July 2013

'Pray' – military ousts Egypt's Morsi

July 3 2013 by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press

CAIRO – One year after becoming president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi was ousted from power July 3 by the military, calling to memory the removal of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, as a result of Arab Spring protests.
His removal came following days of protests that brought millions of Egyptians to the streets and resulted in multiple deaths, injuries and atrocities.
Many people feel conditions in the country have worsened in the past year under Morsi. Patrick Stein*, a Christian worker living in Egypt, said a sense of lawlessness has abounded. As kidnappings and robberies escalated, unemployment, gas shortages, electricity cuts and rising food prices affected people’s everyday lives.
According to the BBC, 22 million Egyptians signed a petition expressing concern about security not being restored, poor people having no place in society, there being no justice for those killed by security forces, a loss of dignity and fears of economic collapse.
Among the millions of demonstrators were both supporters and opponents of President Morsi. Groups gathered throughout Cairo, with the largest concentration in Tahrir Square, known as a site of the Arab Spring protests of early 2011.
“Tahrir Square is where people go to voice their opinions,” said Rye Martins*, a Christian worker living in Egypt. “The square has come to be a symbol for change and people looking for hope.”
Christian workers within Egypt share feelings of hope, but hope for a different type of change.
“As they go to the square ..., pray they ... will find a spiritual revolution that is greater than any political revolution,” Martins said.
As the protests continue, within the crowds are Egyptian Christians who are using this gathering as an opportunity to share their faith with those standing next to them.
“When we see those masses of people in the square, we see spiritual need,” Diedre Martins* said. “They are desperate, so desperate that they are willing to put everything else on hold and go stand in a square for weeks on end to fight for what they think is going to solve their problems; but we know it’s not.”
“It’s not just riots and chaos, this is opportunity,” says Stein, “For the first time in hundreds of years people are questioning everything. This is the greatest opportunity we have had in a long time in a city that is promised to the Lord.”
Stein prays that Egyptian Christians will be bold in sharing their faith during this season, and that they won’t hesitate. “It wrecks my heart to know that people are dying without hearing the Good News.”
As the world watches, Jack Logan*, a Christian worker in the Middle East, asks that people view the humanity of the faces on the TV screen.
“If you look at the pictures, there are grandmothers and teenagers out in the streets, these are real people, with real families, with real problems,” Logan said.
“I pray that people can see Egyptians through God’s eyes. .... Once we see them the way God sees them ..., we begin praying in the right direction.”
According to the BBC, the protestors said they “swear to God that we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people.”
Logan, the Martins and Stein hope that the millions of Egyptians who say they would lay down their lives for their country will learn of the One Who has already sacrificed Himself for them.
“Pray that people will encounter Jesus Christ, however that happens in this time, whatever the medium, that He will be glorified in all of this,” said Logan, “that His kingdom will come and that His will will be done.”
*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Eden Nelson is an International Mission Board writer based in the Middle East.)
7/3/2013 4:10:20 PM by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Halt religious coercion, Baptist & Catholic-led coalition says of abortion mandate

