July 2013

Author challenges readers to ‘Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart’

July 19 2013 by Micheal Pardue, Book Review

Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved
by J.D. Greear (B&H Publishing, 2013)
It was clear from before the first word penned by J.D. Greear that Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved was going to be no ordinary book. Five pages occupy the front of this little book – five pages full of endorsements from well-respected pastors, professors, and religious leaders. Within the endorsements it is clear that this book forces its readers to carefully examine the nature and doctrine of salvation. 
Greear opens the book with, and subsequently weaves through, his own story of salvation. His story brings practical application to his thesis that assurance of salvation is found in our present posture toward Christ. Our faith and hope rests on His sacrifice. Greear jokes that he must hold the world record for “asking Jesus into his heart.” As a young man he was plagued by doubt and a lack of assurance. This book recounts his discovery of the wonderful assurance that Christ wants His people to have.  
Stop Asking puts it very simply, either we believe or we do not. Everything else will flow out of whichever of these two postures we dedicate ourselves. In this, we accept we are dependent on Christ or we rely on ourselves. 
Greear writes, “Truly admitting unworthiness and inability is difficult because we have spent our whole lives trying to prove we are anything but unworthy. Most people will admit they make mistakes and are not perfect, but far fewer will go on from there to admit their ‘mistakes’ make them unworthy of eternal life and worthy of utter condemnation.”
Understanding we are unworthy shows us we don’t deserve anything from, and have nothing to offer, God. 
However, because Christ has died in our place and settled our account with God, “God’s forgiveness of us is not mercy, it is justice.” We have been given this gift of righteousness through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Greear calls understanding this gift a “key component in obtaining assurance.” 
Moving further in his encouragement toward assurance, Greear spends two chapters dissecting the two pivotal words associated with salvation: repent and believe. Greear calls these two sides of the same coin.
“Jesus lived and died; we believe He lived and died for us and we choose to rest our hopes for salvation upon Him,” he writes.
“We believe not only that Jesus is Lord (as a fact of history), but that He is our rightful Sovereign as well, and we submit to Him (as an act of volition).”
This is a far cry from what we often make salvation out to be and gets to the crux of the point made in Greear’s title  – “‘Repentance and belief’ and ‘asking Jesus into our hearts’ are not always interchangeable.”
So often, he points out, many people only have a brief moment in time, when they said a prayer or walked an aisle to hold on to as their hope for salvation and an eternity with Christ. This reality causes Greear to state boldly that, “your present posture is more important than a past memory.” For me that statement draws my mind somberly to the remembrance of so many funeral services I have conducted when the testimony of the one lying prostrate in front of me was solely based on a very distant memory. 
Greear goes on to point out that belief is inextricably coupled with repentance.
Repentance is not simply outward actions, but it is “fundamentally a motion of the heart in which we abandon our posture of rebellion and adopt one of submission toward Christ. Repentance is evidenced by outward action, but it does not equal that.” Repentance is not perfection, partial surrender, becoming religious, simply confessing or feeling sorry for sin, or even praying a prayer. Repentance is a heart change where settled defiance is eradicated, Jesus is followed, and the Spirit changes our desires. 
Greear closes the book by considering eternal security, and his explanation is concise, pastoral and sobering: “The full doctrine of eternal security is that once we are saved, we will always be saved, and that those who are saved will persevere in their faith to the end. It is true that ‘once saved, always saved;’ but it is also true that ‘once saved, forever following.’” The scriptures provide both assurances of salvation and warnings against falling away.
Greear contests it is vital for both to be present in pastoral ministries. For those still with questions, Greear lays out a simple observation: the Scriptures point to our love of God and our love for others as evidence of our salvation. These are present in the heart and life of the believer.
Paige Patterson, author of the book’s foreword, declares that Stop Asking is a book that he had needed recently to place in the hands of a “young man who was concerned about the state of his soul.”
I agree that it would be expedient to keep this close at hand as it is a most helpful tool to encourage those who are often heavily weighted down by doubt. 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard.)
7/19/2013 3:06:02 PM by Micheal Pardue, Book Review | with 1 comments

