June 2010

N.C. Baptists help at World Cup

June 30 2010 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — While the world’s focus has been on 32 national teams competing for the prestigious FIFA World Cup trophy, activities of high significance are taking place behind the scenes.

Christian volunteers from around the world have ventured to South Africa to work with local ministries and churches, tapping into World Cup fever.

Hundreds of volunteers with ministries such as the IMB’s International World Changers and Athletes in Action arrived in South Africa to conduct soccer camps, holiday Bible clubs and specialized sports ministries. The workers have traveled from the United States, Canada, Brazil, France, Liberia and Ethiopia, among other nations.

BP photo by Jacob Alexander

Evan Musten, a volunteer from Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, stirs his team to sing louder at the Life Champs Day Camp in Nyanga township, Cape Town. Musten was a coach during the camp, held in conjunction with the World Cup competition in South Africa.

In addition, churches affiliated with Baptist conventions in North Carolina and Virginia joined South African Baptist churches and International Mission Board missionaries to strengthen and expand local ministries.

IMB missionaries themselves organized evangelistic initiatives, match and film showings in church facilities, and church planting efforts.

The fruit of their labor is evident. In Cape Town alone, where North Carolina Baptist volunteers served alongside IMB missionaries, local Baptist seminary students and a nearby Baptist church, 287 youth and children in three Life Champs Day Camps professed faith in Jesus Christ.

IMB missionary Bonnie Doughtie, evangelism team strategy leader in Cape Town, said, “It’s been a huge impact, and now our work is to disciple (the youth and children) and point them in the direction they need to go.”

While volunteers and missionaries see the World Cup as a platform and opportunity for sharing the gospel, the message they share is that life not only goes on after the World Cup, but that there is more to life than sports.

“Yes, sports can transform your life, but what about life after sport?” Sylvester Harris asked eager young South African athletes at a soccer clinic in Johannesburg. “Most professional soccer players are finished at the age of 30. Remember, sports is temporary,” said Harris, a member of an Athletes in Action team from Liberia.

His team leader, George Blackstock, told Baptist Press, “Though sports teaches many good life skills that are key to leading a successful life, many young men only see the glamour and money that sports can bring. They don’t realize that they must prepare themselves for life after sports.”

Providing a safe haven for children on school holidays has been a key emphasis for those ministering during the month-long World Cup tournament in South Africa, where children can be at risk for crime, drugs and human trafficking.

During activities organized by mission volunteers, local churches and missionaries, children learned about the day-to-day dangers they face and how to stay clear of them.

“It’s important for the church to have an image in the community of being a place where their children will be safe,” said IMB missionary Jeff Holder, who serves in the coastal town of George. “It’s a testimony in this community of a caring church.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix is a writer with the IMB, currently in South Africa as part of a media team providing sports and ministry coverage during the World Cup tournament. To learn more about the events and ministries around the World Cup, visit www.WorldSoccerJourneys.com, an IMB website, and www.mReport.org, an inter-organizational website.)
6/30/2010 6:50:00 AM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Professor: Oil spill could be wakeup call

June 30 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The head of a committee that drafted a recent Southern Baptist Convention resolution on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said on National Public Radio that the ecological disaster could be a “defining moment” for evangelicals and the environment.

“I remember once an evangelical figure spoke of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision as the Pearl Harbor of the evangelical pro-life movement,” Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said on NPR’s Weekend Sunday Edition June 27.

“What he meant by that was that prior to Roe, most evangelicals really thought of those issues of life and protecting the unborn as being a Roman Catholic issue — somebody else’s issue,” Moore said.

“But then after Roe v. Wade, suddenly evangelicals saw what was at stake and became involved. I think that this catastrophe in the Gulf could be that kind of defining moment.”

Moore chaired an SBC resolutions committee that brought a resolution adopted by convention messengers June 16 calling on industry, the government and churches to work to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again. He explained on NPR the rationale behind a statement that many observers view as out of character for a conservative denomination that in past years has downplayed environmental concerns like global warming.

Southern Seminary photo

Russell Moore

“There’s really nothing conservative — and certainly nothing evangelical — about a laissez-faire view of a lack of government regulation, because we, as Christians, believe in sin,” Moore said. “That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability — and that includes corporations.” Moore said. “Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It’s not a Christian view of human nature.”

