fail, Fernandez said the convention would appeal the verdict. Such an appeal, though, would not happen until later because a separate trial to determine possible damages has yet to commence. The previous judge in the case ruled liability and damages had to be tried individually.

After the plaintiff’s presentation of its case during the trial, Fernandez said he moved for a directed verdict in favor of the convention on the basis that even before his defense the plaintiff failed to prove its case. The motion was denied.

Fernandez said the verdict attempts to “create new law” with the plaintiff seeking damages from a “bigger organization that would have greater resources than either a local association or the church that might employ a pastor.”

After a two-week trial in May, the jury found Lake County Baptist Association and Bay Street Baptist Church at least partially at fault, although each party had previously settled with the plaintiffs, according to Fernandez.

Douglas W. Myers, 63, is serving a seven-year sentence for molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2005 while Myers was pastor of Triangle Community Church in Eustis. He pled guilty in 2007. The boy’s mother filed the lawsuit in 2006.

Fernandez told the Witness, “At the time these alleged events occurred, there is no dispute [Myers] was on a mission of his own. He worked for his own church. He was not associated with the local county association. He didn’t make requests from the convention for any kind of financial support.”

Myers acknowledged he was not the convention’s employee, Fernandez said.

The convention did provide a grant to the Lake County Baptist Association for the planting of Harbor Baptist Fellowship in Howey-in-the-Hills in 2002. Both Harbor Baptist and Triangle, both formerly led by Myers, now are defunct.

The argument was that because both churches were listed in the Florida Baptist Convention Annual and among new church plants in Florida Baptist Convention articles in Florida Baptist Witness, the convention was “in some way vouching for the morals and character of this individual,” Fernandez said.

The argument is invalid, he said, because there is an explicit statement in the annual that notes persons listed are “solely for information purposes with no endorsement or approval implied or expressed.”

Additionally, according to Baptist polity, churches are autonomous, solely responsible for hiring their own pastors in contrast to other denominations, he noted.

Fernandez compared the voluntary relationship churches and pastors have with the Florida Baptist Convention to that of lawyers’ required membership in the Florida Bar.

In contrast to Baptist pastors and their relationship to the convention, attorneys are required to be members of the bar, which stipulates its members must attain and maintain certain educational standards, are licensed and can have their license removed. Nevertheless, the Florida Bar cannot be sued if one of its members violates the law.

“These [attorneys] are put in the closest and highest confidence and fiduciary relationships with other people in the state of Florida that equal, if not exceed, as those between a pastor and other members of his congregations,” Fernandez said.

The convention conducted criminal, traffic and credit background checks as well as personal references on Myers, all of which came back clear, Fernandez said. But the convention did not call churches where Myers previously served in Maryland and Alabama. After the charges in Lake County became public, people associated with those previous churches came forward saying they had similar concerns.

The son of a minister who served with Myers in Maryland told his father about inappropriate actions by Myers after the Florida charges surfaced. Still, even that minister said he would not have divulged the allegations if he knew about them at the time, according to Fernandez.

“We had no reason to have any suspicions,” Fernandez said.

In response to the verdict, Ronald Weil, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Orlando Sentinel, “We’re very pleased with the verdict. It clearly shows the Florida Baptist Convention failed to follow a basic standard of care.”

The victim, who is now 19, said Myers earned the trust of his grandmother, a devout Baptist, according to the Sentinel.

“He told me it was a normal part of growing up,” the young man testified. “He told me he had done it with plenty of other kids at other churches.”

Cecil Seagle, a former missions division director of the Florida Baptist Convention, testified, “We did not put him here. We didn’t recruit him. We didn’t place him,” according to a Sentinel report.

“We had nothing in anything we had seen that would suggest a moral impropriety,” Seagle testified. “Of course, we are sad about it. It hurts my heart.”

At a recent meeting of the State Board of Missions, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, reported on the jury verdict. He read a prepared statement, explaining he would be unable to answer questions.

