October 2008

81-year-old church building destroyed by fire

October 31 2008 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

The sanctuary of a N.C. Baptist church in Pendleton was destroyed by fire Thursday, Oct. 30.

The pastor of Roberts Chapel Baptist Church, James D. Crocker, said foul play is not suspected. The fire might have been caused by problems with an oil furnace or faulty wiring, he said.

“We completely lost the sanctuary,” he said. “We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to salvage the fellowship hall.”

The congregation moved into the building in 1927, according to Crocker.

Church families had donated the stained glass windows and pews, he said.

“It was just a lot of history and a lot of memories that cannot be replaced,” he said.

Crocker said the postmaster at a post office across the street called him about 12:45 p.m. to tell him she saw smoke coming out of the church building.

After he went to the church and saw smoke when he opened a door, he yelled for her to call 911.

Eight fire departments battled the fire. Firefighters stayed on the scene till about 1 a.m. on Oct. 31, according to Crocker, who has been at the church since October 2005.

“They’d get it down and it’d keep blazing back up,” he said.

The deacons met the morning after the fire and decided to accept an offer to hold Sunday services at the local Masonic Lodge building about a half mile from the church. The congregation might decide Sunday whether to keep meeting at the lodge, which has offered its building for as long as the church needs it.

The church also had offers from other churches, the West Chowan Baptist Association and Chowan University, Crocker said.

“We’ve had a number of offers,” he said. “We’re really grateful and appreciative.”

Crocker said church members are stunned.

“Our folks are strong,” he said. “We’re going to move forward.”

Church members, who are from the surrounding farm community, will be sure to rebuild the church in an intelligent, methodical way, Crocker said.

“They’ll do this thing back right,” he said.

10/31/2008 9:16:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Annie Moses Band: Making His Praise Glorious

October 31 2008 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

In 1988 when Bill and Robin Wolaver wrote “Make His Praise Glorious” the song became a No. 1 hit on Christian radio and was nominated for the “Song of the Year” Dove award.

Now, 20 years later, the song is still special to Bill and Robin, as it has become the “mantra of our family,” says daughter Annie as she introduces the song to the congregation gathered at First Baptist Church in Shelby. On this Sunday morning Annie, Alex, Benjamin, Gretchen and Camille join their parents on stage and together they sing praise to the Lord.
    
The Wolavers and their six children are the Annie Moses Band, named for the siblings’ great-grandmother. Annie, 24, is the oldest and the youngest, Jeremiah, is 10 and sometimes plays guitar and banjo with the band. Bill is the “on-call composer,” as his family likes to call him and Robin is a lyricist/vocalist. Annie is lead vocal and violin; Alex is lead vocal and viola; Benjamin plays cello; Camille plays harp and keyboard; and Gretchen plays violin and mandolin. Their background is classical music and each has studied with renowned instructors. Annie, Alex and Benjamin spent time at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and Annie and Alex also studied at Cincinnati College’s Conservatory of Music.

When the band began about five years ago Bill says he “passed out everything to everybody,” but composing is now a group effort — although the family is quick to say dad still does the “heavy lifting.”

Even before the Wolavers began playing together as the Annie Moses Band Bill arranged songs for his children and they played for their grandparents and in churches. Every song on the group’s latest album, “Through the Looking Glass,” is written and composed by the band. The family said by the Lord’s leading they are drawn to the same concepts for albums at the same time. “When you pray together God gives you a likeness,” Annie said.

For Robin, musical inspiration is “born out of my day to day walk with the Lord.” This is evident with lyrics such as this verse, from the first cut on the album, “Glory Giver”:

I am a pearl purchased at a great price
I am an heir chosen and delivered
I am a miracle bursting with the life
Of the glory of the glory Giver
   

Other songs speak to family experiences. Robin wrote words and Bill, Annie and Robin wrote music for “We Were Meant To Be,” a song celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of both Robin and Bill’s parents. Still other songs speak to the harsh reality of a suffering world, dying without the hope of a Savior. A few lines from “It Takes a Savior,” with the genocide in Sudan as the backdrop:

She listens to the wind
Will this be the day they come
With hatred, murder and guns
Who will save her


Writing together, performing together and traveling together, the Annie Moses Band is not lacking for quality family time. Yet, ask them about life on the road and they won’t tell you stories of fighting with brothers and sisters or getting tired of mom and dad. “I can’t imagine doing this if we weren’t family,” Annie said.

The Wolavers formed the Annie Moses Band after the three oldest children spent time at Juilliard and realized they did not want a classical career — which came as quite a surprise to them all.

“This band was certainly a detour from that initial plan,” Annie said.

The Wolavers wanted to play with a certain stylistic variety and originality and the band gave them an outlet to do that.

Growing up in the Wolaver household, playing an instrument was not optional. Just as she taught her kids to eat their vegetables, so Robin made sure music was a natural part of their lives.

Considering Robin and Bill’s background, it seems only natural that their children would love music. Bill and Robin met as music students at Oklahoma City University and after marrying moved to Waco, Texas, to write for Word Music. Bill continues to edit music for publishers such as Brentwood-Benson.  

