October 2013

Fewer home-school families cite religion as motivation

October 31 2013 by Katherine Burgess, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – When Jennifer Pedersen-Giles started to home-school her son Westen six years ago, it was because he needed a more hands-on environment than what public schools could offer. Now the eighth-grader studies writing, music, art, geometry, literature and world religions from his home in Arizona.
Religion, in other words, had nothing to do with his mother’s decision.
She’s not alone. According to the federally funded National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited “religious or moral instruction” as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 16 percent during the 2011-12 school year.

“You used to have to be a hero to home-school,” said John Edelson, founder and president of Time4Learning, a curriculum provider for home-schoolers. “You were really going against the mainstream. Your mother-in-law didn’t understand it, the neighbors didn’t understand it, police would stop you in the middle of the day and wonder what was going on.”

As home-schooling slowly becomes more mainstream – 3 percent of American students age 5-17 are home-schooled, up from 2.2 percent in 2003 – most parents cited the environment of public schools (25 percent), not religious belief, as the main reason behind their decision to home-school.

Edelson said the number of home-school families who do so for religious reasons has not decreased, but the percentage of those who list it as a first priority has dropped as other parents join the home-schooling community for different reasons.
“You go to any cocktail party, church, any group of people and you say, ‘I’m in the home schooling business,’ and all these women will jump on it and say, ‘Oh, we home-schooled,’” Edelson said.
Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts original research, said years of studies on home education led to its increasing acceptance.

“In the earlier days of the modern home-school movement, because home-schooling was such a tiny, tiny minority of the public, parents had to be very strongly committed to what they were doing,” Ray said.
Gretchen Buck, administrator of Global Village School, the customizable home-schooling program that Pedersen-Giles uses, said there is more demand for home-schooling as public schools struggle. Many parents do not like the emphasis on standardized tests; others remove their children because of bullying.

Others, like Pedersen-Giles, realize their children struggle when asked to sit at a desk for extended periods.
“By third grade, school was more about production levels with the onus being on the child to adapt to the classroom environment,” she said. “(Westen’s) individual needs were not being met. It would have taken so little for things to be different, but after exhaustive pleas to teachers, I decided that I would have to create my own change.”
This rise in mainstream home-schooling is reflected in curriculum needs, Buck said.
“A lot of people who contact us are looking for an alternative to the very many overtly Christian home-schooling programs that are out here, because that just does not fit in with their values,” Buck said. “They’re looking for secular home-schooling or just generally nonreligious.”
In the case of Pedersen-Giles, her family does not adhere to a particular religion. She often discusses world religions with her son, and said he is free to choose his own beliefs.
Edelson said there are generally three types of home-schoolers: those who do so for religious reasons; the “free spirits” who oppose a regimented public school system; and the “accidental home-schoolers” who find their children do not thrive in a traditional school environment.
“Part of it is driven because they’re disappointed in the schools,” Edelson said. “If we had better schools, if the schools weren’t so confused and having trouble with testing and having trouble with budgets – that’s one of the things that’s fueling the home-school movement
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katherine Burgess has lived in California, Cambodia and Tennessee. She has covered subjects as varied as a United Nations tribunal, church leadership conferences and a maximum security prison. She is currently based in Washington, D.C.)
10/31/2013 4:49:50 PM by Katherine Burgess, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Prof’s virtual Bible project to make Holy Land accessible

October 31 2013 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

ORLANDO, Fla. – Long before smartphones, before technology had literally reshaped modern society, Dan Warner had an idea for teaching the history and geography of biblical lands – a virtual tour of the Holy Land. The idea was innovative, and years ahead of its time.
Warner teaches biblical backgrounds on a daily basis in his positions as associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Orlando Hub and an adjunct faculty member at the Baptist College of Florida and Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Warner wants to help people see how geography influenced the biblical text, using interactive visuals rather than textbooks.
The Miami native and member of First Baptist Church in Orlando birthed the idea for a virtual Bible tour more than a decade ago during one of his frequent trips to Israel. He knew from his own experience that seeing the land leads to richer understanding of the Bible. But it is unrealistic, Warner believes, for most church members and lay ministers to visit the Holy Land, given the travel costs and time. Instead, his virtual tour project known as The Virtual Bible allows an affordable view of the land.

Photo by Gary D. Myers
The Virtual Bible Project offers 3-D rendering of key places and events in the biblical text, such as Herod’s Temple shown here.

Warner launched The Virtual Bible Project in 1999 with James Strange, longtime professor of archaeology at the University of South Florida and excavator of ancient Sepphoris in Galilee. Warner and Strange presented their idea to a major Christian publisher shortly after they created the company. While the meeting went well, the publisher failed to see the potential and passed on the opportunity.
In spite of the setback, Warner refused to give up. He found a group of private investors and began working on the virtual reconstructions. To date, Warner and Strange have not taken a salary from their company. Instead, all of the profits have been invested in its development.
Warner and his team have completed four virtual reconstruction projects, including a detailed reconstruction of the events surrounding the passion week. A virtual tour of Bronze Age Megiddo was completed first, a natural choice because of the years Warner spent excavating the site. Next came reconstructions of Capernaum and Herod’s Jerusalem. A preview of Warner’s work is available on YouTube.