Moore, who also serves as teaching pastor at Louisville’s Highview Baptist Church, said the call to creation care is grounded in theology.

“God cares about the Creation,” Moore said. “He displays himself in nature, and so the more that people are distanced from the Creation itself and the more people become accustomed to treating the Creation as something that is disposable, the more distanced they are from understanding who God is.”

“People are designed to be dependent on Creation and upon the natural resources around us,” he continued. “In order to love future generations, in order to love cultures, we have to love the ecosystems that support those things.”

“What’s happening is that you have entire cultures and communities of people now imperiled,” he said. “That’s an issue of love of neighbor.”

Moore is a native of Biloxi, Miss., one of the communities under threat from the leaking hulk of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig, which has been dumping oil into the Gulf since an April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and destroyed the platform.

“I have to tell you this is the most traumatized I’ve ever seen my hometown,” he said. “And I’m including the devastation of Katrina in that. It’s kind of like a slow-motion hurricane with no end in sight.”

Moore said he recognizes that all evangelicals are not of one mind about the specifics of creation care.

“There are some evangelicals, of course, who hold to a much more libertarian understanding of the relationship between government and protecting natural resources, but I think for the most part, evangelicals are ready to have a conversation about protecting the Creation,” he said. “And especially younger evangelicals, who are just as conservative as their grandfathers and grandmothers on many issues but also understand that human flourishing means a healthy natural environment.”

“It simply isn’t good for ourselves or for our neighbors to live in a world that is completely paved over and in which every piece of green land is replaced with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” he said. “That’s not how God designed human beings to live.”

Moore wrote recently on his blog about evangelicals’ “uneasy ecological conscience,” which he said has uncritically promoted free-market enterprise while viewing environmental protection as “someone else’s issue.”

The SBC resolution and Moore’s comments come at a time when many conservative leaders are laying the blame for the oil spill on environmentalists.

“Why were we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?” Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in his weekly radio broadcast June 5. “Well, one of (the reasons) is the environmental movement.”

“As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep — 1,000 feet or more, and ultra-deep, 5,000 feet or more — in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all of the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production,” Land said.

“President Obama’s tentative selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore-Alaska sites is now dead. And of course in the safest of all places, on land, we’ve had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although it would have done absolutely nothing to any of the wildlife in the area.”

Moore said he isn’t bothered by a lack of consensus on the issue.

“I think it’s good for evangelical Christians to be pulled in multiple directions, if being pulled in directions means that we’re thinking through issues from a biblical point of view, rather than from a purely political point of view,” Moore told NPR.

“I think that means evangelicals can’t simply be anybody’s interest group,” he said. “We’re going to have some disagreements, but we have to have that conversation. And it has to be more complex than simply parroting slogans.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
6/30/2010 6:44:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

She raised 8 children on the field in Uruguay

June 29 2010 by Marcus Rowntree, Baptist Press

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. — At 102 years old, Ruth Carlisle still knew the power of prayer.

When one of the hospice workers tending to Carlisle told her about a grandchild who had been diagnosed in the womb with a serious birth defect, Carlisle did not hesitate.

“Let’s pray,” she said.

Seven months after birth, the baby was completely normal.

The faith in prayer, concern for others and trust in God that Carlisle showed in that moment were constants in her life, which included 29 years on the mission field. The longest-living retired International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, Carlisle died June 5 at the age of 102. Her passing sealed the legacy of an unassuming woman whose life and ministry continue to astonish those who knew her.

Carlisle, a native of Shawnee, Okla., and her husband Robert were appointed as missionaries to Uruguay in 1940 by the Foreign (later International) Mission Board. Their orientation was a 30-minute chat with the board’s president, followed by a journey by ship to Uruguay.

Arriving in Uruguay with no Spanish language or cross-cultural training, the Carlisles learned on the job while planting churches. In 1956, they started a Bible institute in their home.

It was difficult work in a country where most people were agnostic.

BP photo

Ruth Carlisle, who died at age 102, was the International Mission Board’s oldest retired missionary.

“Little by little, people came to the Lord. It wasn’t fast,” Carlisle told a reporter in 2007. “Uruguay has never been an easy place to win people.”

In addition to raising a family that expanded to eight children, she managed a multitude of other tasks.

