July 2014

Most Americans say U.S. should shelter, not rush to deport

July 31 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Most Americans say the waves of children crossing into the United States from Central America are refugees fleeing danger at home. And they say the United States should support these children while reviewing their cases, not deport them immediately.
These largely sympathetic views come from all points along the political and religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute Tuesday (July 29).
Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway.
Most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent).
(The survey sample of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons.)


Creative Commons image by Brian Auer
A Hispanic girl slips through the border fence separating the U.S. and Mexico at Border Field State Park in Southern California. 

“It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.”
As a result, most Americans can make a “pretty clear distinction between the problem of the children arriving from Central America and the problem of illegal immigration in general,” Jones said.
The survey found that overall attitudes toward immigrants are hardening somewhat, with a slight upward shift in the numbers who say they are a burden, not an asset, to the United States.
About one in four Americans (27 percent) see the children as illegal immigrants who should be deported. But 69 percent say they should be treated as refugees and allowed to remain in the United States if authorities determine it is not safe for them to be sent home.
However, Jones said, “even among those who say, in general, to identify and deport them, more than one in three nonetheless say in the case of the children, they would offer support and begin a process of considering if they could stay.”
Almost no one thinks the children are traveling thousands of miles without their parents for trivial reasons. The children are seen as fleeing violence and serious threats to their safety at home (45 percent), seeking better education and economic opportunities (34 percent) or both (14 percent).
Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) say the children should be offered shelter and support while there’s “a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.”
Most (56 percent) say these children’s families are “doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances.” At the same time, however, 38 percent say those children’s families are “taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country.”
And about one in four (26 percent) say they should be deported immediately.
Few minimize the seriousness of the situation — 36 percent consider it a crisis, and 43 percent call it “a serious problem but not a crisis.”
What to do with these children?

  • Most surveyed (71 percent) said the U.S. should offer “refuge and protection” for those who come to the U.S. “when they are facing serious danger in their home country.”

  • 71 percent also mostly agree that these Central American children waiting for their cases to be heard “should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches rather than be detained by immigration authorities.” (Twenty-eight percent disagree.)

  • However, only 39 percent would allow these children to stay for good while 59 percent don’t want them here long-term because it “will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”

The wave of children at the border is “impacting what Americans think about immigrants generally,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI research director, in a press release. In short, attitudes are becoming more polarized between those who see immigrants as an asset and those who see them as a burden.
In early April, most people (54 percent) said immigrants make the U.S. stronger with their “hard work and talents,” but that figure declined to 49 percent by last week. Meanwhile, more said immigrants “take our jobs, housing and health care” — rising from 38 percent to 42 percent.
Views on access to citizenship or permanent legal residency did not change significantly. Most today (58 percent) would allow a path to citizenship; 17 percent would allow residency. And 22 percent say “identify and deport them.”
The overall survey is based on phone interviews with 1,026 adults, conducted in English and Spanish between July 23 and July 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

7/31/2014 10:10:51 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Russian, Ukraine Baptists voice political divide

July 31 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Russian and Ukrainian Baptist unions have each cited biblical principle in justifying their opposing views of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, but they appear to still maintain fellowship beyond their differences, historian Albert Wardin told Baptist Press.

The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) stirred controversy at its May 30th congress in St. Petersburg, when it cited Proverbs 24:21, “Do not join with rebellious officials,” in questioning the Ukrainian revolution. Russian Baptists also wrote a letter praising Russian President Vladimir Putin as a champion of civil peace and harmony in Russian society, Wardin said.

Conversely, Ukrainian Baptists support the Ukrainian revolution as a Christian response to governmental corruption while also condemning Russian Baptists’ praise of Putin.


Albert Wardin

“The Russian union [of Baptists] still respects the president of the Ukrainian union [of Baptists]. So I don’t think there’s any breaking of real fellowship,” Wardin told Baptist Press today (July 28). “When it all comes to pass, I think it can be pretty well overcome. But for the time being, the politics really divide them. They go their separate ways right now. They’ve both expressed different views in their press releases.”

Wardin, the author of many books on the history of Baptists and other Protestants in Eastern Europe, relayed information in an email update from William Yoder, media spokesperson for the Russian Evangelical Alliance in Moscow. The Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists justified the Kiev uprising by citing Christian Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s opposition to Adolf Hitler’s Jewish genocide.

