July 2014

Truett's religious liberty legacy celebrated

July 8 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- On the 70th anniversary of George W. Truett's death, present and former pastors of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas -- where Truett pastored for 47 years -- said his most famous sermon on religious liberty has implications for the advance of secularism, the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision and GuideStone Financial Resources' legal fight against the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate.
 
"I think I have probably read every word [Truett] wrote, visited at length with those left who knew him best and had access to minutes of the church's long history," O.S. Hawkins, pastor of First Baptist Dallas from 1993 to 1997, told Baptist Press in written comments. "And there is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Truett would have been in the forefront of those celebrating the Hobby Lobby victory and would be cheering us on at GuideStone (which he helped to found in 1918) in our own legal battle with HHS."
 
Last month the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other "closely held" companies may exercise their religious freedom and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans. GuideStone has filed its own legal challenge to the abortion/contraceptive mandate, which still imposes objectionable requirements on certain religious non-profit organizations despite the Hobby Lobby ruling.
 
Robert Jeffress, current pastor of First Baptist Dallas, and Mac Brunson, pastor of the church from 1999 to 2006, also lauded Truett's legacy of religious liberty, especially his address "Baptists and Religious Liberty," delivered May 16, 1920, on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

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SBHLA photo
Edwin Hearne’s painting of George W. Truett delivering his 1920 address “Baptists and Religious Liberty” is part of the Eight Great Moments in Baptist History series. 

 

Capitol address

The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Washington in 1920, and with no scheduled activities on Sunday afternoon, the city's Baptists asked Truett to present an address on religious liberty. Some 15,000 people were in attendance, including Supreme Court justices, presidential cabinet members, senators, congressmen and foreign ambassadors. Truett spoke for an hour and 15 minutes without notes or a microphone. His words became what one Baptist historian called "one of the most often quoted Baptist statements of religious liberty in the twentieth century."
 
The address was translated into multiple foreign languages, and the Portuguese version helped win religious liberty in Brazil.
 
Truett died on July 7, 1944, from Paget's disease, a form of bone cancer. His obituary ran on the front page of the Dallas Morning News, overshadowing World War II news from Europe and the Pacific. Among the institutions that bear Truett's name are Georgia's Truett-McConnell College, the Truett Auditorium at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Truett Memorial churches in Denver, Colo., Hayesville, N.C., and Los Angeles, Calif.
 
"It is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience," Truett said in his 1920 address, "and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty."
 
The basis for religious liberty is "the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ," Truett said. The New Testament is Christ's standard of faith and practice, and it emphasizes that each individual must approach God for himself or herself. "There can be no sponsors or deputies or proxies in such  vital matter," Truett said.
 
All human governments should grant religious liberty, Truett said, because the Bible implies that a free church in a free state is God's will.
 
"The utterance of Jesus, 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's,' is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine," Truett said. "That utterance once and for all, marked the divorcement of church and state. It marked a new era for the creeds and deeds of men. It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state."
 
Truett hailed religious liberty as a uniquely Baptist innovation.
 
"We are very happy for all our fellow religionists of every denomination and creed to have this splendid flower of religious liberty, but you will allow us to remind you that you got the seed in our Baptist garden," he said.
 
Truett went on to argue that the flourishing of religious liberty depends on a thriving church and the implementation of righteous public policy. Evangelism and Christian schools are both vital influences in a free society, he said. Truett also advocated prohibition of alcohol and the formation of the League of Nations, a precursor organization to the United Nations.

 

FBC pastors respond

Jeffress told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments that some Christians distort Truett's vision of religious liberty and suggest that he "would want to limit the church's influence in the world." But "nothing could be further from the truth."
 
July 6 Jeffress read during his sermon from an address Truett delivered to the Baptist World Alliance in 1911. In that address, Truett said America should be marked by Christianity.
 
"The task of America is that she herself becomes thoroughly and truly Christian," Truett told the BWA. "Brethren, this mighty America can command the conversion of the world on one condition only, and that is that she be Christian through and through, and that is the preeminent call of this hour to America."
 
Truett's concept of separation of church and state "is vastly different than that of secularists today. Dr. Truett believed that the wall was a 'one-sided wall' meant to protect the church from encroachment by the government," Jeffress said.
 
Brunson told BP that the contemporary notion of religious pluralism -- which regards all beliefs as equally true -- is a far cry from Truett's idea of religious liberty. For Truett, religious liberty did not lead to religious pluralism, but created a forum for evangelism by permitting all citizens to believe according to their consciences, Brunson said.
 
Truett "believed that every man had to answer for himself to the Lord. So he based freedom of religion on the lordship of Christ," Brunson said. He would be alarmed by the loss of religious liberty in America today, Brunson noted, and would urge believers to speak out about it.
 
"When the freedom of religion is eroded, every other freedom is eroded as well," Brunson said.
 
Hawkins noted that "tolerance" meant something different to Truett than it does to 21st century secularists and pluralists.
 
"On the Capitol steps he declared, 'Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a divine right... Toleration is a gift from men, while liberty is a gift from God.' Today some are using Truett's vocabulary but with an entirely different dictionary," Hawkins said. "In his day tolerance meant that we recognized and respected other people's beliefs and values even when we did not share them.áIn our culture the word 'tolerance' means something entirely different.áIt now means that everyone's values, faith claims and lifestyles should be accepted and that all truth claims are to be treated equal.áTruett was unapologetic in his insistence upon the exclusivity of Christ in the midst of a nation where he was the strongest defender of religious liberty."
 
In his closing words on the Capitol steps, Truett reflected his belief both in the exclusivity of Christ and the importance of religious liberty.
 