“I am the administrator of the kitchen, dietitian, adviser to the counselor of the students, teacher of various courses and, in case of sickness among the students, I help in the diagnosis and consultation with the doctor,” Carlisle wrote in a 1964 report.

Her son Jason, Hispanic mobilization consultant with the IMB, remembers her devotion to her family, even after long days of work.

“Sometimes in high school when I was studying for a test, I would come downstairs around midnight to get a glass of water,” he recounted. “My mother would be ironing clothes for all of us. Then I would get up in the morning and the biscuits would be made. It was just amazing.”

Carlisle’s service in Uruguay was punctuated by times of suffering, which included absence from family. She was notified by letter when her mother died, the only time Jason recalls seeing her weep. A devastating car accident left her and Robert in the hospital for weeks. It was all part of the calling that she willingly followed.

“It took a lot of hard work, a lot of loving the Lord and trusting Him,” Jason said of his mother’s time overseas.

The Carlisles retired from missionary service in 1969, returning to live in Louisiana. Carlisle supported her husband’s ministry until his death in 1978, an event which drove her to rely even more on the Lord.

“I remember after my dad died, (my mother) told me, ‘That was the time when I felt God’s closeness more than any other time in my life,’” Jason Carlisle said.

She devoted herself to prayer, spending hours each day interceding for her children, Uruguay, people she knew and other things dear to her heart.

“We would ask her to pray for a new believer or someone who came to our church,” Jason said. “Six months later, she would ask what happened to them when we had already forgotten.”

Even though Carlisle lived on a fixed income, she continued to give generously. Jason recalls that his mother, then in her 90s, wrote him to announce that she had reached her annual goal of giving $3,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Carlisle’s physical toughness was legendary among her children, some of whom jokingly called her the “comeback kid.” She survived the car crash, a crushed pelvis doctors didn’t even notice and a heart attack in 1969 that nobody knew about until years later. She initially refused to have open-heart surgery at 90, claiming it would likely add only “a year or two” to her life. Eventually she relented.

She avidly read news and updates on international missions. Her longevity and mental sharpness allowed her to continue to minister to women. Carlisle frequently visited hospitals and invited other women to her home for a favorite activity: English afternoon tea.

“She used to go out and visit everybody,” her son said. “Then when she couldn’t go out as much, she would call everybody and check up on them.”

But she was, after all, only mortal. Jason recalled his mother’s final moments, surrounded by family, and the unexpected way in which her life ended. As she approached death, the family began singing some of her favorite hymns. But there was one they couldn’t remember.

“Finally somebody remembered it,” Jason said. “When we started singing that song, she opened her eyes. She just looked straight up. When we finished singing, she almost closed her eyes, looked around, closed them, and that was it. It was almost like she was waiting for that hymn.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rowntree is an intern writing for the International Mission Board.)
6/29/2010 6:39:00 AM by Marcus Rowntree, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sex, violence warnings come to Christian movies

June 29 2010 by Tim Townsend, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS (RNS) — To get to the movie section at Lifeway Christian Store in Bridgeton, Mo., customers pass by shelves of books, CDs and greeting cards. The rack of Christian DVDs isn’t huge, but it’s twice as big as it was a year ago and “growing all the time,” said manager Francine Evans.

Some of the Christian titles these days, she said, tackle “touchy subjects” such as drugs, domestic violence or abortion.

“These are movies that deal with issues that real people deal with,” Evans said. “Sometimes that’s what’s necessary to reach people for God. But the seals are needed. They’re a good idea.”

The seals Evans anticipates are part of a new system developed by the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Dove Foundation to gauge the Christian values in films that contain sex, violence and drugs.

For 20 years, the Dove Foundation has placed a blue “dove” seal on any DVD it considered family-friendly, from “Star Wars” to “Toy Story 3.” A new purple “Faith-Based” seal warns of raw images or language in otherwise Christian-themed movies, and a new gold “Faith-Friendly” seal indicates a Christian-themed movie that’s safe for a family audience.

The launch of the new seals is part of the International Christian Retailers Show, which is expected to draw some 7,000 people from some 1,7000 Christian bookstores and 500 publishers during its four-day (June 27-30) run here.

Book and music purchases represent a significant portion of the stores’ annual $4.6 billion market. As music sales increasingly go digital, retailers are expanding their DVD offerings to recapture those sales, said Curtis Riskey, executive director of the CBA (the former Christian Booksellers Association).

