October 2009

Campbell dedicates Butler Chapel over 4 days

October 21 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Campbell University stretched a “thrilling and most enjoyable moment” over four days to dedicate its new, $8.5 million Anna Gardner and Robert B. Butler Chapel Oct. 12-15.

Photo by Bennett Scarborough

Campbell's Anna Gardner and Robert B. Butler Chapel

The 12,000-sq.-ft. facility features an elegantly spartan, pine paneled sanctuary with lavish light, premier instruments, glass walls, creation and resurrection stained glass windows, a bride and choir room and the admissions office for Campbell University’s divinity school.

Other outside features include a memorial garden, meditation garden, memorial pool and memorial walk.
Construction on the red brick building began in May 2008.

Originally planned as a smaller facility, funding support was overwhelming, enabling a larger vision, according to Dwaine Greene, vice president for academic affairs and provost.

The new facility will seat 450. Turner Auditorium will continue to hold large student body events.
Butler Chapel, named for 1940 alumna Anna Gardner Butler and her husband, whose estate provided a $3 million lead gift toward the project, culminates a dream of Mrs. Butler who said, even as a student, that the Baptist university needed a chapel.

The chapel, with a 20-bell carillon tower above an intimate prayer room, commands the first view on the academic circle, a location placing it central to scholarly life at Campbell.

Greene said in his remarks Oct. 15 that “academic pursuit and faith commitment are like one hand washing the other and almost indistinguishable in this place.”

Allan Schuyler, pastor of Candle-wyck Baptist Church in Charlotte, said, “The God of the universe is neither contained nor containable,” but Christians construct such sacred places in which to meet Him.

“This chapel will speak to students as they walk by and give testimony to the hope of God leading us in his own way to all those who enter,” said Campbell President Jerry Wallace at the Oct. 14 service.

10/21/2009 5:20:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Atheism 3.0 finds a little more room for belief

October 21 2009 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

Bruce Sheiman doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in religion.

Setting aside the question of whether God exists, it’s clear that the benefits of faith far outweigh its costs, he argues in his new book, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off With Religion than Without It.

“I don’t know if anybody is going to be able to convince me that God exists,” Sheiman said in an interview, “but they can convince me that religion has intrinsic value.”

The old atheists said there was no God. The so-called “New Atheists” said there was no God, and they were vocally vicious about it. Now, the new “New Atheists” — call it Atheism 3.0 — say there’s still no God, but maybe religion isn’t all that bad.

Faith provides meaning and purpose for millions of believers, inspires people to tend to each other and build communities, gives them a sense of union with a transcendent force, and provides numerous health benefits, Sheiman says. Moreover, the galvanizing force behind many achievements in Western civilization has been faith, Sheiman argues,
while conceding that he limits his analysis, for the most part, to modern Western religion.

“More than any other institution, religion deserves our appreciation and respect because it has persistently encouraged people to care deeply — for the self, for neighbors, for humanity, and for the natural world — and to strive for the highest ideals humans are able to envision,” Sheiman writes.

Religion has always had its cultured defenders, atheists who speak up for the social benefits of faith. The philosopher Plato, for instance, did not believe in the Greek pantheon, but argued that other people should, for the good of society. He even proposed criminalizing disbelief in the existence of deities and immortality of the soul.

In recent years, the skeptical scene has been dominated by the New Atheists — Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others — who argue in best-selling books that religious faith is a mental illness, or worse.

But now, a new crew of nonbelievers is taking on the New Atheists, arguing that while they may not have faith themselves, there’s little reason to belittle believers or push religion out of the public square. The back-and-forth debates over God’s existence have shed a little light, but far more heat, they argue, while the world’s problems loom
ever larger.

“The work that we need to do, we atheists, humanists and non-believers, is to build a better world and not try to tear down those with whom we disagree,” said Greg M. Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University.

“When our goal is erasing religion, rather than embracing human beings, we all lose.”

Epstein argues in his forthcoming book, Good without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, that morality does not depend on a judgmental deity and that nonbelievers can lead meaningful, even purpose-driven, lives. But they can also learn from people of faith, such as California megachurch pastor and Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, Epstein says.

Warren’s best-selling book basically says that “you have to have a purpose in life bigger than yourself, and that not everything is all about you,” said Epstein. “And he’s absolutely right about that. But he’s wrong in saying that you have to believe in Jesus Christ and if you don’t you’re going to hell for eternity.”

Atheists who insist that religion be removed from the public square are doing themselves a disservice, argues Austin Dacey, a former United Nations representative for the staunchly secularist Center for Inquiry and author of The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life. A godless public square not only shields religion from public criticism, it also circumvents a broader debate on morality, he argues.

