April 2013

Examining the basis for gay marriage’s popularity

April 22 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans now support recognition of homosexual marriage.

In 2013 eight national polls have been conducted on the subject. The average of these surveys, according to PollingReport.com, indicates a 51 percent support for same-sex marriage.

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted in January 2010, found that only 38 percent of Americans were in support of homosexual marriage. A more recent Pew poll, released on March 29 of this year, revealed that 49 percent now support same-sex nuptials.

No matter what poll you examine, it is clear that support for homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in specific, has increased dramatically in recent years. The question is: why? 

Another Pew poll, reported on March 20, sought to discover the reasons for the expeditious rise in support for homosexual marriage. Of those surveyed who had changed their mind in favor of same-sex marriage, 32 percent said they knew someone who was homosexual. Twenty-five percent had changed their mind because they said they had become more open over time. Another 18 percent indicated they had switched their position because homosexuality was more prevalent and same-sex marriage was inevitable.

No one knows for certain why there has been a surge in support of homosexual marriage of late. However, according to Pew’s research, the meteoric rise in support of homosexual marriage could well be based on feelings, perception and even societal pressure. 

Whatever people are basing their support for same-sex marriage upon, it is not rooted in fact. 

For years, some advocates of homosexuality insisted that 10 percent of society engaged in homosexual behavior. The figure came from research conducted by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s. In spite of the fact that Kinsey’s findings have been debated, disputed and debunked, homosexual activists have continued to spout the 10 percent figure. 

A 2011 Gallup poll found that “U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.” Among young adults ages 18-26 the estimate jumps to 29.9 percent. 

What is the actual percentage of people who identify themselves as “gay” or “lesbian”? 

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the percentage of men identifying as homosexual is 1.7; the percentage of women who identify as lesbian is 1.1 percent. 

Another factor that has aided the acceptance of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage is the belief that homosexuality is innate. 

In July 2006, a Pew report indicated that 49 percent of Americans believed homosexuality could not be changed. Yet while there have been scientific studies that have suggested homosexuality could possibility be determined by genetics or biology, none thus far have been conclusive or definitive. 

For instance, in 1991 it was widely reported that Simon LeVay, a scientist from Calif., had found a biological cause for homosexuality by comparing the brains of deceased homosexual men with those of deceased straight men.

LeVay’s research did not quite yield what was reported. As a result, in 2001, the scientist was quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune as saying: “It’s important to stress what I did not find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I did not show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain.” 

In 1995, Charles Mann, an American journalist and author who specializes in scientific topics, wrote in Science – the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – that “time and time again, scientists have claimed that particular genes or chromosomal regions are associated with behavioral traits, only to withdraw their findings when they were not replicated.”

The most comprehensive study of genetics was completed on April 14, 2003, when the International Human Genome Project announced the successful completion of the Human Genome Project. Major science journals reported on the incredible advances made in the field of genetics based on the project. But one thing was not found: the so-called “gay-gene.”

The most recent effort to suggest a biological basis for homosexuality was reported in December 2012 in the Quarterly Review of Biology. Researchers in the field of epigenetics conducted a study and reported “there is compelling evidence” that something called “epi-marks” contribute “to both the similarity and dissimilarity of family members, and can therefore feasibly contribute to the observed familial inheritance of homosexuality.”

According to ScienceDaily, epigenetics is the study of “how gene expression is regulated by temporary switches,” called epi-marks.

Some media outlets heralded the epigenetic research with the following headline: “Science: Homosexuality isn’t genetic, but it is biological.” 

However, that was not quite the case. 

On page 357 of the report the researchers wrote, “Although we cannot provide definitive evidence that homosexuality has a strong epigenetic underpinning, we do think that available evidence is fully consistent with this conclusion.” The researches admitted they made no definitive discovery that homosexuality is determined epigenetically. 

To date, as far a science is concerned, a genetic predetermination and/or a biological basis for homosexuality simply do not exist.

Even the American Psychological Association (APA) now acknowledges there is no scientific basis for the assertion that homosexuality has a biological basis. 

In 1998 the APA published a brochure titled, “Answers to Your Question for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” In the literature was the following quote: “There is considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.”

Fast-forward to 2008, and the APA now says something very different. The APA now says: 

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. ...”

Many Americans are leaping on the bandwagon of acceptance of homosexual behavior and, thus, support for same-sex marriage. However, they do so based on feelings, perceptions or societal pressure and not on any evidence that homosexuality is determined genetically or biologically.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
4/22/2013 3:17:24 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

America the resolute

April 22 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Another act of violence shook our nation [recently]. This time, the perpetrator used bombs hidden in bags. To intensify the effect of his hatred, he loaded his bombs with ball bearings and other metal objects. The effect was devastating. Lives were lost, including an 8-year-old boy. More than a hundred people were injured, many maimed. It was a cowardly, gruesome act.

