April 2013

A homeschool legal case that deserves the nation’s attention

April 15 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Scripture says, “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Children are indeed a blessing from God. They also come with a God-given responsibility to raise them well. Everyone who takes that responsibility seriously understands that education is an important part of preparing their children for constructive adulthood.

Those who homeschool their children take that responsibility so seriously that they are willing to give up other personal pursuits. They want to make sure they pass on their values to their children and that their children have the best possible foundation for the future. 

Not everyone is comfortable with homeschooling, and homeschooling isn’t the only way to educate children. But as long as children are getting the foundation they need, we should respect the right of parents to decide how best to provide it.

Our country agrees with this. More than 2 million children are homeschooled here. The great majority of these children are well-educated and socialized. Increasingly, they are being admitted into many of our nation’s most prestigious universities. 

Regrettably, every nation isn’t as enlightened. Take Germany for example. It is illegal for parents to homeschool their children there. Today, in Germany, if you homeschool your children except for health reasons, you will be severely fined and can have your children taken away from you.

That’s what led the Uwe and Hannelore and their family to flee to the United States from Germany in 2008. Being committed Christians, they simply wanted to make sure their children learned within a Christian worldview. The German state would have none of that.

I am grateful that this mother and father take their responsibility to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord that seriously. Yet, our own government is siding with Germany. The Obama administration is seeking to deport this family back to Germany, where they will be fined and possibly have their children taken away from them.

The Obama administration says that what this family faces in Germany doesn’t constitute persecution. So, the administration says they don’t qualify for asylum. What would you call a threat to fine someone and take away their children if they feel compelled by God to educate them at home? 

Given our nation’s broken immigration system, by the time they could enter our country as legal immigrants, their children would have been long-ago taken away. Their only hope of teaching their children within a Christian worldview is to obtain asylum in the United States.

No government should punish parents because they want to educate their children within a Christian worldview. I say having five children taught the three R’s within a Christian worldview setting is a good thing. Indeed, we need more such children. If Germany doesn’t want them, that’s their loss and our gain.

Unless something changes soon, the Romeike family will be deported. Will you join me in helping them stay here? Start by praying that God will provide a way for them to stay. Then call your congressman and senators and ask them to help the Romeikes stay in the United States. Finally, go to the White House petition website (http://1.usa.gov/YKtFdk) and sign the petition urging the Obama administration to review their decision. It takes 100,000 signatures to force a White House response. The Romeikes need fewer than 1,000 more signatures by April 18. 

In this age of increasing secularism and godlessness, we should celebrate a family that seeks to pour their Christian values into their children. The Romeikes simply want do what we know God wants all of us to do for our children. Let’s help them do that.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
4/15/2013 4:23:57 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



REVIEW: ‘Not Today’ reveals horrible reality

April 15 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

STARRING: Cody Longo, Walid Armini, Persis Karen, John Schneider, Shari Rigby, Cassie Scerbo. Written & directed by Jon Van Dyke. 118 minutes. Opened April 12.
 
STUDIO FILM SYNOPSIS: Living as large as any 20-year-old could dream, Caden Welles’ expectations of a never-ending party in India crash hard – but not as hard as his conscience when he refuses to help a starving man and his little girl. After he discovers the father has sold his daughter, thinking she is going to a better life, not one of slavery, Caden is shocked, unnerved and guilt-ridden.

Attempting to right his wrong, Caden’s eyes are forced open to a world few Americans know exists: the thriving human-trafficking trade. Spurred by a true purpose, an unlikely friendship, and the prayers of his mother and girlfriend, Caden leads an unlikely search for the girl.

REVIEW: ”Not Today” is not without its cinematic faults. At times early on, it seems stilted, choppy. And the lead is one-dimensional (in the opening scenes), and a little too unlikable. But the film turns a corner, becoming an engaging acknowledgement/reminder of an unbelievable crime that exists worldwide – human trafficking. 

The acting also sparks up as if all before the camera were suddenly being directed, not just photographed. It eventually becomes a movie showing naive people coming face-to-face with injustice, not just an agenda-driven commercial for a well-intentioned organization.

Not Today gets us involved in the story and characterizations. What’s more, the film battles our indifference, our self-involvement and our cynicism. We’re Americans and, despite our foibles, of which some of our own countrymen think we have in abundance, we have a compassion for our fellow man like no other country. We are generous of spirit and, once made aware of a problem, we fix it. Or at least try. And occasionally a movie can be an insightful telegram. 

Not Today presents the problem, and then suggests ways we can solve it. My advice – see the film. And before you attend, pray the Holy Spirit will direct you. Who knows, seeking ways to battle evil deeds could become a ministry for you. 

Not Today receives its PG-13 rating for subject matter, but the content is handled discreetly as well as compassionately. There’s no objectionable language or graphic sexuality. The subject of what happens to little girls sold into sex slavery is suggested rather than visually represented. 

(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.)


Related story

‘Not Today’ an ‘eye-opener’ to modern-day slavery
4/15/2013 4:09:01 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



The Cooperative Program & the future of collaborative ministry

April 12 2013 by Jason K. Allen, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) – As a convictional Baptist, I am committed to two, and only two, ordinances for the local church – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If I advocated a third ordinance, however, it just might be the Cooperative Program. Of course I am speaking with hyperbole, but over the last 15 years my appreciation for this denominational staple has grown by the day. In concert with my deepening affection for the Cooperative Program has arisen a parallel, and increasingly urgent, concern for its future.
 
It has been said that numbers are like people: if you squeeze them, you can make them say whatever you want. Yet Cooperative Program statistics need not be squeezed to signal clear and troubling trends. Since the 1980s, the average percentage that churches allocate to the Cooperative Program has steadily declined. Over the past 25 years, the portion churches forward to the CP has decreased by almost 50 percent, dropping from 10.52 percent in 1987 to 5.41 percent in 2011. Moreover, one of the Cooperative Program’s predominant challenges is generational. Simply put, by and large, the younger the minister is, the less committed he is to it.
 
