September 2009

Atheists groups double in size in two years

September 17 2009 by Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service

The number of atheist or agnostic student groups on U.S. campuses has more than doubled in the past two years — from 80 to 162 — according to the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), the national organization for the secular student movement.

PZ Myers, an outspoken atheist and associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, suggested the growth could be related to authors saying that it is OK to be “godless.”

Myers, who last year angered Catholics when he publicly tried to desecrate consecrated Communion wafers, writes a blog and often speaks at SSA affiliate group meetings, where he urges students to go public about their unbelief and foster a positive image.

Although SSA has four high school affiliates, most of the groups are on college campuses. Lyz Liddell, the alliance’s senior campus organizer, noted that college is a time when many people question their beliefs and break away from their religious background.

Facebook groups are used by SSA affiliates to organize events, host discussions and provide an “anonymous way to test the waters” for students who may be starting to change their beliefs, Liddell said.  

“Community is the biggest thing that is provided for these students,” said Liddell.

Most of the affiliate groups meet regularly to have discussions, get involved with politics and do service projects. One group, Students for Freethought at Ohio State University, teamed up with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), to do service work in New Orleans in March 2009.

“We have similar worldviews” about service opportunities, said Jonathan Weyer, a CCO staff member who has been working with Students for Freethought on service projects. The two groups are planning a return trip for March 2010 with 15 students from each group.

9/17/2009 3:13:00 AM by Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Jerry Rankin announces retirement plans

September 16 2009 by Michael Logan, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — International Mission Board (IMB) President Jerry Rankin announced today he will retire July 31, 2010, ending a 17-year tenure marked by sweeping organizational changes and a steady personal calling.

“Everything I have done has been driven by an unequivocal sense of a call to missions, to make my life count and to make the greatest impact possible on reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ,” Rankin said.

Rankin told IMB (International Mission Board) trustees during his report at their Sept. 15-16 meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., that his presidency should not be judged for the accomplishments of the organization under his leadership but for how the organization is poised for the future.

“For the second time in my tenure we are implementing a radical paradigm shift in organization and strategy,” he said. “This is not because of past failure and ineffectiveness but a vision of the changes needed to ensure relevance and effectiveness in the future.”

BP file photo

Jerry Rankin

Such sentiments are consistent to Rankin’s approach in leading the 163-year-old organization. Early in his administration Rankin began placing a greater emphasis on the work remaining in world evangelization rather than on what had been accomplished.

“It’s not … our size or annual statistical report that should drive us,” he said. “We need to be driven by a vision to bring all peoples to a saving faith in Christ and what it takes to get there.”

Yet there has always been a need to track progress. When Rankin took over leadership of the IMB in 1993, the Southern Baptist mission organization saw nearly 4,000 missionaries help start more than 2,000 churches in 142 countries. Last year more than 5,500 IMB missionaries helped plant nearly 27,000 churches and engage 101 new people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups. 

The move from tracking countries to focusing on people groups reveals another area where Rankin worked to change the IMB. Country counts faded during the past 10 years as the organization shifted to finding the best ways to engage new people groups and population centers. 

“I think moving us to a people group focus helped us learn to innovate,” he said. “But probably the most radical innovation of all has been the process of moving us to a mobilization perspective.” 

Such a shift has not been easy. He has pursued it almost his entire tenure. 

“To mobilize and involve churches and Southern Baptists rather than our doing missions on behalf of Southern Baptists is an innovation that we have been pursuing for the past 12 years. The whole mobilization perspective is where we are going. That’s the hope of the future of missions,” he concluded.

Rankin has not always been so confident of the future. He was surprised and overwhelmed when a 15-member trustee search committee asked him to become the IMB’s next leader in 1993. 

“I felt so inadequate to the task. And I certainly didn’t come with a vision of ‘Here’s my agenda. Here’s how we are going to reach the whole world.’ But it was one of, ‘OK, Lord, I’m your servant. I’m available. What do you want to do through the IMB?’” 

