September 2013

Platt challenges Christians to be faithful to the gospel

September 11 2013 by SEBTS Communications

While younger generations of Christians show great passion for helping those in need, David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., encouraged students to also show more devotion toward speaking out on other social issues.
“In one sense my heart is encouraged, particularly among younger evangelicals, as I sense opposition to injustice regarding the poor, orphaned and enslaved,” said Platt, who spoke Aug. 27 during a chapel service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. “I am concerned by a lack of zeal on social issues that are just as, if not more, important. These issues include abortion, sexual immorality and so called same-sex marriage.”
Platt called the members and leaders of Christ’s church to a contrite, compassionate and courageous battle on the front lines of our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Much of Platt’s message focused on Genesis 1-3. He spoke about the biblical foundations found there and the cultural implications from the text.
Found in Genesis 1, “God creates us as a demonstration of His glory. … Not natural selection but supernatural provision,” said Platt, explaining how this reveals that man is created in the image of God with the unique capacity to relate, know, walk and worship God.
Followers of Christ have no choice but to oppose abortion, he said.

SEBTS photo by Maria Estes
In a recent Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service, David Platt encouraged church members and leaders to the front lines on the battle between culture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We do not have a choice; we are constrained by the gospel to fight abortion as an assault on God’s creation and an affront to God’s glory,” he said. “We live in a country where 1 million babies are aborted each year – 3,000 everyday and one baby every 20 to 25 seconds. All over the world 130,000 abortions occur every day.
“I do not believe it is an overstatement to call abortion a modern holocaust. We must not hide from the reality of what is happening all around the country and all over the world.”
Platt also addressed the issue of marriage.
In Genesis 2, Platt said, “God designs us for the display of His gospel. Man and woman were created with equal dignity, value and importance before God yet clearly designed with different roles. Both complement each other. … That through this [marriage] relationship it may show the world the relationship between Christ and the church.”
“Today’s cultural climate creates a huge opportunity for gospel witness through marriage,” he said. “God’s design for marriage is far more breathtaking and satisfying than anything our culture will ever create. We defend sexual complimentary in marriage for the sake of the gospel and the world.”
God’s people must reflect His character in a world that is filled with the weak and fatherless, the sick and needy, the impoverished and enslaved, Platt said. The calling in Micah 6:8 to do justice is modeled by giving a cup of clean water or building a well with clean water while declaring the gospel of the living water.
“We must give our lives and lead our churches to pursue people still unreached by God’s redeeming love,” he said. “Surely the greatest injustice in our day without question is that 6,000 people groups and 2 billion people [have]yet to even hear of God’s redeeming love.
“Christ is worthy of glory from every single people group on the planet,” he said. “There is a battle that is raging in North America and among the nations. I challenge you today to engage in the battle. … To engage the gospel on battlefronts across our culture is to be faithful to the gospel in our day.”
9/11/2013 2:06:06 PM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Students awaken to prayer’s potential at inaugural SPAN

September 10 2013 by Don Graham, International Mission Board

For Ashley Allen, a 33-year-old women’s missions and ministry director with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, going was all about the numbers.
Allen was among 15 students who graduated from the inaugural class of the School of Prayer for All Nations (SPAN), July 29-Aug. 2, at the International Mission Board’s missionary training facility near Richmond, Va. The class represented a wide cross section of Southern Baptist life, drawing various Baptist leaders, laypeople, pastors and even former missionaries from states as far as Indiana and Texas.   
“Over the last several years, the Lord has really burdened my heart for all these big numbers – 258 million lost people in the U.S., 6 billion lost people in the world,” Allen said, adding that there are an estimated 5.8 million lost people in North Carolina alone.
“We sometimes forget that each number is attached to a soul – people who are eternally separated from God, who, if they died today would be going to hell.”
Marty Sampson,* an associate pastor in Auburn, Ala., said he was drawn to SPAN out of deep, personal conviction that Southern Baptists have forgotten the importance of prayer. (He asked not to use his real name because he often travels to areas of the world that can be hostile to Christianity.) 
“Most people don’t know how to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission because they don’t even know how to pray for themselves,” Sampson said. “I’m convinced the church lags behind in spreading the Gospel because we are depending on ourselves, our strategies and our plans as opposed to the power of God in response to intercessory prayer.
“I’ve been on a personal journey in my spiritual life of learning to be dependent on Him. And the key to that is absolute surrender. Everything about my life, everything that I value, I’m going to put on the altar so that nothing takes precedence over God.”

What is SPAN?

SPAN began in 2012 when IMB President Tom Elliff called on Southern Baptist churches to recognize prayer’s indispensable role in the Great Commission and to redouble their efforts to bathe the denomination’s international missions efforts in a “blast furnace” of prayer for the nations. Elliff said a “school of prayer” was needed to help fan the flames, and this summer that vision became reality as SPAN held its first training session.

IMB photo
Ashley Allen, right, women’s missions and ministry director with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, intercedes for the lost during one of the many prayer times that made up IMB’s School of Prayer for All Nations (SPAN), July 29-Aug. 2, near Richmond, Va.

