July 2013

Gunman fires shots in Missouri worship service

July 23 2013 by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press

NORWOOD, Mo. – A man is in custody after witnesses say he opened fire during a July 21 worship service at First Baptist Church in Norwood, Mo. Worshippers tackled him before anyone was shot.

One man injured his shoulder in the scuffle, but no other injuries were reported.

Pastor Stephen Fugitt was about halfway through his morning sermon when a man carrying a “high-caliber” revolver entered the church and fired two or three shots, Fugitt told The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The suspect shot at least once while walking toward the platform, Fugitt said.

“He pulled his gun up and before he could fire, one of the guys grabbed his arm (just before he pulled the trigger) and it (the bullet) went up into the ceiling,” the pastor said.

Several more men piled onto the suspect and wrestled the gun away from him until the Wright County Sheriff’s Department could arrive.

“He’s a pretty big guy,” Fugitt said. “They weren’t going to let him up.”

Deputies later discovered a shotgun in the back seat of the suspect’s car.

Fugitt praised God that no one was seriously injured, and thanked the men who acted quickly to subdue the suspect at the church that draws about 60 worshippers Sunday mornings.

“They saved lives I’m sure,” he said.

The church has had previous contact with the suspect.

“It wasn’t totally random,” Fugitt said.

Worshippers had last seen the suspect in early June when he threatened to return to the church with a gun, Fugitt said. The church called an ambulance which took the man to a psychiatric hospital after the June threat, Fugitt said. Previously, the suspect had been to the church only two or three times over the past three or four years, the pastor said.

Everyone remained relatively calm after the shooting, said Fugitt who led worshippers in a prayer before they left the church. Fugitt asked other churches to remain alert and have a plan to deal with emergencies such as this.

“We actually have a plan, but it happened so fast, not much else could have been done except what happened,” Fugitt said.

The alleged gunman’s name has not been released, but he was in custody today (July 22) with charges pending.

About 600 people live in Norwood, 30 miles east of Springfield.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The federal government has released a guidebook to help churches respond to shooters and other on-site emergencies as part of President Obama’s executive actions to fight gun violence.)

7/23/2013 3:30:55 PM by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Moore: Blacks, whites must discuss Martin case

July 23 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The dramatic difference between how black and white Americans view the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case calls for ongoing conversations between people from both groups, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore says.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), addressed the divide between many blacks and whites as reactions mounted to the July 13 not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of Martin, a 17-year-old African American.

Blacks look at the trial “macroscopically,” while whites view it “microscopically,” he said.

“African Americans tend to speak about the case in broad social and political terms,” Moore said in Newsweek’s July 17 cover story, “but we rarely get to hear their own quiet, personal stories.”

“[M]any white Americans deal in particulars, without realizing it’s larger than that,” Moore said. “It’s not just about this individual case; it’s about the fabric of American history. We have to recognize that African Americans see Trayvon Martin’s face alongside Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and others that most people will never know. We have to acknowledge that in our conversations.”

Evers was a civil rights leader who was shot dead in 1963 in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home. Till, 14, was brutally beaten and shot to death in 1955 in rural Mississippi after reportedly whistling at a white woman.

Moore acknowledged he, as a white man, didn’t appreciate an important aspect of the case.

“The real message of the Martin case didn’t hit me until an African American pastor, a friend of mine, told me that there are some places he doesn’t want his young son to go, because he’s ‘afraid of him becoming another Trayvon,’“ Moore told Newsweek.
 

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Russell D. Moore, ERLC president, appeared on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports June 17 to discuss the ramifications of the George Zimmerman ruling on race relations in America.

“This man was fearful for his son’s personal safety,” Moore continued. “That hits home for me, as a father and as a man. And it’s the type of personal story that can shatter the myth that everything is OK.”

Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, communicated a similar message in a July 17 appearance with Moore on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

After Martin’s shooting death in 2012, Capehart wrote about his mother’s talk to him about the “don’ts.”

“[A] lot of white colleagues were moved by what I had to say and were surprised by what I had to say,” Capehart said on MSNBC. “Many of them said to me it wouldn’t even occur to them to have a sit-down with their teenage son or even teenage daughter and tell them things they can and cannot do in this country, in America.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented on that same subject – “the talk” he did not have to have as a white father – in a July 16 commentary. He described it as “[t]he talk about what to do when you are eyed suspiciously by people” just because you are you.

Moore told MSNBC’s Mitchell racial justice is “the larger teaching message” of the death of Martin and the subsequent trial.