Americans hold different views of what ‘religious’ means

July 19 2013 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

There is a lopsided divide in America about what it means to be a religious person, with a majority believing that it’s about acting morally but a strong minority equating it with faith.
Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”
The findings, released Thursday (July 18), are part of a report by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution that aims to paint a more nuanced picture of the American religious landscape, and the religious left in particular.
Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said that Americans’ two views of what makes a person religious harken back to the Protestant Reformation and to the Bible itself.
“This has been a perennial debate through the ages in Christianity,” said Jones. “The Pauline literature, especially in the Book of Romans, makes the case for religious justification by faith alone, while the Book of James seems to state the very opposite – ‘faith without works is dead.’”
Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation in 1517, taught that faith alone – not “good works” – brings salvation.
“We were curious to see whether this theological debate still has any traction in American religion,” Jones said. “And, lo and behold, it’s still with us today.” But he noted that one side prevails, with those who believe that action defines religiousness outnumbering by nearly 2-1 those who think the key element is faith.
The report, dubbed the “Economic Values Survey,” uses respondents’ views on everything – from God to the Bible to the role of government in the economy – to create a new scale of religiosity that divides Americans into four groups: religious conservatives (28 percent), religious moderates (38 percent), religious progressives (19 percent) and the nonreligious (15 percent.)
Where do various religious groups fall on the scale?
  • White evangelical Christians fall overwhelmingly (70 percent) into the conservative category.
  • About four in 10 white mainline Protestants (44 percent) and white Catholics (43 percent) are moderates, as are seven in 10 Hispanic Catholics and more than half of black Protestants (54 percent).
  • The largest group of non-Christian religious people (42 percent) is classified as progressive.
  • A strong majority of the unaffiliated (59 percent) are in the nonreligious sector.
The authors say this new scale, taking into account a wide range of beliefs – religious and otherwise – helps clarify the nature of the religious left, which has been studied far less than the religious right.
“The Christian right since the 1970s has been much more of a political force in American life,” Jones said. It’s also easier to study because it is far more homogenous: Seven out of 10 religious conservatives are white Christians, compared to four out of 10 on the religious left, “where a big swath of them are not Christian,” Jones added.
The report also probed the religious aspects of Americans’ views of the economy and economic justice, with survey respondents split on whether capitalism and the free market system are consistent with (41 percent) or at odds with (44 percent) Christian values. The authors note little difference among religious groups on the question.
The gap between rich and poor, an issue raised in recent years most vocally by progressive religious groups, is considered the nation’s most pressing economic issue by 15 percent of those surveyed, coming in fourth behind the lack of jobs, the deficit and the rising cost of health care.
But religiously unaffiliated Americans are more likely to call economic inequality the most serious economic problem than any religiously affiliated group: 27 percent give it top billing, compared to 15 percent of mainline Protestants, nine percent of white evangelical Protestants and seven percent of Catholics.
While the study, consistent with previous reports, shows that religious conservatives outnumber religious progressives, it also seeks to dispel what it calls a common misconception that the “right” side of the religious scale is far heavier than the “left.”
What is often not taken into account in this view is the nonreligious, they argue.
The “nine percent advantage religious conservatives have in outnumbering religious progressives is muted by the additional 15 percent of Americans who are nonreligious and hold similar views to religious progressives across a range of issues,” they write.
What may bode even worse for religious conservatives is that they skew old. The survey shows that they are heavily represented among the oldest Americans (47 percent) but “make up a smaller proportion of each successive generation.”
The survey of 2,002 adults was conducted between May 30 and June 16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
7/19/2013 3:04:18 PM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 2 comments

Superstorm survivors aided by World Changers, P2 Missions

July 19 2013 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NEPTUNE, N.J. – It has been eight months since Superstorm Sandy impacted the densely populated northeastern United States, and residents are still recovering from the painful punch.

The killer superstorm wrecked businesses, destroyed homes and dealt a devastating blow to residents along the New Jersey coast and further inland.

World Changers and P2 Missions, both ministries of LifeWay Christian Resources, combined forces July 6-13 to offer help to those in need in Neptune, N.J., and the greater Monmouth County area. More than 600 students and adults from 26 churches and 11 states completed 90 local projects, including painting houses, building wheelchair ramps, installing sheetrock, conducting Backyard Bible Clubs, and even sprucing up the local ballpark. 

It is the sixth straight summer that Neptune has welcomed students from World Changers, which provides students and adults with opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others. A key facet of World Changers’ work entails improving substandard housing for low-income homeowners in cities across the U.S. and in Canada. Volunteers donate a week of their summer working in conjunction with cities, churches and community agencies to provide renovations at no charge. 

That mission goes hand-in-hand with P2 Missions, whose participants focus their efforts on meeting needs and demonstrating God’s love through action while partnering with and serving alongside local church planters in the nation’s most strategic cities.


Photo by Carol Pipes
Leanne Fries of Faith Community Church, Canonsburg, Pa., and Michael Plamo of Queens Bible Church, Glendale, N.Y., haul replacement dirt into an Oceanport, N.J., backyard that was washed away during Superstorm Sandy.

“We’ve had a tremendous partnership with the folks in Neptune and Monmouth County,” said John Bailey, World Changers director. “When they asked us to increase the number of volunteers this summer to accommodate the needs in the community due to the damage caused by Sandy, we were glad to say yes.”

