March 2011

She shares Christ by teaching reading, writing

March 9 2011 by Mickey Noah, NAMB Communications

SNELLVILLE, Ga. (BP) — Yearly, thousands of immigrants come to the Atlanta metro area fleeing poverty, famine, disease, civil war, persecution and even death. If Paulette DeHart has her way, they’ll learn English and meet Jesus Christ, not always in that order.

DeHart is a jointly funded North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) missionary and has served as the Georgia state convention’s literacy missions consultant since 2003.

“What’s so neat is that so many people come to the United States to improve their financial lot in life, but as one student said, they find the greatest treasure of all, the Lord Jesus Christ,” DeHart said.

Photo by John Swain

NAMB missionary Paulette DeHart also is a literacy missions consultant for the Georgia Baptist Convention. She is one of only two missionaries whose primary ministry focuses on literacy. Here, she teaches English reading and writing to Solodad Andrade, a native of Colombia, Ming Yang from China, and Ricardo Oriole from Haiti. See video.

DeHart and her husband Greg are two of more than 5,000 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

As a Pleasanton, Calif., native who earned her B.A. degree in urban planning at California State University, literacy and teaching English to immigrants were not on DeHart’s radar screen earlier in her life. She accepted Christ at 21 and prior to becoming a NAMB missionary worked as a personal financial analyst. How she got into literacy and teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) could only be attributed to God.

Having moved to Snellville, Ga., east of Atlanta where her husband worked for BellSouth, Paulette was preparing to teach her children’s Sunday School class lesson one Sunday morning. On her way to class, she met a Hispanic man, whom she welcomed in Spanish. During their brief conversation, the man asked DeHart if she knew of any English classes nearby.

“I found out there was nothing within 13 miles and soon sensed that the Lord wanted me to offer this kind of ministry,” she recounted. Two years of indecision passed, but DeHart still sensed that God was calling her to teach English as a ministry.

Finally accepting God’s call, DeHart initially believed she would have to return to college for a degree in teaching ESL. Not so.

“I stumbled across the Georgia Baptist Convention’s ‘English as a Second Language’ workshop,” said Paulette, who attended the 14-hour workshop held at an Atlanta area Southern Baptist church in 1991. The rest is history.

“We began a ministry at my church, Bethany Baptist in Snellville, that touched the lives of hundreds of people from dozens of different countries, including the Hispanic man whom the Lord used to plant the seed of this ministry in my heart,” she said.

When it comes to literacy ministry, DeHart said most Southern Baptists think only of ESL, which involves teaching foreign-born adults who want to learn conversational English. “That’s our strength in Georgia, but there are four other important tracks we also teach,” she said.

Those tracks are:
  • Adult Reading and Writing (ARW), which involves tutoring adults who are either illiterate, functioning non-readers, or those who are seeking to pass the GED test;
  • Tutoring Children and Youth (TCY), a ministry which tutors children and/or youth needing help with their schoolwork to enable them to succeed and remain in school until graduation;
  • “Alfalit” (ALF), a ministry that involves the teaching of illiterate Spanish-speaking persons how to read and write in Spanish so they can read the Bible in their heart language; and
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL), which involves teaching conversational English during short-term mission trips abroad.
DeHart said others seeking assistance from the ministry include advanced English speakers who may be working on dissertations in college but who still want to polish their pronunciation or understand some of the expressions or idioms that Americans use in everyday language but are strange to foreigners, such as “bouncing a check.”

Why should Southern Baptists be involved in the ministry of teaching English to immigrants?

“First, the opportunity is tremendous,” DeHart said. “The Lord is really bringing tremendous amounts of people to our shores, even with the economic downturn.

“The Lord has changed Christians’ hearts to have hearts of compassion, and we want to reach people,” DeHart said. “I love Henry Blackaby’s statement: ‘See what the Lord is doing and join Him.’ It’s an opportunity to be able to develop a relationship with an individual or a group through teaching English as a Second Language or the other literacy tracks and then share very naturally Jesus’ love for them.”

For DeHart’s dozens of students and the state of Georgia, the practical benefits of learning English are obvious.

Photo by John Swain

Week of Prayer missionaries Paulette and Greg DeHart live in Snellville, Ga., where Paulette serves as a North American Mission Board missionary and as a literacy missions consultant for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

“Adult literacy is a huge problem in Georgia and in the Southeast,” she said. “Most people think there aren’t any literacy problems in the U.S., but there are indeed people who graduate from high school who are still semi-literate, sometimes illiterate. The numbers are huge. And even for those with a ninth-grade education, just because they have a ninth-grade education doesn’t mean they can read and write on a ninth-grade level.

“Such people are not able to progress or be promoted on their jobs and can’t provide for their families. That leads to divorce and many other dysfunctions within the family. So the ramifications (of illiteracy) are many.”

What does the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering do for DeHart and her ministry?

“The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering has provided the finances for Southern Baptists to 1) have a national literacy missions missionary within the North American Mission Board, who developed invaluable training methods and manuals; and 2) enables Baptists to have a few literacy missionaries such as myself to encourage the growth of the ministry within Georgia and other states.

“We can’t let people fall through the cracks,” DeHart said. “Many of the people who come to us for adult reading and writing are Americans who have already received the Lord but they can’t read His Word. They are probably not going to grow in the Lord if they can’t read His Word. Sometimes they’re so embarrassed by the fact they can’t read, they dare not go to Sunday School fearing that they may be asked to read. So lack of literacy is keeping many of our own Americans from growing spiritually.”

Stressing she’s not the only Southern Baptist involved in literacy in Georgia, DeHart said there are almost 1,300 literacy volunteers throughout the state. Just in Georgia, more than 5,500 students from 88 countries are taught to read and write English each year by literacy ministry volunteers. And many more volunteers are needed.