Sullivan’s prepared statement follows:

“Since 2006 the Florida Baptist Convention has been a defendant to a lawsuit brought by a mother who claimed the Convention was negligent in the hiring of a church planter-pastor who served two mission churches in Lake County. The mission church pastor pleaded guilty in 2007 to molesting the mother’s 13-year old son over a six-month period. The pastor was sentenced to seven years in prison.

“Last week a two-week trial concluded in Lake County. The mother alleged the Convention did not do enough to investigate the background of the church planter. The Convention, although it did conduct a background check on the pastor, did not employ the church planter. The Convention only assisted a local church and the Baptist association with funding the mission start-ups.

“After nine days of testimony and arguments by the two legal counsels, the jury returned a verdict that was perplexing. The good news is that the jury found that the church planter/pastor was never an employee of the Florida Baptist Convention. The bad news is that the rest of the verdict was completely inconsistent with the evidence presented.

“There are expected to be a series of post-trial motions, and likely an appeal of some or the entire verdict. So it seems the liability case will be with us for some time.

“Regardless of the outcome of the motions – or the likely appeal to the appellate courts – we cannot let this case hinder our efforts to support church planting efforts in our state.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at GoFBW.com.)
7/10/2012 1:36:48 PM by James A. Smith Sr., Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments

Tenn. law restricting sex-ed could serve as national model

July 9 2012 by John Evans, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State legislators in Tennessee have made it official: Sex toys and graphic promotions of sexual activity are not welcome in public schools.

With the signing into law of SB 3310 by Gov. Bill Haslam, public schools that teach sex education classes must emphasize abstinence, and teachers are barred from promoting “gateway sexual activity” that encourages students to sexually experiment.

“We are very pleased with the passage of the Tennessee law, and we think that it could and should serve as a model for other states to follow,” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.

Tennessee only mandates sex education in school districts where the teen pregnancy rate exceeds a certain rate. But before the new law, some districts brought in speakers and curriculum that included explicit depictions of sexual conduct.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACTN) documented a 2010 incident at Hillsboro High School in Nashville when a speaker with Nashville CARES, an AIDS awareness and education program, taught a sex education class at the school. The speaker used anatomically correct models to show students how to perform a graphic sex act. FACTN also noted that in some schools, Planned Parenthood presented sexual education curriculum that included links to its national website.

Huber added that some organizations claim they teach abstinence, but their curriculum goes in a decidedly different direction.

“It’s asking students to creatively think of what kind of sexual activities they can still engage in and not get pregnant,” she said. “Well, that’s not how you and I define abstinence.”

The new law, signed in May, specifically prohibits promoting sexual experimentation and forbids materials that “condone, encourage or promote student sexual activity among unmarried students,” as well as “devices manufactured specifically for sexual stimulation.” It also gives parents the option to sue if a teacher violates the law’s guidelines.

While the law prohibits distribution of contraceptives on school property, it allows “medically-accurate” information about contraception to be provided as long as it is consistent with the law’s other provisions and emphasizes that only abstinence eliminates all risk.

Tennessee’s efforts take their place among a larger national struggle over sex education, one that Huber argues is filled with misinformation. She says the NAEA sought to counter that misinformation with a two-part study called “Considerations for Protecting Teen Health” released on June 19. It looks at both so-called comprehensive” sex education (CSE) programs and abstinence-centered sexual risk avoidance (SRA) sex education.

“[W]e think that there needed to be a definitive study that would give us the facts rather than the sound bites, and we think that this study does so in a rather exhaustive manner,” Huber said.

Part one of the study examines CSE programs, exploring their curricula, examining what it calls the “debatable” research metrics being used to promote them, and their current promotion by the Obama administration.

“The CSE approach has been the mainstay of sex education for decades, receiving the lion’s share of all funding even though research results for this approach are dismal, particularly in the school setting,” the study states.