The school is led by Gordon Fort, IMB senior vice president of prayer mobilization and training, who said its purpose is to teach students to walk closer with God, pray more fervently for spiritual awakening, intercede for missionaries and the nations and mobilize others to join in prayer. 
The disciples didn’t ask the Lord to teach them how to heal people, cast out demons or feed 5,000, Fort said. “The only thing they asked Him was to teach them how to pray. In this spiritual discipline of prayer, I believe there are things that can be taught.”
Things like spiritual warfare, how to listen to God while praying, the role of fasting in prayer, how to pray scripture and how to pray for the nations – just some of the subjects SPAN students cover.
Just studying the meaning of some of the Greek and Hebrew words for prayer made an impact on Scotty Tipper, a deacon at his church in south Georgia.
“The thing that hit me the hardest was that one of the words for prayer means ‘to cry out desperately, lament,’” he said. “Why don’t we pray that way all the time? To cry out for the missionaries? That God’s presence would be on them as the Holy Spirit leads them, that they would have a fruitful ministry, and that people would come into His kingdom.”
SPAN classes are designed to be intimate, no larger than 21 students.
Sessions run monthly; registration for the five-day experience is $250 per person or $450 per couple, which covers lodging, meals and conference materials. Students must complete homework before attending, including enlisting at least five prayer intercessors who will commit to pray for them before, during and after their time at the school.

Immersive experience

But SPAN isn’t focused on lectures and notes. Students spend as much time living out what they’ve learned as they do in class. 
Large blocks of time are carved out of each day’s schedule for prayer.
While some is done alone, students are also assigned to small groups of three called “prayer triplets.” These groups are given daily prayer assignments, often praying over something that was just taught in class.
One evening, students were asked to pray through the night, signing up for 20-minute shifts to provide real-time prayer support for missionaries working in other time zones around the world.
“Everything has been interactive,” Allen said. “It hasn’t been like, ‘From 8 to 5 we’re going to fill you with a whole bunch of information, you’re going to take a whole bunch of notes, and then good luck with that when you go back home.’ It’s been, ‘We’re going to teach you how to do this and then you’re going to go do it.’ And that’s the best way to learn because each one of us can walk out of here at the end of this week saying, ‘I can teach people in my church how to do this.’”
Allen also was quick to point out that SPAN isn’t the “R” word.
“It’s not a retreat,” she said. “This is serious kingdom business that we’ve been engaged in. A lot of people might say, ‘C’mon, they’re just praying!’ [How serious could it be?] But we’ve been constantly on our faces before the Father interceding for the lost and for missionaries around the world.” 
Housing the school at IMB’s International Learning Center also comes with the added benefit of proximity to dozens of missionaries. The chance to regularly connect and pray with them during the week left a deep impression on Tipper, who says missionaries are his heroes.
“I met a family that’s got three children, all probably under 5 years old, and they’re going to the Horn of Africa,” he says. “They can’t tell me where they are going, but they’re giving it all up, ALL of the American dream – a house, car, money in the bank – all of that we say we have to have, they’ve given it up in obedience to Jesus saying, ‘Here am I Lord, send me.’”
To learn more about SPAN or to register for an upcoming session, visit Questions can be emailed to
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.)
9/10/2013 12:59:39 PM by Don Graham, International Mission Board | with 0 comments

San Antonio LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance passes

September 10 2013 by Jerry Pierce & David Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council passed by an 8-3 vote a controversial ordinance Sept. 5 by which city officials can be removed from office and businesses made liable if they demonstrate “a bias in word or deed” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

For businesses that offer services to the general public, the ordinance makes such discrimination a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500.

Last-minute amendments clarified that the measure does not require businesses to allow transgendered persons to use restrooms or locker rooms intended for people of the opposite sex – a change that angered some of the ordinance’s supporters.

Several previous amendments attempted to calm a swell of opposition. Thanks to one amendment, a “religious corporation, association, society or educational institution” may limit employment to members of the same religion. Another amendment added the qualifier, “Nothing herein shall be construed as requiring any person or organization to support or advocate any particular lifestyle or religious view, or advance any particular message or idea.”

Still, the ordinance is “one of the most dangerous constitutional violations Liberty Institute has ever seen” limiting free speech and religious liberty, the conservative advocacy organization said in a news release.

“The ordinance is a cloudy and confusing collection of poorly thought out and conflicting statements that could have been more clearly and cleanly handled by simply including a broad religious liberty exemption to protect the free speech and religious liberty rights of both individuals and organizations that have religious objections to the requirements mandated by the ordinance,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, based in Plano, Texas.

The ordinance “should alarm every American who values their religious freedom” and has ramifications that “could go far beyond San Antonio,” Shackelford said.

Multiple legal groups have vowed to challenge the ordinance in court as unconstitutional while elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, have raised concerns as well.