“Some people may think they don’t have the ability to take part in this ministry,” DeHart said. “The majority of the people who teach English as a Second Language here in Georgia are not professional teachers, much less English teachers. They just need to be able to speak everyday English. It doesn’t take a degree at all — just a 14½-hour workshop that will equip you with all the tools you need to get started.”

DeHart and her now-retired husband Greg have two daughters, Jessica and Emily. The DeHarts are members of Westside Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga.

(EDITOR’S NOAH — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches is March 6-13 in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, go to  

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/9/2011 1:32:00 PM by Mickey Noah, NAMB Communications | with 0 comments

Border violence prompts decline in mission trips

March 9 2011 by John Hall, Associated Baptist Press

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ABP) — Violence between drug cartels in Mexican border towns has cut into the number of mission trips in the area. In some cases, it has led church groups, even those who have served in the area for years, to cancel trips to sites on the Texas side of the border as well.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas encourages groups who want to serve along the Texas-Mexico border to minister on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, said Daniel Rangel, director of Texas Baptists’ River Ministry.

A few teams have chosen to serve in Mexico. The BGCT requires those who want to minister there to spend their evenings on the Texas side of the border if they want the convention’s assistance in facilitating the groups’ efforts.

Despite the encouragement to serve in Texas, some areas in South Texas have seen a significant drop in the number of mission teams serving, and the overall number of mission teams through River Ministry has decreased since the Mexico border violence broke out.

In the past, River Ministry facilitated 50 El Paso mission teams in a typical year. Last year, it helped seven. The number of trips working through the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association has been cut in half to 25.

As a result of the border violence, a number of Mexico-based ministry agencies have partnered with Buckner International, increasing the number of mission groups Buckner expects to facilitate in 2011, said Jorge Zapata, director of Buckner International’s colonias program.

Congregations are choosing not to minister along the border as a result of the reports of violence in Mexico border towns, Rangel said. Although River Ministry, Buckner and Valley Baptist Missions Education Center have facilitated mission trips throughout the Texas side of the border without incident, some church members and leaders are hesitant to undertake mission work there.

Some churches try to put together teams, but find people aren’t willing to go to the border because of safety concerns, ministry leaders said. Some churches plan to do mission trips to the border, but volunteers to go on the trips never materialize.

“I think everybody has great intentions,” said Jamie Campbell, facilities manager at Valley Baptist Missions Education Center. “Their heart says we have served in the Valley or served along the border before, and they want to go again. They say let’s go ahead and plan like we’ve always done before. I think what’s happening is the mission teams aren’t stepping up.”

Many border mission teams traditionally have been made up of youth, and parents do not want to take a chance sending their children to the border. Texas border ministry leaders said they understand church members’ concerns, but they quickly note the Texas side of the border is as safe as any large Texas city — and probably more so. Texas Baptist ministries particularly are careful about the situations in which they place volunteers, attempting to place people where they can minister safely.

“As a parent, I understand the concern about sending your child down,” Campbell said.

“What they have to realize is none of us would put your children in a situation where there is any danger. We simply wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be responsible.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hall writes for Texas Baptist Communications.)

Helpful tips for border missions
Leaders of mission work along the Texas-Mexico border shared several helpful hints for volunteers who feel called to share the hope of Christ in the region through mission trips:
  • Work on the Texas side of the border. Although drug cartel violence has not ravaged the entire Mexico side of the border, organizations continue urging mission teams to work along the Texas side of the border where the physical and spiritual needs remain great, and the region is safe.
  • Partner with trusted organizations. There are a multitude of churches and ministry organizations along the Texas border. Choosing an organization that is known and trusted like those supported by Texas Baptists’ Cooperative Program giving — Texas Baptists’ River Ministry, Buckner International and Valley Baptist Missions Education Center — helps church groups know they will be well taken care of and put in a position where they can have a long-lasting impact for God’s kingdom.
  • Listen to local leaders and organizers and do as they say. Local residents and ministries know the area better than visitors coming into it. While the Texas border remains safe, it is always important to remain in areas organized have already scouted. It not only does it keep teams safe, but also enables them to work together better and accomplish the task at hand.
  • Consider staying at a Christian retreat center. There are several retreat centers along the Texas border designed to host mission teams. Many of them —like Valley Baptist Missions Education Center — can help connect mission teams with projects, provide three full meals each day to each trip participant and allow space for teams to debrief at the end of the day — all at prices drastically lower than what it would cost to stay at a hotel and eat at restaurants. And the money spent at these retreat centers is invested back into ministry and mission efforts.
  • Expect God to work before a trip, during the trip and after it. Missions leaders believe people along the border are more open to the gospel than they typically are because of the violence on the other side of the border. Organizers encourage team members to prepare themselves through prayer and studying the Bible before the trip, during the trip and long after the trip finishes. God will change the lives of people mission volunteers encounter along the border, mission leaders said. Lives of volunteers also may be changed.
(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/9/2011 1:27:00 PM by John Hall, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Drugs, murder loom on couple’s mission field

March 8 2011 by Mickey Noah, NAMB Communications

LAREDO, Texas (BP) — Among the hundreds of places North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting missionaries work and minister across the United States and Canada, none is more dangerous than Laredo in south Texas, where Chuy and Maria Avila live and serve.

Laredo — with a population of 300,000 in the city proper — sits on the north bank of the Rio Grande, right across the river from Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. The Laredo-Nuevo Laredo metro area has a combined population of more than 700,000 American and Mexican citizens. It’s a center for cold-blooded murder, drugs and chaos.

