July 2013

Syria refugee numbers soar as overwhelming needs abound

July 29 2013 by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press

AMMAN, Jordan – A Christian worker involved in ministry among Syrian refugees makes a heartbreaking observation:

“Every family has a tragic story to tell of their journey that got them to where they are now.”

Don Alan*, the Christian worker, is trying to determine how to respond to the needs he confronts among Syrian refugees – needs that are outpacing the funding his work receives.

And “that is a tragedy, that is sadness,” Alan said. Even so, he sees signs of God’s hand and God’s plan unfolding in Syria’s tragic events.


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Ahmad* and Tariq*, who lost their father in the civil war, watch their newborn brother in a cradle in their home in Jordan. Without their father, they are the ones who will need to support their mother and baby brother. View photo gallery.

“For the first time we have been able to sit and share the gospel with Syrian families, and they are responding,” Alan said.

Alan seeks to point to the “only hope” that can be found in Jesus. “He is the only one who can bring light to the darkest situation, and Syrians are in their darkest hour.

“I am afraid that much of the world is not really keen to turn the light on to see what it looks like,” Alan said, “and to me that reality is terrible....

“Jesus commands us to help those who are poor and destitute and forgotten by the world. We have a responsibility to share His love in a way that is a cup of water, a bowl of food, ways that meet their needs today – so that they can face tomorrow with hope and a future.”

According to Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world has not seen an outflow of refugees “at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago.”

UNHCR officers report that 6,000 Syrians a day flee to nearby Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt to escape the horrors of the Mideast nation’s civil war.

To date, the UNHCR has registered nearly 2 million people who have fled Syria, while an estimated 5 million internally displaced persons remain within Syria’s borders.

Host countries are beginning to feel the strain of the magnitude of refugees, with Iraq now closing its borders to those fleeing Syria.

Guterres, in an address to the UN Security Council on July 16, issued a plea for the international community to keep their borders open to Syrians. He fears catastrophic results if Egypt, Turkey or Jordan also choose to close their borders.

“We cannot go on treating the impact of the Syrian crisis as a simple humanitarian emergency,” Guterres said.

Baptist Global Response (BGR) has joined numerous non-governmental organizations in response to the overwhelming needs of Syrian refugees.

Jeff Palmer, BGR executive director, reported that through local partnerships nearly $700,000 worth of assistance has been mobilized, supplying food packets, hygiene kits and temporary shelter.

“We have been able to assist response in four of the surrounding countries with refugees and several places inside the country with internally displaced persons,” Palmer said.

A majority of the aid supplied through BGR has gone to people in areas that Palmer said “have fallen through the cracks of assistance from other groups.”


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Syrian mothers carry their belongings and children as they flee from Syria. Many wait for days for a window of opportunity to cross the border. View photo gallery.

Zaatari, a refugee camp in Jordan, is home to 160,000 Syrians, making it the fifth largest city in Jordan. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office, women and children make up three-fourths of the registered refugees. The camp also hosts Iraqis, Somalis, Afghanis and Sudanese who had fled their countries to Syria in search of a better life.

“We are not only watching the destruction of a country, but also of its people,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said.

Alan, the Christian worker, said one of the foremost needs is for passionate prayer for Syrians to “really hear that there is hope, when your world is shattered around you and when there is no clear answer or direction in your country. There is a way that is very clearly marked and set out before people.”

With the need so great around him, Alan remembers the times that Jesus fed large crowds of people, such as when His disciples had only had a few fish and loaves of bread to feed thousands. Yet Jesus took the little they had, multiplied it and met a huge need.

“Maybe that’s what God is doing, building our faith in the midst of the crisis, asking us to be faithful with the little He has given us and offering it,” Alan said. “Jesus is saying, ‘Trust me to use it, to touch hundreds and thousands.’“

Alan suggested this crisis should shake the body of Christ, as if Jesus is saying, “My bride, I want you to be active and alive in the world. I don’t want you to hide in your churches and hide in your little communities, because that’s not what I have called you to.

“I have called you to engage, yes engage in the midst of danger, engage in the midst of bullets and hurt and pain and things that we can’t solve.”

Ways to pray:

  • For the many internationally displaced peoples of Syria – pray they may encounter the love and peace of Jesus Christ within the camps and the countries they have made their temporary homes.

  • That there will be peace in the land

  • For BGR workers and partners and others aid workers to have wisdom and knowledge as to the best places and methods to minister to the millions in need.

*Names changed for security purposes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.goBGR.com, with volunteer and donation information.)

7/29/2013 2:54:37 PM by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC: Child immigrants need different status

July 29 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – People brought into the United States illegally as children should not be treated in the same way as undocumented immigrants who entered as adults, a Southern Baptist public policy specialist told members of Congress.

Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) also testified that the immigration reform bill approved by the Senate needs some improvement.

Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, was one of the witnesses at a July 23 hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee. The panel considered the status of those whose parents brought them to this country as illegal immigrants while they were children.

He commended the panel for viewing children in such cases differently than adults.

“These are people who did not make a conscious decision to break the nation’s immigration laws,” Duke told the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. “They were brought here as minors.”

The United States “should not hold these children accountable for the choices their parents made,” Duke said.

Not all undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors should qualify, he told the subcommittee. “Those who are of good moral character and demonstrate a desire to make their own way through life should be given a chance to come out of the shadows and join in the full life and vitality of our nation,” Duke said.

The parents, however, should be held accountable through “appropriate forms of restitution and penalty,” he told the representatives. Their accountability for breaking the law as adults should be addressed through broad immigration reform, he said.

“It is my hope and prayer that Congress will see this as one piece of a bigger plan that meets the principles of sound immigration reform,” Duke said. “We can honor the rule of law, secure our borders and chart a just and compassionate way forward for the millions of other undocumented immigrants living peacefully and productively in our midst.”

The ERLC has called for reform that includes security at the border and in the workplace, as well as a path toward citizenship for those who qualify and are willing to pay fines and to meet other requirements. Broad immigration reform is needed, the ERLC and many other organizations say, because the lack of enforcement of current law has resulted in an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The Senate approved in late June an immigration bill, but some conservative Republicans have sharply criticized that measure, especially its approach to border security.

In response to questioning by Rep. Jim Jordan, a conservative Republican from Ohio, Duke said the ERLC has taken no position on the Senate bill.

“We’ve simply said we believe it’s a good step forward, but it needs some repair, it needs some work, and we’re looking to the House to help address some issues,” Duke told Jordan.

Most Southern Baptists, including himself, “believe we need to make sure that the border is secure before citizenship is possible,” he said. “But we do believe that we do also need to address the circumstances of these 11 million and that it needs to be done as a package in order to make sure that all of the needs of our nation and of these undocumented immigrants are addressed.”

Duke acknowledged to Jordan, “It does concern me that we may not get to the place where we secure the border, and I’m looking to you to make sure that there is a mechanism in place that assures us that the border is secured before permanent legal status” is implemented.

About 2.1 million people who were brought to the United States illegally before they were 16 years of age could be immediately eligible for conditional legal status or become eligible in the future, Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute testified at the hearing.

Of this population’s four subgroups analyzed in a 2010 study she coauthored, the largest at 43 percent was school-aged children who would become eligible by earning a high school diploma or the equivalent and completing post-high school education or military service requirements, she said.

Republicans on the subcommittee and testifying before the panel expressed opposition to granting legal status to undocumented immigrants based on their family relation to children they brought to this country illegally. Some Democrats, however, favored legalizing the parents.

“Legalizing only the DREAMers is not enough,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D.-Ill. “It would not be enough to satisfy ... the hunger for legality in the immigrant community.”

Undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children are referred to as DREAMers based on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a congressional proposal that has yet to gain approval.

In June 2012, the Obama administration announced an executive action that immediately permitted DREAMers to apply to be free from the threat of deportation and to seek authorization to work. The order, which largely acts as a temporary fulfillment of the DREAM Act, postponed action for two years against undocumented immigrants who meet the requirements and provides the opportunity for them to renew that status.

In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
7/29/2013 2:48:57 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Campbell’s School of Osteopathic Medicine receives $1 million challenge

July 29 2013 by Campbell Communications

Dr. P.K. Vyas, founder of the Eastern Carolina Medical Center in Benson, N.C., has established a $1 million challenge fund at Campbell University to support its School of Osteopathic Medicine, Campbell President Jerry M. Wallace announced recently. The school opens this month with a charter class of 162 students.
Through the P.K. Vyas $1 Million Challenge, Vyas will match any gift made to Campbell’s medical school dollar for dollar, up to $1 million, before Sept. 19.
He said he established the fund because he wanted to encourage Campbell alumni and friends to join him in advancing the School of Osteopathic Medicine’s efforts.
“As the opening of Campbell University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine approaches, it’s imperative that the medical school continues to receive financial support to ensure that faculty and students get the resources they need to fulfill the university’s vision to address the shortage of primary care physicians in North Carolina,” Vyas said. “I hope others will join me in supporting this critical endeavor.”
Vyas’ challenge will help Campbell finish strongly in reaching its $30 million fundraising goal for the medical school, Wallace said. Nearly $28 million has been raised to date. Gifts at this stage will go toward topping off the 96,500-square-foot building that houses the medical school – the Leon Levine Hall of Medical Science – with distinguishing details. That includes helping cover the cost for the equipment and technology in the medical school’s simulation and anatomy labs. The state-of-the-art anatomy lab will be named in honor of Dr. Vyas.
When Campbell’s School of Osteopathic Medicine holds its first classes on Aug. 5, it will be the first medical school to open in North Carolina in over 35 years.
Vyas began practicing medicine in Benson in 1986 and founded the Eastern Carolina Medical Center in February 1987 with just two staff members. Today, his practice has 50 staff members.
7/29/2013 2:44:18 PM by Campbell Communications | with 0 comments