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 and precisely what I am about as well. To this end, we would do well to reconsider the case for the Cooperative Program.
 

Its New Testament ethos

In Paul’s correspondence, we repeatedly see churches praying for, financially supporting and ministering to other churches, individuals and missionary endeavors. This is exactly what the Cooperative Program does: it facilitates believers with similar convictions to accomplish more together than they could alone, all under a New Testament template.
 

Its proven success

Approaching nearly 90 years of existence, the Cooperative Program has advanced Kingdom causes unlike any human instrument in the history of the Christian church. For decades, Southern Baptists have been the envy of the evangelical world with our unified funding program that provides affordable theological education, deploys the largest missionary force in the church today, and supports numerous other ministries. The Cooperative Program is without peer as a proven tool for Gospel work.
 

Its current impact

The aforementioned financial challenges notwithstanding, we are witnessing the Cooperative Program’s impact on a scale as never before. In addition to the work being carried out at the state level, at the national level Southern Baptists are experiencing record enrollment in their six seminaries, all of which are training pastors, ministers, and missionaries for the church in the context of confessional integrity and denominational accountability. The North American Mission Board is demonstrating renewed effectiveness in church planting, and the International Mission Board is making great progress toward getting the Gospel to the world’s remaining unreached people groups. As never before, we need the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission speaking with a prophetic voice. Though the Executive Committee receives a decreasing portion of Cooperative Program funding, and Guidestone and LifeWay receive no CP support, Southern Baptists are well served by and can be well pleased with their respective ministries as well.
 

Its unifying effect

Southern Baptists tend to be Jacksonian at heart – both individualistic and opinionated. Yet, a closer look reveals collectivism and collaboration, not individualism, are the leading markers of Southern Baptists. As a convention with some 45,000 autonomous churches, the Cooperative Program is a constant reminder that we are not alone in the great spiritual struggle before us. Rather, we stand with millions of Southern Baptists from thousands of Southern Baptist churches, praying and partnering together for the advancement of the Gospel of Christ.


Its present vulnerability

A sluggish economy, shrinking offering-plate dollar, apathy among God’s people, and other factors are forcing almost every church to evaluate, and often trim, their budgets. Finance committees in churches throughout the denomination are wrestling with urgent budgetary decisions: Can we provide healthcare for our ministers? Should we grant our pastor a raise? May we undertake a new ministry initiative? Shall we tackle long-delayed maintenance needs? All of these considerations may be urgently important, but too often these conversations occur without a Cooperative Program advocate seated at the table. As the saying goes, the squeaking wheel usually gets the oil. When this is the case, the Cooperative Program often suffers.
 
The Cooperative Program should not be a sacred cow, for there is nothing sacrosanct about a funding mechanism. But, if it is much more than an organizational apparatus, and I believe it is, Southern Baptists of all stripes need to support, defend and promote the Cooperative Program. Neither guilt nor nostalgia should be our mode of promotion; rather, we should love the Cooperative Program because we love the church and the Great Commission.
 
As a denomination, we should be proud of the accomplishments of the Cooperative Program, and we must redouble our efforts to strengthen it. I say consider the evidence; the results speak for themselves. As you do, you and I might find ourselves of similar opinion: I don’t intend to argue for a third ordinance, but if I did, I might just argue for the Cooperative Program.
 
Sunday, April 14, is Cooperative Program Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting the SBC channel of support for state, national and international missions and ministries.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. This column first appeared at his website, http://jasonkallen.com/.)
4/12/2013 1:54:37 PM by Jason K. Allen, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments



Setting boundaries for online sharing

April 10 2013 by Ryan Mason, Parenting Teens magazine

Unless you have been hiding under a very large rock, you know the popularity explosion of social media among teens. This frenzy now spans across multiple generations with people tagging, pinning, posting, and tweeting about their lives.

Social media has made our world much smaller and better in many ways. You are literally a few clicks away from connecting with a school classmate, watching your friends’ children or your own grandchildren grow up hundreds of miles away. You can share your Aunt Hazel’s award-winning casserole recipe with complete strangers or let everyone know what you did last weekend.
 
Employers and even college admissions officials are now trolling through social media sites to get the backstory about potential candidates. However, the joys of social media can quickly become clouded with confusion over knowing the right amount of personal information to share. How do you know if you are guilty of sharing TMI (too much information)?
 
Shakespeare wrote that discretion is the better part of valor. It seems today that discretion has lost its application somewhere in antiquity. The popularity of social media, with more than 1 billion worldwide users, has created a virtual connectedness with very few boundaries. Parents are caught in a struggle between allowing their children to grow up and protecting them from danger that they do not even know exists. Discretion must be revived to develop healthy families with a proper view of themselves and others. Proverbs 2:11 reminds us that “discretion will watch over you, and understanding will guard you.”
 
But what does the word discretion really mean? “Discretion” is simply defined as the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid social embarrassment or distress. Have you ever embarrassed yourself in public? At least that slip of the tongue or clumsy fall happens and is usually soon forgotten. However, social media preserves your most embarrassing moments ad infinitum. That really cool picture you posted of your senior trip or that thing you did at the company party is now public domain for employers, future spouses, and your grandmother. Yes, she is online too!
 
So why do people feel inclined to post their most intimate details online? How can parents set appropriate boundaries for themselves as well as their children?
 

Avoid the waxed fruit

I have a vivid childhood memory of a large bowl of waxed fruit sitting on my grandmother’s dining room table. That bowl had some of the most delicious looking apples, grapes, and bananas you could imagine. I knew that fruit was fake, but those shiny apples proved to be an insurmountable foe and finally convinced me to take a bite one day. The result was less than pleasant and still makes me cringe whenever I see waxed fruit today.
 