Nuevo Laredo to Laredo is a thoroughfare for an estimated $20 billion drug market operated by drug cartels between Mexico and the United States. With the drugs come unchecked violence and bloodshed. A recent local shootout between Mexican Federal Police officers and drug cartel members left a dozen dead and more than 20 wounded. It’s routine for Laredo citizens to hear gunfire echoing across the Rio Grande from the Nuevo Laredo side of the border.

Photo by James Gregg

North American Mission Board church planting missionary Chuy Avila and his wife Maria — along with pastor Lorenzo Luna — map out areas for outreach on the outskirts of Laredo, Texas. See video.

Chuy, 48, and Maria — jointly sponsored by NAMB and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — are two of 5,000-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

“Laredo is a dangerous place to minister,” Avila said. “I need prayers and support from my Christian brothers and sisters.”

Born into a Catholic family in Juarez, Mexico, Avila was only 5 years old when a missionary came to town to hold a tent revival.

“This is the way the gospel came to our family. My mom got saved, my father was saved and I got saved when I was 21 years old. The next year, I was called into the ministry,” Avila said.

Only 18 months ago, the Avilas were working and living in Tennessee, where he spent 11 years as a Hispanic church start strategist. “I knew nothing about Laredo at the time,” he said. “I was praying for a new challenge and a new vision, and the Lord put Laredo in my mind and in my heart.”

After visiting, the Avilas fell in love with the south Texas border town.

In Laredo, Avila’s strategy has been to go into neighborhoods — he calls them “colonias” — where there is no existing evangelistic work in place and where he feels a need to start something new, such as a Baptist church. He begins with block parties and Vacation Bible Schools, and every Laredo family that shows up at a block party receives a free Bible.

Avila has formed partnerships with local pastors and laypeople and established a missionary house — a house fully equipped to hold up to 30 people. As people spend a week there, they are hosted, taught and discipled by Avila. The missionary house doubles as a church on Sunday.

“There are only 53 evangelical churches in Laredo,” Avila said. “To reach just 25 percent of the population of 300,000, Laredo needs 278 new churches. We now have only 14 Baptist churches, averaging 50 people each. We need to start an additional 50 churches during the next five years just to keep up with Laredo’s population growth.”

Aside from the danger, Avila said, Laredo is a challenging place to minister.

“The average age of the population is only 30 to 35 years old,” he said. “And not only are the people young, 80 to 90 percent speak Spanish and 70 percent are bilingual. So Laredo is a city offering different kinds of situations than other U.S. cities.”

Photo by James Gregg

Chuy and Maria Avila, church planting missionaries for the North American Mission Board in Laredo, Texas, for the last 18 months, are two of 5,000 NAMB missionaries who serve in North America and Canada.

Avila’s vision is to impact Laredo with the gospel one family at a time, so he focuses on reaching entire families for Christ.

According to Avila, Baptists have been in Laredo for 135 years, but those efforts have only produced 14 Baptist churches. With his goal of 10 new churches a year — for a total of 50 new churches in five years — Avila will have started more churches in five years than past Baptists started in Laredo in the last 135.

“We want to start house churches, contemporary churches, traditional churches, cowboy churches, truck driver churches and more Spanish- and English-speaking churches,” he said.

Avila sees his role as a catalyst who maps out the city, tries to find where a new church is needed and determines what kind of church to plant.

“Because of the average young age of the population, we may need a contemporary church. In an area of empty nesters, we might need a traditional church. For the Texas cowboys, we would need a cowboy church. My role is to discover the needs of the city and then try to find the right person to start a church.”

While Avila would welcome church planters from the outside, his preference is to train and equip indigenous church planters and then deploy them throughout the Laredo area.

Does Avila’s ministry in Laredo make a difference? It did to Angel Contreras.

Just 19, Contreras already had made some serious mistakes in his life by the time he and Avila met. He had gotten married at 16, was the father of a baby girl, but was seeking to divorce his teenage bride.

“Angel passed our church and saw some cars in the parking lot, so he thought there was someone that could pray for him because he was depressed,” Avila recounted. Ironically, Avila was holding a conference on marriage and the family, and with Contreras he had an eager student.

Over coffee the following day, Avila led Contreras to Christ. Contreras is now trying to rebuild his marriage, and Avila is discipling him to be a leader in one of the 50 churches Avila plans to plant in Laredo. Contreras also directs Avila’s block party ministry.

“I thank God for Chuy,” Contreras said. “If it wasn’t for the Lord using Chuy, I really don’t know where I would be. He’s like my dad. He’s always on top of what’s going on in my life, calls me up, wants to know how I am. We’re like a father-son team.”

Avila said Contreras is “one example of how the Lord can provide everything we need in order to accomplish our goals and the vision He gave us for Laredo.” Avila imagines Contreras — who speaks Spanish and English — as the future pastor of a bilingual church.

“The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helps us a lot,” Avila said. “Through that and prayer, we feel the support. Every morning when I wake up and then walk to the (mission) field in the streets, I do not feel alone. I know there are hundreds of people praying for me. I want to encourage Baptists to keep giving because through their giving, we can do our ministry here.”

Avila graduated from Frontier Baptist Seminary in Juarez, Mexico, in 1991 and from Hardin-Simmons Baptist University in Abilene, Texas, in 1998. He has served as a pastor and missionary in Juarez, a pastor in El Paso, Hispanic church planter in Midland, Texas, and as a Hispanic church start strategist for NAMB in Brentwood, Tenn.

He and Maria, his wife of 30 years, have four children and six grandchildren.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches will be March 6-13 in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, go to

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

3/8/2011 1:40:00 PM by Mickey Noah, NAMB Communications | with 0 comments

Some Baptists seek preparation for Easter Sunday

March 8 2011 by Robert Dilday & Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press

Easter Sunday — the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ — is for Christians the culmination of their community life, expressing the heart of their faith. But among Baptists and other evangelicals, an intentional period of preparation for their holiest day is often understated or absent — in contrast to Christmas, the other great Christian observance, typically the focus of elaborate church festivities for weeks prior to Dec. 25.