John Watts, former SBTS professor, dies at 92

July 29 2013 by Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – John Drayton Williams Watts, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), died July 21 near his home in Penney Farms, Fla. He was 92.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., the seminary’s president, said, “John D.W. Watts was both an Old Testament scholar and the son of an Old Testament scholar, and the Watts family represents at least two generations of seminary professors within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Dr. Watts played a significant role in several Baptist institutions and was a member of the Southern Seminary faculty for many years,” Mohler said.

Born in 1921 in Laurens, S.C., Watts spent his childhood in Palestine with his missionary parents and his youth in New Orleans, where his father served on the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


In 1946, Watts married Winifred Lee Williams. The two served with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) from 1948-70 and from 1972-75. Watts was professor of Old Testament at International Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, where he also served as president from 1963-69.

Watts then served on the faculty of Serampore College in Serampore, India, (1972-75), Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., (1976-81) and Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., (1981-95).

Watts earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College and a bachelor of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from Southern Seminary. He was the Old Testament editor of the Word Biblical Commentary.

His books included Vision and Prophecy in Amos (1958; revised 1996), Studying the Book of Amos (1966), Basic Patterns in Old Testament Religion (1971) and How We Got the Bible (2011), with contributions to the Broadman Bible Commentary (1970-72) and several commentaries on Old Testament books.

He was honored with two festschrift collections of essays by colleagues and students, Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve (ed. J.W. Watts and P.R. House, 1996) and a special issue of Perspectives in Religious Studies (ed. P.J. Scalise, 2008).

In 1995, he retired to Penney Farms, Fla., where he lived with his wife until her death in 2011.

Watts is survived by his children, Cheryl, Reid, Clare and Jim, as well as seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The family will have a memorial service at the Penney Farms Retirement Community Oct. 14, and they request donations of sympathy be made to Heifer International.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by the communications staff of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

7/29/2013 2:39:55 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pro-life supporters celebrate as ‘Abortion Bill’ heads to governor

July 26 2013 by By L.A. Williams and BR staff

(UPDATE: Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill July 29.)

Pro-life supporters celebrated a “huge victory” as the North Carolina Senate passed legislation they contend will make abortion safer for women, protect healthcare workers, prevent taxpayers from funding elective abortions and prohibit abortion for the purpose of sex selection.
Senate Bill 353, called the “Health and Safety Law Changes” or also known as the “Abortion Bill,” passed the Senate July 25 with a 32-13 vote. The bill heads to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said he will sign the bill. 
“This is a truly wonderful measure that will hold abortion doctors and clinics to standards similar to those of other surgical facilities,” said Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
“Planned Parenthood is calling for the governor to veto this bill, but we believe anyone concerned with women’s health should want the best conditions for patients undergoing this procedure.”
An hour-long debate preceded the Senate’s vote to concur with the House version, which included provisions similar to those OK’d earlier by the Senate in its “Faith, Family and Freedom Protection Act.” The governor had said he would veto the earlier bill unless it was modified to address concerns from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and worries that the measure would limit women’s access to abortion.
The final version of the bill, approved earlier by the House and sitting in a Senate committee until July 25, asks DHHS to increase health and safety regulations on abortion clinics without unduly limiting access. A provision in the bill requires that an abortion doctor be present during the entire surgical abortion process and that, in the case of a medicinal abortion, the doctor be on site when the first dose of an abortifacient is administered. 
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said the law will implement “common-sense and reasonable safety standards for abortion facilities.”
Supporters of the bill had pointed out in numerous debates that North Carolina has had problems with abortion clinics, citing recent violations in Charlotte and Fayetteville facilities, but abortion supporters insist the new law will lead to too many clinic closings and force women to undergo back alley abortions.
“It is important to us that you know we are not buying this disguise,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Rocky Mount, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer. “Your agenda is clear – there is nothing in this bill that helps protect the rights of women’s health care.”
“This bill is coming back to us in a form that’s not fundamentally changed,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, in a report on Raleigh’s WRAL.com. “It’s still a deprivation of the rights of women.”
Responding to criticism of the bill, Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, said, “If you can show me something in there that is unreasonable, that is wrong, that hurts women, I will not vote for this ... I'm just not finding it offensive."
Creech called the bill a victory for women’s health and life. He commended lawmakers for approving the measure despite protests from the abortion industry. He also expressed thanks for all of those who prayed and contacted their legislators on behalf of the legislation.
“This bill was not so much about prohibiting abortion, but about prohibiting an industry from operating under substandard conditions,” he said.
“Abortion clinics have far too long been given a privileged status. Those of us in the cause of life have known this for a long time. But more recently, clinics like the one where [Kermit] Gosnell in Philadelphia practiced and even some in our own state clearly show higher standards are definitely necessary. We look forward to the governor signing this new law.”

