October 2011

Faith is No. 1 reason for teens’ abstinence

October 20 2011 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The most frequent reason teenagers give for abstaining from sex is that the behavior is against their religion or morals, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Oct. 12.

Among the 57 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys ages 15-19 who said they had never had sex, 41 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys chose “against religion or morals” as their main reason for not having had sex. Teenagers were least likely to choose “don’t want to get a sexually transmitted disease” as the reason for not having had sex, the CDC said.

“Adults have to decide whether teenagers are like barnyard animals, incapable of moral decision-making and at the mercy of primal urges,” Richard Ross, cofounder of the True Love Waits abstinence movement, said. “Adults who tend to believe that assume all we can do is try to prevent some of the consequences of their amoral behavior.”

Early True Love Waits leaders stood in opposition to that sentiment and instead told teenagers, “We have great respect for you. In the power of the Spirit, we believe you are perfectly capable of choosing values, making promises and keeping those promises,” Ross said.

“That was a completely different message than they were hearing in school, and they rose up in historic numbers to embrace what they were hearing,” Ross told Baptist Press. “Then, here we are, 17 years later, and the government asks the teenagers not having sex why they live that way. And by a wide margin the students tell us it is all about their faith and not so much about their biological fears.”

The response choices for the in-person interviews of more than 4,600 teenagers were: “against religion or morals,” “don’t want to get pregnant/get a female pregnant,” “don’t want to get a sexually transmitted disease,” “haven’t found the right person yet,” “in a relationship, but waiting for the right time” and “other.”

Researchers also found that the rate of teenagers having sex has declined slightly from the last report, which was released in 2002. But the report said that from 1988 to 2006-2010, the percentage of sexually experienced teen females declined significantly, from 51 percent to 43 percent.

If teenagers had been raised by both parents, the study found, they were less likely to have sex. For example, 35 percent of girls who lived with both parents were sexually experienced, compared with 54 percent among those who lived in any other parental arrangement.

“Our leaders in Washington need to talk to each other. With the support of the White House, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service now says abstinence education does not work and is ‘an unallowable activity’ when groups seek grants to fund sex-education in the schools,” Ross, a student ministry professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said.

“At the same time, the government’s own Centers for Disease Control reports annually that rates of teenage sexual activity have dropped every year since True Love Waits and the broader abstinence movement came on the scene. Perhaps the Administration is making decisions based more on an ideology than on research.”

Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the study shows the sexual risk avoidance message is “not only resonating but also making a difference in the lives of youth.”

The bad news, though, is that STD rates for teens continue to increase alongside the increase in condom use, the NAEA said in a statement Oct. 12.

“While teens comprise only 25 percent of the population, they bear the burden of 50 percent of all new cases of STDs. Notably, girls ages 15-19 have the highest rates of Chlamydia,” the group said. “This troubling statistic overlaps the timeframe when most teens receive sex education instruction.”

Huber said more teenagers are waiting to have sex, but those who aren’t are not as protected as they think they are.

“We must ask if our teens are getting incomplete information regarding what will keep them truly ‘safe,’” she said. “If condom use is increasing among teens and yet STD rates continue to rise, teens may be taking sexual risks because they have been taught that condoms offer adequate protection from the possible consequences of teen sex, when such is obviously not the case.”

NAEA is urging the Obama administration to rethink policies regarding sex education.

“In light of the data found in this report, we need a dramatic change in our sex education policies,” Huber said. “The sexual risk avoidance message found in abstinence education programs must be supported in order to continue to reinforce the healthy choices teens are making.

“In addition, we must examine the connection between increased condom use and rising STD rates among teens. In an administration that professes to embrace science, these findings beg serious questions that need to be addressed with objectivity and for the health of our youth.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

 

10/20/2011 1:30:14 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



World Series umps have seen Christ change lives

October 20 2011 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – He’ll be on the field for every game, right in the middle of the action, but he won’t throw a pitch or take a swing.

Ted Barrett feels the pressure nonetheless. He knows the stakes are high when the World Series starts tonight between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals. But while the players will all be doing their utmost to leave their mark on the Fall Classic, Barrett and five other guys hope that nobody even knows they are there.

“All eyes are on the game,” said Barrett, one of the six umpires working the series. “The biggest fear is for something to happen where you become the story.”

That means no mistakes for Barrett and his five crewmates. It means no controversial calls that have haunted umpires like Don Denkinger (who missed a crucial call at first base in the 1985 World Series) or Jim Joyce (whose blown call cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010).

Such is life for a major league umpire. When they do their job perfectly, they get no accolades and no praise. When they mess up, they get unending ridicule, scorn and maybe even death threats from legions of fans.

But his job on the field isn’t the only place where Barrett likes to deflect attention. As a Christian and one of the founders of the ministry Calling for Christ (CFC), Barrett ultimately hopes that his actions point to Jesus.

“My sole purpose is to glorify God,” Barrett said. “Whatever happens, if I can walk off the field and glorify God, then I’m in.”

Barrett and his fellow major league umpire Rob Drake began CFC a few years ago as a ministry to umpires in both the major and minor leagues. Their primary method of outreach was a yearly retreat held at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Oklahoma.

Photo by Brad Mangin, MLB Photos

Ted Barrett is one of several umpires in this year’s World Series who are followers of Christ. Barrett is part of a six-man crew.  


Drake and Barrett enlisted the help of Dean Esskew, who was pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in El Reno, Okla., at the time, to organize the event. Twelve umpires showed up the first year, and by last year, that number had grown to about 70.