“If they privatize faith, they also won’t be able to criticize it,” Dacey said of the New Atheists an interview.

On the flip side, atheists too, can be a “blessing” for believers, said Samir Selmanovic, co-founder and co-leader of New York’s interreligious Faith House Manhattan and author of It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian.

Atheists are “God’s whistle-blowers,” who keep believers honest and focused on the here-and-now, Selmanovic said. “Atheism at its best grabs us by the collar and throws us to the ground, demanding to see lives well lived, forcing us to dig deeper and live up to the best of our own religions,” he writes.

While no one expects the God debate to end any time soon, in the meantime, perhaps people can agree to disagree a little more agreeably, the new New Atheists argue.

“There was a moment when atheist books were selling,” Dacey said. “But people like objectivity, they like the feeling of balance. So after this wave of atheist books and the criticism that they are extremist, people are trying to find a happy medium.”

10/21/2009 5:18:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Auburn men share faith through ‘dry’ tailgating

October 21 2009 by Jeremy Henderson, Baptist Press

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn University students Michael Nunnelly and Kevin Johnson walked away from Jordan-Hare Stadium after the Tigers’ 41-30 win over West Virginia — happy, drenched with about 3.75 inches of rain and registering a blood-alcohol level of 0.00 percent.
Their clothes were soaking wet. Their tailgate was bone dry.
Just like always.
Nunnelly and Johnson don’t drink. Neither do the approximately 15 other guys who help set up the College Kids Tailgate, a loosely, but devotedly, organized game-day gathering that is beginning to draw attention — for school spirit rather than spirits — on the Auburn campus.
But if not beer, then what?
“Have you ever had Cheerwine?” Johnson, a member of the nondenominational Auburn Church, asked of the cherry-flavored soft drink. “We drink lots of Cheerwine.”
The tailgating began in 2007 with seven friends who lived in Lupton Hall, where the group still sets up camp. The seven friends are Christians, who just, you know, don’t drink.
“We just decided to tailgate together, and it just grew into this,” said Nunnelly, a member of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn.

Photo courtesy The Alabama Baptist

A small group of Auburn University students launched a game-day “dry” tailgating event that now draws hundreds of collegians and sports fans — for school spirit rather than spirits — on the Auburn campus.

“The most was 320 (tailgaters) for the Mississippi State game a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “Or at least that’s how many signed the guest book. There were probably more.”
Since the 2009 football season started, more than 1,000 people have stopped by the tents full of Cheerwine, orange cotton candy and guys wearing orange jumpsuits — trademarks of College Kids Tailgate.
The group is not affiliated with a specific church, denomination or campus ministry.
Still, connections have been made. Lots of hamburgers have been grilled. Relationships have been developed.
“I just appreciate them hanging out together and providing a place where kids can come hang out and feel safe and enjoy the game,” said Johnson’s mother, Tami, as she took shelter underneath one of the tents during a game-day downpour.
Tami Johnson and her husband, Kent, members of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in the Birmingham area, drove down for the day.
“It’s a place where parents can know their kids are safe and where they would want them to be,” she said.
That’s the idea, Nunnelly said.
“We wanted to create a no-pressure environment,” he said. “Something fun for everybody where people of all kinds of backgrounds, both churched and unchurched, lost and saved, can come and build relationships and have a good time.”
Johnson agreed.
“Hopefully it’s making more of an impact than just not having alcohol but by having people that are here developing relationships with Christians that are doing evangelism with their own lives,” he said.
Nunnelly’s mother, Lottie, who has tailgated with him before several of this year’s games, has seen just that firsthand.
“There’s people that just walk up that don’t know anyone there,” said Lottie Nunnelly, who serves as assistant to the pastor at Shades Mountain Baptist. “There were some kids from Mississippi State that came up. I actually got to hear someone asking another student, ‘Hey, so where are you going to church?’ It was really cool to see it working.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Henderson writes for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.)

10/21/2009 5:14:00 AM by Jeremy Henderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Roberta’s story testifies to forgiveness

October 20 2009 by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

Roberta can’t help but smile as she sits with her children by the lake at Broyhill Home. The family unpacks fresh, chicken salad sandwiches and cool drinks from their picnic basket.

Noah and Hannah eat pausing every so often to observe fish splashing in the placid waters. Roberta reminices about days gone by when she fished in the lake.

She was not much older than her children when she came to live at Baptist Children’s Homes’ western area campus.

As a child, Roberta’s life was filled with fear. Roberta was six-years-old when she, her two siblings, and mother moved in with Frank.

BCH photo

Former Baptist Children's Homes resident Roberta Brunck has broken the cycle of abuse in her family. Today, she and her husband Aaron live in Clyde not far away from the Broyhill Home campus where she lived as a child. The couple has two children, Noah and Hannah.