Many Baptists are seeking to reclaim that pre-Easter focus — historically called Lent — which has been an integral part of many Christians’ experience since the earliest years of the church.

“It’s a biblical thing, not a made-up Catholic thing,” says Kyle Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, acknowledging a robust Baptist suspicion of spiritual practices seen as too closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church or its distant cousins, the Anglicans.  

Lost treasure
Some Baptists say they sense those suspicions — in part a legacy of the Protestant Reformation — have left them with a diminished spiritual vocabulary.

“There is an uneasy sense that something got lost,” says Phyllis Tickle, whose 2008 book, The Great Emergence, chronicles the blurring of denominational distinctions in late 20th- and early 21st-century American Christianity.

Every 500 years or so, says Tickle, the church metaphorically holds a great rummage sale, “getting rid of the junk that we believe no longer has value and finding treasures stuck in the attic because we didn’t want them or were too naïve to know their true worth.”

The Reformation was one of those rummage sales and the current “great convergence” is another, she maintains. For evangelicals, the long-forgotten treasures in the attic include a wide array of spiritual disciplines — including Lent — with roots in the church’s first centuries.

For Sterling Severns, discovering Lent and other seasons of the Christian year was “an eye-opening experience,” which he encountered at the first church he served after graduating from seminary.

“It tapped into something in me that surprised me,” says Severns, now pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. “I remember I almost felt as if I’d been let in on a great secret.”  

Lenten practice
Lent — a 40-day period of fasting and self-sacrifice preceding Resurrection Sunday — began as early as the second century, probably as a period of preparation for new Christians who were to be baptized on Easter. Eventually the entire Christian community, not just baptismal candidates, observed the fast.

Among Christians in Western Europe it universally began on Ash Wednesday and culminated in Holy Week — the days just before Easter that include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

After more than a millennium as an essential element of spiritual formation, Lent and other spiritual practices were reduced in importance as unbiblical innovations by the Protestant Reformers and eliminated entirely by the Baptists who emerged from their influence. Today some Baptists who are recovering disciplines like Lent say they’re struck by their spiritual richness. First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., inaugurates Lent with an Ash Wednesday service — in which the ash of burnt palm branches are imposed on worshipers foreheads — and in the last week includes a contemplative service.  

Touching the emotions
Baptists involved in intentional preparation for Easter — whether referred to as Lent or some other name — view it as an effective tool for teaching and spiritual formation.

Lenten practices can help Baptists get in touch with an often-neglected side of worship — the emotional dimension, said Bill Tillman, who holds the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics and teaches spiritual formation at Hardin Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas.

“It’s appropriate to grieve over one’s sins and to grieve the death of Jesus. At the same time, Easter should be the ultimate celebration for Christians,” he said. “Spiritual disciplines are things that can help people get into the emotional side of their faith practice, experiencing grief and delight.”  

Teaching time
Severns called Ash Wednesday “a teaching day.”

“Our service is a way of teaching people what it means” — a key consideration in a church which had never observed Lent before Severns was called as pastor.

Community is essential to spiritual formation at Mosaic, a congregation in Austin, Texas, with Baptist ties and roots in the city’s lively artistic scene. In recent conversations held between Mosaic’s leadership and its worshippers to determine how the church had contributed to spiritual development, one theme emerged repeatedly, said pastor Don Vanderslice.

“It was how important observing the Christian year — including Lent — had been in their spiritual formation,” he said. “Focusing on the seasons of the church year reminds us that the spiritual life is a journey. … The idea behind journey or pilgrimage is that we’re going somewhere, and not just landing on a holiday here and there.”

For Henderson, Ash Wednesday is a two-fold teaching experience. First, he emphasizes the Old Testament meaning of bearing a mark and using ashes as a sign of repentance. At the same time, he explains the meaning of terms such as Lent so members who did not grow up in churches that follow liturgical practices will understand what fellow Christians do during the weeks leading to Easter.

“It’s a way to connect to the broader Christian world,” he said.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/8/2011 1:33:00 PM by Robert Dilday & Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Age-old Lent gets a 21st-century makeover

March 8 2011 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

For Janis Galvin fasting for Lent has long meant saying no to candy for the 40 days before Easter. But when the season begins this year on March 9, it’s apt to mean something more: walking when she’d rather drive, for instance, or turning the thermostat way down.

Galvin, an Episcopalian, will join with about 1,000 others who’ve signed up for the 2011 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, a daily regimen for reducing energy consumption and fighting global warming.

Lent is getting a makeover, especially in some Protestant traditions where it hasn’t always drawn strong interest. The carbon fast is one of several initiatives aimed at reinvigorating Lent by linking themes of fasting and abstention to wider social causes.

“It’s exciting because it’s not just suffering” for its own sake, said Galvin, who lives in Everett, Mass. “It’s doing good.”

For the first time, the United Methodist Church is urging its 7.8 million U.S. members to refrain from drinking alcohol during Lent. Teetotaling is familiar turf in United Methodism, and now Lent provides a framework to consider the role alcohol plays in individual lives, families and society, according to Cynthia Abrams of the UMC’s General Board of Church & Society.

“To ask United Methodists to give up alcohol for Lent is provocative because we like to think United Methodists don’t drink,” said Abrams, who works on alcohol and other health issues. “We decided ... to confront the elephant in the room by doing something provocative and engaging in conversation about it throughout Lent.”

In the United Kingdom, the Christian Vegetarian Association is aiming to revive the ancient Christian practice of foregoing meat during Lent. (Many Orthodox Christians still eat a vegan diet in Lent). It’s self-denial for a purpose, organizers say, noting how vegetarian diets improve health, enhance animal welfare and reduce strain on the environment.