A key argument of the study is that the CSE approach focuses only on minimizing the physical risks associated with sexual activity, ignoring the non-physical consequences of sexual activity for many teens. The study cites research that found most teens who had sex reported at least one negative effect, with girls especially saying they felt bad about themselves or felt used, and that teen sex leads to more than twice the risk of divorce later in life. It also points to research that shows teens who engage in casual sex have a higher risk of lower grades, problems in school and are less likely to go to college.

Huber adds that depression and suicide rates “skyrocket” among teens who add sex to their relationships, and sexually active teens are more likely to abuse alcohol and use drugs.

“If they think that the worst thing they have to worry about is a pregnancy or even an STD, then they aren’t receiving all of the information,” she said.

The study also found that such “comprehensive” programs include very little information about abstinence, with most skill-building activities centering on condom skills. It cites curriculum that suggests teens can be “abstinent” while still engaging in certain sexual activities, which exposes teens to STDs that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

CSE curricula also exaggerate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and STDs, according to the study, with one curriculum encouraging teachers to withhold information on condom failure rates.

The NAEA study tackles the research behind CSE, arguing that among other weaknesses, it uses flawed metrics, is over-generalized and suffers from conflict of interest, since much of the research was led and published by researchers who were either employed by the curriculum publishing companies or wrote the curriculum themselves.

Part two of the study seeks to show that abstinence-centered sexual risk avoidance education is the best approach. Starting from the premise that all non-marital teen sexual activity is high-risk and should be avoided, SRA education is designed to prevent all negative consequences by preventing sexual activity in the first place.

“Rather than encouraging teens to experiment with gateway sexual behaviors that could compromise their health and their ability to avoid sexual intercourse, SRA programs encourage teens to avoid all risk by focusing on non-sexual activities in their dating relationships,” the study says.

SRA programs follow a holistic approach that goes beyond addressing the physical consequences of sex, the study says, examining the reasons why teens have sex in the first place. Effective SRA programs typically include skill-building exercises that focus on topics including goal-setting, skills to resist sexual pressure, the benefits of waiting until marriage for sex, and medically accurate information on how contraceptives such as condoms may reduce the physical risk from sexual activity but don’t eliminate them. SRA programs avoid normalizing or promoting teen sexual behavior.

The study cites research that shows SRA programs are effective at reducing teen sexual activity, saying that 25 peer-reviewed studies demonstrated “significant and positive behavioral change” among participants.

Ideology plays a large role in federal government rejection of the SRA approach, the study argues, citing a 2008 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the effectiveness of abstinence education programs. Of the seven witnesses assembled, five said that even if SRA was shown to be as effective as or more effective than “comprehensive” sex education, they would still oppose funding for the SRA approach.

But the message of abstinence is resonating with teens and parents, the study argues, citing data that shows fewer teens are having sexual contact and that parents support programs that place primary emphasis on abstinence.

Huber urges abstinence education supporters to take action in correcting a 16-to-1 funding disparity that favors “comprehensive” sex education programs.

“Obviously we are at a dangerous spot for sex education policy right now,” she said. “The current administration has virtually eliminated all the abstinence education that they could.”

She points to a potential fix in the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act introduced into Congress. The bill authorizes grants for SRA programs and clarifies what an authentic SRA program teaches.

“We have currently about 70 co-sponsors,” Huber said, “but we need a whole lot more, so that we can see this change that is not only what parents want but is in the best health interest of our teens.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer based in Houston.)

To view part one of the NAEA’s study, visit here. For part two, visit here.

Related story
Teen STD rates rise, despite high condom use
7/9/2012 3:30:37 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Teen STD rates rise, despite high condom use

July 9 2012 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) rates have continued to grow, particularly in teenagers, despite condom usage remaining at or near record levels, according to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In its 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report released in June, the CDC found that teen condom use remained near the 60 percent range (60.2). This continues the trend that saw usage rise from 46.2 to 63.0 percent from 1991-2003 and then plateau, with only statistically negligible changes since.