“The Ukrainian Baptists justified their rebellion by explaining that they could do nothing other than to support their nation. In an interview with the [RUECB] news service, the president of the Ukrainian Baptists [Valery Antoniuk] explained the church finds its strength and standing on the side of truth,” Wardin said.

Antoniuk told the news service, “If a people speaks the truth, seeks justice, wishes freedom from corruption and desires honest living, then Christians are always called to support that. We can never serve the people adequately if we do not love the land in which God has ordained us to be born and to serve.” Antoniuk quoted Bonhoeffer, who said in opposing Hitler, “Obedience to tyrants is equal to disobedience towards God.”

“And so it’s sad,” Wardin said. “Two Baptist groups, the same denomination … they look upon themselves as brothers, and then yet they take such different political views.

“Is it right to rebel? Well, the Russian Baptist union says no, and the Ukrainian Baptist union says yes, because this was an unjust and corrupt regime [in Ukraine]. And so you have the two sides,” Wardin said. “I think they do have a good respect [for one another], the presidents of the two unions, yet they’re taking two different positions.”

Top Moscow Baptist leadership has expressed a positive relationship with Antoniuk, Yoder told Wardin, referencing a statement by Antoniuk deputy and Ukrainian pastor Igor Bandura voicing optimism regarding future relations.

“We [believers] possess the light of Christ,” Bandura is quoted on the RUECB website. “If we Christians in Russian and Ukraine watch the flow of information very closely and sift out the false, we will in the end arrive at the objective ‘truth.’ This will unite us anew; ‘blessing and unity’ will be the final outcome.”

The relationship between Russian and Ukrainian Baptists became strained after the Ukrainian uprising unseated pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, with pro-Russian forces subsequently overthrowing leaders in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the May election of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and pro-Ukrainian leaders in central and western Ukraine, pro-Russian nationalistic rebels continue aggression in eastern Ukraine. Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine this spring and is seen as continuing his support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/31/2014 9:57:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Obama nominee prompts ERLC concerns

July 31 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

President Obama has selected a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom amid a sudden flurry of activity on the issue, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity has expressed misgiving about his choice.

The White House announced Monday (July 28) Obama’s intention to nominate David Saperstein as ambassador after the post sat vacant for nine months. Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, was an original member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) but has taken liberal positions on various domestic issues.

In other developments regarding religious liberty overseas:

  • The State Department released its annual report on international religious freedom July 28, adding Turkmenistan to its list of the world’s most severe persecutors for the first time since 2006.

  • The House of Representatives passed legislation July 25 to authorize presidential appointment of a special envoy to promote religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia. The bill, previously approved by the Senate, now awaits Obama’s signature.

Saperstein, who must be confirmed by the Senate, strongly advocated for passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and served as the first chairman of USCIRF, the bipartisan advisory panel established by the law. He was on the commission from 1999 to 2001.


He has advocated positions opposite those of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life and religious liberty organizations, however. Saperstein, who was a member of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011, backs abortion rights. He criticized the Supreme Court’s June opinion in the Hobby Lobby case that supported the religious freedom of for-profit employers. He stood at Obama’s side as the president signed an executive order July 21 to extend workplace protections among federal contractors to homosexual, bisexual and transgender status. Other religious liberty advocates said the religious exemption in the order would prove inadequate.

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell D. Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press, “While we strongly disagree with Rabbi Saperstein on many issues regarding domestic policy such as the recent Hobby Lobby ruling and issues related to the sanctity of unborn life, we are hoping that he will articulate a robust view of religious freedom around the world as he answers these questions in his Senate confirmation hearings.

“I had hoped for a strong defender of both domestic and international religious liberty, which is why I recommended Congressman Frank Wolf to the president,” Moore said. “Nonetheless, Rabbi Saperstein has my prayers, and I look forward to meeting with him about the vital issue of religious freedom around the world.”

In a July 15 letter, Moore urged Obama to name an ambassador quickly and suggested Wolf, a retiring Republican representative from Virginia, for the post. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned as the ambassador in October. Wolf has been a champion for global religious liberty during his 34-year House career.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, said July 29 he disagrees with Saperstein on social and theological issues but believes he “would be a tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion” as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

Describing Saperstein as a friend, Duke said in a July 29 post at the ERLC’s “Canon and Culture” blog channel, “If it should become clear that his liberal social and theological views will render him incapable of advocating equally for all people of faith, then I will declare him unfit for the position. As I do so, I will also be one of the most surprised men in Washington, D.C. ... I will be praying for Rabbi Saperstein and the Senate as they determine if David is the right man for a job that cannot go vacant a day longer than necessary. I wish him well.”