The response of others at the Boston Marathon tells another story, however. Reports are still coming out of those who rushed to help. I have heard stories of people who finished the grueling marathon and yet immediately went about the task of caring for others. There are pictures of complete strangers stooping over injured people, trying to do whatever they can to stop bleeding and render comfort.

The police and first-responders acted with a calm professionalism that should instill a true sense of pride in our nation even in the most cynical of people. They weren’t anticipating any problems that day, but they were ready. In a matter of minutes order was restored.

My heart aches for those who died and for those whose lives have been forever changed through this horrific act. I pray that God will bring comfort and peace to everyone. I pray that those who feel they can never recover will find the peace and spiritual strength through Jesus Christ that will not only sustain them but lift them up. I pray those who did this will be convicted by God of their horrific sin, repent, turn themselves in, and accept the penalty for their acts. One way or another, I pray that law enforcement will bring them to justice. 

Yes, I want justice, healing and peace. I also want Americans to see themselves for who they really are. Immediately after the bombings, there was a national shudder in response. Social media was filled with expressions of grief, sadness and prayer. We have witnessed too much violence recently, yet we remain resolute in our commitment to each other. 

Scripture reminds us that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Such a friend, it also reminds us, is hard to find. Our nation has once again proven that when our fellow citizens are in danger, the decency and compassion that flows through our national veins will compel us to come to their aid.

Perhaps today you feel abandoned and desperate. There is help. Start with God. He has proven His love for you by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you so you can have peace and the forgiveness of your sins. Call on Him. He is there. I also encourage you to turn to someone for help. There are good, well-meaning people all around you in this nation of compassionate people. If you don’t know where to start, find a Southern Baptist church in the phone book. Call them. They won’t judge you, and they very likely will be able to help.

My friends, all is not lost. There is a God in heaven, and this is a nation full of kind-hearted people. Flawed, sinful, yes, but ready to drop everything and rush into harm’s way. A nation that demonstrated once again its resolve to care for its own can rise above any danger. May God help us bring that same resolve to every pocket of poverty, brokenness, despair, sorrow and desperation. May He help us band together and forge our way forward through all of our current problems to a higher ground for His glory and for our better future together. With God’s help, we can. May God bless America.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
4/22/2013 2:55:05 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why we should rein in payday lenders

April 19 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The debt trap. Millions of Americans are caught up in it. It’s easy to get in debt and often very hard to get out. This is especially true if you live on the edge of poverty. People on the edge of poverty have very little room for an unexpected expense. So, what do they do when one inevitably occurs? Many turn to payday lenders. And in doing so, they often make their poverty worse.

Here’s how it works. A payday lender offers to lend a single mother, say, $500 to help pay for an unexpected expense, like a car repair. He offers a simple deal – repay the loan in two weeks with 15 percent interest. In other words, when her next paycheck comes in. She can’t afford the loan and doesn’t know how she will repay it, but she needs her car to get to work and college and her children to daycare. “OK,” she says to herself, “I’ll figure it out in two weeks.” Two weeks come in a hurry, and suddenly she owes $565, the $500 loan plus 15 percent interest. That’s right, it’s not 15 percent annual interest. It’s 15 percent two-week interest.

She goes to the lender and explains her problem. He says, “No problem.” Just pay the interest due and he can extend the loan for two more weeks, at another 15 percent interest. What choice does she have? She pays the $65 and signs on for another two weeks. You see where this is heading, don’t you? Every two weeks, things are the same, and this woman is now paying out $130 a month on a $500 loan, with no end in sight.

In many states today, this is legal. These so-called businesses are charging an effective 390 percent annual interest rate, served up in two-week bites of 15 percent.

Now, many would say that the people who go to these lenders should know better. They should read the fine print more carefully and realize what the actual charges are going to be. They should know they won’t be able to pay back their loan in two weeks. I agree. But, hey, if you are drowning, and someone offers to throw you a rope if you just sign on the dotted line for a little bit of interest, you might accept the deal, too, only to regret it when it’s too late.

Just because people should know better doesn’t mean we should allow such clearly predatory practices to occur. I know, “buyer beware,” but we don’t live by that philosophy in most other areas of life. We have a Food and Drug Administration for a good reason. Unscrupulous people do exist and some will do anything they can to make a few more dollars. I’m glad someone is watching and holding them accountable.

But right now, in many of our states, no one is watching these payday lenders. The result is that vulnerable people are being held captive and paying outrageous amounts of interest on very small loans. Some states have reined in these lenders. Some have capped annual interest rates at 36 percent. Even 36 percent is high, but it sure beats 390 percent. Let me encourage you to check your state’s laws governing payday loans. If your state hasn’t done anything to rein these people in, I hope you will contact your elected officials and demand that they do something to help protect vulnerable people in your communities.