Rankin and his wife, the former Bobbye Simmons, were appointed missionaries to Indonesia in June 1970. They studied language in Bandung, Indonesia, and he served as a general evangelist in two other Indonesian locations. 

Rankin also consulted in evangelism and church growth in India, served as associate to the area director for South and Southeast Asia, and then as administrator for mission work in India. He became area director for Southern Asia and the Pacific where he oversaw the work of 480 missionaries in 15 countries.

“I never anticipated that I would move beyond a niche where God had called us to serve as missionaries in Indonesia,” Rankin said. 

“It made no sense for a field missionary who had been overseas for 23 years,” Rankin told the trustees, “to be selected over others who were far more qualified and at a peak of controversy regarding control of leadership roles among Southern Baptist Convention entities.

“I had not even attended a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting until the year prior to my election.

“I reluctantly accepted the role (as president), not out of any desire for status or reputation and certainly not for a denominational administration role, but only to make the greatest impact on reaching a lost world that my life could make. The motivation for accepting this was only that same missionary call that carried us to Indonesia.”

Rankin said that he sees that same sense of call uniting the organization’s leadership teams as well as in the emerging young leaders within the IMB’s staff and missionary force. He said the same spirit of unity rests within the current body of trustees.

“Never in my experience have we had a board of trustees so unified, supportive and sensitive to the spiritual nature of our task,” he said in his report.

Rankin said this common vision is vital as the organization moves into the next phase of its history. 

“We have always been a missionary-sending agency with unlimited capacity to send and support the missionaries being called out of our Southern Baptist churches. That is no longer the case as appointments are being restricted and strategies must be changed to more effectively deploy and utilize limited numbers of personnel.

“The next president must deal with economic realities that will not permit us to presume upon unlimited financial resources as we have in the past. Southern Baptists are at a point of crisis in deciding whether to continue a bureaucratic legacy, supporting a comprehensive plethora of ministries and programs, or focus resources on fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Rankin added that the IMB stands on the verge of unprecedented opportunities to complete the task of engaging every nation, people and language with the Gospel.

“We need a leader who can identify with the next generation, one who has credibility to mobilize Southern Baptists, creative vision to implement new strategies and faith to provide the spiritual leadership that will keep us aligned with the mission of a sovereign God.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Logan writes for IMB.)


9/16/2009 7:30:00 AM by Michael Logan, Baptist Press | with 3 comments

Page: low expectations for White House role

September 16 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said he doesn’t expect much to result from the work of advisers to the White House’s office dealing with faith-based and community groups.

“I believe that the policy recommendations that will come forth will be relatively innocuous, good, helpful,” said Page, a member of the panel, on Sept. 10 at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association. He expects results to be not much more than “low-hanging fruit.”

“There will be good things, but nothing of great substance.”

While Page has publicly disagreed with Obama on some issues, notably abortion, he nonetheless praised the president for his “responsible fatherhood” and poverty initiatives, as well as his commitment not to fund abortion under his proposed health care reforms.

BP file photo by Matt Miller

Frank Page

The South Carolina pastor called himself the “resident fundamentalist” on the 25-member advisory panel that includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and a Hindu as well as representatives of secular organizations. Despite “some serious disagreements” with Obama, Page said he prays for the president daily and is honored to be a member of the advisory council.

“I am shocked that I am a part of such an esteemed group,” Page told the newswriters. “I ... consider myself to be a Baptist Forrest Gump. And if you remember that old movie ... this poor fella showed up in places that he never imagined he would be and found himself in the midst of world-changing events. Well, that’s the way I feel about me.”

The White House did not immediately comment on Page’s remarks; the director of the faith-based office, Joshua DuBois, had earlier canceled his scheduled appearance at the Minneapolis conference.