Most of the problems we encounter in life are when we allow God’s best to become substituted with a counterfeit. Consider the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control (Gal. 5:22). These are pure characteristics of Jesus, but the world offers a distorted version. To love as Jesus loved means to sacrifice your own preferences for the good of another with no expectation of receiving anything in return.
 
Counterfeit love means to show affection to others for selfish reasons. In other words, your motivation to help others is to feel good about yourself.
 
Counterfeit self-worth is at the core of much of teen culture. Youth evangelist Jeffrey Dean observes that teens are pushing the boundaries of social media in a search for significance. He sums up a common teen perspective as “I’ll try whatever with whomever if you will love me forever.” Discretion becomes a small price to pay in order to gain enough popularity to make a teen feel loved. This attempt to find acceptance and self-worth has even carried over into the teen subculture.
 
Teens today are using the term YOLO (“You only live once”) to justify adventurous and sometimes dangerous behavior-both on and offline. YOLO can apply to almost anything, including driving your car too fast, buying an expensive pair of shoes at the mall, or sending racy text messages. The idea is that you are only young once so do what you want, have fun, and do not worry about tomorrow. A counterfeit. Waxed fruit.
 
The Psalmist declares that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Our worth and value are determined by God (Gen. 1:26) and demonstrated by His love for us through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8). The purpose of life is not simply to have fun, but to know and love God. It is true that we all have but one life to live. As Christians, we are called to live life on purpose and make every effort to advance the cause of Christ. The really cool thing is that we are not asked to go it alone. God’s supernatural power enables us to be His witness wherever we go (Acts 1:8). That includes the realm of social media.
 

How then shall we parent?

It is easy to get overwhelmed with the challenge of navigating social media when it comes to your teen. But the answer is found in a much broader context than just the do’s and don’ts of using social media. Here are a few thoughts that will hopefully help you in the journey.
 
It starts with you. Parents, there is no better teacher for your children than you. Are you modeling the kind of behavior that honors God in all areas of your life-including social media?
 
God’s design is for you to love the Lord with all your heart and then be the primary disciple maker of your children (Deut. 6:5-7). It is never too late to get started, but it is always too late to wait. Start today! Ask God to help you be the mom or dad that He intends and that your children desperately need. Let the church help but remember that it starts with you.
 

Don’t be ‘creeping’

A few years ago the term “helicopter parent” was coined to describe a parent that constantly hovers over their children. This type of parenting is sometimes in response to a past experience with absentee parents or just a desire to be involved, but the results are rarely positive. Today, teens may use the word “creeping” to describe this type of parenting. If you want to undermine the relationship you have with your teen, then make sure you comment on every status, picture, and video that they post. Better yet, go ahead and post those embarrassing baby pictures and tell all your online friends about your teen’s most awkward growing-up moments.
 
The purpose of parenting is not to embarrass your children but to train them in Christian living and release them as light-bearers into the world. The apostle Paul reminds us of our purpose when he writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Trust starts early. It has been said that trust is the highest form of leadership. The same can be said of parenting. Do your children know that they can trust you? Trust begins early in a child’s life and includes unconditional love expressed with appropriate boundaries.
 
The current generation is exposed to more destructive influences than any other in history, yet the trust factor remains true – maybe even more so – today. Teens need to know that they can trust their parents to set healthy boundaries around their lives. Parents are absolutely called to be protectors of their children, even with social media.The pressure for teens to test boundaries is just as real as the temptation for parents to hover overhead. Social media is the new venue that makes sharing our lives with the world only a click away. This is an exciting new reality, but left unchecked it can pose many serious threats.
 
Parents need to remember their biblical role as protector and primary disciple-maker for their children. This includes learning all you can about social media and being active in your teen’s life online as well as offline. Here are a few markers to help raise godly teens and get the best from social media:
 
  • Give unconditional love and support to your teen.
  • Help them understand that their worth comes from God (not their friends).
  • Always choose to be their parent first and friend second.
  • Protect with healthy boundaries.
  • Be an example of a Christ-follower. Avoid, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
  • Tell your daughters that you love them and they are beautiful.
  • Tell your sons often that you love them and are proud of them.
  • Discuss Internet safety and the consequences of “no discretion.”
  • Brainstorm together ways to advance the cause of Christ through social media-without being obnoxious!
  • Lighten up. It’s okay to have fun and be yourself online but use discretion!
 
Live by this rule: Never post anything online you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see! “Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on your commands.” Psalm 119:66
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ryan Mason serves as minister of education at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Parenting Teens, a LifeWay family magazine.)
4/10/2013 2:15:48 PM by Ryan Mason, Parenting Teens magazine | with 1 comments



Generational challenge confronts global church

April 10 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – The global spread of democracy doesn’t look nearly as promising as it once did.
 
High hopes for lasting freedom appear to be fading in Russia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia, to name a few countries where authoritarians, extremists, corruption and other forces have undermined fledgling democratic institutions. Dictators have fallen like bowling pins in some places, but the vacuum they left behind hasn’t necessarily been filled by freedom. Elsewhere, police states have proven surprisingly resilient in the face of challenges from globalization, demands for change and the spread of social media.
 
In the Middle East, epicenter of massive movements for change, “observers are increasingly cynical about the prospects for democracy, arguing that the Arab Spring has turned into an Islamist winter,” the journal Foreign Affairs reports. Radical Islamism is the biggest threat to liberty in the region. However, Foreign Affairs argued that “instead of fretting over Islamists, the international community needs to have a more nuanced conception of political transition in the Arab world and should strive to bolster institutions and economic reforms in post-Arab Spring countries.”
 
Maybe, but diplomats and democracy activists said the same thing when now-deposed dictators were still in power. Building durable democratic institutions and reforming national economies take time, even under favorable conditions.
 
Meanwhile, there are larger demographic forces at work worldwide.
 
