October 2013

Hollywood looks to the Bible for screenplay potential

October 25 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

NEW YORK – Studios and filmmakers are rediscovering a classic text as source material for upcoming mainstream films: the Bible.
Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.
Future films include:
  • LD Entertainment is financially backing  ”Resurrection,” a drama set immediately after Jesus’ death and directed by “Hatfields & McCoys” director Kevin Reynolds.
  • Paramount will release “Noah,” a $125 million adaptation starring Russell Crowe in 2014.
  • 20th Century Fox is developing “Exodus,” a Moses film starring Christian Bale.
  • Warner Bros. has another Moses-themed film titled “Gods And Kings,” which Steven Spielberg flirted with directing.
  • Warner Bros. also is working on a film on Pontius Pilate, rumored to possibly include Brad Pitt.
  • Sony is producing Will Smith’s “The Redemption of Cain,” on the sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel.
  • Lionsgate has been developing “Mary Mother of Christ,” described as “a prequel to ‘The Passion of the Christ”’ and rumored to include Ben Kingsley.
Alongside the string of upcoming Bible-related films, producers from the History channel’s “The Bible” miniseries just announced that the series’ film adaptation “Son of God” will be released in theaters nationwide in February with 20th Century Fox.

Photo courtesy Lightworkers Media
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey with the cast and crew while filming “Son of God.”

The couple behind the show, Mark Burnett and “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, said mixing Hollywood and the Bible can be tricky.
“It’s not just some story,” said Burnett, who produces “The Voice” and “Survivor.” “There’s a price to pay for failing to stay on track and failing to get the right advisers.”
When showing it to a group of children, the couple said they were told one thing: “Please don’t make it lame.”
“It’s not enough to have good intentions,” said Downey, who plays Jesus’ mother Mary in the series. “It has to be told in a way that’s relevant to a contemporary audience.”
The couple have been able to reach across traditional religious divides in getting promotions; Downey is Catholic and Burnett considers himself a nondenominational Christian. Their efforts have received endorsements from religious leaders ranging from megachurch pastor Rick Warren to Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Previous generations of filmmakers largely stayed within their own traditions without much interest in what other Christians were making, said Dallas megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes, who hosted a film festival earlier this year.
“We have learned that there is more to unite us than to divide us,” he said. “That is exhibited primarily by how we see the arts and film.”
Ultimately, though, Jakes hopes to see faith-based films go more mainstream rather than being a separate niche category.
“Faith is not limited or incarcerated by labels that restrict it from being able to be woven into the fabric of the human experience,” he said. “I think that faith is best worn when it is part of the totality of the human experience rather than relegated over to a tribal expression of a particular group of people.”
Taking a cue from Gibson’s success with “The Passion,” film marketing campaigns now go after pastors’ endorsements through special advance screenings to secure endorsements from big-name religious leaders. As more people are sitting in front of the TV on a Sunday morning rather than in church, “filmmakers are the new high priests of our culture,” said A. Larry Ross, who has handled publicity for several religious leaders and organizations, including Billy Graham and Rick Warren.
“No pastor went to seminary to put people in (theater) seats or build revenue for a film producer,” Ross said. “Many pastors are realizing that in this video-driven culture, stories are the vessels of meaning.”
“For many faith and family films, the impact on the screen is less the answers given than it is the questions asked that you could discuss over coffee with someone who would never go to church with you but go to a movie with you,” he said.
In some ways, Hollywood’s fascination with the Bible isn’t new: Hollywood drew on biblical storytelling after World War II, especially with Charlton Heston, who played Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” and “Ben-Hur,” a movie about a Jewish prince sent into slavery and rescued by Jesus.
But some films flopped when they took too much license. “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film about the life of Jesus and the temptations he faced that included sex scenes, took in only $8.4 million domestically amid a widespread boycott led by Roman Catholics.
Independent films have dealt with the Bible in the past, but it’s significant that major Hollywood studios are taking this up, said Tom Allen, a partner in Allied Faith & Family, a Hollywood marketing firm.
“We’re beyond the cheap ministry movies that appeal only to a certain constituency,” he said.
As Hollywood looks to epic tales of floods, burning bushes and parting seas, films with biblical themes will also continue to pop up. Nicolas Cage is slated to star in “Left Behind,” a movie based on the book series on the Second Coming of Christ. Sony’s adaption of the popular book “Heaven is for Real” is also scheduled for next year.
But sticking strictly to the Bible starts with a financial upside — no one collects copyright or licensing fees.
10/25/2013 2:24:00 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

NOBTS adding archaeology, chaplaincy degrees

October 25 2013 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) trustees approved an initiative to launch four new fully-online degrees, new degrees in biblical archaeology and chaplaincy and created seven new extension sites during their fall meeting Oct. 8.

The board approved a plan by the NOBTS administration to petition the Association of Theological School in the United States and Canada (ATS) for approval of the four additional degrees. In addition to the three online degrees already offered, NOBTS will seek approval for a fully-online master of divinity, master of arts in Christian education, master of arts in apologetics and master of missiology.

In 2012, the trustees approved three fully-online degrees – the master of theological studies, master of arts (theology) and master of arts (biblical studies). The master of theological studies degree was already approved by the seminary’s accrediting agency, ATS. The seminary petitioned ATS for approval for the two other degrees. The petition was granted and NOBTS began offering the three degrees in a fully-online format this spring.

NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said the seminary “has long been a national leader in distance education, so offering these new degrees online is continuing a pattern of innovation and excellence for which we have achieved national recognition.”

Each of the degrees will be offered both in fully-online and traditional “in-person” classroom formats. Most of the courses in these degree programs will be available online, at extension centers and on the main campus. Lemke said the initiative is designed to provide as many options as possible for students.

