June 2012

‘Tension exists’ because of military gay policy

June 8 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The military’s revised policy on homosexuality has definitely produced stress for chaplains and service members, Southern Baptists’ lead chaplain told a Washington, D.C., audience.
An increasing intolerance toward religion appears to be a by-product of the ongoing controversy over religious expression in the armed services, said Douglas Carver, executive director of chaplaincy services for the North American Mission Board.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the American Religious Freedom Program, Carver addressed the effect on freedom of religion and conscience brought about by the lifting of the ban on open homosexuality in the military.

“I can assure you that a tension exists in this area,” Carver told participants. “For example, the Department of Defense no longer considers homosexuality a moral issue. [To the department,] it is an amoral issue. To them, it’s a concern of human dignity, respect, discipline and professionalism. However, a number of our chaplains and troops believe that homosexuality is a moral issue.”

The policy change has increased tensions, he said, regarding:

– “[G]overnmental authority versus religious authority and sacred scriptures.

– “[R]eligious diversity and religious practices.”

One of the results, Carver said, has been “a confusion, especially among some of our commanders, over religious freedom protocol.”

He added, “There is a growing concern over political correctness and how it may inhibit freedom of religious expression, especially while in uniform.

Douglas Carver is the executive director of chaplaincy services for the North American Mission Board.

“Due to the negative press on religious issues, there appears to be a growing intolerance to even discussing religion at all – an intolerance to religion,” said Carver, who retired in September as the Army Chief of Chaplains after 38 years in the service. “And perhaps that is one of the greatest threats that we are all facing – intolerance to religion which can lead to the absence of religion in the public market place, which can lead to silencing our voices about religious issues, which can lead to prejudice and violence, etcetera.”

That intolerance, or inhibition of religious free exercise, has manifested itself in several ways. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, cited some examples at the conference:

– Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, briefed special forces soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after President Obama announced his intention in 2010 to repeal the military ban, which was known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Based on what was shared by witnesses, Crews said, a young chaplain asked Mullen, “Sir, if this policy is repealed, will those of us who hold biblical views that homosexuality is a sin still be protected to express those views?” Mullen pointed a finger toward him and said, “Chaplain, if you cannot get in line with this policy, resign your commission.”

– Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, provided a September 2010 briefing on DADT for troops at European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. According to The Washington Times, Bostick said, “Unfortunately, we have a minority of service members who are still racists and bigoted and you will never be able to get rid of all of them. But these people opposing this new policy will need to get with the program, and if they can’t they need to get out.”

Those comments from Mullen and Bostick formed a “chilling effect” on the religious liberty of chaplains and troops, said Crews, who served 28 years as an Army chaplain.

Shortly after Congress and President Obama enacted repeal of DADT in December 2010, the president announced his administration would no longer defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman in federal law. In September 2011, the Pentagon announced same-sex ceremonies could be conducted on armed services bases by military chaplains.

Service members who have come out as homosexuals since DADT’s reversal often are quoted in news stories, but those who hold views opposed to the repeal are not permitted to speak to reporters, Crews said.

Members of Congress have reminded the Pentagon that DOMA still is federal law, and they have sought to provide protections for the religious freedom of chaplains and troops without success.

An Army chaplain conducted the first same-sex ceremony on a military base in May at Fort Polk in Louisiana, CNS News reported June 6. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Louisiana. An Army official said the ceremony for two lesbian soldiers was a religious, not a legal, ceremony, according to the Associated Press.

“[T]he issue of religious liberties, rights of conscience for chaplains and those they serve is real,” Crews told the audience at the May 24 conference.

“[W]e must not allow political correctness or a particular political agenda to put restrictions on their conscience, because ... no American – especially those who wear the uniform – should be denied their religious convictions as they serve to protect your religious freedom.”

The Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington-based organization that seeks to apply Judeo-Christian values to policy issues, started the American Religious Freedom Program last year for the purpose of helping strengthen religious liberty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/8/2012 1:04:49 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Olympics provide Baptists unique ministry opportunity

June 8 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

LONDON – At times, when Doug Shaw stands on the hill just outside Olympic Park in London, he can barely hear himself think.
Construction buzzes and roars in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games, which start July 27. The work’s been going strong for years.

Shaw can relate. He hasn’t stopped in ages either.

As Olympics volunteer coordinator for Southern Baptists, he’s been in motion for months preparing Baptists to meet the tens of thousands of internationals coming to the United Kingdom this summer.

“We are praying that many people from all over the world who may not have an opportunity to hear or respond to the gospel without being persecuted by their neighbors might have that opportunity while they’re here in London,” Shaw said.