At first, her mother’s boyfriend was nice, but soon Frank’s demeanor changed completely.   

“He started hitting us, spanking us, and really hurting us,” Roberta recalls. “And my mom did nothing.”

Roberta’s mother continued to allow Frank to torment her children. Roberta remembers instances when she was not allowed to eat, and she was forced to sleep outdoors on the cold, hard ground.

Frank’s abuse and the humiliation he caused had no boundaries.

“He would feed me on the ground like a dog,” Roberta reveals.

“He would say it was because I was nasty, dirty, or whatever he could think of that day.”

The suffering continued unchecked for years until the Department of Social Services learned about the children’s tumultuous situation and intervened.

When the police arrived, they gave Roberta’s mother a choice of staying with Frank or keeping her children.

“My mother said, ‘If I have to choose, I choose him,’” a tearful Roberta remembers. “That was hard. Really hard.”

Roberta’s mother and Frank were charged with 52 counts of child abuse. Roberta and her younger sister and brother were placed in separate foster homes until they were reunited at Broyhill Home in Clyde.

“Before, I didn’t know what family was all about,” Roberta says. “When I came, I met people who loved and accepted me.”

Among those people were house parents Jim and Vivian Johnson.

“She was able to work through a lot of anger and resentment,” Vivian says. “It was amazing to see her transformation, especially when she accepted Christ.”

At Baptist Children’s Homes, caring staff members taught Roberta about God’s love and forgiveness.

“I remember them praying for us and some of the devotions in the cottage,” Roberta says. “Those things fed my soul.”

Roberta’s mother eventually left Frank. And through her relationship with God, Roberta was able to forgive her mother.    

“The Lord had offered the greatest forgiveness towards others,” Roberta explains. “So, I had to forgive her. I had to take that step.”

Today, the mother and daughter relationship is restored. Roberta is a caretaker of her mother who is experiencing serious health problems.

“It’s the power of forgiveness and how Baptist Children’s Homes helped me start that journey of forgiveness,” Roberta says.

Today, with Noah, Hannah and her husband Aaron by her side, the cycle of abuse in Roberta’s life is broken.

“I am a child of Baptist Children’s Homes,” Roberta says.

“If someone hadn’t helped me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Prayer guide — November 15-22
  • Sunday — Pray for all children and families in North Carolina.
  • Monday — Pray for all the hundreds of children and families to whom we offer hope each year.
  • Tuesday — Pray for all the dedicated child care workers, residential care givers, and Chiefs who give of themselves around the clock to care for our boys and girls.
  • Wednesday — Pray for our social workers who guide, encourage and challenge our children and families to be all that God intends.
  • Thursday — Pray for those who live at all of BCH’s homes for developmentally disabled adults.
  • Friday — Pray for Oak Ranch and BCH’s equine therapy service.
  • Saturday — Pray for BCH president Michael C. Blackwell as he leads the institution boldly into the future.
  • Sunday — Pray that you will be sensitive to the hurting children around you.

Related stories
Spoke'n: Roberta breaks abuse pattern
Mills Home helped former resident hit back at life
10/20/2009 8:11:00 AM by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments

Mills Home helped former resident hit back at life

October 20 2009 by Lynn Gantt Drennen, First-Person Account

I went to Mills Home August 1962. Mother won custody of us children in the divorce, but it was a bitter consolation since she could not afford to care for the three of us.

Although I spent the first week in tears, I am grateful today to my mother for sending us to Mills Home. And, I’m grateful to North Carolina Baptists who felt my life was worth the financial aid they provided on my behalf for the seven years I lived there.

Living at Mills Home meant learning responsibility for many things including taking care of my own clothes, being responsible for cleaning my part of the bedroom and performing a duty. Every child on the campus was assigned a duty, and we changed every six months or so.

My kitchen duties included preparing, cooking, cleaning and serving meals. One of the best assignments while working in the kitchen was running out to yell the daily milk and bread order. Boys delivered milk and bread, produce and groceries around to cottages on the girls’ side of the campus. The only other time to see and talk to boys was either at church, choir practice, or during the time we were allowed to play in the valley or gym.

When I had duty at the infirmary, Lois Brown, the dietitian, indulged me with her marvelous Yorkshire pudding. I learned about germs and the importance of cleanliness when I worked for nurse Fanny Miller.

Another duty involved working across the campus in the kitchen at the Miles Durham, the little boys’ cottage.

Ola Mae Byrd and I worked in the kitchen, and even though Mrs. Helen Hoyle was fair, she expected us to get the breakfast fixed, served and cleaned up before we headed back home each morning to get ready for school and catch the school bus as it met our cottages.