The Wolaver siblings were never persuaded to play and practice their music. Robin said her children all have a knack for learning and memorizing music quickly and each child decided the instruments they wanted to play. After watching their older brothers and sister go off and study music and then begin with the band, the rest of the Wolavers could not wait until it was their turn.

The Annie Moses Band is an attempt to break through what Robin calls a very monochromatic style that has become dominant in the church and on Christian radio. The Christian climate is ill and not flourishing, Robin said. One reason why is that youth today are “sold something, they are not taught something,” Alex said. Young musicians should not be sold on a particular music style but instead should be taught to play with excellence and to understand why they play — “because God is worthy of praise,” Annie said.

Young musicians are being given “dime-store paintbrushes,” Robin explained, and told to only paint in red, blue, yellow and green; they are not being given the artistic tools and musical training needed to create music that is valuable, that is new and that is beyond the normal scope of musical expectation.

When music is about praising God and making his name glorious, and doing so with excellence and skill, whether a church calls itself contemporary or traditional really does not matter. Nor is singing hymns a matter of right and wrong. This ongoing battle in churches about music style “needs to be swallowed up in a big, burgeoning plethora of artistic offerings so much so that this petty little infighting shrinks to nothing in the light of the extravagance of what we offer to the Lord,” Robin said.

The generational divide, as Annie described, is why most churches stumble over how to worship and “we find ourselves in a battle that’s really not a biblical battle. The church by and large has adopted the same model the world has in viewing their congregation as different demographics to be marketed to. Everything has been compartmentalized,” Annie said. What needs to happen is a renewed focus on musical education that is rooted in God’s glory and in being able to discern excellence.

To help with this, the Annie Moses Band conducts fine arts camps each summer. The performance-driven camp divides students into tracks such as piano, guitar or jazz. At the end of the week students participate in a show designed by Bill and Robin.

“Kids come in and have very low expectations of what they’re capable of,” Robin said.

The Wolavers write music and create the show to fit the interests and skills of the students, and to push students to perform beyond their expectations.

“Make His Praise Glorious” is set for the Annie Moses Band’s spring release and will be a re-make of the 1980s version. That the truth of these four words remain the Wolaver family’s singular purpose in life is a testimony to the delight that have, and want others to have, as they sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — The Annie Moses Band will lead worship Tuesday, Nov. 11, during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual session in Greensboro.)

10/31/2008 9:05:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Paranormal beliefs aren't always treated equally

October 31 2008 by Kristen Campbell, Religion News Service

Today, no one will be surprised to see ghosts and goblins on the loose.

But for some Americans, ghosts — along with extraterrestrials, Bigfoot and UFOs — aren't the stuff of seasonal sightings or tabloid teasers. They're real — as real as a resurrected Jesus and a devious Satan are to millions.

In the United States, though, not all supernatural beliefs are accepted equally. How people seem to parse the paranormal depends in part on religious belief and practice, a survey from Baylor University shows.

"If you are a strong Christian who goes to church a lot, you will wholeheartedly endorse the Christian supernatural beliefs but you will stay away from the psychics, the Bigfoots," explained Baylor sociology professor Carson Mencken.

"But if you are someone who reports pretty high levels of conventional Christian belief but doesn't practice that faith, doesn't go to church very often, if at all, you're also very likely to hold other types of paranormal or supernatural beliefs. You're going to believe in a little bit of everything."

Denomination and an individual's self-identification as spiritual versus religious can play a role in such thinking as well, according to Baylor's research.

"Catholics actually score pretty high on paranormal beliefs, which if you look at Catholic theology, that kind of makes sense," said Mencken, citing the role of apparitions, such as those of the Virgin Mary in places like Lourdes or Fatima.

"Most religion, traditionally, approaches faith or approaches God and the divine as something which is a realm that is greater than what we understand or can deal with and is filled with surprises," said Christopher J. Viscardi, chairman of the division of philosophy and theology at the Jesuit Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. "There is a
broad range, including the paranormal, including the supernatural."

Evangelicals, meanwhile, are much more likely to be in line with conventional supernatural thought and much less likely to believe in traditional paranormal ideas, said Mencken, who noted that conservative Christian congregations tend to be at odds with secular culture and "keep a pretty tight rein on their members."

Overall, though, "paranormal beliefs are out there," Mencken said. Close to 50 percent of the population believes that places can be haunted, he said, while 20 percent of the population believes in the ability of psychics.

According to Christine Wicker, author of "Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America," such beliefs have gone mainstream.

"My reading of history, American history and world history, is that it's a phenomenon of human nature, especially when there is anxiety and fear, or when there's a lack of spiritual depth, a phenomenon to look for things that will either respond to that anxiety or fill that emptiness," Viscardi said.

Wicker, meanwhile, posited that one factor behind the "resurgence of magical thought" is "widespread disappointment with organized religion." She cited Daniel Maguire, an ethics professor at Marquette University who said belief in the great faiths is collapsing.

"People are looking for something to replace them, much as they did in the first century as Christianity began to rout paganism. Now it seems to be the other way around," she wrote.

Cecil Taylor, dean of the School of Christian Studies at the Southern Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile, put it this way: "In a post-Christian age, when the Christian consensus is removed, all sorts of paganism rushes in to takes its place. And I view most of these things as a renaissance of paganism."