City officials received 11,000 opposition emails in the weeks leading up to the vote, and five City Council meetings on the ordinance drew hundreds of residents who expressed their opposition. In an Aug. 28 meeting, city officials appeared confused about the measure’s legal consequences, with the city’s attorney struggling to answer questions and expressing concerns that he was embarrassing himself.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, an organization affiliated with Liberty Institute, called the ordinance “radical” and said “a majority of the people of San Antonio oppose” it.

“This ordinance will be used as a weapon against people of faith and family values just as other laws have been used in other states,” Saenz said in a statement. “The ordinance lacks transparency, lacks evidence of a real need and is plagued with major constitutional concerns. The question now is when will the first legal challenge begin and what will the cost be to taxpayers at the end of the litigation that will certainly come.”

The ordinance prohibits any “appointed official or member of a board or commission” from engaging “in discrimination or demonstrat[ing] a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability, while acting in their official capacity while in such public position.”

The ordinance labels “bias” against homosexuals as “malfeasance” and authorizes the city council to “remove the offending person from office.” The council voted separately on adding “veteran status,” with that language gaining approval 9-2.

Businesses in the city are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and outside businesses that deal with the city must include in their city contracts a statement that they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

A section was removed from the ordinance that excluded from city office anyone who had demonstrated bias against homosexuals in the past.

Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who voted against the ordinance, said its advocates attempted to enforce “a dictate to agree,” according to San Antonio’s Express-News. “I have not heard a single person who said he or she agrees to any form of discrimination,” Chan said, according to the Express-News. “Just because I disagree with the lifestyle choices of the LGBT community doesn’t mean that I dislike them.”

At the Aug. 28 hearing, opponents on hand to testify against the proposed ordinance “clearly outnumber[ed]” its supporters, Saenz reported from the meeting via Twitter. 

Apparent confusion among council members prompted councilman Carlton Soules to say the body was not ready to vote. Councilwoman Chan suggested it be put on a city ballot for voters to decide – a suggestion that drew a standing ovation from meeting attendees.

In the hearing’s afternoon session, opponents of the measure – marked by blue shirts – made up more than 350 of the 400 people in the room, Saenz reported. But during the evening session, the ordinance’s supporters – marked by red shirts – made up about half of the crowd, Saenz said, adding that “reports of a ‘sea of red’ are false.”

The crowd was so large that many listened to the discussion in overflow rooms throughout San Antonio’s municipal complex.

Whether transgendered people should be allowed to use any restroom they choose was a significant part of the discussion, with some gay rights activists saying they were opposed to the ordinance because it did not protect the right of men to use women’s bathrooms and vice versa, Saenz recounted. Earlier in the day councilman Diego Bernal, who spearheaded the ordinance, floated a new draft specifying that the measure would not change the city’s laws prohibiting the use of restrooms for “persons of the opposite sex.”

Among Saenz’s tweets from the meeting:
  • “SA atty admits no analysis of other cities with LGBT ordinances, but says ‘they seem to have worked.’“
  • “SA city atty having major trouble answering basic questions on ord, confused about if ‘religious exemption’ cover[s] all sections of ordinance.”
  • “San Antonio City Council shows officials are confused & concerned about LGBT ordinance, even city attorney didn’t have grasp on it.”
“This proposed ordinance contains some of the most blatant and unprecedented violations of the religious freedom of Texans that I have ever seen,” Saenz said in a statement earlier on Aug. 28. “This extreme power grab by the government shocks the conscience and tarnishes the legacy of the city of San Antonio that is so rich in religious heritage. If passed, this ordinance will be used as a weapon to silence people of faith and to punish people who hold a traditional view of marriage and sexuality. If Mayor [Julian] Castro and Councilman Diego Bernal were looking for a way to divide people in the city of San Antonio, they have found it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. David Roach is a writer based in Shelbyville, Ky. This article is adapted from a Sept. 6 report by Roach following reports in the TEXAN Digital, electronic magazine of the SBTC.)
9/10/2013 12:54:18 PM by Jerry Pierce & David Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Unsafe abortions on the rise across Africa

September 10 2013 by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya – Amid increasing calls for legalization of abortion in Africa, botched cases among young women are on the rise, according to recent reports.
Governments are responding by distributing contraceptives, but the Roman Catholic Church, some Muslim groups and anti-abortion groups are waging their own campaigns against contraception, warning it will further escalate the problem.
More than 6 million unsafe abortions take place each year in Africa, resulting in 29,000 maternal deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Another 1. 7 million women are hospitalized annually for complications from unsafe abortions.
Abortion is restricted in most African countries, except in South Africa, Cape Verde, Tunisia and Zambia. Abortion is strictly illegal in 14 countries.
The increase in the number of abortions is due largely to the rising number of women of reproductive age, according to the U.S. based Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
According to the institute, only 3 percent of African abortions were performed under safe conditions.
In most of Africa, women seeking abortions have little recourse. Some go to traditional healers, many of whom employ unsafe techniques, or to nurses, who generally provide safer services. Some women try to induce abortion themselves, while others purchase abortion-inducing drugs from pharmacists.
A recent report by the African Population and Health Research Center showed the number of illegal abortions in Kenya increased to more than 460,000 in 2012, a 48 percent jump from the estimated 300,000 abortions in previous years.
According to the report, 64 percent of married Kenyan women had an abortion at least once in their lifetime. More than 70 percent of those women said they did not use contraception.