After school, afternoons were spent cleaning the living areas in Miles Durham cottage and helping with the evening meal, cleaning the kitchen and finally back home to our cottages for study hall. The days seemed short since we were always busy and kept on schedule with our various assignments.

Contributed photo

Lynn Gantt Drennen has won numerous awards for quilting including for her Ancient Memories, a wedding celebration quilt.

Once Mrs. Hoyle had me sit on the wool coiled rugs in the TV room floor and sew the coils back together. She gave me a curved needle and a spool of strong upholstery thread with instructions on how to sew through the coils and hide my stitches as I closed the long holes years of use had left in the rugs.

Fast forward to 10 years ago; I used another curved needle and strong upholstery thread to mend the holes of my preacher’s coiled rug in the church office.

He was amused with my story about how I learned to mend that particular type of rug so long ago at Miles Durham.

Fortunately, I was assigned sewing room duty many times using one of the treadle Singer sewing machines to make miles of kitchen dish towels from pre-cut unbleached cotton muslin rectangles. I loved sewing and quickly promoted from dish towels to bib aprons and later to little boy’s housecoats.

Wrap-around skirts were popular and I made many of black denim. Every girl on campus wore a black wrap-around skirt one time or another, and I probably made half of them.

With meticulous training from Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Campbell on how to read and use clothing patterns, I matched plaids and made (wool) plaid, kick-pleat kilts, skirts, tams and capes. In fact, I sewed my own two-piece bathing suits (that actually worked when they were wet), sleepwear, housecoats, dresses, blouses, shorts, pants and practically everything I wore while in high school including two prom dresses.

One summer, while the tour choir studied music at Fruitland Music Camp, we performed a new musical arrangement and were the first to sing it for the composer. I continued to study clarinet, bass clarinet and bells while in high school, marched and played for the award-winning Thomasville High School band and orchestra.

Although I thought I was more disadvantaged by my comparison to children who weren’t from Mills Home, it is apparent now that I was offered many opportunities to excel and encouraged to perform and lead while living at Mills Home.

Education was stressed at Mills Home. As a business administration major, I graduated magna cum laude from National University and went on to earn my MBA from there as well. I am currently a database manager for a small manufacturing company in Lindsay, Calif., where I live with my husband.

Quilting champion
You probably want to know how this relates to quilting. I remember spending cold winters in the cottage wrapped in quilts made and donated by North Carolina Baptists. I remember loving the designs and the pretty colors of those practical covers we used all winter long.

My quilt training began 23 years ago and is a great passion in my life. I know that the joy I felt sewing as a child is part of the passion now. Fabric is my artistic medium.

My art quilts have won six national or international best-of-show awards. My quilts have been featured in Quilting Arts Magazine, On Track! magazine, The American Quilter magazine and The National Quilting Association’s “2009 Show Special.” Ancient Memories, my wedding celebration quilt, just won 1st place at the Asheville Quilt Show in the professional mixed technique category making a total of seven awards for this quilt. And Grape Harvest, made with two other quilters, has garnered four best-of-show awards in addition to two other awards in national or international competition. Both quilts have been juried into the International Quilt Association’s upcoming quilt festival competition held in Houston this October.

I’m a vocal advocate for women taking control of their breast health as well as using breast thermography for yearly exams instead of the antiquated technology used in mammography.

Because of my community service involvement I received the 1996 Lindsay Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year and the 1997 American Association of University Women Lindsay Branch Community Service Award.

Mills Home workers helped teach me about God’s love and His mercy and the way to salvation. Mills Home workers showed me mercy and love in a multitude of ways. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned growing up at Mills Home, and I know now that the workers there cared deeply for me as they made sure I learned lessons needed in my adult life.

To see more of the national award winning quilts by Lynn Gantt Drennen, go to http://community.webshots.com/user/lynnie915.

 (EDITOR’S NOTE — Drennen was a Mills Home resident 1962-1969.)

Related stories
Roberta's story testifies to forgiveness
Spoke'n: Roberta breaks abuse pattern
10/20/2009 8:07:00 AM by Lynn Gantt Drennen, First-Person Account | with 1 comments

N.C. volunteers rush to aid disaster victims

October 20 2009 by Rick Houston, Special to the Biblical Recorder

Indonesia and the Philippines are so far from North Carolina that to many, the countries might as well be in another universe.

Not to John Adams, pastor of Salemburg Baptist Church and Jack Frazier, a battalion chief for the Cary Fire Department. The men returned Oct. 8 from disaster relief trips to the countries, and their memories will be with them a very long time.