“We still live in a fallen and evil world, and we still live in a country that has a long way to go. ... I think we can all celebrate and rejoice in the progress that has been made, but we need to understand,” he said. “We need to work together in a moral fashion to love one another and to hear one another and to have conversations with one another.”

Moore said, “As a Christian, I think the place for that to happen most ideally or to start most ideally is within local congregations, white people and black people and Latino people loving one another and listening to one another together.”

Those conversations “can’t be in the heat of nationally polarized moments,” he told Newsweek. “We have to take time to invest in preparation. There’s advance work that has to be done.

“It’s like marriage,” Moore added. “You have to work on issues in advance, when times are good – not when you’re screaming at each other and on the way out the door.”

On July 18, Moore and Joshua DuBois, writer of the Newsweek cover story and the former head of President Obama’s faith-based office, conducted a Twitter conversation on the Martin case. The live forum can be followed by logging into Twitter and searching #BeyondTheRift.

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

7/23/2013 3:19:17 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Network’s leader: ‘take the high road’

July 23 2013 by Joni B. Hannigan, Florida Baptist Witness, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story quoting Eugene McCormick, a Florida Baptist Convention staff member who is president of the Southern Baptist Black Denominational Servant’s Network, is adapted from a larger story about Baptist leaders’ reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, published July 18 by the Florida Baptist Witness.)

SANFORD, Fla. – Dismissing race as a motive in the Trayvon Martin shooting, a Southern Baptist leader in Florida said he believes because an African America was involved, “there was a racial tone” that has resulted in unavoidable controversy over the not-guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman.
 
Eugene McCormick, president of the Southern Baptist Black Denominational Servant’s Network, cautioned those who might be tempted to “carry things to the extreme” while encouraging prayer for both the families of Martin, 17 when he was killed, and Zimmerman.

“We just have to take the high road and be prayerful and continue to move on,” said McCormick, team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American church development ministries team.

McCormick, in hoping that any rallies or protests won’t become “violent or negative,” said he heard nothing that convinced him the act was racially motivated.

“I believe it could have been a white person, an Asian person, or a Hispanic person, and the same thing could have happened,” McCormick said.

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Pointing to Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, McCormick said people should follow their early example in decrying any sort of violence and acknowledging that God is in control.

Within hours following the verdict, Sybrina Fulton tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control....”

McCormick said he believes the entire situation was “unfortunate” but is resting in the “fact that God knows what happened.”

“This is not the first time this has happened and we’ve had a controversial court decision in U.S. history,” he said. “I don’t harbor any anger or malice toward the situation because it’s life and things don’t always turn out or come out in terms of what you feel like is right or wrong. But we have a God who will right every wrong – not just in this case, but in life in general.”

McCormick said the nation is “definitely not the same” in regard to race relations as when he was growing up, and that it is “generally better.”

“For it to be worse that would mean we would be on the other side of the Civil Rights issue,” McCormick said.

Today, African Americans have been emboldened and given a “platform” to address “battles and issues” from a stronger standpoint than possibly at any time in history, he said. “We have an African American president,” he noted. “It’s a step forward, a move forward; it’s not the ultimate goal, but it’s an accomplishment, one of several.”

That said, McCormick said he believes this country, “or any country for that matter,” will forever battle ethnic issues.

For Southern Baptists, he said looking at controversial racial issues “through the lens of our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is the ultimate response.

Jesus referred to the Samaritan as a hero in scripture and used parables to speak to his own Jewish nation, McCormick said, adding, “You can’t hold grudges.

“We can’t let racial ethnic differences classify our importance,” McCormick said. “As Southern Baptists, we always have to look at how we respond.

“If we are the family of God, we have to look at things as how God views it, not black, white, Hispanic, Asian – as how God views it – which is not always consistent with how you feel, or is an expression of an opinion of how you think, “ McCormick said. “That may not be how you want to respond, but you need to respond in a Christian manner.

“We have to be people of love.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.)

7/23/2013 3:09:31 PM by Joni B. Hannigan, Florida Baptist Witness, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Without Morsi, Christian persecution surges

July 23 2013 by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press

CAIRO – At least six Egyptian Christians have been murdered in a persecution surge following former president Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office July 3.

Christian persecution has intensified, CBS News reported, because Christians supported the ousting of Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected to office a year ago.

“People from the Muslim Brotherhood are taking it upon themselves to wage jihad to defend Morsi and their religion,” Safwat Samaan, a director at human rights group Nation Without Limits, told Morning Star News.