David Pile said he has the same hope.

“I and others are hopeful that there will be lots of local events and lots of community engagement and we’ll be able to share and shine the love of Jesus with a bunch of people that we otherwise wouldn’t have come in contact with,” said Pile, Olympic and Paralympic Church Engagement Coordinator for the London Baptist Association.

David Pile, left, of the London Baptist Association and Doug Shaw of the International Mission Board chat over a diagram of the Olympic Park in London’s Stratford area. Pile and Shaw have been working for months on strategy and volunteer coordination for ministry during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Shaw is expecting the help of about 400 Baptist volunteers from the States, and Pile is expecting the participation of hundreds of churches in England.

Volunteers will help with festivals, face painting, handing out water and a range of other things. Some will assist churches in hosting big-screen events in parks, and sports teams will help with basketball and baseball events in neighborhoods around local churches.

All of these efforts fall under the banner of More Than Gold, a joint effort of Christian churches of many denominations worldwide. More Than Gold helps Christians collaborate for ministry during major international sporting events such as the Olympics or the World Cup.

And its most famous ministry – pin trading – will be in full force during the 2012 games.

“Pin trading is the biggest of the unofficial Olympic sports,” Shaw said, noting that thousands participate in the hobby.

As part of More Than Gold, volunteers trade a More Than Gold pin that shares the gospel message, he said.

The pin is a good conversation piece and helps start gospel conversations in the area surrounding the Olympic Park, where blatant evangelism is not allowed, Shaw said.

“During the Olympics, you won’t be able to do literature distribution or any kind of obvious evangelism within a mile of any of the venues in London or anywhere else in the UK. These areas are closed off to direct evangelism,” he said.

But pin trading is a traditional part of the Olympics atmosphere and, Shaw said, “There’s nothing wrong with talking with people.”

Pile said many local Baptists are also participating with a “big silent Christian witness” during the Games, serving as official Olympic volunteers, or Games Makers. These volunteers serve as chaplains, drivers and part of the field setup crew and in a range of other roles.

“They would have had to apply two or three years ago for these kinds of roles, but they will put them in direct contact with athletes and other people involved in the Games,” Pile said.

A number of Christian families in the UK also participate in another of More Than Gold’s major ministries — the athlete homestay program, Shaw said.

“More Than Gold is the official Olympic manager of the program. It allows athletes’ families to have a place to come and stay during the Olympics,” he said.

Many athletes don’t find out until the last minute that they have qualified for the games, Shaw explained, and “many families come from places where a week in London would be prohibitively expensive even in normal times.”

Many of the relationships built between host and visiting families lasts well beyond the Olympics, he said.

Shaw asks for Christians to pray that volunteers at the Olympics would be able to “share Christ effectively and in a meaningful way – a low-key way would be the best way to start. Pray also that volunteers coming here will have wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.”

And Pile agreed, asking for prayer that “we would be able to further engage with our local communities not just this year but in years to come because of our efforts this year.”

He expressed a big thanks to Baptists in the States for their long history of help during the Olympics.

“We would like to thank you for sending missions teams to work alongside us … to make the most of this exciting opportunity,” Pile said. “People have saved up money, taken time off work, come over here, with prayer support from their home church and have supported us in our historic moment so that the glory of Jesus can be shared with as many people as possible.”

For hopeful volunteers late getting on the bandwagon, opportunities to serve in the UK are still available, but they “will come at a premium” for anyone who isn’t local, Shaw said. He noted that most mid-range hotels in the London area are fully booked.

He and Pile are asking for prayer more than anything, and for potential volunteers to consider planning to serve at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s not too early. Abel Santos, a Brazilian Baptist, is spending this year in England with More Than Gold to learn how the ministry works and take it back to Brazil for three back-to-back events – the Confederations Cup in 2013, the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

“We encourage everyone to be thinking about Brazil. It would be great to have people coming in from the States to help us with missions teams and sports events,” Santos said. “If there is anyone in the States who feels a calling to come to South America to help us, that would be great.”