"Selfish ease must be utterly renounced for Christ and His cause and our every gift and grace and power utterly dominated by the dynamic of His Cross," Truett said. "Standing here today in the shadow of our country's Capitol, compassed about as we are with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us today renew our pledge to God, and to one another, that we will give our best to church and state."
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/8/2014 1:17:01 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Olympian, World War II veteran dies at 97

July 8 2014 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Louis Zamperini, an Olympian who was later captured by the Japanese during World War II and whose story was told in the book "Unbroken," died July 2 at age 97.
 
Zamperini's story was originally made famous by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the 2010 "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." Angelina Jolie is directing a movie based on the book that will be released in December.
 
After a rebellious childhood in California, Zamperini excelled at distance running and qualified for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He finished 8th in the 5,000-meter race as a 19-year-old and likely would have competed in the 1940 Olympics if World War II hadn't erupted.

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www.tournamentofroses.com photo
Louis Zamperini, Olympian and World War II prisoner of war, was announced in May as the Grand Marshal for the 2015 Tournament of Roses, themed “Inspiring Stories.” Zamperini died July 2 but will still be the Grand Marshall in the 126th Rose Parade®  presented by Honda on Jan. 1, 2015.

 

Zamperini joined the Army Air Forces during the war and was shot down over the Pacific. He survived on a life raft in the ocean for 47 days before he was rescued by the Japanese. He spent two years in Japanese prisoner of war camps where he was beaten and tortured û most cruelly by a guard nicknamed "the Bird" -- before being liberated in 1945.
 
His life after the war was characterized by alcoholism and depression until Zamperini attended a Billy Graham crusade at the prompting of his wife Cynthia.
 
"I went back to the prayer room and made a confession of faith in Christ," Zamperini said in an article published by In Touch Ministries. "While I was still on my knees, I knew my whole life had changed. I knew that I was through getting drunk – that I'd forgiven all my guards, including the Bird. I just couldn't believe it was happening."
 
Zamperini later returned to Japan and met face-to-face with some of the guards who had been his captors. He forgave them and shared the gospel with them, and some became believers in Christ.
 
"The most important thing in my Christian life was to know that I forgave them -- not only verbally, but to see them face to face," Zamperini said in the In Touch Ministries story. "That's part of conversion."
 
David Schroeder, director of communications for B&H Publishing, said he was especially moved by Zamperini's forgiveness of his captors after the war ended.
 
"What Zamperini experienced was beyond what anyone should endure," Schroeder wrote in a blog post. "And what did he do? He extended his hand. He forgave. Grace appeared and Jesus is revealed in his story."
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tim Ellsworth teaches journalism at Union University and is editor of BP Sports.)

7/8/2014 1:10:02 PM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Newly abducted Nigerians escape Boko Haram

July 8 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NORTHEAST NIGERIA (BP) -- More than 60 Nigerian women and girls Boko Haram abducted from northeast Nigeria two weeks ago have escaped and are reunited with their families, the Associated Press reported July 7.
 
The women and girls are not part of the 273 schoolgirls Boko Haram kidnapped in mid-April, 219 of whom remain missing and are perhaps enslaved as wives of Muslim men.
 
Nigerian government officials had denied the June abductions of the women and girls, some as young as three, despite eye witness accounts that Boko Haram took the women while attacking Kummabza and surrounding villages three days in late June. The women and girls escaped on or around July 3 while Boko Haram extremists were busy attacking military barracks and the police headquarters in Damboa town, AP reported, attributing the information to Pogu Bitrus, the Chibok local government chairman.
 
Responding to Boko Haram's attack on Damboa, the Nigerian army killed 53 terrorists and lost six Nigerian soldiers in the battle, Reuters reported July 6. Nigerian security officials have been known to inflate numbers when reporting of attacks against Boko Haram, Reuters added in the report.

 
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July 4, a suicide bomber killed five Muslims and wounded dozens in an attack on a mosque in the remote village of Konduga in northeast Nigeria, Reuters reported. The attack is believed to have occurred a few yards from the mosque while the Muslims were praying.
 
Boko Haram has intensified attacks in northeast Nigeria since April, killing Christians and moderate Muslims who do not agree with the extremists' militant tactics. The militants have killed more than 1,000 Nigerians this year, hundreds of them since April, according to news reports.
 
Amid the attacks, Christians are still spreading the gospel, says Nigerian relations expert Adeniya Ojutiku, a Raleigh, N.C., Southern Baptist who has organized the grassroots group Lift Up Now to improve the lives of Nigerians in his homeland.
 
In the village of Attagara, one of three northeastern Nigerian villages where Boko Haram attacked churches and killed more than 200 worshipers June 1, Christianity was spreading, Ojutiku told Baptist Press, based on a firsthand account from a Lift Up Now volunteer there.
 
"Because of their passion for evangelism, they went to nearby villages and converted over 3,500 peoples to Christianity and planted a church in villages like Aganjara, Agamanchiya and Angurva with multiple disciples," the volunteer told Ojutiku in an email July 3rd.
 
"They were popularly known for their faith in Christ," the email reads. "They had over 50 ordained ministers in different denominations. … Sometimes the community called them 'RADICALS FOR JESUS' because of  in holding to faith."
 
The volunteer summarized in the email one of the June 1 attacks reported previously in Baptist Press.
 