Peg Chemberlin, president-elect of the National Council of Churches and also a member of the advisory panel, said she thinks the work of the council is more than political expediency for the White House.
“I don’t think that this is primarily about political cover, but I think this is about affirming that the faith community’s got something to offer,” she said. “The nonprofit community is a huge and important sector in building the common good.”

Asked if they saw any potential common ground being reached on abortion, both Page and Chemberlin expressed hopes that the White House might succeed in its work to reduce the need for abortion.

“That’s probably the only common ground that I can see coming forth on that issue,” Page said.

9/16/2009 6:37:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Sammons resigns Haywood Association

September 16 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Jack Sammons, associational missionary for Haywood Baptist Association for 13 years, resigned Sept. 15.

Sammons, 67, said he is in good health, is not retiring and is available for fulltime ministry elsewhere. While there is “no sour grapes“ in his resignation, he indicated changes in associational leadership contributed to his decision.

“I still feel called to ministry of some sort,” said the Georgia native who has been in ministry in North Carolina since he entered Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, from where he graduated in 1977. He earned a doctorate from Southeastern in 1982.

Sammons served Hickory Rock and Franklinton Baptist churches in the Tar River Association before leading First Baptist Church in Canton 1984-1996.

While Haywood Association has been “in the same boat as a lot of other organizations” financially, Sammons said, “We’re beginning to recover.” Several ministries operating under the association’s umbrella are being established as separate entities.

Sammons is available at (828) 648-4981.
9/16/2009 6:36:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Mumbai: Seeking truth in India’s ‘City of Gold’

September 16 2009 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

MUMBAI, India — Television writer Sankalp Tak steers his late-model compact through the streets of Mumbai, India’s largest city, dodging waves of cars and motorized rickshaws to park behind a nondescript warehouse.

Inside — barely controlled chaos, like Mumbai itself.

It’s the set of a TV comedy about upscale students at a fictional Indian college. Production crew members rush to break down one scene and set up the next. The director huddles with the producer and cameramen while the actors practice their lines and check their makeup with hand mirrors.

Everyone greets Tak, age 27. He’s one of the creative forces behind the production, which airs four nights a week on India’s popular Star One network. He auditioned about 1,000 actors to cast the show and used to spend all day, every day, on the set as a creative director before he switched to scriptwriting.

Tak misses the daily craziness — but not too much.

“Politics is not a virtue in this business,” he says. “You have to be aggressive, even heartless sometimes, to handle the chaos on the set or push someone who’s already worked to 10 or 11 to go until 2 a.m.”

“Bollywood,” a combination of Hollywood and Bombay (Mumbai’s former name), is the film side of the city’s media business. It churns out hundreds of movies a year. The television side stays just as busy feeding the ravenous appetite of hundreds of millions of Indian viewers for soaps, dramas and comedies.

BP photo

Actors check their makeup and practice lines before the next scene on the set of a popular TV show filmed in Mumbai, India’s show business capital. “Bollywood” churns out hundreds of movies a year. The television side of the business stays just as busy feeding the appetite of millions of Indian viewers of soaps, dramas and comedies.

Nowadays Tak’s main creative companion is a laptop. He can write a script in five or six hours at the flat he shares with his parents. But even there the pace seldom lets up. Time is money at $10,000 per episode in production costs. Tak finished today’s shooting script yesterday. Tomorrow’s episode outline sits in his e-mail inbox, waiting for dialogue he’ll write tonight. It’s a grind he enjoys, but a grind nevertheless.

“There’s no glamour behind the camera,” he says with a weary grin. He’d like to get into producing, where the real money is. For now, though, he savors being young and successful in a nation where so many people struggle just to live.

But has Tak, a Hindu, found his true purpose in life?

“No, I’m still searching for the meaning,” he said. “I mean, if you have to leave everything and go sit in the Himalayas to be spiritually satisfied, that doesn’t work. It’s not practical.”