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently compared three major countries: China, India and Egypt. Very different societies, very different governments.  “But there is one thing that all three have in common: gigantic youth bulges under the age of 30, increasingly connected by technology but very unevenly educated,” Friedman wrote. "The one that will thrive the most in the 21st century will be the one that is most successful at converting its youth bulge into a ‘demographic dividend’ that keeps paying off every decade, as opposed to a ‘demographic bomb’ that keeps going off every decade. That will be the society that provides more of its youth with the education, jobs and voice they seek to realize their full potential.”
 
India counted 560 million people under the age of 25 in 2011. Of that number, 225 million were between the ages of 10 and 19. In Egypt, the largest country in the Middle East, a million people are born every nine months, according to one estimate. Sixty percent of all Egyptians are under 25. The total population of the Middle East and North Africa surpassed 430 million in 2007. It’s expected to top 700 million by 2050. One in every three people in the region is between 10 and 24. Asia, by far the largest demographic region of the globe with more than 4 billion people, likely will increase to 5.3 billion by mid-century.
 
About one in every five people on earth is between the ages of 15 and 24. Eight in 10 of them live in Africa and Asia. As population growth rates stabilize or even decline in the West – particularly Europe – future growth will come almost entirely in the global East and South. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The “demographic dividend” Friedman identified could benefit many countries – if young workers can fuel productivity and prosperity in once-poor areas of the global East and South.
 
They want jobs. They want better lives. But prosperity alone isn’t enough for them. Even freedom and democracy aren’t enough. They want something more – and they are absorbing ideas from all directions.
 
“We’re sitting on a tectonic plate that is shifting,” a mission leader in the Middle East told me last year. “If expectations continue not to be met, we’ll see another [political] earthquake. But this is a really good time for anybody who wants to discuss ideas. The marketplace of ideas has changed radically. For the Gospel, we need to be in the conversation.”
 
Another Christian worker in the region put it this way: “People here are craving life. They’re craving change and not just political and economic change. Their deep heart cry is for answers. What they grew up with is not giving them answers.  [The current political turmoil eventually] will create even more of a spiritual harvest. What men meant for evil, God will use for good.”
 
Most of the people groups currently unreached or unengaged by the Gospel live in the vast eastern and southern regions experiencing rapid population growth. Most of the countries in those regions have a high percentage of children, teens and young adults.
 
Making disciples among them is the great generational challenge facing the 21st-century church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)
4/10/2013 2:07:29 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The 'ferocious Christian gentleman' behind Jackie Robinson's famous moment

April 9 2013 by David E. Prince, Baptist Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The number “42” is sacred in Major League Baseball. On April 15, 1997, it became the only number retired throughout the entire league. It is prominently displayed in every Major League park. Forty-two is synonymous with the man who most famously wore the number on his jersey – Jackie Robinson. Beginning in 2004, Major League Baseball permanently named April 15th Jackie Robinson Day each year, marking the day in 1947 when Robinson, a 28-year-old rookie, courageously ran onto Ebbets Field transforming one of the most sacred spaces in American culture.
 
As I write, baseball fans are eagerly anticipating the April 12 release of “42,” the biographical film about Robinson's monumental life and historic achievement. The lionization of Robinson as a significant hero of civil rights in America is heartening but there is an oft-forgotten hero of the saga. Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger president who signed Robinson, were equally indispensible partners in what Rickey deemed the “great experiment.”
 
Rickey meticulously planned and shaped the master narrative for integrating the national pastime but it could not have been accomplished without a unique player of great ability, personal courage, and unfathomable self-control. Rickey said of Robinson, “God was with me when I picked Jackie. I don't think any other man could have done what he did those first two or three years.” And Robinson would say that in his estimation Rickey did more for African Americans “than any white man since Abraham Lincoln.”
 
It is easy to miss the historical magnitude of that moment in 1947 for the advance of civil rights in America. Consider that when Rickey signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in baseball, it was a year before President Truman ordered the US military desegregated, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, 10 years before President Eisenhower used the US military to enable the Little Rock Nine to attend Central High School in Arkansas, 16 years before MLK's “I have a Dream”speech, 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 18 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
 
Looking back on his role in the integration of baseball Robinson concluded, “I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey's drama and that I was only a principal actor.”
 
Robinson’s overstated, self-deprecating, observation is helpful in remembering that breaking the color barrier in baseball did not begin with the “great experiment.” Mr. Rickey’s drama began with his family’s Midwestern Baptist and Wesleyite Methodist roots. His father was described as a “pious, devout, religious man ... a genuine New Testament Christian” and his mother is said to have taught Branch countless Scripture stories even before he could read. Biographer Murray Polner described Rickey as a conservative evangelical Christian whose religious faith was the decisive factor in his commitment to racial equality. Rickey would often repeat the family motto he learned as a child, “Make first things first, seek the Kingdom of God, and make yourself an example.”
 
Biographer Jimmy Breslin argues, “It was Rickey who broke the color line in baseball” and his motive was that “he thought it was God’s work.” Breslin unflinchingly states, that because of the consequences, Rickey accomplished “the single most important act in the history of this nation,” Rickey said, “I believe a man can play baseball as coming to him from a call of God.” Looking back on Rickey’s life and legacy, one would have to conclude that he viewed being a baseball executive as a call of God as well.
 
Branch Rickey was a baseball man to the core. He loved the game from childhood. Playing professionally for the St. Louis Browns, Rickey told a reporter his goal in life was “to be both a consistent Christian and a consistent ballplayer.” By all accounts, he was successful in the former but his professional playing career was less than stellar. He possessed a career batting average of .239 with three home runs in three seasons and as a catcher he holds the record for allowing 13 stolen bases in a single nine-inning game. In 10 years as a Major League Baseball manager, Rickey accumulated a pedestrian 597 wins and 664 losses.
 