In announcing the nomination, Obama said he was grateful Saperstein “has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country.”

The State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom released July 28 included the addition of Turkmenistan to its “countries of particular concern (CPCs),” a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. USCIRF, which makes annual recommendations to the State Department, had urged in April Turkmenistan and seven other countries be added to the CPC list.

The report said Turkmenistan, a former Soviet state in Central Asia, increased restrictions on members of religious groups and instituted monetary fines for distributing religious literature. The State Department also received reports of beatings and torture of religious adherents in Turkmenistan, according to the report.

Joining Turkmenistan as CPCs were eight countries on the list last named in 2011: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. USCIRF had called for CPC designation also for Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.

In introducing the report, Secretary of State John Kerry said it “isn’t about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we’ve spoken the truth. I want our CPC designations to be grounded in plans, action that help[s] to change the reality on the ground and actually help people.

“[W]hen 75 percent of the world’s population still lives in countries that don’t respect religious freedoms, let me tell you, we have a long journey ahead of us,” Kerry said. “We have a long way to go when governments kill, detain, or torture people based on a religious belief.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., a leading congressional advocate for religious liberty overseas, criticized the State Department for not naming Vietnam to the CPC list, especially for its imprisonment of Christians and Buddhists. “Vietnam should without a doubt be on the sanctions list for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom – but it is glaringly absent,” said Smith, who also urged the United States to do more to protect religious adherents in China and Nigeria.

In its report, the State Department also said 2013 had “the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” with “millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths” being forced from their homes because of their beliefs.

The latest example has occurred in Iraq, where Islamic militants recently purged Mosul, the country’s second largest city, of all Christians.

The legislation approved by the House July 25 to authorize a special envoy for religious liberty is designed to aid faith practitioners in such countries as Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Syria. Christians and adherents of other religious faiths increasingly are targets of repression and violence in countries in both the Near East – also known as the Middle East – and South Central Asia. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some areas, most notably Egypt and Iraq.

Wolf, sponsor of the House version of the bill, urged Obama to sign it immediately. “Time is of the essence,” he said in a July 28 statement. “Christianity as we know it is being wiped out right before our eyes in Iraq.”

The ERLC urged passage of the special envoy legislation.

The State Department’s report is available online at http://is.gd/J6L2Vu.

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

7/31/2014 9:41:43 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ergun Caner family grieves tragic death of son

July 30 2014 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Braxton Caner, 15-year-old son of Ergun and Jill Caner, reportedly took his life July 29, according to reports on social media sites and on the Brewton-Parker College website.

Ergun Caner is president of Brewton-Parker College, a Baptist-affiliated college in Mount Vernon, Ga.


BP photo
Ergun Caner became Brewton-Parker's president last December and previously served as provost and academic dean at Arlington Baptist College in Texas.

A July 29 blog post by SBC Voices editor Dave Miller stated:

"Word has begun to leak out about the tragedy that has come upon the Ergun Caner family. Braxton Caner, the 15 year-old son of Ergun Caner, has committed suicide, according to reports that have become public.

"I know from experience the devastation that suicide brings in families, though the loss of a child must multiply that grief in ways I can't imagine. I held off saying anything until the news was leaked by other sources. Now that it has been made public, let me express my sympathy to Dr. Caner, his family, and the entire Brewton-Parker College family."

Miller, a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a Sioux City, Iowa, pastor, added, "When something like this happens, God's people pray. We express to the Caner family our deepest sympathies."

Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and a former SBC president, spoke with Caner July 30 to offer condolences. Caner told Page that Braxton Caner had made a profession of faith at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. Ergun Caner was the dean at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary at the time and had been privileged to baptize his son.

Caner, who became Brewton-Parker's president last December, also has been provost and academic dean at Arlington Baptist College in Texas; a pastor in the Denver area; and a conference speaker throughout the nation.