For more information on Olympic ministries, prayer requests and opportunities for service at the 2012 games, visit morethangold.org.uk.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)
6/8/2012 12:57:01 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

House GOP moves to act on religion in vets’ funerals

June 8 2012 by Chris Lisee, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – Families of deceased veterans were shocked and angry last year when religious references were banned from funeral rituals and a Memorial Day service at Houston National Cemetery.
A lawsuit eventually resolved the matter, but a House bill would enshrine in law the lessons learned from that isolated incident.
Such protections already exist as a result of the lawsuit and Bush-era policies that protect families’ free exercise of religion at military funerals. However, the bill filed by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, would spell out families’ rights to religious expression while curtailing the government’s role.
Veteran funeral services are held at no cost to families and are offered in any of 131 national cemeteries maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veteran service organizations often attend at the request of families to perform memorial rites.
Under current law, honor guards are prohibited from participating in religious rituals except as requested by families. Problems arose in Houston when the cemetery director misinterpreted this law to prohibit all religious speech.
Though the Houston dispute was rectified, Culberson and the conservative Christian law firm Liberty Institute want an ironclad legal protection for grieving families.
“This was all about the government not being neutral, but being anti-religious, hostile,” Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford said.
Shackelford argued that VA policy, even with changes after the Houston lawsuit, is not sufficient to guarantee free religious expression. Rather, a statute is required to clarify the law for cemetery directors nationwide. “Constitutional claims are a very complicated area of law. The statute says real clear: here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do,” he said.
Lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing on June 6, however, questioned the need for new laws when there are no reported problems at other national cemeteries.
“Here’s my concern: the (proposed) law as written would allow people that don’t have a good understanding of the family to force prayers or something that the family finds offensive,” Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., said during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.
Meanwhile, Rep. Timothy J. Walz, D-Minn., emphasized the need to balance the competing interests of a family’s First Amendment rights and the government’s role in ceremonies.
“I want to be very careful that we strike that perfect balance” between the First Amendment’s ban on established religion and its protection of free exercise of religion, Walz cautioned. He said the most important issue is ensuring that families can determine the religious content of a service.
Shackelford, however, said the problem isn’t about the government’s role in religion.
“It’s all about the family’s religious freedom, and if they want to have a burial ritual that mentions God, they have the right to do that,” he said.
The bill, H.R. 2720, has one Republican co-sponsor.
6/8/2012 12:52:03 PM by Chris Lisee, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Julian Pentecost, retired Va. editor, dies

June 7 2012 by Baptist Press, Religious Herald

RICHMOND, Va. – Julian H. Pentecost, retired editor of the Religious Herald, a Baptist newspaper based in Richmond, Va., died May 31. He was 88.
Pentecost, as editor of the Herald in the 1980s – a decade of theological conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – acquired a reputation as a fierce defender of freedom to interpret scripture during a time when SBC conservatives were narrowing the range of accepted theological viewpoints.

Julian H. Pentecost was a retired editor of the Religious Herald.

He became editor of the Herald in 1970, retiring in 1992.

Born in Lawrenceville, Va., in 1924, Pentecost grew up at Lawrenceville Baptist Church, entering the University of Richmond in 1942 as a ministerial student. After graduation he began studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he met and married Mary Holbrook.

He earned both master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Seminary and became pastor of Buena Vista (Va.) Baptist Church – the first in a string of Virginia pastorates that included West End Baptist Church in Suffolk (1953-57), First Baptist Church in Waynesboro (1957-66) and Grace Baptist Church in Richmond (1966-70).

Pentecost was active in denominational life for most of his career, serving as president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia in 1968 and as a trustee of the University of Richmond, Virginia Baptist Homes, the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, Southern Seminary and both the Home (now North American) and Foreign (now International) mission boards.

He was a former president of the Southern Baptist Press Association and was a founding director of Associated Baptist Press.

At the time of his death, he was a member of River Road Church, Baptist, in Richmond.

Pentecost’s wife Mary preceded him in death earlier this year. He is survived by a son, Julian Pentecost Jr.; two daughters, Anne Considine and Nancy Siska; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

His funeral was June 4 at River Road Church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the staff of the Religious Herald, newsjournal for Baptists in the Mid-Atlantic.)
6/7/2012 1:55:25 PM by Baptist Press, Religious Herald | with 0 comments

Wash. marriage groups turn in record signatures

June 7 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington state coalition of traditional groups turned in more than 240,000 signatures June 6 in an effort to overturn the state’s gay marriage law, a number that is double the number required and one that all but guarantees that the state’s voters will decide the issue this fall.
The coalition, Protect Marriage Washington, said the number of signatures was a state record.

The Washington secretary of state’s office still must make sure the coalition turned in the 120,577 valid signatures that are required. That, though, appears to be a mere formality.

“We should not redefine marriage simply because of the radical agenda of a small but powerful special interest group, and doing so will mean consequences to society,” Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, said. “Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is profoundly in the common good. It brings men and women together and connects them to any children born of their union. Marriage helps give kids a mother and a father, and that’s worth fighting to preserve.”

Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, carries some of the 240,000 signatures into the secretary of state’s office in Olympia, Wash., Wednesday. It was double what was needed to qualify a referendum that would reverse a gay marriage law.

Signed by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in February, the gay marriage law has yet to take effect, and it will be put on hold at least until voters have their say in November. Washington state already has a domestic partnerships law that grants same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.

The initiative is known as Referendum 74. Supporters and opponents no doubt will spend the coming months explaining what a “yes” and “no” vote will do. A “yes” vote on the referendum would uphold the gay marriage law, while a “no” vote would overturn it.

Backholm told Baptist Press that the law will be rejected if churches get involved.

“I am confident that if the church stops acting out of fear, we will win this walking away,” Backholm said. “The narrative from the other side has been that you prove you’re a good and decent person by supporting same-sex marriage. There are a lot of people in churches who know what’s right, and their theology is correct, but they feel a tremendous amount of pressure not to do anything about it. Even if privately they’re going to vote the right way, they’re certainly not sharing that with their friends. That’s just fear.

Pastors must speak up for “what is right,” Backholm added.

“Because when pastors say nothing about this subject, the message that is communicated to their congregation is that this is something that God doesn’t really care about. And that’s a problem,” Backholm said. “They don’t have to talk about it every Sunday, but they need to make sure their congregation understands that this is on the list of things that God does care about. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as believers to use the influence He has given us in this debate in a way that honors Him.”

Washington is one of four states scheduled to vote on the definition of marriage this fall. Maryland and Maine also will be voting on whether to legalize gay marriage, while Minnesota citizens will decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gay marriage is legal in six states. But in every state where it has appeared on the ballot – 32 in all – it has lost.

The Protect Marriage Washington coalition includes the Family Policy Institute of Washington, the Washington Catholic Conference and the National Organization for Marriage.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. For information about Referendum 74, visit http://preservemarriagewashington.com.)
6/7/2012 1:41:29 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Egypt, Christian sentences cloud election

June 7 2012 by Baptist Press/Compass Direct News

CAIRO, Egypt – An Egyptian judge has sentenced 12 Coptic Christians to life in prison for their alleged part in a riot that left two Muslims and one Christian dead in the village of Abu-Qurgas. Eight Muslims charged with the same crimes in the same riot were acquitted.

In the lead-up to Egypt’s first presidential election, the ruling has added to fears that justice will continue to elude the country’s Christian minority. A second, lesser-known ruling, however, may be a cause for hope.

The life sentences against the 12 Coptic defendants, on May 21, shocked even Copts accustomed to one-sided legal judgments.

The ruling came against the backdrop of what is being touted as Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. After the first round of voting May 23-24, unofficial results show the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in the lead, with former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq close behind.

Mursi and Shafiq will face each other in a June 16-17 run-off.

The riot in Abu-Qurgas occurred on April 18 of last year. A wealthy Coptic Christian lawyer, Alaa’ Rushdy, had placed a speed bump in front of his home, and a minibus driver angered by it got into an altercation with security guards at Rushdy’s home.

Many of the particulars about the ensuing riot cannot be confirmed, but multiple Egyptian news outlets reported that guards at Rushdy’s home or others at his house armed themselves at the sight of a gathering Muslim throng and began shooting in order to prevent an attack on their village. The reports agreed that Muslims then swept over Abu-Qugas, leaving dozens of Coptic homes and businesses in ashes.

There were no reports of any damage to Muslim-owned homes. Two Muslim men and one elderly Christian woman were killed.

Another 20 men – 12 Christians and eight Muslims – were arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including murder, disturbing the peace, inciting “sectarian strife,” arson and possession of unlicensed firearms. All the Coptic Christian defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, while none of the Muslim defendants was convicted.

Athanasious Williams, a Coptic Christian human rights lawyer and a leader in the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said the trial was unjust but there is “a history of unfair trials against the Christians when Muslims attack them.”

Glimmer of hope
Meanwhile, a rare verdict in the case of a Muslim who killed a Christian held out a ray of hope for Copts. On May 14 an Egyptian court led by Chancellor Mahmoud Salama upheld a death sentence against Amir Ashour Abd al Zaher, a police officer who, in 2011, boarded a train, attacked a group of Christians and shot one dead.

Samia Sidhom, managing editor of Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the ruling went against “an unwritten rule” that judges cannot give the death penalty to a Muslim who kills a Christian.

“It is very rare. For many of us, the ruling came as a good surprise,” she said. “Most of us expected he would be declared mentally deranged.”