Despite this, the CDC estimates the young adult population (ages 15-24) account for almost half of the estimated 19 million new STD infections every year, while comprising only 25 percent of the sexually active population.

Since 2000, syphilis rates have doubled, while chlamydia rates have seen similar growth.

In 2010, the number of chlamydia cases reported to the CDC exceeded 1.3 million, the largest number of cases ever reported for any condition.

The growth of STD rates contrasts other statistical information, such as the continued drop in the teen birth rate. The seeming contradiction, however, can be attributed to other factors.

“Rates of oral contraceptive use among females in this age range have increased, which helps explain the lower birth rate,” said Dr. David Hager, Ob/Gin and a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council.

Hager, author of “Women at Risk: The Real Truth About Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” also attributes part of the decrease to the 40 percent of teen pregnancies that end in elective abortion.

Teenagers are faced with a culture that encourages their being sexually active and a personal tendency to believe they are immune to long-term consequences, according to Sarah Hughes, Executive Director of the House of Hope in Clayton, N.C., a Christian therapeutic school, home and counseling center for hurting and troubled teenage girls.

Factors such as these have led to one in four teenage girls having at least one STD, according to a CDC estimate.

While the statistical information can be daunting, those involved say parents and churches can work to prevent STDs and to minister after the fact.

Hager warns that education should not be left up to “secular organizations with an agenda, such as Planned Parenthood.” Pastors and student ministries must address both the potential exposure to sex in the culture and the consequences of non-marital sexual activity.

Unfortunately, one of those consequences can be infertility in women who contract an STD. Each year, untreated STDs cause at least 24,000 women in the US to become infertile.

In her work with teen girls, Hughes has seen the lasting emotional effects an STD diagnosis can have on an individual. “She can view herself as not worthy or damaged,” Hughes said.

“It poses a challenge to the truth, which is that she is full of worth and value because there is a Savior who died for her.”

Gallery Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Baltimore, Md., has seen the damage STDs and the subsequent emotional trauma can bring to a community. The church knew it must get involved after seeing that Baltimore has consistently been one of the five urban areas in the U.S. with the highest HIV rates.

Since 2009, Gallery Church has partnered with local government and others to serve those in the community with HIV and demonstrate the practical love of Christ to those around them.

One of the primary ways the congregation has done that is through City Uprising, the church’s local mission’s emphasis. According to Robert Holman, City Uprising director, part of the ministry consists of sending teams from the local church body, as well as from other partnering churches, into the community to inform residents of HIV testing sites.

Not only does this lead to individuals becoming tested and connected with care for those in need, it has brought about a spiritual response for some.

“As a church, we have welcomed into our body members of the community infected with HIV, who are now living on display for Christ and making disciples,” Holman said.

Churches can and should be involved in ministering to those with HIV, Holman said.

“We believe that only when the church comes together in partnership with the city and other organizations, can we really stamp out the epidemic in our city and other areas in our nation impacted by HIV/AIDS and other STDs.”

His advice to other churches seeking to start in a similar ministry: “Start somewhere, no matter how small.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a freelance writer in Wake Forest, N.C.)

Ideas for churches ministering to families dealing with an STD diagnosis:

– Don’t be judgmental and condemning.

“Come alongside with compassion and mercy.” Dr. David Hager, Ob/Gin and author of “Women at Risk: The Real Truth About Sexually Transmitted Diseases.”

– Offer accountability and encouragement.

“The church can help those get back on track by making sure the teen and family are plugged in with people who truly care about them.” Sarah Hughes, Executive Director of the House of Hope in Clayton, N.C.

– Help the teen learn from the mistake and move on.

“For the teenager: It doesn’t define you. Focus on who you are in Christ, walk in forgiveness and move forward.” Sarah Hughes


Ideas for parents of a teen with an STD:

– Make sure proper medical care is received.

“The most important thing is to obtain adequate medical care and then discuss ways to avoid repeating the behavior that resulted in the infection.” David Hager

– Keep communication open.