Some of it, though, may simply be a matter of semantics.

While Mencken can't say for sure, he would hypothesize that it's more likely the case that where one person perceives a guardian angel (55 percent of Americans say they've been protected by one), another may see a UFO (24 percent say UFOs are probably spaceships from other worlds and 27 percent are undecided).

But, Mencken said: "If you say you believe in UFOs and you've been abducted by a UFO, you'll get a different response than if you tell people you believe in the resurrection of the body of Christ. And that's the drawing line there, is to what extent society has defined a set of beliefs as OK/conventional versus defined them as kind of out there or
kooky or unconventional."

"It's a function of a variety of social processes," he said, "where one set of beliefs has become acceptable and normative over time."

Taylor identified another determining factor: scripture.

"Evangelicals would look at the Bible to validate experience," he said. "We check the Bible to see: Is this within the realm of possibility? Is this validated by scripture? Because there are many powers, there are many beings in the world, spiritual as well as
physical. There are angels, both good and bad, if we're to believe the Bible, and I do. And so simply the fact that you have an experience doesn't mean it's with God, and so you must check the Bible, which is the norm, as validation for any experience you may claim."

Finally, while belief and practice tend to play a role in shaping views toward the non-Christian paranormal, geography matters too.

Mencken noted that generally speaking, Southerners aren't much interested in the occult.

"Now if we were to look only at Christian paranormal beliefs — if we were to look at who believes in Satan and who believes in hell — you would find that the South scores pretty high on that," Mencken said.

"But again, it is paranormal in the sense that it defies any scientific explanation."

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Campbell writes for The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.)

10/31/2008 8:25:00 AM by Kristen Campbell, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Baptist pastor still missing after kidnapping

October 30 2008 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

TIJUANA, MEXICO – More than a week has passed since San Diego pastor Manuel Jesus Tec was kidnapped Oct. 21 in Tijuana, and his family still has not talked with or heard from him.

Originally, the kidnappers demanded a $1-million ransom for Tec's release, but in two calls Oct. 27 the kidnappers lowered that figure to $500,000 and subsequently to $200,000.

"Last night, we also heard a recording of his voice saying he was OK, and he asked us to do all that the kidnappers told us to do because his life was at risk," Tec's 30-year-old son Johnny said Oct. 28.

"We are totally hopeful and faith-filled," Johnny Tec said. "Mom is holding up pretty good. We've been having prayer meetings every night here at the house. We give credit to the prayers of so many people out there. We're hearing from places all over the world where people are praying for us. I don't know how they found out, but we're hearing from people all over the U.S. and Mexico, from Japan, the Philippines and even Africa.

"Only God can give us joy in the middle of a storm like this," Tec said. "But that's what we've been experiencing – the comfort of God and the hope that He will bring our dad back soon."

Pastor Manuel Tec, 59, was kidnapped after crossing the border from San Diego into Tijuana with wife Maria and his younger son Giovanni. Gunmen stopped the car around 5 a.m. and forcibly abducted Tec, but left his wife and son free and unhurt.

The kidnappers contacted the Tec family for the fourth time Oct. 26, "trying to be intimidating," Johnny Tec said. He said the kidnappers have not allowed him or his mother to talk to Manuel since abducting him.

The Tecs first heard from the abductors Oct. 21, the day of the kidnapping, when the kidnappers called the family three times – at 5:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to voice their demands.

"Every time they called, they got more aggressive and more graphic in their threats," said Tec, adding that the family is in the dark as to why his father was targeted for kidnapping.

"He wasn't famous so we don't know why anyone would want to kidnap him. He was friendly, well-liked and popular with his church members and those who knew him. But we don't know why someone would want to kidnap him for money, especially $1 million."

Tec added that the kidnappers have instructed the family, "Keep cooperating with us and your dad will be OK."

"They said to come up with the money – that this wasn't a game. They've also said they know all of the Tec brothers and sisters and would go after the entire family," Johnny said.

Manuel and his wife have three sons and two daughters. Though he lives in Tijuana, the pastor travels regularly to his new church plant in San Diego, Iglesia Familiar y Vida. A graduate of the Dr. G.H. Lacy Baptist Seminary in Oaxaca, Mexico, Manuel has pastored numerous Baptist churches south of the border since 1981, his son Johnny said.

"We just say 'gracias' to Southern Baptists everywhere for praying during this crisis we're going through," Johnny Tec said. "Let Baptists know that their prayers are being heard. We can feel how God has strengthened us. We think God is setting the stage for one more of His miracles that will leave us all in awe. Something grand is going to come out of this to show the world the power of prayer and God."

Tijuana increasingly has become known as a dangerous border town, with a growing number of kidnappings and murders – often with doctors and other white-collar professionals as targets. The escalating violence is blamed on gangs and drug traffickers. Authorities recently rounded up some of the kidnapping gangs.

"It's getting worse," Johnny Tec said. "A lot of people are fleeing the city because the violence has skyrocketed over the past five years. Tijuana's an unsafe place to be, with a lot of evil on the streets. Ten people a day are showing up dead on the streets of Tijuana."

Tec said demanding a $1 million – or even a $200,000 ransom – for a Baptist minister makes no sense.