Mumbaikars, as the city’s inhabitants call themselves, are nothing if not practical. It’s a survival skill. The city’s frantic speed doesn’t allow a lot of time for thinking about meaning. Even some Hindu worshippers zip through their pujas (worship or prayers) at roadside temples without getting off their idling motorcycles.

Tak’s show resumed shooting only a day after the deadly terror attacks that struck the city last November. For many who weren’t at the places where hundreds of people bled and died, the attacks seemed “filmy,” a word used to describe the blurring of Bollywood fantasy and daily reality.

Tycoons and pavement dwellers
Show business, despite its quasi-religious status among the countless fans who idolize Bollywood stars, is first and foremost a multibillion-dollar business. And Mumbai has been all about business since its early days. Today it is home to several of the richest tycoons on earth, a large group of educated and relatively affluent professionals (such as Tak), an enormous “middle class” hustling to get by — and the poor.

Why do people from all over India keep coming to Mumbai, India’s money center and business capital? Opportunity — or perceived opportunity. Hundreds arrive each day, most carrying their belongings in tattered bags.

Greater Mumbai already strains under the weight of more than 19 million human beings. But people keep pushing their way in. Some dream of fame and fortune. Many simply hope for a better life than they had in the parched farms and jobless villages they came from.

A few will find it. The rest will do whatever it takes for their daily bread.

The city is impossibly crowded — more than 70,000 people per square mile, jammed together into a landfilled peninsula jutting into the Arabian Sea on India’s west coast. Living space, even a single room, costs far beyond what most migrants can afford. So thousands of new (and not so new) arrivals live on the streets. “Pavement dwellers,” they’re called.

Ten families occupy a sidewalk at a busy intersection in West Andheri, one of Mumbai’s huge suburbs. They live under dingy tarps tied to a fence. Their children sleep among the bags containing their possessions and some pots and pans for cooking.

On a nearby street, a migrant family from Karnataka has lived in the same spot for six years. They have three young children. Their 6-month-old baby naps in a swaying hammock strung between a tree and a fence.

Most of them beg. Some work at day labor or clean gutters. One family pushes a cart-mounted mobile shrine to Sai Baba, a deceased guru venerated by many Hindus and Muslims in India. They live off offerings from worshippers.

An elderly couple welcome visitors to their bit of pavement with toothless smiles and a blessing. He is 80; she is 60. They’ve lived on the streets for 10 years. Sometimes police harass the ragtag group or ask for bribes. Municipal authorities periodically clear the area, but the pavement dwellers eventually return.

“People mistreat us,” angrily declares Shanta Bai, one of the women. “They say, ‘You people are dirty. You are poor.’ But what can we do? We have no land. We have no water. That’s why we came to Mumbai. If you want to put us in jail, go ahead!”

Slum dwellers, who comprise at least half of the city’s population, have marginally better accommodations. Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum with up to 1 million people on 600 acres, lacks anything near adequate electricity, water and sanitation. Even so, it’s a strong, high-energy subculture of families, micro-businesses and entrepreneurs. Developers want to bulldoze it to build high-rises, but Dharavi’s residents won’t leave without a fight.

The nameless squatter communities that sprout in almost any open space are more vulnerable. Harish and his family, immigrants from Nepal, live on “disputed land” — no one is quite sure who owns it. Until that question is settled, the trash-strewn clearing next to a construction site belongs to the squatter families. The women clean the apartments of the affluent people who live in high-rises around them. Some of the men find work at the building site.

Harish’s family of eight lives in two small, tidy rooms with concrete floors and corrugated tin walls. A small shrine to the Hindu god Ganesh occupies one wall; a television topped by family photos dominates another. Family members sleep in one room, cook and eat in another. They share the area with a handful of other families, an unreliable water pump and a one-room schoolhouse.

“Our doors are always open to each other,” Harish says. “Slum people are also human beings.”

It seems almost livable — until monsoon rains come and flood the area with disease-laden sewer water. Then the families remember they are essentially refugees, even if they’ve been there for years.