Esskew has since left his church and is working fulltime as the CFC pastor. He has baptized 27 umpires who have come to faith in Christ as a result of the CFC ministry, in addition to five umpires’ wives.

“Guys used to hide their walk with God,” Esskew said about the umpires. “It was something you didn’t talk about. You didn’t bring God into the locker room or on the field. Now, they’ll pray before this year’s World Series before they walk out on the field.

“It’s so exciting to see God change the lives of these men.”

Two of the umpires Esskew baptized are Alfonso Marquez and Gary Cederstrom, who also are on this year’s World Series crew.

“God put this person in my life – back in 1993 was when I met Teddy (Barrett),” Marquez said. “Now here we are and we’re going to work the World Series together. We’re going to share the moment and live it the way God wants us to.”

Marquez grew up as a Roman Catholic and was faithful to the church and prayed every day but said it was more out of routine than out of conviction. He then strayed from the Lord after he made it into the major leagues as an umpire. He and his wife divorced, and Marquez began drinking heavily.

But he attended the CFC retreat one year, where Marquez heard the gospel and understood the truth of Christ’s death on the cross paying for his sins. Esskew later baptized him.

“How I didn’t lose my job or end up dead is by the grace of God,” Marquez said. “Thankfully, God put people like Ted in my life since day one. He planted that little seed a long time ago.”

Barrett is encouraged by the results he’s seen from the CFC ministry. In addition to the growing interest in the annual retreat, several major league umpires take part in a regular prayer conference call during the season. With crews scattered all over the country, Barrett started scheduling times where they could pray together over the phone.

“It started out where I would lead it and I would pray,” Barrett said. “But I encouraged the guys, ‘Hey, this is not the Ted Barrett call. This is the major league umpire call.’ After a few weeks guys said, ‘OK, I’ll lead.’”

Esskew has seen God’s work not only in those who have come to faith but in the growth of Christians like Barrett.

“He’s become more confident,” Esskew said of Barrett. “When I first met Ted, he was confident in his ability to umpire, but he had no confidence any other way. But he knows his true calling now is not to be an umpire. It’s to be a minister.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BPSports and director of news and media relations at Union University.)

10/20/2011 1:21:33 PM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Cross case could be headed to Supreme Court

October 19 2011 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

SAN DIEGO – The path has been cleared for supporters of the Mt. Soledad cross in California to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review an earlier decision.

The full Ninth Circuit declined Oct. 14 to review or reverse the decision by a three-judge panel in January declaring the longstanding monument in San Diego unconstitutional. What is unusual, though, is that five of the judges dissented and sided with the cross.

“Removal of the Cross at this stage would pose a different Establishment Clause problem: hostility towards the role religion has played in our history, and in particular to the history of the Armed Forces,” Judge Carlos T. Bea wrote in the dissenting opinion.

Bea added that San Diego is heavily influenced by and dependant on the Armed Forces and the Mt. Soledad cross is located between Camp Pendleton and Naval Base San Diego. The cross was dedicated in 1954 and initially honored Korean War veterans but now honors all vets.

After two decades of legal battles, the Mt. Soledad cross case could be headed to the nation’s highest court. Supporters of the cross lost at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 14.


The monument, Bea wrote, “is a memorial to the sacrifice made by many soldiers who have protected this country over the years, regardless of their religion. And it is a promise to those current soldiers, a promise that we appreciate the sacrifice they are willing to make for our freedom and that, if they pay the ultimate price, we will remember them.”

“The Cross has stood at the entrance to this memorial for almost 100 years. It has taken on the symbolism of marking the entrance to a war memorial. We should leave it be,” Bea, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, wrote.

The cross stands 29 feet tall, 43 feet tall including its base.

Liberty Institute, representing the Mount Soledad Memorial Association which oversees the monument, filed the motion asking the full court to rehear the case following the January decision against the cross.

“Although we are disappointed that the Ninth Circuit denied requests to have the full court rehear the case, we are encouraged that five of the judges agree with us and believe the cross should stay,” Liberty Institute said. “With this encouragement and the recent ruling in favor of the Mojave Veterans Memorial, we plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

In an April 2010 decision in which the Supreme Court allowed a cross to remain in the Mojave Desert, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, asserted that the “goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.”

“A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs,” Kennedy wrote in the case, Salazar v. Buono. “The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”

The American Center for Law and Justice filed an amicus brief in the Mt. Soledad case on behalf of 17 members of Congress in support of the memorial, asking the full Ninth Circuit to take the case.

“In our amicus brief, we contended that the federal government’s acquisition and operation of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial including its commemorative cross is consistent with the Establishment Clause and that the three-judge panel erred when it declared the memorial unconstitutional in January,” Jay Sekulow, ACLJ’s chief counsel, wrote Oct. 17.

The U.S. Department of Justice has until January to decide whether to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

“It is critical that this case go before the high court,” Sekulow wrote. “The flawed lower court decision must not be permitted to stand. It’s time for the DOJ to stand up for our nation’s history and heritage and take this vital First Amendment case to the Supreme Court.”

Charles LiMandri, a San Diego lawyer and longtime cross supporter, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the latest Ninth Circuit decision and particularly the dissenting opinion set the stage for consideration by the Supreme Court. He also predicted at least five of the justices would support keeping the cross in place.

“We want to get this to the court before anybody retires,” LiMandri said.

For two decades, the memorial has been at the center of a legal debate, with opponents saying the cross amounts to the government favoring the Christian religion, since the landmark is on public land and includes a cross. The ACLU is among the groups trying to have it removed.