Proverb 22:7 states, “The rich rule over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” It’s hard to imagine an instance where this is truer than with predatory payday lenders. Let’s join together and force them to offer their loans to people who need them in a way that treats them with dignity and not simply as an easy mark for ill-gotten profits.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This column first appeared at ERLC.com.)
4/19/2013 2:43:04 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Responding to those who say the Bible is outdated

April 19 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – It’s a common scenario. Someone objects to the Bible’s teaching on a point of ethics or morality (often homosexuality, promiscuity or divorce), so he cites a couple of Old Testament commandments and says something like, “Well, the Bible also says not to wear a garment made of wool and linen mixed together (Deuteronomy 22:11) and not to eat pork products or shrimp (Leviticus 11:7-12).”

The implication is either that the person upholding biblical standards of sexuality is a hypocrite because he’s wearing a linen/wool blend sport coat and ate a hotdog for lunch, or that the Bible’s commandments are inconsistent and therefore not credible. And it’s not just a hypothetical scenario. A recent New York Times op-ed article argued against a biblical position on homosexuality by suggesting that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally because it also says to “refrain from planting multiple kinds of seed in one field” and not to charge “interest to the poor.”

Such arguments may seem convincing at first. But their problem is a failure to recognize the Bible’s overarching storyline. They assume that scripture is largely a list of doctrines and rules. Since some of the rules seem outdated or impractical, the critics reason, all of them should be taken with a grain of salt. The problem with such reasoning is that the Bible isn’t merely a list of rules and doctrines. It’s a story about how God relates to the world He created. And with a little study it becomes obvious that God gives slightly different instructions to His people in different parts of the story.

In the Old Testament the Jews were God’s chosen people. He gave certain ritual and judicial laws to set them apart from the pagan, Gentile nations around them. The commands mentioned in the Times op-ed are perfect examples. Leviticus 19:19 told the Israelites not to sow a field with two different kinds of seed. The idea was to set Israelite fields apart from Gentile fields, marking the Jews as God’s set-apart people. Similarly, Deuteronomy 23:19-20 forbade Jews from charging interest on loans to their countrymen, particularly the poor, though they were free to charge interest on loans to foreigners. Again, the command was intended to set Israelites apart from all other nations as God’s chosen people – with whom He had made a covenant and on whom He had set His love. Similar explanations apply to the commandments not to mix wool and linen and to refrain from eating certain types of meat.

After the coming of Christ, however, there was no longer a spiritual divide between Jews and Gentiles. All who placed their faith in Jesus could become God’s people, regardless of their nationality (Ephesians 2:11-22). Accordingly, God abolished the ritual and judicial laws that set Jews apart from non-Jews (Acts 10:9-48; Hebrews 8:13-9:28) – laws like those about sowing seed and charging interest. At the same time, God kept in force moral standards that promote holiness and general well-being, as in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. That’s why Christians are neither hypocritical nor inconsistent when, for example, they insist on keeping sex within monogamous, heterosexual marriage but do not keep Old Testament ceremonial laws.

Knowing the overarching story of scripture helps us to know Christ and see a hint of the gospel in every passage. That alone is reason enough to study the narrative of scripture. But in addition, knowledge of biblical theology makes us less vulnerable in those all-too-common circumstances when a critic begins, “Well, the Bible also says ...”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ. David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky.)
4/19/2013 2:34:59 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Solving society’s problems, beginning at home

April 18 2013 by Todd E. Brady, Baptist Press

JACKSON, Tenn. – While weighty issues of ethics are often pronounced from pulpits and courthouses across our nation, matters of morality are usually embraced and digested best by children around our own family dinner tables. Discussions of right and wrong carry a greater air of practicality when the family can see the whites of everyone’s eyes and where the conversation is laced with “tell me about your day” and “pass the potatoes, please.”

At his inauguration in 1963, Alabama’s governor drew a proverbial line in the dust, threw the “gauntlet before the feet of tyranny” and infamously proclaimed, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Six months later, a court order was given and the National Guard was mobilized to ensure James Hood’s and Vivian Malone’s entrance into the University of Alabama. Foster Auditorium became the showdown’s location where the stand in the schoolhouse door simply could not withstand the force of truth and justice.

That evening, June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy courageously addressed the nation, delivering a bold and direct speech calling on each citizen to “stop and examine his conscience about this and other related events.” Describing the issue of racial prejudice as a moral issue, President Kennedy articulated an idea which was “as old as the scriptures” and “as clear as the American Constitution.” He called on “Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public – hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores and similar establishments.” 