The attack occurred on the afternoon of Jan. 11, 2011, when Al Zaher, 29, a police officer posted in the province of Minya, boarded train number 979, began shouting “God is great” and opened fire on six Coptic Christians with a service pistol, according to witnesses.

Al Zaher killed Fathy Mousaad, in his 70s, with a shot to the chest. He turned the pistol on five others, wounding Mousaad’s wife, Emily Hanna Tadaly, 61; Sabah Shenoda Soliman, 52; Marian Nabil Zaki, 25; Magy Nabil Zaki, 26; and Ehab Ashraf Kamal, 30. The survivors were taken to the Christian-operated Al Ray Al Saleh Hospital, treated and released. All those shot were Copts.

In court, Al Zaher claimed that he wanted to sit in an empty seat next to Mousaad’s daughter, and when Mousaad refused to let him, the two got into an argument ending with the Muslim pulling out his pistol and opening fire. Al Zaher’s defense also made some effort to portray him as being mentally ill, with his wife testifying to support the claim.

On March 12 a judge in Upper Egypt sentenced Al Zaher to death, a sentence that had to be approved by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, a state appointed Muslim leader. No execution date has been set.

Regardless of who wins the Egyptian presidential election, Williams, the human rights attorney, said he is “expecting the worst in all cases.”

Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. Shafik, the former prime minister, is an independent candidate who at one time was a member of the Mubarak administration.

“If the Islamists take over, we will be like Iran, and they will enforce sharia law, and there will be no freedom of religion,” Williams said. “There will be no freedoms of any kind. There will be no freedom in art, opinion or anything.

“If Shafik takes over, it will be the same way it was before.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Compass Direct News, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.)
6/7/2012 1:33:31 PM by Baptist Press/Compass Direct News | with 0 comments

Religious liberty advocates debate ‘unprecedented threats’ in U.S.

June 6 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Are the current threats to religious liberty in the United States unprecedented?
Religious freedom advocates disagreed at a recent Washington, D.C., conference, but at least one asserted there is something new and different about the menace to a right protected in the First Amendment.

The debate came during a day-long event sponsored by a new program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a Washington-based organization that seeks to apply Judeo-Christian values to policy issues. The American Religious Freedom Program, established last year by the EPPC, instituted the conference as part of its effort to help strengthen religious liberty.

In a panel discussion about “unprecedented threats” to religious liberty, Richard Land agreed with the session’s premise.

“When we hear the word ‘unprecedented,’ I can think of no other time in the history of the United States when the Justice Department of the United States would go before the Supreme Court of the United States and make an argument – as it did in the Tabor case – that there are no particular and special protections for religion in the First Amendment and that churches and religiously affiliated organizations have no more protections under the First Amendment than a country club,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The Obama administration lost that argument in a 9-0 opinion in January, when the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with a church’s ministerial hiring practices. The decision came in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Tabor case represents one of three types of threats to religious freedom – threats that “are growing in number and intensity and severity,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Tabor is part of the threat to the freedom of religious groups to choose their leaders, she told conference participants. The other two threats, Smith said, are:

– The Obama administration’s mandate – with an inadequate religious exemption – that health insurance plans must cover contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions, and sterilizations as preventive services.

– Violations of the conscience rights of religious individuals, including pharmacists who oppose dispensing abortion-inducing drugs, photographers who decline to photograph same-sex weddings and nurses who refuse to help with late-term abortions.

Nathan Diament and William Galston contended the current threats are not unprecedented. “[T]hat is not meant to comfort you,” Diament said.

Diament, executive director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, pointed to a 1990 Supreme Court ruling as evidence for his argument. The high court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith eradicated long-standing protections for religious free exercise that required government to have a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to abridge the right.

What about the federal government’s treatment of Mormons in the 19th century or attempts in the early 20th Century to ban parochial schools?, asked Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Gerard Bradley, law professor at Notre Dame University, told the audience, “[T]he real question is: ‘In what way or ways is the threat today different and more serious than other threats?’”

There have been threats to religious liberty that have been as egregious, but “they’re old,” Bradley said. “Now we’re talking about something that’s happening 50 years into the institutionalization in American law and culture of a kind of religious pluralism. And we live in an era of much different ideas about religious freedom and the scope of the term religion. So it is uncharacteristic, unusual, anomalous, maybe not unprecedented, for this kind of thing to happen now.”

The contraceptive/abortion mandate and other initiatives by the Obama administration reflect two recent judgments on religious freedom, Bradley said:

– Dissent on an “emerging orthodoxy” about contraception, same-sex marriage and when life begins “is being increasingly identified” with religion. “[I]t’s not reasonable to oppose contraception, but people do oppose contraception but they would be religious people. So that’s one thing in motion, a kind of marginalization of a certain set of viewpoints . . .”