In 1999, plaques with the names and photographs of veterans were installed around the cross. In 2008, a U.S. district judge in San Diego ruled that the cross is one element in a larger war memorial that honors the service of all veterans, but his decision was reversed by the Ninth Circuit.

In his dissenting opinion, Bea said history matters because “things change over time.”

“The Spanish government of the day endorsed the Inquisition until the early years of the 19th Century. Would a reasonable observer therefore consider the edicts of King Ferdinand VII in determining whether today’s Socialist government endorses the Inquisition? Of course not,” Bea wrote.

“The panel concentrated its analysis on the history of the Cross as a religious symbol. Not on how this Cross at Mt. Soledad has been used by this government, but on the cross in general.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

10/19/2011 2:47:41 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Board of Directors proposed amendments to governing documents

October 19 2011 by

2011 Proposed Amendments to the Governing Documents from the Board of Directors
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Board of Directors will be bringing four proposed amendments to the governing documents for consideration by messengers attending the upcoming annual meeting of the Convention, November 7-8 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. The first motion proposes to amend Article VI. Members: Composition of the Articles of Incorporation. The remaining three motions propose to amend sections within Article II. G. 2 of the Bylaws. An explanation of the proposed amendments is provided below:
 
Motion One – Articles of Incorporation
The first motion applies to the BSC Articles of Incorporation, Article VI. Membership: Composition; this amendment brings clarity to the understanding of “members” and “messengers.” The Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws include both terms, and the two are understood to be used interchangeably. However, to bring clarity to the matter, the addition of a statement to this effect is proposed in this amendment. There is no change to the qualifications or identification of either the members of or the messengers to the annual meeting. Messengers are reminded that the approval of this motion will require a two-thirds (2/3) majority.
 
Bylaw Amendments
Each proposed Bylaw amendment applies to Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (Fruitland). The Board of Directors of Fruitland adopted a revised Constitution for Fruitland earlier this year. The BSC’s Board of Directors approved Fruitland’s new governing document at its May meeting. The three proposed bylaw amendments update and make consistent the BSC’s Bylaws with Fruitland’s revised Constitution. Each motion affects a section of Article II.G.2 of the BSC’s Bylaws and will require a simple majority to be approved.
 
Motion Two
Motion two specifically addresses the continuation of membership on the Fruitland Board in the event a member relocates to another area within North Carolina. The proposed amendment to Bylaw Article II. G. 2. a.(v) makes the Fruitland Board membership requirements consistent with the BSC Board of Directors membership requirements. This is important as the Fruitland Board revised the Fruitland Constitution to indicate that Fruitland Board membership qualifications would follow BSC Board of Directors membership qualifications. However, the current BSC Bylaw related to Fruitland Board membership contains language that contradicts this intention. Therefore, the BSC Bylaw related to this matter should be amended to remove the contradiction.
 
Motion Three
The third motion is in essence a continuation of the steps taken in motion two: to make Fruitland Board membership requirements consistent with the BSC Board of Directors membership requirements. The proposed amendment to Bylaw Article II. G. 2. a.(vi) addresses the amount of time a member on the Fruitland Board must wait until he/she can be elected to another term of service. Currently, an individual must wait only one (1) year before they can be re-elected to another term of service. However, the members of the BSC Board of Directors must wait four (4) years before they can be re-elected.
 
The proposed amendment changes the waiting period to four (4) years for Fruitland Board members, thus bringing the qualifications for both boards into alignment.
 
Motion Four
The final motion proposes the addition of a new section: Bylaw Article II. G. 2. b.(vii) to follow current Article II. G. 2. b.(vi).
 
The new section provides that Fruitland shall have the same financial and personnel policies as the remainder of the BSC. In contrast to the institutions and agencies of the Convention which are separate legal entities, Fruitland is owned by and is part of the BSC.
 
This amendment insures that all employees of the Convention, including those at Fruitland, operate under the same personnel policies, and that all funds received or paid by the BSC are covered by the same financial policies.
 
The presentation of these proposed amendments to the BSC’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws has been scheduled for the Tuesday morning session (Nov. 8) of the annual meeting. The presentation will take place as part of the report from the BSC Board of Directors during that session.
 
If you should have questions related to these proposals, please do not hesitate to contact Brian Davis at bdavis@ncbaptist.org, or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5506. For more about the annual meeting, visit ncannualmeeting.org.
 

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Proposed Amendments to Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

10/19/2011 2:28:31 PM by | with 0 comments



Proposed Amendments to Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

October 19 2011 by

I. Proposed Amendment to Article VI of Articles of Incorporation:
Motion 1
The Board of Directors moves that the first sentence of Article VI of the Articles of Incorporation be deleted in its entirety with the following language substituted in its place.
Current Reading:
Article VI. Members; Composition
The Convention shall be composed of the following members described in Sections A. and B. below:
New Reading:
Article VI. Members; Composition
 
The Convention shall be composed of the following members described in Sections A. and B. below (which members shall be referred to either as “members” or “messengers” in the Articles and Bylaws of the Convention):
 
II. Proposed Amendment to Article II.G.2.a.(v) of the Bylaws:
Motion 2
The Board of Directors moves that the second sentence of Article II. G.2.a.(v) of the Bylaws be deleted in its entirety.
Current Reading:
(v)       If for any reason a member of the Fruitland Directors shall cease to be a member of a church cooperating with this Convention, or shall remove residence from the state, membership on the Fruitland Directors will be thereby terminated. A member whose Board membership is terminated due to relocation within the state may continue his/her membership on the Fruitland Board of Directors until that term expires. Vacancies on the Fruitland Directors shall be filled by the Executive Committee between sessions of the Board;
 