"On Sunday… around 9:00 a.m. when the Christians wanted to start their morning service, over 100 Islamic militants dressed in different kind of [clothes] including Army Uniforms came to Attagara village in Gwoza local government with dangerous weapons chanting 'ALHAHU AKBAR' (sic) meaning Allah is great and stormed into the church and opened fire on the worshipers," the volunteer wrote. "They killed 9 instantly and shot over 50 with terrible degrees of injuries. When the worshipers with gun-shot wounds were trying to escape, they kept on following them and shooting them again till they succeeded in killing over 27 Christians that day. They went ahead with killing little children and burning houses."
 
When some of the Christians ran to a military checkpoint less than two miles away, the volunteer wrote, military officials refused to help. Community members organized a vigilante group in response and killed seven Boko Haram terrorists, the volunteer wrote.
 
Regarding the 219 Chibok schoolgirls still missing in the April kidnapping, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan reported in June that the girls had been located, but that the use of force to capture them would endanger their lives.
 
Nigerian investigators submitted their final report June 20 on the Chibok kidnapping, expressing regret that the girls remain captive.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/8/2014 12:59:01 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SEBTS gives $200,000 in Kingdom Diversity Scholarships

July 7 2014 by SEBTS staff

Kingdom diversity is a core value at Southeastern. Building a student body that reflects the beauties of ethnicity designed by our God is a goal we are pursuing with passion,” said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
In August 2013, Southeastern launched its Kingdom Diversity initiative to make God’s Kingdom vision of people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping Christ together a reality on its campus and in churches.
 
“Southeastern is convinced that every voice that will sing ‘holy, holy, holy’ at our God’s throne is a voice that needs to be heard on our campus,” said Walter Strickland, Special Advisor to the President for Diversity and Instructor of Theology.

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The Kingdom Diversity initiative addresses cultural and gender diversity on campus.
 
“As a Great Commission seminary, Southeastern desires to seek and equip students from every corner of the Kingdom to serve in every context of the Kingdom,” Strickland emphasized. “A diverse campus benefits everyone as we sharpen each other with our God given uniqueness to better serve our Lord wherever He may send us.” 
 
The new Kingdom Diversity scholarships at Southeastern have been awarded to 23 students. Gifts range from nine full-time, 13 part-time, and one $1000 partial scholarship. Seven scholarships were awarded on the doctoral level, 10 on the master’s level and six on the collegiate level.
 
Students selected are from places including Central America, Korea and the Dominican Republic and represent a variety of cultures such as African-American, Asian and Hispanic.
 
Eight of the scholarships were awarded to women and 15 to men. Two of the most sought after scholarships went to African-American and Hispanic women one pursuing a doctor of education and the other a master of divinity.
 
Currently, 26 percent of the students at Southeastern are women and the seminary is seeking to increase that number to at least 35 percent.
 
The one-time gifts are awarded based on merit and need for the duration of one year. Students can apply for the scholarship every semester and re-apply for the scholarship the next year. Previous recipients will be heavily considered for the following year, especially if their enrollment at Southeastern is dependent on the scholarship.
 
“On average, students of color tend to be more finically in need and Southeastern seeks to help relieve the financial burden of ministry preparation,” Strickland said. “These scholarships are another way to demonstrate that the recipients are valued on Southeastern’s campus.”
 
Southeastern has drawn national attention in response to giving away the Kingdom Diversity scholarships. “I think we are finally putting actions to the desires of our heart as an institution,” Strickland said.
 
A Kingdom Diversity scholarship fund has been created in honor of Akin. “Few things have honored me more greatly than having a scholarship established in my name for this very purpose,” Akin said.
 
For additional information on how to contribute to this fund, please click here
 or contact Daniel Palmer, director of financial development at dpalmer@sebts.edu or 919-761-2203 or visit www.sebts.edu/give.

7/7/2014 12:34:54 PM by SEBTS staff | with 0 comments



CP receipts near 3rd quarter goal

July 7 2014 by Baptist Press Staff

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Contributions to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program (CP) totaled 98.38 percent of the budgeted goal through the third quarter ending June 30, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page has announced.
 
The $141,298,445.60 the Executive Committee received during the first nine months of the fiscal year, Oct. 1 - June 30, for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget is 1.62 percent short of the $143,625,000 year-to-date budgeted amount.
 
The total represents money received by the close of the last business day of June and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals designated for global and national Southern Baptist ministries.

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The total is $776,707.46 or 0.55 percent less than the $142,075,153.06 received through June 2013 of last fiscal year.
 
Designated giving of $173,373,521.37 for the same year-to-date period is 1.89 percent, or $3,335,228.70, below the $176,708,750.07 received at this point last year. Designated giving only includes monies received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief and other special gifts.
 
June's Cooperative Program allocation receipts totaled $15,379,938.50. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $25,278,846.78.
 
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving allowing a local church to support the ministries of its state convention and SBC missions and ministries through a single contribution to its state convention.
 
State conventions retain a portion of Cooperative Program contributions to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention's annual budget.
 
The SBC allocation budget goal for 2013-14 is $191,500,000, an increase of 1.86 percent over the $188,000,000 budgeted goal for the previous year, and is distributed as follows: 50.41 percent to support more than 4,800 overseas personnel with the IMB; 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through the North American Mission Board; 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries; 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget; and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
 
Month-to-month swings reflect various factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.
 
CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at www.cpmissions.net/CPReports.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Compiled by Baptist Press staff.)

7/7/2014 12:29:26 PM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments



Students take Jesus to Rio's 'Crack-land'

July 7 2014 by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) -- Locals know it as "Crack-land," a run-down, crime-ridden neighborhood in the heart of Rio where addicts come to get their fix. Many never leave. Crack cocaine is the star attraction, and its victims line Crack-land's streets. They've lost everything to the drug -- jobs, homes, families, hope.
 