BP file photo
This photo shows an unborn baby at six weeks.

Since its release, churches, mosques and anti-abortion groups have strongly criticized the report, describing its findings as inflated. Kenyan Roman Catholic bishops called the figures “disturbing,” and said people should guard against questionable statistics that may scare them to accepting legalization of abortion. Abortion is outlawed in Kenya, except when the life of the woman is in danger.
“We reaffirm that life is sacred from conception until natural death,” said Bishop Philip Anyolo, vice chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.  “We insist it is deceptive to treat abortion as a panacea to health, happiness and prosperity of a woman.”
In Uganda, Imam Idi Kasozi, the secretary general of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly, warned against any government attempt to decriminalize abortion.
“We also need to look at our religions and cultures to bring out the good values that encourage sexual purity and abstinence,” Kasozi said.
Dr. Jean Kagia, an OB-GYN in Nairobi who heads the Protecting Life Movement Trust, said abortion and unplanned pregnancies are a social problem.
“Many women fear after using the contraceptives they will not be able to have babies in future,” she said. People here value babies and those who don’t have their own are stigmatized. I think this is an African mind-set that must be well understood.”
Women are having abortions because it has been readily made available to them, even where it’s illegal, said Akech Aimba, a 33-year-old Kenyan woman who heads the Pearls and Treasures Trust, an anti-abortion organization that cares for women who have had an abortion.
Aimba had two abortions herself before being counseled by a Christian crisis pregnancy.
“I cried a lot,” she said. “I started feeling ashamed of myself. There was deep-seated grief and emptiness I could not explain.”
She is now convinced contraceptives are not the answer, either.
Distributing condoms freely, without giving information encourages risky sexual behavior leading to more abortions, she said.
“We are not solving the problem,” she added. “We are not giving them life skills, but with the condoms people are pushed deeper into sexual addiction.”
9/10/2013 12:48:30 PM by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Christianity Today’s Books & Culture survives the chopping block

September 10 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

NEW YORK – Print publications across the board are struggling to find a financial formula to help them survive – or praying for a deep-pocketed savior to rescue them the way Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is doing with The Washington Post.
Religious publications are also feeling the pinch, and the latest evidence was a dire warning from the Christian literary magazine Books & Culture that it could shut down in 2014 if it didn’t reach its $250,000 fundraising goal on Sept. 9.
The magazine survived the chopping block, receiving just above the amount needed to continue in 2014. The publication has pledges of $110,000 a year until 2018.
Since June, the bimonthly publication has been trying to raise $250,000, which it says it needs to cover operating costs for 2014. Last week, John Wilson, Books & Culture’s sole editor, tweeted that the next issue would be the last if he didn’t come up with about half of the amount.
“Anyone who has been following the publishing world at all in the last decade or more is aware of the tremendous pressures that there are,” Wilson said.

Christianity Today photo
The September/October 2013 issue of Books & Culture features articles on adoption, education and the media, civil society and creation order, and anarchism, among other topics.

Books & Culture started in 1995 under the umbrella organization of Christianity Today, which publishes the magazine founded by Billy Graham as well as many other print and online media aimed at evangelicals and the wider public.
Since it started, Books & Culture has been hailed for showcasing high-quality essays by top-shelf writers, and for providing evidence of robust evangelical engagement with philosophy, the arts and other cultural and intellectual pursuits.
Like many intellectual magazines and journals, Books & Culture has a small but passionate readership. The magazine publishes articles on a wide range of cultural categories, including science and poetry and fiction, and on subjects ranging from human waste disposal to Amish romance novels. Its editorial board and contributing editors have included Notre Dame history professor Mark Noll, Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch and Duke Divinity School professor Lauren Winner.
A one-year subscription of six issues costs a new Books & Culture subscriber about $30.