New Reading:
(v)       If for any reason a member of the Fruitland Directors shall cease to be a member of a church cooperating with this Convention, or shall remove residence from the state, membership on the Fruitland Directors will be thereby terminated. Vacancies on the Fruitland Directors shall be filled by the Executive Committee between sessions of the Board;
 
III. Proposed Amendment to Article II.G.2.a.(vi) of the Bylaws:
Motion 3
The Board of Directors moves that Article II.G.2.a.(vi) of the Bylaws be deleted in its entirety with the following language substituted in its place.
Current Reading:
(vi)      No person shall serve as a Fruitland Director for more than one (1) four-year term, may not be re-elected to the Board until one (1) year has elapsed; and
New Reading:
(vi)      No person shall be eligible to succeed himself/herself on the Fruitland Board after serving a full term of four (4) years until one (1) full term has elapsed; provided, however, that any Fruitland Board member who shall have been elected to fill a vacancy of less than two (2) years shall be eligible to be re-elected to a full term; and
 
IV. Proposed Amendment to Add New Article II.G.2.b.(vii) to the Bylaws After the Existing Article II.G.2.b.(vi) as follows:
Motion 4
The Board of Directors moves that the following new language be added to the Bylaws to become Article II.G.2.b.(vii).
New Reading:
(vii)     The Convention’s financial and personnel policies shall be Fruitland’s financial and personnel policies.
 

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10/19/2011 2:20:56 PM by | with 0 comments



Controversial scriptures addressed at workshop

October 19 2011 by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications

FORT WORTH, Texas – In an age when scientists, educators, and even some theologians presume naturalism and evolution are fact rather than theory, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop grappled with a section of Scripture that has served as a source of contention with atheists and Christians alike.
 
During the workshop, titled “Foundation or Fairy Tale? Preaching Genesis 1-11,” speakers addressed key issues pastors face when proclaiming the truths of God’s Word in the face of opposition.
 
The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis have been a hotbed of debate and controversy between liberal and conservative theologians not only in the broader evangelical arena but also at home within the Southern Baptist Convention during the 20th century. In fact, four major controversies within the SBC swirled around the issue of biblical inerrancy, with Genesis a primary battleground.
 
The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in the early part of the 20th century included claims that some within the convention supported views on evolution, thus denying the biblical account. In the early 1960s, SBC seminary professor Ralph Elliott wrote The Message of Genesis, published by the convention’s Broadman&Holman, where he asserted that Genesis 1-11 was simply myth. In 1969, sparks flew again when the Broadman Bible Commentary offered a similar hypothesis, and the convention voted to ban the publisher from printing the commentary. Eventually, these streams came to a head in the latter part of the 20th century as the battle for biblical inerrancy reached a fever pitch in the Conservative Resurgence.
 
The preaching workshop at Southwestern Seminary, Sept. 26, challenged pastors to preach these foundational passages to the Christian faith with courage and conviction.
 
Southwestern Seminary professors Matthew McKellar, Jason Lee, and David Allen joined Beeson Divinity School Old Testament Professor Allen Ross to speak on creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel.
 

SWBTS Photo/Matt Miller

Professor Jason Lee speaks on the Fall from Genesis 2-3 at Southwestern’s Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop on Sept. 26.

Associate Professor of Preaching Matthew McKellar spoke on the first two chapters of Genesis and the origin of man and the cosmos. McKellar said one’s doctrine of creation influences the rest of his theology, and understanding creation helps people differentiate Christianity from other religions and worldviews.
 
“If I’m going to deny the historicity of the creation account, then I’ve got some major problems elsewhere down the line,” McKellar said.
 
“There are people in your community who are in bondage to the worship of the created order. When you preach Genesis 1, God can use what you say to liberate them.”
 
McKellar addressed the nuanced views of theistic evolution, the gap theory, the day-age theory, and literal six-day creation. He holds to the literal view, saying, “The God of six-day creation is also the God of third-day resurrection.”
 
Associate Professor of Historical Theology Jason Lee addressed Genesis 2-3 and the introduction of sin into the world through Adam and Eve. He gave biblical hermeneutical principles to pastors to encourage them to let their preaching be driven by the text.
 
While he acknowledged the need to address questions and matters of conjecture from members of the congregation, Lee urged pastors not to allow apologetics to trump the biblical purpose.
 
“There is a subtle danger,” Lee said, “in that due to the level of interest in our congregations or even our own apologetic bent as preachers, that we would focus on the apologetic issues and therefore allow the text itself and the author’s intention to be eclipsed by our own purposes. As expository preachers we need to make sure our chief focus is the features of the inspired text and that the meaning expressed and the intention of the author is our interpretive goal and our proclamation foundation.”
 
Guest-speaker Allen Ross, author of Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis and Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, taught on the flood account recorded in Genesis 6-10, offering valid arguments for the historicity of a universal flood.
 
“We know that sin, judgment and grace are the basic issues, but as you start to look in more detail, it’s very complex,” Ross said.
 
“This is the truth of most of the Bible as a whole but certainly of Genesis 1-11. You read it through, you follow the story line, you know essentially what it’s saying; but as you start to probe, you begin to realize that there is more there than you could possibly glean in a lifetime, and you’ll come back to it again and again and again, finding more every time you go through it because the seeds of everything that is going to come out in the Scripture is there.”
 
Ross said the divine judgment found in the flood narrative proves unpleasant for many, but “we shouldn’t be surprised by that because it’s unpleasant for God, too. … He is slow to judge.”
 