“Treat teens with respect and be someone they are not afraid to talk to.” Sarah Hughes

– Work with the parents of the other child.

“Talking with the family of the opposite sex child without shaming and blaming is important.” David Hager

– Get help from others.

“Counseling is an invaluable resources that can be extremely helpful in dealing with a diagnosis.” Sarah Hughes


5 key STD-related stats.

– The CDC estimates there are 19 million new STD infections in the US each year.

– Girls aged 15-19 have the highest rates of gonorrhea compared to every other demographic group.

– Every year, 24,000 women in the US become infertile due to an untreated STD.

– Young adults, ages 15-24, comprise only 25 percent of the sexually active population, but they acquire almost half of all new STD infections.

– In 2010, more than 1.3 million cases of chlamydia were reported, the largest number ever for any condition.

SOURCE: Statistics from the CDC’s 2010 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance report and the National Abstinence Education Association’s Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health report.

Related story
Tenn. law restricting sex-ed could serve as national model
7/9/2012 3:22:02 PM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Asia, former SBC president sees breakthrough to the unreached

July 9 2012 by Rolan Way, Baptist Press

SOUTHEAST ASIA – Headlights pierce the darkness of this Southeast Asian village as a Toyota truck bounces along the dirt path. American pastors have hiked for hours down the side of a mountain in extreme heat and humidity to reach the village. One of the pastors is suffering from dehydration, and the truck has arrived to transport him to the nearest hospital.

But this area also is enveloped in darkness that can’t be seen. The pastors sense a spiritual battle being waged on this journey to be Christ’s heart, hands and voice to this unreached people group.

The previous day, Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, led a young man named Hook, the group’s guide, to the Lord. As far as the team knows, Hook is the first believer among his people.

For a group of American pastors in Southeast Asia, transportation via four-wheel-drive vehicles was required for reaching some of the remote villages they visited.

“Today [an International Mission Board missionary] and I told him about the one true God that we can know through the person of Jesus Christ,” Wright said. “... Hook prayed with us to trust Christ as his Savior and Lord.”

Early the next morning, Hook arrives at the mountain lodge where the team is staying. He is eager to learn more about the faith he has embraced. The pastors promise Hook a Bible in his own language.

“When do I get the Book?” he asks, barely able to contain his excitement.

“Hook was so moved with the gospel that he was going to go and share with his family that evening,” said Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va. “That is just the power of God. It’s like lighting a candle. It brings light into darkness. Hook is on fire for the Lord, and he is going to be a light in his village.”

George Wright, pastor of Cedarcrest Church in Acworth, Ga., and son of Bryant Wright, disciples Hook starting in the Book of John. Hook’s eyes brighten as he hears of the promise of Christ and eternal life with Him.

There are thousands like Hook in this remote, mountainous region – people who have yet to hear the Gospel and remain in bondage to an animistic belief that leads them to make meaningless sacrifices. Desperate to appease evil spirits, they offer up their meager resources of cattle and food.

They do not know that Christ already made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Yesterday, we had the privilege of sharing the gospel with a group of people,” said Micah Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo. The pastors asked those attending if they had ever heard of Jesus. One by one, the response was the same: No, I do not know Him.

It is a response that weighs heavily on the pastors’ hearts.

“When I look at the people here ... when I think about their need for the gospel and I think about the resources that we have in the United States, [it’s a shame],” Fries said, his voice trailing off.

Despite the distance to reach Southeast Asia’s unreached people groups, Fries believes Southern Baptists can change their hopeless future. “We can do it; we have the resources,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, I’m not so sure that we’ve believed enough the truth of Jesus’ words to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.”

George Wright solemnly reminds the team of why they are here – and the message they need to take home.

“The time is now.... We have the opportunity to be part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” Wright said. “And, yes, we are standing on the shoulders of so many faithful men and women who have gone before us. But, we can do this. Let’s take the gospel to those who have yet to hear.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rolan Way is a communication director for the International Mission Board.)
7/9/2012 3:14:02 PM by Rolan Way, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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