Each virtual reconstruction takes months to complete, but finances remain the biggest barrier to success for the Virtual Bible Project. Development is expensive, advertising is beyond the company’s small budget, and getting the finished product in front of potential consumers is a real challenge, Warner said. However, a distribution agreement with the publisher of Logos Bible Software will enable Warner to focus on additional reconstructions.
“Our goal is to create the whole ancient world,” Warner said. “We’ve just barely scratched the surface.”
Warner is well-suited for a project of this magnitude. As the son of a Baptist pastor, he was exposed to the Bible at an early age and developed a love for biblical geography and archaeology during his studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana.
Warner credits a seminary professor for introducing him to the biblical lands. In 1979, Warner took a month-long trip with stops in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Turkey and Rome with a group from his seminary. He was hooked. Warner saved all of his electives for his final year of seminary and moved to Israel to study. There, he interacted with noted archaeologists and focused on the subject.
Warner enrolled at Florida State University to pursue a doctor of philosophy degree in anthropology. There, he joined Harvard University in an excavation at the biblical city of Ashkelon and studied in Harvard’s summer academic program in biblical archaeology. Eventually, Warner transferred to the University of Bristol in England to complete his Ph.D. in biblical archaeology.
Warner has participated in excavations at Gerar, Tell el-Far’ah South (possibly biblical Sharuhen), Kabri, Megiddo and Gezer. He is co-director of the NOBTS/Israel Nature and Parks Authority excavation of the ancient water system at Gezer.
“Biblical archaeology gives us a window into the context of the biblical world,” Warner said. “It helps us realize (that the people of the Bible) were real people, in a real time, and in a real place. They lived in houses, they had families, they had jobs.”
“It helps us understand the biblical text through material remains and gives us illustrations of cultural situations that people participated in,” he said. “It clarifies and provides information that is not mentioned in the biblical text.”
The Virtual Bible project is the application of all that Warner has learned in his biblical study, his travels to Israel and in his archaeological excavations.
Warner dreams of a day when his biblical backgrounds classes can meet in a room with a 180 degree screen, allowing students to virtually step into the biblical world and witness recreations of biblical events. He believes the technology is available and that in time, someone will figure out how to make it work.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
10/31/2013 4:11:21 PM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BYU visits signal a new evangelical-Mormon détente

October 31 2013 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Last month, after being sure to get his caffeine fix at Starbucks, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land went where few evangelicals had dared to go before: the campus of Brigham Young University, the intellectual heart of Mormonism.
After lecturing on “family, faith, freedom and America,” Land attended a BYU football game with Mormon leaders and joined them to hear James Taylor sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Days later, George O. Wood, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, also visited BYU, followed by the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary.
Is there a new detente – perhaps more practical than theological – between evangelicals and Mormons?

Brigham Young University photo by Bella Torgerson
Richard Land, center, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, meets with Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson, left, and Brent L. Top, BYU dean of religious education, on Sept. 6.

For more than a decade, Mormon and evangelical scholars have discussed their differences and similarities, and even written books together. But leaders of the two faiths appear to have reached a new juncture, with some on both sides seeing benefits in more public engagement.
“At the very least, the two communities, evangelicals and Mormons, have been … each other’s worst enemies,” said Richard Mouw, the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a longtime proponent of evangelical-Mormon dialogue.
“There’s a significant part of the evangelical movement that is now having healthy and friendly conversations, and it’s gone from a group of two dozen scholars talking to each other to church leaders meeting each other, going to see each other.”
John Taylor, director of interfaith relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said there is a growing sense that Mormons and non-Mormons can agree in some areas – from humanitarian aid, where Mormons have also joined with Catholics – to the desire to retain their younger members.

“There’s a realization among faith groups generally that despite doctrinal differences – and we have doctrinal differences, there’s no question about that – we do have areas of commonality,” said Taylor.
The recent Utah meetings, which came at the invitation of Mormon church leaders in Salt Lake City, have centered on faith, family and religious freedom. Mohler ­­– who was careful not to paper over doctrinal distinctions in his BYU speech – addressed joint concerns about the intersection of those issues.