The large size of the Neptune project required double the coordinating teams and double the resources. Local partnerships were key to coordinating construction materials as well as meals on the work sites. Neptune Township provided more than $30,000 for construction supplies, and local food banks provided lunches every day.

Students and adults worked with experienced construction crew chiefs, assisting residents affected by Sandy to clean up and repair damaged property as well as assisting low-income residents with ongoing needs.

Bobby Cartwright and his father, Bob, residents of nearby Oceanport, N.J., rode out last fall’s storm in the family home, built in 1831. Bobby recalls the terrifying sound of 80-90 mph winds and the way the rising water from the storm surge shot through cracks in the dining room floor. 

The two climbed to the second floor as floodwater rose to three-and-a-half feet on the lower level. 

“It was like being on a sinking ship,” Bobby Cartwright said. 

Outside, the rising waters turned the Cartwrights’ yard into a lake, and boats from a nearby marina began floating down the streets of Oceanport. Power lines kept a 46-foot boat from crashing into the Cartwrights’ house.

Due to extensive flooding, the Cartwrights gutted the entire first floor. They did the work themselves, choosing to stay in their home after the storm. The second floor is the only livable space but still has no heat or air conditioning. They soon discovered insurance would only cover a fraction of the cost of the repairs. 

“It’s been hard for homeowners to obtain resources for materials,” said David Flatt, missions pastor of First Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and one of the coordinators for the Neptune project. “Many are having to face the tough decision of whether to keep their home or walk away. If we can get them back in their homes, that will help them tremendously.”

A partnership between World Changers and Oceanport Cares opened the door for volunteers to be matched with the Cartwrights and other local residents. Oceanport Cares was established by the residents to provide assistance during the recovery and rebuilding after Sandy.

“I never thought the house would go back together,” Cartwright said. “Just to see the progress they’ve made is absolutely amazing.”

Robin Daly Lenorth, Oceanport Cares’ volunteer coordinator, said the partnership with World Changers has been like a puzzle with all the pieces coming together perfectly. 

“The families of Oceanport were overwhelmed with the after-effects of the storm, and now they’re overjoyed to know they are not alone,” Lenorth said. “It’s been wonderful to connect these dedicated students to people in need. They take every project to the next level.”

Sina Duncan, from Nashua Baptist Church in Nashua, N.H., is one of several students who worked on the Cartwrights’ house. 

“We’ve been leveling the floor and hope to install the subfloor, insulation and drywall before we leave,” said Duncan, a first-time World Changers participant. “There was no floor when we arrived; I had no idea how we were going to get it done.”

For Duncan, World Changers has been a learning experience. 

“I’ve learned how to hammer; I was terrible when we started,” she said. “I’ve also learned a lot of patience – waiting on God’s plan – and learning to be fluid.”

Duncan said residents have been surprised to learn how far students have traveled to help. 

“We’ve been able to tell people we’re here because God loves them and we want to show that love in a tangible way,” she said.

The participants stayed at Neptune High School, sleeping in classrooms and eating meals in the cafeteria. Each morning, they were up for breakfast at 6 a.m. and on the job by 7 a.m. The students paid $309 each for the week’s experience.

“People in New Jersey have been blown away by the depth and breadth of ministry done by Southern Baptists,” said David Persson, director of the North Jersey Network of Churches. “It’s helping to lessen some of the negative perceptions people may have about Southern Baptists, and we’re seeing God work through ministries like World Changers.”

This year, more than 15,500 students will participate in 97 projects in 65 cities across North America and in Puerto Rico through World Changers and P2 Missions. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Related story:

Surprise reunion buoys World Changers

7/19/2013 2:58:43 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Surprise reunion buoys World Changers

July 19 2013 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NEPTUNE, N.J. – Charles Scott almost didn’t recognize the face smiling back at him at his front door. Could this young woman be the same teenager who showed up at his house five years ago with a ragtag group of teens ready to paint his house?

Courtney Spink of New Hope Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y., was only 17 the last time she came to Neptune, N.J., to participate in a World Changers project. The opportunity to come back and help the couple she’d grown to love all those years ago was too good to pass up. 

“I didn’t think I’d ever come back here,” said Spink, who served as a crew chief at this year’s Neptune World Changers project. “And I didn’t think the Scotts would remember me.” 

But the Scotts have never forgotten any of the young people who made such an impression on the couple.

“I was so very pleased to see Courtney,” Charles Scott said. “I love to be around these young people. They are just like family.

“We hear so much bad things about young people today. But these students are different,” Scott said. “They are nice, decent and respectful. Their parents are to be commended.”