In the past, Books & Culture, which has about 9,000 subscribers and costs $550,000 to $570,000 per year to publish, has been able to sustain itself through advertising and subscriptions, along with nearly equal contributions from its parent organization and outside funders. Those funders include the Pew Charitable Trusts, Baylor University and Indiana Wesleyan University.
But Christianity Today has sustained serious financial setbacks in recent years. In 2009, it closed four publications and laid off about a quarter of its staff.
Over the course of Books & Culture’s 18-year lifespan, Christianity Today has contributed between $1 million and $2 million to keep the magazine afloat, a subsidy the organization decided it could no longer afford. With about $11.4 million in revenue, Christianity Today ran a $1.2 million deficit in 2012, according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
As it sought help from the general public this time around, Christianity Today still seeks a long-term solution, not a stopgap on the way to an inevitable demise.
“Some will wonder, is this (fundraising appeal) going to be an every other month event? The answer is no,” said Harold Smith, Christianity Today’s president and CEO.
Smith said about a dozen Christian schools have pledged financial support to help stabilize the magazine. “This is a unique situation. Right now we see this as a critical juncture. We cannot continue in a deficit situation.”
The September/October 2010 issue included a timeline of its cover that started with Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a book that drew wide notice for critiquing evangelicals’ alleged lack of intellectual curiosity and learning. The timeline also shows the death of nonreligious publications – and the survival of Books & Culture. “Scandal? What scandal?” the headline asks.
Religiously oriented publications across the board are struggling alongside their secular counterparts.
Since the death of the Richard John Neuhaus in 2009, the ecumenical journal First Things has had to work very hard to find enough support to keep going, said its editor R.R. Reno.
“It’s very difficult to sustain a publication devoted to serious ideas,” Reno said.
He noted that the major political journals in America are subsidized. Some have beneficent owners, like The Weekly Standard and The New Republic, while others live on donations and have related foundations, such as The Nation and National Review.

“Religious journals of ideas have the same business model, such as it is – try to lose as little money as possible and make the difference in donations.”

Image, a journal about faith and art, launched an emergency campaign to raise funds after one of its vendors stopped paying them. Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image, says that the magazine has raised nearly $35,000, beyond its $25,000 goal, which will likely cover the financial loss.
But he said the future will still be problematic if Christians do not take greater care to cultivate the life of the mind.
“I believe that the religious culture of North America is playing a role in the current financial challenges faced by serious Christian journals and magazines,” Wolfe said. “A further twist on this story is that Christian philanthropists – particularly successful business people – often equate mass popularity with cultural importance and value.”
9/10/2013 12:39:53 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Christians besieged in Central African Republic

September 10 2013 by Baptist Press

BANGUI, Central African Republic – Christians in the violence-ridden Central African Republic (CAR) are enduring atrocities under the country’s rebel government, whose leader reportedly seeks to turn the country into an Islamic state.

Home to roughly 5 million people and slightly smaller than Texas, the CAR, which lies in central Africa just west of Sudan and South Sudan, was already one of Africa’s least developed countries, with a history of instability. On March 24, a coalition of rebels known as Seleka took the CAR capital, Bangui, and sent then-President Francois Bozize into exile in Cameroon.

The new government, as described by reports in persecution monitor Morning Star News, is filled with Islamists whose troops have embarked on a spree of rape, murder, theft and general violence against Christians, who make up a majority of the population.

“It is clear, according to our research, that it is Christians who have been suffering under Seleka rule and Muslims have been profiting,” Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch told Morning Star News in an email, adding that Seleka agents “have not hesitated to attack Christian places of worship.”

Nicolas Guerekoyame is the leader of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, part of the National Transitional Council created to act in place of the former parliament. According to Morning Star News, he wrote a letter on May 10 to Michel Djotodia, Seleka’s leader, decrying the treatment of Christians.

“The various atrocities that preceded, accompanied and followed Seleka’s rise to power have been specifically aimed at the Christian population,” Guerekoyame wrote in the letter, which also was signed by Evangelical Alliance leaders Michel Gbegbe and Anatole Banga. “Churches and Christian institutions have been desecrated and plundered, priests and pastors have been assaulted and nuns raped.”

Guerekoyame was briefly arrested Aug. 6 for criticizing the government at his church, even though his position with the National Transitional Council granted him immunity. He was released later in the day.

Fears of Islamic law, or sharia, coming to CAR mounted when a copy of a confidential letter surfaced reportedly written by Djotodia to the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Conference in 2012 asking for help overthrowing Bozize’s government.

“God willing and we come to Bangui; we will put in place a regime to apply Islamic sharia law,” the letter read, a copy of which was obtained by Morning Star. “Even if we fail to hunt Bozize, we will transform a part of the Central African Republic, Chad and Darfur into a new Islamic Republic.”

The letter, which Djotodia denies writing, also indicated that taking power in CAR was not the end of his aims.

“After our victory, we will also help [Islamists] take power in Chad,” he allegedly wrote. “We need your support, brothers. It should help us in material, money and homes. We agree that your items come to fight on our side.”

The World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission (WEA-RLC) released a statement Aug. 19 highlighting the danger to Christians in the CAR, relaying a report from the Catholic group Aid to Church in Need about an Islamist militia attack against 14 Christian villages. The attack killed 15 people and left more than 1,000 homeless. Witnesses said militants threw bodies into a river, including the corpse of a five-month-old baby.

“These incidents highlight targeting of Christians and breakdown of law and order in the country,” Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of WEA-RLC, said in the statement.

A United Nations panel said in August that the rule of law is “almost non-existent” and noted the many atrocities carried out in CAR as well as general insecurity.

Mudge of Human Rights Watch told Morning Star that CAR’s humanitarian crisis “verges on catastrophe,” with Seleka fighters still looting neighborhoods in the capital and rampaging through provincial villages.