Attacks on Christians also are coming from Salifis, a faction of radical Islamists who walked alongside Christians and other protestors in support of Morsi’s ousting, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

“No faction in Egypt had more to lose from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist rule than the 8 million or so Christian Coptic community, the Mideast’s largest non-Muslim minority,” Shea said. “Without American and Western diplomatic support, the Copts’ fate is looking increasingly grim.”

Egypt’s northern Sinai region has been a particular target for increased murders and death threats of Christians, as well as destruction of Christian-owned property, Morning Star News reported.

Kidnappings by Islamic militants have become fairly common in northern Sinai, which is home to about 5,000 Christians. Egyptian Coptic priest Yousef Soubhy told Morning Star News that the kidnapping and murder of a Christian merchant by suspected militants was intended to harass Christians.

The 60-year-old Sinai merchant, Magdy Lamei, was kidnapped July 6 and found beheaded and abandoned in a cemetery July 10, The Associated Press (AP) said. A Coptic priest, Mina Aboud Sharubim, also was shot and killed July 6 in a market.

Four other Christians in southern Egypt were murdered July 5, said Samaan, human rights group director. After one of the Christians – Emile Naseem Saroufeem – was accused of killing a Muslim man, an Islamic mob sought revenge by killing Saroufeem and three others who tried to hide him. Saroufeem was considered his village’s most outspoken supporter of Morsi’s demise, AP reported.

“Emile [Saroufeem] was the de facto Tamarod [rebel] leader in the village and that did not escape the notice of the militants,” AP quoted a friend of Saroufeem. “He, like other activists, received threatening text messages for weeks before he was killed.”

Other Egyptian Christians have received death threats, including Coptic priest Soubhy, who said he cannot return home for fear that militants will murder him, Morning Star News reported. Reports also surfaced of churches being looted and burned after Morsi was ousted. In addition, dozens of Coptic homes have been burned and some Christian-owned businesses and vehicles have been bludgeoned with weapons or destroyed.

The Sinai militants began an intimidation campaign against Christians several years ago, setting churches on fire, scrawling graffiti, and warning residents that the area was under Islamic control and Christians were not welcome, according to news reports.

Heightened persecution over the past few weeks has led many Christian families to seek refuge elsewhere.

“A lot of our neighbors had some of their family members that got kidnapped, and others were shot at,” Fadiya Abdel Sayed, who fled from Arish with 13 other families, told Morning Star News. “I left my work and property, and my husband left his trade and everything to come to our hometown until things calm down.”

More than 100 Christian families once resided in the northern Sinai community, but most have left.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Byrd is a staff writer at Baptist Press.)

7/23/2013 2:52:15 PM by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



UN: Syria refugee crisis worst since Rwanda

July 23 2013 by Baptist Press staff

WASHINGTON – The civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel fighters has sparked a refugee crisis that the United Nations (UN) says is the worst in nearly two decades.

“We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” Antonio Guterres, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said at a UN Security Council briefing, according to ABC News.

The UN reported that more than 1.7 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries, while another 4.5 million are internally displaced.

“As the Syrian civil war enters its third year, the human cost of the conflict is growing exponentially,” according to a factsheet prepared by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government advisory body that monitors freedom of conscience, thought and religious belief.

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The factsheet, “Syria’s Refugee Crisis and its Implications,” was produced after USCIRF conducted a fact-finding mission as part of a UN-led delegation that visited Egypt and Jordan. USCIRF interviewed refugees, government and UN officials and representatives from aid organizations.

Among the factsheet’s major findings:

  • More than 90 percent of refugees registered with UNHCR identify themselves as Sunni Muslims.

  • The percentage of religious minorities (such as Christians, Alawites and Yezidis) who have registered with UNHCR are disproportionately small compared to the Syrian population. Most religious minorities are reported to be taking shelter within Syria among co-religionists and in government-held areas. Most of those who do leave go to Lebanon or Turkey.

  • Christians and Alawites are not registering with UNHCR because they fear reprisals from Sunni refugees who might suspect them of being government allies. Minorities also fear that if the current Syrian regime stays in power and they have to return, the government will view them as disloyal for having fled.

  • Refugees must register with UNHCR to receive material assistance such as food, cash, education and health care. Since many religious minorities in rural areas cannot or do not register, they are left out.

  • The massive flow of refugees is straining the already limited resources of neighboring countries. Iraq, Turkey and Jordan either have closed their borders or limited the daily intake of refugees.

  • Refugees living in host countries outside of camps must contend with scarce housing and high rents, combined with social tensions from sharing resources and government services with native citizens.

“By the end of 2013, more than half of Syria’s population, over 10 million people, likely will need urgent humanitarian assistance,” the factsheet said.