“That is why I and my evangelical brothers and sisters are so glad to have Mormon neighbors,” Mohler said in his Oct. 21 talk. “We stand together for the natural family, for natural marriage, for the integrity of sexuality within marriage alone.”
In a statement, the Assemblies of God said “no restrictions were placed on Dr. Wood’s lecture” when he addressed some 400 BYU students on Sept. 16. He “shared freely” about his Pentecostal faith and being brought up in a missionary family.
Land, who considers Mormonism to be a “fourth Abrahamic faith” – and thus distinct from Christianity – said there has been “gradual increased understanding on both sides.”
He accepted the invitation to BYU because Mormons and evangelicals, with shared opposition to the growing national acceptance of same-sex marriage, need to face together what they both view as increasing religious hostility.
“Those who oppose us are not going to make any distinctions,” said Land, the new president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. “They’re hostile to people of faith, period.”

The outreach has gone both ways. In September, Taylor joined two members of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Washington installation of Russell Moore, who succeeded Land as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“It’s clear where we disagree, but we’re standing together in the public square for religious liberty,” said Moore, who has recently spoken with Mormon officials about military chaplains’ religious rights.
Bob Millet, a BYU religion professor who suggested the evangelical visitors to LDS officials, said the rapprochement helps Mormons, “a sample of the population that’s not well-understood and highly misunderstood.”
As Mormons continue to work toward greater acceptance and visibility – from Mitt Romney’s White House bid to a category of questions on “Jeopardy” – they are more likely to have tangible benefits from this engagement, said Stephen Webb, author of the new book “Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints.”

“It’s not just the fact that evangelicals are being more curious about Mormons and being more willing to listen to them and learn from them, but it’s also a matter of the Mormon leadership itself wanting to be part of the American Christian mainstream,” he said.
Gregory Johnson, co-founder of Standing Together, a Utah group of evangelical pastors, has given dozens of presentations with BYU’s Millet called “A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation.” He dubbed the recent get-togethers “the year of the evangelical at BYU.”
Some scholars credit colleagues such as Johnson, Millet and Mouw with the thaw in relations, which still remain tense in some circles. Mouw, for instance, gets hate mail  – “a lot of angry stuff” – from pastors and groups that don’t agree with his friendships with Mormons.
The recent evangelical appearances in Utah have sparked online debates, with some welcoming them and others warning they hurt traditional Christianity. A moderator for the unofficial LDS.net who calls himself “prisonchaplain” concluded the meetings were more civil than groundbreaking.

“As far as ‘fruit’ goes, these events sure beat the cold theological wars of the past,’’ he said.
And there’s more to come: Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who spoke at the Mormon Tabernacle in 2004, will be at BYU in January, followed by a second appearance by Mohler the following month.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at RNS. She joined the staff in 1995 after working for more than 10 years at daily newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Binghamton and Syracuse, The Providence Journal and the Orlando Sentinel.)
10/31/2013 3:59:06 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Carl F.H. Henry: ‘indispensable evangelical’

October 31 2013 by Matt Damico, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Few people are indispensable, but theologian Carl F.H. Henry and his role in the evangelical movement can be described as just that, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), said during a celebration of Henry at the Louisville, Ky., campus.
The daylong conference, “Carl F.H. Henry: A Centennial Celebration,” honored the legacy of Henry, who died in 2003 and would have been 100 this year. Mohler and various other leaders voiced their tributes to the multi-dimensional theologian.
Mohler, in an address titled “The Indispensable Evangelical: Carl F.H. Henry and Evangelical Ambition in the 20th Century,” compared Henry’s role in evangelicalism to that of George Washington during the American Revolution, describing Henry as “the indispensable evangelical,” the “brain of the evangelical movement” and the “theological luminary of the 20th century.”
Mohler reflected on his interactions with Henry as a student and later as Southern Seminary president, comparing Henry’s influence to that of a father. He also discussed Henry’s many ambitions, which Mohler labeled “evangelical, institutional, theological, cultural and political and personal.”
Not all of these ambitions were realized, Mohler said, but they live on in individuals and institutions that bear Henry’s influence.
Among the sponsors of the Sept. 26 conference, in addition to Southern Seminary, were Beeson Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Union University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Christianity Today, Crossway Books and Prison Fellowship.
Russell D. Moore, Mark Galli and Timothy George were part of a panel discussion that expanded on Henry’s influence.
“What he was saying has ongoing relevance to the things that we’re all facing in evangelicalism right now,” said Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore said his debt to Henry is reflected by the copies of the theologian’s groundbreaking book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” that he frequently gives away.
“Dr. Henry used to say, ‘We serve a God who is the God of both justice and justification,’ and I think that’s a message that is ongoingly needed for the church,” said Moore, former senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary and dean of the school of theology.
Galli, editor of Christianity Today (CT), the magazine where Henry was founding editor, 1956-68, credited Henry for bringing “a sense of respect to CT” and lauded Henry for the role he believed theology should play in public life.
“He was not satisfied with just talking with other people in the academy; he wanted evangelical theology to be spread far and wide,” Galli said.
While Galli considers himself “a happy recipient” of Henry’s legacy at Christianity Today (CT), previous editorial staffs have not always so highly esteemed Henry.
“When I first got to CT, frankly, there were conversations where Carl Henry was disparaged,” Galli said.
Conference attendees all received copies of the first issue of Christianity Today, published on Oct. 15, 1956.
George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said Henry knew that his convictions would bring opposition, but he also knew how to hold such convictions humbly and interact with opponents lovingly.
“He stood clearly and firmly for conservative, convictional beliefs, but he did so with irenicism and a charity and an intelligence that could not be dismissed” by his opponents, said George, former professor of church history at Southern Seminary.
Also featured at the conference were Richard Mouw, recently retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary, where Henry served as one of the founding faculty members; Gregory Alan Thornbury, author of the recently released book, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F.H. Henry and the new president of The King’s College in New York City, a city that Henry viewed as a strategic location for an evangelical school; David Dockery, president of Union University and another former dean of Southern’s school of theology; John Woodbridge, research professor of church history and history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and Paul House, an Old Testament professor at Beeson Divinity School who formerly taught at Southern Seminary.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matt Damico is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
10/31/2013 3:37:28 PM by Matt Damico, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