July 3 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A widely diverse coalition headed by Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic leaders has called on the Obama administration to reverse the religious coercion in its abortion/contraception mandate.
In an open letter to Americans released Tuesday (July 2), the collection of about 100 religious, pro-family and religious freedom leaders urged the administration to extend the conscience protections to include individuals and organizations with objections to the mandate. The mandate, which is a part of regulations implementing the 2010 health care reform law, requires nearly all employers to carry insurance plans that cover drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions. 
The coalition said the “specific offense” of the mandate embodies a “greater fundamental breach of conscience” by the government. “Very simply, [it] is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B,” according to the letter.
The mandate “is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining – or casting aside – religious doctrine,” the coalition said in its letter. “This should trouble every American.”
The letter represented another act in the ongoing protests against the abortion/contraception mandate since it was first announced in August 2011. The coalition not only urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to strengthen conscience rights in the mandate, but it called on Congress to find a way to bar such future offenses.
Speaking at a July 2 news conference upon release of the letter, the leading religious freedom spokesmen for Southern Baptists and American Roman Catholics – Russell D. Moore and William Lori, respectively – reaffirmed their agreement on the religious liberty issue at the core of the mandate and their support for freedom of conscience for all people.
“The issue here is not contraception or abortion,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “We wouldn’t all agree on those questions ourselves in this coalition. At issue is the callous disregard our government has shown for the freedom of Americans to exercise their religious convictions.”
Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, told reporters, “Our concern for our institutions is a concern to serve, to be able to do our ministries of justice and charity and education and health care ... according to our own teaching. But our concern is also broader than even that. It extends to conscientious private individuals, because religious freedom inheres first and foremost in the individual.”
While the USCCB opposes coverage of all contraceptives, the ERLC’s objection is to contraceptives that can cause abortions.
The latest letter came less than two weeks after Moore and Lori jointly wrote all members of the Senate and House of Representatives to urge them to pass legislation – the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, H.R. 940 in the House and S. 1204 in the Senate – to bolster conscience protections in health care generally.
The administration has greeted their appeals for conscience protections in the mandate with “word games and accounting tricks that amount to the same mandate repeated over and over and over again,” Moore said at the news conference. “But we are not so easily hypnotized by bureaucratic parlor tricks. Our government has treated the free exercise of religion in this case as if it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad, there to be bought off or plowed out of the way in the name of progress.”
Moore told reporters, “We are not going to back down on this question. I think the government has been waiting us out for some time, thinking that Roman Catholics and evangelicals and others who are opposed to these things will somehow go away. We’re not going away.”
Among the government-defined contraceptives covered by the mandate are Plan B and other “morning-after” pills, which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos, and “ella,” which – in a manner similar to the abortion rug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of a child.
HHS issued the final regulations on the mandate June 28, but those rules did nothing to accommodate conscience objections by for-profit companies. While they extended the mandate’s implementation date for Christian institutions and other non-profits from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1, 2014, they failed to free them from complicity in abortion, critics said.
The administration announced Tuesday (July 2) it would delay enforcement of another mandate in the health care law for a year. The government has postponed from 2014 to 2015 the mandate that requires employers with at least 50 workers to provide health insurance.
In addition to Moore and Lori, others signing the July 2 letter included Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals; Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Matthew Harrison, president, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; Alan Sears, president, Alliance Defending Freedom; Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council; David Nammo, executive director, Christian Legal Society; and Richard Land, president, Southern Evangelical Seminary, and the ERLC’s president emeritus.
The letter’s other signers included representatives of various non-Catholic denominations and churches, Catholic institutions, Mormons, Scientologists and Hare Krishnas.
More than 60 lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate, including 32 by for-profit companies, including Christian publisher Tyndale House and retail chain Hobby Lobby. Courts have granted injunctions or restraining orders blocking enforcement of the mandate to 22 for-profit corporations but have refused to provide such relief to six others, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. No action has been taken in four for-profit lawsuits.
The ERLC, which has signed onto five briefs challenging the mandate, has said the abortion/contraception mandate gives those who object to it three options, all unacceptable: (1) Violate their consciences by obeying it; (2) violate the law, which could produce hefty fines; or (3) stop providing health coverage, which could force workers to purchase insurance with provisions they object to and possibly open the employers up to penalties.
The coalition letter, titled “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” may be accessed online at http://erlc.com/article/open-letter-religious-freedom.
Moore’s written statement for the news conference in Washington is available at http://erlc.com/article/remarks-national-press-club.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/3/2013 3:40:02 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Moore, others: Final mandate rules fail

July 3 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration again failed to provide adequate conscience protections in the final rules for its abortion/contraception mandate, religious freedom advocates say.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued June 28 the latest, and supposedly last, regulations on a requirement that is part of implementing the 2010 health care reform law. The mandate requires employers to carry insurance plans that cover contraceptive drugs, even if they can cause chemical abortions. 

The new rules, however, did nothing to accommodate conscientious objections by for-profit companies. While they extended the mandate’s implementation date for Christian institutions and other non-profits from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1, 2014, they failed to free them from complicity in abortion, critics said.