In 2009, Christian retail sales of music declined by 1 percent from 2008, but Christian retail sales of videos increased by 26 percent, according to the Christian Music Trade Association and Nielsen Christian SoundScan.

“A consumer looks to Christian retail to find family-friendly entertainment,” Riskey said. “The ratings system helps identify for the Christian consumer the kinds of things they can expect in a movie.”

To caution parents that some Christian films can also contain un-Christian behavior or situations, the Dove Foundation’s new “Faith-Based” seal will carry letters indicating the offending content: “V” for violence, “D” for drugs and alcohol, “S” for sex, etc.

Many movies don’t make Dove’s original “Family-Approved” cut at all. The group’s review of the recent comedy “MacGruber,” says: “Unfortunately, despite some good acting and fighting sequences, the violence level, not to mention the strong language and sexual content, clearly prevents us from awarding this film our Dove ‘Family-Approved’ Seal.”

“It’s the retailers that really want there to be a rating system to help them serve their customers,” said Bobby Downes, a Christian producer, whose latest movie, “Like Dandelion Dust,” with Mira Sorvino, will be in theaters this fall.

“If a pastor walks into a Christian bookstore and wants a movie he can show to his entire church, the current rating system doesn’t help him make that determination.”

The Dove Foundation’s new gold “Faith-Friendly” seal will alert consumers that a movie is not only family-friendly, but that it contains a Christian message. DVDs of movies such as “The Blind Side” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” will receive the foundation’s gold seal on their packaging.

While the foundation’s purple “Faith-Based” seal will register as a caution for parents, those in the film industry say they’re not worried it will have a chilling effect on Christian writers and directors concerned about DVD sales.

Dave Austin, vice president of sales and marketing for the Bridgestone Group, which distributes Christian films, said the “Faith-Based” seal is actually “a positive step for filmmakers.”

“As a distributor, if we look at a film that’s not approved by Dove at all, we might ask for it to be edited slightly to get that Dove approval,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Townsend writes for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, Mo.)
6/29/2010 6:36:00 AM by Tim Townsend, St. Louis Post-Dispatch | with 0 comments

Caner out as Liberty dean

June 28 2010 by wire reports

A statement by Liberty University June 25 says Ergun Caner’s contract as dean of Liberty’s seminary will not be extended, but that he will continue on the seminary’s faculty.

Liberty had been investigating claims that Caner made conflicting statements about his personal history that embellished his credentials as a young Muslim trained in jihadist tactics before a conversion to Christianity.

Liberty’s statement said their “thorough and exhaustive review” of Caner’s statements concluded that he had made “self-contradictory” statements. The investigative committee found no evidence “to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence.”

The statement said Caner “has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review.” His contract as dean of the seminary expired June 30 and was not renewed. He accepted an employment contract for the 2010-2011 academic year and remains on the faculty as a professor.

Liberty said in May it would investigate charges in various media questioning Caner’s claims about being raised in Turkey, and about his defending Christianity in debates with Muslim scholars and other religious leaders in 13 countries and 35 states.

Christianity Today was the first mainstream news outlet to report the Caner controversy. One well-known blogger and a pastor, Wade Burleson, considered what would happen if Caner had to follow the school’s honor code. He had other blogs about Caner as well. Visit his blog here.
6/28/2010 6:51:00 AM by wire reports | with 2 comments

Gulf Coast governors call for Day of Prayer

June 25 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Four Gulf Coast governors are calling on residents to set aside Sunday as a Day of Prayer to pray for a solution to the oil spill and for citizens impacted by the disaster.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife photo

Biologists from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries treat a pelican who was covered in oil. It was dubbed the “governor’s bird” because it was discovered by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff as he toured the Grand Isle area.

Alabama’s Bob Riley, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour and Texas’ Rick Perry all issued proclamations calling on prayer for the spill, which entered its 67th day today.

“Throughout our history, Alabamians have humbly turned to God to ask for His blessings and to hold us steady during times of struggle. This is certainly one of those times,” Riley said in a statement.

Riley’s proclamation reads in part, “Citizens of Alabama are urged to pray for the well-being of our fellow citizens and our State, to pray for all those in other states who are hurt by this disaster, to pray for those who are working to respond to this crisis, and to pray that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.”