Then he delivered what may be the most significant line of his speech. He knew that the heart of the race issue lay not only with lawmakers who labored at the Capitol, but with parents who were raising their children at home. Yes, there would be laws, “but” as Kennedy said, “legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.”

We now find ourselves more than a decade into the 21st century. I personally take joy in the fact that my sons find themselves perplexed by those in our nation’s history who treated others in such an inhumane fashion. For my kids, it’s hard to imagine such a world where “whites” drank out of one water fountain and “coloreds” drank out of another. 

Progress is still to be made, but my children do live in a land where – in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. – “the sons of slaves and the sons of former slave-owners [are] able to sit down at the table of brotherhood.” My four children do in fact live in a place where they are judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Today’s challenges are unique. Just as our children cannot imagine the trials facing President Kennedy’s generation, I doubt he could have envisioned the day in which we live. As JFK challenged the nation concerning the racial problem of 1963, may we heed his words today. Let us realize that the solutions to society’s problems begin with us – in our own homes, around our own tables, with our own families.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd E. Brady is vice president for church relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.) 
4/18/2013 2:05:15 PM by Todd E. Brady, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The gay marriage debate: How would Jesus respond?

April 18 2013 by Rick Lance, Baptist Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The raging debate in popular culture is focused on same-sex marriage, with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing cases concerning the issue. The talking heads of the news media are enamored with the topic. Television commercials, even on the more conservative Fox News Channel, are now openly advocating a complete acceptance of same-sex marriage.

For many of us, this is most troubling. There was a time when such discussions were not even considered proper for small group or more private conversations. Now it is an open discussion with highly charged opinions on various sides.

Evangelical Christians, who hold fast to a traditional view of marriage, are often depicted as dinosaurs representing a long past epoch in history. This caricature leads to a sometimes venomous response from Christians. This makes for some unhealthy debate.

My response to all this chatter is multi-faceted. I really would like to cover my ears and pretend it is not happening. I would rather not hear such discussion or engage in it. The other response is to be distraught and disturbed by the debate to the point of anger and hostility.

Obviously, neither response is a good one. What is our best response? As always, we are at our best when we look to the example of Christ and seek to be Christlike, even when our own instinct is to withdraw from public debate or to become angry participants in it.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus, which means He is our Teacher and our Guide in living the Christian life. The old adage, “What would Jesus do?,” is an excellent introspective question for us. What would Jesus do?

1. What would Jesus do? I believe He would call sin, sin.

Jesus would not be a part of compromising the biblical nature of our understanding of marriage. He would hold high the standard we now call traditional marriage. In the language of the Apostle Paul, we are all sinners. We all have come short of the glory of God.

In our current society, the issue is self-esteem, not righteous living. Supposedly, when a newspaper reporter asked G.K. Chesterton what was wrong with the world, the apologist skipped over all the likely culprits of his day and ours. He did not talk about crooked politicians or nations seeking advantages through war. He did not discuss the failure of education or the structural evils of his time.

What is wrong with the world? As the story goes, he surprised the newspaper reporter with a two-word answer: “I am.” Chesterton understood our basic human nature is one of sin. As a writer recently noted in Christianity Today: What happened in Eden did not stay in Eden. This was the fall of all humankind.

When we understand that truism, we are certainly better able to respond to the continued encroachment of popular culture on biblical values. Left to our own devices, we will act out our sin. Extramarital affairs, pornography, homosexual behavior, greed and a multitude of other sins will abound. That is where the Bible comes in as our guide for Christian living. The Bible tells us about our sin, not just in proclamations but in illustrations from the past. The Old Testament is replete with these illustrations and proclamations, and the New Testament is not quiet about the subject, either.

2. What would Jesus do? I believe He would love with God’s love.

Jesus did not love in the abstract. He loved people personally and sacrificially. This was His mode of operation in His earthly ministry, and it still is today.

He loves us all, even while we are in our sin. Sin is destructive, His love is constructive. Sin tears down lives, His love builds up lives. Sin separates us from God, His love brings us to God. Sin stains our lives, His love cleanses our lives. We could go on and on describing the difference between sin and love. His love makes the ultimate eternal difference.

The woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus is a relatively familiar passage. What I note from examining this account of our Lord’s ministry is that He did not condone the sin of the woman. He did not take sin lightly but seriously. Nor did He condemn her to be consigned to her sin. No, Jesus challenged her “to go and sin no more.”

The enemies of this woman were the enemies of Jesus, too. He knew their motives were not pure. He knew that there was no one present who was without sin. That is why He declared, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” That should be a reminder to us today, as well.

Disciples of Christ love others like Christ did. The opponents we face in any discussion are also loved by Christ. Yes, we take a stand for what is right, but we do so with the admonition of Paul ringing in our ears: “Speak the truth in love.” When we speak the truth alone, without love, we sound harsh and hostile. When we speak only in love, we come across as spineless and without conviction.