"The first ransom proposals down here seem to always be for $1 million, no matter who they pick out," said Tec, adding that the latest ransom demand of $200,000 is still "well out of our possibilities."

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

10/30/2008 8:30:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



S. Baptists assess Pakistan earthquake

October 30 2008 by Baptist Press

QUETTA, Pakistan — Southern Baptists are assessing relief needs in the aftermath of a strong pre-dawn earthquake in southwestern Pakistan on Oct. 29.

Thousands of homes were destroyed or buried by landslides that also have blocked roads, according to news reports out of the region. The earliest reports listed at least 150 people killed. Pakistan's government is using helicopters to ferry troops and medical teams into the quake zone.

Many survivors will be faced with near-freezing nighttime temperatures. Government officials reported they were distributing tents, blankets and food into the quake zone. A Southern Baptist assessment team will work to identify which needs they can help with and look for communities not being adequately reached by relief efforts.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and waiting to hear from our field partners on the ground," said Jim Brown, director of the U.S. office for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization. "We ask all Southern Baptists to pray that God would preserve life and speed rescue efforts. Pray that God would work in this crisis to help people understand how much He loves them and wants them to experience lives filled with hope and purpose."

The Oct. 29 quake was not as destructive as the massive 7.6 quake that devastated northern Pakistan in 2005, killing 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

10/30/2008 8:29:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Values’ distinguish both candidates and voters

October 29 2008 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

"Values voters" – a term popularized by conservative evangelicals after the 2004 elections – may bring a wide array of values to the polls. Here's a rundown of the two presidential candidates' views on a number of issues cited by religiously motivated voters on both the left and right, as compiled by the web site OnTheIssues.org:
 

Abortion

John McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide – with exceptions for incest and rape. He would prohibit late-term abortion procedures labeled by opponents as "partial-birth" abortion and ban public funding of organizations that advocate or perform abortions. He would prosecute abortion doctors, not the women who get them.
 
Barack Obama supports Roe v. Wade. He believes common ground can be found by acknowledging there is a moral dimension to the abortion debate and that people of good will are on both sides. He says everyone can agree on working to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might lead someone to consider an abortion.
 

Capital punishment

McCain supports broadened use of the death penalty, stricter penalties for violent crime and increasing spending to build more federal prisons.
 
While supporting capital punishment for some heinous crimes, Obama says the death penalty should be enforced fairly and with caution.
 

Gay marriage

Obama opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions for gay couples. He says decisions about same-sex marriage should be left up to the states but opposes California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and woman.
 
McCain supports Proposition 8 and has supported a statewide ban on gay marriage in his home state of Arizona, but he opposes a similar ban on the federal level, saying it should be left up to individual states.
 

Global warming

McCain says climate change is real and must be addressed, and nuclear power is the best way to fix it. He also supports alternative fuels like wind, tide, solar, natural gas and clean-coal technology and favors offshore drilling to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
 
Obama favors nuclear power as one component of the nation's overall energy mix. He says 20 percent of the nation's power supply should come from renewable sources by 2020. He believes the Bible teaches stewardship of the earth and sacrifice on behalf of future generations.
 

Health care

Obama says health care is a right for every American, and it is morally wrong when the terminally ill Sen. Barack Obama must worry about paying their medical bills. He says he would take on insurance companies to drive down health care costs and provide mandatory health care for children.
 
McCain says health care is a responsibility. He says affordable health care should be available to every citizen, but families, rather than the government, should make decisions about health care.
 

Immigration

McCain says he would restart comprehensive immigration reform only after securing America's borders. He would deport 2 million people in the country illegally who have committed crimes and says he would veto any bill giving "amnesty" to illegal immigrants.
 
Obama says America has nothing to fear from today's immigrants. He supports immigration reform that secures America's borders, punishes employers who exploit migrant workers and requires the 12 million undocumented immigrants to take steps to become legal citizens.
 

Iraq

Obama opposed the war in Iraq from its beginning and says it has distracted the United States from catching Osama bin Laden.
 
McCain believes in the Bush policy of pre-emptive war. He credits President Bush and the troops for the fact there has not been another major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. McCain says America is winning in Iraq.
 

Israel

Both candidates support a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.
 
McCain wants to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to show solidarity with Israel. Obama says Jerusalem should be a final-status issue resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
 

Labor

Obama says workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union – without harassment or intimidation. He says farm policy should benefit families, not corporations. He supports making the minimum wage a living wage and says customers having to pay more for consumer items produced domestically is worth it to keep jobs in the United States.
 
McCain says Americans are not afraid of foreign competition and supports lowering barriers to free trade.
 

Race

McCain voted against the federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1990 but now says it was a mistake. He defended the Confederate flag as a "symbol of heritage" but said South Carolina was wise to fly the flag in front of instead of on top of the state house.
 
Obama says the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, not on public property.
 

Schools

McCain says the key to improving the quality of public schools is to promote competition from charters, home-schooling and vouchers for private schools.
 
Obama supports charter schools but opposes vouchers.
 
McCain believes virtues contained in the Ten Commandments should be taught in public schools and that school prayer should be allowed but not mandated. Obama supports a stricter separation between church and state.
 
