October 2012

A note of sanity about Halloween

October 31 2012 by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Recently a seminary student I know – a young man preparing for the ministry – wrote on a paper, “The only thing I really fear is zombies.”

I wrote back, “You fear zombies? Zombies??”

Hey friend, I have a message for you: Zombies. Do. Not. Exist.

Someone made them up. The nonsense about “the walking dead” might make for interesting storylines for books and movies but they are the figment of someone’s imagination, and nothing else.

Neither do wooden puppets take on human personalities and kill the people around them. On full moons, certain men do not become werewolves. And old Plymouths do not suddenly come alive, leave the junkyard and run over everyone in their path.

Stephen King and others like him are toying with their readers. They are doing one thing and it’s such a big thing, I’m surprised that all theists (God-believers) haven’t figured it out yet: They are imagining how things would be in this world if God were not alive, on the throne and in control, and evil was allowed to run amok.

Such storylines are a backhanded compliment to God.

The Lord has made an orderly world. Evil, as bad as it is, does not run unbridled in this world.

No one goes to bed at night afraid that while he sleeps the dead from the local cemetery will leave their graves and invade the town to drink blood and eat brains. That is, no one but the immature and the unbalanced.

Some Christians, however, are so fearful of evil and so impressed by the devil, so panicky at the thought of goblins and demons, witches and werewolves, that they attack any Christian who dresses their kid as Buzz Lightyear and lets him walk down the street collecting candy from the neighbors. To them, you are blindly poking your head in the sand while the devil is at work all over the world.

Give me a break.

Over two decades ago, as I was interviewing with the congregation of my last church, someone rose to ask what I thought of Halloween. I had already been apprised of the stance of some of the members and recognized this as a loaded question. But I was not running for office and willing to say anything to “get elected.”

I told a story.

“One of the sweetest memories of my life was Halloween of 1974. Earlier that year, our family had adopted a 5-year-old daughter from Korea. By October, she was learning English fairly well. That Halloween night, my wife dressed Jinoke as a princess and I walked down the street with her. I would stand at the end of the sidewalk and she would walk up onto the porch, ring the doorbell, then turn back to me. ‘What is it, daddy?’ I would say, ‘Trick or treat.’ Then, she would turn back, ready when the neighbor opened the door.”

She charmed a lot of people that night.

No child was hurt in those Halloweens. As children, we played many games and loved dress-up occasions with masks and costumes. In my own childhood, Halloween was simply free candy. And candy on that poor West Virginia mountaintop was such a rare event, we looked forward to the evening all year.

In more recent years, many parents have feared that enjoying Halloween as we did in those more innocent days is playing into the hands of the devil. They fear that if we allow our children to dress up and solicit candy, we are cooperating with Satan’s agenda.

Since no one wants to play into Satan’s hands, many churches created alternatives to anything Halloweenish. Now, it seems, “fall festivals” abound, my church included.

But let’s not overly fear Satan.

If you ask me, it’s possible to give Satan too much credit, too much attention.

The early church fathers spoke of an “unholy trinity” as the cause of our troubles: the world, the flesh and the devil. It must irk Satan to no end that he ranks no higher than number three in that trio.

The world is the fallen system around us which encourages us to dominate each other, manipulate others for our success, and to kill anyone who gets in our way. The flesh is the fallen spirit within us that wants its own way, puts pleasure and its own appetites above everything, and sees popularity and acclaim as the goal of life. And then there is the devil.

Satan is a murderer, a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is a fallen angel, the accuser of the brethren, and the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). He is the enemy of all that is good and holy. But he is a defeated being, one destined to confinement in the torture of hell forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

No, we should not take him too lightly. But neither should we build our faith around him in the negative sense, talk about him all the time in our prayers, and live in fear of him.

Christians can minimize the devil on this “holiday” – or any other time – because he is a defeated being. In fact, every Lord’s Day we celebrate the victory over him.

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith” (1 John 5:4).

Nothing lampoons a defeated foe like caricaturing him. And that’s what Halloween does.

I love the way God’s Word taunts death. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) You can hear the laughter in the voice of the Scripture writer. “Where is your power now?” he taunts, since Jesus is risen from the grave.

