November 2013

Air Force Academy drops ‘So help me God’ from oath

November 1 2013 by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service

Air Force Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “so help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath.
 
On Oct. 25, officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training.
 
“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement.
 
“So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”
 
The current oath reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”
 
The oath was adopted by the academy’s first class in 1959 without the final phrase, which was added in 1984 following a cheating scandal. Honor oaths at other U.S. military academies do not include the word “God.”
 
The change came after complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a New Mexico-based watchdog organization headed by Michael Weinstein, a lawyer and Air Force Academy graduate whose family includes seven people who have attended the academy.
 
Weinstein has had other successes in rooting out religion from the military. In 2011, he successfully challenged an Air Force nuclear training course that included Bible verses and religious imagery in a PowerPoint presentation.
 
More broadly, Weinstein has been among the most vocal critics of the religious atmosphere at the Air Force Academy, where he and others say Christianity is given preferred status and inappropriate religious proselytism is rampant.
 
The decision has exposed a rift among academy alumni, their families and others associated with the military. Comments left on the academy’s website, where the decision was first announced, range from sadness to anger to approval.
 
John Van de Kamp, a member of the class of 1968, wrote that the honor code guided him throughout his life, though he graduated before the addition of the now-optional phrase.
 
“It’s a disgrace to bow to political correctness and take God out of the equation even though He guides and strengthens cadets and the Academy’s leadership day by day,” he wrote.
 
But someone identifying herself as Kathy from Washington wrote, “This is a compromise that allows the individual cadets to choose. It should be enough to please any sensible person. Go Air Force.”
11/1/2013 12:41:06 PM by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Duggar family shares story in seminary’s chapel

November 1 2013 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – A seminary chapel service turned into a family affair as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and 18 of their 19 children spread across the stage to share scripture, play instruments and sing hymns.

In addition to the musical performances, Jim Bob and Michelle recounted their life stories and how their family was selected for the hit cable television show “19 Kids & Counting,” which airs on TLC.
 
Jim Bob and Michelle, speaking in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s MacGorman Chapel on Oct. 24, began their story by recounting how they came to faith in Jesus Christ. Jim Bob grew up attending church and became a Christian at an early age. Michelle, however, never attended church as a child but became a Christian in high school after a friend shared with her how she could have a right relationship with the Lord.
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SWBTS photo by Neil Williams
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the hit TLC show “19 Kids & Counting,” share their life story in chapel at Southwestern Seminary. View video. 


Shortly after Michelle became a Christian, Jim Bob and a friend were making neighborhood visits to people from church. As they considered where to visit next, his friend said, “Hey, I know this girl who just became a Christian and she’s a cheerleader.” Jim Bob promptly replied, “Well, let’s go see her!”

“It was love at first sight,” Jim Bob told the chapel audience.

A year later, Jim Bob and Michelle went on their first date to a high school banquet. Afterward, they talked for hours about spiritual matters, and according to the couple it was the night that God knit their hearts together.

The two married after high school and, like most couples, they were unsure if they wanted to have children right away, so Michelle took birth control pills. Three and a half years later, Michelle stopped birth control, became pregnant and gave birth to their first son, Josh.

“Then, we didn’t want to have them too close together, so she went back on the pill,” Jim Bob said.

“But we did not realize – and this is not something that is really well known – but sometimes the pill can allow you to get pregnant but can then be abortive. And that’s what happened in our situation. Michelle was on the pill, got pregnant, and then the pill caused a miscarriage, and we lost our second child.”

“We were devastated,” Michelle said. “Here we were, Christians, loving being parents, holding this one baby in our arms and then realizing that with our own hands, our own lack of knowledge, we held out our [other] baby to be destroyed.

“We got on our faces before the Lord, and we cried out, ‘Father, forgive us and give us a love for children like You love children.’”

Jim Bob and Michelle committed to receive whatever gifts – that is, children – God would give them. Soon thereafter, Michelle gave birth to twins, and the Lord continued to bless them with one child after another.

“Before you know it, we had so many kids running around, we thought, ‘What have we done?’” Jim Bob joked.

“It was a busy time,” he said, “and we were so overwhelmed that we thought, ‘We don’t know if we can handle it anymore.’”

Providentially, the couple said, the Lord brought encouragers and helpers into their lives as they learned to trust in His strength. One lady they knew, for example, offered to help Michelle with laundry each week, and did so faithfully for 13 years.

Jim Bob admitted they are not a perfect family nor are he and Michelle perfect parents.

“I really never had an anger problem until we had started having children,” Jim Bob said. “I realized that when we started having these kids and I started blowing up in anger to correct them, it was building a wall between me and my children.”

Jim Bob said he asked his family to forgive him and requested that they keep him accountable when they noticed him reacting in anger. He encouraged the chapel audience to consider doing likewise.

“You can take your children to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night,” Jim Bob said, “but if you’re blowing up at home, it will undermine your whole ministry.”

Additionally, Jim Bob challenged fathers to “be the spiritual leaders of your family.”

Read the Bible to your children, explain what the Scriptures mean, give illustrations and make it practical for them.”