“Because of a lack of security, humanitarian actors cannot access the most vulnerable; people continue to die in the bush due to disease, exposure and malnutrition,” Mudge said.

Djotodia has claimed people outside his control are committing the atrocities, but Bishop Albert Vanbuel, president of the Catholic Bishops Justice and Peace Commission, denounced the Seleka government in a May 5 statement as “a rebellion of religious extremism with evil intentions, characterized by profanation and planned destruction of religious buildings, especially Catholic and Protestant churches.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston.)
9/10/2013 12:34:16 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Volunteers, NCMO helps rebuild lives

September 9 2013 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina’s coast two years ago – old news for most people. But mention “Irene” to Carroll and Cheryl Voliva and they still cringe.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
A volunteer learns how to install drywall during March 15-16 training at Southport Baptist Church in Southport. The North Carolina Missions Offering, which is emphasized this month, helps fund N.C. Baptist Men relief efforts in the state and beyond.

Their home in Bayboro, a city east of New Bern, was destroyed by the flood that resulted when Irene stalled over Pamlico Sound. Locals say the flooding and destruction from Irene were worse than from all the other hurricanes that have hit the coast over the past 100 years.
For example, of some 60 homes on Goose Creek Island, all but four were flooded.
“Our house was totally demolished in Hurricane Irene,” said Carroll Voliva. Both Carroll and his wife have health problems; rebuilding by themselves was not possible.

“We didn’t get any help from FEMA and we didn’t know what we would do,” he said.  
But some time after the storm hit, they talked to North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM), who have sent thousands of volunteers to help coastal residents like the Volivas recover. Soon the volunteers were working on a new house for Carroll and Cheryl. This month, the Volvias will move into their new house, built by NCBM volunteers, who will hand over the keys but no bill or mortgage.
If past patterns hold, there will be weeping for joy by both the homeowners and the volunteers on that day.
Multiply that joy by 76: That’s how many houses NCBM has rebuilt along the coast over the past two years. For the first three months or so after Irene, volunteers shoveled mud and cleared debris. By the fourth month, they began rebuilding, said Gerald Williams, a site coordinator for NCBM in Bayboro.
NCBM receives operating funds from the North Carolina Missions Offering taken up by North Carolina Baptist churches across the state; more than half of this year’s total offering will go to the organization. September is a time of emphasis for the offering and the ministries it funds. This year’s offering goal is $2.1 million.

BSC photo by K Brown
Gerald Williams served as the North Carolina Baptist Men “blue hat” site coordinator for Bayboro, east of New Bern. N.C. Baptist Men has been helping rebuild.

Disaster relief is the best-known and most visible of the 14 ministries the offering supports.

“Disaster relief is important because it gives us a chance to meet the people one on one and share the gospel message with them,” Williams said. “Many of the people we have worked with in Pamlico County have church homes. Some do not, and we try to witness to them. Our crews always pray with the people that we help. Most of them we give a Bible to at the end of the job with the signatures of those who have worked on the home.”
He praised the partnership with Bayboro Baptist Church, which contributed their education building to house and feed volunteers.
“N.C. Baptist Men have made a huge impact on our community,” said Scott Fitzgerald, Bayboro pastor. “When you drive around and see all of the yellow shirts, there is a sense of, wow, look at all those volunteers.”
“We had over 5,024 volunteers spend the night at our church over the last year, working on the disaster relief, and in that time all people know the yellow shirts are associated with N.C. Baptist Men. And we have heard it, time and time again, the appreciation from the people in the community as to the volunteers being here and what it has meant for this community,” Fitzgerald added.
“They have put on a bright face and they’ve given [hope to] people who didn’t think they had any hope. ... And through that hope have been able to show love and care for our community around them,” he said.
For more information visit or call (800) 395-5102.
9/9/2013 3:16:17 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Trail Life USA offers Christian alternative to Boy Scouts

September 9 2013 by Warren Cole Smith, World News Service

More than 1,200 people from 44 states gathered in Nashville over the weekend for the inaugural meeting of Trail Life USA, a new group that hopes to be a Christian alternative for the Boy Scouts of America. Organizers say Trail Life USA will be an outdoor scouting-like program designed for boys ages 5-17 which will focus on adventure, character and leadership. 
“We’re here to honor the legacy of the Boy Scouts of America,” said radio personality Bill Buckner, master of ceremonies for the event. “But now, quite frankly, we are called in a new direction.” 
This meeting is the culmination of intensive planning that began more than two months ago when a steering committee gathered in Louisville, Ky., to discuss the feasibility of starting a group. Since then the group has created a constitution and bylaws, logo, and other organizing documents and procedures.
According to Mark Hancock, vice chairman of the board and the convention host, said, “For this to happen in 68 days, that doesn’t happen by the power of men.”
John Stemberger is chairman of the board of directors for the new group. He said in his opening address that he would deal with what he called “the proverbial elephant in the room,” the relationship Trail Life USA with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). In May the BSA changed its membership policy to allow openly homosexual youth to participate in the program. 
“First of all, we’re not an anti-BSA organization,” Stemberger said. ”We’re not an anti-anything organization. We honor the legacy of the Boy Scouts of America and the contributions it has made to us and our families. The men and boys we have left behind are not our opponents. They are our brothers and our friends. I encourage you to interact with them with charity and good faith.”
Stemberger added, though, that “many of us feel anger and betrayal.” He said that charity requires him to “continue to expose the real dangers and risks that the new membership policy [of the BSA] poses to boys. Real men value integrity above institutions.”
Stemberger said Trail Life USA would be open to boys of all religious faiths, but it would be an explicitly Christian organization. “Adults must sign a statement of faith and submit to a background check,” he said. “We will have a strong outdoor component, and ranks from the Boy Scouts will be transferable.” The top award in Trail Life USA, the equivalent to the BSA’s Eagle Award, would be the Freedom Award. 
“Our vision will be to become the premier national character development organization for young men which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens,” Stemberger said.
9/9/2013 3:11:25 PM by Warren Cole Smith, World News Service | with 0 comments