“The evidence shows that many students find it difficult to complete an entire degree online,” Lemke said. “The great thing that NOBTS offers the distance learning student is a cafeteria of options that students can tailor to their own needs – they can choose from taking courses in our extension centers all over the Southeast, hybrid courses that meet just a few times a semester, weeklong workshop courses and travel courses.

“All these degrees are offered entirely online, but at NOBTS students can choose to mix in some in-person classes to interact with faculty members and fellow students if they prefer,” Lemke said.

The new degree programs in archaeology and chaplaincy approved by trustees, meanwhile, will combine traditional, in-person instruction and opportunities to gain real-world, hands-on experience.

The new 46-hour master of arts degree in biblical archaeology approved by trustees flows out of the seminary’s ongoing archaeological excavation of the Gezer water system in Israel. The degree is designed to prepare students for research in biblical archaeology and biblical studies. Students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in archaeology field work at Gezer and subsequent dig sites in Israel. With strong emphasis on biblical languages, biblical backgrounds, history and archaeology, the degree provides the foundation needed for students to pursue a doctor of philosophy degree in a related field. The archaeological dig is supported by the Michael and Sara Moskau Institute of Archaeology and the NOBTS Center for Archaeological Research, which also cosponsor the seminary’s Bible Lands Museum.

The master of arts (biblical archaeology) degree is the second program at NOBTS to utilize a mutual partnership with a state university. In this case, the partnering school is Mississippi State University (MSU) and the MSU Cobb Institute of Archaeology. MSU will provide instruction for NOBTS students in specialized areas such as ceramic analysis and anthropology. MSU students will receive instruction in biblical languages and Semitic inscriptions from NOBTS faculty members.

“The program we have developed with Mississippi State in archaeology, allowing us to utilize the technical skills the university has – and add, for them, the skills we have in biblical languages and biblical backgrounds – is an exciting partnership,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We are all about partnership and creating synergy; this is another great example of that.”

In October 2012, trustees approved the first partnership with a state university – a dual degree partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi which allows NOBTS students to be dually enrolled in a seminary degree plus, through USM, a master of social work (MSW) degree.

Trustees also approved an 84-86 hour chaplaincy specialization for the master of divinity program. The new specialization is designed to prepare students for military, hospital, industrial or police chaplaincy. The new specialization offers 15 hours of specialized training related to chaplaincy and a three-hour practicum component.

“The chaplaincy specialization is coming at a unique time in our society,” said Page Brooks, assistant professor of theology, ministry-based faculty and chaplain with the Louisiana National Guard 256th infantry brigade. “Chaplains are pastors in the secular place, whether it be in the military, hospital or nursing home.

“Chaplains must learn to navigate the theological, psychological, political, and pastoral all at the same time. It appears as though the balance of maintaining a ministry presence in the secular places will only get more tenuous as time goes on,” Brooks continued. “This specialization will train a new generation of chaplains to be the most effective they can be wherever God places them.”

Lemke said chaplains often are called to minister in the midst of crisis. The specialization will address this and other factors unique to chaplain ministry.

“As a former chaplain in four hospitals and a member of the medical ethics committee of two other hospitals, I have seen how hospital chaplains make a difference in the lives of the patients and their families,” Lemke said. “Chaplains have opportunities to minister to people in crisis even more than local church pastors have. This M.Div. specialization provides focused training for those who feel called into this crucial ministry.”

The board approved three extension centers in Alabama and four certificate teaching sites in Georgia and Louisiana. Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., was approved as a graduate extension center. Forest Lake Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and First Baptist Church in Rainsville, Ala., were approved as undergraduate and graduate centers. Approved to offer undergraduate certificate courses were Central Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga.; the Monroe Extension Center at North Monroe Baptist Church in Monroe, La.; Treasure Coast Baptist Association in Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga. And trustees approved First Baptist Church in Rainsville, Ga., as a graduate certificate center.

In other curriculum-related actions, trustees approved a new graduate certificate in family ministry and a new internship specialization option for Christian education students. The new internship specialization is designed to allow extension center students in the master of divinity and master of arts in Christian education programs course credit and hands-on experience in a local church setting.

The board also voted to change the seminary’s policy regarding credit card transaction fees on student tuition payments. Several years back, when the seminary began allowing credit card payments for tuition, NOBTS did not pass along the credit card transaction fees to the students. With an increased number of students opting to pay for tuition with credit cards, the total transaction fee amount has risen sharply. Trustees voted to discontinue paying the transaction fees. Credit cards may still be used for tuition payments, but students will be required the pay the transaction fees associated with credit card use.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
10/25/2013 1:58:05 PM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pornography on mobile devices fueling addiction, brokenness

October 24 2013 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – By 2017, access to pornography on smartphones and tablets will be available to 250 million people worldwide, according to a new study from Juniper Research, a London-area analyst of the wireless sector.

Higher-resolution screens, faster networks and personal security offered by password-protected phones and tablets will make the devices the fastest-growing distribution channels for adult content since the Internet was created, according to the study, released Sept. 25.

Adult entertainment companies also are beginning to create content specifically for the portable devices because of “the increasing trend towards tablets becoming personal, as opposed to shared household devices,” according to a report by the Center for Media Research in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 11. And much of the content may be available free, making its use more likely and more easily hidden, according to analysts.

The increasing use of digital adult content and other forms of pornography prompted the launch of “Join 1 Million Men” at the Southern Baptist Convention in June, an initiative to call men and women to sexual purity and to protect ministries, marriages and families from the devastation caused by pornography.


SXC photo

Florida pastor Jay Dennis, at the SBC annual meeting in June, said, “Internet pornography is the perfect trap because it hooks men” and will not let them go. That is why he along with Woman’s Missionary Union and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission are sponsoring the campaign.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in an online column Oct. 9 that sexually explicit images have crept into every facet of American media, including advertising and marketing. This “ambient pornography,” Mohler wrote, confronts viewers even in settings traditionally considered safe, like shopping malls and on primetime television.