McCain says whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution is up to local school districts. He says he believes in evolution but sees the hand of God in creation. Obama opposes teaching creationism in public schools.
 

Stem-cell research

Obama says America owes it to her citizens to explore the potential of embryonic stem cells to treat debilitating diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries and diabetes.
 
McCain also supports expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
 

Torture

McCain disagrees with the White House position that waterboarding is not torture and says torture is supported only by people without military experience.
 
Obama says torture should not be used under any circumstance.

10/29/2008 9:10:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Religious ‘test’ for public office? Yes and no

October 29 2008 by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press

American Christians may pledge loyalty to the United States Constitution. But behind the closed curtain of the polling booth, many violate the spirit of the constitutional prohibition on any religious test for public office. And several church-state experts insist that's not altogether bad — up to a point.

Article Six of the Constitution ends with the clause: "... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." But imposing religious tests as a matter of law differs from voters imposing them in practice, some authorities on church-state issues noted.
 
American voters "impose an unofficial religious test that vets candidates based on their religious views," and it's entirely legal and appropriate, said Derek Davis, dean at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and former director of Baylor University's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Both are Texas Baptist schools.

"This unofficial test does not serve to disqualify anyone from running for office; it only serves to allow voters the freedom to consider the religious views of candidates for whom they might vote," Davis said.
 
A candidate's religious affiliation remains "the litmus test most people won't admit to, but that they carry around with them" into the voting booth, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.
 
"As responsible citizens, religious affiliation should have no bearing whatsoever on selecting someone for public office," Haynes insisted. But he draws a sharp distinction between religious affiliation and religious commitment.
 
"Their religious commitment in terms of its influence on the lives that they live, on the values they hold and on their worldview — those all go into character," he said. "It's fair for voters to know the source of a person's values and how that person makes decisions."
 
As a practical matter, "voters can and do take religion into account," said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
 
Voters should bring their religious values to the public square. They have every right to consider a candidate's religious faith as one factor out of many in making an informed decision about whether that person would be a good public servant, Walker said.
 
"When candidates talk about their faith, it helps us know who they are, learn what makes them tick, and examine their moral core. The free and fluid discussion of candidates' faith carries the promise of improving the electorate's ability to make an informed decision in the voting booth," he said.
 
In fact, public interest in the private religious faith of candidates signals a healthy level of respect for religion's role in society, said Suzii Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission, the public-policy and moral-concerns arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Questions about religious convictions can reveal valuable insights into a candidate's character and values, she noted.
 
"The alternative would be a prohibition against talking about religion, and that would just be terrible," she said. "It would deny the electorate a window into who the candidates are."
 
While voters should consider a candidate's religious commitment as one factor out of many, it never should become the single decisive test to determine an individual's suitability for public office, said James Dunn, resident professor of Christianity and public policy at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

"Religion ought to be a factor, but not a prohibitive factor," said Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee.
 
To the extent that a person's religious views shape his or her moral character, those views can be weighed. And a candidate's adherence to some beliefs also may reveal something about the individual's discernment and ability to make rational decisions, he added.
 
"We insist, in Western democracies, that our public leaders should not believe absurdities, because those who believe absurdities are capable of atrocities," he said, paraphrasing Voltaire.
 
Looking back on their heritage as a persecuted minority religion, Baptists should resist "the de facto political anointing of particular religious perspectives," recognizing the danger that presents both to religion and government, Dunn added.
 
In practical terms, voters historically often have excluded from office people who do not follow the religion practiced by the majority, Paynter acknowledged. But she sees positive signs of change. "I'm hesitant to use the term 'religious test' because of its specific meaning and because a test does not change. But the electorate's tolerance (of religious minorities) changes," she said.
 
Discussion of personal religious convictions can be helpful, but it should not be seen as mandatory, Walker stressed. He suggested an important backstop to keep questions of faith from devolving into religious bigotry.
 
"Ask the follow-up question, 'So what?' he recommended. "What difference will a candidate's religion make on his or her performance in office? What impact will it have on public policy? How does it affect his or her leadership style?"
 
Matters of personal religious conviction become fair game when related to policy decisions and a candidate's ability to lead. But adherence to the spirit of the no-religious-test principle demands that linkage be made, Walker said.
 
"It is not only not very helpful, but also terribly invasive to have a theological inquiry isolated from policy and matters of governance," he said.
 
Nonetheless, when appropriately framed in terms of how convictions make an impact on decisions, questions of religious commitment can provide valuable insights into the character of candidates, Paynter observed.
 
When people reach a certain level — whether in politics, business or any other powerful enterprise — there's always a temptation to see themselves as above the rules that apply to others, she noted.
 
"It's important to know the grounding people have for their public ethic," she said. "Public ethics come from private ethics. They don't go the other way."
 
In selecting a president, Davis added, voters also rightly may consider the office's ceremonial role, which has an almost pastoral dimension in times of national catastrophe "when Americans need their national leader to share their grief and soothe their hearts and somehow offer some spiritual comfort."
 
But, he cautioned, the president must respect the institutional separation of church and state. Davis also prescribed a good dose of humility, saying voters should take care to elect leaders who recognize the danger in equating their policies with God's will.
 