Southwestern Dean of Theology David Allen concluded the workshop on the issue of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Regarding the multitude of languages spoken around the world, Allen said, “Apart from God’s revelation, accounting for the origin of language is an insoluble problem.”
 
Allen said the account exemplifies the ultimate act of hubris on the part of man. The men of Babel defied God’s decrees and sought to make a great name for themselves.
 
Audio and resources from the Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop can be accessed at www.swbts.edu/aepw2011.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

10/19/2011 2:11:33 PM by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Gallup Poll: 35 percent oppose death penalty

October 19 2011 by Gary Strauss, USA Today

More than one-third of Americans now oppose the death penalty – the highest level in nearly 40 years – according to a new Gallup Poll.
 
Moreover, those who believe the death penalty is being applied fairly, and those who say it isn’t used often enough, are at the lowest levels in a decade, underscoring significant changes in attitudes.
 
The Gallup Poll released Oct. 13 found that 35 percent oppose the death penalty – the highest opposition since March 1972. That year, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the death penalty was constitutional unless it was applied unfairly. By 1976, several states had reinstituted capital punishment.
 
Just 40 percent of those polled last week believe the death penalty isn’t imposed often enough, the lowest level since May 2001.
 
The poll was conducted shortly after two controversial cases drew attention: the September execution of Troy Davis and last week’s Supreme Court hearing involving Alabama death row inmate Cory Maples.
 
Davis was executed despite evidence that he may have been wrongly convicted in the 1989 murder of a Georgia police officer.
 
Maples was convicted of murdering two companions, but his death sentence is being appealed because his court-appointed lawyers failed to present key evidence about his background during the penalty phase of his trial.
 
Increasingly, death penalty cases are also viewed as being costly and providing little deterrent against serious crimes, says Barry Scheck, a law professor and co-director of the Innocence Project, which, like the American Bar Association, is seeking a moratorium on
executions.
 
“The general public doesn’t believe that the death penalty is a deterrent or is making anyone safer,” Scheck said.
 
He added that the Gallup Poll may underestimate opposition to capital punishment because it doesn’t ask a key question: whether those polled view life imprisonment as a better alternative.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was carried through Religion News Service.)
10/19/2011 2:04:39 PM by Gary Strauss, USA Today | with 0 comments



Children cause Iraq’s Christians to live double lives

October 18 2011 by Baptist Press

ERBIL, Iraq – Little Nuria and her sisters love singing songs about Jesus. But when people Nuria doesn’t know ask her if she’s a Christian, she doesn’t know what to answer; instead, she looks questioningly at her mother or father.

She is 6 years old and goes to a Christian school in Kirkuk, Iraq. When her aunts and uncles visit, her mother purges the house of anything that points to their Christian faith: the cross on the wall, the Bible, her Christian storybooks. Nuria knows her relatives are Muslims, but sometimes she forgets and she or one of her sisters starts to hum a Christian tune.

The relatives don’t like this and tell the parents to teach them Muslim songs.

“When our relatives come from Baghdad, we need to move everything that is Christian,” Nuria’s mother said. “In short, we are living two lives. It is very hard on children. We are adults, and it is hard for us to live double lives, but for children it is worse. Even their personality will be affected.”

Nuria and her family, whose names must be withheld for their safety, are Iraqi Arabs who converted from Islam to Christianity. Whereas Assyrian Iraqis are accepted as Christians by ethnic identity, Iraqi Muslims believe Arabs have no business becoming Christians; it is not possible, according to society and the constitution.

Iraq’s Constitution says each individual has freedom of thought, conscience and belief, but there is no article on changing one’s religion. This makes it legally impossible to apply freedom of belief in the cases of converts, said a Christian Iraqi lawyer on the condition of anonymity.

Nuria’s parents, like many converts in Iraq, struggle to raise their children as Christians in a society that will only accept them as Muslims. If the children say they believe in Jesus, they face beatings and scorn from their teachers. Because their identification cards say they are Muslims, they cannot enroll in Christian schools, and they must take Islamic religion classes. Likewise, because of their identity cards they later would only be able to marry another Muslim under Islamic rites
In an Iraq torn by national and religious divides, there is no safe haven for Nuria’s family or other Arab families who convert from Islam. Generally big cities are good places for Christians like them to hide, away from extended families who would detect strange behavior like visits to church on Sundays. Even then, however, Muslim neighbors or employers who discover they are converts can make their lives unbearable.

Nuria’s parents became Christians seven years ago. Life was easier for her parents before she and her sisters went to school. Her dad, a carpenter, used to speak openly about his faith. These days he is not so brave; he has had to change jobs one too many times because his employers discovered his faith.

“The first years of my faith, I brought so many people to church, because I was motivated, so excited,” he said.
10-19-11iraq.jpg

These days his landlord, in a mixed Kirkuk neighborhood where mostly Kurds and Assyrians live, has also figured out he is a Christian. The Muslim landlord is offering him either a rent raise or eviction; there’s also the option of “going into business” with the landlord by sharing his carpentry work profits with him. Such extortion is all too common.

This is the fifth house they have lived in since 2003, when the family came to faith.
 
Complications
Matters for converts get more complicated when children enter in. Nuria’s parents want to freely train her and her siblings in the ways of Christianity, but the Iraqi constitution makes it practically impossible for them to make any peace with their new identities.

Nuria’s older sister just finished elementary school at an institution for Assyrian (Christian) children in Kirkuk. But before the new school year began, the principal of the school called in her parents to tell them he could not take responsibility for their daughter being able to finish the school year.