“Sadly there is nothing new here,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The administration has given people of faith a deadline to comply with these demands. This is simply a restatement of those demands. 

“Freedom of conscience is a natural and inalienable right, not an allowance handed out by Uncle Sam,” Moore said. “Sadly, these rules are asking citizens to choose between obedience to God and compliance with the regulatory state. We must stand with conscience.”

The latest regulations simplify the meaning of “religious employer” from previous guidelines, according to HHS, but still include only churches and other “houses of worship” as eligible under that definition for exemption. 

Under the accommodation for other non-profits that object to the abortion/contraception mandate, they “will not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer contraceptive coverage,” HHS said. In an insured health plan, the insurance company will pay for contraceptives, and in a self-insured plan, a third-party administrator will provide or arrange such payments, according to HHS.

Those arrangements fail to relieve the conscientious objections of non-profits, critics said. 

“[T]his doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires.”

HHS “is acting like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his lima beans,” Rassbach said. “Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so.”

Anna Higgins, director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, described the rule for non-profits as an “accounting gimmick” that fails to protect religious freedom.

“The mandate does not protect women’s health either,” she said. “It threatens women’s health by forcing religious employers into the untenable choice of violating their consciences or dropping health coverage for families and the women they employ. That doesn’t help women’s health; it harms it.”

The Becket Fund, which is representing Hobby Lobby and seven religious non-profits in lawsuits against the mandate, said the final regulations differ little from proposed rules issued in February. The February draft proposal and the June 28 final rules joined HHS’ original August 2011 abortion/contraception mandate and the March 2012 proposed version in failing to address the concerns of religious liberty advocates.

The government-defined contraceptives covered by the abortion/contraception mandate include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills, which possess a secondary, post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The mandate also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

Of the 61 lawsuits that have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate, 32 are by for-profits, including Christian publisher Tyndale House and some owned by pro-life evangelicals, such as retail chain Hobby Lobby, or Catholics, according to the Becket Fund. Courts have granted injunctions or restraining orders blocking enforcement of the mandate to 22 for-profit corporations but have refused to provide such relief to six others. No action has been taken in four for-profit lawsuits.

The ERLC has signed onto five briefs defending the religious freedom of entities challenging the mandate at the appeals court level.

Moore and other religious leaders plan to release an open letter July 2 in Washington to call for religious freedom protections in the abortion/contraception mandate and to urge Congress to act to guard religious liberty.

Moore and William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, urged all members of Congress in a June 21 letter to support the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, H.R. 940 in the House and S. 1204 in the Senate. The legislation is designed to bolster conscience protections in health care, including for the abortion/contraception mandate. 

The ERLC says the mandate gives those who object to it three options, all unacceptable: (1) Violate their consciences by obeying it; (2) violate the law, which could produce hefty fines; or (3) stop providing health coverage, which could force workers to purchase insurance with provisions they object to and possibly open the employers up to penalties.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/3/2013 11:29:39 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Guest column: Can the church flourish?

July 3 2013 by David Roach

NASHVILLE – In recent days Christians have rightly decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in favor of gay marriage, calling them unjust, unwise and ungodly. The decisions will have adverse effects on society, and followers of Jesus should work tirelessly to see them overturned. At the same time, however, the Bible reminds us not to be discouraged or imagine that a culture awash in sexual immorality will rob the church of its power.

The first-century Roman Empire practiced and even embraced an array of sexual perversions, but God used that sin as a backdrop to highlight the power of the gospel and the holiness of His church. Consider several of the cities where early believers lived.

The apostle Paul’s description of Gentile-dominated Rome included reference to homosexuality. Women there “exchanged natural relations for those that [were] contrary to nature” while men “likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26-27). Indeed, Rome was a bustling metropolis that offered an array of sexual perversions to those seeking illicit pleasures. Yet in that city, the gospel proved to be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believe[d]” (Romans 1:16) and the virtue of the church was “known to all” (Romans 16:19).