Gosnell was a physician in Philadelphia who was found guilty in May of three murder charges, along with other charges, in relation to an abortion clinic he ran.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – L.A. Williams is a writer for the Christian Action League of North Carolina. BR staff contributed to this story.)

7/26/2013 12:17:00 PM by By L.A. Williams and BR staff | with 0 comments

FamilyFEST displays a servant heart in Ky.

July 26 2013 by Bethany Webb, Baptist Press

PADUCAH, Ky. – “Many wondered why we, at 69 and 71, would try to keep up with our two 9-year-old grandchildren,” FamilyFEST volunteer Irene Murphy said. “Our family has been mission-oriented since the beginning, so we felt this would be a great opportunity to expose them to missions so that they can develop a missions heart.”

Murphy, from South Main Street Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C., was among 155 volunteers from 13 states who poured into Western Kentucky for FamilyFEST in a partnership encompassing national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), Kentucky WMU, Mississippi River Ministry, Green Valley and West Union Baptist associations.

From July 13-19 primarily in the Paducah and Henderson, Ky., areas, volunteers served alongside local churches doing a range of community projects including prayerwalking, light construction and repair, food and clothing distribution, health care ministries, block parties, Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible Schools.

In Henderson, three families from South Carolina with children ranging from ages 6 to 15 helped Airline Baptist Church survey the community and host a block party. When the heat began to bother the younger children, they were able to serve by making cards for and singing to the homebound in the community.

In Paducah, families were involved in a community block party and sports camp and in outreach to nurses, staff and patients at a local hospital and nursing home.

“Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla ... these ingredients were key to a great week of missional service in Paducah, Ky.,” said Kathy Thompson, a FamilyFEST volunteer from Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown, Ky. Thompson, along with her daughter and niece, spent the week in La Center Baptist Church’s kitchen baking cupcakes and cookies. “Amazingly, we prepared over 200 cupcakes in one day’s time!” she said.

Sarah Thompson, a 9-year-old FamilyFEST volunteer, prepares cupcakes at La Center Baptist Church in La Center, Ky.

Thompson’s daughter Sarah, 9, said her favorite part of the project was seeing the smiles of people who received the goodies.

La Center Baptist Church’s sports camp, with the help of volunteers from Friendship Baptist Church in Tallassee, Ala., provided instruction to 19 children from the community in basketball, waffle ball and dodge ball.

In Henderson, along with the sports camp and block party outreach, nurses from Kentucky, Illinois and Louisiana came together to do health fairs. They took blood pressure, did glucose monitoring and gave out health information. They also helped with a revival and Vacation Bible School. The nurses are part of the Baptist Nursing Fellowship, a ministry of Woman’s Missionary Union. Dolores Gilmore, associational WMU director for the Green Valley association, said the nurses enjoyed combining their nursing skills with other skills to help the community.

One health fair was a women and children’s event that also featured a dental hygienist teaching dental health and beauticians from a local beauty college who gave free haircuts. Volunteers distributed hygiene bags for the women and did games and crafts with the children.

“Not only were we concerned about their health problems,” Gilmore said, “we were concerned about their spiritual problems and needs.” The nurses aimed to provide a friendly place where community members could ask questions about their health and the nurses could share the love of Jesus.

“The most important task of the volunteers was servant evangelism,” said Joy Bolton, executive director of Kentucky WMU “As the volunteers served, doing a variety of tasks and ministries, they had opportunity to share Jesus and why they had come. Their encouragement to our local churches was vital.”

Terri Staines, a volunteer from First Baptist Church in Ray City, Ga., said Paducah and Henderson “will never be the same [and] neither will the 155 volunteers who served during FamilyFEST.” In hosting a nightly Vacation Bible School at West End Baptist Church in Paducah, Staines said she and her team “came with a servant heart wanting to be a blessing to others, and all came away with hearts overflowing from the blessings received in return.”

“Working with Kentucky WMU, Mississippi River Ministry, the Green Valley and West Union Baptist associations, and local churches has been such a blessing,” said Kristy Carr, ministry consultant for the national WMU. “Seeing families serving together to serve others is priceless.”