"The ability of any world leader to know precisely the will of God is foreign to the Bible. The Bible speaks of an inscrutable God who often has brought down powerful nations in their prime due to their pride," he said.
 
"The temptation to act religiously based on our own fallible interpretations of domestic and world events is among the reasons our constitution wisely mandates a degree of separation between church and state, thus preventing too close an alliance between the interests of religion and government that might harm our great nation."
 
Human experience and biblical revelation both point to the need for humility, Dunn added. He quoted Romans 11:34: "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?"
 
"True believers understand we do not know the mind of God," he said. And he strongly suggested steering clear of those who claim they do.

10/29/2008 9:07:00 AM by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hurting women find compassion, healing

October 29 2008 by Kay Adkins, Baptist Press

An atypical group of women gathered for the afternoon in an upscale neighborhood fronting Lake Dardanelle, inside the home of Vickie Henderson, an OB/GYN physician.

From a worldly perspective, the gathering could not be explained — it would seem there was no common ground for fellowship.

But through the eyes of Christ, they had all things in common. All were sinners, saved by grace, seeking victory over life's "hurts, hang-ups and habits."

Chey, one of the women attending the gathering in Russellville, Ark., had only known demonic turmoil in her 30-plus years of life.

"I can remember drinking alcohol from the age of 4. And I basically raised myself," she said. Her story included repeated cycles of drug, alcohol and sexual addictions, criminal activities and failed attempts to break free of it all. She often sought help in churches but did not find many who would even look her direction.

"Six months ago I would never have imagined that at this moment I would be sitting in this kind of house with these people, sharing my story. That just shows God is good. He's good," Chey marveled, adding, "I don't always know how to act like a lady, and I never know what is going to come out of my mouth. I sat at the table earlier just hoping I was using the right fork!"

Everyone present laughed a knowing laugh. Over half of the women in Henderson's home that day had life stories of pain, brokenness and self-destructive behaviors similar to Chey's. They are now working on healing through a God-orchestrated amalgam of faith-based recovery ministries at First Baptist Church in Russellville, spearheaded mainly by Henderson and two other women, Nelda Alexander and Sheila Lambert.


Different kind of home

Alexander operates Bruised Reed Ministries, a home for women yearning to break free from self-destructive behaviors of most any kind. She also directs the church's Celebrate Recovery (CR) ministry and serves as Arkansas' CR state representative. Lambert facilitates a group in CR and teaches weekly Bible studies at the Bruised Reed. Henderson teaches the Heartlifters Sunday School class, a group of very diverse women attended by Bruised Reed and CR clients, among other women.

Greg Sykes, the church's associate pastor, remarked, "The main thing we are seeing is changed lives way beyond what you would typically see in most churches. Women, many of whom are at the bottom of the barrel due to issues like collapsed marriages, physical abuse, substance addictions — we're seeing them come in and change and grow and go out into ministry areas and become fully assimilated in the life of our church."

Noelle and Randi, who currently reside at the Bruised Reed Ministries home, are both single moms working on recovery from substance abuse. Both women agree that any one part of the ministry probably would not be enough to keep them on track with their recovery. "But having Nelda — Nelda is great — and Celebrate Recovery and Vickie's Bible study — all of those support groups, including church, is like the balanced package needed for healthy recovery," Noelle said.

"We're not a lockdown facility," Alexander noted. "The women have to be motivated. They have to want to be here."

Commenting on common fears people have of ministry to recovering addicts, Alexander said, "You have to realize, it isn't about you. All Jesus did was tell people the truth and ask them to follow Him. Plus, we all have sinful issues. When we fear ministering to people with problems, we should include ourselves. This is what the church is supposed to be about — helping people find affirmation, acceptance and healing in Jesus Christ."


Each story unique

Alexander recounted the story of one of the women present at the gathering at Henderson's home. "Donna had been living under a bridge in Nashville. She had a radio, and hit on a Christian rock station. Thinking she was just listening to rock music, she heard the gospel and was saved."

Donna returned to Russellville, where she'd spent a good part of her life. One day when Donna was walking down a street, a woman recognized her and stopped to pick her up. That woman happened to be aware of Bruised Reed Ministries and took Donna there.

Donna was pregnant at the time. Alexander, who previously had determined she would not take maternity cases, laughed, "I had to take that back. I won't be saying I won't do certain things. God reminded me then that this is His ministry."

Henderson became Donna's physician and delivered her little girl, Stella.

Donna enjoys painting and hopes one day to sell her work. Henderson showed the group one of Donna's paintings of Christ hanging on the cross. She described another painting of a pair of feet walking down a dark path, with a lantern lighting the next step. The Scripture caption for the painting: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." That painting hangs in the Heartlifters Sunday School classroom.

"Yeah, when I'm really thankful for someone," Donna said, "that's all I can really do to show them — paint."

Several women chimed together in encouragement, "But that's huge!"

After spending a year at Bruised Reed, Donna and Stella are now living on their own.

Henderson, Alexander and others described the transformation in Donna as dramatic, both physically and spiritually. "I really wish we had a before and after picture of Donna," Henderson said. "The transformation is external as well as internal."

Commenting further about ministry to addicts, Alexander said, "I can't fix anybody. I can only tell them, 'I can help you find the truth and show you a better way. But you have to make the choices.'"