Adams, married 34 years to his wife Carol, is a team leader and point of contact between North Carolina Baptist Men and Baptist World Aid’s Rescue 24, an international search-and-rescue ministry. He was in Indonesia Oct. 1, just a day after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s West Sumatra district, killing 1,200 people and leaving as many as a half million homeless.

“It was a contrast, in that you had a destroyed building (with) catastrophic destruction, but then the building next to it, (there) might be nothing wrong with it and business is going on as usual,” Adams said Oct. 15.

“Everything is destruction and it’s catastrophic, but then the city is still going about its business.”

A 1975 graduate of West Point Military Academy, Adams made the trip with the full support of his church family.

“They’re mission minded,” Adams continued. “They’re some of the most generous, giving folks I’ve ever met.

We go into our Jerusalem focusing on the community here in Salemburg, but we also are very supportive of Judea and Samaria, where we go on disaster recovery with North Carolina Baptist Men. We have a lot of folks involved in that.”

Photo by Jack Frazier

Volunteers set up a medical clinic in a classroom at Promised Land Baptist School and Church in the Philippines. Each of the 120 patients seen that day received prayer, as well as medical attention.

Once Indonesian government and United Nations officials felt the situation was under control, Adams headed to the Philippines, where Frazier had been working with Rescue 24 since Oct. 1. A member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Frazier worked in several areas in and around the capital city of Manila that had been hard hit.

Nearly 400,000 sought emergency shelter after 16 inches of rain fell in the area in just half a day. Approximately 500 lost their lives.

Those who had the least, the so-called “informal settlers,” were hit hardest, according to Frazier, a paramedic.

Asked to describe the situation on the ground in the Philippines, Frazier took a moment.

“First, you have to understand how poor the Philippines are to start with,” Frazier began. “The housing situation for many is just very minimal. They lived in homes built from just leftover scraps, whatever they can find … Those were the ones whose homes were usually either wiped completely away or their possessions were lost in the flooding.”

For all the losses the Filipino people suffered, however, Frazier found them to be stunningly adaptable. Those whose huts were still standing along the river were still living in them, sleeping on blocks with pallets, inches above the water. They washed clothes in buckets, “going on about life like nothing ever really happened.”

Even more incredible was the demeanor of the people Frazier served.

“It was amazing that they were such a happy, friendly group considering what had just happened to them,” said Frazier, who was also deployed to Thailand last year in hopes of making it into Myanmar. “They didn’t have much to start with, and then they go through this. But when we showed up, they were just excited and appeared happy to see us. We saw a lot of smiles and happy children, but many of them had just lost everything except the clothes they were wearing.”

Payatas is a town built, literally, on a dump site. Rescue 24 operated a clinic out of a school and church in the town, and two incidents in particular stand out for Frazier.

One sick infant was brought into the clinic with no clothes, wrapped only in a blanket, by a neighbor. The child’s mother was at work … scavenging through the dump.

An elderly man with tuberculosis had to discontinue his treatments because he could afford neither the trip to the doctor, nor the medicine itself.

Frazier’s team hopes to be able to find financial support to assist that school and church.

“My wife (Paula) is a school teacher and I have kids (daughters Katie and Jessica) in school,” Frazier said.

“When I think about the blessings that we have in this country, and then you look at that little school … all the windows didn’t even have all the panes of glass in them. So when the storm came, they couldn’t shut out the weather. In one bathroom, it was just literally a hole in the ground.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Houston is a writer in Yadkinville.)

10/20/2009 8:03:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Biblical Recorder | with 0 comments

Smithsonian to open evolution hall

October 20 2009 by Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will open a new permanent exhibit on to the “discovery and understanding of human origins” next March and convene a panel of experts to bridge the gap between religion and science.

With input from more than 50 scientific and educational organizations and 70 distinguished scientists and educators, the museum launched a Broader Social Impacts Committee to address the interaction between religion and science.

RPDI (Reich & Petch Design International)

Section of the exhibit that highlights how modern humans are the one remaining species of a diverse family tree.

“There’s a long history of very dynamic interaction between religious ideas and the introduction of Darwin in America,” said Jim Miller, co-chair of the committee.

According to Miller, who is also an official with the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith, the evolution exhibit is “a scientific exhibit so it’s not there to make a religious point.”

Still, the committee will help educate museum volunteers on how to answer questions visitors may have and to “encourage folks to engage the material there in a constructive way.”

Miller has witnessed many religious people in America who divorce their religious beliefs from their understanding of the world’s origins. He hopes the exhibit will provide an opportunity “for sound scientific discovery to enrich religious experience.”

The 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall will offer visitors a “unique, interactive museum experience” that documents some of the major landmarks in human evolution. It will include several features, including a display containing more than 75 cast reproductions of skulls, an interactive human family tree illustrating 6 million years of evolutionary evidence, and an area that addresses climate change and humans’ impact on the earth.