In 1926, Rickey moved exclusively into his role as a baseball executive that would lead into his induction in the baseball Hall of Fame. Rickey-led teams won four World Series championships in his 29 years. He revolutionized baseball and gained a competitive edge over other clubs by his innovation of using farm clubs to develop players for the big league club. Rickey was known as a Bible-quoting, tight-fisted Republican, a fierce competitor, and a shrewd negotiator whom players referred to as “El Cheapo.” It was said that Rickey's everyday speech resembled a sermon and second baseman Eddie Stankey once retorted after negotiating his contract with Rickey, “I got a million dollars' worth of free advice and a very small raise.”
 
In 1903, Rickey was the 21-year-old head baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan University when his Christian conviction collided head on with his love for the great game. Charles Thomas was recruited by Rickey to play catcher and was the only black player on the team. OWU traveled to South Bend, Ind., for a game against Notre Dame. When they arrived the hotel clerk refused to allow Thomas to stay because of a whites-only policy. Rickey persuaded the hotel to allow Thomas to go to his room and later requested a cot. That evening Rickey found his catcher sobbing and rubbing his hands and arms convulsively while muttering, “It's my skin. If only I could wipe off the color they could see I am man like everybody else!” Rickey told him to “Buck up!” and said, “We will beat this one day!” but later noted, he never felt so helpless and vowed at that time that he would do whatever he could to end such humiliation.
 
As an executive for the St. Louis Cardinals, Rickey unsuccessfully pushed for an end to segregated seating at the park and tested the waters for racial integration of the team but feared that a premature attempt in the wrong place would set back the cause. When Rickey left the Cardinals for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 he immediately took the initiative to integrate baseball. The cultural moment and the location of the Dodgers in Brooklyn made it an opportune time for Rickey to act. Americans of all races were fighting in World Ward II against racist ideology in Europe while racist Jim Crow laws were in place back home. The tragic irony was slowly becoming apparent to many Americans. In Brooklyn, Rickey was in a place where he could make a credible case to ownership of potential profits if they were the first club to sign black players. Rickey used his business acumen to serve his conviction that segregation was morally indefensible.
 
In March 1945, Branch Rickey met at Joe’s restaurant with Red Barber, the beloved Dodgers broadcaster, to tell him of his plan to sign a black man to play for the Dodgers. Barber was initially appalled but recalls Rickey telling him that he had to act because he had heard Charles Thomas crying for 41 years. At that time, he did not know who that player would be but later that summer scouts had narrowed the list down to a handful of players. It seems the initial plan was to sign several players at once but instead Rickey settled on Jackie Robinson.
 
In their first meeting, Aug. 28, 1945, Rickey stunned Robinson with the news he wanted him to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He grilled him for hours and made him commit to three years of non-retaliation. Rickey read to him from Giovanni Papini's book “Life of Christ” and pointed him to the biblical account of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Rickey told Robinson, “We can’t fight our way through this Robinson. We've got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners. No umpires. Very few newspapermen. And I'm afraid many fans will be hostile. We'll be in a tough position. We can win only if we convince the world that I'm doing this because you are a great ball player and a fine gentleman.”
 
Rickey believed that the right player, who was also the right person, full of moral courage, willing to commit to non-retaliation for three years – except with his play on the field – could end what he called an “odious injustice.” There is a sense in which Rickey laid out an incipient strategy that would be later utilized by Martin Luther King Jr. in the larger Civil Rights movement. Rickey said about signing Robinson, “I couldn’t face my God much longer knowing that His black creatures are held separate and distinct from His white creatures in the game that has given me all I own.”
 
In his excellent biography on Branch Rickey, Lee Lowenfish describes him in the sub-title as “Baseball’s Ferocious Gentlemen.” What an apt and powerful description. He was ferocious. Journalist John Chamberlain described Rickey as “one of the slyest men who ever lived, but in all fundamentals, a man of honor.” He was passionately driven to succeed and made no apologies for turning a profit in the process. Yet his aggression and fierceness were guided by his Christian conviction and worldview. His life embodied Jesus’ admonition to His disciples, sheep in the midst of wolves, to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
 
On November 13, 1965, Branch Rickey stepped to the podium to speak after having been inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Baseball’s ferocious gentleman had left the hospital against the advice of his doctors because, as he often said, “it is better to die ten minutes sooner than to live doing nothing.” He rose to speak about a topic he had lived – courage. He spoke of having objectives on which there is no price and began to tell the biblical story of Zaccheus, who he said, “Had the greatest amount of courage of any man in the Bible.” He did not get to finish telling about one of his favorite biblical characters because – while still speaking – he collapsed, and less than a month later died.
 
Perhaps adding one word to Lowenfish’s descriptive title of Rickey would prove helpful – Baseball’s Ferocious Christian Gentleman. But I fear the moniker, “ferocious Christian gentleman” sounds oxymoronic in contemporary evangelical circles where manhood is often reduced to being a nice guy and God is envisioned as a kind of cosmic smiley face. Where Christian discipleship is cheapened to generic niceness, men pursue comfort and respectability in the place of self-sacrificial “great experiments” that demand ferocious Christian gentlemen.
 
Billy Graham said of Branch Rickey, “He was a man of deep piety and integrity – that rare combination of a ‘man’s man' and a Christian man, at the same time.” Here’s hoping Graham is wrong and the combination is not so rare, because our churches are in desperate need of some ferocious Christian gentlemen.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. He also serves as assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.)
4/9/2013 5:34:19 PM by David E. Prince, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘After-birth abortion’: a moment of clarity in the abortion debate

April 5 2013 by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One side talks about choice. The other side talks about life. In the abortion debate, there are few times when clarity breaks through so that only the most ardently committed, truly pro-abortion advocates can fail to see – or at least admit – the moral reality of abortion.

Such a moment of clarity occurred March 27 before a Florida House of Representatives committee considering a bill that would provide protections to children born alive after a failed abortion. The measure would require medical attention be given after “botched” abortions – that is, where the baby lived rather than died. A Planned Parenthood lobbyist opposed the bill, dumbfounding even a life-long pro-choice lawmaker.