Ancient Corinth was infamous for its wanton sexuality. Paul included among the common sinful lifestyles in Corinth “the sexually immoral,” “adulterers” and “men who practice homosexuality” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Some Corinthian believers were even among those groups before their conversions. But when Paul preached the gospel there, “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

Among the “works of the flesh” present in Galatia were “sexual immorality,” “impurity,” “sensuality” and “orgies” (Galatians 5:19-21). But the Galatian believers were “redeemed from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13) and called to live by faith (Galatians 3:11).

Ancient Ephesus was the site of a great temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, and its centerpiece was a large and perverse statue of the deity. It was a city of pagan immorality, including “sensuality” and “every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). In such a city though, Paul preached for two years and saw many come to faith in Christ (Acts 19:10). Believers there were to be set apart from all sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3) and known for their godly families (5:22-6:4).

Thessalonica, as a city of more than 100,000 in Paul’s day, had its share of pagan vice too, including “sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). In contrast, the Thessalonian Christians’ faith and personal holiness “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

The recipients of 1 Peter also lived among pagans and were bombarded by calls to indulge the “passions of the flesh” (1 Peter 2:11-12). Yet they stood out from the sinfulness around them as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). And one of the most powerful preachers in history, John the Baptist, exercised his prophetic ministry against the backdrop of an evil king who persisted in an illicit relationship with his brother’s wife (Matthew 14:1-12). Eventually John was beheaded because of his stand for righteousness. But his call to repentance has helped bring countless thousands to Christ through the centuries while Herod’s sexual sin was short-lived.

So fight to protect traditional marriage and lament the court decisions that were handed down. But take heart. Though sexual perversion may increase, God has a history of making His gospel shine brightest where culture is darkest. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ.)
7/3/2013 11:25:12 AM by David Roach | with 0 comments

Superman: Jesus figure or ‘anti-Christ’?

July 3 2013 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

Superman has always had a bit of a messiah complex, born as a modern-day Moses in the imagination of two Jewish guys during the Depression and over the years developing and amplifying his Christlike characteristics.
So it made sense that Warner Bros. Pictures spared no effort in using the Jesus connection to attract the increasingly important Christian audience to see the latest film in the Superman franchise, “Man of Steel.”
The studio hired a leading faith-based marketing agency, Grace Hill Media, to hold special screenings for pastors, and it developed an extensive website of Christian-themed resources — including specially-edited trailers for use in churches and “Man of Steel” sermon notes.
“The Christ-like parallels, I didn’t make that stuff up,” director Zack Snyder told CNN. “That is the tried-and-true Superman metaphor.”
Or maybe not.
Despite the studio’s best efforts, some viewers are leaving the theater after watching “Man of Steel” and issuing what amounts to a theological spoiler alert: Don’t compare this Superman to Jesus Christ.
In fact, “he is the anti-Christ,” as the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and commentator for National Catholic Reporter, tweeted after he saw the movie. In “Man of Steel,” Reese wrote, “Superpowers, not love, conquers (sic) evil. Bash the bad guy, don’t turn cheek.”
Or as Jackson Cuidon put it in his “Man of Steel” review in Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine: “Superman … is there mostly to satiate that part of the American psyche that wants their messiahs to punch things, too.”


Photo by Clay Enos/courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “MAN OF STEEL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.