Fasting from anything is never an easy sell in a culture that values convenience, according to Jim Antal, who heads the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.  

But as a spiritual practice, he said, personal sacrifice can be a key driver in advancing larger movements.

“We’re trying to deal with the mingling of individual Lenten disciplines with social change,” said Antal, whose conference is spearheading the carbon fast. “And that is precisely what will save the Earth — if individuals who begin to get it... begin to say, ‘Gosh, I need to change my life, and I need to become an activist.”’

Lent has never been a strong tradition among evangelicals, with some worried that it smacks of presumptuous efforts to earn God’s favor. But some are finding that new types of Lenten fasting might serve a useful purpose in a world coarsened by electronic media.

Adam Rick of Beverly, Mass., will be fasting from Facebook and otherwise minimizing time spent online. It’s a bid to temper the perceived vanity that comes with constantly gratifying urges and trying to get noticed.

“So much of the dysfunction in our relationships has to with exactly that — we’re not happy because we didn’t get our way, or we didn’t get recognized,” said Rick, who’s exploring a call to priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America.

“Facebook just feeds that fire if it’s not used carefully and intentionally. Sometimes just taking a step back from it is helpful for me.”

Some observers of evolving Lenten practices see them as steps — albeit small ones — in the right direction for a culture that tends to bristle at the idea of voluntary self-denial.

“In a culture as consumer-oriented and materialistic as ours, it is not surprising that churches are seeking in small ways to remind us of those obsessions,” said Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist of religion at Princeton University. “These are welcome developments, even though they may be rather feeble.”

Others who hope for a wider awareness of social problems at Lent nonetheless take a dim view of the initiatives’ staying power.

“The religious conventions that call for giving up this or that ... are shallow reflections of a bourgeois, self-indulgent society culture; they deserve about as much attention as the Easter Bunny,” said Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall.

“Christ’s discipleship today ought to have more to do with our Lord’s concern for the poor of the earth, and for the earth itself, than with our individualistic lifestyles.”

Conventional ways of fasting and abstaining at Lent haven’t disappeared. Sixty percent of American Catholics — even those who seldom attend church — abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, according to Mark Gray, senior research associate at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

In some cases, old traditions are becoming new — at least for those who used to disregard Lent altogether.

Benjamin Keaster, a 27-year-old social worker in Spring Arbor, Mich., never observed Lent while growing up in an evangelical Church of Christ congregation. Five years ago, he converted to Orthodoxy.

For Keaster, Lent now means no meat, no dairy, fasting on certain days and lots of worship services with proscribed Lenten behaviors, such as lying prostrate before one another in a sign of repentance.

“Fasting is always hard,” Keaster said, noting how he dreads going to bed hungry.

“We kind of try (in our culture) to keep the feast and the holiday parties, but you realize after you’ve done this for a few years that you can’t really feast without fasting. You gotta have both.”

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/8/2011 1:27:00 PM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

LifeWay backs off warning labels

March 8 2011 by Richard Eakley, Religion News Service

Southern Baptist bookstores have quietly suspended a four-year-old program that warned customers to read with “discernment” books by several up-and-coming authors whose books “could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.”

Chris Rodgers, the director of product standards and customer relations for Nashville-based LifeWay, said the warnings were discontinued because they were “irrelevant to our customers.”

“There was little to no interest in it,” Rodgers said. “No one asked about the authors.”

The program flagged the writings of several emergent authors with labels which advised readers to exercise caution and “extra discernment” when reading particular books.

The labels provided the address to a website to learn more about the work or author; the website has since been disabled.

The program recently came under attack in a blog post from Christian musician Shaun Groves, who was upset that LifeWay was willing to warn customers about a book but still continued to sell it.

The label read: “Read With Discernment. This book may contain thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology. Therefore we encourage you to read it with extra discernment.”

LifeWay, the official publisher and book store of the Southern Baptist Convention, downplayed the program and the decision to end it, saying the labels were not warnings but rather an attempt to provide customers with more information.

“They were not warnings; there is no way at all you could read those as warnings,” Rodgers said. “The program has been called controversial, (but) the only real controversy was the Groves blog.”

But some authors of the marked books, including popular authors Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Brian McLaren and William Young, were happy with the decision to terminate the program.

McLaren, a sometimes controversial emergent author whose books were flagged, said a decision to censor writings by another Christian went against the Baptist tradition of personal conscience.

“I think it is concerning when, especially a Baptist bookstore acts as if a central organization can make decisions on which books are accepted and rejected,” McLaren said. “Yes, I am very pleased (to see it ended).”

Young, who wrote the New York Times best-seller The Shack, said he wasn’t bothered by the program, but still thought that LifeWay made “a good move” in ending it.

When Young heard his book had been labeled, he shared a laugh with his family and friends. “Like most people are saying, ‘Put it on every book, or you put it on no book,’” Young said.

Young feels, however, that LifeWay had good motives and understands the difficulty of their situation.

“LifeWay has a tough job, they have to figure out how to be a part of a world in which ideas are larger than their community, but still maintain their allegiance to their denomination,” Young said.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/8/2011 1:21:00 PM by Richard Eakley, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Couple minister in Calif.’s vast mission field

March 7 2011 by Mickey Noah, NAMB

Attending a beginning sign language course as part of the deaf ministry at 38th Avenue Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1979, Howard Burkhart III liked his teacher so much he married her.

Because of Tina McMillan (Burkhart) and her attentive pupil, Howard — both students at the University of Southern Mississippi at the time — untold hundreds of the hearing and hearing-impaired from Mississippi to California have not only been taught how to communicate, but how to accept Christ as their Savior.