Many of the country’s Christians who have not left face dangers at home. Youmna*, a 13-year-old Christian girl living in Damascus, remembered how shooting erupted near her school bus one day.

“[W]e all dived down, hiding under our seats, waiting until the shooting was over,” she told Open Doors, an organization that focuses on helping persecuted Christians.

Youmna’s sister Nashita*, 10, told Open Doors how the children at her school were herded into the basement as they waited to see if a nearby plane would bomb the building.

“My classmates and I were all very scared,” Nashita said. “Kids around me were crying and shouting at the teachers because they were so afraid. Some called their fathers, crying to them that they wanted to go home.”

As the violence rages on, Youmna and Nashita ask for prayers for their country. Youmna specifically mentioned children who have lost parents.

“A lot of our friends have no fathers anymore because they have been killed in war,” she said.

Jerry Dykstra, an Open Doors USA spokesman, said, “Please heed the requests of Youmna and Nashita to pray for Syria, especially for the innocent victims such as the young children.

“Not only do the children face the daily violence of civil war, but they are also the targets of persecution, including kidnapping, because they are Christians,” Dykstra said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston. To read the full USCIRF factsheet, visit http://www.uscirf.gov/reports-and-briefs/factsheets.html and download the PDF entitled “July 2013 Factsheet: Syria’s Refugee Crisis and its Implications.”)

7/23/2013 2:43:38 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Next Generation students prepare to be mission leaders

July 22 2013 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

Although Hicksville, N.Y., is no longer the last stop on the Long Island Rail Road, a distinction it held for several years after the rail station was built in 1837, this hamlet of Nassau County remains a hub of activity.
 
This growing activity is due in large part to an increasingly diverse population, primarily South Asian and Indian. About 10 percent of Hicksville’s 41,000 residents is South Asian or Indian. Commercials and advertisements in India even encourage people to move to Hicksville – the “new Little India.”
 
Three students devoted two weeks this summer to meeting with community leaders, religious leaders and Hicksville residents to learn about the South Asian influence in Hicksville.
 
They learned that in the 1980s South Asians began moving to Queens to pursue a better life, but soon began settling and opening businesses in Hicksville. People are coming from northern India locations such as Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat and Bombay, and are known for being well educated and economically savvy.
 
But what really grabbed the students’ attention is that Hicksville is less than one percent evangelical. About 65 percent of Indians in Hicksville are Hindu and 30 percent are Sikh.
 
“We learned that many Indians and South Asians are open to the gospel when they move here,” said Will Earls, a sophomore at Gardner-Webb University. “But the reality is that we are not reaching out to them. So they go back to what they know; to what is familiar.”
 
Earls is in his second year of the Next Generation Missional Journey, which is a three-year initiative sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships.

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From left, front row: Tori Ford, Jessica Francis, Rebecca Nivens, Emily Compton (ministry assistant in Office of Great Commission Partnerships), Hannah Davidson; back row: Josh Williams, Mike Sowers, Will Earls. Part of the Next Generation process is spending time on the mission field.

Students read assigned texts and attend three, one-day training sessions throughout the year. During the training sessions they learn from pastors, missionaries and missions strategists. At the end of each year students participate in a hands-on missions experience.
 
In their second year, leading up to the summer missions experience in New York, Earls and his five classmates spent the year learning about the theology of the city and how to impact the world from North America. 
 
Last year the group learned about their responsibility to help fulfill the Great Commission and spent a week in the summer serving in North Carolina. Next summer, at the completion of their third and final year, they will study how to reach unreached people groups and will serve in Southeast Asia. 
 
“What will really help is when we take what we have learned home with us,” said Earls, who is a youth minister at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Shelby and planning to pursue full-time vocational ministry.

“It’s not about anything I can do, but how I obey and follow Him. It’s how you love God and people.”
Students learned how they can better obey the Great Commission by learning how to intentionally share their faith and reach out to people from unreached, unengaged people groups.
 
While Earls and two students served in Hicksville, three other Next Generation students, including Rebecca Nivens, were learning about the Sri Lankan and Buddhist influence on Staten Island.
 
Nivens was reminded that reaching people with the gospel begins with building relationships and caring about people.
 
“I learned a different perspective on people and how God wants us to reach them,” she said. “This has opened my eyes to missions. It’s not something you can do and just leave. You really want to know and learn about the people.”
 

Live like a missionary

Prior to serving in New York the group received training from Chris Clayman about how to gather people group information and learn about the community.
 
Clayman is employed by the North American Mission Board and is author of EthNYcity, which features profiles on immigrant groups in metro New York.