Photo by Carol Pipes
Neptune resident Charles Scott visits with World Changers crew chief Courtney Spink during a World Changers project July 6-13. During the week, two World Changers crews painted his house and built a wheelchair ramp. Spink, a member of New Hope Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y., also worked on Scott’s home five years ago.

Spink is one of 600 students and adults who participated in the combined Neptune World Changers and P2 Missions project July 6-13. With 61 crews and approximately 100 work sites, the Neptune project was the largest this summer. The work consisted of cleanup and repairs from Superstorm Sandy, Backyard Bible Clubs, home improvements such as painting and building wheelchair ramps and community projects.

Two crews started work at the Scotts’ house on Monday morning. One crew worked on building a wheelchair ramp, while Spink’s crew painted the weather-beaten house.

“Building a wheelchair ramp is going to help them so much,” Spink said, standing near a patch of orange dragon lilies. “Anna can’t navigate the steps with her walker to get out of the house, and she really wants to see her flower gardens.”

Charles Scott, 87, is thankful for the assistance he’s received from the World Changers crews. 

“We’ve been fortunate to have them come and do what they’re doing,” he said. “They’ve taken care of a lot of repairs around the house. And the ramp is really going to help both of us. We are so pleased to be associated with folks like World Changers.”

The Scotts, who will celebrate 62 years of marriage in December, have lived in the cozy bungalow since 1961. They’ve celebrated five decades of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays with their three children. The wall above the sofa in the living room is a family tree of photographs from generations past and present. 

But the Scotts aren’t the only ones who’ve been on the receiving end this week. 

“Being able to give myself completely to God and allow Him to use me this week has been such a blessing,” Spink said. “Every time I’ve done World Changers, I’ve come home changed.”

The Scotts’ house on 6th Avenue is a little brighter today. A fresh coat of yellow paint is enough to cheer Charles and Anna. And the new wheelchair ramp extending from the front porch is a much-needed blessing. But it’s the friendships – new and rekindled – that have really warmed their hearts. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.) 


Related story:

Superstorm survivors aided by World Changers, P2 Missions

7/19/2013 2:54:26 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Crossover Baltimore moves into prayer & vision-casting stage

July 18 2013 by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press

BALTIMORE – More than 20 churches from the Baltimore Baptist Association already are involved in casting a vision for next year’s Crossover.

The evangelistic outreach will precede the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 10-11, 2014 in Baltimore, which will draw thousands of Southern Baptists to the city.

The Baltimore Baptist Association, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and North American Mission Board will cooperate to provide various opportunities to share the gospel in the area.

Cindy Irizarry, who directs Crossover Baltimore’s mobilization and logistics, said the Baltimore Baptist Association has enlisted several churches in the area to host Crossover evangelistic events leading up to and on Saturday, June 7.

Representatives of 20-plus gathered at Manna Bible Baptist Church in Baltimore in early June to worship and begin praying toward next year’s outreach. Bob Mackey, director of missions for the Baltimore association, requested prayer for God to raise up participants from all over the country.

Members of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., pray about Crossover Baltimore, slated for June 7, 2014, prior to next year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Make no mistake about it, the single most partners that we have developed in the last seven years ... have come from the states of Maryland and Delaware,” Mackey said, referencing those came to participate in Embrace Baltimore, a strategic ministry and evangelism focus on the city, in recent years. “That’s just to let you know, our brothers and sisters who are a part of our state convention near us have a passion to partner with us – in addition to others from 25 other states for the same thing.”

To encourage passionate planning and praying, Tally Wilgis, pastor of Captivate Christian Church in Towson, Md., pointed to the large amount of money spent on the Preakness horse race, held at nearby Pimlico Race Course.

In May, more than 117,000 people flooded the race course and more than $80 million was wagered in the week leading up to the Preakness, including $50 million on the day of the race, Wilgis said.

The state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore took in an excess of $40 million through economic revenue, he added.

“The goal of this race, which lasted less than two minutes, was to see which horse would get across an imaginary line first,” Wilgis said. “And then it was over.”

Wilgis observed that people who don’t know the Lord are preparing well over a year in advance for a race where horses will cross an imaginary line because of an “expectation for what might happen a year from now.”

Pointing to Ezekiel 37, where God breathes life into dry bones, Wilgis urged pastors and church members to plan next year’s Crossover with even greater anticipation.

“We gather together ... with a hopeful and prayerful optimism that maybe, just maybe, the Lord might see fit to bring to Baltimore an event far more than any horse race,” he said. “We’re coming together to seek God to have His Spirit fall on us and stir a citywide revival.”

Also at the event, Dale South, pastor of Long Green Baptist Church in Glen Arm, Md., led participants to pray and brainstorm potential outreach ideas for their specific communities. People gathered in groups to pray and write down their ideas. Then they brought them forward to be compiled and shared at a later date.

Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., and BCM/D president, closed in prayer, thanking God in advance for “sending laborers to the harvest.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is a correspondent for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. For more information, visit embracebaltimore.com/crossover.)
7/18/2013 11:39:59 AM by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chaplains pursue mission in a military suddenly hostile to Christianity

July 18 2013 by World News Service

This year: An Idaho Air Force base removes a painting called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” because it references a Bible verse. The Air Force yanks off You-Tube a video tribute to first sergeants because its statement, “God created a first sergeant,” is “highly suggestive of the Book of Genesis in the Bible and has Christian overtones.”
Also this year: An Army Reserve training brief on hate groups declares that evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics are extremists as dangerous as al-Qaeda. A commander tells a chaplain to “stay in your lane” when he offers spiritual advice about the military’s exploding sexual assault problem.
Last year: A superior tells an Air Force major to remove from his desk the Bible he had kept there for 23 years. An Army lieutenant colonel instructs his subordinates to recognize the “religious right in America” as a domestic hate group like the KKK and Neo-Nazis. An Army master sergeant with 25 years of service faces punishment for serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion party.
Two years ago: Christian prayers banned at veteran funeral services in Houston’s National Cemetery. Bibles temporarily banned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A Christian cross banned from a military chapel in Afghanistan. A chaplain called into his supervisor’s office and chewed out for closing a prayer with the words “In Jesus’ name.”
Coincidence that all these incidents occurred recently? About 80 military chaplains who gathered in South Carolina for a three-day conference last month didn’t think so. George Washington established the military chaplaincy, but Doug Lee, a retired Army chaplain who achieved the rank of brigadier general, told attendees, “You are in the military in a new era.”
The marginalization of Christianity in a military becoming more and more hostile to religion has left the chaplains feeling muzzled – and they now face same-sex couples coming to them for marriage counseling. The chaplains still get to wear crosses on their collars so they worry even more about those Christians in regular uniforms losing the First Amendment freedom of religious expression that they volunteered to defend.
“We are at war,” said Chaplain Thomas MacGregor, a U.S. Army colonel. In June 2009, MacGregor bucked the trend by invoking Jesus’ name and proclaiming His resurrection during a prayer at the official Normandy ceremony honoring the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Several chaplains turned down the assignment, MacGregor said: “Be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove … that is the rule of the thumb I give to my junior chaplains.”
This May, frustrated with the weight of evidence, Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee broke rank, throwing out his prepared text at Washington’s National Day of Prayer event.
“They expect us to check our religion in at the door – don’t bring that here,” Lee said.
“Leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued by lawyers that put us in a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional right to express our religious faith. … Pray that we will be able to weather the storm.” Lee received five standing ovations.
Capitol Hill lawmakers are taking notice. In June, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., successfully inserted into a Defense spending bill an amendment stating military personnel will have freedom of conscience and will not be disciplined for their religious beliefs. At the chaplains’ conference Doug Lee commented on that: “Isn’t it tragic that we have to have a special paragraph that would insist on your First Amendment rights which are clearly spelled out already? … That’s where we are.”
Last December Congress passed a similar amendment to safeguard the religious beliefs of service members. But President Barack Obama, when he signed the larger bill into law, said the protections were “unnecessary” and “ill-advised.” Six months later the Obama administration has refused to issue regulations to enforce the protections. At a congressional hearing this spring, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel seemed to be unaware that the protections were in the law.
The Obama administration issued a statement on June 11 saying it “strongly objects” to a new religious liberty amendment: It would have a “significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale and mission accomplishment.”
The Administration did not object to an amendment offered last month by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., that would create atheist chaplains. That amendment lost, but 150 House Democrats voted for it.
How bad is the military environment? Reports of the influence of Mikey Weinstein, who met with officials at the Pentagon and has called religious proselytizing “a national security threat … sedition and treason … spiritual rape,” are probably exaggerated. But Major John Sackett, an Air Force chaplain, told me at the conference that Air Force chaplains like himself have “fear of retribution. … I often ask, ‘Will what I need to say now actually get me in trouble?’”
Complicating this are legitimate concerns that in the past some Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or other members of the American military have felt the pressure that minorities often feel. But, as Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute has put it, evangelicals in many ways are the new Jews of American society, facing discrimination of the kind Jews felt two generations ago.
John Wells, a former Navy commander turned lawyer who represents the master sergeant facing discipline for serving Chick-fil-A at his promotion party, said “The problem is this case is the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got people calling me all the time saying, ‘I am a chaplain and my prayers are being censored,’ or ‘I am being told if I state my opinion on something that I am going to get hammered.’”
Sackett, the Air Force chaplain, traces this climate of intimidation to confusion about the law: “You are free to pray however your conscience dictates in any situation because that’s the law. … Commanders don’t know that anymore. So many of them actually think it is illegal to talk about Jesus. The commanders are well-intentioned, but they are also not interested in any lawsuits.”
Sackett and his commanding chaplain plan an officers’ training session regarding constitutional law and the free exercise of religion. But even chaplains are bewildered: New ones often ask Sackett if they can offer Bible verses or pray while counseling. Ten years ago, he says, base commanders would often announce upcoming religious events and chaplains would often open and close command level staff meetings with prayer. Not anymore.
Some confusion stems from the military’s own dizzying array of press releases about what is permitted. An Air Force statement this spring said service members could “express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable.” Many chaplains wondered who would be deciding what is uncomfortable – and would this definition change over time?
The Pentagon then said service members could evangelize but not proselytize. That kicked off debate over the differences between evangelizing and proselytization. While chaplains at the conference agreed that coercion has no place in Christian faith, they worried that complex definitions of theological terms would have a chilling effect on discussion. They also discussed reports that the Army’s new definition of resilience has removed the word “spirituality” from the attributes needed for a soldier to overcome adversity.
Evangelical denominations face a hard choice: If they pull their support of chaplains because new rules don’t allow them to represent Christian belief, the gap will be filled by groups with liberal theology. Sackett said, “One of the reasons I am still in is I am afraid who might take my place.” But he may not get a chance to stay: “I think a time is shortly coming when chaplains who speak out on moral issues and on issues of community standards are going to be told go find a new job,” said Chuck Williams, an Army chaplain based in Hawaii.
The chaplains also say the assault on religious liberty in the military, if allowed to stand, could expand to society at large. The military has often been a touchstone for cultural change: “It is just a matter of time before these same challenges are going to come to the local church,” said one chaplain who asked not to be identified because he had received direct orders from his commander not to talk to the media. “You have your head in the sand if you think that you are protected behind the church.”  
7/18/2013 11:32:11 AM by World News Service | with 1 comments