Maximum darkness
“Slumdog Millionaire,” the movie that swept the top Oscars this year, captures the strange brew of beauty, ugliness, hope, cruelty and sensory assault that is Mumbai. It tells the story of two slum brothers orphaned by the anti-Muslim riots of 1992-93, which left more than 1,000 dead and many thousands homeless. They gamely battle hunger, child-exploiting gangsters, brutal police and other trials as the older brother protects the younger one — who ultimately finds his long-lost true love and wins a fortune on TV as millions cheer him on.

If only every Mumbai story had a happy ending.

“People come to Mumbai with big dreams,” says Arshad Kunnummal, a young executive in the city. “Unfortunately, not all of them succeed. But the striving is always there.”

The city mixes New York’s money and manic energy, Los Angeles’ glitz and guns, Shanghai’s entrepreneurs and restless masses, Mexico City’s size and organized crime with plenty of Calcutta’s poverty.

Mumbai’s nickname among Indians is “Maximum City” — maximum people, maximum wealth, maximum poverty, maximum traffic, maximum crime, maximum.

Followers of Christ in the city add another: maximum darkness.

Most of Mumbai’s millions “are so multi-generationally saturated in darkness and tradition that they don’t know how to look for light,” a Christian worker says. “It has such a grip on their lives that they can’t get out of it.”

Hindus are the vast majority. But the city also is home to 2 million Muslims as well as Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsees and members of every caste and virtually every people group in India.

Professing Christians of all varieties, including the city’s centuries-old Roman Catholic community, comprise about 5 percent of the population. Evangelical believers, however, account for just 0.15 percent — not quite invisible, but hard to find among Mumbai’s multitudes.

“You see the church expanding only in the slums today, but not much among the well-educated people,” says Christian leader Ivan Raskino, who started his first Mumbai church in the 1980s among street people, drug addicts and prostitutes. Today he trains pastors all over surrounding Maharashtra state, where he finds more responsiveness to the gospel among rural, tribal peoples.

“The sad thing,” he adds, “is that Mumbai is expanding much more than the church.”

Why? Rapid population growth among Hindus and Muslims, for one thing. Mumbai’s go-go pace, for another. Christians also labor under the weight of the city’s history.

Mammon’s stronghold
Bombay reached its zenith as a great world trading center under British rule, which also fostered religious freedom. But the colonial legacy has been an albatross around the neck of Protestant Christians since India gained national independence in 1947. Many urban Indians admire Christ, but not the Westernized, non-indigenous churches where He is worshipped. The rise of Hindutva — extreme Hindu nationalism — only increases Christian isolation.

But Mumbai’s Christians also bear some responsibility for their own marginalization.

BP photo

Mumbai has its gaudy rich and its dirt poor — and its hard-charging upper middle class. John Mani, center, a personnel manager for a major shipping company, works long days keeping the port of Mumbai running smoothly. On the weekends, he goes to church and to the shopping mall with his wife.

The existing churches are a “big barrier” to growth, a Christian worker says. “They’ve been in survival mode as a minority for generations. They’re trying to keep their own congregations together. If somebody happens to bring somebody, that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t happen very often.”

The ancient spiritual strongholds of religious idolatry still exert influence in the city. But so does the stronghold of greed, which fully bloomed in the 19th-century colonial era as Bombay became the money-obsessed “City of Gold.” It essentially remains so to this day, even as it crumples under the weight of millions of people seeking fortune — or basic food.

“Forget about (the Hindu god) Shiva” as an opponent of truth, Raskino advises. “Mammon is still the big stronghold in Mumbai. In traditional, middle-class Indian families, daughters are prostituting themselves on the side. Why? Because they want money. Values are being sacrificed for gain. And it started in the very foundations of Bombay.”

How can the gospel penetrate such a bastion of darkness?

“If we (Christians) get our hearts right with God, if we draw close to each other, really humble ourselves and cry out to Him for the city, God will answer us,” Raskino says.