But on the outskirts of Crack-land sits a lone refuge inside an unassuming storefront that bears the name Cristolandia -- "Christ-land" in Portuguese. It's a ministry created by Brazilian Baptists to offer Crack-land's residents one of the few things they can't buy on the streets: freedom.
 
Cristolandia provides free meals, clothes, showers and clean beds to addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. If they're ready, it also supplies them the practical help they need to escape their situation and start over. That transformation begins, said Cristolandia coordinator Exequias Cerqueira, with Jesus Christ. Every person who comes through Cristolandia's doors hears the gospel. More than 500 have left the streets during the ministry's three-year existence. Even more have put their faith in Christ.
 
On this day, Cristlolandia's small staff -- many of them former addicts -- is getting some extra help. A team of 11 Southern Baptist college students and two student ministry leaders has come to Rio to share the gospel during the FIFA World Cup June 12-July 13. On days between games when Rio's Maracaná soccer stadium is empty, the students turn their evangelistic energies to local churches and ministries like Cristolandia.

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IMB Photo by Wilson Hunter
From right: Brazilian Baptist pastor Carlos Eduardo Mendes Alviso, translator Renata Nascimento Da Costa, Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.) campus minister Lee Dymond and IMB missionary Eric Reese (background) pray over an HIV-positive couple living in Rio de Janeiro's infamous "Crack-land" neighborhood.  
 

 

Breakfast is first on the agenda. The students serve a meal of ham and cheese sandwiches to the more than 75 men and women who've filled Cristolandia's second-floor cafeteria. Lee Dymond, who leads the student team and serves as campus minister at Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.), presents the gospel as they eat.
 
Afterward, the students split into teams of two to three and prepare to search Crack-land's streets for others who need Cristolandia's help. Each team is paired with a Brazilian Baptist partner who serves as their guide, translator and coworker. Before the teams depart, IMB missionary Eric Reese briefs them on what to expect. With active drug deals and prostitution going on around them, there's real danger involved.
 
But those risks don't seem to faze students like Nick Smirniotopoulos and Alison Myers. Smirniotopoulos, 21, graduated from Virginia Tech University in May. Myers, 22, is a senior at UAB in Birmingham, Ala.
 
After a few minutes' walk, the pair approaches a young woman with huge scabs covering her shoulders and pink scars on her face. It's obvious she's been in some of kind of accident, or possibly is the victim of violence. Smirniotopoulos doesn't know if she's on drugs, but she looks thin and sick. He motions to his Brazilian Baptist partner, Joπo Maciez, and they begin to share their faith.
 
"Jesus tells you that if you hear His voice and open the door, He will come in and dine with you," Smirniotopoulos explains.
 
She listens for a few minutes, then turns suddenly and walks off. Not interested.
 
Next, the team approaches an older woman sitting on a metal vent less than 100 yards away. She is homeless: Her cardboard "mattress" sits at her feet; her toilet is a concrete wall adjacent to the vent. But as the team tells her about Cristolandia, she begins to yell. They patiently listen to her rant for more than 10 minutes, but it's soon obvious she won't listen to them. Smirniotopoulos is discouraged, but the team moves on.
 
Meanwhile, on another street in Crack-land, Dymond is experiencing what he calls the most difficult, most "emotionally draining" day of ministry in his life. Dymond and his Brazilian Baptist partners, pastor Carlos Alviso and translator Renata Da Costa, are sharing the gospel with a prostitute standing in the doorway of a brothel. Dymond suspects she is selling herself for drug money, food or both. The brokenness is overwhelming. When she refuses an invitation to accept Christ, Dymond instead asks if he can pray for her.
 
"No, no, no!" she answers. "I'm not worth praying for."
 
But the worst was yet to come.
 
Farther down the street Dymond's team stops to speak with a drug addict lying in the middle of the sidewalk. He is unconscious, and surgical pins jut from his leg. The skin around the pins is black with infection. Tears fill Dymond's eyes.
 
"This man was laying there like a discarded piece of trash," he said, struggling to control the emotion in his voice. "I just got on my knees and started praying."
 
Dymond added that this kind of depravity isn't unique to Crack-land.
 
"One of the things God keeps reminding me of is that this same brokenness is also back home in the U.S. We just know how to hide it better," he said. "But we all have the same problem. We're born with a wicked heart and sinful nature. Only Jesus can change that."
 
Several blocks away, things are looking brighter for Myers and Smirniotopoulos. They're sharing the gospel with a young man named Gabriel who they found sleeping at a bus station. As Smirniotopoulos explains Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, Myers prays silently.
 
"It was really eye-opening to see his hopelessness and how little he had," she said. "I was just praying that the Lord would soften his heart and that we would be bold in our witness."
 
When Smirniotopoulos finishes presenting the gospel, it's clear God has answered Myers' prayer. Before the team can even ask, Gabriel tells them he wants Jesus in his life. Smirniotopoulos leads him through the sinner's prayer, then offers to take him to Cristolandia. But Gabriel refuses, telling the team he isn't ready to leave the streets.
 
Still, Smirniotopoulos feels hopeful.
 
"As Gabriel accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit came in him," Smirniotopoulos said. "He looked changed. He had tears in his eyes. I got to tell him, 'You are a different person; 2 Corinthians 5:17 says the old has passed away and the new has come. ... You're my brother in Christ now.'"
 
After several hours on Crack-land's streets, the student teams return to Cristolandia. They're tired, but with the help of their Brazilian partners, they've shared the gospel dozens of times and brought several addicts to the center for help.
 