C.S. Lewis’ legacy shines in US, not his homeland

October 30 2013 by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service

CANTERBURY, England – When he died on Nov. 22, 1963, hardly a soul blinked in Northern Ireland where he was born or in England where he spent most of his working life as one of the world’s greatest Christian apologists.
Clive Staples Lewis was a week short of 65 when he suffered a heart attack at his home in Oxford. The obituary writers barely noticed his demise, in part because he died on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

British indifference to Lewis half a century ago will be examined at a one-day seminar at Wheaton College on Nov. 1, co-sponsored by the Marion E. Wade Center, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals and Wheaton College’s Faith and Learning program.
Lewis may be the most popular Christian writer in history, with millions of copies of his books sold, the vast majority in the United States where his influence is far greater than in his native country.

Was it Lewis’ modesty or British fear of discussing religion that fueled such indifference in Britain and Ireland?
A mixture of both, said Paul Johnson the prominent British journalist, author and former editor of the left-leaning New Statesman magazine.
Writing in the Catholic Herald, Johnson, a leading British Roman Catholic, said he first met Lewis when he was a student at Magdalen College, Oxford University, where Lewis was a don, specializing in Renaissance literature.
“When I knew him, just after the Second World War,” wrote Johnson, “he was famous for his work in English literature. … When we went for walks together, we discussed Chaucer and Dickens, Shakespeare and Dryden. The Chronicles of Narnia were never mentioned. Indeed, I had no idea he wrote stories.”
Half a century later, his books sell between 1.5 million and 2 million copies a year.
C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, on Nov. 29, 1898. His father, Albert James Lewis, was a lawyer; his mother, Florence Augusta Lewis, was the daughter of an Anglican vicar.
His mother died of cancer in 1908 when C.S. (known as “Jack” to family and friends) was 9.
Shattered by her death, Lewis abandoned his inherited faith at the age of 15 and threw himself into a study of mythology and the occult.
In 1916, when he was just 17, Lewis was awarded a scholarship at University College, Oxford. World War I was raging, and the following year he joined the army.
He served in the Somme Valley in France with an English infantry division and experienced the horrors of mass slaughter.
He was wounded when a British shell falling short of its target killed two of his colleagues.
After the war, he returned to Oxford and in 1925 was elected a fellow and tutor in English literature at Magdalen College where he served until 1954.
His conversion to Christianity was slow and laborious. Reluctantly, he fell under the influence of Oxford colleague and friend J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, who met every Tuesday morning at a local public house in Oxford and formed a debating club called ”Inklings.”
In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, he said that the night he turned from atheism to Christianity he became “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Tolkien and Chesterton were disappointed that their new convert turned towards the Church of England, not Rome.
C.S. Lewis went on to write acclaimed books about Christianity – The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity, Miracles and The Problem of Pain – the latter written after he watched his American Jewish wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, die of bone cancer in 1960.
The following year, Lewis experienced medical problems and on Nov. 22, 1963 he collapsed in his bedroom. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, near Oxford – now a place of pilgrimage.
Celebrations of his life will be held throughout November in Belfast. On Nov. 22, he will be honored with a memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, where the kings and queens of England are crowned and where some of the world’s greatest writers are buried.
His friend Johnson said Lewis, along with Tolkien, provide a counterbalance to the enormous flood of atheist literature, especially in children’s books.
“It is one of Lewis’ great merits that his tales can be read with equal pleasure by teenagers and grown-ups,” said Johnson. “He is thus, in a sense, the answer both to Richard Dawkins and Harry Potter.”
10/30/2013 3:20:14 PM by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Criswell College names Jimmy Draper as interim president

October 30 2013 by Baptist Press

DALLAS – James T. “Jimmy” Draper has been named interim president of Criswell College, effective Nov. 1. The college’s executive board met Oct. 25, selecting the president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and former Texas pastor to lead until a new president is selected.