“There isn’t much being done for raising leaders like this in this context; it fills a big need,” he said.
Clayman challenged the students to live like missionaries and to always look for opportunities to share the gospel.
 
“Put yourself in their space,” Clayman said. “Be in the place where you start to see them. Buy things from their store. Put yourself in situations where God can use you to speak into their lives.”
 
In New York the students also received training in how to start conversations with people on the street, in restaurants and in businesses, and how to turn those conversations into opportunities to share the gospel.
 
The students then went out across New York City to share the gospel.
 
The students served in Jackson Heights, Queens, seeking to share the gospel with South Asians.
 
“We never expect to live in the radical obedience we see in the Book of Acts,” said Brad Wall, who led the training and partners with Metropolitan New York Baptist Association through a local ministry called Global Gates. 

“Be the aroma of Christ. Are you a picture of the gospel?”
 
Chuck Register, BSC executive group leader for church planting and missions development, described the Next Generation class serving in New York as “trail blazers.”
 
“With excellence, they have faithfully and passionately served their Lord and shared their faith on the streets and in the boroughs of one of the world’s most strategic cities,” Register said.
 
“Their research will assist future ministries and mission teams in reaching the Sri Lankan and South Asian peoples living in metro New York City.”
 
Next Generation Missional Journey students are eligible to earn 13 credit hours from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

7/22/2013 3:27:10 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Judge grants stay for Hobby Lobby

July 22 2013 by Baptist Press staff

WASHINGTON – Hobby Lobby has won further relief from a massive penalty as it challenges the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.
 
A federal judge in Oklahoma City granted a preliminary injunction to Hobby Lobby Friday (July 19), sparing the popular arts and crafts chain from a penalty that could have reached $1.3 million a day. The order bars enforcement while the case proceeds challenging a controversial rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions.
 
Religious freedom advocates applauded the order.
 
“There’s a long way to go, but this is good news for freedom of conscience,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “The HHS mandate is an egregious burden on the free exercise of religious convictions, and a vast coalition of us stands against it, and for liberty.”
 
Kyle Duncan, general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, “The tide has turned against the HHS mandate.” The Becket Fund is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.
 
Hobby Lobby, which has more than 550 stores in the United States, and Mardel, a sister Christian bookstore chain, filed suit last year against the rule implementing the 2010 health care reform law. 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 federally approved drugs in question include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills with a secondary, post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of 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.
 
After federal judge Joe Heaton granted the injunction July 19, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green explained his company’s position.
 
“This case is about life; our deeply held conviction is that life begins with conception. To offer prescriptions that take life is just not an option,” he said, according to The Daily Oklahoman.
 
In his opinion Heaton said, according to the Becket Fund, “There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.”
 
He disagreed, however, with an opinion by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that religious freedom protections extend to for-profit corporations, describing it as an “exotic definition of personhood,” The Oklahoman reported.
 
Heaton originally refused to grant a preliminary injunction, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals June 27 reversed his decision and instructed him to reconsider. The appeals court said Hobby Lobby and Mardel had demonstrated they probably would prevail in showing that the mandate infringes on their religious freedom.
 
The next day, Heaton issued a temporary restraining order preventing the mandate from going into effect July 1 and sparing the retail chains from the penalty.
 
The Obama administration’s final rule on the abortion/contraception mandate does not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel. Religious liberty advocates said it also fails to remedy the conscience problems for non-profit organizations that object.
 
More than 60 federal lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate. Courts have granted injunctions to 23 for-profit corporations and refused to issue injunctions or restraining orders for seven companies, according to the Becket Fund. No action has been taken in four lawsuits by for-profit companies.
 
The ERLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lead a coalition of diverse religious organizations that have urged the Obama administration to protect freedom of conscience under the mandate.
 
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 Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/22/2013 3:19:09 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Analysis: ‘Pagan’ is getting a makeover

July 22 2013 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

Is calling someone a “pagan” a bad thing or a badge of honor? Do we even know what the term means?
 
Those questions were prompted by a recent speech by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput in which he lamented the decline of faith and morals in the modern world. “Even many self-described Christians,” he declared, “are in fact pagan.”
 
And it doesn’t sound like he meant that as a compliment.
 
In an email, Chaput declined to elaborate on what he meant by that line, which came near the end of a 3,000-word address delivered in June to an international association of Catholic leaders meeting in Spain. The archbishop said “the words and the context of the words speak for themselves. It is all quite obvious.”
 
Others, however, aren’t so sure his message is clear given the many meanings of “pagan.”
 