– “[A] body of people with certain moral views about controversial issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception are being told by outsiders, ‘That’s your religion, whether you know it or not or whether you like to admit it or not, and your religion, your doctrine, the tenets of your religion, they’re not reasonable. Now you hold them and in some limited, strange sense they might be true, but they’re beyond rational defense. ... So religion and doctrine thereof is being squished into this space reserved for the beyond the rational.”

The contraceptive/abortion mandate “shows either a hostility to religious freedom or a complete ignorance of the First Amendment,” Land said. “It seems to me there are not any other alternatives.”

“I think I can make an argument that this extreme, secularist mind-set embodied in the [contraceptive/abortion] mandate violates not only the First Amendment’s free exercise clause but the establishment clause as well,” he told participants. “When the federal government asserts the right to universally mandate actions, trample religious convictions and then grant exemptions to those it so chooses, the government is behaving perilously like a secular theocracy granting ecclesiastical indulgences to a chosen few.

“Make no mistake about it,” Land said. “This is only incidentally about reproductive freedom. It’s about freedom of religious organizations to practice their faith.”

Baptist theologian Timothy George expressed concern at the May 24 conference that even Baptists, who have been known as champions of religious liberty, have experienced “a kind of amnesia about these roots of religious freedom.” He pointed to two developments in the last 100 years that he believes have resulted in this becoming an issue:

– “The reduction of Baptist identity to rugged individualism and the restriction of religious freedom to simply what’s good rather than the communitarian emphasis that was there certainly in the 17th Century when Baptists emphasized covenants, catechisms and confessions.”

– The issue of church-state separation “has become the subject of a great deal, I think, of misconstrual as to what it originally meant and what it might mean today. It has become, in fact, for many Baptists and others the severance of religion from public life. And now we are caught again in this misunderstanding of the most basic rudiments of our religious faith.”

George spoke on a panel of representatives from various religious traditions about working together to protect religious liberty for all. He urged the participants to maintain their “firmly held religious conviction” while defending religious freedom.

“[W]ithin our own religious conviction and tradition there is a common-core commitment that allows us to respect one another, to enter into dialogue with one another and to stand for one another when religious freedom is under assault. [It is] what I call an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation. That’s the way forward,” said George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

The EPPC’s American Religious Freedom Program plans to start caucuses for legislators in all 50 states to help protect religious freedom, said Brian Walsh, the program’s executive director.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes, make sacrifices, in order to make sure that we continue to make religious freedom something that we can pass on to future generations,” Walsh told Baptist Press. “We’ve been given it; we can’t squander it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/6/2012 3:21:37 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

1617 King James Bible acquired by New Orleans Seminary

June 6 2012 by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – In 2011, English speakers – and Christians in particular – celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James “Authorized Version” of the Bible.

The KJV, heralded both for its longstanding value as a translation of scripture and for its impact on the English language, was commissioned in 1604. Seven years later, in 1611, royal printer Robert Barker produced the first copies of the new English version of the Bible.

A second printing took place in 1613, with a third in 1617.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) acquired a copy of the King James Bible from that 1617 printing from a former Primitive Baptist minister and his family in Atwood, Tenn., in August 2011.

The past year of the Bible’s history is meaningful for the family and quite exciting for the seminary, which hopes to display it one day in a museum dedicated to Bible history and biblical archaeology.

But much of the story of this particular Bible remains somewhat of a mystery.

It was printed in Barker’s own London print shop. Due to high demand for the Bible, later printings were done at several London printers and bound at Barker’s shop. Judging from the Bible’s size – 15.5 inches tall by 11.5 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep – it was probably used as a lectern Bible or in some other ministry setting.

Little else is known about the Bible’s history for almost 250 years after its publication. In 1860, according to an inscription near the front, it was presented to Anne Early as “the gift of her beloved father,” Edward Early, on Oct. 24 of that year. No occasion is named for the gift. Members of the Early family lived both in England and the United States in the mid-1800s, so it’s possible the Bible had crossed the Atlantic by then.

Another century-long gap in the Bible’s story sits between the inscription and the 1970s when it reemerged in Atwood, Tenn. Samuel Thomas Tolley, a Primitive Baptist minister, bought another Primitive Baptist pastor’s library, which included the 1617 King James Bible.