Jesus was described by the Apostle John as being “full of grace and truth.” This is exactly what Paul was referencing in his admonition to speak the truth in love. When we are full of our Lord’s grace and truth, we certainly stand on solid ground. To do otherwise is to do a tremendous disservice to our witness for the Lord.

3. What would Jesus do? I believe He would pray for all people involved.

Jesus loved the discipline of prayer. The so-called Lord’s Prayer is just one illustration of this fact. Our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is another. His practice of prayer in His earthly ministry reminds us of the importance of prayer.

The Apostle Paul captured the importance of prayer in I Timothy 2:1-7. He underscores the priority of prayer by citing it first: “Therefore, first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving thanks should be done for all people.” Notice the word “first.” Before we debate, before we challenge others, before we offer our opinions, we are to first pray!

Consider the statement “for all people.” That means everyone, including those with whom we disagree. Those who represent the exact opposite of what we see as the Christian worldview should be the focus of our prayers. That is the biblical way. That is Christlike conduct, and that is the duty of all disciples.

We have two little boys who live next door to us. They are often at our house to play with “Miss Pam.” I don’t know who enjoys it more: the boys or the surrogate grandmother.

The other day the youngest one made a strange statement. He said, “If I don’t pray, will I shrink?” Apparently, something had been said in Sunday School about prayer helping us to grow and a lack of it causing us to shrink, not grow. The little fellow, like most children, took it literally. He was scared to death that he would shrink if he did not pray.

Perhaps, as adults, we ought to have a healthy fear of shrinking in our Christian witness and growth if we do not pray. Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” Maybe he had this in mind when he declared that simple imperative. Pray and you grow. Cease to pray and you shrink.

The world may view us as dinosaurs no matter what we do. However, our audience is not the world, it is our Lord! As faithful disciples, we need to follow His sacrificial example. He paid the price for our sins on the cross, but His love goes beyond us. He wants others to come to know Him as Lord and Savior. How we live in the wayward world can make an eternal difference in the lives of those who have yet to experience the love of Christ and the gift of life through Him.

To Christ, we are His disciples. To the world, we may be dinosaurs. Yet, I believe His disciples will always be present and dinosaurs no longer remain. I will accept the moniker of dinosaur as depicted by the world, as long as I am seeking to be a faithful disciple of Christ in an un-Christian culture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Lance is executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. This column first appeared on his blog at RickLance.com.) 
4/18/2013 1:50:04 PM by Rick Lance, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Home Run’ spotlights alcoholism, Christ-centered recovery

April 17 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Provident Films (“Courageous,” “Fireproof” and “October Baby”), along with Samuel Goldwyn Films, is set to release “Home Run,” in theaters on Friday (April 19).

FILM SYNOPSIS: “Home Run” is a faith-based production meant to give insight into the lives of people struggling with personal as well as professional problems. Featuring Scott Elrod (“Men in Trees”) and Vivica A. Fox (“Independence Day”), and directed by David Boyd, the story centers on Cory, a baseball player grappling with alcoholism. When Cory’s out-of-control drinking combines with his rage, his behavior creates a PR nightmare, his team suspends him, and he ends up in the small Oklahoma town of his youth, coaching Little League. Forced by his suspension to seek help, Cory’s only option is Celebrate Recovery. Ignoring it and its members at first, Cory ultimately hits rock bottom. But as will happen often with people who hit rock bottom, Cory begins to see that there is more to life than just him, and he is rescued by the realization that there is more to life than just the mental and physical.

REVIEW: While the baseball field may be the setting, “Home Run” is not really about sports. The story concerns the destructive nature of our addictive habits and our need for Jesus Christ to complete our lives. It also spotlights Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step restoration program launched by Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church some years ago. During the location shoot in Tulsa, Okla., I was able to talk with the co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, the review.

The makers of Home Run want the same thing as those in the secular end of the business – your financial support. My allegiance, however, is to you, not the well-intentioned moviemaker.

The acting, though sincere, is uninspired. Years ago, Jack Lemmon played an alcoholic in “The Days of Wine and Roses,” giving moviegoers a three-dimensional portrait of a man who finally faces his ailment. That film is gut-wrenching. Because of its poignancy and realism, if any film can cause people to seek help to control a life-destroying addiction, it may be the one. 

Home Run contains mostly the same message. Alas, we never feel Cory’s loss. Indeed, he really doesn’t lose anything. By film’s end, he’s reestablished and even wins back his former sweetheart. In Days of Wine and Roses, there is a loss, a tragic loss, and it does haunt us. What’s more, that film instills a fear of bad habits that can control a life.