Today, the Burkharts’ ministry — based in Benicia, Calif., just north of San Francisco — extends far beyond the deaf community, although that remains their first love. Howard, 52, is a church planting strategist in the San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas and a jointly funded missionary for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the California Southern Baptist Convention.

Photo by Greg Schneider

NAMB church planting missionary Howard Burkhart, right, holds a church planting strategy session in Walnut Creek, Calif., with Brazilian couple Wanderley and Claudia Alvares. Burkhart is one of the Week of Prayer missionaries for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. See video.

In fact, Howard and Tina are only two of more than 5,000 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) for North American Missions. They are among the missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 6-13, 2011. Visit for resources.

With a theme of “Start Here,” the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like the Burkharts.

“The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering makes everything possible,” says Burkhart. “It puts missionaries on the field, provides ministry funds, provides Bibles, church planter training, support for new churches and allows for special projects that are critical. AAEO is our lifeblood, our lifeline and our future.”

After both graduating from Southern Miss and enrolling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the Burkharts became aware of the huge need for pastors and missionaries to work with deaf people.

Howard would later become missionary to the deaf in California, where the Burkharts have lived and ministered for the last 27 years. From 1988-2000, Howard taught classes through Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary for the hearing-impaired so they could learn to be pastors, teachers and other ministry leaders. It was the first opportunity for deaf people to get seminary education at the diploma level.

“Deafness is its own culture,” he says. “It has its own language, its own grammar, its own social structure. Deaf people tend to marry other deaf people.”

At the same time, Burkhart says today’s technology has empowered many deaf people, enabling them to become more part of mainstream society.

Why do the hearing-impaired need special ministries aimed at them and their needs?

“You’d think they could choose from a hundred different churches but they can’t. They have to go to a church where there’s either a pastor to the deaf or where there’s a competent interpreter. And when deaf people need pastoral care, they call the interpreter, so the interpreter often becomes their pastor and advocate,” according to Burkhart.

“For hearing-impaired Americans, English is their second language. Sign language is their first language,” he said. “For deaf people from other countries, English is their third or fourth language.”

And not only does Burkhart work with hearing-impaired Anglos, he also ministers to the deaf in other people groups, such as Hispanics, Asians and Koreans. It’s not commonly known that each nationality has its own unique deaf signing language — for instance, Koreans have their own. So signing is different across different cultures and languages. Burkhart says one of his “joys” is to return to churches he helped start years ago, and one of his favorites is New Hope Community Church in El Monte, Calif.

“Going back there and knowing that probably more than 50 deaf people there now have a relationship with Jesus — and many of them are serving and leading in the church — makes for an exciting day,” he said.

Photo by Greg Schneider

Howard and Tina Burkhart

Burkhart said the deaf ministry at New Hope is very multi-ethnic, with nine or 10 countries represented. Out of 30 or so deaf people in attendance, only three or four are Anglo or Caucasian.

“Deafness trumps ethnicity, so if you ask a hearing-impaired Indonesian, they’re going to say they are deaf first and Indonesian second.”

Steve Lucero, pastor to the deaf at New Hope, is the father of a deaf son, Leo, who pulled him into deaf ministry. “When Leo was born, I asked, ‘Well, Lord, why did you give me a deaf son?’ It was a big question in my heart and mind.”

At the time of Leo’s birth, Lucero and his wife, Linda, already had a hearing son. And although Lucero was successfully climbing up the career ladder with Safeway, he would later leave the business world and go into deaf ministry — partly because of Leo and partly because of Howard Burkhart.

“We were going to Howard’s night class to learn religious signing,” recalls Lucero. “He was very patient as he taught us. He also was an encourager and gave us the confidence we needed to do deaf ministry.

“If it weren’t for Howard, we would have been stuck,” admits Lucero. “That was 25 years ago and I still love him dearly and so do the deaf (at New Hope).”

Beyond the hearing-impaired, California — Burkhart’s mission field — is home to some 37 million people and if a country, it would be the 34th largest nation in the world. More than 200 languages are spoken in the Golden State. About 40 percent of the population speaks another language or are bilingual at home.

“In several cases, California is home to a nation’s largest ethnic population outside its home country,” he said. “In other cases, we may have more people living here from a country than who actually live back in that country.”

Burkhart strategizes and works with other church planters to start churches in the San Francisco and San Diego metro areas trying to reach a number of people groups — Indonesians, Romanians, Mongolians, Burmese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russians and Brazilians. He also coordinates and leads 10 basic training events a year for 60 California church planting teams.

“Everybody needs Jesus. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, where you came from or where you live. Everybody needs Jesus and it’s our job to communicate that in a language they can understand.

“We would ask Southern Baptists to pray for us because we need to identify a Japanese church planter for San Diego and several Vietnamese church planters for 10 churches that need to be planted in California. We also need partners for several new churches being planted in the San Francisco Bay area.”

Miami-born Howard and Tina — a Jackson, Miss., native who grew up in Alabama — are the parents of two children, Nathan and Victoria. Howard also asks Baptists to especially pray for Victoria, only 18, who has been seriously ill with a rare, debilitating neurological disease, leaving her mostly homebound for the last six years.

“I grew up in Miami and if you’d told me growing up that I would be a missionary in California working among the Burmese and Karen, deaf people or the other language groups I work with, I would have said, ‘never in a million years.’  But God had a work for me to do and He is completing it in me,” said Burkhart.

“It’s hard work, it takes people, money, mission teams and partners. It takes a lot of people to reach a community for Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for NAMB. Visit for resources.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/7/2011 4:18:00 AM by Mickey Noah, NAMB | with 0 comments

Pastors murdered in Tenn., Texas

March 7 2011 by Baptist Press

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — Two unrelated murders of Baptist pastors in Tennessee and Texas have left friends, families members and church members in shock and disbelief.