These critics’ main quibble isn’t with the quality of the movie, though many faith-based reviewers concur with secular critics who think “Man of Steel” suffers from an overstuffed plot and a surfeit of special effects. And there are others, like Religion News Service blogger Jonathan Merritt, who wonder if all the targeted marketing “represents another step forward in the commodification of Christianity.”
Rather, Superman’s real sin, for some Christians, is that he resorts to violence to accomplish his goals – namely, killing his enemy, the evil General Zod.
That was new, and it broke what comic book fans traditionally call “the rule” of the superhero ethos: Thou shalt not kill, even though you can.
The very point of Superman, in particular, was that he always found a solution without killing, which would have been so easy for him to do. He was a role model in making the right moral choice, not using force to win the day. This Superman “blasted a hole in the traditional moral code of the character,” as religion writer Jeff Weiss put it in a Real Clear Religion essay.
Moreover, in “Man of Steel,” Superman’s interminable battles with Zod devastate Metropolis, leaving untold thousands dead but with no real reckoning — moral or otherwise — for the lives lost. “Disaster Porn,” one critic called the film.
In short, this Superman is so unlike Jesus that Michael Parnell, pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va., found himself angry that the studio had the gall to pitch this movie as representing Christian values.
“Don’t sit there and tell me I can compare this character to Jesus,” said Parnell, who reviewed the film for the Religious Herald. “Harry Potter is a better messianic figure than this Superman is.”
As a former moderator of the Captain Comics Round Table, Parnell is a superhero fan who knows what he’s talking about. He will even be traveling to the big Comic-Con International festival next month, where he may find that more than a few secular comic book aficionados share his concerns.
“From everything shown to us from the moment he put on the suit, Superman rarely if ever bothered to give the safety and welfare of the people around him one bit of thought,” Mark Waid, a leading comic book writer and Superman expert, put it in a blistering online essay that has generated wide interest in the comics community.
To be sure, this latest Superman shares and even boosts many of the Christlike characteristics of most every Man of Steel: He is sent to Earth as an infant to save mankind and is raised by a hard-working adoptive father and saintly mother. He must hide his supernatural gifts until he reveals himself as an adult and then, at age 33, after performing many great deeds, he hands himself over to the authorities.
This Superman even strikes an arms-outstretched crucifixion pose as his otherworldly father urges him to return to Earth and “save them all.” The movie is, as the Christian reviewer Paul Asay put it, “a Bible study in a cape.”
Except for the last part.
Yet all may not be lost, and Christians don’t necessarily need to boycott what appears to be one of the most popular and entertaining films of the summer.
Joe Carter, writing at The Gospel Coalition site, argues that the otherwise flawed “Man of Steel” does have a redeeming quality in that in just a few minutes of screen time Clark Kent’s Kansas dad, Jonathan Kent — played affectingly by Kevin Costner — displays the quiet strength and “unconditional, self-sacrificial love” that the Jesus of the Bible did.

“Superman may be the man of steel,” Carter writes, “but his earthbound father shows us what it really means to be Christ-figure.”

7/3/2013 11:16:19 AM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Crucifixion images no longer command auction prices

July 3 2013 by Menachem Wecker, Religion News Service

Paintings and sculptures of what may be the most iconic scene in the history of art – the crucifixion of Jesus – are no longer commanding the auction prices they once did.
While it’s common for individual works to occasionally sell for less than they are worth, consider:
  • In January, a late 14th-century Florentine painting of Jesus on the cross estimated between $80,000 and $120,000 sold at Sotheby’s for $86,500.
  • An Italian Crucifixion from the same period, estimated between $100,000 and $150,000, sold for $110,500 at the same auction.
  • The previous December, Sotheby’s London sold a mid-16th century Netherlandish Crucifixion sculpture estimated at $31,500 to $47,000 for about $27,500.
Even images of Crucifixions by established masters can be purchased on the cheap, said Joaneath Spicer, curator of Renaissance and baroque art at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Spicer hasn’t purchased Crucifixions for the museum in some time.

Photo courtesy Sotheby’s London
Property from a Flemish Private Collection, Netherlandish, Limburg, Mid-16th Century. Corpus Christi, polychromed wood and metal.