"Some of these situations have been way out of my comfort zone, but it's what I prayed for before coming here," Myers said. "It's definitely been rewarding, and most people have been more receptive to the gospel than I ever thought that they would."
 
The next day, the team will be at it again -- this time sharing Christ with World Cup soccer fans at Rio's Maracaná Stadium.
 
For ongoing coverage of the World Cup outreach, see the story package, "The Cross at the Cup." Click here for daily postings of World Cup-related prayer requests.
 
To learn about global missions opportunities for students through IMB, go to imbstudents.org. View videos on Southern Baptist student volunteers Alison Myers and Nick Smirniotopoulos, mentioned in the above story about Cristolandia.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.)

 

Related Story:

Former addict escapes from Rio's 'Crack-land'

7/7/2014 12:09:59 PM by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Former addict escapes from Rio's 'Crack-land'

July 7 2014 by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) -- After seven years on the streets, Marcelo Gomes* had seen enough. He'd witnessed too many fellow crack addicts brutally murdered at the hands of the drug lords who ruled Rio's favelas (slums). If he didn't do something soon, he might be next.
 
Stealing was an automatic death sentence -- especially from a dealer. More often, executions were ordered when addicts, desperate for crack, robbed each other. Rather than attract unwanted attention by allowing favela residents to report these crimes to the police, drug lords provided deterrence with their own brand of justice.
 
Shootings were unusual, Gomes said. Hits usually involved something more primitive, like a hammer. They weren't quick deaths either. Known for torture, drug lords would often order henchmen to break a thief's arm and toss him into the river. If the thief didn't drown, favela residents stoned him.
 
Gomes was terrified.
 
"I saw mothers who would come looking for their sons ... They would show me a photo, and I had seen their son being killed by the drug lords," he said. "I was taking the same drugs they were. I didn't want that happening to me."
 
He had thought about escaping, but it seemed impossible.

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IMB Photo by Lina White.
Unable to walk, an addict living in Rio's "Crack-land" neighborhood is escorted to a free lunch at the Cristolandia homeless shelter by Jordan O'Donnell (center) and Marcelo Gomes* (right), accompanied by IMB missionary Ramona Reese. *Name changed

 

Influenced by his older brothers, Gomes began using drugs at age 11. He started with marijuana but quickly graduated to crack cocaine. Within a year he was living on the street, routing through garbage to scrounge up enough money to bankroll his next high. It didn't take much.
 
"Crack is really the poor man's drug," Gomes said. "You can buy it for less than a dollar. ... Ninety percent of street dwellers here use it."
 
U.S. government statistics back Gomes' claim. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Brazil is the world's second largest consumer of cocaine.
 
Ironically, during the seven years he spent on Rio's streets, Gomes turned down multiple opportunities for help from a ministry called Cristolandia -- "Christ-land" in Portuguese. Created as an outreach of Brazilian Baptist churches, Cristolandia provides food, clothes and lodging to addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. More important is the center's offer of freedom: the means to end addiction and escape the streets.
 
"People who do drugs feel there's no hope. They think they can't get out of it," Gomes said. "There were people that would point to me and say, 'That guy, there's nothing that can be done for him. He's going to die smoking crack.'"
 
But on April 21, 2012, Gomes proved them wrong. Driven by his fear of Rio's drug lords, he told Cristolandia volunteers he was ready to make a change.
 
They cleaned him up, got him off crack and introduced him to Christ. It wasn't easy. Five others left the streets the same day as Gomes. Of the five, he's the only one who made it.
 
Now, two years after Cristolandia changed his life, Gomes is helping the ministry do the same for others. Serving at Cristolandia as a short-term missionary with the National Mission Board of the Brazilian Baptist Convention, he helps rescue and care for other addicts who want a fresh start.
 
"We go out there and tell them, 'Yes, there is hope. It happened to me and it can happen to you,'" Gomes said. "And they say, 'That guy's for real. It's true what he's saying because I saw him suffering out here with us.'"
 
Gomes said the first step of Cristolandia's recovery strategy is to meet people's physical needs. Step two is focused on internal transformation -- specifically, the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Everyone who comes through the center hears the gospel, and though acceptance isn't a condition of entering Cristolandia's rehabilitation program, Gomes admits his own success wouldn't have been possible without it.
 
"I tried to leave drugs in the past, and I never was able to," he said. "Jesus tells us in John 15:5 that without Me, you can do nothing. And that's true ... with Him, I was able to quit."
 
Today, Gomes is looking toward the future. Now 22, he still lives at Cristolandia but knows he can't stay forever. He says God has blessed him with a job cleaning tour buses and the chance to go back to school. His dream is to save enough money to buy a place of his own, get married and start a family. But Gomes says his new life won't keep him too far from Cristolandia.
 
"Showing my gratitude to the Lord is serving these people," Gomes said. "What moves my life now is Jesus, because He brought about this transformation. I never had anything in my life before ... and now I have a life."
 
For ongoing coverage of the World Cup outreach, see the story package, "The Cross at the Cup." Click here for daily postings of World Cup-related prayer requests.
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.)

 

Related Story:

Students take Jesus to Rio's 'Crack-land'

7/7/2014 11:41:55 AM by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Billy Graham’s 1970, words: ‘The Unfinished Dream’

July 3 2014 by Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Billy Graham stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the morning of July 4, 1970, to deliver his message, “The Unfinished Dream,” to a crowd estimated between 15,000 and 30,000 people.