Homeschoolers turn to high court for asylum

July 18 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A German homeschooling family has lost another round in their effort to avoid deportation, apparently leaving the U.S. Supreme Court as their last hope.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a request for it to rehear the case, which involves the Romeike family’s attempt to stay in this country and escape a forced return to Germany, where homeschooling is illegal. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which represents the Romeikes, had sought a rehearing before the entire 15-member appeals court in Cincinnati. A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit had upheld in May a rejection of the family’s request for asylum in the United States.

HSLDA said it will ask the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s July 12 decision.

“This is not over yet,” HSLDA chairman Michael Farris said in a written statement. “We are taking this case to the Supreme Court because we firmly believe that this family deserves the freedom that this country was founded on.”


Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are devout Christians, fled Germany with their five children in 2008. The Romeikes faced increasing fines and the risk of losing custody of their children in their home country unless the children attended school. They have had two more children born to them since arriving in the United States.

Farris said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who has refused to grant asylum to the Romeikes, and the Sixth Circuit have ignored important evidence, including Germany’s acknowledgment a primary reason for prohibiting home education “is to suppress religious minorities.”

HSLDA hopes the Supreme Court will recognize the same thing an immigration judge who granted asylum did – “this family and other religious homeschoolers in Germany are being persecuted for what they believe is the right way to raise their children,” Farris said.

The Sixth Circuit panel’s May decision upheld a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which struck down immigration Judge Lawrence Burman’s grant of asylum to the Romeikes. After the judge’s favorable ruling for the Romeikes in 2010, the Obama administration appealed his opinion to the immigration appeals board.

In its opinion, the Sixth Circuit panel said the Romeikes did not sufficiently make the case they had a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on being homeschoolers. The judges said the German government has “not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution.”

After the May ruling, 27 Republicans in the House of Representatives urged Holder to grant asylum to the Romeike family. In a letter to the attorney general, they affirmed the immigration judge’s ruling, saying Burman found the Romeikes’ case met the legal standard for asylum, which is a “well-founded fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group.”

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

7/18/2013 11:26:59 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Shooters in churches: Guidebook counsels ‘run, hide, or fight’

July 18 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – 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.

Titled “A Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship,” it offers suggestions and instructions apart from any laws or mandates. The guidebook is the work of a panel of 100 experts encompassing faith leaders, first responders, law enforcement officers, educators and emergency planners, who also released books for K-12 schools and higher education.

The faith leaders wanted to talk about making schools safer – and more, Vice President Joe Biden said in announcing the guidebook.