“[The previous owner] had been collecting Baptist literature for years and years,” said Mike Tolley, Samuel Tolley’s son. “He was getting old, and my dad bought his whole library. We don’t know what he gave for it.”

Photo by Boyd Guy

A historic copy of the King James Version of the Bible printed in 1617, shown here open to the Gospel of Luke, has been acquired by New Orleans Seminary.

Neither Mike Tolley nor his sister remembers the previous owner’s name or where he acquired the Bible. The 1617 King James Bible, he said, became a treasured part of his father’s library.

During his 50-plus years in ministry among Primitive Baptists, Samuel Tolley published a Baptist newspaper and worked toward building a historical library for Primitive Baptists. His personal collection, besides the 1617 King James Bible, included scores of Primitive Baptist books, records and other documents.

“He devoted his whole life to publishing his newspaper and building his library,” Mike Tolley said.

In the 1990s, Samuel Tolley began to sell his personal library, Mike Tolley said, in hopes that it would benefit Baptists for generations to come.

“It all wound up in the [Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives] in Nashville,” Mike Tolley said. “They got just about everything from Dad’s library.”

Everything, that is, except the 1617 King James Bible, which Samuel Tolley had promised to give to his son and daughter, Ellen Lovett. The Bible passed to Mike Tolley and his sister about five years ago when Samuel Tolley developed Alzheimer’s disease and retired from the pastorate.

By the spring of 2011, Mike Tolley and Lovett decided to sell the Bible, not just to raise extra funds but also to allow other Christians to study and learn from it.

And that’s where New Orleans Seminary comes into the story.

Around May 2011, Mike Tolley offered to show the Bible to his interim pastor, Joey Gowan, a former NOBTS student. Gowan said when he saw the Bible and learned that Tolley and Lovett were interested in selling it, he knew just who to contact.

“At that very moment, Dr. Harsch’s name came to mind,” Gowan said, referring to church history professor Lloyd Harsch. “I went home and emailed Dr. Harsch right away.”

Harsch recalls that email well.

“He said, ‘I had you for Baptist Heritage in 2007, and I remember you talking about all the great books we have in our library. I’m an interim pastor here in Atwood, Tenn., and there’s a member of our church who has some old books, including a third edition of the King James Bible,” Harsch recounted.

Within weeks, Harsch was in touch with Gowan, then Tolley. He received permission in the summer to negotiate a purchase price. In August 2011, the seminary formally acquired the Bible and arranged for it to be stored at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville. The Bible was brought back to New Orleans the following month.

The seminary was able to purchase the book thanks to a private donation from Tom Messer Jr. and his wife Carol. Messer’s parents, Mary Wheeler Messer and the late Thomas Messer Sr., both NOBTS graduates, have been longtime seminary donors.

Tolley said he was extremely pleased for the Bible to go to New Orleans Seminary.

“I didn’t want it to be in a private collection,” he said. “I wanted it to be in a historical place. For my dad’s memory, I’d rather it be in a library where people will have access to it and learn from it, and not in a private collection.”

Harsch said, “We’re really grateful to Mike and Ellen and their willingness to make this available to us. It’s a great addition to our library for research, particularly with the H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies. It greatly enhances the ability of our students to do research and understand how God has provided the Bible for us.”

Gowan, the interim pastor, said he is thrilled to be a part of the Bible’s history now.

“I’m a history nut, and flipping through it was like history coming alive,” Gowan said. “That’s a rich history and legacy, and I was happy to be a part of this.”

The 1617 King James Bible at New Orleans Seminary currently is in the rare books collection at the John T. Christian Library along with other rare books and Bibles. Harsch said he and other seminary officials hope to develop an on-campus museum for the Bible and other rare items in the future.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
6/6/2012 3:10:56 PM by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Obama issues Gay Pride month proclamation

June 6 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON ­– For the fourth straight year, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing June as Gay Pride month, saying “more remains to be done” in advancing gay issues and for the first time acknowledging his support for gay marriage within a proclamation.
President Clinton was the first president to issue a Gay Pride Month proclamation, a practice that was halted under President Bush and then continued under Obama. Obama was the first president to add “transgender” to the proclamation and to call it “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.”

Obama’s latest proclamation lists his achievements for the gay community, such as signing a repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and also signing a hate crimes bill that encompasses “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

“And because we must treat others the way we want to be treated, I personally believe in marriage equality for same-sex couples,” Obama’s proclamation reads, using Golden Rule imagery that no doubt will upset traditional Christians. “More remains to be done to ensure every single American is treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Moving forward, my Administration will continue its work to advance the rights of LGBT Americans. This month, as we reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go, let us recall that the progress we have made is built on the words and deeds of ordinary Americans.”