Jerry Johnson, the former president, is now president of the National Religious Broadcasters.

Draper led LifeWay from 1991 to 2006. He was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1982, serving two terms during the years of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence.


BP file photo
Jimmy Draper

An Arkansas native, Draper has pastored six churches in Texas, including First Baptist Church in Euless for 16 years, as well as Red Bridge Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. Prior to being called to Euless, he served as associate pastor to W.A. Criswell at First Baptist Church in Dallas.

A graduate of Baylor University, Draper received a master of arts in theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He later served on the board of trustees at both institutions.

“Jimmy Draper will provide a wonderful transition for the future of Criswell College,” said board chairman-elect John Mann, pastor of La Junta Baptist Church in Springtown, Texas. “We are excited about the fidelity to scriptures as well as the compassionate leadership that has come to define Dr. Draper’s ministry.”

Current board Chairman Keet Lewis of Dallas also observed that because Draper assisted founder W.A. Criswell during the school’s formative years, he has been privy to the college’s vision from the beginning and is uniquely positioned in this interim role to guide the college toward its expanded vision for the future.

Draper expressed confidence in the school’s future, telling the TEXAN, “Because of the commitment of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Criswell Foundation, you can look anyone in the eye and tell him that Criswell College will be in the future what it is today, rooted in the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
10/30/2013 3:13:36 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sandy Rebuild looks toward church planting

October 30 2013 by Laura Sikes, Baptist Press

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – When a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) team arrived at Almarean and James Sweeney’s home, the couple said it was an answer to prayer. Their home was flooded with 4 feet of saltwater, as were thousands of homes, when hit by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge a year ago (Oct. 29, 2012). Many homes took on as much as 8 feet of water.

The Sweeneys, in their 80s, had begun repairs but the mold was not removed properly, so they had to start over. They were given a 10-day notice by city inspectors to leave their home of 24 years in Freeport, N.Y.

Almarean Sweeney prayed on Sunday at her church for help. On Monday, volunteers arrived as part of the Sandy Rebuild initiative of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“I can’t get over it. God just sent His angels here to help us,” Almarean said.


NAMB photo by Laura Sikes
Randy Corn, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief emotional and spiritual care coordinator for Long Island and Staten Island, visits with Dea Anderson who lives across the street from a Hurricane Sandy-damaged home where volunteers from Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., built new steps and a porch. Corn, who regularly follows up with homeowners, is joined by volunteers Faye Alexander, left, and Dian Leeper.

The team tore out the basement flooring and sheetrock, sprayed for mold, hung sheetrock and even rebuilt a front step. During their four days of work at the Sweeneys’ home, the volunteers prayed and fellowshipped with the couple.

A group of 18 volunteers from Meadow Heights Baptist Church in Collinsville, Ill., had divided into three crews, one deploying to the Sweeneys’ home. They served in September along with SBDR volunteers from North Carolina, Kentucky and South Carolina working on Long Island as part of Sandy Rebuild.

Sandy Rebuild is a two-year partnership of the North American Mission Board and North Carolina Baptist Men in cooperation with the Baptist Convention of New York, Metro New York Baptist Association, New Jersey Net and local churches. The goal is to help restore communities not only physically but also spiritually, said Mickey Caison, NAMB SBDR recovery coordinator and overall director for Sandy Rebuild. The bulk of the work is on Long Island. Projects also are ongoing on Staten Island and in Allenwood, N.J.

Building relationships with the homeowners is a big part of disaster relief ministry, Caison said. The volume of work volunteers do in initial responses and later in rebuild, coupled with the way they serve, has given Southern Baptists credibility in the community, he said.

“One of the comments I keep hearing over and over here is, ‘Your volunteers are so loving and kind,’” Caison said.

Volunteer leader Dan Moutria said he always emphasizes to SBDR teams that their most important job is to spend time with homeowners. Moutria, SBDR director for Region 4 of Illinois, was on his second Sandy-related trip with Meadow Heights.

“If someone wants to talk with you, I tell them, ‘Put your hammer or your chain saw down and listen to them,’” Moutria said.

“New York was nothing like we thought it was going to be,” said pastor Keith Abrams, who served with the SBDR team from Ewing (Ky.) Baptist Church. When they visited the city on their day off, people came up from everywhere on the streets to talk with them. “They saw our shirts,” Abrams said, “and came up to shake our hands and to thank us for the work.”

“Disaster relief volunteers and groups like World Changers [student mission trips] have opened a lot of doors in these communities,” Caison said. “New York is very relationally driven. The right person saying that you can trust them – that they’re good guys – makes all the difference in the world up here.

“Our goal is to build a robust system of rebuild and recovery like we have with response,” Caison said. “Historically, SBDR is good at response, with almost 90,000 trained volunteers and 1,600 mobile units, but usually we leave a community within a few weeks or months because the response is over. Recovery can take two to three years or longer.”