In part, she said, Christian art has become the victim of its own success.
“If I want more Crucifixion bronzes, there are some in storage that are quite nice,” she said.
But there are other cultural factors that may be contributing to the declining sales prices. One of them may be changing worship styles that rely more on words and music and less on visual images. A bigger one may be an unwillingness to openly and publicly display one’s religious commitments.
“The de-emphasis on art as part of the devotional experience within the Catholic Church surely has had some impact on this,” said Spicer.
Catholics are also less likely to display religious art in their homes, said Eike Schmidt, curator of decorative arts and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
“Wealthy Catholics nowadays, in general, do not seem to be particularly ambitious to crown their art collections with an outstanding crucifix or a painted Crucifixion,” said Schmidt, a former Sotheby’s London department head. “House-altars have become a rarity.”
The interiors depicted in architectural magazines and furniture sales catalogs today tend to be devoid of any religious iconography, “with the odd exception of mass-produced Buddha heads, which I suspect have very little to do with Buddhist theology and practice,” Schmidt added.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at “America” magazine, agrees that Catholics are less likely to adorn their homes with Sacred Hearts or crucifixes.
“People are less comfortable with displaying their piety on their walls for fear of offending people because we live in a less religious culture all around,” he said.
At a time when prosperity teachings are especially popular, people don’t relate as much to Christian concepts of sin and suffering.
And for non-Christians, the image of the suffering Jesus can be particularly troubling.
“If you’re not religious, the image of a person nailed to a cross is probably very uncomfortable,” Martin says. “It’d be like getting an image of a man strapped to an electric chair.”
With a rising Asian market for art, it’s not surprising many buyers are turning their backs on Christian imagery.
“I have seen museum visitors from India and China to be surprised and appalled by the depiction of a man who dies from torture, and moreover to be told that this is the central image and at the theological core of a world religion,” said Schmidt, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator.
Despite their lack of comfort with religious art, collectors are looking for direct images that strike an emotional chord. For many collectors, that means contemporary art, such as works by Andy Warhol, but that kind of directness is displayed in works by the Old Masters, many of which are religious, as well.
“The Old Masters field in general — while some of the prices have hit astronomical levels, which is terrific — is undervalued,” said Margi Schwartz, senior vice president and head of the European sculpture and tapestry department at Sotheby’s.
“It’s a supply and demand issue,” she added. “And as we feel that squeeze, I think there will be more and more collectors realizing that they’d better get in there, because there are not a lot of opportunities to find things. This art is not being made any more.”
7/3/2013 11:10:19 AM by Menachem Wecker, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Evangelicals score highest on patriotism

July 2 2013 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the most intense patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.
That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with Religion News Service.
White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).
On the other end of the spectrum, relatively few religiously unaffiliated Americans believe in a God-given American exceptionalism (40 percent), or plan to attend a public Independence Day celebration (48 percent).
Eric Metaxas, the popular Christian author and speaker, said evangelicals “are not patriotic and pro-American in a tribalistic, nationalistic, or jingoistic sense.
“But they do tend to be pro-America because they believe that the ideas of the Founders — religious liberty at the head of them — have been a huge blessing to those on our shores – and to those beyond them.”
“Like Gov. Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century,” Metaxas continued, “evangelicals see America as being blessed by God to be a blessing to others, to be a ‘city on a hill.’ And to the extent that that’s true, they celebrate that.”
But Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director, said the study of 1,007 adults might say as much about cultural and regional differences among Americans as religious distinctions. 
“A lot of evangelicals live in the South, and flying a flag from your house or car, and singing the national anthem — not just standing for it — is infused in Southern life,” said Cox.
“In the South and in many rural areas, we see a cultural terrain that is more likely to embrace Americana in ways that people who live outside the South don’t get,” he said.

Similarly, a person’s lack of religiosity doesn’t necessarily signal a lack of patriotism.
Instead, the relative lack of a visible patriotism among the one in five Americans who are religiously unaffiliated may be better explained by their perceptions that they are culturally distinct from the rest of the country, Cox added.
The poll found that unaffiliated Americans are more likely than other religious groups to report that they are very different from the typical American, and Americans who believe they are atypical are also much less likely to say they are extremely patriotic (35 percent) than those who see themselves as typical (59 percent.)
It may also come down to politics: The unaffiliated tend to be liberal, and liberals tend to view their patriotism in different ways than conservatives, who, as the poll shows, are much more likely to embrace public displays of patriotism.
“Many liberals argue that they can be patriotic as they criticize their country, and exercise their First Amendment rights to express dissenting opinion,” Cox added.
In general, the poll found that Americans are proud to be Americans, with eight in 10 reporting that they are extremely (51 percent) or very proud (31 percent).