Earlier this year in a column, Mohler noted how pornography has increased support among men for the legalization of same-sex marriage, according to researchers.

“By some estimations, the production and sale of explicit pornography now represents the seventh-largest industry in America,” Mohler wrote in his Oct. 9 column. “New videos and Internet pages are produced each week, with the digital revolution bringing a host of new delivery systems. Every new digital platform becomes a marketing opportunity for the pornography industry.”

Just how far the industry is reaching into new technologies is not yet known, but according to Juniper Research, users in the United States and Western Europe will have access to the greatest amount of adult content in the future and likely will spend the greatest amount of money on it – a continuous annual growth rate of 25 percent.

“The total number of users of adult mobile content … will reach almost a quarter of a billion users in 2017, at 243 million users. This is attributable to an emphasis on high-definition, niche-centric product, as well as the flourishing availability of mobile-optimized free content. Although the user base is spread globally, Juniper has found that revenues are likely to be concentrated in the US and Western Europe throughout the forecast period,” the Juniper study predicted.

Mohler noted in his column that research also is providing insight into the brain composition of those who are most likely to use adult content on computers, smartphones and tablets – the American male. “While research does nothing to reduce the moral culpability of males who consume pornography, it does help explain how the habit becomes so addictive,” he wrote.

Mohler pointed to a book by William M. Struthers, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, who has pointed out that pornography disrupts the normal function of the male brain and rewires it to dismiss the normal, God-given desire for sexual intimacy with a spouse.

“Pornography takes human sexuality out of its natural context – intimacy between two human beings – and makes it a product to be bought and sold,” Struthers wrote in Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, now in its sixth printing since 2009. “By debasing the human body and valuing it in the same way we would something from the local convenience store, pornography promotes a human being’s sexuality as a product for consumption.”

Struthers wrote that pornography is a type of long-acting poison to the male brain because images and sounds taken in cannot be “unseen” or “unheard.”

“Viewing pornography is not an emotionally or physiologically neutral experience,” Struthers wrote in the book. “It is fundamentally different from looking at black and white photos of the Lincoln Memorial or taking in a color map of the provinces of Canada.”

Pornography becomes a drug, Struthers wrote, and like most drugs, its repeated use builds up tolerances requiring higher and higher doses to achieve the same level of pleasure.

The simple name for the practice is “addiction,” researchers in Great Britain say.

The rise in addiction to pornography there led researchers to study the brain while it was being exposed to pornographic images. In the process, researchers from Cambridge University found that MRI scans of 19 self-described pornography addicts were nearly identical to those of alcoholics and drug addicts.

The ongoing study, as yet unpublished, was featured in a multi-part documentary currently on air in the United Kingdom. “Porn on the Brain” chronicles the investigation of the physiological and social effects of pornography by journalist Martin Daubney, who left his job as editor of an adult magazine after the birth of his son four years ago.

Valerie Voon, the lead scientist featured in the documentary, told the Sunday Times in the UK, “We found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is a reward center, involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure.”

Voon noted: “When an alcoholic sees an ad for a drink, their brain will light up in a certain way and they will be stimulated in a certain way. We are seeing this same kind of activity in users of pornography.”

A study by faculty at the University of Sydney also found that pornography addiction is on the rise. In that study, released in 2012, researchers said the addiction caused dysfunction in social interaction, harmed personal relationships and even resulted in job losses for some of those addicted to it.

“We all know what porn is, but until now we haven’t known much about its impact,” said Gomathi Sitharthan, one of the researchers in the University of Sydney study.

“Gone are the days when you had to go to a shop, pay for the merchandise, and come out with a magazine in a brown paper bag. You can now download anything, anytime, anywhere – at home, in your bedroom, in your office, in the car, in the park, on the way to work.”

Daubney, whose documentary has prompted a national discussion on pornography addiction in the UK, has expressed remorse for his part in building the adult entertainment business. Readily available pornography, he said, is destroying intimacy because it reshapes the male understanding of sex.

“While teenage boys will also be fascinated by, and curious about, sex, what’s now considered ‘normal’ by under-18s is an entirely distorted view of intercourse and the way relationships should be conducted,” Daubney told the UK’s Daily Mail, pointing out that young people’s expectations of sex are being defined by what is viewed in online pornography.

British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year pushed for new regulations on adult content delivered online. Cameron called online pornography a “corroding influence” on British children and said British lawmakers would take steps to curtail easy access to the material.

In the campaign, announced in July at the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Cameron said Internet service providers will automatically block in-home access to pornographic material on computers and all devices of new users connected to a home’s wireless network, making the absence of adult content the “default setting.” Those users must “opt in” to adult content. Existing consumers are allowed the option of activating “family-friendly” filters on their accounts, Cameron said.

The new regulations on British media will be in effect by the end of 2013. Family advocates in other countries are seeking to capitalize on the momentum Cameron’s law provides. In Canada and India, both former British colonies, petition efforts to block online pornography have been launched, and in Iceland, members of the government are debating a complete ban on online adult content.

Should Iceland’s legislature institute a complete ban on online pornography, the ban would be the first of its kind. Saudi Arabia also is considering a ban on online pornography.

In September 2007, legislators in the U.S. Congress mandated the creation of an “.xxx” domain name for pornographic sites in an attempt to alert parents to their use, but the use of the marker for adult content is purely voluntary for online pornographers.

A University of Montreal study recently claimed that 90 percent of pornographic material is now delivered online, and another study from the technology blog Gizmodo indicated that 24.6 million websites, or 12 percent of the total websites online, feature some form of adult content. Studies vary on how early children are exposed to pornography online, but a University of New Hampshire study indicated that nearly half of all 10-year-olds have seen adult content online, many without seeking it out.