He had to report the names and identifications of the school’s students to the ministry of education, he explained, and if authorities saw he had a “Muslim” student in attendance, he could face criminal charges. Thankfully for the family, her “Muslim” ID went unnoticed. The family, however, withdrew her from the Christian school to register her in a private school with a state-approved curriculum that includes religion classes on Islam so she can finish her schooling.

“My children are suffering,” Nuria’s father said. “We are moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, but my children are suffering from this. I will put my two daughters in private school. The church will pay for one, and I will pay for the other.”

Nuria’s father said that the next step for the family is to look for a new house, but he knows that this won’t solve the problem of his children’s identity, nor the conflict he feels with his faith.

“Some people tell me it’s my fault we have troubles because I tell people I am a Christian,” he said. “I am so confused. Even some Christians tell me it’s my problem. I am reading the Bible, and it says that whoever denies God in public, God will also deny him, so what can I do?”

Kirkuk, where Nuria’s family lives, is one of Iraq’s most ethnically diverse cities, a reflection of Iraq’s larger ethnic, political and religious fragmentation. Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, along with a shrinking Assyrian Christian community, populate oil-rich Kirkuk. The disputed city has seen much violence as political opportunists try to tip the scales of power. Bomb blasts, killings and kidnappings are common fare here.
 
Persecution
On the city’s outskirts on the road to Baghdad, authorities on Oct. 1 found the body of a Christian, Hanna Polos Emmanuel, 60, according to Asia News. No one knows why he was killed. On Sept. 21, unidentified gunmen kidnapped three Assyrian Christians and one Turkmen Iraqi on a hunting trip south of Kirkuk, according to Alsumaria TV. They were released after their families paid ransom.

In the previous two months, the Protestant church Nuria’s family attends has seen two attempted bombings. There have been at least three bombings against other churches in the city since the beginning of August.

What first attracted Nuria’s parents to Christianity was the freedom it offered. But as Arabs in Kirkuk, the family feels trapped.

“In the beginning we didn’t think about these problems, because we didn’t have the problem with schools,” Nuria’s father said. “But now I feel more depressed. Our responsibility is more pressure and work.”

His wife explained that as Arab converts to Christianity, moving to Baghdad where their family lives is not an option, but neither is moving to the Kurdish part of Iraq. Though Christians there enjoy some freedoms, as Arabs they will always be looked at with suspicion. As a result, it would be difficult to find employment.

“Even if it seems easier to run from this situation, we cannot,” she said. “It is easier to leave Kirkuk, but we cannot.”
 
Children with no friends
Surush Bidookh has been beaten and insulted for his Christian faith, yet he is only 9 years old. His family fled to Iraq from Iran for political reasons before he was born. They came to Christianity in Iraq.

Surush’s parents, seeing what their children have to bear for their choice, are weary and wonder if their children’s lives would be easier in a Western country where so many Christian converts have already fled.

His father, Siyamand Bidookh, has a story similar to that of other converts to Christianity: the persecution was tolerable until it started to affect his children. Bidookh, a pastor among the Iranian community in Erbil where he is known as Pastor Said, and his wife have received numerous death threats in Iraq for being converts to Christianity.

Their IDs state they are “Muslim,” and so do their children’s. Authorities and neighbors assume they are Muslim because they come from an Islamic country.

When Surush started first grade in Erbil, a teacher beat him in front of the class and told him he was a “kafir” (infidel) like his father. Bidookh spoke to the principal, who let the boy stay out of religion classes. This year, before Surush was to start third grade, however, the new principal of the school called Bidookh and his son to his office and told them that if Surush did not pass the religion exam, he would hold him back a year.

Last year Bidookh’s daughter, Sevda, who was in kindergarten, came home from school and asked why her teacher said their family was going to “burn” for being Christians. After this she was too afraid to go to school and stopped attending for the rest of the year.

“When my kids go to school and say hello to the teachers, they don’t respond,” their mother said. “I say to them, ‘What kind of an example are you setting for these kids?’”

The Bidookhs say their children have no friends in the neighborhood. Most play time ends with their children’s toys stolen and their children either beaten or scorned. They don’t let them play outside anymore.

“How can a 9-year-old not have friends?” Surush’s mother said. “What kind of a man will he grow up to be?”

These days they wonder if escaping to a different country is a better solution for their three children.

“I never went to God, and I didn’t look for Him,” Bidookh said. “He came to me and turned me into a pastor to serve the Iranians here. My life is in His hands. I will go where He sends me.”
 
Fight for a better future
Meanwhile, a Kurdish convert to Christianity, Majeed Muhammed, is fighting for his children’s right to not have “Muslim” written on their IDs. He lives in the Kurdish Region’s capital, Erbil, just over an hour’s drive north of Kirkuk.

In Iraq, children automatically take the religion of their father. For the last five years, Muhammed has been fighting for his eldest son to have the right to choose his own religion. Next year the boy is due to begin first grade with identification card in hand, but he has none. Majeed never recorded his sons’ births in the municipality because he didn’t want them to grow up with “Muslim” stamped on their identification cards.

“My son, he has a right – not only to study, but a civil and personal right, [yet] he can’t even have a passport,” Muhammed said. “If I wanted or needed to travel with my family, I cannot take them.”

Muhammed has also tried to change the religious designation on his own ID card – he is the only Christian convert in Iraq who has tried to do so. Every lawyer he has asked to take on his case has flatly refused to represent him. In 2008, with the legal counsel of a friend, Muhammed went to an Erbil personal cases court to submit his petition, typing his request that his identification state “Christian.”