Caner's brother Emir is president of Truett-McConnell College, another Baptist-affiliated college in Cleveland, Ga.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)

7/30/2014 12:44:04 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Ground Zero cross can stay at 9/11 museum

July 30 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

A cross-shaped beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain on display in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, dismissing a lawsuit brought by atheists.
American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in headaches, indigestion and mental pain.


Creative Commons image by Imelda
The World Trade Center cross, also known as the Ground Zero cross, is a group of steel beams found amid the debris of the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.


The atheist group filed an appeal after a lower court dismissed the lawsuit, shifting the focus from the cross to asking for an added plaque that would say something like “atheists died, too.”

An observer would understand that the cross was also an inclusive symbol for any persons seeking hope and comfort in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, federal Judge Reena Raggi wrote in the court’s decision.
“Such an observer would not understand the effect of displaying an artifact with such an inclusive past in a Museum devoted to the history of the September 11 attacks to be the divisive one of promoting religion over nonreligion,” she wrote. “Nor would he think the primary effect of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to be conveying a message to atheists that they are somehow disfavored ‘outsiders,’ while religious believers are favored ‘insiders,’ in the political community.”
The beam was found by rescue workers two days after the terrorist attacks and is part of the 1,000 artifacts in a 100,000-square-foot underground museum. American Atheists can appeal to the entire court or ask the three-judge panel to reconsider its decision before it can file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We argued from the beginning that this was a flawed legal challenge designed to re-write history and eliminate a powerful historical artifact,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal firm that filed a brief in support of keeping the cross. “This bizarre legal challenge from an atheist group was exposed for what it was — a skewed legal challenge that had no merit.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

7/30/2014 8:56:50 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Ebola outbreak triggers confusion & concern

July 30 2014 by Paige Ryder and Evelyn Adamson, IMB/Baptist Press

With 964 total victims and 603 confirmed deaths, the Ebola virus continues to surge through the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The outbreak originated in Guinea and has rapidly spread in Sierra Leone and Liberia, triggering concern and fear.

Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, said the virus is now “out of control” and officials are trying new methods for controlling the outbreak.

Isolation camps, hand washing stations, and protective wear are among the precautions being taken in Guinea.


Photo by Michael Roach
Christian workers in West Africa are focusing on education, teaching locals and volunteers about the Ebola virus and how to take precautions.

“There have been banks and other public locations that are setting up buckets with chlorine water,” Pedro Ronaldo,* a Christian worker in Guinea, said. “If I want to go to the bank I have to wash my hands before going into the bank. The same thing happens in some public health clinics and other public areas.”

A major contribution to the rapid spread of the virus is cultural practices, including funeral rituals and traditional healers. Burial ceremonies often include a ritual washing of the corpse, which can spread the virus through body fluids.

Christian worker and medical professional Sam Gardner,* who lives in Guinea, says there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding when it comes to general knowledge of the Ebola virus.

Guineans fear “anything unknown,” Gardner said. “... Malaria is going to kill more people than Ebola is going to, but they know malaria. This is something they do not know and they’re afraid of it.”

Patients are not seeing medical officials out of fear and misinformation.

“In Guinea, for example, they had a ... misconception about what the doctors were doing,” Rebecca Waters,* a Christian worker in Liberia who travels extensively in West Africa, said. “So in one area they chased the doctors away and they began keeping it a secret when their people became sick.”

A shared sentiment by those living in these countries is that there needs to be an emphasis on education.

Waters said she is focusing on teaching the locals and volunteers more about the disease and how to take precautions.

“You will not be infected unless you touch a person who is at the physical height of the illness,” Waters said. “So you don’t go to funerals. You don’t touch the body. Some people will wear masks if they know they’re going to be in an area where there’s an epidemic.”

One growing concern with this outbreak is that the virus has made its way into urban areas in West Africa, where millions live in close proximity, providing an ample opportunity for contamination.

Experts working in West Africa have seen an increase in survivors if they receive early treatment.

Saa Sabas, an Ebola survivor from southern Guinea, contracted the virus while caring for his father, who was infected. When his first fever hit, he traveled to the treatment center, where he was monitored and given fluids to keep him hydrated.

Sabas now volunteers for the Red Cross and travels among communities, raising awareness of early treatment.

“There’s going to have to be some trust developed between those who are trying to stop the Ebola virus and the [civilians],” Waters said. “Until that trust is developed it’s going to be very hard to control this disease.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paige Ryder and Evelyn Adamson are writers for the International Mission Board.)