In a surprising survey from the Pew Research Center, published Oct. 10, Pew reported that of more than 1,000 people surveyed, only 12 percent of the total number of adults had viewed pornographic videos online. Of males age 18-29, however, 25 percent of those surveyed said they had watched pornographic content. Only 8 percent of women in the same age category said they had seen adult content online.

While the Pew survey conflicts with other studies of viewing habits for online adult content, the draw of online pornography is not debated.

In fact, Mohler wrote, it is “visually magnetic” to the male brain.

That is why Struthers’ book, Mohler wrote, is important. It “presents a fascinating review of the neurobiology involved, with pleasure hormones becoming linked to and released by the experience of a male viewing pornographic images. These experiences with pornography and pleasure hormones create new patterns in the brain’s wiring, and repeated experiences formalize the rewiring.”

“And then, enough is never enough,” Mohler wrote.

Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., who pioneered the Join 1 Million Men campaign, described the response from pastors, churches and individuals as encouraging.

“Pastors and church leaders are discovering as they address the subject, the people are ready, they are hungry for practical help,” Dennis told Baptist Press. “But we still have a lot of work to do. The world has done a much better job in the information wars than the church. Regardless of what Christ-centered, scriptural resources are used – and there are great resources – the main issue now is for every church to ‘Have the conversation’ about pornography use among Christian men of all ages and, increasingly, Christian women.

“This war is winnable, but only as we admit we’re in a war,” Dennis said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)


With the advent of the smartphone and 24-hour Internet connectivity, pornography has become more accessible – and more addictive – than ever. And Christians are not immune. Christian leaders and authors warn that pornography involvement and even addiction does not stop at the church door. But while pornography is easy to get, so is help to overcome it. Here are a few resources, all available at Amazon.com and other outlets.
  • Our Hardcore Battle Plan: Joining the War Against Pornography, Jay Dennis (New Hope Publishing, 2013)
  • Our Hardcore Battle Plan A-Z, Jay Dennis (New Hope Publishing, 2013)
  • Our Hardcore Battle Plan for Wives: Winning the War Against Pornography, Dennis and Cathy Dyer (New Hope Publishing, 2013)
  • Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, Heath Lambert (HarperCollins, 2013)
  • Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester (IVP, 2010)
  • Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity, Douglas Weiss (Thomas Nelson, 2013)
  • Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, William Struthers (IVP, 2010)

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10/24/2013 3:52:24 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Porn confronted by church’s ‘Battle Plan’

October 24 2013 by Mark H. Hunter, Baptist Press

NORTH MOBILE, Ala. – “We are men with a battle plan. We are men of God.”

Those words – a declaration of war against the scourge of pornography – were voiced by hundreds of men gathered in a church auditorium and joined by hundreds of others across the nation via webcast.

“Battle Plan: Freedom From Porn” was co-hosted by Ed Litton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in North Mobile, Ala., and Neal Ledbetter, director of campus life at the University of Mobile. More than 500 men from a half-dozen local churches attended, while the webcast was viewed by an unknown number of other men as far away as London.

Battle Plan, now posted at www.northmobile.tv, detailed the catastrophic effects of pornography on men’s lives, their wives, their families and churches while relaying a five-point plan of victory through Jesus.


Screen capture
Ed Litton, an Alabama pastor, leads “Battle Plan: Freedom From Porn,” a live conference and, now, an archived webcast aimed at helping men overcome the plague of pornography. 

“What really drove us to do this is – the gospel is being stalled because men are getting stuck in lust and stuck in greed and we’re not taking the gospel to where it needs to be taken,” Litton said. “A huge motivation for us was to try to help our men get a handle on this.

“It is every man’s problem and struggle – all of us need to go to the cross,” Litton said. “But we have to be set free by the gospel first.”

Ledbetter, in opening the session Sept. 19, candidly admitted, “I have come from the battle line – I have actually come from behind enemy lines where I was a hostage to pornography.

“You are not the only one. You are not alone in this fight,” Ledbetter said. “I have to say, from the beginning, ‘me too.’”

The issue of lust for men is nothing new, Ledbetter said, and even Augustine, in 390 A.D., admitted he battled it.

“We will fight together – with power beyond this world – the power of Jesus Christ,” Ledbetter promised. “He is your only hope of breaking those chains.”

Ledbetter recounted statistics that shocked no one about the number of sexual references annually shown on American television; the multi-billion-dollar porn industry that grosses more than all professional American sports combined; and the growing percentage of youth and men who have seen online pornography and the number who look at it weekly or monthly or are addicted to it.

Sex in a marriage – a relationship centered on love – was a gift given by God in the Garden of Eden, Ledbetter said, but “porn is a reversal of that. Porn turns us into consumers – not lovers.”

But participating in porn is only a skirmish in a larger battle for men’s hearts, Ledbetter explained, and to win that battle men must remove “self” as king of their lives, repent of their sins and submit to Jesus who transforms the heart.

Litton described the pervasive plague of pornography as one of the greatest moral challenges faced by the Christian church in the post-modern age.

He related the familiar parable of the Prodigal Son but cast it from the father’s perspective, which he said is what Jesus’ parable is really about.

One brother was immoral, who confessed his sins, Litton said, and the other brother was moral in the worst sense of the word – he was a Pharisee who confessed his brother’s sins. But the father – who is God – pursues both boys, Litton said. “He gives grace to both.”

“You can be the younger brother who dove headlong into the cesspool or you can be the older brother who never misses a Sunday at church, who always does what’s right, but has a pornographic mind,” Litton said. “This is not a gathering for men who are struggling with porn – this is a gathering for men.

“God wired us for beauty and the enemy knows that – he wants to destroy our lives … and gets us so wrapped up in something that is so shameful to us that we can’t even teach a Sunday School class for kids because we feel disqualified,” Litton said.

Litton encouraged the men to take the advice of the apostle Paul when he declared, “forgetting the former things I press on.”

“We have to make up our minds and not look back,” Litton said.