God already is answering among one major group once considered unreachable: Mumbai’s Muslims.

India’s national motto, which appears on every rupee coin and note, is “Truth alone triumphs.” It comes from Hindu verses written some 4,000 years ago.

May truth triumph in Mumbai, while there is still time.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Want to get involved in sharing Christ in Mumbai and other cities in South Asia? Visit See a multimedia presentation about Mumbai here.)

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9/16/2009 6:29:00 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gospel spreads among Mumbai’s Muslims

September 16 2009 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

MUMBAI, India — Farooq* walked right into the trap set for him.

A Muslim-background follower of Christ in the Indian urban giant of Mumbai, Farooq was teaching other Muslims about the gospel in a “seeker meeting.” One of the attendees seemed especially interested. He invited Farooq to his neighborhood nearby to share more with family members and friends. Farooq gladly obliged.

Soon after he began speaking to the group, police entered the room with some relatives of the person who had invited him. They angrily accused Farooq of “forced conversions,” of bribing Muslims to become Christians, of evangelizing minors. None of it was true. But he was arrested, thrown into a jail cell with 30 felons and a single toilet, repeatedly beaten. Policemen demanded 5,000 rupees — their price to stop the abuse.

BP photo

Mumbai is home to some 2 million Muslims. Many live in Muslim-only areas by preference or because of ethnic discrimination and threats of violence at the hands of Hindu extremists. Some of the city’s Christians believe Muslims will never listen to the Good News of Jesus. Not so. Muslim-background followers of Christ are making disciples and starting worship groups around the city — and beyond.

Farooq was bailed out of jail and eventually exonerated after repeated court dates. The judge dismissed the charges against him when his primary accuser didn’t show up.

It wasn’t the first time Farooq has endured blows for sharing his faith. It probably won’t be the last. But he is learning to thank God for such trials — like the early apostles who rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for Christ.

Other Muslim-background believers “have been beaten severely, multiple times, to the point that they had to leave the city, lose their jobs and possessions and go back to their native place to recover,” Southern Baptist worker John Wynn* reports.

“But they come back and go to work. Nobody walks away once they make that commitment.”

Where does such commitment come from? Solid training and discipleship — and the movement of the Holy Spirit among Mumbai’s Muslims.

‘Biggest gap’
Wynn and his wife Rose* tried for years to mobilize Mumbai churches to reach out to the lost of the vast city. They met with little success. Some congregations were in survival mode; others had their own strongly held ideas about evangelism.

“We were frustrated and discouraged,” Wynn recalls. “But the Lord kept saying, ‘There’s another way.’ He really convicted us that this is a huge place with a multitude of needs. So where is it that nobody is working? One of the biggest gaps is among Muslims.”

Mumbai is home to some 2 million Muslims. As in other parts of India, they are a large but sometimes embattled minority. Many live in Muslim-only areas by preference — or because of ethnic discrimination and threats of violence at the hands of extremist Hindus. Some of the city’s Christians fear them. Some believe Muslims will never listen to the Good News of Jesus.

Not so.

“They want to know the truth,” Wynn says. “They’re undecided. They don’t know if they’re in the right sect of Islam. They don’t know if they have eternal life. So when they find out that through Jesus they can have it now through His sacrifice, that’s a big deal.”

Through an extended, trial-and-error search, Wynn became a teacher and mentor to two Muslim men pursuing truth: Farooq and Rasheed*. Farooq is well-educated and affluent; Rasheed comes from a lower-class village background. They offer access to different parts of Mumbai’s multifaceted Islamic community.

“I’ve taught them the same principles, but they’ve done their own thing with them,” Wynn explains. “I just keep giving them the Word of God and let them do what God tells them to do.”

God is telling them to teach truth to other Muslim seekers. Farooq started with 10 friends, including a professor, a lawyer, a store owner and several Islamic scholars. Individual contacts develop into seeker groups, some of which become full-fledged jama’ats — indigenous groups of Muslim-background followers of Jesus Christ.