WMU’s FamilyFEST is open to volunteers ages 6 and up while its MissionsFEST opportunities are geared to volunteers ages 18 and older. Kentucky has welcomed three MissionFEST events in the past but this was the state’s first FamilyFEST. Next year’s FamilyFEST opportunities will be in Salt Lake City, June 24-28 and eastern Kentucky, July 19-24. Upcoming MissionsFEST opportunities will be in Atlanta, Oct. 19-25, 2013; Rio Grande, Texas, Nov. 13-17, 2013; and Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 1-5, 2014.

For more information, visit wmu.com/trips.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bethany Webb, who is serving as an intern on WMU’s adult resource team, is a student in communication studies at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.)
7/26/2013 12:12:53 PM by Bethany Webb, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ethicist examines Old Testament violence

July 26 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Gaining an understanding of violence in the Old Testament helps make clear the church’s mission, enemies and priorities, a Southern Baptist ethicist said at a Washington lecture.
Speaking at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Phillip Bethancourt said Old Testament violence “is the most difficult ethical issue to navigate” in scripture. Comprehending how that violence relates to God’s design in establishing His Kingdom, however, provides evangelical Christians with a comprehensive ethic for addressing challenging questions, he noted.

In the violence committed by Israel against other nations, God is “setting the stage for the future rulership of His King,” said Bethancourt, director of strategic initiatives for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The violence serves to preserve the line of the Messiah and to provide a pattern for how God will work in Jesus’ death, Bethancourt told public policy specialists, reporters and other evangelicals July 18.

Understanding Old Testament violence correctly, Bethancourt said, helps clarify three elements of ethical engagement by evangelicals:
  • The church’s mission, which is one of “kingdom warfare” against the devil, sin and death. In so doing, he said it helps connect ethics to the teaching part of the Great Commission to make disciples and helps demonstrate that the local church is the “hub of ethics” for Christians.
  • The church’s enemies, who are no longer physical. “Instead, we are not battling against flesh and blood,” Bethancourt said, referring to a well-known passage in Ephesians 6. “We are battling for flesh and blood through our discipleship, through our evangelism.”
That understanding, by implication, “helps us to avoid a wrongly appropriated culture war mentality,” he said. “So our enemies when we differ on different viewpoints are not the people on the other side of the aisle; they’re not the people that are taking a different stance from us. ... That shapes our tone. That shapes our trajectory. That shapes the way we engage in our ethical practices, not by demonizing our opponents but exposing [demons].”

Recognizing the current time in redemptive history helps Christians to avoid a repeat of events like the Crusades, when Christians embraced an Old Testament ethic of military violence to justify what they considered kingdom purposes, Bethancourt said. It also helps to avoid pacifism and its “over-realized eschatology,” he said, because “if the Crusades swung the pendulum too far in one direction,” pacifism swings it too far in the other direction.
  • The nature of the church’s priorities, preventing a divide between ethics and evangelism while connecting ethics with holiness and demonstrating that “gospel-centered ethics fuels a gospel-centered world view.”
“It is the power of the gospel that reminds our spiritual enemies that they have been defeated,” he told the audience. “It is the power of [the] gospel that enables us to walk in holiness and to live out a Christian ethic.”

The ERLC’s Phillip Bethancourt addresses Old Testament violence and its meaning for ethical engagement by evangelicals in a Washington, D.C., lecture.

Four aspects of God’s character – holiness, justice, love and faithfulness – particularly produce Old Testament violence, Bethancourt said.

One purpose of the violence is “to protect the holiness of God and the holiness of His people,” Bethancourt said, adding it takes place to prevent Israel “from being corrupted by the nations around them.”

God’s justice against the nations “is a sign and signal” to them and, through the Bible, for all others in the future “that those who turn away from the ways of God and look to themselves or to other gods are worthy of judgment.”

Old Testament violence “is actually, at its root, in a sense, a loving thing to do,” Bethancourt said.

“If the nation of Israel isn’t preserved, if this messianic blood line is not sustained, if the genealogy from Adam to Abraham to David is not continued, you and I are going to hell right now, because there is no means by which God could preserve the Messiah He promised to bring apart from protection from the nations that surrounded Him,” he said. That is not to say attacks by Israel are demonstrations of love, he said, “but at the end of the day, is there anything more loving than the God of the universe preserving the one means by which He could bring [people] to Himself in salvation and to find the right relationship with Him?”

God’s faithfulness is shown in the violence by establishing patterns that reflect His work in redemption, Bethancourt said.

In Christ’s crucifixion, there exists “the convergence of this holy war pattern,” he said. “There’s a sense in which at the same time Jesus is both unfaithful Israel who God is warring against and faithful Israel who God is warring for.”