“It’s kind of a sliding word,” said Patrick McCollum, a leading practitioner of pagan religion and a peace activist who promotes religious pluralism.
 
In its original context in the ancient world, pagan simply meant a “country dweller” and was only mildly derogatory – like “hick” or “redneck,” said McCollum, who lives near San Francisco. A pagan may have been viewed as uncultured, but there was no particular moral or spiritual opprobrium attached to the label.
 
Yet as the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity, began to spread, “pagan” took on negative connotations as the antithesis of the “true faith” of the monotheists. Pagans were polytheists who believed in various gods and held to questionable moral codes. Buddhists and Hindus and everyone else who were not Christians were labeled as pagans and thus doomed in the afterlife.
 
Decades ago, Catholic school kids collected money for “pagan babies” – funds that were sent to missionaries in places like Africa to minister to non-Christian children, and perhaps save their souls. (The term was retired long ago, and isn’t coming back – though it did have a brief resurrection as the name of a West Coast band.)
 
Eventually, a “pagan” turned into something far more problematic – someone “who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods,” as the Merriam-Webster dictionary puts it. “An irreligious or hedonistic person.” It was perhaps no coincidence that when an outlaw motorcycle gang in suburban Washington was looking for a fearsome name, they settled on the Pagans.
 
Pagans were seen as anti-religious, dangerous people who would lure believers into atheism or even occult practices. But that’s not the case any longer, if it ever was, say contemporary pagans like McCollum.
 
“What pagan has come to mean in modern times is people who are more attentive to our connection to the Earth, the world we live in, and our interconnectedness with everything in it,” he said. There are even Christo-Pagans who believe in Jesus and don’t think Christianity and pagan beliefs are mutually exclusive.
 
Above all, pagans insist that even if they are not Christians, they nonetheless have strong religious and moral convictions about caring for others and the Earth. They are not, they insist, anti-religious libertines looking to corrupt your soul.
 
“Except in the rarest instances, I never meet nonspiritual, nonbelieving pagans,” McCollum said.
 
As far back as the 1950s, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, an icon to many evangelicals today, was extolling pagans as having more in common with traditional Christians than with “post-Christians” who are indifferent about faith.
 
“The gap between those who worshiped different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who don’t,” Lewis said in a well-known lecture. “I find it a bit hard to have patience with all those Jeremiahs in press or pulpit who warn us that we are relapsing into paganism.”
 
Since then, pagans have also benefited from a number of other trends.
 
One is that Christian churches, including some Catholics and evangelicals, have developed a theology that promotes a reverence for the Earth and a spiritual rationale for protecting the environment. That provides important common ground for dialogue and action with pagans.
 
Paganism is also becoming decidedly mainstream. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey showed dramatic growth among the various communities that come under the pagan umbrella, such as Wiccans and Druids. Those who identified specifically as pagans went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.
 
In addition, the U.S. military in 2007 approved the pagan pentacle as a religious symbol that veterans may request for their tombstones, and pagan groups are continuing to establish seminaries and clergy certification programs across the country.
 
None of this means, however, that the word pagan can’t be deployed as a critique, the way Chaput seems to have intended.
 
“In the common currency, words have a certain balance, they have a certain weight and the words that he’s using could broadly be taken as judgmental,” said Lawrence Cunningham, an emeritus professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and a prolific Catholic writer.
 
“Here’s a little test you could use,” Cunningham told Philadelphia’s NBC affiliate, which produced a detailed story on the archbishop’s speech. “Would Pope Francis use that language? My inclination is to think that he probably wouldn’t.”
 

Related story

Return to paganism on rise in England, Norwich leads way
7/22/2013 3:07:35 PM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Return to paganism on rise in England; Norwich leads way

July 22 2013 by Charles Braddix, IMB

NORWICH, England – He is difficult to find and even then is barely visible, but he’s there. Green Man, a symbol of ancient pagan religion, stares down from the nave of Norwich Cathedral. In a way, his presence is symbolic of how it has always been, and still is, in this medieval city.
 
Norwich has the unique distinction of being officially classified as England’s most ungodly city. That’s not unusual considering it’s the only English city to ever be excommunicated by a Roman Catholic Pope.
 
The excommunication came in 1274. Its “ungodly” status comes from the 2011 census.
The 2011 survey has Norwich leading the way in a national shift away from Christianity, with 42.5 percent in the city saying they have no religion, against a national rate of 25.1 percent.
 
When residents hear they live in the most ungodly city in England, however, they aren’t surprised. They are surrounded by evidence of it every day. A myriad of shops offer spiritual, New Age and pagan paraphernalia – crystals, tarot cards, etc.