The conversation has spread into some amazing places. Farooq befriended a high-ranking Islamic leader who invited him to speak nightly during an annual Muslim festival — for 68 straight nights. At least 10,000 Muslims heard truth.

“If anyone stood up and said, ‘That’s a lie!’ or ‘The Bible has been changed’ or ‘There is no Trinity,’ one of the big guys would stand up and say, ‘This man has some new truth to share with us. You sit down and behave and we’ll talk about it later,’” Wynn said. Farooq and others have continued teaching during the festival for three years.

Now the movement is spreading beyond Mumbai, as its leaders take the initiative to combine truth-teaching with relief ministry to struggling Muslims in other parts of India.

“They’re sharing Jesus,” Wynn says. “It’s their thing.”

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.)

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Mumbai: Seeking truth in India's 'City of Gold'
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9/16/2009 6:26:00 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Female senior pastor roles double in 10 years

September 16 2009 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

One in 10 U.S. churches employs a woman as senior pastor, double the percentage from a decade ago, according to a new survey by the Barna Group.

Most of the women — 58 percent — work in mainline Protestant churches, such as the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Episcopal Church; only 23 percent of male senior pastors are affiliated with mainline churches, the survey said.

The UMC and its forerunner has ordained women for five decades; the ELCA and its predecessor has for almost 40 years, and the Episcopal Church has ordained women since 1976.

Barna’s survey found that female pastors tend to be more highly educated than their male counterparts, with 77 percent earning a seminary degree, compared to less than two-thirds of male pastors (63 percent).

But male pastors still rake in larger incomes. The average compensation package for female pastors in 2009 is $45,300, Barna says, while males earn $48,600. The compensation gap has closed in the last decade, though, with females earning 30 percent more than they did in 1999, according to the survey.

Barna says the difference in pay rates may be attributable to congregation size. Churches with male pastors average 103 adults at Sunday worship, compared to 81 for female pastors.

The median age of female pastors rose from 50 to 55 in the last decade; male pastors’ median age rose from 48 to 52.

Barna conducted the study by interviewing 609 senior pastors and balancing the sample according to the distribution of Protestant churches in the continental U.S. The range of sampling error was between 1.8 and 4.1 percentage points, according to Barna.

9/16/2009 6:22:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 3 comments

At anniversary, Wedgwood focuses on faithfulness

September 15 2009 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — Songs, tears and prayers acknowledging God’s faithfulness flowed from Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, as the church held a special commemoration Sept. 13 of the 10th anniversary of the tragic shooting that stunned the nation and forever changed the congregation. On Sept. 15, 1999, a gunman entered Wedgwood during a Wednesday night See You at the Pole rally and began shooting, leaving seven people dead and wounding five others before killing himself.

The commemorative service provided a time of remembrance and reflection through singing, video testimonies and a time of prayer for healing. Outside, churchgoers placed “stones of remembrance” on a granite monument, dedicated in 2002, that honors the victims.

A theme throughout the evening was God’s faithfulness during the midst of tragedy. The church’s choir led in singing such hymns as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace” in addition to contemporary songs that amplified God’s sovereignty in bringing good out of bad circumstances.

BP photo by David Hughling

At the 10th anniversary of a gunman’s shooting spree that left seven people dead, churchgoers placed “stones of remembrance” on a granite monument erected in 2002 at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Video interviews with family members who lost loved ones and individuals wounded in the shooting testified to the peace and strength they found in God as well as the lessons He has taught them.

Kathy Jo Rogers, whose husband Shawn was killed, said, “The main thing that God has taught me in these 10 years is to learn to trust Him. I trusted Him for my salvation before Sept. 15, 1999, but I had never had to really trust Him.”

Others recounted how they came to understand what it means to rely on God fully even during dark times.