Jesus takes the place of the unfaithful in bearing their sins and the punishment of God, but He also “stands right before God as the faithful one who He fights for, the one ... whom God sees worthy to conquer death, to defeat sin, to overthrow the rule of Satan,” Bethancourt said. “And these holy war patterns we see in the Old Testament are setting that trajectory, demonstrating the way that God will prove Himself faithful to the Messiah.”

Regarding Old Testament violence, Bethancourt pointed to five complicating factors that Christians should not dismiss, ignore or gloss over.

God commands, coordinates, completes and commends violence by His people in the Old Testament, he said, and “complicates” it by hardening the hearts of the nations.

The warfare between “the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness” started in the Garden of Eden, Bethancourt said.

From that beginning, a pattern developed in the Old Testament, he said. On the one hand, God “fights for His covenant people in their faithful obedience. And on the other hand, God fights against His covenant people in their sinful rebellion,” he said, of a pattern that culminated in God’s covenant people being taken into exile.

In addition to his ERLC post, Bethancourt serves as assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He conducted much of the research for his doctoral dissertation on Old Testament violence.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy is a multi-denominational alliance that seeks reformation among mainline Protestant churches.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
7/26/2013 12:06:06 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

San Quentin grads grateful, intentional

July 26 2013 by Phyllis Evans, Baptist Press

MILL VALLEY, Calif. – Songs, prayers and tears marked the commencement ceremony even though the graduates were wearing prison garb under their regalia – and the service was held at San Quentin State Prison in California.

“What we do here at San Quentin reveals the heart of Golden Gate Seminary,” said Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. “We provide a serious academic education, and we also recognize each person individually, acknowledging how God has worked within each to help him grow and develop as a ministry leader.”

Five San Quentin graduates received diplomas in Christian ministries and two received diplomas in theology from Golden Gate’s Contextualized Leadership Development Program (CLD).

“The word ‘contextualized’ means the material is taught in the language and culture of a particular people group,” said Don Beall, the seminary’s national CLD director.

The 136 inmates in the program at San Quentin are taught by seminary students and alumni on a volunteer basis. The program takes two to three years to complete and instruction includes eight classes on such subjects as church planting, evangelism and ministry training.


GGBTS photo by Phyllis Evans
Seven San Quentin inmates are the latest graduates from Golden Gate Seminary’s CLD program: left to right, Garrett Martin, William Dew, Frank Taylor, Ferrari Moody, Eric Johnston, James Cavitt and Kenneth Brydon.  

Golden Gate’s overall CLD program, which began in 1980, has more than 60 centers nationwide in 19 states and is taught in nine languages. San Quentin, however, is the only prison location. This is the third time inmates have graduated from San Quentin’s CLD center, begun six years ago.

James Cavitt, 35, one of the diploma in Christian ministries graduates who was invited to speak during commencement, recounted how he had given up on God when he was a young boy. “For me to be here today, to call Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, is surely a miracle of God,” said Cavitt, who has been in prison since he was 17. With tears running down his cheeks, he thanked the teachers for their faithfulness, encouragement and support.

“If I were to single out one thing about this CLD program, it would be the teachers,” Cavitt said. “People think that because of where we are that we receive a watered-down gospel, and a watered-down education.

“But that is so far from the truth. These educators who come here, they know their stuff,” Cavitt said. “You get a good grade because you earned a good grade. These teachers care about educating us, and they care about us – inside the walls of San Quentin Prison. Not once did they judge me.

“They challenged, encouraged, inspired, corrected and listened.”

Ferrari Moody, 31, who also received a diploma in Christian ministries, concurred. “We appreciate the teachers’ willingness to come twice a week. We value their attitude towards us,” Moody said. “They helped me to prepare for ministry, both emotionally and intellectually. I learned and grew from this experience.”

“Some of you,” Iorg told the graduates, “will end up serving in ministries outside. And some of you will be ministry leaders here in San Quentin. God uses you wherever you are.”

Garrett Martin, 50, who received a diploma in theology, has been preaching in prison for 15 years. He said the degree has provided him with a foundation. “Like Paul, I became all things to all men that some might be saved,” Martin said, referencing 1 Corinthians 9:22.

William Dew, 58, who also received a diploma in theology, said he once operated a halfway house for addicts, “and they used to ask me to preach.”

“I wasn’t qualified then, but now I am.”

Dew said he learned he could stick to a goal and achieve it by participating in the CLD program. He said he also learned how little he actually knew about Christianity. Dew hopes to be paroled after three and a half years and plans to continue his studies at the seminary if he is accepted for enrollment. “I’d like to someday be a chaplain,” Dew said, “and come into a place like San Quentin.”

Ken Brydon, 54, a diploma in Christian ministries graduate, has been on the prison newspaper’s staff for several years. One of his short stories was selected in a national prison writing contest by writer Joyce Carol Oates and is scheduled to be published in a collection of prison stories next year.