To make right choices, Alexander knows that scripture is the key. As associate pastor Sykes noted, "The ladies that come to that house submit to some high standards. It's a total separation from your past and a total restart of your life. That's essential for what a lot of them have been through. And they develop a new relationship with the Lord."

Bruised Reed Ministries' clients must agree to spend lots of time digesting God's word, including three weekly Bible studies, two worship services and weekly participation in the church's Friday night Celebrate Recovery program.

Lambert, who leads the weekly Bible studies at Bruised Reed, also has been part of Celebrate Recovery since it began in 2005. Having firsthand experience as the mother of an alcohol-dependent son, she facilitates the codependent women's group. Celebrate Recovery is not just for drug or alcohol addicts, Lambert noted, but for anyone struggling with any kind of bondage. Examples of other struggles include compulsive eating, gambling or pornography.

"A typical group like my group — the co-dependent women — has a young woman who is a meth addict and who grew up in a family of addicts," Lambert said. "Another woman lost her husband and is just grieving. Another is married to an alcoholic and going through a divorce. A few of us are there just because we want to be available."

About 30-40 men and women regularly attend CR meetings, which begin with a meal together, followed by a time of worship and teaching. They then break up into smaller groups for sharing, and each person has three to five minutes to express something about their problem and how they are reacting. Then they have dessert and converse about the things shared in the group.

"I can say that on some Friday nights, I'm the one who needs it," Lambert confessed.

Sykes believes the honesty and transparency in Lambert, Alexander and Henderson are qualities that have made them effective leaders in the recovery ministry. "Nelda is a special lady who is able to handle situations not all of us can," he said. "No matter how dark, she's not afraid of stuff and she just jumps in.

"Vickie is open and tenderhearted, but not afraid to say the difficult thing. And Sheila as well, she's willing to be honest and call a spade a spade," Sykes said. "You can't really do ministry if all you are going to give them is a shoulder to cry on. There are not any games being played."

Henderson's Heartlifters Sunday School class is a group of diverse women whose lives have become deeply intertwined — Bruised Reed clients, Celebrate Recovery members, widows, divorcees, single women or married women whose husbands don't attend church, and a wide range of experiences. There is no "correct" appearance — tattoos, body piercings, spiked hair styles and bright hair colors are accepted.

"They help them find apartments, get furniture, do baby showers. They put society's norms aside and just love them," said Jay Ham, the church's missions and outreach pastor. "They have reached out to moms of kids in our skateboard ministry, and a couple of women from our cowboy ministry go to the Heartlifters class. Lots of churches struggle with what you do with younger single ladies, but we have a place."

Noelle and Randi, for example, said that no matter what is being taught in the Heartlifters class, it applies directly to something they are dealing with. All the women agreed that they feel welcome into the First Baptist congregation as a whole, noting that that isn't the case in many churches.

Noelle commended Beth Perry who helped Noelle feel at ease the first time she attended the class. "I wasn't comfortable going to a Sunday School class, but I felt instantly welcomed. Beth, you were the first one to greet me, and you made me feel so welcome."

Alexander added, "That's so important because if they don't feel welcome the first time, they won't go back again."

Sykes commented on the impact the women in recovery have on others in the congregation, even before they complete their healing. "The women come to know Jesus and get authentically saved. They rub shoulders with people who don't have near the same problems. They impact others because of their transparency and openness.

"When you have that kind of brokenness," Sykes said, "God moves and great things happen. Our people are challenged spiritually to check their own hearts."

The Heartlifters class averages 25 in attendance. At Bruised Reed Ministries, meanwhile, 23 women have been helped over the last two years. Sykes estimated that 80 percent of the Bruised Reed clients are able to successfully "restart" their lives.

Randi has her nursing assistant certification and plans to complete her G.E.D. and go on to college. She sings in the church choir and with the CR praise team. Thankful for her grandmother who currently has custody of her 2-year-old son, Randi said, "When I talk to her on the phone, she tells me what a joy he is. That really helps me."

Noelle already has an associate's degree and had been employed in the health care field. She confessed that her struggles stem from worry and a need to try to control all of her circumstances. "I'm just learning to take it day by day and trust God for my future," she said.

Kimberlee, the newest resident at Bruised Reed, recently was paroled and hopes to return soon to her fiancé in Texas. She received Christ while in prison and wanted a program that would help her grow spiritually. "I desperately needed structure," Kimberlee said, "and guidance, and a loving family which I've never had" — all necessary elements to recovery that she has found at Bruised Reed Ministries.

Alexander said it is a wonderful thing to watch the women's transformation when God begins to work in their lives. "They come in with such hard faces. Most are emaciated when they arrive. Then their faces begin to change — they become brighter. They become the beautiful women they are," she said.

Through Bruised Reed Ministries, Celebrate Recovery, saturation in the word and the unconditional love and support of the Heartlifters Sunday School, these women and others like them have learned, and are learning, that God's grace is enough.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Adkins is a writer based in Mountain View, Ark. Celebrate Recovery honors and adheres to anonymity and confidentiality. Nelda and Ron Alexander and Sheila Lambert chose to step out of anonymity for this story to encourage others who might need help or support. Developed by John Baker at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered church-based program to help believers overcome any kind of hurt, sinful habit or hang-up. For more information, visit www.celebraterecovery.com.)