The opening of the $20.7 million exhibition hall will occur March 17, 2010, a date that also marks the museum’s 100-year anniversary on the National Mall.

10/20/2009 8:01:00 AM by Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service | with 3 comments

Cuban Baptist leaders reportedly released

October 20 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Two Cuban Baptist leaders held two weeks while authorities investigated what they regarded as suspicious economic activity have reportedly been released from jail.

Rubén Ortiz-Columbié, 68, and Francisco “Pancho” Garcia-Ruiz, 46, were arrested Oct. 3 by agents of Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police as they entered the province of Guantanamo to deliver financial aid to churches. They were detained in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba while authorities investigated the source and destination of currency worth $4,000 they were carrying at the time of their arrest.

Ray Johnson, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Florida, said he received a call Oct. 17 from the son of one of the captives, Ruben Ortiz, saying they were released without formal charge. The younger Ortiz, who is pastor of First Hispanic Baptist Church in Deltona, Fla., could not be reached for comment Oct. 19 for this story.  

The Florida CBF entered into a partnership with the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention in 2008. Ortiz-Columbié, former general office manager of the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention and long-time teacher at the Baptist Seminary of Eastern Cuba, now volunteers as the convention’s coordinator for special projects. Garcia directs the convention’s teen department.

The Florida CBF has so far collected and transferred $7,000 to fund ministry projects in Cuba. First Hispanic Baptist Church in Deltona has been sending money to the island on a regular basis since 2001.

Sources in Cuba said it is unlikely the men were targeted for religious activity but probably aroused suspicion by carrying around such a large amount of cash. The State Department estimates Cuba’s average monthly salary at $17.
Ned Walsh, a former Baptist minister and current executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Johnston County in Smithfield, N.C., recently returned from a trip to Cuba. He said government officials are particularly wary of money coming from Florida.

Opposition in Florida to Cuban leader Fidel Castro is strong, especially among the large population of Cuban exiles in the Miami area. Also, Walsh said, some evangelical groups in the United States are openly hostile to Castro and thereby viewed in Cuba as capable of supporting activities the government would deem subversive.

Walsh compared it to the suspicion that would likely greet Muslim clergy bringing a large sum of money from Iraq to a mosque in the United States.

Cuban Baptists have always been politically diverse. But those differences have intensified of late as shortages and lack of opportunity have weakened support for the nation’s communist leaders and citizens increasingly say they would like greater freedoms.

One Baptist pastor in Cuba said recently he was forced out of a Baptist convention for condemning the rapprochement of the nation’s Baptist leaders with Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as Cuba’s president in 2008.

Other Baptists believe they fare better by getting along with the government. Walsh said a pastor with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba pointed him toward a landscape hit by a hurricane. Massive oak trees that once stood there were gone, but the palm trees remained. The reason, the pastor told Walsh, is the palm trees were able to bend.

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

10/20/2009 7:59:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Depression among clergy similar to population

October 19 2009 by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder

The tragic suicide of Hickory pastor David Treadway Sept. 27 highlights a problem some say is growing worse by the year.

No one knows for sure how many ministers suffer from depression — or how many attempt suicide. Even those who counsel depressed clergy don’t know those numbers.

“It’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall,” said H.B. London, vice president for pastoral ministry at Focus on the Family. But he offered an estimate, based on research and a decade of ministering to ministers, that 18 percent to 25 percent of all ministers are depressed at any one time.

Most counselors interviewed for this series agreed depression among clergy is at least as likely as in the general population. “I would venture to say it is as common among clergy as non-clergy,” said Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

And those numbers are staggering.

“The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,” said Stanford, an evangelical Christian who studies the handling of mental illness in the Christian community.

About one in four adults will experience a mental-health disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Not all are as serious as major depression, or clinical depression as it was previously labeled. But major depressive disorder does affect 6 percent to 8 percent of all adults per year.

During their lifetime, as many as 12 percent of men and 26 percent of women will experience major depression, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

Some counselors who treat clergy say depression is on the rise.

Anxiety in the pulpit “is markedly higher” in the last five years, “and the accompanying depression, as a reaction to it, is therefore higher,” said Fred Smoot, executive director of Emory Clergy Care in Duluth, Ga., which offers pastoral care to 1,200 United Methodist ministers in North Georgia.

“The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression,” said Smoot, a former Methodist pastor with a PhD in pastoral counseling.

Most counselors agree the majority of clergy depression goes unreported and untreated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo.

“Clergy do not talk about it because it violates their understanding of their faith,” said Steve Scoggin, president of CareNet, which provides pastoral counseling in 21 North Carolina centers. “They believe they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts.”

Nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek or receive treatment, according to a study by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, even though the rate of successful treatment is about 60 percent. When treatment fails, it’s usually because the patient quits taking prescribed anti-depressants, researchers say.

Depression causes two-thirds of the 30,000 suicides reported each year, AMA says.

Even some depressed people who are taking anti-depressants commit suicide, which prompts skeptics to ask if the cure is worse than the disease. But the research indicates otherwise.

For instance, a recent study of 227,000 depressed U.S. veterans found that the patients treated with anti-depressants — including the popular SSRIs and SNRIs — were significantly less likely to commit suicide than those not taking the drugs, and the risk of suicide decreased when patients started the treatment. Anti-depressants, the study concluded, have “a protective effect” against suicide.

However, the Food and Drug Administration warns that teenagers, and perhaps adults 18-25, are under greater risk of suicide while taking anti-depressants. That warning has sparked much of the concern about the drugs.

A study published in August in the British Medical Journal showed that anti-depressants do increase the risk of suicide among people under 25 but have no effect on adults 25-64 and actually reduce the risk of suicide among senior adults — the most under-diagnosed population for depression.

Skepticism about anti-depressants is based on a “Catch 22,” said Stanford. “Depressed patients are most likely to commit suicide — even treated patients,” he said. But it’s the depression, not the treatment, that is the cause.

“There is no empirical evidence that (anti-depressant treatment) causes suicidal thoughts in adults,” the Baylor neuroscientist said. “And it’s definitely true that untreated depression is more likely to result in suicide.”
There are apparently no statistics that suggest ministers are more likely to commit suicide than other professionals.

Studies purporting to measure the suicide risk of various occupations have produced wildly different results, and none of them point to pastors. According to the American Psychiatric Association, other factors are much more important than occupation, particularly a mental disorder, substance abuse, loss of social support and access to a firearm.

The danger, researchers say, is not your job but perhaps the lack of one.

A 2003 journal study found that the unemployed are two or three times more likely to die of suicide than those with a job. Likewise, a 1998 study in the British Medical Journal found “the link between suicide and unemployment is more powerful that other socio-economic measures.”

In a time of recession and rising unemployment, researchers warn, depression, suicide and violence are likely to spike.

Even before the U.S. economy went south, pastors were facing other tough issues, according to those who counsel them. The economy is only amplifying the pressure, they said.

Stagnant church growth, slumping budgets, cultural transition, specialization and “boutique” churches are some of the pressures haunting those in ministry, the counselors said.

“Many pastors are wondering if they are past their prime” in light of that pressure to change with the times, Smoot said. “One of the responses to it is to get depressed.”

Pastors feeling the pressure to bring about change in the church will face tremendous pressure from the other direction — to resist change at all cost, some leaders say.

“Most of our churches are family chapels,” said Monty Hale of Columbia, S.C., referring to the typically small congregations, common in the south, that revolve around a few core families. “The pastor’s job is making sure that nothing changes. These guys that are coming in and trying to move them along to impact (spiritual) lostness are going to get the response, ‘You’re not from around these parts.’”

The power structure in the average 200-member church is programmed to resist change, said London. “No pastor is going to go there and tear the world up; you can’t buck the power structure,” said London, who leads Focus on the Family’s clergy-care ministry, which has ministered to 100,000 pastors of many denominations.

“The issue that so many pastors face is that they are type-A personalities, they want to succeed, and they don’t see a lot of progress,” said London, himself a pastor for three decades. As a result, 80 percent of pastors become discouraged, according to Focus research. Disillusionment and depression often follow.

“If you serve a church that is resistant to change, you’re dead in the water,” he said bluntly. “Even Billy Graham couldn’t succeed there.”

Related stories

Culture, isolation push some to depression 
Members should help pastors set boundaries
10/19/2009 8:05:00 AM by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder | with 7 comments

Culture, isolation push some to depression

October 19 2009 by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder

It’s a prescription for tragedy.

A high-profile, high-stress job with impossible expectations for success starts you down the road to depression.

Then a stigma against weakness and treatment, along with a cultural and professional code of silence, keeps you on that destructive path until you can’t take it anymore.

Sometimes the result is the unthinkable — suicide.

Most often, however, depressed ministers suffer in silence, unable to talk about it even with family. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally they get help.

What kind of personal pain would cause a pastor to abandon his family, his calling and everything else around which he has built his life?

Members of Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory are asking themselves that question after their pastor, David Treadway, 42, committed suicide early Sunday morning, Sept. 27.

Those who counsel pastors say our Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression among pastors.