An important part of SBDR structure is the emotional and spiritual care volunteers give, Caison said, adding that he has always carried a burden for following up more in the community and has a goal of planting 10 churches in Sandy-affected areas in New York and New Jersey. He is convinced that church plants will come out of the ministry and is encouraged by the coordination between SBDR and NAMB’s mobilization staff to identify church planting opportunities within Sandy-affected areas.

Caison gets excited when he talks about the 800-plus collegiate volunteers who served during their winter and spring breaks, based in a tent city on Staten Island. SBDR plans a return of college students in December and again in the spring. Students interesting in volunteering with Sandy Rebuild can learn more at http://www.namb.net/Sandy.

“The community fell in love with them,” he said. “They met needs with a team spirit and served happily while they worked hard in the heat and in the cold. They also interacted with homeowners.”

Now, Caison said, “In the rebuild phase, we can use a different type of volunteer – churches can plan ahead to send missions teams to work along with DR teams.”

Fritz Wilson, NAMB’s executive director for disaster relief, said the mission board is working toward a seamless connection between the work of SBDR and NAMB’s Send North America strategy. New York is one of 32 urban areas targeted through Send North America’s evangelistic church planting partnerships.

“We would like to complete the circle from taking disaster relief’s work of leading people to Christ to seeing it through to church plants so they can become disciples,” Wilson said.

Randy Corn, SBDR emotional and spiritual care coordinator for Long Island and Staten Island, has visited with scores of affected homeowners. He has also spent time with members of Calvary Protestant Evangelical Free Church and pastor Charlie Lucchesi. The church, in Baldwin, N.Y., is lodging SBDR volunteers. Corn has led evangelism training for the church.

Lucchesi said the disaster teams who have worked from the church since April have had a positive impact on the community and the congregation. Many homes in Baldwin, as in nearby Freeport, were damaged and still need repairs.

“Everybody is excited in this church to have them here,” Lucchesi said. “They get into doors that we can never get into. When they come into the community, they just spread the love of Christ by serving people – and it’s changing their understanding of what a Bible-believing church is. The fruit from the work will be much longer than the time they are here, not necessarily for this church but for the church of Jesus Christ.”

Volunteer Jim Ramey with a DR feeding team from South Carolina said many people are afraid of taking that first step to serve. “When you do step out and help someone, especially when you help lead someone to Christ, there is no bigger reward.”

Southern Baptist volunteers, numbering more than 10,650 who have responded since Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught, have served 1.85 million meals, completed 2,678 jobs, shared the gospel 878 times and witnessed 116 professions of faith since the superstorm’s landfall on Oct. 29 of last year. 2012. To volunteer for or learn more about Sandy Rebuild visit http://www.namb.net/Sandy.
Many N.C. volunteers also sign up through Baptists on Mission/North Carolina Baptist Men. Contact (800) 395-5102, ext. 5606. Tearout and rebuild efforts continue in New York and New Jersey. Visit baptistsonmission.org/projects/type/disaster-relief/hurricane-sandy.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. See video.)

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10/30/2013 3:00:47 PM by Laura Sikes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby abortion appeal gains ERLC, others’ support

October 30 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s religious freedom entity has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower rulings on the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate for the purpose of striking down the controversial rule.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined seven other groups in asking the justices to review split decisions at the appeals court level on the mandate. The brief calls for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the religious freedom rights of Hobby Lobby and other family-owned businesses that have conscientious objections to a regulation that requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs for their workers.

It asks the high court to uphold a lower-court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and its sister corporation Mardel, Oklahoma City-based retail chains owned by the pro-life evangelical Christian Green family. The brief also calls for the justices to overturn a ruling against Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania business owned by pro-life Mennonites.

President Russell D. Moore said the ERLC stands with the family-owned businesses “for religious liberty and against the audacity of a state that believes it can annex the human conscience.”

“This is not just a matter for Christians but for all people of good will who recognize the dangers of a coercive state church, including that of a state church of sexual revolution,” Moore said in a statement to Baptist Press.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce after Nov. 12 if it will grant review in the cases, according to the Christian Legal Society (CLS), which wrote the brief signed onto by the ERLC.

Two factors that appear to favor review by the high court are: 1) The divided opinions by appeals courts, with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver deciding in favor of Hobby Lobby and Mardel and the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruling against Conestoga Wood, and 2) the requests by both the Department of Justice and Hobby Lobby for Supreme Court review of the same opinion. Hobby Lobby’s Oct. 21 petition to the high court was an unconventional move for a party that won in the appeals court.

Kim Colby, CLS’ senior legal counsel, cited a third reason for likely Supreme Court review: The mandate’s threat to religious freedom.

Of the lower courts’ differences, Colby told Baptist Press in a written statement that the justices’ main job “is to take cases where there is a ‘circuit split’ and decide which court reached the right legal and constitutional conclusion, particularly when First Amendment rights are at stake.”