Home Run is not a bad movie. It is, however, more like an infomercial than a movie. 

The picture’s strongest scene has the lead realizing that he can’t defeat his addiction. No one can. You’ll live with that craving the rest of your life. And there may be days when you take your eye off Christ or fail to contact a supportive ear, and succumb to the temptation. That’s when a minor character in the film reminds us that God knows each person’s frame. He studies the heart, not our works, loving us despite our shortcomings or our sins. This, as I said, is the film’s biggest strength, for it gives us all an insight into God’s unconditional love.

Allow me to finish up by including portions of the friendly interview I conducted in 2011 with the co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. John Baker, a former businessman and recovering alcoholic, graciously gave me as much time as I wanted to interview him while on location of the making of “Home Run.”

Q: John, let me get the money issue out of the way so people understand what the sole purpose is of Celebrate Recovery. How is the organization funded?

A: We’re a ministry of Saddleback Church. I’m on staff and receive a salary from the church. And although there are 19,000 churches that have a Celebrate Recovery program, we only have six people on the Celebrate Recovery headquarters. Our organization is built by volunteers. Some churches have become so big as far as Celebrate Recovery that they have now hired what they call Celebrate Recovery pastors. But they are funded by their own churches. By the way, neither the Saddleback Church nor the Celebrate Recovery organization receives any money from the film production. If I had money I would have paid to get a movie like this made. As far as the Celebrate Recovery churches, they don’t pay a penny to use the Celebrate Recovery program.

Q: How did the concept for Celebrate Recovery come about? And what exactly is the concept?

A: I had the addiction of alcohol for 19 years. It didn’t start off that way, but it became that way. One of the things secular organizations say of alcoholism is that it’s a disease. I call it the sin disease. The day I would be getting drunk, I was purposely sinning. But there was also a day, and I wish I could tell you the date, when that line got crossed and I could not stop drinking. My addiction owned me. And it wasn’t until I fully turned it over to Christ through the 12 steps that the hole in my life was filled. What you discover is that usually with every addiction, the addiction is just the symptom of the problem. 

Q: How do you find what that problem is?

A: That’s what you do in recovery. While recovering through my participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, I began desiring a program centered more on Christ’s teachings. I outlined a 13-page, single-spaced letter to Saddleback Senior Pastor Rick Warren detailing the purpose of the program. Rick’s response was, “John, you do it.” Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program based on eight principles drawn from the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. These are the foundation of the approach to dealing with a variety of personal issues ranging from substance abuse, alcohol addiction, sexual addiction, child abuse and more.

Q: For people in cities that don’t have this program, what would you advise them?

A: Start one! And we’ll help you.

Q: How would they go about that?

A: Go to the website (www.celebraterecovery.com) and find a recovery program close by. There’s a group finder on the site. Go check it out. Each group will have its own personality, so if you don’t like that one, go check out another one. There are representatives who are volunteers, who do training. You’re never left without help.

Q: They’re given materials?

A: Yes, in fact they can look at the materials on the website. 

Q: When you get a handle on your illness or your sin, do you find that another hindrance in your spiritual walk pops up?

A: Sure.

Q: If someone says to you, “Look, brother, God can’t bless you because you’re doing this or that,” that raises the question, when can God ever bless you?

A: I don’t say that, because God takes us just as we are. But He loves us too much to let us stay that way. Everybody who has sin is broken. We’ve all fallen short, all missed the mark – some of us to different extents. Their hurt may not have affected their life as drastically as drugs would. But God will continue to use you as long as you’re useful. Until He takes me home, I will not be fully recovered from sin. But He doesn’t ignore me because I struggle or fail. It’s so hard for us to comprehend that deep of a love. That’s one of the things I learned through the program.

Home Run is rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material. There is no language or sexuality.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
4/17/2013 1:38:22 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The marginalization of Christianity

April 17 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Those who say Christians in America are experiencing persecution are guilty, at the very least, of gross hyperbole. At worst, they insult the followers of Christ throughout the world who face real and severe persecution. 

However, I think it is fair to say that the wind of the marginalization of Christianity is beginning to stir. While, for now, marginalization is a breeze barely felt, if it ever begins to blow in earnest it will bring about radical change for people of faith in America, especially Christians. 

By marginalization, I mean the attitudes and actions taken by a society to demean and exclude those who are deemed undesirable or a threat to the public peace and order. Marginalization is always a precursor to persecution. 

An example, I believe, that qualifies as an effort at marginalization occurred during a military training event in Pennsylvania sometime last year.

According to a recent report on World Magazine’s website, “A U.S. Army Reserve training brief on extremism and extremist organizations puts evangelical Christianity at the top of the list of groups soldiers should watch out for, and avoid.”