Graham was the keynote speaker for Honor America Day’s “nationally televised religious service,” according to a Baptist Press (BP) story at the time. Total attendance for Honor America Day celebrations near the memorial that day would approach 400,000. Amid the political and emotional chaos of the Vietnam War, Honor America Day was organized to boost the American spirit and “rededicate [Americans] to the responsibilities of America for the unfinished tasks ahead,” former President Lyndon B. Johnson said.
 

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Billy Graham Evangelistic Associaiton photo
Billy Graham addresses thousands from the steps of Lincoln Memorial on Honor America Day in 1970.

The religious service included Graham’s message; benedictions by Baptists E.V. Hill and E.L. Harrison and Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; and music by Kate Smith, the United States Army Band and the CenturyMen, a choir of 100 Southern Baptist men. A parade of flags to the White House concluded the morning’s festivities.

The religious service was the first in a series of national, patriotic celebrations that day including activities on the mall between Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, a spectacular fireworks show and various other events featuring such notables as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore and the New Christy Minstrels.

Although reports in preparation for the event stated that police were expecting a peaceful crowd, Graham’s message was met with protesters. Young “hippies” dishonored the flag, shouted anti-war obscenities, attempted to disrupt the service and tried to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Their efforts were unsuccessful; the crowd applauded as the protesters were dispersed by park police.

Graham began by interpreting 1 Peter 2:17 to mean “honor the nation,” establishing a tie to the Independence Day celebration. “We’re not only here today to honor America,” he declared, “but we’re here as citizens to renew our dedication and allegiance to the principles and institutions that made her great.”

Graham acknowledged the significance of the monuments surrounding him and the vision represented by Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. “We can listen to no better voices than these men who gave us the dream that has become America,” the evangelist said. “These men represent thousands who worked, prayed, suffered and died to give us this nation.”

The nation’s institutions were “under attack,” Graham said, but the goal of the celebration was to prove that Americans still believed in them.

“Let’s let the world know today that the majority of us still proudly sing ‘My country ‘tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty.’ America needs to sing again. America needs to celebrate again. America needs to wave the flag again.”

Graham commented on accusations against him for “honoring any secular state” by stating, “Jesus said, ‘Rend unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. The apostle Paul proudly boasted of being a Roman citizen. The Bible says honor the nation. As a Christian or as a Jew or as an atheist, we have a responsibility that has always stood for liberty, protection and opportunity.”

Graham gave six reasons America was worthy of honor.

  • “We honor America because she has opened her heart and her doors to the distressed and the persecuted of the world.”

  • “We honor America because she’s been the most generous nation in history.”

  • “We honor America because she has never hidden her problems and faults.”

  • “We honor America because she is honestly recognizing and is courageously trying to solve her social problems.”

  • “We honor America because she defends the rights of her citizens to dissent.”

  • “[We honor America] because there is woven into the warp and the woof of our nation a faith in God.”

Graham spoke of a picture of Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag, captioned, “Time to check our stitches.”

“Let’s check the stitches of racism that still persist in America. Let’s check the stitches of poverty that bind some of our countrymen. Let’s check the stitches of foreign policy to be sure our objectives and goals are in keeping with the American dream. Let’s check the stitches of pollution, brought on by technology. Let’s check the stitches of the moral permissiveness that could lead us to decadence. Let’s even check the stitches of freedom to see if our freedom in America has become licensed,” Graham said. “What a wonderful thing it would be if we could check these stitches before we celebrate the 200th birthday of America only six years from now. It could be done.”

Graham also commented on America’s standing with God, noting the younger generation’s need for the Bible. He echoed Jefferson’s thoughts on God’s justice and expressed his own fear for the nation.

Pleading with America, Graham said, “Today, I call upon all Americans to raise your voices in prayer and dedication to God and to recommit to the ideals and dreams for which our country was founded. Let’s dedicate ourselves today to a renewal of faith in God. Let’s dedicate ourselves to building rather than burning.”

He concluded his thoughts by reiterating Winston Churchill’s words, “I say to you today, pursue the vision, reach toward the goal, fulfill the American dream – and as you move to do it, never give in! Never give in! Never! Never! Never! Never!”

Read the original BP story or listen to “The Unfinished Dream.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Myriah Snyder, who will be a senior at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)

7/3/2014 3:47:03 PM by Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Islam expert: ISIS conflict 'annihilating Middle East Christians'

July 3 2014 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS News

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) -- Violence erupting in Iraq and Syria as the jihadist group Islamic state in Iraq (ISIS) declares an Islamic state is “annihilating Middle Eastern Christians,” said the director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
The Sunni insurgent group sweeping across Iraq and Syria and taking control of its provinces announced June 29 that it established a caliphate, which is an Islamic state led by a religious and political leader — in this case, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The United Nations reports the death toll for the month of June in Iraq stands at 2,417.
 
“We need to raise our voices much louder on behalf of Middle Eastern Christian communities that have basically existed for 2,000 years,” said J. Scott Bridger, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary. “You have Christians in this whole area that are basically being exterminated.”

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J. Scott Bridger, director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Seminary

 

Christians, Shiite Muslims and Sunnis with more democratic ideologies are among the victims of indiscriminate violence ISIS has inflicted on those who disagree with their ambition to create an Islamic state. In June, ISIS released footage claiming to show the mass execution of 160 people.
 
“Any person who does not align with their particular ideology is declared an infidel, which allows [ISIS] to kill them — to declare them an apostate and take them out,” Bridger said.
 
The ideology of ISIS, Bridger explained, is based on the belief that state and religion go together and “Islam is the solution.” Originally ISI, the group expanded to Syria during the ongoing civil war, where it has fought against both the Syrian government and the opposition forces. The claim of the Islamic state includes territories ISIS captured from Iraq's Diyala province to Syria's Aleppo province.
 