10/29/2008 8:50:00 AM by Kay Adkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Warren endorses California marriage amendment

October 28 2008 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

Pastor Rick Warren has publicly endorsed a proposed California constitutional marriage amendment, giving supporters a boost in what is expected to be a close vote Nov. 4.

The pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. — who hosted a presidential forum with both major candidates in August — made the endorsement of Proposition 8 in an Oct. 23 e-mail to church members. His statement comes as ProtectMarriage.com, the main organization supporting Prop 8, tries to raise enough money to purchase additional television ads and fight off a well-funded final push by opponents.

If passed, Prop 8 will overturn the May decision by the state high court that legalized "gay marriage."

"For 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion — not just Christianity — has defined marriage as a contract between men and women," Warren wrote. "There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 (percent) of our population. This is one issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have publicly opposed the redefinition of marriage to include so-called 'gay marriage.' Even some gay leaders, like Al Rantel of KABC oppose watering down the definition of marriage.

"Of course, my longtime opposition is well known. This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about. There is no doubt where we should stand on this issue."

Warren concluded: "This will be a close contest, maybe even decided by a few thousand votes. I urge you to VOTE YES on Proposition 8 — to preserve the biblical definition of marriage. Don't forget to vote!"

The next eight days could very well determine whether Prop 8 passes. Through Oct. 23, opponents of Prop 8 had outraised supporters by a margin of 5 to 1 this month in donations of $1,000 or more, and that money has gone mostly to fund notoriously expensive television advertising in the state. The most recent big-name donor was Apple, the computer company, which said Oct. 24 it was donating $100,000 to Prop 8 opponents.

Frank Schubert, campaign manager for ProtectMarriage.com, wrote in an e-mail to in-state and out-of-state supporters Oct. 24 that Prop 8 opponents outspent supporters by $1.9 million on TV ads during the week and "will outspend us in advertising (this) week by another $2 million."

There is, though, some good fundraising news for Prop 8 supporters. Schubert said in the e-mail that $1 million of a $3 million emergency goal had been raised as of Oct. 24. Additionally, a donor had agreed to match, dollar for dollar, each donation made to ProtectMarriage.com "up to a total of $1 million."

ProtectMarriage.com's own internal polling now shows the race in a dead heat, Schubert said, after leading in internal polling a week earlier.

ProtectMarriage.com also has released a new ad, meant to counter one by opponents that had claimed public schools would not be required to teach about "gay marriage" if it remained legal. The ad shows students on the steps of the San Francisco city hall, celebrating their lesbian teacher's "gay wedding" as part of a mid-day field trip. The ad quotes a school official who called it a "teachable moment." The ad ends by citing data from the California Department of Education's web site showing that 96 percent of the state's schools districts teach sex-education, which, according to state law, requires schools to "teach respect for marriage and committed relationships."

"Children will be taught about gay marriage unless we vote yes on Proposition 8," the ad's narrator concludes.

Schubert said funding is needed to put the ad on air.

"As strong as this new ad is ... it won't be able to reverse our downward trend in the polls if voters only see it once for every two times that they see ads from our opponents," he wrote. "The future of traditional marriage remains in grave, grave danger."

Schubert, other pro-family leaders and supporters of Prop 8 are scheduled to gather on the west steps of the state capitol Oct. 28 for a "rescue marriage rally."

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June passed a resolution urging Southern Baptists in California to work and vote for the amendment there and for all Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray for its passage. The resolution passed nearly unanimously. Additionally, in September the executive board of the California Southern Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the amendment.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

10/28/2008 5:39:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



College free speech lawsuit settled

October 28 2008 by Religion News Service

Shippensburg University and a religious student group have settled a lawsuit over alleged violations of free speech rights at the state-owned university.

The Christian Fellowship of Shippensburg University asserted in a federal lawsuit filed last May that it had been threatened with being shut down because it requires members to be Christians and its president to be a man.

The group said the school violated a 2004 settlement of a separate lawsuit over the school's student code of conduct.

In the 2004 case, a civil liberties group sued the university over a student code that barred "acts of intolerance" including racist, sexist and homophobic speech. University officials said they would revise the code after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring its enforcement.

The Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom said the latest lawsuit stemmed from Christian Fellowship's expulsion from campus by the student senate in February in a dispute over its membership and leadership requirements.

The group, which has been recognized by the university since the early 1970s, was later told it could resume operations but said it feared the possibility of further sanctions.

The fellowship alleged university officials had undermined free speech by enacting "vague and overbroad speech codes" and by requiring students to report violations.

The Alliance Defense Fund said the university "has agreed to correct the policies and respect the constitutional rights of its students."

The section of the Student Association Handbook for recognized clubs and organizations now includes the provision: "A student organization formed to foster or affirm political or sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may select its members and leaders in accordance with those beliefs."

Shippensburg confirmed that the suit had been settled and said in a statement that it had not disciplined students for violating rules about speech, "nor has the university taken action against a student organization based on its membership criteria."

10/28/2008 5:33:00 AM by Religion News Service | with 0 comments



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