Glorieta lawsuit targets SBC, EC, LifeWay, trustees

September 9 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), its Executive Committee (EC), LifeWay Christian Resources and a long list of trustees and staff members have been named in a lawsuit over the sale of the Glorieta Conference Center to a Christian ministry, Glorieta 2.0.

The lawsuit, filed by Kirk and Susie Tompkins of Little Rock, Ark., claims the Glorieta property located east of Santa Fe, N.M., was not properly transferred from the Executive Committee to LifeWay after the Executive Committee received it from the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in 1950.

The Tompkins, who lease property at Glorieta, contend that the original 1950 warranty deed from the New Mexico convention remains the only deed on record in Santa Fe County, and no transfer of deed is recorded.

The lawsuit appears to assert that LifeWay Christian Resources erred in approving the sale of the property to the Christian camping ministry Glorieta 2.0 in June because, the Tompkins contend, an affirmative vote by messengers to the SBC annual meeting is required for two consecutive years in order for a sale to commence. 

D. August Boto, executive vice president and general counsel for the Executive Committee, said LifeWay owns Glorieta and explained that the only sale of property by an SBC entity which would require convention approval – in one meeting, not two – would be if the entity proposed to sell all or substantially all of its property.

“This sale does not rise to that level,” Boto said.

In a statement released to Baptist Press Sept. 5, Boto said, “We see no legal basis for the proposition that Executive Committee or convention permission is required before LifeWay may dispose of the Glorieta property. We believe, therefore, that the case filed is without any legal merit, and that the court will concur.”

Marty King, director of corporate communications for LifeWay, said in a statement that “we have proper deeds for all of Glorieta and are confident Southern Baptist Convention approval is not required for this transaction.”

“LifeWay’s bylaws do require approval for such action by our SBC-elected board of trustees, and, LifeWay’s trustees approved disposition of the Glorieta property two years ago and the sale to Glorieta 2.0 for a Christian camping ministry earlier this year,” King said.

The Tompkins want the sale of Glorieta, which is set to be finalized this month, to be put on hold until the SBC can vote on it in 2014 and 2015. 

Sixty-five churches, institutions and individuals own structures on lots at Glorieta but do not own the land – a practice started in 1952 with 25-year non-renewable leases. Most of the current leases expire this fall and, if not renewed, require leaseholders to vacate the properties.

Glorieta 2.0 has given leaseholders several options:
  • compensation based on the size of each structure, ranging from a minimum of $40,000 to a maximum of $100,000; 
  • a new 12-year lease;
  • those who have been involved in ministry, including pastors and missionaries, can become permanent residents of Glorieta and stay on campus as long as they are physically able; or
  • donation of their homes to Glorieta 2.0 as a charitable contribution.
Leaseholders had until Sept. 1 to choose one of the options, and the vast majority of them did, according to Glorieta 2.0’s executive director, Anthony Scott.

When LifeWay announced its trustees’ approval to sell Glorieta, it emphasized that one of the most important requirements of the sale was “that the new owners provide options that are fair, reasonable and prudent for individuals and churches that lease land at Glorieta.”

The lawsuit contends that the options available to leaseholders are not fair or reasonable and would cause irreparable harm.

Kirk Tompkins told the Albuquerque Journal that language referring to many of the private Glorieta residences as “cabins” is misleading to LifeWay trustees and others who aren’t familiar with the area. He said he pays insurance on his home setting its value at $382,000. 