And the city that once boasted an active church built for every Sunday of the year during medieval times now has a pub for every day of the year. The pubs continue to burst with their usual patrons, but many of the churches are now art galleries, meeting halls and bookshops.
 
Norwich pastor Marvin Lucas is now familiar with the rich heritage of one church – St. Andrews. His initial experience with the church was very different from its Christian roots, however. The church’s origins go back to 1270, but Lucas has always known it as a community center.

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Many of Norwich’s medieval churches have been converted into art galleries, meeting halls and gift shops. See videos here and here.

 

“It was at St. Andrews Hall where I would party,” Lucas said. “In my adolescence I remember collapsing in a drunken stupor during a party in this building. It is ironic how this place of radical religious fervor is now a place of sin and debauchery.”
 
Growing up in England with no exposure to biblical truth or the difference Jesus can make in one’s life, Lucas was an outspoken opponent to anything religious. At 25, however, he made a commitment to Christ and was baptized.
 
Now a minister of Norwich Christian Church, Lucas serves as pastor of two house churches in the area and runs a counseling center in the city.
 
Kirsty Bolton, a member of one of Lucas’ house churches, sees Norwich’s traditional churches as empty, cold stone buildings that sit down at the end of a lane. Most others in the city see them this way too, she believes.
 
“I know very few people who actually go to church at all, very few,” she said. “Those who do go to church are seen as slightly odd by other people, because the majority just don’t go. So the census result doesn’t surprise me.”
 
When one scratches the surface of “no religion” across the British Isles, it is not unusual to find a resurgence of paganism, some secret and some blatant. One of the best-known symbols of ancient paganism, Stonehenge, majestically sits in the English countryside. It is still the site of pagan rituals.
 
Not far from Stonehenge is Glastonbury, internationally known as a center of paganism, witchcraft and spirituality. Regular and heavily attended pagan ceremonies in Glastonbury offer homage, sacrifices and prayers to pagan gods and goddesses, as well as to nature and its elements.
 
“Love pulses” and “cosmic prayers” are part of the vocabulary in Glastonbury. Flowing capes and flowers in the hair are part of the attire. Some participants are even dressed as Green Man.
 
Green Man first appeared in England in the 12th century but has a history elsewhere that dates back to first-century Rome. He is alive and well today, though, and his likeness continues to appear on walls and in gardens throughout the United Kingdom. He symbolizes man’s connection to earth and nature.
 
In Norwich, Green Man not only hides in the shadows of the Church of England’s cathedral but is also displayed in shop windows and jewelry shops and as pieces of art, such as paintings and sculpture.
 
“Norwich is kind of a microcosm of England,” Lucas said. “As far as Christian history is concerned, England used to be more pagan. It’s kind of come full circle, I believe; back to paganism.”
 
The people of Norwich specifically, and of the country in general, are living on the “spiritual fumes” of Christian history, Lucas believes. When that dissipates, there will be a return to pagan society, he said.
 
As in Glastonbury, pagan “moots” are openly promoted and advertised in Norwich. A moot is a locally organized event where pagans of various paths come together to socialize, discuss relevant topics, celebrate, worship and practice rituals.
 
Lucas concludes that the youth of the country are reverting back to paganism, including participation in festivals and rituals that “awaken” elements of air, earth, water and fire.
 
“This movement caters to the mystic and environmental awareness of this postmodern generation,” he said. “It is sad to see such a spiritual void in England that is regressing back to hedonistic practices. The future of Christianity looks bleak in Britain, but sometimes in the deepest darkness, light shines the brightest.”
 
Mark Tall, pastor of Norwich Central Baptist Church, is not worried about the downward trend. He sees it as opportunity.
 
“Even though there is a decrease in the number of people who identify themselves as Christians, it is still 51 percent,” Tall said. “We don’t share our faith because we don’t think people are open to what we believe and we will simply experience rejection. The census tells us that there may well be more people interested than we think, even in Norwich. The good news is that the opportunity is there.”
 
The religious trend in Norwich is only a small part of a worldwide phenomenon. A recent report on global religious identity shows that those with no religious affiliation are now the third largest “religious” group in the world. Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups.
 
The study, released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, indicates that 1.1 billion people in the world, or 16 percent of the world’s population, say they have no religion or belief in God. This figure does not include those who indicated belonging to a cultic, pagan or spiritualistic religion. These adherents number in the tens of millions.
 