In relaying a “Battle Plan: Freedom From Porn” to attendees, Ledbetter and Little drew from a book by Tim Chester titled Closing the Window:
  • Abhorrence of porn – Men need a holy hatred of porn itself – beyond the shame it brings and the destruction it causes to relationships. Men must yearn for a change of attitude toward porn, Ledbetter said. “You’re going to have to pray and ask God to do this – ‘God, help me to hate what You hate.’”
  • Adoration of God – Psalm 51, in which King David confessed his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David confessed that his sin is against God and prays, “Cleanse me, O Lord, with hyssop – make atonement for me,” Litton said. “Jesus did that for us – the holiness of God humbles us but the grace of God gives us hope.”
  • Assurance of grace – Ledbetter told the men they are loved by God and there is nothing they can do by performance to make God love them more or love them less. “It is all by grace by faith not of works so you will not boast.”
  • Avoidance of temptation – Men must flee from sin, Ledbetter said. “I don’t have the strength to rescue myself from this situation,” he said, voicing resolve to stay clear of potentially sinful situations.
  • Accountability to others – Litton cited what Gen. George S. Patton said about an army being a team; “it lives, sleeps and fights as a team.” The famed general said he had no use for “individual, heroic stuff.”
“You are kidding yourself if you think you can fight this battle by yourself,” Litton told the men, quoting Dietrich Bonhoffer who wrote, “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a man is, the more destructive the power of sin over that person.”

Everybody needs a small group of men who you can trust and they can trust you, Litton advised as a way of growing in discipleship.

“The more you become like Jesus the less attractive fake things will become to you,” Litton said. “Porn is fake. He is the truth, He is the light – walk in the light and walk in the truth. And I promise you – you will see victory and success in this area [of your life].”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark H. Hunter is a writer based in Baton Rouge, La.)

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10/24/2013 3:44:36 PM by Mark H. Hunter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

WSJ profiles ERLC leader’s convictional kindness

October 24 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The convictional but kind approach to cultural engagement promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) lead ethicist has gained the attention of one of the country’s top newspapers.

The Wall Street Journal profiled Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a front-page article Oct. 22. The article sets Moore’s approach since taking office in June – maintaining strong biblical stands on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage while communicating kindness and grace to those who disagree – in the context of the change it represents from the previous tone often used by conservative Christian leaders.
Evangelical Christians should soften their rhetoric on controversial cultural issues and resist political battles, The Journal cites Moore as saying. Yet, he “insists he isn’t seeking to return the Southern Baptists to a past in which [they] shunned politics entirely,” according to the article.

“We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it,” Moore told reporter Neil King Jr. “Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture.”

Evangelicals should refrain from becoming “mascots for any political faction,” Moore said.

Instead, he urges church leaders to address the “visceral recoil” among young evangelicals to the cultural war by being “winsome, kind and empathetic,” according to the article.

A political and cultural shift among young evangelicals, according to the article, helps explain why Moore faces a different challenge than did Richard Land, who served as the ERLC’s president for a quarter of a century before his retirement this year.

The transformation from an expectation of quick fixes politically and culturally demonstrates a new awareness among evangelicals, said Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

“What is happening right now with evangelicals is a disabusing of any idea of a simple victory of the right in a fallen world,” Dever told The Journal. “They realize that is not going to happen.”

While Moore calls for a kinder tone, the article reported that he has not shifted his positions: “He equates abortion with the evils of slavery, considers homosexuality a sin, and insists the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] will never support gay marriage.” Moore said there is “no doctrinal daylight,” as The Journal described it, between the SBC and him.

Moore began advancing what he describes as “convictional kindness” in cultural engagement after becoming ERLC president and offered his vision for such an approach in his first address to the SBC’s annual meeting in June and in his inaugural speech in September. The Journal quoted from both of those speeches in its article.

Evangelicals should continue to work for justice, but “we must also remember that we are not Americans first,” Moore said at his inauguration in Washington, according to the newspaper. “We belong to another kingdom.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.)
10/24/2013 3:37:40 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SWBTS trustees address mental health motion, vote on tenure

October 24 2013 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) trustees responded to a motion on mental health ministries referred from the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting, concluded a process to end faculty tenure and recognized President Paige Patterson for 10 years of service during their fall meeting Oct. 16.

During the SBC sessions in Houston, Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, presented a motion requesting SBC entities to report on past, present and future efforts to assist churches in ministry to people with mental health challenges. Southwestern’s trustees adopted a response to the motion from last June, noting the seminary’s graduate and post-graduate coursework in biblical counseling and pastoral ministry.

In addition to coursework, trustees said the seminary “provides for the churches counseling workshops in which the laity come to be trained in how to respond to the difficult problems that people face. So in this way Southwestern not only trains its students but also reaches out to provide help for the churches. Further, our faculty in counseling spends a great portion of its time counseling the counselors from the churches who frequently call on us for help with various kinds of problems.”

Trustees unanimously approved changes to the seminary’s bylaws and policies to eliminate the future extension of tenure to faculty. Elected faculty who already have tenure are unaffected and will retain the rights and privileges of tenured faculty.

The decision comes after ongoing dialogue among the board. At their spring meeting in April, trustees passed a motion requesting their policies & bylaws subcommittee to bring recommended revisions to the fall meeting.

Trustees elected two new faculty members, both of whom were serving under presidential appointment. Scott Aniol was elected as assistant professor of church music in the School of Church Music, with Dean Sieberhagen elected as assistant professor of missions and Islamic studies in the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, both effective Jan. 1.

During a chapel service, trustees recognized Paige and Dorothy Patterson for 10 years of service at Southwestern Seminary.

Steven James, chairman of Southwestern’s trustees, told the audience, “As a young pastor during the early ’80s, I had the opportunity to watch Dr. Patterson from afar, to watch him move about in our convention with integrity, tenacity and theological insight. I saw a man that was bigger than life, robust and fearless.”