At the conclusion of the June 28 commencement, Iorg asked the graduates, “Why do you do this? Why do you attend Golden Gate’s CLD program and train yourselves for ministry?”

Iorg looked at the graduates as he answered the rhetorical question: “It’s about other people and sharing the gospel freely and openly with everyone.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, on the Web at www.ggbts.edu, a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, operating five fully-accredited campuses – in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.)

7/26/2013 11:59:34 AM by Phyllis Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Professors: Discovery significant, but likely not David’s palace

July 26 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

JERUSALEM – Archaeologists say they have uncovered the remains of King David’s palace on the site of the biblical battle between David and Goliath, providing key evidence for understanding the origins of the kingdom of Judah.

Southern Baptist archeology professors cautioned against concluding the remains are David’s actual palace, noting that the discovery in the least is a significant part of the Old Testament figure’s kingdom.

While one main structure was identified as the palace, a corresponding structure is believed to have been a large storage facility for collecting taxes in the form of agricultural products.

“This is the only site in which organic material was found – including olive seeds – that can be carbon-14 dated” to David’s era, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which excavated the site with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Times of Israel newspaper.

Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, the leading researchers involved in the dig, said, “This is indisputable proof of the existence of a central authority in Judah during the time of King David.”

Until this discovery, no palaces were clearly attributable to the early 10th century B.C., The Jerusalem Post reported July 18. The site, known in modern day as Khirbet Qeiyafa, likely was destroyed in battle against the Philistines in 980 B.C.


Photo by Gary D. Myers
The Israelite period gate, pictured here, provided defense for the city currently identified by the modern name, Khirbet Qeiyafa. Just across the Elah Valley, to the low, is a low, brown mound identified as the biblical city of Socoh. During their showdown with the Israelites (1 Sam. 17) the Bible states that the Philistines camped between Socoh and Azekah.  

Evidence that the city came to an end in a sudden destruction, The Post said, includes hundreds of pottery vessels, stone utensils and metal objects left on the floors of houses.

Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, attended a celebration ceremony at the unveiling of the supposed palace site.

“It is an important site for the history of the Israelite monarchy,” Ortiz told Baptist Press. “I think Dr. Garfinkel might be overstating the large building. It is indeed a very large building sitting on the acropolis, perfect for a public building.

“The site dates to the time of the Davidic monarchy. It is a bit of a stretch to say that it is David’s palace,” Ortiz said. “If David built a palace it would be in Jerusalem, as the biblical text implies, not in an outlying fortress city. It is best to state that Khirbet Qeiyafa was perhaps a city under the hegemony of the developing Davidic monarchy.”

The site, known in the Bible as Shaarayim, is located about 18 miles southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill that borders the Elah Valley on the north, The Post said. Observers indicate it would have been a key strategic location in the kingdom of Judah.

Dan Warner, associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press the excavation “has certainly set off some excitement in the archaeological community, and Professor Yossi Garfinkel’s inferences have not been silenced.”

“Garfinkel claims to have found a major Israelite settlement from the time of David, clearly suggesting that the Davidic kingdom was real and not fictitious as many liberal scholars claim,” Warner said.

The discovery, he said, has “added a major building peg in the construction of a Davidic kingdom as the Bible states.”

Warner noted some significant finds from the excavation.

“For one, is an inscription believed to be not Canaanite but early Hebrew. In fact, [Garfinkel] claims it is the earliest Hebrew inscription found anywhere to date,” Warner said.

The pottery and structures found at the site date to the Davidic and Solomonic period, Warner said, and the absence of pig bones at the site serves as a key indicator of Israelite occupation.

Stephen J. Andrews, a professor of Old Testament, Hebrew and archaeology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press the discovery contradicts the views of some assert that if David and Solomon even existed, they were only tribal chieftains who left no lasting impact.

“There will be debate within the archaeological community on the exact function of the buildings and on their connection with David and his kingdom. But given the evidence of Qeiyafa’s well planned fortified city and the carbon-14 dating pointing to the early Iron II period,” Andrews said, “it will be difficult to deny the existence of a central authority that deliberately built a fortified administrative center there, and, possibly other unexcavated Judean levels at other sites.”

Because of the significance of the discovery, the Israel Antiquities Authority collaborated with the National Parks Authority in Israel to reject a proposal to build a new neighborhood close to the site, declaring the area and its surroundings a national park, The Post reported.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

7/26/2013 11:54:38 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Beyond churches, Sudan regime targeting foreign aid workers

July 25 2013 by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press

LONDON – Security forces in Sudan reportedly are focusing on the removal of foreigners who work for hundreds of foreign aid organizations within its borders.