“They know, they’re worried, that their congregations are at risk. So they wanted to know what should they be thinking about when someone stands up in the middle of a congregation and decides to do something similar to what we saw in the schools,” Biden said of the group’s deliberations.

“So we gave concrete direction. We said, all of you come up with what you think are the best practices, the most concrete recommendations that you could give us that will enable us to teach or prepare or lay out a menu for the school districts and churches.”

The guide advises churches to develop a plan of action and, in the event of an active shooter in the church, to have the congregation already trained to “run, hide, or fight” depending on opportunity. Nowhere does the document advise church members to arm themselves with guns or other weapons.

Jimmy Meeks, a Southern Baptist preacher and Texas police officer who helps churches implement plans to protect worshippers, said the guidebook repeats information he and others have offered for years.

“You have to have some things in place. We’ve been pleading with people [to prepare],” said Meeks, who speaks at “Sheepdog Seminars” for churches, evoking the image of a dog protecting sheep. (See story.) “But I’m glad the federal government has awakened to this. ... But the truth is ... you just have to have some men in place in your congregation who’ve made up their mind if a shooter comes in, I’m going after him. I’m going down.”

Violent deaths in churches have surpassed those in schools, said Meeks, who has tracked 433 such deaths in churches since 1999, including 128 in Baptist congregations.

“Since 1999, churches have surpassed schools as to where you’re most likely to die a violent death. ... About 100 people less have died in schools since ’99. Schools have actually gotten safer,” Meeks said.

“And they’re not all acts of shooters,” he noted. “Two brothers were stabbed to death ... weeks ago in Huntsville, Ala., while working the church pantry. You’re not supposed to die working at the church pantry. So it’s not always shooters.”

The federal panel’s 32-page document for churches, downloadable at whitehouse.gov, was released under the umbrella of FEMA following the congressional defeat of Obama’s gun control initiatives.

Biden, in a mid-June news conference, described the guidebooks for churches and education facilities as comprehensive.

“We made sure the guidance reflects ... all the lessons we’ve learned over the years to insure that schools, higher education, houses of worship have an opportunity to share the latest and best knowledge and advancement in emergency planning,” the vice president said. “All that work has been distilled down into the guidebooks... .”

While Meeks cautions church members not to arm themselves with guns without proper training and knowledge, state governments increasingly are passing laws allowing concealed weapons in houses of worship.

Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming have such laws, with varied stipulations, including the possession of a proper permit, training, church approval and congregational awareness, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Additionally, about 20 other states allow guns in churches because of “right to carry” laws, but in legislation have not specifically focused on churches.

Meeks said he has conducted 80 seminars serving 800 churches, typically leading two or three a month while working as a fulltime policeman.

“It isn’t rocket science. Just have some men in place who are willing to die,” Meeks said. “That’s all you can do. But I made up my mind ... when I go to church if anyone has to die, it’s gonna be me. I don’t want to, but I don’t want you to either.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Information on Sheepdog seminars is available at sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com.) 


Related story:

‘Sheepdog’ sessions prep churches for violence

7/18/2013 11:22:03 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Sheepdog’ sessions prep churches for violence

July 18 2013 by Michelle Tyer, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Churches have long been considered safe havens for worship but, with 433 people killed on church property since 1999, they have become more dangerous than schools.

Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, knows such violence firsthand. A shooter entered a youth service in 1999, killed seven and wounded seven others.

Wedgewood hosted a “Sheepdog Seminar” this spring, providing training for 350 church representatives to prevent and respond to violent attacks. Seminar leaders referred to attendees as “sheepdogs” or protectors of their churches.

“I think there’s something that God’s people can do that we’re not doing,” Jimmy Meeks, seminar leader and a police veteran of more than 30 years, said of the need for church preparedness.

Photo by Michelle Tyer
Jimmy Meeks, left, and policeman Scott Caster demonstrate the “20-foot rule” at a “Sheepdog Seminar” at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. If you’re armed with a gun and attacked by someone 21 feet away with a knife, you will be stabbed before you can fire, Meeks said, unless your gun is already drawn.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (retired), another speaker whose book On Killing was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, said denial of the occurrence of violence is a major enemy of the church.

“The church has sat and done nothing while our kids are desensitized,” Grossman said, proffering that violent video games and movies are encouraging a generation of youth to use force against society’s most vulnerable.

“They’re gonna seek victims that can’t fight back in places that guns aren’t allowed,” often at churches and schools, Grossman said.

Meeks encouraged churches to mobilize safety teams, training and licensing them to carry and use guns to the extent of the law. No church members should join solely for the purpose of hurting those who might seem to be “bad guys,” Meeks said.

“It’s not about how to hurt the shooter but to protect the sheep,” he noted.

The seminar was not limited to gun violence. Attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe said churches need to be on their guard against sexual predators.