The Duggars’ love for children not only extends to their own children and grandchildren, but they also have a passion to support the rights of unborn children in America. Inspired by a pro-life rally at the Arkansas state capitol, Jim Bob ran for and was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives, where he served from 1999–2003.

During a bid for Congress in 2002, an Associated Press photographer took an image of him and his large family on Election Day. Though he lost the race, the photo appeared the next day in The New York Times, which sparked interest from a writer for a parenting magazine.

A few months later, an executive with Discovery Health Channel saw the parenting magazine story and contacted them about filming a documentary on their family.

“I really believed that this was an opportunity to share with the world that children are a blessing from the Lord,” Jim Bob said. Eventually, the documentary became one of the top shows on cable television.

Jim Bob and Michelle concluded their time in Southwestern’s chapel service with a challenge to seminary students.

“Our challenge to you,” Jim Bob said, “is to follow the Lord wherever He leads you, to do whatever He puts on your heart – maybe to be a missionary overseas or to be a pastor or maybe getting involved in politics.

“Following the Lord is an exciting adventure, and I pray that each one of us will follow that still, small voice of the Lord and watch Him work in our lives in a miraculous way.”

To watch Jim Bob and Michelle tell their story, go to www.swbts.edu/DuggarStory.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
11/1/2013 12:29:36 PM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.J. district bans religious songs at winter concerts

November 1 2013 by Jeff Goldman, The Star-Ledger/Religion News Service

BORDENTOWN, N.J. – Students won’t be allowed to sing religious holiday songs at winter concerts in a south-central New Jersey school district.
 
Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement on Oct. 18 saying that some of the selections were questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary program.”
 
The statement added that the district solicitor is reviewing the decision, mentioning how the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 declined to hear an appeal of a similar situation involving another New Jersey family.
 
Michael Stratechuk, whose children attended Columbia High School and Maplewood Middle School, sued in 2004, saying the South Orange-Maplewood school district’s ban violated the First Amendment’s freedom of worship provision.
 
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the ban, however. The judges said public school administrations can determine which songs are appropriate according to constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”
 
The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is battling the Bordentown district’s choice, though. It fired off a letter asserting that district official misunderstood the court ruling.

“We write to explain that every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols and other religious music in school choir programs fully complies with the First Amendment and to urge you to immediately rescind the new policy instituted by administrative officials.”
 
The letter went on to say that in 1993 a federal court in New Jersey upheld the Cherry Hill (N.J.) school district’s “policy of including religious symbols and objects in calendars and displays that the district produced for Christmas and other seasonal events.”
 
Bordetown school officials haven’t commented beyond the original Oct. 18 statement.
11/1/2013 12:22:58 PM by Jeff Goldman, The Star-Ledger/Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Eritrean Christian dies in prison

November 1 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

ERITREA – A Christian woman perished from pneumonia in an Eritrean prison after facing harsh conditions and denial of medical treatment – all because she would not renounce her faith.

Open Doors, an organization supporting the global persecuted church, reported this week that Wehazit Berhane Debesai is the 25th known Christian to have died in prison in Eritrea.
 
According to the report, the exact date of death of the woman in her 30s is unknown. Eritrean authorities arrested her a year ago. They held her near the Ethiopian border for being involved in Christian activities outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran church groups.
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Debesai’s death came as government forces arrested 70 Christians who met for prayer in the capital of Asmara, according to Open Doors. It is the third time the pastor who led the prayer event has been thrown in prison for his faith. This latest development brings the total number of Christians arrested this year in Eritrea to nearly 300. Local Christians call it the government’s most serious campaign against the church so far.

In what may be a separate event, according to conflicting reports, government security forces arrested 185 Christians praying together in a suburb to the north of Asmara. According to Release International, a United Kingdom-based group serving the persecuted church, most of those arrests involved women.

“Our Eritrean partners say church leaders fear this mass arrest could herald a new clampdown on Christians and a wave of further detentions,” Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, told the UK-based charity Cross Rhythms.

The Christians were believed to have gathered to pray for the country’s refugee crisis. The United Nations reports thousands of Eritreans try to flee every month despite an alleged “shoot-to-kill” policy by security forces against anyone attempting to escape.

“The arrest has alarmed underground church leaders, who fear that this may be a sign of things to come,” Robinson said.

According to International Christian Concern, an organization supporting persecuted believers, Eritrea is one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. More than 2,000 Christians are believed to have been imprisoned for their faith.

All churches not sanctioned by the government were outlawed in 2002, and their leaders have been arrested since then. Religious groups the government does allow to operate do so under severe restrictions and are also persecuted.

An Open Doors observer asked for Christians to pray for their fellow believers who remain in prison for their faith.

“They are secluded in underground dungeons, metal shipping containers and military detention centers. They face exposure, hard labor and insufficient food, water and hygiene,” the observer said. “They are regularly denied medical treatment for malaria and pneumonia which they contracted while in prison or diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or cancer that they may have had prior to imprisonment.”

Eritrea is ranked No. 10 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)
11/1/2013 12:16:03 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



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