“What they’re wanting to establish is Islamic states throughout the world and to replace what they see as decadent democratic regimes with Islamic regimes —  that’s an Islamist ideology,” Bridger said, while stressing that Islam is a diverse tradition with violent and non-violent factions.
 
And while the jihadist group has called all Muslims to declare allegiance to its leader, al-Baghdadi, in an effort to revive a caliphate system that has not existed for nearly a century, Bridger said that the idea of a unified caliphate is contrary to history.
 
“It’s a myth of the modern Muslim mind that there was this one caliphate that had legitimacy for all Muslims in all periods of time,” Bridger said, illustrating the rival caliphates claimed by various regions throughout history. “It’s a romanticized understanding of Islamic history.”
 
Another misunderstanding of the conflict in the Middle East is evident in the call for peace from government officials. President Barack Obama urged the Iraqi government in June to find a peaceful reconciliation between the Sunni and Shiite conflict, a plea Bridger described “idealistic and naive.”
 
“You can’t put a Band-Aid on these kind of conflicts,” said Bridger, insisting calls for peace ignore the fact that democracy is a culture that has not been cultivated in the Middle East.
 
As the conflict rages on during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began June 28, Bridger said it is a timely reminder to pray for both Christians persecuted in the violent struggle and Muslims partaking in this annual observance.
 
“Oftentimes movements of Muslims to faith in Christ have come out of these intense times of prayer and reflection,” said Bridger, who advised Christians to adopt a people group in prayer with their churches during this month.
 
A guide to unreached people groups can be found online through the International Mission Board and the Joshua Project at imb.org/globalresearch and joshuaproject.net. For more information about the Jenkins Center, go to: jenkins.sbts.edu.

7/3/2014 12:14:13 PM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS News | with 1 comments



Civil Rights Act tore down walls among Baptists

July 3 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- When President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964, it codified into law provisions that many Southern Baptists had a reputation for opposing -- bans on racial discrimination in public accommodations and government programs.
 
But amid the opposition, there were pockets of Southern Baptists working for racial justice and equality. On the legislation's 50th anniversary, Baptist leaders are celebrating the fact that those pockets of activism have blossomed into a convention-wide emphasis on multiethnic cooperation to fulfill the Great Commission.
 
"The Civil Rights Act helped tear down so many walls that racial prejudice had constructed between members of the human family," Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said. "My passion is to see every man, woman, boy and girl trust in Jesus Christ and become active members of one of our churches ... not because it is politically correct, but because every person matters to the Lord."
 
Today more than 10,000 of the SBC's 46,000 churches are non-Anglo, comprised of a broad diversity of racial and ethnic members. About 15 percent of presidential appointments to committees were from non-Anglo ethnic and racial groups over the past two years, and nearly 100 members of racial and ethnic minority groups have served in SBC leadership positions.
 
About 400 North American Mission Board missionaries identify themselves as non-Anglo. Approximately half of SBC church plants are classified as non-Anglo, and nearly 15 percent of churches registered to assist in the Send North America church planting emphasis are from various racial and ethnic subsets of American culture.

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SBTS photo
Martin Luther King Jr. preached in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel in 1961 to a warm reception by faculty and students. King met with professors, from left to right: Henlee Barnette, Nolan Howington and Allen Graves.  

 

All this led Page to call the SBC "one of the most ethnically diverse denominations in America."

 

A divided convention

Fifty years ago that wasn't the case. The SBC met in Atlantic City, N.J., in May, ahead of President Johnson's July 2 signing of the Civil Rights Act. At the annual meeting, the SBC's Christian Life Commission (CLC) -- precursor to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission -- presented a recommendation that the convention pledge its support for civil rights legislation. When time came to vote on the recommendation, a pastor from Louisiana offered a substitute motion that didn't say anything about legislation.
 
The substitute motion, in a standing vote by messengers, was declared defeated, but the convention took a ballot vote because the margin appeared slim. On the ballot vote, the substitute motion was adopted and the CLC's motion to support civil rights legislation was set aside. When the Civil Rights Act became law, at least three Baptist colleges refused to sign "assurances of compliance."
 
But not all Southern Baptists were opposed to the new legislation.
 
The month after the Civil Rights Act became law, the CLC held conferences at the Ridgecrest and Glorieta conference centers addressing "Christianity and Race Relations." Speakers were bold in their advocacy of integration, and attendance outnumbered that at any previous CLC conference. More than 3,000 attended the two conferences, with 1,500 copies of the addresses distributed among Southern Baptists.
 
CLC executive secretary Foy Valentine believed his commission was in step with America's progressing attitudes about ethnic diversity.
 
"The fact is that in 1964, there was a new wave of interest in civil rights matters," Valentine said in a 1976 interview. "The civil rights legislation came on strong with the help of Lyndon Johnson and was passed, and it was the most important move forward for blacks in a hundred years. The commission again was at the blue point of the flame, with regard for social concern, because there wasn't anybody else in Southern Baptist life that was doing much open talking about this subject of civil rights and race relations."

 

Pockets of change

There may have been more open talking than Valentine realized because some pastors and churches were beginning to embrace integration.
 
In Louisville, Ky., an adjunct professor and a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary -- one white and one black -- decided to form an interracial ministry conference to meet monthly and discuss race relations in the city. The student, Emmanuel McCall who was black, and the adjunct professor, John Claypool who was white, each convened six pastors of his own race, and the group of 14 met for four months. McCall and Claypool then helped form the Louisville Baptist Interracial Pastors Conference, which met from 1962 to 1968 and included 800 ministers at its zenith.
 