Asked what makes them proud to be an American, those surveyed said:
  • Their military service or American military achievements, including the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden (17 percent)
  • The nation’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (14 percent)
  • Freedom in American society (12 percent)
About one-third (31 percent) said there has been a time when they were not proud to be an American — the most cited reasons given were the wars in Iraq and Vietnam (29 percent) and poor treatment of minorities and racism (14 percent.)
The study, conducted June 5-9, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
7/2/2013 2:01:29 PM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

SEBTS to launch Spurgeon Center

July 2 2013 by SEBTS

The Charles H. Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching, which is expected to launch this fall, will be a means by which Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary equips Great Commission-minded pastors to preach God’s Word and lead healthy churches.
Charles “Chuck” Lawless, dean of graduate studies and professor of evangelism and missions at Southeastern, will assume the directorship of the Spurgeon Center, which will be run out of his office.
“I envision the center promoting practical leadership training for local church pastors,” Lawless said. “We want to help church planters as well as pastors who are working to revitalize a church.”
This center has a board of advisors composed of Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development at Southeastern; Dennis Kim, senior pastor of Global Mission Church, Silver Spring, Md.; Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.; Sam Rainer, senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, Tenn.; and A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church, Spring Valley, Calf.
The board will help guide the center in assisting pastors in excelling within their daily ministries. Alongside of growing healthy churches and revitalizing dying churches, the center plans to encourage and resource church planters. It also will seek to build strategic partnerships with other Southern Baptist Convention entities, such as LifeWay and the North American Mission Board, that also work with pastoral leaders.
“I am excited about the blessing this center will be to the churches,” said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern. “We will attempt to serve pastors in fulfilling this noble work given to them by King Jesus.”
A primary goal of the center is to help churches become Great Commission churches. Lawless said, “We’re partnering with local churches to make them more effective in areas such as leadership so that the gospel can penetrate local communities and ultimately extend to all nations.”
Lawless emphasized that the center “wants to provide the best advice and necessary tools for pastors of local churches.”
“Because of the world we live in today,” Lawless said, “we have to offer multiple media. I would like to bring individuals to campus as well as send our faculty to those local churches. Alongside of these traditional avenues, I think we also have to be ready to provide training online.”
The center plans to utilize the experience of Akin, Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, and Jim Shaddix, pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., to assist the center in helping equip churches.
“God calls and raises up pastors to feed, lead, protect and reproduce sheep,” Akin said.
“Those under-shepherds who labor for the glory of the Great Shepherd need to be equipped and well trained for the weighty assignment that has been laid upon them.
“And we want to equip and train ministers well through the Spurgeon Center at Southeastern.”

7/2/2013 1:59:06 PM by SEBTS | with 1 comments

Loss of 19 firemen prompts chaplains’ deployment

July 2 2013 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

YARNELL, Ariz. – After an out-of-control, lightning-induced fire in Yarnell, Ariz., killed 19 firefighters on Sunday, Southern Baptists are mobilizing disaster relief chaplains to walk alongside grieving families to offer spiritual support. 

The deaths represented the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona’s history, the Phoenix daily Arizona Republic reported.

As of Monday morning, Arizona Southern Baptists had connected with local churches near Yarnell and were determining the needs of the impacted families. Chaplain teams are already on the way to the disaster, said Larry Hyde, the disaster relief director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

“Our response to hurting families is to help hurting people, not to make Baptists out of them,” Hyde said. “We’re just out there to support people’s needs and share the love of Jesus at a time when their lives are falling apart.”


The 19 firefighters killed while battling the Yarnell, Ariz., fire were members of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots, trained especially for such disasters.  

Hyde is hopeful that Southern Baptists will have opportunities to minister to the firefighters’ families through relationships already built with Arizona’s fire services. Besides looking to meet any spiritual needs encountered by firefighters’ families, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains will be on hand to help churches dealing with the loss as well.