London, located halfway between Norwich and Glastonbury, hosts a thriving atheist “church.” Only a year old and with a membership of 300, its services are called Sunday Assembly, and some refer to it as a gathering for non-believers. Many of those who attend wouldn’t even call themselves atheists.
 
The group meets in a “deconsecrated” church building and sings along to Stevie Wonder and Queen, listens to readings from Alice in Wonderland, and watches PowerPoints on subjects such as antimatter theory. One member refers to the church as a “congregation of unreligious people.”
 
A true and sincere love for the lost is what it will take to reach this community, Lucas said.
“From my research and several years of preaching and teaching in England, I have developed a missional strategy,” he said. “When we have to go to a class to love the lost, we have lost. Our outreach should be an overflow of one’s own salvation and God’s grace.”
 
Tall said, “The press may use statistics to paint a dreary picture for Christians, but there are those who are coming to life-changing faith in the God who lives among us today. Clearly there is no room for complacency, but neither should we sink into despair. Rather we should work together to make Jesus known, as well as live a life of faith among those who may have none.”
 
For more information on Norwich Christian Church, go to www.NorwichChurch.com. For more about Norwich Central Baptist Church, go to www.NorwichCentral.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)

 


Related story:

Analysis: ‘Pagan’ is getting a makeover

7/22/2013 2:55:35 PM by Charles Braddix, IMB | with 0 comments



Bordeaux declares candidacy for BSC president

July 19 2013 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Another candidate has joined the race to lead North Carolina Baptists.
 
C.J. Bordeaux, senior pastor of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham, will be nominated for president at the annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) in November. Bordeaux will run against Bobby Blanton, senior pastor of Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville.
 
“I’ve had the privilege of serving our N.C. Baptist Convention for these past four years as a vice president, and originally I had determined not to seek the office of the president,” Bordeaux said in a statement to the Biblical Recorder. “Through a number of pastors, friends, director of missions and others, including my family and my church, encouraging me to move forward, I have agreed to allow my name to be nominated this November in Greensboro.”
 
This will be the first time since 2005 that there has been more than one candidate seeking the office of BSC president.
 
“My heart is to serve our state convention and through that service bring honor and glory to our Lord,” Bordeaux said. “I believe in North Carolina Baptists and pray that our best days are ahead of us.”
 
Bordeaux will be nominated by Ed Yount, senior pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover. Yount has formerly served as president and vice president of the BSC. He has also served on the BSC Board of Directors and Executive Committee.
 
“[Bordeaux’s] unique experience in our denomination on a national, state and local level has prepared him well to lead North Carolina Baptists and continue to build upon the excellent foundation that has been laid by Dr. [Mark] Harris,” said Yount, referring to the current BSC president and pastor of First Baptist Charlotte. “We are fortunate to have a man like Dr. Bourdeaux to offer himself for this position of service. I worked with him for several years as a convention officer and I know his heart. He is a servant leader, a man of compelling vision and sterling character. He loves North Carolina Baptists and especially the small church pastor.”
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In his released statement, Bordeaux highlighted his church’s strong support of the Cooperative Program and for Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer. Gorman is the eighth church he has served in North Carolina. He received a bachelor of arts degree in religion from Campbell University in Buies Creek, attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and received a master of theology and doctor of ministry degrees from Bethany Theological Seminary in Dothan, Ala.
 
“The one thing that causes me such great concern is the health of our churches in North Carolina,” Bordeaux said. “Many churches are strong, vibrant and thriving, but many more are not. It would be my prayer that our Convention can be of assistance to new church starts, but also to those churches whose health is not what it should be.”
 
Officers are elected for a one-year term and may be elected for two consecutive terms.
 
A May 25 Biblical Recorder story highlighted the other announced candidates for office. Blanton will be nominated for president by Greg Mathis, senior pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville.

There is only one candidate for first vice president. Timmy D. Blair Sr., who is the current second vice president and senior pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church in Angier, will be nominated by Stan Welch, senior pastor of West Asheville Baptist Church in Asheville.
 
For second vice president there are two men who have declared intentions to seek this office: Mark Hunnicutt, associate pastor of ministries at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, and Marc Sanders, senior pastor of Sandy Branch Baptist Church in Bear Creek.
 
Phil Ortego, senior pastor of Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington, will nominate Hunnicutt, and Scott Faw, senior pastor of Moon’s Chapel Baptist Church in Siler City, will nominate Sanders.

Official nominations will be made at the BSC annual meeting in November, and candidates can be nominated during the meeting from the floor of the meeting hall. This year’s meeting will be Nov. 11-12 at The Sheraton Four Seasons/Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
7/19/2013 3:10:29 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments



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