McCall told Baptist Press the group's efforts contributed to the relative calm in Louisville regarding racial issues.
 
"Louisville went through that time without any racial conflict," McCall said. "Except there was one night when some guy who said he represented Stokely Carmichael gathered a group of people in the west end. From somewhere they came up with bricks, and they started a little bit of a riot. But it was the ministers' conference that said to the chief of police, 'We don't know this guy. Get him out of town. Arrest him or whatever.' And they did. So that was the only incident of any newsworthy note during that period."
 
McCall went on to become the first African American on staff at any SBC entity, when he went to work for the Home Mission Board in 1968. Claypool pastored churches in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi.
 
Another member of the interracial pastors group, Carlisle Driggers, was pastoring Louisville's 23rd and Broadway Baptist Church in 1964. The congregation was ahead of its time in terms of racial inclusiveness and felt that the Civil Rights Act "substantiated" what it was seeking to do, Driggers told BP.
 
"I thought it was way past time for America to have legislation like that," Driggers said. "I know that it caused a lot of reaction, a lot of folks unhappy about it. But at the same time, my own personal reaction was that I thought it was very much in order. It needed to be done, and I was grateful to be a citizen of America when that legislation was adopted."
 
The law "supported what we were attempting to do at that time as a church," Driggers said.
 
A white congregation, 23rd and Broadway decided to stay in its longtime location even though the community around it was changing racially and culturally, with many blacks moving into the neighborhood. The decision to stay included a commitment to reach everyone around the church regardless of race.
 
The congregation ministered to hundreds of blacks during weekday programs for the community, and eventually 10 to 20 percent of its Sunday worshippers were African Americans. The church's outreach was so successful that the HMB appointed a missionary to work specifically with 23rd and Broadway -- the first time the board appointed a missionary to an individual church.
 
Still, when a black worshipper, Brenda Owens, presented herself for membership in 1966, Driggers felt a bit nervous, not knowing how the congregation would react. He received her during the invitation and called for a vote on whether to accept her as a member. After a vote without opposition, a thankful Driggers bowed his head to lead the closing prayer. He says he'll never forget what he saw when he opened his eyes.
 
"Our people, while I was praying, were getting up out of their seats, and they were lined up all the way from the front of the church to the back door -- lined up to come forward and speak to Brenda. It was a precious, precious moment," Driggers said.
 
Driggers gained a reputation for his work in interracial ministry, so much so that First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., brought him on staff in 1969 to help with a tumultuous integration process. He went on to become executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
 
Some Southern Baptist institutions were also ahead of their times. All six SBC seminaries accepted black students well before 1964. Southern Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, both admitted black students in the 1940s, with Garland Offutt becoming the first black graduate of any SBC seminary in 1944 when Southern awarded him a master of theology.
 
Martin Luther King Jr. preached in Southern Seminary chapel in 1961 to a warm reception by faculty and students -- despite objections from some Southern Baptists and eventually an apology from trustees for "any offense caused by the visit of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to the campus of the Seminary."
 
In 1965, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary students and faculty donated funds to help a student travel from the seminary's California campus to the civil rights march in Selma, Ala. The student body also sent pro-civil rights telegrams to King and Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
 
At Southwestern, ethics professor T.B. Maston was a noted champion of civil rights.

 

A changing convention

Perhaps shocked into changing by the turmoil in America and perhaps convinced by the consistent appeals of leaders like Valentine and McCall, Southern Baptists broadly began to integrate and embrace interracial cooperation.
 
In 1968, the convention adopted by a more than 2 to 1 margin a "Statement Concerning the Crisis in Our Nation," with messengers vowing to "personally accept every Christian as a brother beloved in the Lord and welcome to the fellowship of faith and worship every person irrespective of race or class."
 
Many churches integrated in the 1960s and 1970s, and ethnic churches began to join the convention -- so much so that church growth expert C. Peter Wagner called the SBC the most diverse religious denomination in America in 1970.
 
Racist elements persisted, but they dwindled to a small minority. In 1995, the convention adopted a resolution apologizing for its racist past, asking African Americans for forgiveness. In 2012, the SBC elected Fred Luter Jr. as its first black president.
 
The vote "was a genuine, authentic move by this convention that says our doors are open," Luter said following his election. "And the only way  can see that is not just putting up an African American president, but seeing other ethnic groups in other areas of this convention. Time will tell and I'll be a cheerleader promoting that."

 

Preserving the gains

Kelly Miller Smith Jr., an African American who has pastored National and Southern Baptist churches, told BP he believes Southern Baptists began cooperating with blacks in part because they realized how much Baptists of both races hold in common.
 
In years past, Southern Baptists "were more concerned with the pigmentation of the skin, and they didn't realize that if they could get beyond what they see in terms of the skin, there are a lot of black Baptists who have very similar kinds of theological perspectives," Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill in Nashville, told BP.
 
Smith added that despite their theological commonalities, white and black Baptists often differ in their social applications of the Gospel. Cooperative ministry in the future will depend on their ability to understand one another's perspectives on issues like poverty, discrimination, employment and healthcare, he said.
 
Thankfully, black and white Baptists already have begun to cooperate in missions, evangelism, theological education and other areas.
 
On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Smith said it is important for Baptists to preserve the legacy of that legislation in America and continue to break down racial prejudice in the church.
 
The "landmark legislation" of 1964, Smith said, was "only the beginning stages of things that would have to be further developed."
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - This story first appeared in Baptist Press on May 20. It is being republished today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/3/2014 12:02:22 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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