During the Civil Justice Subcommittee’s consideration of the “Infants Born Alive Act” (HB 1129), Alisa LaPolt Snow, a lobbyist representing Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, testified that what happens to a live baby of a “botched” abortion should be the decision of the woman and her doctor.

The bill “inserts politics where it does not belong,” said Snow, never minding the fact that the bill sponsor, Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, is an emergency medicine physician.
 
“Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith with the counsel of her physician or health care provider without the interference of politicians,” she said.

Snow, no doubt understanding the awkward position her opposition put her in, felt obligated to add, “I want to be sure to say that Planned Parenthood condemns any physician who does not follow the law or endangers a woman’s or a child’s health.”

Still, she insisted, “But we do not believe that politicians should be the ones who decide what constitutes the best medically appropriate treatment in any given situation.”

Responding to Snow’s testimony, four incredulous lawmakers asked her 10 questions, seeking to understand why Planned Parenthood would oppose requiring medical assistance to living children.

“So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” Snow responded.

Snow could not answer another lawmaker’s question concerning what Planned Parenthood doctors do in the circumstance of a live birth.

Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, pressed further: “Along the same lines, you stated that a baby born alive on a table as a result of a botched abortion that that decision should be left to the doctor and the family. Is that what you’re saying?”

Snow replied, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.”

“I think that at that point the patient would be the child struggling on the table, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Oliva.

Through a nervous smile Snow stammered, “That’s a very good question. I really don’t know how to answer that. I would be glad to have some more conversations, you know, with you about this.” 

On his own, Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, a lifelong pro-choicer, asked Snow five times in multiple ways why Planned Parenthood opposes the bill. After Snow semantically dodged the questions and repeated the essence of her testimony and prior answers, Clelland asked in exasperation, “What objection could you possibly have to obligate a doctor to transport a child born alive to a hospital where it seems to me they would be most likely to be able to survive?” 

Snow weakly answered that there are some “logistical issues involved that we have some concerns about.” 

The measure passed on a 10-2 vote, with several pro-choice members voting in favor, including Clelland.

“I’ve been pro-choice my whole life,” Clelland said before the vote. “I can’t think of a more sensible bill.”

Clelland told Sunshine State News, “It floored me that this exists at all, ever. When I heard this happens, I was just taken aback.”

Still, Clelland admitted he had some misgivings about one aspect of the bill that Pigman indicated he was willing to adjust regarding the mother’s “surrender” rights to the child.

Snow’s 8-minute testimony has ricocheted around the Internet, with even Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (@WillWeatheford) tweeting a link to one account, including video, of Snow’s “extremist” views. 

As shocking as Snow’s testimony is, in reality she merely articulated the moral logic of the so-called “pro-choice” movement. 

In their more frank moments, the most radical of pro-choice advocates have argued that babies – whether disabled or not – can be killed after birth since the moral status of young children is no different than those killed by abortion. Euthanasia of the elderly and infirm adults is the logical consequence of the pro-choice view on abortion. 

Last year, the London-based Journal of Medical Ethics published an article arguing that newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life,” reported the British newspaper, The Telegraph

The article, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” was written by two ethicists who argue, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life of an individual.” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who teach in Australian universities, authored the article. 

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of a ‘subject of a moral right to life,’“ wrote Guibilini and Minerva. 

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her,” they wrote. 

As such, the ethicists argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense.” (It’s interesting that they use the female pronoun for the non-person child given the fact that girls are disproportionately the victims in sex-selection abortions.)

Therefore, the authors argue “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

Giubilini and Minerva prefer “after-birth abortion” to “infanticide” in order to “emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus.”

These ethicists may be more scholarly and frank than Snow, but their moral logic is the same, which is why Planned Parenthood opposes Rep. Pigman’s humane legislation. Such is the nature of pro-choice logic that what would seem reasonable to most must be opposed by the abortion lobby.

One conservative philosopher is known for the maxim, “ideas have consequences.” Indeed, they do. And ideas based on faulty moral reasoning result in living babies of “botched” abortions without legal protection. 

There is one thing upon which pro-choicers and pro-lifers are agreed: There really isn’t any difference in the moral status of unborn and born children. 

Where we are worlds apart is in the nature of that status. “After-birth abortion,” whether implicitly condoned before a legislative committee or explicitly argued in an academic journal, confronts us with moral clarity about what’s at stake in this debate – a vulnerable human being, indeed an actual person made in the image of God, worthy of protection under the law.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the Florida Baptist Witness, where James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor.)


Related story

Infanticide OK, Planned Parenthood rep says

4/5/2013 1:33:28 PM by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The way a discussion about homosexuality should go

April 5 2013 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A few years ago I joined leaders of a Christian organization in a meeting with executives of a Nashville TV station. They were preparing to launch a new program catering to gays and lesbians. We asked them to reconsider.

Among the TV executives was a lesbian. She wanted to know why Christians couldn’t just accept her for who she is. It was the only time I recall speaking up, and I said something like this:

“I accept you for who you are, if you accept me. We are both sinners who struggle with many desires. Some of them are good and some of them are not. The Bible teaches us how to tell the difference. At the end of the day, you and I must decide whether to act on these sinful desires. When we come to the point of losing our shame over sinful behavior – and actually celebrating it – we find ourselves in deep spiritual trouble.”

It wasn’t the answer she expected. It neither confirmed her suspicion of Christian malice nor compromised biblical truth. The meeting ended cordially. A few weeks later the station premiered “Out & About.”

The experience raised my awareness that many gays think Christians hate them. Perhaps some Christians do, as evidenced by the self-righteous protestors that stand on street corners and hoist hateful signs. 

But they do not represent Christianity nor the Christians I know, who strive to follow the example of Jesus to be soft on people and hard on sin. This is challenging when the people we are called to love cast us as bigots, hatemongers and hypocrites. 