It’s a job that breeds “isolation and loneliness” — the pastorate’s “greatest occupational hazards,” said Steve Scoggin, president of CareNet, which counsels many North Carolina Baptist pastors.

“These suicides are born out of a lack of those social supports that can intervene in times of personal crisis.”

“We create an environment that makes it hard to admit our humanity,” Scoggin added. “…We believe that (pastors) are not supposed to struggle as others do.”

“We invite depression by unrealistic expectations,” said H.B. London, vice president for pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. “We set the bar so high that most pastors can’t achieve that, and because most pastors are people-pleasers, they get frustrated and feel they can’t live up to that.”

A pastor is like “a 24-hour ER” who is supposed to be available to any congregant at any time, said Scoggin of CareNet, a statewide network of pastoral counseling centers that is a subsidiary of North Carolina Baptist Hospital.

When pastors fail to live up to the frequently impossible demands — imposed by self or others — they often “turn their frustration back on themselves,” to self-doubt and to feelings of failure and hopelessness, said Fred Smoot, executive director of Emory Clergy Care in Duluth, Ga., which is responsible for providing pastoral care to 1,200 United Methodist ministers in North Georgia.

Matthew Stanford, a neuroscientist who studies how the Christian community handles mental illness, says depression carries “a double stigmatization.” Society in general still places a stigma on mental illness, while Christians make it worse by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders — dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.

The result is a culture of avoidance.

“You can’t talk about it before it happens and you can’t talk about it after it happens,” said Monty Hale, director of pastoral ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

It’s a silent conspiracy in which both the church and pastor are complicit, the experts say. The congregation creates impossible expectations that can lead pastors to depression, then punishes a pastor who seeks professional help. Meanwhile, pastors often deny themselves both the prevention measures that could avoid depression and the treatment that could cure it.

“There is a tendency to keep it quiet to protect your career,” said Scoggin. The added tragedy, he said, is that depression is treatable for most people.

But even treatment can come at a high price.

“You are committing career suicide if you have to seek treatment,” said Stanford, “particularly if you have to take time off.”

Depression “is a darkness like no other,” said Stanford, an evangelical Christian who teaches at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Most depression does not lead to suicide, but almost all suicides begin with depression. Experts say it’s a rare outcome to a common problem. But Baptists in the Carolinas are asking tough questions after a spate of suicides and attempts by pastors in recent years.

In addition to Treadway, two other ministers in North Carolina attempted suicide in the past couple of years, said Scoggin. And three depressed pastors in South Carolina have taken their own lives in the last four years, said Hale, although most were not publicly acknowledged as suicides.

Treadway’s death doesn’t follow all the patterns of stress-induced depression. Unlike most depressed pastors, the Hickory pastor told his congregation months ago that he was in treatment. And those closest to him say there were no signs that pastoral stress pushed him over the edge on that morning he took his life while in his parked car.

“This kind of blindsided us,” said Rodney Powe, worship pastor of the 900-member church. “I don’t know that we could have done anything different to prevent this.”

Although Treadway had talked about his depression, Powe said, “for people like me who didn’t understand (depression), it was difficult” to come to terms with the pastor’s death and the stigma of mental illness.

Counselors who have since met with the staff and others have discussed the clinical characteristics of the disease, he said. “For me to see it as an illness has helped me sort through it.”

Those who don’t experience depression tend to trivialize the suffering of those who do, he said. “We just say, ‘Come on, get over it. We have the hope of Christ and the Holy Spirit. You should be able to get over it.’”

“People look to pastors as being impervious to any kind of pressure,” said Powe, who has worked at the church for nine years. “We’re professional Christians. We’re supposed to be above this.”

While tragic, Treadway’s death has not crippled the church, he said. “I’m not the least concerned about our church moving on and reaching out to the community. … The work is bigger than an individual.”

The good news, counselors say, is that most ministers eventually are able to deal with their depression and put their problems, and their jobs, in perspective.

“Most pastors don’t stay depressed,” said Smoot. “They find a way out of that frustration.”

Sometimes that means learning to live with their demons.

“Depression is part of the human condition,” said Scoggin. “… Some people simply find ways to gracefully live with it. Like other chronic illnesses, you may not get over it. Many, many people have to learn to live with it.”

Main clergy stressors

  • Vocational stressors — inadequate pay, low work satisfaction, high time demands
  • Intrapersonal stressors — emotional exhaustion, burnout, low personal satisfaction, sense of personal failure, low family satisfaction, lack of family time, lack of privacy
  • Social stressors — social expectations, high expectations regarding personal behavior, high criticism, intrusiveness, lack of social support

Related stories

Depression among clergy similar to population
Members should help pastors set boundaries
10/19/2009 8:04:00 AM by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder | with 7 comments

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