Transgender is a category that includes cross-dressers and people undergoing sex-change operations. Gender identity is a term that refers to men and women who believe they were born the wrong sex. In some state legislatures and city governments, debates over gender identity have led to heated discussions about whether men should be able to use women’s restrooms, and vice versa. Gay rights supporters answer affirmatively.

The proclamation concludes, “Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama ... do hereby proclaim June 2012 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.”

Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and the representative of the denomination’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, said Obama is wrong in asserting that opposition to homosexuality equals prejudice.

“President Obama again casts all those who have a genuine, biblically based belief that homosexual acts are sin as haters,” Stith told Baptist Press. “It is not prejudicial to say that certain acts which have been viewed as sin for over 3,000 years by all three major religions are still sin.

“The president calls for freedom, fairness and full equality under the law and eliminating prejudice everywhere it exists. This would be much more believable if he extended that concern to those who seek to leave homosexuality,” Stith added. “The task of helping those who do not want to live homosexually grows more difficult each time this kind of proclamation comes out.”

The fact that Obama is framing the legalization of gay marriage as one of ridding the country of prejudice does not bode well for traditional Christians, Stith said.

“The words the president uses in his drive to normalize homosexuality clearly portray any who disagree with him as prejudiced bigots. Those who agree are loving and brave,” Stith said. “The danger here is that those who dare to seek to protect the definition of marriage which has stood unchallenged for thousands of years are themselves the victims of prejudice and hate. Unfortunately, this proclamation shows no interest in preventing this kind of bigotry. Rather it is another example that if something is repeated often enough it will be accepted as truth even if the evidence doesn’t support it.”

The week Obama announced his support for gay marriage, his campaign released a web video showing presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney stating his support for the traditional definition of marriage. The title of the video: “Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
6/6/2012 3:07:23 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage case may go to Supreme Court?

June 6 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO – The question of whether states can – under the U.S. Constitution – define marriage as between a man and a woman could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeals court declined to hear the widely followed Proposition 8 case.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined June 5 to re-consider the Prop 8 case, meaning that if the Supreme Court does not take up the case and if a ruling by a three-judge panel stands, then gay marriage will become legal in California.

But if the Supreme Court does take up the case, then the larger constitutional question – can states define marriage as between a man and a woman? – could come before the court. That means the case would impact not only California but all 40-plus states that currently don’t recognize gay marriage, including the 30 with constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

If the Supreme Court does take the case, then oral arguments in the “Roe v. Wade of gay marriage,” as some have called the Prop 8 lawsuit, could be heard as early as this fall. Another gay marriage case, this one concerning the Defense of Marriage Act, also could be heard this fall. That one would answer a different question: Can the federal government decline to recognize the gay marriages from a given state?

Prop 8 is a constitutional amendment approved by California voters in 2008 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. It was overturned in 2010 by a federal judge, and in February of this year a panel of the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the judge’s ruling. That decision was then appealed to the larger Ninth Circuit.

Supporters of Prop 8 made clear they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court has made it perfectly clear that marriage is constitutional as a matter of state public policy,” Charles J. Cooper, an attorney with the team defending Prop 8, said. “We’re pleased to petition the Court to hear this case. The lower court opinions were little more than an attack on the character and judgment of millions of Californians, and those decisions essentially ignored all relevant Supreme Court and appellate court precedent. We are hopeful and confident that the Supreme Court will review the 9th Circuit’s decision.”

Prop 8 supporters took heart in a dissent signed by three judges, who said the court had “silenced ... respectful conversation” on the subject of marriage. The judges took issue with how the Ninth Circuit panel in February interpreted a 1996 case, Romer v. Evans. In Romer, the Supreme Court reversed a Colorado constitutional amendment that prohibited laws protecting homosexuality.

“Based on a two-judge majority’s gross misapplication of Romer v. Evans ... we have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign State to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia,” the dissenting judges asserted.

Animus is a legal term meaning “prejudice.”

“Even worse,” the dissenting justices said, “we have overruled the will of seven million California Proposition 8 voters based on a reading of Romer that would be unrecognizable to the Justices who joined it, to those who dissented from it and to the judges from sister circuits who have since interpreted it. We should not have so roundly trumped California’s democratic process without at least discussing this unparalleled decision as an en banc court.”

The dissenting justices were Diarmuid Fionntain O’Scannlain – a nominee of President Reagan – and Jay Bybee and Carlos Bea, each nominated by President George W. Bush.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
6/6/2012 3:01:07 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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