The concern, raised by two workers in statements to Baptist Press, follows a report on religious freedom in predominantly Muslim Sudan released July 9 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

July 9 was the second anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett expressed fear for South Sudanese living in Sudan, saying they are “stateless” and face severe religious freedom violations.

The security crackdown against aid workers, meanwhile, is “aimed at foreign Christians ... under the pretense of trying to stop proselytization by Christians,” reported Franklin Lloyd*, a foreign worker who lived in Sudan for more than a decade, “but many of the people thrown out have nothing to do with that.

File photo by Charles Braddix
In South Sudan’s capital of Juba, a member of Nuru Baptist Church, the city’s only Baptist church, openly reads the Bible without fear, since South Sudan gaining independence from predominantly Muslim Sudan, where foreign aid workers and Sudanese Christians are facing heightened oppression from Khartoum’s Islamic regime.  

“Nothing is formal or legal, there is no formal written announcement that something is going on, there is no open accusation, there are no court cases,” Lloyd said. “Everything is either being done by intimidation or by media campaigns that raise pressure to form public opinion.”

Lloyd reported that security officials break into the homes of foreigners suspected to be Christians and confiscate their electronics, passports and any form of Christian literature. After the home is raided, the officers take the foreigner into custody for hours, days or, for some, weeks, Lloyd said.

“On paper Christians are still legally respected and there is still freedom of religion, but in actuality, it’s not being honored by the system,” Lloyd said, noting that the raids are “obviously illegal, and everyone says it is illegal but they are doing it.”

Victoria Channing*, a Christian worker who called Sudan her home for many years, made the difficult decision to leave in light of recent developments.

“Leaving Sudan has been one of the most painful processes I have ever experienced. I cried for days before and after leaving,” Channing said.

Living under the fear of deportation or arrest, “You wake up every morning thinking today is the day security officers are waiting for you downstairs or at your workplace,” Channing reported.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, becoming Africa’s 54th nation.

The world watched as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, began to form a new government without the southern portion of the country. Bashir had seized power in a military coup in 1989 and become Sudan’s president in 1993. He has since faced numerous charges from the International Criminal Court, including genocide.

Prior to South Sudan’s independence, al-Bashir declared on national television, “If South Sudan secedes, we’ll change the constitution. There will be no question of cultural or ethnic diversity [in Sudan].”

Arabic would be the only official language, al-Bashir said, and sharia (Islam’s religious law and moral code) “will be the only source of the constitution.” Sharia covers a variety of topics including crime, politics and economics and also addresses personal matters such as hygiene, diet, prayer and fasting, drawing from the Quran and examples set by Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The climate of Sudan changed quickly prior to South Sudan’s secession. In early 2011, church properties in Sudan were raided, destroyed and set afire. Continuing into 2012, priests and Coptic Christian leaders were arrested under charges of baptizing converts, according to Morning Star News, an independent news agency focusing on persecution.

File photo by Charles Braddix
Members of Nuru Baptist Church in Juba, South Sudan, sing in celebration over the new nation’s independence, giving Christians freedom to openly worship. To the north in predominantly Muslim Sudan, pressures have escalated against foreign aid workers and Sudanese Christians.  

An article in Religious Liberty Monitoring reported that in Khartoum a campaign was launched to close schools and colleges operated by Christians. The Sudanese media is campaigning to punish “Christianization,” and the punishment will be imprisonment for six months, a fine or a flogging of 40 lashes, the article said.

While many foreigners left Sudan out of fear, the church in Sudan has faced mounting persecution, Lloyd said. Many fear the church will see more in the coming days. Security forces watch national Christians closely, and if Muslims convert to Christianity, they are pressured to recant their faith, he said.

Lloyd asks for believers to pray for the Sudanese church because “they are being forced underground and are facing very serious persecution. How they respond to this is going to decide the future of the Sudanese church.”

Channing observed, “The government is snuffing out what they think is the light and they are trying to chain the work, to control it and to contain the believers.”

But government leaders haven’t read Paul’s second letter to Timothy, she said, “where it says the word of God cannot be chained, it cannot be held back.”

Lloyd’s wife Patricia* said the Sudanese should not put their hope in political change. “The better and more realistic hope would be to put their hope and trust in Jesus to change their fellow countrymen from the inside out for eternity.”

How to respond:
  • Channing asks for prayer for those who are responsible for persecution in Sudan and for government leaders in Sudan as they undertake the drafting of a new constitution.
  • Pray for believers within Sudan, that they will hold strong during seasons of persecution, continuing to meet together and share the Gospel with others.
USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett, in releasing the commission’s July 9 report, called on the U.S. government and its allies to “increase their efforts to help Sudan and South Sudan resolve the status of their nationals residing in the other’s territory.”

*Names changed for security reasons.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East.)
7/25/2013 3:21:16 PM by Eden Nelson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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