7/30/2014 8:49:18 AM by Paige Ryder and Evelyn Adamson, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Special needs families receive ‘buddy’ care at Penn. Church

July 30 2014 by Karen L. Willoughby, SBC Life/Baptist Press

Special needs children and their families have a cadre of buddies at Stewartstown Baptist Church.

To share God’s love with special needs families, the Pennsylvania congregation offers respite nights as an outreach to the community. Special needs children and their siblings come to the church for a fun night every other month while the parents get a date night, knowing their children are in a safe place with people able to provide the quality of care their youngsters need.

On Sundays, the church pairs special needs children with volunteers in what they call its “buddy system.” Buddies sit with the children, support them and assist them in the church’s worship services, Sunday School and Awana youth program.

For the buddies, it’s a ministry that seems to be as much a blessing to them as it is to special needs families.

“There’s just something real special about helping these little ones feel accepted and wanted,” said Joan Theisen, who has been a buddy for about a year. “When you can be a buffer to help the children melt into the group and not feel they stand out, that’s a good feeling.”

Matt and Amy Hamulack wanted to be in church with their three children, but their daughter Addison is autistic and they didn’t feel comfortable in other churches they visited.


Photo courtesy of Stewartstown Baptist Church
Sarah Fuller leads James Peoples, an autistic child, in a Bible study at Stewartstown Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. Fuller is a volunteer in the church’s “buddy system” for special needs families.

“We didn’t know where to go, and then we heard about the respite nights this church offers,” Matt Hamulack said.

“The big thing is [Pastor] Lee and [his wife] Sandra have a special needs child,” Hamulack noted. “Knowing there is someone who understands, someone who ‘gets it,’ and someone to help, that’s a big deal for parents like us.” The congregation helps his family with “the most important thing – to know God and Jesus and to teach the kids.”

Lee Peoples was called to lead the Stewardstown church in 2008. He and his wife Sandra have two sons, who were 2 years old and 4 months old at the time. Two years later, a church member who worked as an occupational therapist noticed that their son James did not appear to have age-appropriate motor skills.

A slate of tests determined James was autistic.

“I felt relieved,” Sandra Peoples said. “Because we had a diagnosis, a name, then we knew what to do next. Lee was in shock; I was in warrior mode. I didn’t cry after we heard the diagnosis; Lee did.”

The pastor nodded. “For me, to see he was never going to be like other kids, it was the death of a dream. You have to change your mind around it.

“In the first year after the diagnosis, James wasn’t invited to the birthday party of a peer,” Peoples continued. “That’s the thing you’re more aware of. Everything makes you feel different. ... With what I’ve seen and heard and learned since the diagnosis, I now believe families with special needs to be an unreached people group.”

Ashley Norris, a special education teacher, and Nicole Filack, an occupational therapist, went to their pastor about a year after James’ diagnosis with a concept for a new ministry, which took hold among the 135 people who attend the church’s weekly services.

Norris and Filack wanted to reach special needs families in the Stewartstown area with a three-hour Friday night respite event every other month so parents could have a night out. Soon after, the buddy system was birthed so the church could integrate the families it would be reaching.

“We’re trying to teach them about God’s Word and to provide an environment where parents feel comfortable, so they can learn more about God’s Word themselves,” Norris said. “We can tell they [the children] like the opportunity for the special attention they receive from their buddies.

“Everything we do, we make accommodations for those with special needs,” Norris said. “You train your people to a certain point, but basically you just get to know the children. Some like to be touched; some, not. Some are verbal; some, not.”

Volunteers are taught the signs of epilepsy and how to help a child who is having a seizure, as well as basic first aid. They are also trained in how to gently and lovingly work with and assist the children, rather than doing tasks for them.

An unanticipated benefit of including special needs children in the life of the church, Norris said, is that other students come to understand, accept and accommodate people who are “different,” which adds a broader dimension to their worldview. The occasional unique behavior of special needs youngsters is accepted by the congregation, she added. “Our church has learned to not take ourselves so seriously.