In Tennessee, Darrell Franklin, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Madisonville, was killed between 2-2:30 p.m. on March 2 at his business, Fay Innovative Waste Solutions, in Athens.

According to news reports, he allegedly was shot and killed by Darrell Hester, an employee of the company who then killed himself. Police are calling the incident a murder/suicide, according to news accounts. Franklin was bivocational.

“I can’t hardly believe it,” Steven McDonald, pastor of Big Creek Baptist Church in Madisonville and moderator of the Sweetwater Baptist Association, told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal. “It is almost surreal.”

McDonald described Franklin as an outstanding person who would help anyone. Franklin’s church was affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“He had a heart for his congregation and for seeing people come to the Lord,” McDonald said. “He was a soul-winner.”

Lon Shoopman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Madisonville, knew Franklin. “He was a gentle, caring man and an effective pastor,” Shoopman said.

In Texas, Clint Dobson, pastor of Arlington’s NorthPointe Baptist Church, was killed and his ministry assistant, Judy Elliott, critically injured March 3. NorthPointe is a satellite campus of First Baptist Church in Arlington. Robbery could have been a motive: Some items, including a vehicle, were missing, the Associated Press reported.

“We are shocked,” Dennis Wiles, executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Arlington, told The Dallas Morning News. “Clint was a vibrant, young man that I respected as a colleague and admired as a friend.”

Police said Elliott’s car, a cream-colored, four-door 2007 Mitsubishi Galant had been recovered but did not indicate where it had been found. Police say a man has been arrested and faces a capital murder.

Arlington police said March 5 that Steven Lawayne Nelson, 24, had been arrested and faces a charge of capital murder, which carries the death penalty.

A vigil was held at the church March 4 to remember Dobson.

“It’s a place of worship,” Kenneth Lemuel, who lives near the church, told the Morning News. “You would never expect something like that to happen here.”

FBC Arlington is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press, with reporting by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/7/2011 4:12:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone’s Hawkins has high hopes for 2011

March 7 2011 by Curtis D. Sharp, GuideStone Financial Resources

DALLAS (BP) — Speaking from an Old Testament passage, GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins told trustees, “We are challenging our employees to make every effort this year to ‘see the glass half-full’ as we seize opportunities to enhance the financial security of our participants.”

GuideStone’s trustees, who met Feb. 28-March 1 in Dallas, also heard a report from Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones on the Southern Baptist entity’s various program areas.

Hawkins, in addressing the trustees, drew from Numbers 14:24, which says, “... But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit, and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” Caleb and Joshua, Hawkins noted, “had optimistic attitudes. They saw the glass half-full rather than half-empty as the other 10 spies who had obstinate attitudes.”

“Those who see a glass half-empty see a problem in every answer,” Hawkins continued, “while those who view the glass half-full find an answer in every problem.

“Organizations that see the glass half-empty often just play defense, and many of those are in decline. Organizations that see the glass half-full want to accomplish more and are on the offensive to succeed for the benefit of those they serve. We want to take every opportunity to succeed for our participants.”

Jones updated trustees on GuideStone’s work in investments, retirement and insurance and the entity’s financial assistance and developmental initiatives.

“The dawn of 2010 brought a more optimistic view of the financial markets as our participants continued to recover value lost during the recent recession,” Jones said in reviewing GuideStone’s investment funds’ performance for 2010. “All GuideStone funds posted positive returns for the year. All Equity Select Funds posted double digit returns in 2010. Investors in well-diversified portfolios, such as GuideStone Funds Asset Allocation and date-target funds, realized what we feel are strong gains for the year.”

According to Lipper Rankings, nine of 12 GuideStone Select Funds in the GS4 class met or exceeded median returns within their respective peer universe, based upon risk-adjusted returns, for the year ending Dec. 31, 2010. (The various GS classes are defined in the prospectus of each fund and largely relate to eligibility of participants and fund size.)

Three GuideStone Funds received special recognition. For the five-year period ending Jan. 31, 2011, GuideStone’s Extended Duration Bond Fund in the GS2 class was ranked number one among its peers by Lipper. For the one-year period ending Jan. 31, 2011, both the MyDestination 2035 Fund and the MyDestination 2045 Fund were ranked number one for date-target funds.

“In addition, GuideStone Funds ranked 60 out of 205 mutual fund families in the most recent Fund Family Fiduciary Rankings prepared by fi360,” Jones said of the report that ranks mutual fund families based on the percentage of their individual funds that pass various due diligence screens. fi360’s screens include the fund’s track record, assets, management tenure, style consistency, expense ratio, risk adjusted performance and performance relative to their peer group, among other criteria.

Jones also reported, “Contributions to retirement plans increased as employers and employees began to reinstate contributions to participants’ accounts that were reduced or eliminated during the recent economic downturn.”

Turning to GuideStone’s medical plans, Jones commented on the continuing discussions regarding the new federal health care law. “Although new health care reform legislation was signed into law, the long-term effects and the implementation of that law continue to be surrounded by uncertainty,” Jones said.

As appeals continue through the courts and uncertainties remain in how it will be funded and what the legislation actually involves, Jones said GuideStone has teams studying the law and accompanying guidance, and is preparing for implementation.

In the financial assistance area, Jones reported good news concerning generous responses by individuals and churches that support the financial assistance program, Mission:Dignity.

“Many retired Southern Baptist ministers and widows face uncertainties as to how they will pay their bills, if they’ll get their medicines or what they will eat. It can be a traumatic time for these dear servants of Christ,” Jones said. “During this past year, Southern Baptists have continued to be Christ’s hands extended to provide financial assistance for those who need it most. Over 1,000 new donors made their first gift to Mission:Dignity during 2010.”