After the videos, Wedgwood pastor Al Meredith led in a time of prayer, saying, “I don’t believe the church is ever more powerful than when we’re on our knees before Him.”

Meredith invited anyone wanting physical, emotional or spiritual healing to come forward for prayer. Throughout the sanctuary, church members and staff gathered around individuals, laying hands on them as they prayed.

The service concluded with an invitation for those without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ to repent and put their trust in Him.

“Nothing in this life will completely satisfy,” Meredith said. “Nothing in this life will ever take away all the pain, all the tears, all the sorrow so that you just simply skip off into eternity. Faith is trusting in God today and knowing that if the pain never goes away, if the loneliness never abates, someday the doors of heaven will be wide open ... and the Savior will be there with arms open wide.... That’s what we’re really longing for.”

The evening also served as a reunion for Wedgwood members and individuals from the community who aided the church in the moments and months following the shooting.

“That night so long ago, so many of you came to our rescue,” Meredith said in recognizing police officers, firefighters, EMT personnel and counselors who helped that night and thanking them anew for their care and tireless service. He also thanked a local Church of Christ congregation for their support and friendship, which began in the aftermath of the event.

“One of the good things that came out of the shootings was the cross-denominational, cross-racial fellowship between churches,” Meredith said, noting that the tragedy served as the impetus for a Fort Worth organization that connects churches from a variety of denominations through monthly prayer meetings and ministry opportunities.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Collier is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

9/15/2009 8:36:00 AM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study tracks sexual misconduct against women

September 15 2009 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

More than three percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct, according to researchers at Baylor University.   

Put another way: in a congregation of 400 people, seven adult women have been targets of sexual advances by clergy, the study says. In addition, in one of 50 cases, the religious leader was married, according to the report.

Four percent of respondents said they knew of a close friend or family member who had experienced a sexual advance by a clergy member in their own congregation, the study says.

Baylor researchers said their report is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults in the U.S.

“Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University and lead researcher in the study.

“What this research tells us, however, is that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations.”

While the sexual abuse of children, particularly by Catholic priests, has received outsize attention in the media and academia, the abuse of adults has received relatively little notice, according to Baylor researchers.

“We hope these findings will prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power,” said Garland. “Many people — including the victims themselves — often label incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults as `affairs.’ In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader.”

The research was conducted using questions included in the National Opinion Research Center’s 2008 General Social Survey of more than 3,500 American adults and followed up by interviews with respondents.


9/15/2009 8:35:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Bob Mills elected Kan.-Neb. exec

September 15 2009 by Baptist Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists’ (KNCSB) mission board has elected Bob Mills as the new KNCSB executive director, effective Jan. 1, 2010.

BP photo

Bob Mills, executive director-elect of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, and his wife Lynne.

Mills, 60, currently the convention’s director of missions, will serve as executive director-elect until the current exec, Peck Lindsay, retires Dec. 31 after more than 30 years in the position.

Mills told the board after his election of his desire to see healthy, outward-focused, reproducing churches across Nebraska and Kansas.

Mills came to Kansas-Nebraska convention in 1998 from the North American Mission Board, where he had been director of the Mission Service Corps program since 1986 and coordinator for supervision training and leadership development. He joined the staff of the then-Home Mission Board in 1981.

Mills was pastor of First Baptist Church of Bethel in Kansas City, Kan., from 1978-81; director of church and community ministries for the Kansas City (Kan.) Baptist Association from 1976-79; and director of youth and family services for the association and coordinator of weekday ministries from 1974-76.

He holds doctor of ministry and master of divinity degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and an undergraduate degree from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss. He has served as an adjunct professor at Midwestern and several other seminaries.

Steve Holdaway, KNCSB president and pastor of LifeSpring Church in Bellevue, Neb.,  said, “Bob’s competence, leadership, giftedness, integrity, marriage, family and ministry resume have all been tested and approved on many levels.”

9/15/2009 8:31:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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