The Apostle Peter urges us to always be ready to give a defense of our faith “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16). So perhaps this is a good time to rehearse a hypothetical conversation with a gay friend, who asks pointed questions.

Q: Why do you hate homosexuals?

A:
Have I said something to give you that impression? If so, I am truly sorry. In fact, if any Christian expresses hatred toward you, they have denied the command of Jesus to love everyone. Jesus loved people enough to speak the truth to them, however. He confronted them about their sin while offering forgiveness. That’s something we both need. You and I share a sin nature – a natural tendency to live independently of God. Jesus calls us to repentance and offers us eternal life.

Q: Jesus never spoke against homosexuality.

A:
Actually, He did. He affirmed God’s creation of male and female, along with God’s intent for one man and one woman to be joined in marriage for a lifetime (Matthew 19:4-6). Anything outside of God’s design is sin – and that includes all forms of sexual immorality. Jesus also affirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament, which identifies homosexuality as sinful behavior; and He called Paul, who wrote against homosexuality, to be an apostle. 

Q: I want to marry my partner. What right do you have to stop me?

A:
Don’t I have a right to express my views and vote my convictions? Besides, no one is entirely free to live as they please. A man in love with two women is not permitted to marry them both. The laws respecting the sanctity of marriage are based on the conviction that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman, and that this is our Creator’s design for enjoying intimacy and raising children.

Q: Some day the laws will change.

A:
Maybe so, but that won’t make them right. God’s standards remain the same because He is a God of supreme holiness who knows what’s best for us.

Q: Who are you to tell me what’s right and wrong? The Bible says judge not, doesn’t it?

A:
It does indeed. Do you believe the Bible? If so, you can look there for God’s standards of right and wrong.

Q: Am I going to hell?

A:
That’s not my call. And it’s not God’s desire for you. 

Q: You must think homosexuality is the unpardonable sin.

A:
Of course not. But you make a good point. As Christians speak out against homosexuality, they should speak out with equal conviction against adultery, pornography and other sins that may ensnare all of us. While some sins carry more severe human consequences, all sins grieve the heart of God and led Jesus to the cross, where He bore the penalty for my sins, and yours.

Q: But I was born this way.

A:
I don’t believe so. Studies regarding the “gay gene” show that biological processes may influence behavior but do not determine it. Sin comes naturally to all of us. But Jesus offers us victory over sin and will change our desires. The Apostle Paul wrote to Christians who once engaged in homosexual acts and other sinful behavior, saying, “Some of you were like this; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. Phillips is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net. This column first appeared in The Pathway, newsjournal of the state convention.)
4/5/2013 1:27:29 PM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



History, the Supreme Court & gay marriage

April 4 2013 by Evan Lenow, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – I have been telling my classes that we are living history in this moment. Most of us take little notice of the oral arguments being made before the Supreme Court of the United States. We recognize few of the names of cases, and even fewer names of those who have served as justices. However, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor may become as familiar as Roe v. Wade or Lawrence v. Texas. In fact, the names Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan may become quite familiar through the years. Much of the historical significance of these cases and justices hinges not on what happened during the oral arguments on March 26–27, 2013, but on the written opinions that will likely be released in June.

The two cases address one of the most controversial cultural issues of our day – same-sex marriage. Hollingsworth takes up the question of California’s Proposition 8 and whether the constitutional amendment approved in 2008 that defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the state can stand. The Windsor case is the challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The DOMA section in question restricts federal marriage benefits to heterosexual marriages.

I am the son of an attorney but not one myself, so I will not attempt a legal analysis of the cases. However, I want to address some of the cultural and ethical implications of the debate.

First, the heart of the debate is the definition of marriage. As noted by Theodore B. Olson, attorney for the couples challenging Prop 8, “the label ‘marriage’ means something.” Mr. Olson is correct. Marriage has a meaning. In his argument, he tried to convince the justices that civil unions were not enough – marriage was the only acceptable label for his clients’ relationships. Chief Justice John Roberts responded to Mr. Olson by stating, “If you tell a child that somebody has to be their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, ‘This is my friend.’ But it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend.”

Chief Justice Roberts went straight to the core issue. What is the meaning of marriage? There are essentially two approaches. Supporters of same-sex marriage typically define marriage solely as an intimate, emotional union between individuals. By contrast, defenders of traditional marriage define marriage much more specifically. In their book, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George offer what they call the conjugal definition of marriage:

“There is a distinct form of personal union and corresponding way of life, historically called marriage, whose basic features do not depend on the preferences of individuals or cultures. Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses’ preferences.”

Chief Justice Roberts implied in his comment that allowing same-sex marriage would completely change the definition of the term “marriage.” The change would be so significant that the historical understanding of marriage would no longer apply. This is a key element of the debate. Attaching the term “marriage” to same-sex relationships so changes the meaning of the term that it no longer carries any of its historical meaning and context.

Girgis, et al, make a couple of key observations in their definition. Marriage is comprehensive. It involves all aspects of life. It is expressed through sexual intercourse that is directed to procreation. Of course, not all heterosexual intercourse results in procreation, but all homosexual intercourse is biologically incapable of procreation. The procreation of children and rearing them are then part of the meaning of marriage, but once again, same-sex partners cannot produce their own biological children.

A change to the historical definition of marriage is required for same-sex marriage to be legalized. It is not just using the term for a new type of relationship. It is a complete change in the meaning of the term.

Second, the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to other distortions of marriage. Most of the proponents for same-sex marriage ignore the logical implications of any legal success on their part. In redefining marriage as an intimate, emotional bond, there is no limit placed upon who can get married and how many. The legalization of same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy, polyamory and incestuous marriage.