If the Supreme Court grants review, it is likely to hear oral arguments early in 2014 and render a decision on the abortion/contraception mandate before the end of its term in late June or early July.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the abortion/contraception mandate as part of implementing the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law known as Obamacare. In addition to contraceptives, the mandate requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

The brief filed Oct. 21 with the Supreme Court by CLS and endorsed by the ERLC and others says the Obama administration’s argument “that religious persons forfeit their free exercise of religion when they enter the marketplace brushes aside two millennia of Christian teaching.”

The owners of Hobby Lobby, Mardel and Conestoga Wood Specialties “are living consistently with two millennia of teaching that one’s faith necessarily should influence one’s work,” the brief contends. “The government’s arbitrary line-drawing between non-profit and for-profit work disregards orthodox Christian doctrine regarding the duty to honor God through one’s work.”

In its July ruling against Conestoga Wood, a divided three-judge panel of the Third Circuit said “for-profit, secular organizations cannot engage in religious exercise.” A month earlier, however, the 10th Circuit rejected the Obama administration’s argument that protections under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) do not extend to for-profit companies. The 10th Circuit ruled corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel “can be ‘persons’ exercising religion for purposes” of RFRA

The CLS/ERLC brief also argues the abortion/contraception mandate fails to protect not only the religious freedom of for-profit businesses but that of non-profit religious organizations other than churches and their affiliated auxiliaries.

Though it provides an exemption for churches and their affiliates, the mandate “unilaterally re-defined most religious employers to be non-religious employers,” according to the brief. “By administrative fiat, the [mandate] deprived religious educational institutions, hospitals, associations, and charities of their religious liberty.”

The HHS accommodation for these religious organizations, which forces them to provide access to abortion-causing drugs through third parties, actually “violates, rather than respects, their religious liberty,” the brief says.

CLS’ Colby told BP, “These cases are not about whether contraceptives will be readily available – access to contraceptives is plentiful and inexpensive – but whether America will remain a pluralistic society that sustains a robust religious liberty for Americans of all faiths.”

For-profit and non-profit corporations have filed a total of 75 lawsuits against the mandate, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. GuideStone Financial Services, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, combined with two of its health plan participants to file one of the more recent suits Oct. 11.

Joining the ERLC on the CLS brief were the National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Association of Christian Schools International, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and the C12 Group.

Hobby Lobby – founded by David Green, who remains its chief executive officer – has said it will not comply with the mandate. If it ultimately loses in court, the chain of nearly 570 stores could face fines totaling $1.3 million a day. Mardell, also owned by the Greens, is a Christian bookstore chain.

The Hahn family, which owns Conestoga Wood Specialties, has been living under the mandate since its group health plan was renewed in January.

The 10th Circuit case is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, while the Third Circuit case is Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius. Kathleen Sebelius is the HHS secretary.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
10/30/2013 2:48:07 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Midwestern trustees elect new college dean

October 30 2013 by Tim Sweetman, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (MBTS) trustees elected a new dean of Midwestern Baptist College and celebrated a record fall enrollment and the largest undesignated gift in the seminary’s history during their fall meeting Oct. 21.

John Mark Yeats received a unanimous vote as the college’s new dean and as associate professor of historical theology, effective Nov. 1.

With Yeats’ election, Midwestern President Jason K. Allen said, “[W]e are positioning the undergraduate school for maximum growth.”

“One of the greatest strengths Dr. Yeats possesses is the ability to connect with college students,” Allen said, describing the new dean as “equipped to lead the college in preparing these students for future Kingdom service.”

“We need a robust undergraduate program at Midwestern,” Allen said, “and John Mark Yeats possesses the skills and experience to lead our college well into the future.”

Yeats comes to Midwestern Seminary from Fort Worth, Texas, where he has been senior pastor of Normandale Baptist Church and previously was professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Yeats holds a Ph.D. in church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School along with degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oxford University and Criswell College. He has authored three books, Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession with Easy Christianity; The Time is Come: The Rise of British Missions to the Jews, 1808-1818; and Worldviews: Think for Yourself about How We See God. He also has contributed articles to multiple journals as well as the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

Yeats said he is looking forward to his family’s move to Kansas City and to what the future holds at Midwestern Baptist College.

“As dean of the college, I look forward to grounding young men and women in the truth of Jesus Christ and in His Word,” Yeats said. “My prayer is that we train a generation of students prepared to engage the shifting tides of our culture with a missionary heart.”

Midwestern also has re-structured several administrative offices. The most visible move included reworking the existing student development and institutional advancement offices into what will now be known as the office of institutional relations. Led by Charles Smith, the current vice president of institutional advancement, the new division will oversee enrollment management, institutional advancement, communications, the Center for Church Planting and Partnering and campus culture and events.

Smith said he looks forward to new structure providing “unprecedented opportunities for our various offices to work together toward our broader enrollment and advancement goals.”