James recalled hearing Patterson preach in 2010 during the dedication of the seminary’s MacGorman Chapel. He told Patterson he was impressed during the sermon with “the mercy, humility and compassion that you have in your heart, especially for those who are lost.”

“That’s when my spirit – even with all we went through in the ’80s – really connected with your spirit.”

James read an official proclamation from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and another proclamation from the city of Fort Worth declaring Oct. 16, 2013, as Paige Patterson Day.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
10/24/2013 3:29:46 PM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Cooperative Program, sacrifice show church’s care

October 24 2013 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

MONROE, Mich. – At Monroe Missionary Baptist Church, church members understand that pushing back darkness requires a readiness to serve.

“Our purpose as Christians is not to stay in well-maintained buildings where cars drive by and see us from the outside, where everything looks good,” said Roy Southerland, the church’s pastor since 1999.

That’s why the church gives away food and winter coats and helps struggling families through their benevolence ministry. That’s why they host funerals – and post-funeral meals at no cost – for every family they minister to. 

That’s also why they give 12 percent of undesignated offerings to missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to reach out from their states to the ends of the earth with the gospel.


Submitted photo
Monroe Missionary Baptist Church in the Michigan city of nearly 23,000 people extends its reach nationally and internationally both through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program and its own missions initiatives, including a children’s home in India in a town two hours from New Delhi. Earlier this year, a team led by pastor Roy Southerland utilized Bible-storying cloths there to illustrate biblical truths, with translation by a local pastor. 

“There are always people who say, ‘If we kept back part of that [missions giving], think what we could do,’” Southerland said. “It has to be constantly stressed: It’s not about us. It’s about what we can do to model the love of Christ.”

Monroe Missionary Baptist is one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in Michigan, where about 700 people gather for Sunday morning worship.

Even so, Southerland said, “I cannot see it possible for any church to really impact the world all on its own. It’s going to take working together.

“We believe the lifeline to reaching the world is the Cooperative Program,” he said. “If we are willing to give together and work together to reach the world with the gospel, then we can make a greater dent in the darkness.”

Despite a sizable debt on the building and the 40 acres on which it sits between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, Monroe Missionary gives another 6 percent to missions and ministries through its association and local causes.

Still more goes to its international missions partners, developed over the years by connections often made by people called out of the congregation to overseas assignments.

Each Sunday, time is given during the worship service to highlight Monroe Missionary Baptist’s ministry partners around the world.

“We call the names of those we send out and try to highlight something they have done this week,” Southerland said. “We tell the congregation that their gifts will directly affect getting or keeping our people on the field, or will send others to the field.

“People give if they see a reason,” he said. “We stress that the majority of their gifts are going to reach people.... When people see that, they continue to give.”

Despite the severe downturn in the economies of both Michigan and Detroit, some 25 miles north, Monroe Missionary Baptist members continue to give faithfully, the pastor said.

“The challenge we have here is trying to engage people [in the region] who have no understanding of the gospel, no scriptural or biblical background at all,” Southerland said. “We’ve got to be able to meet this culture where they are and share the gospel with people in such a way they will be receptive to it.”

The church’s most effective ministry is in providing funerals led by Southerland and the luncheons after in a city of nearly 23,000 people.

“We do this so we can get to the people who are hurting,” the pastor said. “We reach more people through that ministry of love than anything else. With every family we minister to, we ask God to open the door for us to love them into the Kingdom of Christ.”

Monroe Missionary Baptist has several funeral luncheon teams and on occasion does as many as three funerals a day.

“The opportunities are better than they’ve ever been for reaching people with the gospel,” Southerland said. “There are plenty of opportunities for us to impact our community, our country, our world. It’s going to cost us financially, sacrificially.... But the world is waiting for someone to love them.

“Today’s culture is filled with a generation of people who are seeing life as sort of hopeless,” the pastor continued. “The church has the opportunity to reach them. But: doing things the way we’ve always done them isn’t going to work. Lost people are not coming to our churches until we go to them. I’m not talking about going door-to-door; I’m talking about going to them in their times of need.”

Monroe Missionary Baptist’s partners include a church member who is now in Central Asia; a children’s home – built by the church earlier this summer – about two hours from New Delhi, India; a couple and their four young daughters from the church who now are doing medical missions in Papua New Guinea; and a partnership in Israel.

“We keep before our people what God has called us to do, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth,” Southerland said. “We cannot do that unless we send people and partner with people. God has made a way through the Cooperative Program.”

Monroe Missionary Baptist also works with pastors in Detroit and across the state, responding as it is able to email communications circulated by Michigan Baptists’ lead state missionary Bobby Gilstrap. “God has also taken some of our young men and placed them elsewhere in the state.... I couldn’t praise God enough for all He has done,” Southerland said.

“We’re not worried about building a church; we’re building the Kingdom,” the pastor noted. “We’ve seen over the last few years God doing some amazing things. It has to be constantly stressed by the leadership.... It’s not about us. It’s about what we can do to share the love of Christ with a lost world. I think God honors that kind of ministry. We’ve got to get past ourselves and see it’s going to take a sacrificial effort if we’re going to reach people.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of Dakota Baptist Connections, the newspaper of the Dakota Baptist Convention. Monroe Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe, Mich., exemplifies the commitment of churches across the Southern Baptist Convention to support state, national and international missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the SBC. For an overview of this key channel of support for Southern Baptist work, go to www.cpmissions.net.)
10/24/2013 3:13:39 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Her video high-fives special needs cheer team

October 23 2013 by Rebecca Ingram Powell, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – “When I was really little, doctors told my mom that I would be special needs,” explains 14-year-old Savannah Grace, whose YouTube video has lots of people talking. “They said I would be autistic.”

Perhaps that’s why this aspiring pop star wanted to share the spotlight in a video with the Cheerville Raptors, a special needs squad from Tennessee.