“Children with special needs will change a church,” Norris said. “Some churches are scared of the dynamics, but we believe every church – no matter how small – can do something.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE (www.sbclife.org), the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

7/30/2014 8:37:31 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, SBC Life/Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Fruitland’s associate degree now online

July 30 2014 by Fruitland Baptist Bible College Communications

Students enrolling at Fruitland Baptist Bible College (FBBC) in the Fall of 2014 have the option of completing their entire associate of religion in Christian ministries and worldview degree online.
“We are very excited to offer this program online, and we believe it will enable vast numbers of people to receive a Fruitland degree who are unable to attend the main campus in Hendersonville,” said David Horton, Fruitland’s president.
The online curriculum consists of 64 courses offered over eight quarters, which will enable a full-time student to graduate in two years.
Fruitland began to expand its educational outreach four years ago with the addition of the first satellite campus in Monroe. Satellite locations now include Monroe, Wilkesboro, Rocky Mount, and the Hispanic satellites in Sylva, Statesville, Charlotte and Wilmington.
Fruitland ventured into online education two years ago with its first online course.


Ben Tackett, the registrar/librarian at FBBC played a key role in getting the school’s curriculum online. “Before Ben Tackett came to Fruitland, we desired to have an online program, but lacked the technical expertise to do so,” said Scott Thompson, Fruitland’s vice president of academic affairs.
Fruitland uses an online educational delivery system referred to as “Moodle,” which is also used by numerous colleges and seminaries in their internet-based programs.
Moodle is “student friendly” and offers professors an opportunity to use a “wide variety of educational techniques in the presentation of the course,” according to Tackett.
Students from any location around the world can benefit from Fruitland’s online program.
One of the current participants lives in Kenya and wants to train other pastors with the knowledge he gains from his coursework at Fruitland.
Horton and Thompson encourage prospective students to make the main campus in Hendersonville their first choice when working on a FBBC degree.
Thompson emphasized, “There is an experience on the Fruitland main campus that cannot be replicated elsewhere, no matter how hard we try.”
If students cannot attend the main campus, we “encourage them to consider one of our satellite locations, and now they have the option getting a Fruitland degree online,” Horton added.
The cost of each online course is $225, plus the cost of textbooks, which makes Fruitland’s online courses both affordable and accessible.
Thompson said FBBC is a quality educational choice for those preparing for ministerial careers as well as those who desire a Bible-based two-year degree that can be foundational to a secular vocation.
“The curriculum at Fruitland gives those who serve in law enforcement, nursing, business, and other fields, the core knowledge in worldview, history, language, and critical thinking to evangelize and disciple the unchurched in a global and multicultural context,” he added.
To learn more about the online program, visit www.fruitland.edu or call the office: (800) 696-2215.

7/30/2014 8:26:22 AM by Fruitland Baptist Bible College Communications | with 0 comments

Appeals court in Va. rules in favor of gay marriage

July 29 2014 by Richard Wolf, USA Today/Religion News Service

A federal appeals court panel in Virginia became the second one this summer to strike down a state ban against same-sex marriage July 28, making it more likely that the Supreme Court will settle the issue as early as next year.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond ruled 2-1 that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry that is paramount to state marriage laws. The ruling affirmed a district judge’s decision rendered in February.
“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” said Judge Henry Floyd, originally appointed a district judge by George W. Bush and elevated to the circuit court by President Obama. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”
The circuit court has jurisdiction over Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The panel’s decision will not take effect until at least Aug. 18 while circuit clerks defending the state’s ban decide whether to appeal to the full appellate court or the Supreme Court.

Creative Commons image by Steve Rhodes
David Boies, left, and Ted Olson, of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, were part of the legal team that challenged Virginia’s ban on gay marriage. The duo also successfully challenged California’s Proposition 8 ballot proposal and constitutional amendment.