Trustees celebrated Allen’s announcement of the seminary’s record-breaking fall enrollment – a 6 percent increase in student head count, making it the largest fall class in school history.

“We clearly see this as God’s blessing and providence,” Allen said, “in that He, and Southern Baptist churches, are entrusting us with training and preparing future ministers of the gospel.”

“We’ve had a great year,” Allen said, “but we need a great decade. As we move forward with the vision of existing for the church, and trust in our Lord’s leading, we are positioning ourselves well to do just that.”

During Allen’s presidential report, he announced that Midwestern had received the largest undesignated gift in the seminary’s history – a gift of $500,000, which coincided with the launching of the Midwestern Seminary Legacy Fund intended to defer tuition costs for students. Allen also spoke about the desire for the seminary to have an expanding ministry footprint and how the gift is a large part of that mission.

Allen noted that the donors are “godly people who have fallen in love with the vision of the school.” He added that the gift was provided in faith, as the family is new to Midwestern Seminary and had not yet been to campus.

In other news, Midwestern’s trustees:
  • announced that David S. Dockery, president of Union University, would serve as the distinguished professor of theology and Baptist studies and would be teaching doctoral-level courses annually.
  • approved a response to a motion referred from the Southern Baptist Convention pertaining to assisting churches with the “challenge of ministry to those suffering from mental health issues....” Trustees responded by noting, “Central to our mission is to equip students to minister to the whole person, including mental, emotional, and, especially, spiritual needs. To this end, Midwestern Seminary is pleased to offer counseling degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels…”
  • approved increased security measures on campus, including 24-hour security monitoring, security gates at the north and south campus entrances and the hiring of a full-time trained security force. At night, all campus visitors now will enter solely through the main entrance, allowing for tighter security and better protection of campus families.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Sweetman is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
10/30/2013 2:37:35 PM by Tim Sweetman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Annual Meeting to focus on next steps, impacting lostness

October 29 2013 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

With a theme of “Arise,” messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Annual Meeting will be challenged to step up and take action to help penetrate spiritual darkness. About 5.8 million people in North Carolina do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Spiritual darkness is everywhere - in our neighborhoods, across the state and throughout the world. We must “Arise” and obey the Lord’s command to share the gospel and make disciples.

North Carolina Baptists will be challenged through testimonies from individuals and families about next steps, or practical ways to engage neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends with the gospel.
The following are highlights of this year’s meeting. More information is available at ncannualmeeting.org.

Pastors’ Conference

The Pastors’ Conference theme is “A Lasting Legacy.” We are all called to leave a legacy that outlasts our lives; we are called to make a difference for eternity.

Featured speakers include Lee Pigg, pastor, Hopewell Baptist Church, Monroe; Junior Hill, Southern Baptist evangelist; Ken Trivette, president and director, Native American Baptist Missions; David Gallamore, pastor, Rock Springs Baptist Church, Easley, S.C.; Herb Reavis, pastor, North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.; Mike Whitson, pastor, First Baptist Church Indian Trail; and Jeff LaBorg, east campus pastor, First Baptist Church Indian Trail.
The conference will be held at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro and begins Sunday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. and ends Monday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. The conference is free and registration is not required. Visit ncannualmeeting.org/legacy for more information.

Convention sermon

Fred Luter Jr. will deliver the Convention sermon during the Tuesday evening session. Luter is president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La. When he was elected pastor in 1986, Franklin Avenue had 65 members. Under his leadership, by 2005 the church had grown to more than 7,000 members.

Luter was the first African-American to preach the Convention sermon at the SBC, and in 2012, was the first African-American elected SBC president.

Arise worship service

Mark Harris, BSC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, will preach Monday night during a special worship service. Harris has pastored First Baptist for about six years. He has also served as BSCNC first and second vice president.

Breakout sessions

Breakout sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 3:15 and 4:15 p.m.

Session topics include: mentoring, church renewal journey, transformational discipleship and teenagers, prayer, mission projects, stewardship, children’s discipleship, North American partnerships, reaching people in their cultural/ethnic context, rural strategy development and church strengthening.

Exhibit hall

The exhibit hall includes about 100 exhibits. Convention staff will have booths set up and will be able to answer questions about Convention ministries serving local churches.
Convention institutions and agencies will be represented, as will exhibitors offering various resources to churches such as directory services, insurance, website development and construction/architecture.
This year the exhibit hall will be organized according to the new BSC staff structure. Several new groups and teams are now part of the new structure, and will be available in the exhibit hall for you to meet and ask questions. For example, the new Strategic Focus Team that is leading the work in eight population centers across the state will have a booth area. The new Collegiate Partnerships Team, as well as the new Evangelism and Discipleship Group, which includes the Church Strengthening Team and Disciple-making Team, will be in the exhibit hall.
Visit ncannualmeeting.org.
10/29/2013 3:28:21 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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