“As declared clearly, I am requesting to change the column of religion from Muslim to Christian on my identification card by virtue of the mentioned articles declared in Iraq’s Federal Constitution, which is confirmed as the highest law,” Muhammed wrote in his statement.

The judge refused to accept or deny Muhammed’s request, telling him that the case was “impossible” and could not be tried in Iraqi courts.

This is the last year Muhammed has to advocate not only for his sons but for all Kurdish Iraqis who have converted from Islam to Christianity. The senior pastor of the Kurdzman Church of the Kurdish region, Muhammed said there are up to 2,000 Kurdish converts to Christianity, but only 200 of them would be brave enough to sign a petition for their IDs to state “Christian.”

This year he plans to tell as many people as he can about the struggle of Kurdish Christian converts.

“I’m living in Iraq, I’m living in Kurdistan, so I should have the rights of any citizen in Kurdistan just like they do,” Muhammed said.

Kurdish Christians are asking for only basic religious freedom, he said.

“The government said, ‘We will not support you financially,’ and we said, ‘OK, no problem.’ They said, ‘Don’t evangelize in the street publicly;’ we said, ‘OK, we won’t do that. But you should give us another chance. We want to register (as Christians).’”

Muhammed’s 6-year-old son, Jeener, is attending a private Christian kindergarten this year, and last year he asked his father if he could send him to one of the government schools; Muhammed refused. He told Compass Direct that sometimes when his son hears the mullahs begin the call for prayer with the words, “Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest),” Jeener asks what they are saying.

“I tell him that some people are talking about God,” Muhammed said. “He says: ‘Why are they not coming to our church?’ (I say), ‘Because they don’t believe in Jesus.’ He says: ‘I hate them.’ I say, ‘No, don’t hate them.’”

When his son asks why he can’t go to their school, he replies, “Because they are talking about ‘Allahu Akbar,’” Muhammed said. “He says, ‘OK, I will not go there.’”

Next year Muhammed needs to send his son to first grade, and he said that if he doesn’t issue an ID for him by then he could face criminal charges, and the possibility of a prison sentence and fine, for not registering his son with authorities.

It is impossible for him to explain to his son the efforts he is making for him, he said, and even more unlikely that he will succeed in them.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compass Direct News, based in Santa Ana, Calif., provides reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.)
 

10/18/2011 4:31:41 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The new face of American poverty is often a child's

October 18 2011 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

OAKTOWN, Ind. – Eleven-year-old Sarai Camacho of Donna, Texas, tears up when she tells why her mother let go the baby sitter for her and her younger sister this summer. It’s the same reason her father brought the family to Indiana so he could work the melon fields for a season.
 
“Last December, my mom didn’t get paid for one month, and we started having problems,” said Sarai, at Oaktown First Christian Church, which hosted free classes for children of migrant workers. “My mom said for us to come here (to the church) so she doesn’t have to give money to the baby sitter because we’re running out of it.”
 
For churches, it’s become an all-too-familiar sight: working families that aren’t able to make ends meet. As household resources get tapped out, churches are often the first to see the changing face of poverty – and it’s often a young one.
 
“We’re seeing younger families come in,” said Ken Campbell, food coordinator for Lazarus House, a Christian ministry to help the needy in Lawrence, Mass. “They’re coming forward because one member in the household got laid off or had their hours cut, and now they’re just barely making it.”
 
Across the United States, rising numbers of children are coping with the stressors of economic hardship:
  • Child poverty rates reached 22 percent in 2010, up from 20.7 percent in 2009 and 16.2 percent in 2000, according to a September report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of children living in poverty increased from 13.1 million to 15.5 million, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • The Casey Foundation also reported that 4 percent of American children had been affected by home foreclosures since 2007, and 11 percent had at least one unemployed parent in 2010.
  • Catholic Charities USA, which serves about one in four Americans who live in poverty, served 2.7 million children in 2010, up from 2.4 million in 2006. The steepest increase came in food-related services, as Catholic Charities fed 56 percent more children (935,000) in 2010 than in 2006 (600,000).
As families cycle in and out of poverty, faith-based service programs tend to catch people who fall through the cracks of other safety nets, according to Robert L. Fischer, co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty & Community Development at Case Western Reserve University.
10-19-11poverty.jpg

When emergency needs arise, people often turn to churches first. “The most disadvantaged families oftentimes don’t go to formal settings to receive services, but they will go into a church,” said Taniesha Woods, senior research associate at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. “Churches can provide information and reach families and children who wouldn’t know about (public) services otherwise.”
 
On the front lines, religious workers see signs of growing desperation. Four years ago at Torrente De Cedron Pentecostal Church in Lynn, Mass., the weekly food pantry stayed open for two hours as about 75 families came through for a few days’ worth of groceries. Today the line begins forming hours before the pantry opens, according to Senior Pastor Oscar Ovalles, as more than 200 families come from city neighborhoods and affluent suburbs alike. Even with smaller bags to stretch supplies, everything is gone within 30 minutes.
 
“Families are in crisis,” Ovalles said. “What used to be saved for a rainy day is now the main course because dad lost his job or mom is no longer working.”
 
Similar signs of stress are visible in nearby Lawrence, Mass. The overnight shelter at Lazarus House is always filled to capacity, Campbell said, and needs for food continue to increase. In early 2010, the weekly pantry gave a few days worth of groceries to about 300 individuals who were, in most cases, picking up for families with children. This fall, the weekly pantry is serving about 800 on average.
 