Perry’s proclamation says it “seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join with their fellow Gulf Coast residents” and others across the country and around the world “to thank God, seek his wisdom for ourselves and our leaders, and ask him for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.”

Barbour’s notes that the spill threatens the “livelihoods of our fellow citizens, the environmental beauty of our coast, and our quality of life.”

Jindals’s says “Louisianians all across the world are united in hope for an end to this catastrophic event and pray for” the coast’s recovery.

Southern Baptist Convention messengers meeting in Orlando, Fla., June 16 passed a resolution calling on churches and Christians “to pray for the end of this catastrophe and for the homes, lives, cultures, and livelihoods of those in the Gulf Coast region.”

The resolution also made a statement regarding the environment, asserting, “Our God-given dominion over the creation is not unlimited, as though we were gods and not creatures.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
6/25/2010 2:29:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Haitian church gives 2 years’ wages for relief

June 25 2010 by Margaret Dempsey-Colson, Baptist Press

PORT-DE-PAIX, Haiti — A Baptist church in northern Haiti has made an unprecedented gift of 20,000 gourdes ($506) to aid in the recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The gift, though small by some standards, is the equivalent of about two years’ wages in the Haitian economy.

Photo by Steven S. Nelson

Pierre Cenervil, left, pastor of Nazarite Baptist Church on northern Haiti’s Atlantic coast, led the congregation of 130 to give two years’ wages for earthquake relief work. Visiting the church are Jean Louis Otanieu, center, director of missions in Haiti’s Northwest Baptist Association, and Dennis Wilbanks, associate director of partnership missions for the Florida Baptist Convention.

“Too often we look at the size of the gift, not the size of the sacrifice,” said Dennis Wilbanks, Florida Baptists’ associate director of partnership missions. “I was so moved that I could not believe this was actually happening.”

The gift from members of Nazarite Baptist Church in Port-de-Paix on northern Haiti’s Atlantic coast is the first time a Haitian congregation has given funds “to distribute as we see fit,” said Wilbanks, who is accustomed to receiving numerous requests for financial aid from the impoverished Haitians and was surprised by the unexpected no-strings-attached gift.

On a recent trip to Haiti, Wilbanks, along with Tennessee pastor Steve Nelson and Jean Louis Otandieu, director of missions in Haiti’s Northwest Baptist Association, visited the church to thank leaders personally for the sacrificial gift.

“After crossing five rivers and the roughest road I have ever traversed, we finally arrived at the church site,” Wilbanks said. “When I saw the building, I was completely at a loss. I could not believe that the congregation that meets in this building could ever raise those kinds of funds, much less even consider giving them.”

With a dirt floor, walls of white mud packed onto rough-hewn wooden slats and a metal roof, the church building belies its members’ spirit of selflessness and generosity.

On a typical Sunday, pastor Pierre Cenervil, a father of 10, preaches to about 130 Haitians, many of whom walk long distances for worship. Cenervil explained to Wilbanks that the church has been praying for a “stronger facility, with chalkboards and benches, so that they could have a school,” a desperate need in the area.

Still, having seen what the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti convention (CMBH) and Florida Baptists have done for Haiti during the past 15 years and saying that Florida Baptists “have been there when no one else seemed to care,” the pastor led his church to look beyond its own need, Wilbanks said.

Cenervil said he wanted the financial gift to “help the poor people of Port-au-Prince who lost everything in the earthquake.”

Although his own church has dire need, he said his congregants needed “to be obedient to God and that this was the right thing to do to give the money to CMBH for the disaster relief effort.”

The gift, Wilbanks believes, signifies the maturing of the church in Haiti “from a people who are only recipients to a people who are givers.”

He believes the church has set an example and standard for other churches in Haiti “to mature to the place of giving without expectations of receiving something in return.”

Photo by Steven S. Nelson

The building of Nazarite Baptist Church in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, belies the 130-member congregation’s sacrificial giving for earthquake relief.

“This church is an example of a small, impoverished church partnering with others to increase its impact through a collective gift,” said Wilbanks, who emphasized that “faithfulness and obedience are more important than a token gift given out of abundance.”

After receiving the gift, Wilbanks, Nelson and Otandieu shared soft drinks and prayer with a few Haitians who had gathered.