Savannah’s take on the songs “Roar” (Katy Perry’s latest single) and “Brave” (the latest from Sara Bareilles) is a far cry from the artists’ current music videos of each. Perry’s Roar video tells the story of surviving a plane crash in the African jungle, befriending animals and learning to live off the land (while clad in Tarzan-esque garb). Sara Bareilles encourages people to be “brave” by daring to try goofy dances and break into rhythmless moves anytime, anywhere.

“When I heard the lyrics to these songs, I thought about my cousin Jake who has special needs,” Savannah says. “I want to see him be brave. I want him to be focused on what he can do, not what he can’t.”

Screen capture from video
The Cheerville Raptors, a special needs squad from Tennessee, provide inspiration in a video by aspiring pop star Savannah Grace.

Jenifer Parris, mom to 1-year-old Neely who was born with Down syndrome, loved Savannah’s video (accessible at YouTube as “Roar - Katy Perry - Brave - Sara Bareilles - Cover-MashUp”). Parris, of Jacksonville, Ala., was quick to share the video with all her Facebook friends. “I’ve learned so much about children with special needs since I had one of my own,” Jenifer said. “And with Down syndrome, it’s just an extra chromosome. It’s just that one difference between my daughter and anyone else.”

Jenifer hopes that videos like Savannah’s will help people see kids with special needs the way that God sees them. “They should be allowed to try things and find out just how far they can go,” she said. “I saw that cheer team and I thought about how my daughter might be able to do something like that one day. Maybe looking at what’s really brave will help people stop and think.”

Ginger Moore, Savannah’s mom, agrees. “I knew what Savannah was thinking when she first read the lyrics to these songs. We’ve always loved watching the special needs cheer team practice. They are so good! They are the picture of overcoming.”

And Savannah, a member of Parkway Baptist Church in Goodlettsville, Tenn., is too. Ginger knew something was different about her baby, despite getting a constant brush-off from pediatricians as a high-maintenance new mom. Conducting her own investigation through research on Google and visits to every possible parent support group, she finally got Savannah the help she needed.

At the age of 2, Savannah was diagnosed with SPD, a dysfunction of the brain in which sensory signals from the body (vision, auditory, touch, olfaction and taste) are not processed normally. Early intervention is the answer to conquering and controlling SPD. “It was a long, hard road, but we have no regrets,” Ginger says. “God used those days to prepare our hearts for foster care and adoption. He actually used it to build our family, to show us how to care for children here at home as well as globally.”

And it’s Savannah’s message to her generation. “I love this cheer team,” she says of the Cheerville Raptors, who are based in Hendersonville, Tenn. “When I get discouraged, I think of them. They don’t focus on what they can’t do. They focus on everything they can do.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rebecca Ingram Powell is a wife, mom, writer and conference speaker with Pure In Heart Ministries in Nashville.)
10/23/2013 3:51:02 PM by Rebecca Ingram Powell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Dakota Baptists increase CP giving

October 23 2013 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

MANDAN, N.D. – The Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC) will increase its national Cooperative Program (CP) giving by 4 percent in 2014, from 16 to 20 percent of offerings from Dakota churches, the result of action by messengers at the DBC’s 2013 annual meeting.

In addition, messengers approved a $25,000 increase in the two-state convention’s operating budget, stemming from higher Cooperative Program giving this year than anticipated from new churches and stronger churches, leaders said.

Messengers also voted to assume 15 percent more of the responsibility for the DBC budget by the year 2020, from the current 95/5 percent split with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to 80/20.


Dakota Baptist Convention officers for the coming year are, from left, president, Jeff Musgrave, pastor of First Baptist Church in Langdon, N.D.; vice president, Doug Hixson, planter/pastor of Connections Church with locations in Spearfish and Belle Fourche, S.D., and recording secretary, Kathy Osborne, a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Grand Forks, N.D.

The DBC’s 2014 budget of $1,214,785, which passed without discussion, includes $846,785 from NAMB and $60,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources. An additional $8,000 interest income is anticipated, for a total of $914,785 from sources other than Dakota Baptists’ 92 churches and church-type missions.

Most of the discussion during the DBC’s annual meeting at First Baptist Church in Mandan, N.D., centered around the results of the convention’s Discovery Task Force.

“The Task Force was an opportunity to develop long-range plans and goals that will lead us to becoming a healthier and more self-supporting convention in the future,” said Garvon Golden, DBC executive director and Discovery Task Force chairman.

The group conducted 13 listening sessions across the two states over the last year and met frequently to set the best possible course forward for the Dakota Baptist Convention. The resulting vision and purpose statements were presented to messengers:

Vision: “The Dakota Baptist Convention will become a growing network of reproducing churches across the Dakotas, penetrating lost-ness in local communities in the Dakotas and beyond.”

Purpose: “The Dakota Baptist Convention exists as a network of churches to strengthen one another and work together in starting healthy, evangelistic churches.”

Messengers unanimously approved 10 task force goals aimed at making the DBC self-supporting.

The goals, to be reached by 2020, include an increase to $400,000 in CP gifts from churches, up from $300,000 anticipated in 2014; 75 percent of churches involved in the DBC, up from about a third in 2013; 500 baptisms, up from 221 this year; and the start of 30 churches.

“The basic long-term idea is that we’re going to take ownership of what God wants us to do in the Dakotas,” task force member Steve Ford, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Vermillion, S.D., told messengers. “God has given us the responsibility for reaching the Dakotas. Our goals are steps to get us to ownership.”

Planting new churches and strengthening existing congregations will help the DBC meet its goals, Golden added.

“The more churches we have and the more stronger churches we have, the more of an impact we can have on the Dakotas and beyond,” he said.

A record 81 messengers from 36 churches attended this year’s meeting, along with 42 guests.