Many who now need help aren’t used to receiving any sort of church-based assistance. Sarai’s family, for example, until recently had lived stably on income from her mother’s teaching job and her father’s work in agriculture and food processing. Now they depend on the church’s help with child care to make ends meet.
 
“Because of what we’re going through right now with money, I would love to help my family,” Sarai said. “I would love to go to college,” she said, and earn enough afterward to support her parents.
 
To meet growing needs, religious groups are trying to be resourceful despite slumping donations in uncertain economic times. This summer, for example, Catholic Charities enlisted more of its local agencies to participate as distribution sites for federally subsidized summer food programs for children. After starting the program last year, Catholic Charities in Chicago this summer served more than 300,000 kids. Still, meeting needs in lean times remains an uphill challenge.
 
Torrente De Cedron used to run its pantry on $3,000 raised from parishioners’ donations, but now the congregation can’t afford the $10,000 that’s needed to run the program. This fall, the church began hosting regular fundraisers, including an upcoming yard sale, to sustain the pantry.
 
“The food pantry is no longer just something that we want to do on a volunteer basis for the community,” Ovalles said. “Now it’s a mandatory thing that we have to have because of the need that we can see in these families and in these kids.”

10/18/2011 4:25:03 PM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Beggars in Bangladesh find food, Christ

October 17 2011 by Goldie Frances, Baptist Press

BANGLADESH – Najia Khatun* knows what her life would be like without the Light of Hope Center in Bangladesh. She knows she would be hungry. She knows she would be uneducated. She knows she would be working long hours at a garment factory.

Najia knows – and she is grateful.

“Before there were a lot of problems in my family. There was no money for food,” 17–year–old Najia said. “Now I have a job, and I am able to help my family. I am the main breadwinner in my family.”

Najia and her 14–year–old sister, Amila Khatun,* began studying at the Light of Hope Center when it first opened in September 2006. Light of Hope continues in operation today with help from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

Najia and Amila – like the other 12 girls who come to the center – live in a slum of tiny bamboo houses that have tin roofs and mud floors. While these seem to be only temporary homes set on swampland or along railroad tracks, the families do have landlords who expect rent money. Najia’s father comes and goes, taking money from the family but never contributing any. Their mother doesn’t work. One older sister is sick, and the other siblings have married and moved away. Najia and Amila are expected to bring home money, however they can get it.

Some of the girls at the center were raised by beggars to become beggars; others have mothers who work as prostitutes, a center staff worker said. But inside the Light of Hope Center, that world fades away. The girls eat a healthy breakfast, take showers, put on clean school uniforms, hear Bible teaching and sing Christian songs, and then begin their studies in the Bangla language, math, spelling, science, grammar and English. Before they leave to go to their places of work as paid apprentices or trainees, World Hunger Fund dollars feed the girls again – a hearty lunch of rice and lentils with vegetables, eggs, fish or meat.

Bangladeshi children play on the mud floor just inside the doorway of their home. Several Light of Hope Center students live in this community. Center staff members visit the girls’ mothers regularly to ask about the families’ needs and pray with their mothers.


“Experiencing even in a very small way the lifestyle of beggar families ... just being around them on the street, almost makes you feel helpless, like there’s nothing you can even do for them,” said Isla Metzger,* who recently came from the Midwest to minister for six months at the Light of Hope Center. “But then I was reminded that these girls are from those circumstances and that this is something that can help them get out of that.”

Providing lasting help – the kind that will help cure hunger and prevent the cycle of poverty from proliferating – was exactly the goal of the two American Christian women who founded the center.

“I knew that just giving (beggars) money was not going to help the situation,” Southern Baptist Geri Hennerman* said. “I wanted to do something that was going to help them long–term. Sharing Christ with them is going to help them for eternity; but also to give them some skills and education, that will help them get jobs and provide for their families.”

Najia works as a Bangla tutor and hopes to become a translator. Amila has studied under a housekeeper, has learned to make jewelry, and currently attends a sewing class. Najia’s best friend, Lili Sabarna,* works as a nanny in an American family’s home.

“For my family, they have given me a job, and my family is able to be helped by [gifts of] food or medicine,” Lili said. “I have learned how to read and write, school in general. I’ve learned about Jesus. I’ve become a believer. I don’t know who gave us that but.....”

Lili’s family is Hindu; Najia and Amila’s family is Muslim, as are the families of most of the girls. Several of the girls, including Lili, Najia and Amila, are now followers of Jesus Christ who are growing daily in their walk with Him, said Jane Wise,* the center’s director.

“Thank you so much for allowing God to provide through your giving,” Wise said. “It is allowing the girls to continue coming to the center.”

The Lord directed Hennerman to Zechariah 9:16–17a, as part of her vision for the center. It says “the LORD their God will save them.... They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!”

“Most people in the world would just see them as nothing, as trash, but I was seeing them as these precious jewels, basically that God was going to take and make them something,” Hennerman said. “We’ve just watched some of them come from little girls to become little women. And they are women who love the Lord and want to serve Him.”

Yes, Najia is grateful, for she knows well what life would be like if there were no Light of Hope Center.

“I would be at a garment factory. I would not know how to read or write. I would not know about Jesus,” she said. “I think that God directed (one of the founders) to my house because He knew that one day I would follow Him and decide to go His path for my life. I know that God placed this center here for me.”

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Goldie Frances is a writer in South Asia. To see an interactive map of World Hunger Fund projects in Asia and take an on–line quiz about world hunger, visit www.asiastories.com. For more information about the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.)
10/17/2011 2:07:16 PM by Goldie Frances, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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