“According to a Power Point presentation obtained and posted online by legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, the Army Reserve in Pennsylvania considers evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Mormons as dangerous as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” World reported. 

The U.S. Army Reserve presentation, according to World, also “said soldiers were prohibited from supporting ‘extremist organizations’ by attending public rallies and meetings or taking leadership roles in the groups.” 

According to a slide used during the Power Point presentation (slide 24 of 33), “Extremism is a complex phenomenon; it is defined as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions or strategies of a character far removed from the ‘ordinary.’ Because ‘ordinary’ is subjective, no religious group would label itself extreme or its doctrine ‘extremism.’” 

The text of the slide continues, “However, religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world; every religion has some followers that believe their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only ‘right way’ and that all others are practicing their faith the ‘wrong way,’ seeing and believing that their faith/religion [is] superior to all others.”

By that definition, Christianity is extreme, but not in the violent, forceful way suggested by the U.S. Army Reserve presentation. 

It was none other than Jesus who said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” He also said that unless one is born again, he or she cannot see the Kingdom of God. 

In order to experience Christ as the Way, Truth and Life, and be born again, one must confess he or she is a gross sinner deserving of nothing less than eternity in hell, repent of egocentric self-service, humbly seek forgiveness from a merciful God, accept Jesus’ death and supernatural resurrection as sufficient to secure salvation and commit to following the Lord, wherever He leads. 

The “extremism” practiced by the followers of Christ is on display in the bold simplicity by which they invite others to join them in embracing the audacious and paradoxical message that only by losing one’s life in Christ can one actually find their life. 

The extremism implied by the U.S. Army Reserve presentation is one of violence and force. Evangelical Christians reject these methods and even denounce them. They also find violence and force not only antithetical to the teaching of Christ, but also counterproductive to propagating the gospel. 

“George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, confirmed the presentation was produced by an individual without consent from or knowledge of the Army’s chain of command,” reported World. “The presentation is more than a year old, Wright said: ‘After receiving a single complaint following the presentation, this person deleted the slide, and it was never shown again. ... This person has apologized for any offense it may have caused, and we considered the matter closed.” 

While the Army might deem the matter closed, a few things remain troubling to me. If the slide in question was deleted and it was never again used, how – after more than a year – was Alliance Defending Freedom able to obtain it?

It is hard to dismiss the notion there is a slight breeze of marginalization stirring which seeks to demean evangelical Christians and diminish their influence in society. The Army Reserve presentation is but one example. 

If marginalization begins to blow in earnest and becomes overt toward Christians, it only will be a matter of time before outright persecution occurs. Marginalization is always a precursor to persecution. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
4/17/2013 1:34:30 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Praying for our seminaries

April 16 2013 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – I am aware that very few people in our Convention actually follow the denominational calendar to any great degree. However, on my personal blog from time to time I will mention some things that are actually on that calendar. Last week I wrote about SBC Seminaries Sunday which was listed on the denominational calendar for April 7.

I think most people know that we have six Southern Baptist seminaries that receive funding through the Cooperative Program. They are as follows:
  • Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif., Jeff Iorg, president
  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., Jason Allen, president.
  • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, La., Chuck Kelley, president.
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., Danny Akin, president.
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., Al Mohler, president.
  • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, Paige Patterson, president.
I ask that you pray for the presidents of these institutions. Did you know that we currently have approximately 16,000 students enrolled in some type of curriculum in our seminaries? That is an astounding statistic. In fact, never in human history have that many students studied for ministry under one evangelical denominational banner. These presidents have huge responsibilities in administering six of the largest theological seminaries in America. 

I ask you to pray for the students enrolled in these programs. Many of these students will be pastors. Some will be church planters. Others will go into mission work, whether on the international field or on the North American continent. Some will be staff members or other denominational workers. Pray that these seminary students will discern God’s call clearly and follow it totally. 

Pray for these schools as they find themselves in the midst of challenging economic days. While we heavily support the seminaries with Cooperative Program contributions, it serves as only one funding stream for these schools. The schools are also heavily dependent on the tuition of students. It is my hope, goal and prayer that we can increase our support of Cooperative Program ministries and therefore increase support of these seminaries and eventually lower the cost of seminary education. Why do I hope for this?

It is my prayer that students be able to graduate from school without cumbersome debt. I ask you to join me in that prayer. This will enable them to go on the mission field without a heavy financial burden. In fact, our International Mission Board requires missionary candidates to be debt-free because they have learned of the problems debt causes. 

It is my prayer that students can provide leadership for all size churches without burdensome debt. This allows them to go wherever God might lead and not have to always consider financial considerations as paramount. 