“It starts with understanding it’s even possible,” Love said. He advised churches to conduct thorough background checks, educate their members and encourage them to report problems, even if reputations are at stake.

“We expect and desire that kids be safer at our program than any other,” Love said of the church.

Churches also must rely on the power of God to fight against violence, Meeks said, encouraging prayer, fasting, wisdom, courage and love.

“It will take more than a good man with a gun to stop a bad man with a gun,” Meeks said. “We need more than guns – we’re gonna need the power of God.”

Seminar attendees heard from families who have lost members in church shootings and viewed the film “Faith Under Fire,” based on the 1980 shooting at First Baptist Church in Dangerfield, Texas.

Each of the 13 speakers during the May 6-7 seminar noted the importance of churches preparing for violence physically, mentally or spiritually.

Host pastor Al Meredith said churches must tailor ministry to the times in which we live.

“I don’t know if it’s the best of times or the worst of times,” Meredith said, “but it’s the only times we’ve got.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michelle Tyer is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Information on Sheepdog seminars is available at sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com.)

Related story

Shooters in churches: Guidebook counsels ‘run, hide, or fight’
7/18/2013 11:17:28 AM by Michelle Tyer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sexual exploitation of girls now TV ‘humor’

July 17 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

LOS ANGELES – The sexual exploitation of teenage girls is becoming a joke for television shows.

A new study released by the Parents Television Council (PTC) found that girls are more likely than adult women to be shown in sexually exploitative scenes on television, and when girls are involved, the scene is more likely to be shown as humorous.

PTC said 33 percent of scripted episodes that aired during the study period contained sexually exploitative content, and the likelihood it would be considered humorous rose to 43 percent when it involved girls.

“Today’s report is intended to shed light on a new and very troubling trend we’re seeing,” Tim Winter, PTC’s president, said in a conference call July 9. “There’s a growing amount of primetime television programming that is sexually exploitative, and much of that content is being used as a punch line to a joke.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • A scene was most likely to include sexual exploitation when the female characters were underage (23.3 percent).

  • Sexually exploitative topics were more likely to be presented as humorous when involving underage girls (42.85 percent) than adult women (33.02 percent).

  • Content involving sexual exploitation was usually presented as dialogue instead of depiction, but the dialogue was much more crude and explicit than depictions.

  • Joke topics targeting girls included sexual violence, sexual harassment, pornography, stripping and even sex trafficking.

  • The most common joke punch lines involved pornography (66 percent) and stripping (65 percent).

The study, “TV’s Newest Target: Teen Sexual Exploitation,” tracked scripted original programs that aired during primetime broadcast television Oct. 27-Nov. 9, 2011, and April 26-May 9, 2012. The study analyzed 238 episodes totaling 194.5 hours of programming.

Holly Austin Smith, a child trafficking survivor, spoke firsthand about the consequences of television’s attempts to sexualize girls.


Photo courtesy of the Parents Television Council

“I was raised with a TV in my bedroom all my life, and I literally studied people on the screen for clues about the world and about my place in the world,” she said on the conference call. “By intermediate school, I was so sexualized that I was often assaulted by older boys and men.”

Raped at age 12, Smith said she had no idea at the time that saying “no” was even an option, because she had never seen a girl refuse sexual advances on television and be respected for it.

“I believed my value was based on my sexual appeal to older boys and men, which resulted in these multiple assaults,” she said.

Owen Strachan, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, finds it “especially troubling” that television is targeting its campaign of sexualization at young girls.

“Satan has always hated women; his first target was Eve and he’s been on the hunt ever since,” Strachan said. “He’s changed tactics, but he’s still trying to destroy the vulnerable by sexualizing the young and commodifying the body.”

Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the new study points to the “pornographication” of American culture.

“What is even more troubling is the portrayal of sexual exploitation as being fodder for entertainment and something to laugh about,” Stovall said. “At a time when children are discovering their own sexuality, they are our most vulnerable for exploitation.”

Stovall recommended several ways the church can counter this message to the next generation:

  • Godly men should teach boys “what it means to be a man who views and treats women the way God intended.”

  • Godly women should teach girls how to tell truth from lies, “embracing God’s plan for their own sexuality played out in relationships appropriately.”

  • Parents should be aware of what their children are watching, keep open dialogue and help their children “revel in God’s message that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“Unless we wake up, realize what is going on and do something about it,” Stovall said, “we may find this next generation reaching adulthood with such a skewed view of sex that is miles away from what God created and intended for good.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston. A copy of the “Teen Sexual Exploitation” study and a video of segments from broadcast television illustrating the concerns listed in the study can be accessed here.)

7/17/2013 4:05:58 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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