This year’s meeting opened with a Thursday evening (Oct. 10) missions banquet, featuring an address by a couple home from their fourth term in a security-sensitive nation. During their 20 years abroad, the couple reported that their outreach has grown from four believers to more than 4,000. Dakota claims this couple as “their own,” Golden said, because the wife’s parents are members of Calvary Baptist Church in Rapid City, S.D.

Ford, who coordinates an annual mission trip to coastal Uruguay, reported that six people were baptized during the 2013 mission trip there.

Bible studies led by Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, drew from 1 Peter 4 at both the pastors’ conference and missions banquet focused on the DBC annual meeting theme of “Helping people on their journeys.”

Adams’ Friday morning Bible study – again centered around 1 Peter 4 – answered the “Why is church worthwhile?” question: “In church we find the power of authentic worship … the presence of last friendships … the process of positive change … the pleasure of meaningful service … and the purpose of a worldwide mission.”

In addition to greetings from representatives of the International Mission Board, NAMB, LifeWay and Guidestone Financial Resources, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page thanked Dakota Baptists for their CP gifts to missions and ministries.

“The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is the local church,” Page said. “That which we do best, we do together.”

CP gifts received by the Executive Committee are released almost immediately into the field, Page said during his message, in one of 22 annual meetings on his fall itinerary.

“We don’t hold on to God’s money. We never keep money more than four days,” Page said. “We send it out to reach the nations for Christ, and across this nation.”

In other business, messengers elected by acclamation officers, each unopposed, to one-year terms: president – Jeff Musgrave, pastor of First Baptist Church of Langdon, N.D., and DBC vice president the last two years; vice president – Doug Hixson, church planting pastor of Connections Church in Spearfish and Belle Fourche, S.D. Kathy Osborne, a laywoman of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Grand Forks, N.D., was re-elected to a 10th term as recording secretary, with Karen Holmes, Mission Service Corps missionary and pastor’s wife at First Baptist Church of Wolsey, S.D., re-elected to a second term as assistant recording secretary.

Messengers approved four resolutions (excerpts follow): 1) “[W]e ... will keep the Lord’s covenant for personal or corporate revival as stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14…”; 2) “[W]e ... will lead the way in praying without ceasing”; 3) “[W]e ... will not alter, ignore or manipulate the Word of the Lord but will allow the living Word to speak for itself”; 4) “[W]e ... wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to FBC Mandan and their Pastor Allen Thomason for hosting this year’s meeting.”

The Dakota convention will celebrate its 30th anniversary during its 2015 annual meeting, Sept. 25-26 at Capitol Heights Baptist Church in Bismarck, N.D.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of Dakota Baptist Connections, the official newsjournal of the Dakota Baptist Convention.)
10/23/2013 3:41:44 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Can online Communion be a substitute for the real thing?

October 23 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion.
About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion. Some nondenominational churches already offer online Communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination’s bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.
The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that Communion “entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.” Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.

SXC photo
With technological advances, some churches are offering Communion online. Others argue that virtual Communion interrupts the physical community of meeting at a service in participating together.

The debate raises fundamental questions at the heart of the church experience: the definition of community, individual participation, the role of tradition and basic theological understandings of the meaning of Communion.
United Methodists practice open Communion, meaning all who worship are invited to partake. Many churches celebrate Communion once a month, though each church decides how often to serve it.
A move towards accepting online Communion might be inevitable in some quarters, given the denomination’s history, says Mark Tooley, a Methodist who is president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“Methodists have a long history of pragmatism, which might make them a little more susceptible,” Tooley said.
Communion takes on different forms among various Christian denominations, but it generally involves the reenactment of Jesus’ last supper by taking bread and wine (or, as the United Methodist Church prefers, unfermented grape juice).
Also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, many Protestants see the rite as an expression of faith rather than the actual body and blood of Jesus, as the Catholic Church teaches.
Many churches have launched online options for church activities, including worship, seminary, ordination counseling and financial giving. Despite the growing availability of church resources online, participating in Communion has mostly remained a part of the physical act of worship in a congregation.
“The Methodist understanding of Communion arguably is more low church and less emphasis on the ‘real presence,’” Tooley said, when compared to denominations like the Episcopal Church.
With Methodists’ history of itinerant evangelism spread through circuit-riding preaching, online Communion fits with the denomination’s populist bent, said Stephen Gunter, associate dean for Methodist studies at Duke Divinity School.
“It’s always been about how we get the gospel to the next person,” he said.
But Methodists also have a history of accountability, checking on one another’s spiritual life, Gunter said. “I can’t see how someone (who’s) satisfied to be in front of a TV or computer screen would be interested in being held accountable to anything.”
Some worry that online Communication is becoming an alternate form of community for Christians.
“Digital mediation is now preferred to the immediacy of embodied conversation,” wrote Brent Laytham, dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology and professor of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University. “Like a hug or a kiss, like incarnation and resurrection, Communion requires bodies that touch.”
It is difficult to tell how many churches are offering online worship or online Communion as part of their regular services.
A LifeWay Research survey of a thousand Protestant churches found that while 78 percent have a website, less than half of them use their sites for interactive purposes, such as obtaining and distributing prayer requests (43 percent), registering people for events (39 percent) and automating other church processes (30 percent).
Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, said that none of the 80-some churches that he has studied that offer online services also offer virtual Communion.
“In many ways this is a parallel discussion to the earlier debate about whether online community is ‘real’ community,” Thumma said.
LifeChurch.tv, one of the most innovative online churches in the country, included a blog post in 2010 illustrating how to prepare for online Communion by having elements, such as bread or a cracker and wine or Kool-Aid, on hand. A spokeswoman said that the church currently does online Communion at periodic gatherings for online volunteers rather than as a weekly practice.
Eventually the Methodists’ debate on online Communion could be presented before the General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, in 2016 in Portland, Ore.
10/23/2013 3:29:09 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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