“As we prayed at the end of our time together, we are trusting the Lord that He will make a provision for this church to build a structure that is safe and can be used not only for worship but for a school in this community where there is no school,” Wilbanks said.

“As this church has been a blessing, I expect God to bless this pastor and this church by making provision for the influence to expand its outreach to its community, Haiti and the world,” he added.

Even as the trio headed back toward home, marveling at the growing spiritual maturity of Haitian believers, the surprises were not over.

Originally, Wilbanks had been told the financial gift was 10,000 gourdes, and that was the amount written on the outside of the envelope presented to him on behalf of the church. Opening the envelope, Wilbanks counted and then recounted.

The gift equaled twice the expected amount: 20,000 gourdes.

“How did the other 10,000 gourdes get in the envelope? I do not know!” Wilbanks exclaimed. “Some might try to explain it away rationally, but I am convinced it was another of God’s miracles.”

The responsiveness of Haitians to the Gospel message in the aftermath of the earthquake continues to be a miracle, both in the number of new converts won to Christ and the start of new churches across the nation, said John Sullivan, Florida Baptist executive director and treasurer.

In a broadcast e-mail sent to Florida Baptist pastors May 20, Sullivan returned to a phrase he coined in April: “Hallelujah time in Haiti.”

After a third series of evangelistic campaigns held in Jacmel, Cayes and Jeremie, Haitian pastors affiliated with the CMBH have reported another 49,912 persons have made professions of faith, bringing the total to 135,330 since that Jan. 12 earthquake; and another 71 new churches were started, increasing the number of new churches in the past four months to 135.

This brings the total number of churches affiliated with the Florida Baptist State Convention to 1,026.

“This is one of the most amazing displays of the grace of God in redemption that we know,” Sullivan said. “This is the most amazing display of redemption with which the Florida Baptist Convention has been involved.”

Sullivan credited Southern Baptist state conventions for their role in the evangelistic harvest, saying it was “the most amazing display of cooperation among state conventions that I have been a part of in my years in Florida. Their churches share in the victories because of their financial support, mission teams, prayers and encouragement.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dempsey-Colson is a freelance writer for the Florida Baptist Convention.)  
6/25/2010 2:22:00 AM by Margaret Dempsey-Colson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Private libraries struggle to keep older books

June 25 2010 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

SALEM, Mass. — Inside a locked reading room atop a staircase at the Salem Athenaeum, hundreds of theological books — including some that are nearly 500 years old — are once again stirring up debate. It’s not the subject matter that’s contentious this time, since most modern-day readers have little interest in centuries-old treatises.

At issue now is how to save these religious texts, and others kept in cash-strapped private libraries, from the ravages of time.

Here, a 1564 biblical commentary by Protestant reformer John Calvin and collections of 18th-century sermons require delicate handling as threads peek through thin, brittle bindings.

At New York’s General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, librarian Melanie James says “a lot of the religious books haven’t been touched (in preservation efforts). They’re kind of falling apart.”

At the Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth, N.H., centuries-old books on holy topics cry out for repair in a bindery, but the library can only afford to mend a few books — and not necessarily theological ones — each year, according to research librarian Carolyn Marvin.

RNS photo by Bryce Vickmark

Jean Marie Procious, director of the Salem Athenaeum in Salem, Mass., holds a 1561 book of Aristotle printed in Greek that may deteriorate if the library does not get adequate funding for preservation.

For some custodians, preservation means the expensive prospect of building climate-controlled environments, where temperature, humidity and lighting are set to optimal conditions for extending shelf life.

One such project at the Boston Athenaeum in the early 1990s cost about $33 million. At the Salem Athenaeum, only books and pamphlets with high appraisal values are kept in a small, climate-controlled vault. The rest, said Francie King, president of the Salem Athenaeum’s board of trustees, face a bleak destiny.

“They’re going to turn to dust,” King said. “We just can’t afford to do what it takes to preserve them, unless someone were to give us millions.”

Others fear, however, that calls for help could backfire and hasten the destruction of old books, especially those that aren’t ultra-rare.

Michael Suarez, a Jesuit priest who directs the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, says old book collections have sometimes been destroyed because custodians figured they were doomed to crumble and that the content was likely being digitized somewhere.

The logic: if it’s already doomed, why not save space by destroying it now?