I am serious in my desire to see Cooperative Program ministry supported at a higher level – not so that the Cooperative Program will succeed, but so that specific ministries can be supported, such as the ministry of our seminaries. Our newest seminary president wrote recently, “As president of Midwestern Seminary, I have little desire to sustain a denomination’s machinery. I have even less desire to be or become a denominational bureaucrat. These things did not beckon me to Kansas City, nor will they keep me here. I do, however, desire to propel forward the kingdom of Christ by training pastors, ministers, and missionaries to strengthen his church and advance his Great Commission. This is exactly what the Cooperative Program is about.”

He is exactly right. The Cooperative Program is about one thing only – fueling the missions and ministries Southern Baptists believe in! Sunday was SBC Seminaries Day. Let us not let it be a day on a dusty denominational calendar that came and went with little notice or fanfare. Rather, let us pray for – and support – these wonderful ministries provided for by our beloved Convention. And if you know a seminary student and his or her family or a seminary professor or staff member, why not pause right now and lift them in prayer?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.) 
4/16/2013 2:39:13 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kermit Gosnell & the gospel

April 16 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Last week I was typing the name “Kermit Gosnell,” and my phone auto-corrected the name to “gospel.” I shuddered momentarily. After all, what could be more contradictory than the name of a notorious abortionist on trial for child murder, and the good news of the mercies of God in Christ? My smart phone, it turns out, was smarter than I was.

The Gosnell case is stomach-turning. Testimonies in court point to a sadistic man who would sever the spines of babies, in and out of the womb. They tell of a man so cold-blooded that he would keep the feet of unborn children as trophies of his evil. They speak of a man who would prey upon the poorest and most vulnerable women in his community in order to destroy their lives and those of their children. It’s hard to think of the gospel in the midst of all that evil.

But that’s just the point.

In the crucifixion narrative of Jesus, the gospel writers tell us that he was not hanged alone. On either side were thieves. That word “thief” has, I fear, taken the edge off of this scene for many contemporary Westerners. When we think “thief” we tend to imagine a shoplifter at Wal-Mart or a burglar cracking a safe. In this context, though, “thief” communicated a murderous terrorist, feared and reviled by all. Jesus in his crucifixion identified Himself with the worst and most violent of sinners, even in terms of the geography of his death.

The one criminal responded the way most of us, left to ourselves, would. He didn’t want repentance but deliverance. He taunted Jesus to rescue him, not from his sin itself but from the consequences of it. This is what Gosnell is seeking, to defend himself in court and escape prosecution. The one we have come to know as “the thief on the cross,” acknowledged the justice of his sentence, and pleaded for mercy. He identified himself with Jesus as King: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The gospel isn’t a mere matter of God exempting people from consequences. We could understand such pardons, handed out for cosmic misdemeanors or victimless crimes. The gospel comes to those who are the horrible, the damned.

How could this murderous doctor walk in every day to a chamber of horrors and do what he did? How could his nurses and assistants suppress the screams of these children, the spattering of blood? They do so by suppressing the conscience and walling over the embedded revelation of the justice of God. They pretend as though there will be no reckoning, no Judgment Seat, that somehow all of this can be kept secret, that they can take these secrets with them to the grave.

The gospel, though, reveals the justice of God. Sin cannot be hidden, and judgment cannot be escaped. The cries of the oppressed, the orphaned, the murdered, are heard, and their Redeemer is strong. Justification isn’t a matter of waving away consequences. It’s a matter of self-crucifixion, of embracing the judgment of God and agreeing with His verdict. And, in Christ, it’s a matter of being joined to another, one against whom no accusation can stand.

The Gosnell case is horrific. It ought to revolt us and to turn our stomachs and to shock our consciences. But Kermit Gosnell’s criminality is one of degree, not of kind. Left to ourselves, we would all be given over to the kind of cruelty and rage he displayed. Our hope, and his, cannot be in simply evading consequences. After all, the worst consequence facing Kermit Gosnell is not that he be executed or imprisoned. The worst consequence facing Kermit Gosnell is that he be handed over to being Kermit Gosnell, eternally separated from a just and holy God.

If we minimize God’s justice, and ignore the evil here, we eclipse the Gospel. But there’s another danger too. Many Christians are rightly upset that the media have ignored the Gosnell trial. Our internal media do the same thing, with our own cosmic crimes against God. Our hope isn’t in indulgence but in the kind of mercy that crucifies and resurrects.

The Kermit Gosnell story is one of severed spines and seared consciences. A gospel of justification without justice cannot picture a holy God. A gospel of justice without justification ultimately leaves us all without hope before the tribunal of God. The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks of both justice and justification, and brings them together in a Man drowning in His own blood at the Place of the Skull.

And on either side of Him, there were thieves.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and president-elect of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This column first appeared www.russellmoore.com.)

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4/16/2013 2:35:25 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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