Is that not simply an overreaction? Not at all. In fact, there is already a federal lawsuit in Utah calling for the decriminalization of bigamy using the exact logic of same-sex marriage. If an emotional bond between two men or two women can be called marriage, why not an emotional bond between one man and two women, or two men and one woman, or two men and two women? Or what about an emotional bond between a brother and sister or two cousins? The revised definition of marriage places no logical or biological limits.

Third, many proponents of same-sex marriage have employed civil rights language to support their cause. However, same-sex marriage is not a civil right. One of the biggest differences between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and same-sex marriage is that the minority seeking protection today are only known by self-identification.

Voddie Baucham summarizes it this way:

“Determining whether or not a person is black, Native American, or female usually involves no more than visual verification. However, should doubt remain, blood tests, genetics, or a quick trip up the family tree would suffice. Not so with homosexuality. There is no evidence that can confirm or deny a person’s claims regarding sexual orientation.” [1]

If “protected class” status can only be determined by self-identification, there is no way to protect that class. In fact, that class truly does not exist in the legal sense because it cannot be identified. Co-opting the language of civil rights for this debate is an offense to minorities of all types, especially African Americans who fought so hard to gain equal rights (including the right to marry members of other ethnicities) decades ago.

So what can Christians do about this? Our first step is to affirm the truth of scripture. Beginning in Genesis, all statements about marriage involve a man and a woman. Genesis 2:24 declares, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus affirmed heterosexual marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 as he stated, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female ... ? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” From the Old Testament to the New Testament, Scripture teaches marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. We need to teach this and live it out.

Next, we need to address the sin of homosexuality. Romans 1:26-27 clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin. Paul writes:

“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

But homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin. Paul makes an interesting observation in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. After giving a list of sins describing the unrighteous – including the sin of homosexuality – Paul states in verse 11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Even in the church in Corinth, there were former homosexuals. Their lives had been characterized by such sin, but no longer. It is our responsibility to declare the life-changing truth of the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work.

We are watching the world change before our very eyes. How will the Supreme Court decide? No one knows at this point. The implications, however, are clear. This will impact our culture, but God’s Word never changes. May we declare his Word with boldness no matter the cost.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Lenow is assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first was posted at www.TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)
4/4/2013 12:55:21 PM by Evan Lenow, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Zombies & the resurrection

April 4 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Watch out. They’re coming. And if they bite you, you’ll soon be joining them – after you die an agonizing death, reanimate and become one of the “undead.”

I’m talking about zombies, of course. You can find them stumbling around looking for their next human snack in countless comics, books, computer games and movies. “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular shows on TV, follows the grim adventures of survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they fight off hordes of mindless-but-hungry creatures in Georgia. No wisecracks, please; that’s my home state.

How did zombies become so big all of a sudden? It’s not all that sudden. George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the low-budget movie that started the flesh-eating zombie craze, oozed onto theater screens in 1968. In fact, zombies entered American pop culture long before that. American soldiers who occupied Haiti in the 1920s brought back fearful tales of dead men working the fields, controlled by evil voodoo masters – part superstition, part folklore emerging from the brutal Caribbean legacy of slavery. “White Zombie,” starring Bela Lugosi (the original movie Dracula), came out in 1932.

There are any number of theories floating around about why folks are fascinated with zombies, ranging from our timeless appetite for scary stories to heavy-duty dissertations analyzing our fear of global pandemics, terrorism, world-ending wars and even the dehumanizing effects of consumer culture.

But there’s a deeper and more universal human fear underlying the zombie obsession: our dread of death itself. And what comes after.

“The zombie’s horror is that he is ... a slave forever,” culture commentator Russell Moore (president-elect of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commisssion) wrote in a Baptist Press column last year. “After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free. That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians. Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They’re horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And beyond that, they still crave. ... [T]hey are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slave master’s will. That’s our story” – the story, in other words, of fallen human beings enslaved by sin and death.

No matter how hard our youth-obsessed culture tries to convince us otherwise, we know death is coming. I appreciated the honesty of actress Valerie Harper, whose recent announcement that she has incurable brain cancer brought a national wave of sympathy. “We’re all terminal,” she responded to well-wishers in one interview. “And we have a lot of fear [about] death.”

To allay that fear, secularists and pop spirituality hucksters assure us there are no such things as heaven, hell or a God who will judge our sins in view of eternity. We know deep down they are wrong, but many of us go along with the charade or fail to challenge it. It’s a comforting fiction for folks who reject or redefine biblical truth. It won’t be very comforting on Judgment Day.

Then there are the millions who ignore death (and any other serious subject) altogether. They also tend to ignore their own souls and consciences. They “live” for the moment – like zombies. Perhaps you have noticed this tendency among those who have turned themselves over to technology, one of our contemporary false gods. Psychiatrist Keith Ablow described one of the worst manifestations of this form of idolatry in an article about the Ohio teens who stood by and watched, even taking and posting pictures and videos, as a female classmate rendered helpless by alcohol was sexually assaulted for hours:

“Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived ‘reality TV’ programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting, and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie. They are absent from their own lives and those of others. They are floating free in a virtual world where nothing really matters other than being cool observers of their own detached existence....”

What a pathetic way to waste a life, which is intended by God to prepare us for eternity.

Evil takes ever-changing forms, but it comes from two ancient sources: sin and death. Only one Person has defeated both. Jesus knew His beloved friend Lazarus was dead before He reached Bethany, as the story is told in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. Lazarus’ sisters had sent word, begging Jesus to hurry to the village to heal their ill brother. But He delayed His arrival. By the time He got there, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.

“Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:39-44, NASB).

Jesus had authority over death, and He glorified His Father by raising Lazarus. On Easter morning, God glorified Himself by raising Jesus. At that moment, the power of sin and death was crushed for all time. For all who believe and follow Him, there is no longer any reason to fear death – or what follows. What follows is eternity in the presence of God.

Our zombified world desperately needs that message.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com.)
4/4/2013 12:51:20 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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