“Alarmist language (about books crumbling has) led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of newspapers and books from the 19th century in particular,” Suarez said. “It’s a myth that these things will crumble into dust just by sitting on the shelf ... It’s a myth that small libraries have a need for millions and millions of dollars that they can’t possibly get.”

America has only 16 private, membership libraries, where borrowing is restricted to dues-paying members.

Still, they contain a disproportionate number of the nation’s theological treasures. That’s because these institutions commonly date to the 18th and 19th centuries, when they ranked among the top collectors of books and filled shelves with theological writings of the day.

Librarians at private libraries note that books published more than 150 years ago have at least one advantage against the elements: they’re printed on fabric-based paper, which is more durable than today’s paper made from wood.

Suarez adds that libraries can preserve most old books by taking simple, money-saving steps, such as keeping heat turned down in book stacks and avoiding exposure to direct sunlight.

Today, librarians disagree about the urgency of preservation efforts. James, from the New York library, sees no great rush to raise funds to save religious texts, in part because they’re not frequently read, and they’re not central to her institution’s mission.

“A lot of the really old ones (in our collection) have been digitized,” James said. “They’re out of copyright, so it’s just a matter of finding a copy and digitizing it.”

Yet Suarez cautioned that what gets digitized might not be the best available copy of a book. He adds that books convey more meaning than mere words on a page: how they’re packaged and marked up by readers long ago also add to a reader’s understanding.

Another issue: will digital books forever be accessible? Maybe not, some say.

“Archives and libraries are full of things that you can’t get a reader for anymore, such as old cassettes and old film,” said Jean Marie Procious, director of the Salem Athenaeum. “You might have it there but you can’t access it. That is always a concern with digitizing ... Whereas with a book, you’re always going to be able to read it.”
6/25/2010 2:14:00 AM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Four in 10 Americans see Jesus’ return by 2050

June 25 2010 by Ankita Rao, Religion News Service

Four in 10 Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to earth by 2050, while a slightly larger portion (46 percent) don’t believe they’ll see a Second Coming by mid-century, according to a new survey.

As part of Smithsonian Magazine’s 40th anniversary issue, 1,546 adults were asked to guess the forecast of war, energy, science and religion in the next 40 years for a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press.

Evangelicals were most likely (58 percent) to predict a Second Coming, followed by 32 percent of Catholics, and 27 percent of mainline Protestants.

Fifty-two percent of people living in the South, and 59 percent of people without a college degree, expected a Christ comeback more readily than their counterparts, according to the survey.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
6/25/2010 2:13:00 AM by Ankita Rao, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Study: Devout less stressed than non-believers

June 25 2010 by Leanne Larmondin, Religion News Service

TORONTO — Religion may provide a “buffer” allowing the devout to feel less anxiety when they make mistakes, compared with non-believers, according to new scientific research.

Researchers at the University of Toronto measured “error-related negativity” — people’s defensive response to errors — and compared it to religious belief.

Their findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.

In the experiments, participants had electrodes measuring their brain activity as they performed cognitive tests.

One test of 40 students involved making a grammatically-correct sentence out of jumbled words; some of the sentences contained words with religious connotations, like “sacred” or “divine.”

Another experiment required participants to identify the color of words that flashed on a screen. Some words were depicted in their correct color while others were not. They were then asked to quantify their belief in God on a scale of zero to seven.

The study found that those who were religious or claimed belief in God “showed low levels of distress-related neural activity” when they learned of their test errors, compared with nonbelievers.

By contrast, atheists demonstrated a “heightened neural response” and reacted more defensively when they learned of their errors, wrote the study’s lead author, Michael Inzlicht, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

Inzlicht and co-author Alexa Tullett added, “Thinking about one’s religion, consciously or otherwise, acts as a bulwark against defensive reactions to errors; it muffles the cortical alarm bell.”

The authors note that many “varieties of belief” — not just religion — can produce a similar calming dynamic as long as it provides “meaning and structure” to one’s life.

“If thinking about religion leads people to react to their errors with less distress and defensiveness ... in the long run, this effect may translate to religious people living their lives with greater equanimity than nonreligious people, being better able to cope with the pressures of living in a sometimes-hostile world.”  
6/25/2010 2:12:00 AM by Leanne Larmondin, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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