Like the first appeals court panel to rule on the issue this year in Utah and Oklahoma, the three-judge panel was deeply divided. But Floyd, considered the swing vote, came down on the side of same-sex marriage. Judge Roger Gregory, originally appointed by Bill Clinton in 2000, joined the majority. Presiding Judge Paul Niemeyer, a George H.W. Bush nominee, dissented.
“I do strongly disagree with the assertion that same-sex marriage is subject to the same constitutional protections as the traditional right to marry,” Niemeyer said. “I would reverse the district court’s judgment and defer to Virginia’s political choice in defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.”
The Virginia case, which involves two couples seeking to marry in the state and two couples seeking to have their marriages from other states recognized, now gives the Supreme Court a choice. It can hear the Utah or Oklahoma cases from the 10th Circuit, wait for Virginia’s to be appealed or defer action even longer for other gay marriage cases scheduled for appellate hearings in August, September and beyond.
One way or another, legal experts agree the high court likely will accept a case for its 2014 term beginning in October or the 2015 term that follows.
Because Virginia’s new Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, had refused to defend the state’s gay marriage ban, that task was left to circuit court clerks from two counties. Brian Babione, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented one of the clerks, said they were considering their options.
“In his dissent, Judge Niemeyer correctly noted that ‘there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage, and there are rational reasons for not recognizing it,’” Babione said.
The justices paved the way last year for what has become an unbroken string of federal and state court victories for gay marriage proponents. They ruled 5-4 that the federal government cannot deny benefits to legally married same-sex couples without violating the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.
Since then, district judges in 18 states have struck down bans on gay marriage or ruled that marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized in their states. Only the Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia cases have been heard by appeals courts so far.
“The 4th Circuit has affirmed that equality is not just a California value or a New York value – it’s a fundamental American value,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading gay rights organization.
The 10th Circuit appeals court includes Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming, as well as New Mexico, where same-sex couples already can marry. The precedent set by the Utah and Oklahoma rulings applies to all those states, but the panel blocked them from taking effect pending appeal. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has said he will seek Supreme Court review.
Other appellate court cases involving marriage bans in Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin will be argued in August and September. Appeals also are pending from Arkansas, Texas and Colorado.
The high court ruled last June that the federal government must recognize legal same-sex marriages, and it cleared the way for California to become the 13th state where gay men and lesbians could marry. Since then, six other states have legalized gay marriages by legislative action or court order – New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Hawaii and, most recently, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
More than 70 lawsuits are pending in all 31 states that still have prohibitions. Some raise specific issues such as divorce or death benefits.
The Virginia case stands out for at least three reasons. It comes from the South, a region that has yet to embrace gay marriage. The state attorney general is the first at the appellate level to refuse to defend such a law since the California case that made it to the Supreme Court last year. And the lawyers for the original gay and lesbian plaintiffs, Theodore Olson and David Boies, are the same ones who won gay marriage rights in California last year.
“Today’s decision stands as a testament that all Americans are created equal, and denying loving gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry is indefensible,” Olson said.
After the verdict was announced, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said he no longer would defend his state’s gay marriage ban. “Our office believes the judges in North Carolina are bound by this 4th Circuit decision,” he said.
Mark Creech, director of the Christian Action League, said, “Cooper’s decision is premature, surrenders to judicial activism, and abandons the will of the people of North Carolina. Even though Cooper has spoken out against our state’s marriage amendment, he promised that he would defend it. He now says that he will not.
“In fact, he says North Carolina will recognize the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision and that the state’s judges are bound by it. Like the 4th Circuit’s decision, Cooper’s own decision is not entirely unexpected, although no less reprehensible.”
The original plaintiffs are Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who were denied a marriage license in Norfolk, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond, whose marriage in California isn’t recognized by Virginia. They have been joined by the plaintiffs in another Virginia case, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, who seek to represent all gay and lesbian couples in the state.
Judge Floyd’s ruling left little doubt about where the panel majority stands on their right to marry.
“The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life,” the court majority said. “Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”
Creech said that the Fourteenth Amendment does protect the right to marry. “Still, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions that establish a fundamental right to marriage have always understood the institution as only the union of one man and one woman. The debate about marriage has never really been about who can marry, but what actually defines marriage,” Creech noted.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Richard Wolf writes for USA Today. The Biblical Recorder contributed to this report.)

7/29/2014 2:46:50 PM by Richard Wolf, USA Today/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Largest Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina

July 29 2014 by Biblical Recorder staff

Each year Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, publishes a list of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches that average 1,000 or more in worship attendance. These numbers are drawn from the 2013 Annual Church Profile (ACP) data self-reported by churches. This year Rainer identified 563 North American churches that averaged 1,000 or more in worship; 31 of those churches are in North Carolina.
As a reminder, be sure to fill out your church’s ACP. Without it, your church cannot register any messengers for the SBC annual meeting or the annual meeting of North Carolina Baptists.

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Each church is unique
7/29/2014 10:38:09 AM by Biblical Recorder staff | with 0 comments

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