LifeWay trustees, at their August meeting, voted to add 140 acres to the previously announced sale of Glorieta “to provide additional incentive for Glorieta 2.0 to increase compensation to those who have built cabins and made other improvements on leased property on the campus.” Those acres are not contiguous to the main property and LifeWay had planned to market them separately.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
9/9/2013 3:08:15 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 9 comments

SBC ethicists: Criteria for ‘just war’ not met

September 9 2013 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The use of chemical weapons against civilians is a human tragedy with moral urgency, but the United States should not intervene in Syria because the conditions for a “just war” have not been met, according to two Southern Baptist ethicists.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in an article on Religion News Service (RNS) Sept. 3 that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is “lawless and tyrannical,” and the first principle of just war – a just cause – has been met.
“That said, there are other principles missing here, both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially,” Moore stated.
Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, offered a slightly different take on Syria, stating that the United States lacks a basis for intervening “in the internal affairs of a distinctly sovereign and separate state.”
“I see here no legitimately interpreted just cause sufficient to justify the United States going to war with Syria merely because parties in a civil war are doing bad things to each other,” Heimbach said in comments provided to Baptist Press.

Contributed photo
Daniel Heimbach

“No one is attacking or threatening to attack the United States or any ally of the United States. In fact, should the U.S. go to war with Syria it will vastly increase the risk of Syrian attack on U.S. allies in the region,” said Heimbach, who was instrumental in developing President George H.W. Bush’s just war ethic for the 1991 Gulf War when he served as deputy executive secretary of the Domestic Policy Council.
Heimbach noted, “The meaning and interpretation of a just cause for war (in a just war ethic) requires the nation being attacked (Syria) to have done, or to be doing, or to be moving toward doing some terrible wrong toward the attacking nation (United States) – not merely doing something bad within their own borders against their own people.”
The Christian just war ethic referenced by Heimbach dates to the days of the fourth-century bishop Augustine of Hippo. Faced with barbarian invasions, Augustine developed criteria for the participation of Christians in warfare.
The theory was developed through the early 20th century and now includes the ideas that wars must have a just cause; be declared by a lawful authority as a response to an imminent threat; be a last resort; be prosecuted according to principles of proportionality and non-combatant immunity; and have a reasonable probability of success.
“I do not see, from President Obama, a reasonable opportunity to prevail,” Moore said in the RNS article compiled by culture writer Jonathan Merritt, “or even a definition of what prevailing would mean.
“Regime change is not the point of this action, and even if it were, we don’t yet know who the good guys are,” Moore said. “Replacing one set of terrorists with another does not bring about justice or peace.
“I agree with the President on the moral urgency of Syria,” Moore said, “and I morally reject the crypto-isolationist voices that tell us, in every era, to tend to ‘America First’ and leave defenseless people around the world on their own. In this case, though, the administration is demonstrating neither an imminent threat to national security nor a feasible means to alleviate the very real human rights crisis in Syria.”
The debate over a military strike on Syria stems from a gas attack when an estimated 1,400 civilians died Aug. 21 in a rebel-held area. President Obama said in a White House press briefing that military intelligence had linked the Assad regime to the attack.
“This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said in comments on Aug. 31. “It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”
Should the United States attack Syria, it may well be acting alone. Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Syrian rebels, many of them linked to al-Qaeda, for the gas attack and has ordered Russian warships to the Mediterranean Sea. Great Britain’s Parliament, normally staunchly allied with the United States, voted against intervention and France’s Parliament currently is debating the possibility of a strike on Syria. China also has urged the United States not to attack Syria.
Moore and Heimbach both acknowledge that the Obama administration is in a deep hole in the court of world opinion. Both, however, say military action to improve the reputation of the president or to prove something about the United States is the wrong course.
“Saving national credibility is important but it does not make a war just,” Moore said. “The President must use his bully pulpit to make the case that what he wants to do here is more than a symbol, a symbol that will leave blood and fire in its wake.
“Right now, it seems the administration is giving an altar call for limited war, without having preached the sermon to make the case,” Moore said.
Heimbach said he sees Obama as “an international idealist who views war through the lens of crusade idealism.”
“Going to war to promote or enforce social ideals within the borders of another sovereign nation that has done or is doing nothing wrong toward you (the attacking nation) crosses the line from employing a just war ethic to employing a crusade ethic,” Heimbach said.
“I do not believe any human ruler ever is justified in launching any war on crusade terms no matter what ideal makes it seem attractive,” Heimbach said, adding, “This does not mean we do nothing. We can and have called for international sanctions. We can and have sought international censure. But the U.S. does not have moral justification to attack Syria, and if we do, the Muslim world will be right to condemn Obama as a crusader.”
Moore also said he fears what war will mean for Christians in Syria who have been able to practice their faith under Assad’s regime. Many may fall prey to al-Qaeda, as the Christian village of Maaloula did Sept. 5. Terrorists attacked the village, the oldest Christian settlement in the country, killing dozens and, according to some reports, beheading Orthodox priests. Videos also have surfaced showing so-called rebels executing prisoners from the Assad regime while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greater.”
“Could it be that an anarchic regime of al-Qaida sympathizers could do to the church in Damascus what Jesus prevented Saul of Tarsus from doing?” Moore asked. “Those are questions worth answering, and that means the President and the Secretary of State must communicate to the country not just the moral condemnation of the Assad regime (most of us agree), but the more difficult task of communicating the moral case for American intervention in this civil war, making clear how such wouldn’t make the situation worse.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.)

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9/9/2013 3:00:03 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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