The Mission:Dignity program provides financial assistance to more than 2,000 retired ministers or their widows in crucial financial need. Information concerning Mission:Dignity may be requested by calling GuideStone at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) or by sending an e-mail to

Jones also told trustees that participant utilization of the personalized financial advice service launched in 2009, GPS: Guided Planning Services, continues to increase. The free service allows participants to select investment funds for their retirement account at GuideStone and assess whether they are on track to meet their retirement savings goals. Participants may work individually through the online tool or make a telephone appointment with a GuideStone investment adviser for personal assistance.

Jones reported that a new major GuideStone initiative is focusing on establishing an enterprise risk management program, with a goal of ensuring that risks are appropriately identified, assessed, prioritized, monitored and communicated.

“GuideStone has done a good job in the past to manage risks in our various business units,” Jones said. “This new initiative will help us to take a macro-approach in coordinating our risk management efforts across our entire enterprise.”

Trustees accepted the recommendation of their general officers nominating committee and elected Harold D. Vick of Florida as chairman and Ronald L. Bryant of the Northwest Baptist Convention, as vice chairman.

Seven trustees were honored during a Monday evening dinner as they reached the end of their terms of service: Gregory A. Bibb (Kentucky), Mary C. Dighton (Kansas-Nebraska), Robert A. Harris, Jr. (Virginia), James B. Henry (Florida), Darryl J. Hoychick (Louisiana), James R. Scrivner (Oklahoma), and Frankie J. Smitherman (Alabama).

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sharp is executive officer for denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources.) 

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/7/2011 4:05:00 AM by Curtis D. Sharp, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

Baptists try to separate from Westboro

March 7 2011 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — A tiny independent Kansas congregation composed mostly of extended family members of founding pastor Fred Phelps captured headlines March 2 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 their controversial “God Hates Fags” protests at funerals of slain military veterans are protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

It isn’t the first time that Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., has made news with its provocative message that is commonly labeled hate speech. Each time, it gives pause to millions of Americans who also identify as Baptists but find repugnant Westboro’s message that God is killing soldiers as punishment for America’s toleration of homosexuals.

“Every time they hit the news, ABC receives e-mails asking why we don’t do something,” Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, commented about constituents who complain the Westboro clan is giving Baptists a bad name. The ABC/USA website carries a detailed disclaimer that Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps are in no way and have never been affiliated with the denomination.

“American Baptists want to be clear that we denounce their message and tactics of hate,” the statement says. “It grieves us that in bearing the Baptist name they destroy the reputation of thousands of Baptists who daily give themselves in selfless acts of love as followers of Jesus.”

Medley described the church as “incompatible with the teachings and Spirit of Christ.”

“The Phelps family represent only themselves, but we do not have a copyright on the Baptist name so they have the freedom to use and abuse that name,” Medley said. “As a result, Baptists everywhere are defamed by them.”

Phelps, a disbarred lawyer who specialized in civil rights cases challenging Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-Americans in the 1960s, founded Westboro Baptist Church in 1955. He was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1947, but the church isn’t affiliated with any religious denomination.

The church’s unconventional outreach ministry began with a 1991 demonstration at a Topeka park known to be frequented by gays. Since then church members have held thousands of what they call “love crusades” warning America to repent of corporate sin including normalization of homosexuality.

The group gained national prominence in 1998 when it picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student whose murder brought national attention to the issue of hate crimes. Subsequent protests targeted events like performances of The Laramie Project, a play based on Shepard’s life, and meetings of religious groups both liberal on gay rights and as conservative as the Southern Baptist Convention.

Their notoriety snowballed in 2005 after church members started showing up at funerals of fallen American soldiers and proclaiming that casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are the result of God’s wrath against America for tolerating homosexuality. A number of states responded with laws regulating protests near funerals.

Recently Westboro members made news at protests near the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards who died from cancer.

They called off planned protests near funerals of victims of a recent mass murder attack in Tucson, Ariz., in exchange for air time on national radio programs to air their message.

Headlines around the country routinely report press releases about planned protests of particular venues, and it even makes news when they are no-shows.

Everywhere they go, they brandish protest signs identifying themselves as Baptists. That concerns many other Baptists who don’t want the public to assume their views are representative of the denomination as a whole.

Baptist Press published a blog by Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications and associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, arguing that the group “is neither Baptist nor a church.”

“They act nothing like a church should act and they do not demonstrate the characteristics of a true church,” White said. “They appear to me as nothing more than a hate group with an extreme agenda. God will set things right on judgment day, and I would not want to be in their shoes.”

Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian who teaches at Wake Forest Divinity School, said he has not studied the group carefully but they clearly represent a “stem family” church, where everyone is kin and related through only a few intermarried families.

“Because of Baptist polity, anyone can start a church, baptize by immersion, have some kind of congregational polity, require believer’s baptism, and go from there,” Leonard said. “This is clearly the radical, radical right wing Baptist fringe combining fundamentalism, literalism, separatism, anti worldliness and a strong belief that we are sinners in the hands of a very, very angry God.”

George Bullard, general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, said Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with any of the member denominations related to the North American Baptist Fellowship or its parent body the Baptist World Alliance.”

“The word ‘Baptist’ is not owned by anyone,” Bullard said. “It is available to everyone. This means that even churches such as Westboro, which does not represent the positive spirit of freedom and grace that characterizes so many of the church denominations related to the North American Baptist Fellowship, can use the name ‘Baptist.’”

Bullard said most Baptists in North America are “appalled at the position and tactics” of the Phelps clan.

“In spite of their use of the word ‘Baptist,’ the Westboro church does not represent the position of any free and faithful Baptist congregation or denomination we know in North America,” Bullard said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/7/2011 4:01:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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