The firefighters were part of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of nearby Prescott, Ariz., and all but one of the firefighters were Prescott residents. They were responding to a fire that may have already destroyed half of Yarnell’s 500 homes. One member of the team was in a separate location and survived the fire.

By late Sunday 250 firefighters were battling the fire; that number was expected to climb to 400 on Monday.

As many as two kitchen teams from the Arizona convention will be put on standby to provide food for fire survivors housed at shelters, Hyde said, and shower and ash-out teams will respond.

Fritz Wilson, executive director of SBDR, notes that all disaster relief responders grieve when news like this comes. 

“In the back of our minds, we always know that first responders are willing to put their lives on the line, but when it actually happens, we’re always caught off guard and saddened,” Wilson said. “The whole response community hurts when this happens.”

Wilson said he anticipates a long-term response and will work with Arizona SBDR to facilitate help from Southern Baptists in other states.

Steve Bass, the North American Mission Board’s vice president for the West region, echoed Wilson’s concerns and promised the prayers of Southern Baptists.

“Many of these are younger men who represent families,” said Bass, who lives in Phoenix and served for 15 years as the executive director of the Arizona convention before coming to NAMB in 2011. “We lost 19 great people, but we have immediately impacted families as well. Those children are never going to get away from this. That’s when your heart goes out to them. Obviously our prayers are for them. I’m sure our churches in the area will be reaching out to those families the best they can.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers and chaplains and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit 
namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks designated “disaster relief” to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)

7/2/2013 1:54:05 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby saved from hefty mandate fines

July 2 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Hobby Lobby gained relief just in time to avoid a hefty penalty for refusing to comply with the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

A federal court blocked enforcement June 28 against the popular craft store chain of a federal regulation that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions. The temporary restraining order prevented the mandate from going into effect Monday (July 1) and spared Hobby Lobby a penalty that could have reached $1.3 million a day.

The next step in a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby and a sister Christian bookstore chain, Mardel, is a July 19 hearing regarding their request for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the abortion/contraception mandate while the court case continues.

The order from Joe Heaton, federal judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, came only a day after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled Hobby Lobby and Mardel had demonstrated they probably would prevail in showing their religious freedom had been infringed on by the mandate. The eight judges for the 10th Circuit also instructed the lower court to reconsider whether it should grant an injunction.

A lawyer representing Hobby Lobby commended both courts.

Hobby Lobby and its owners “faced the terrible choice of violating their faith or paying massive fines starting this Monday morning,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We are delighted that both the 10th Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom.”

The Obama administration issued final rules on the abortion/contraception mandate the same day Heaton issued his order in the Hobby Lobby case. The rules did not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and religious freedom advocates said they failed to remedy the conscience problems for non-profit organizations that object.

Hobby Lobby, which has 550 stores in the United States, and Mardel filed suit last year against the portion of the 2010 health care reform law that requires employers to pay for coverage of drugs defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraceptives, even if they can cause abortions. Members of the Green family – evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby and Mardel – do not oppose all contraceptive methods, only those that have abortion-causing qualities. They have said they will not obey the mandate.

The FDA-approved drugs in question in the case include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills with a secondary, post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The mandate also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate. Before the June 28 order, Hobby Lobby had been one of only seven for-profit companies that had failed to win an injunction or restraining order blocking enforcement of the controversial requirement while their suits proceeded in court, according to the Becket Fund. Courts now have granted injunctions or restraining orders to 22 for-profit corporations. No action has been taken in four lawsuits by for-profit companies.

The Obama administration’s final rules for the abortion/contraception requirement extended the implementation date for Christian institutions and other non-profit organizations from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1, 2014. It will take effect when each organization’s health plan begins a new year. The mandate’s start-up date for for-profit organizations was Aug. 1 of last year.

Hobby Lobby seeks to honor God “by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” according to its statement of purpose. Its stores are closed on Sundays. The Oklahoma City-based chain contributes to Christian organizations selected by the Green family that seek “to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world,” according to its website. 

The case is Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.)

7/2/2013 1:51:13 PM by Baptist Press | with 2 comments

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