We need no evidence that Satan is alive and well and, according to Revelation 12:9, on earth. (He is not in hell, stoking the fires and in charge of that sad place, though he is destined to be its chief tenant.)

You cannot explain Hitler or Stalin without seeing the hand of Satan at work. He is, as our Lord said, a thief who comes “to steal, to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10).

But let’s not honor him by giving him his own day. He is unworthy.

Let’s not center our faith around him and build our prayers with him in mind. He is the enemy.

Let us resist him. Let us refuse to elevate him as a force equal to our God. Let us scoff at his antics and ridicule his doings.

And let us do all we can to rescue those held in bondage to him by showing them what is theirs in Jesus Christ: victory.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.)
10/31/2012 2:09:36 PM by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At this ‘Mormon Moment,’ convey truth & grace

October 31 2012 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Mormonism is something we cannot escape right now. We are in a “Mormon Moment” thanks to the candidacy of Gov. Mitt Romney. Southern Baptists need to address this moment with truth and grace.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is seldom subtle, speaking boldly and clearly about what he believes. We’ve agreed many times and disagreed a couple. Though I might nuance it differently, I think Southern Baptists would do well to consider his words in the Washington Post, “I wouldn’t call [Mormonism] a cult but it claims to be Christian and isn’t. Its theology is like a cult but socially and culturally it doesn’t act like a cult.... They don’t withdraw, they don’t live in communities and they’re not like Jehovah’s Witnesses or James Jones.”

Land is right to point out the difference. He did not deny that Mormonism is theologically a cult, but he did imply a difference between a “theological cult” and a “sociological cult.” That’s a helpful distinction that, current discussions aside, is the view taught at almost all SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] seminaries.

Furthermore, Mitt Romney is right. At Liberty University he spoke about people of different faiths, “your faith and mine.” Yes, those words were certainly chosen to assure evangelicals, but it hit the right tone – Mormonism is a different faith or religion. Three out of four Protestant pastors (and it’s higher for evangelicals) agree Mormons are not Christians.

The problem is that most Mormons want to use the Christian label without believing biblical, Christian theology.

The obvious question is, how divergent can your views be and still be a part of a faith group (in contrast to forming a new one)? Can you believe, for instance, that Muhammad is not the prophet and still call yourself a Muslim? The vast majority of Muslims would say you cannot. For Christians, calling yourself a Christian while not believing God has always existed as the triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit is just as inconceivable. That’s what Mormonism does. It’s not a Christian denomination. It is a different religion.

In some ways, Mormonism is to Christianity what Christianity is to Judaism. Christianity took basic beliefs from Judaism, but from their perspective added another testament and doctrines that did not match the original. To Christians, our faith is naturally connected to and a product of Judaism, rightly understood. To Mormons, their faith is the natural completion of Christianity, restored and rightly understood. Ironically, Jews don’t call us a “theological cult,” though I guess from their point of view, they could. As such, Mormonism is a theological cult of Christianity, in the same way that Christian Science and Armstrongism are.

Yet, for me, I have one recurring passion – one not-so-secret agenda – to get people to live on mission, evangelize their neighbors, plant churches and send missionaries. It’s not about politics for me, but about the gospel. As such, my concern is to reach Mormons, not just label them, so I don’t lead with words like “cult” because the term simply does not carry a theological meaning to most people. For most, they think of a compound in Waco, Texas, or Jonestown, Guyana, but that’s not Mormonism. As I’ve said, it is more helpful to talk about Mormonism as a different religion, as we do Islam or Hinduism, and to share the true gospel with Mormons accordingly.

As such, my suggestion is simple. Do what the North American Mission Board (NAMB) does and says.

– First, be unapologetic in saying that Mormonism does fit the definition of a theological cult. (I agree, and I was surprised to see that I was the only one who said so in an article that appeared in places like the Salt Lake Tribune.) I am thankful NAMB has not deleted that reality from its website, even when it is being scrutinized in this political season.

– Second, take a more winsome tone in evangelism and public conversation, in your words and your tone. To do so, learn about Mormonism. Phil Roberts and Tal Davis have helpful resources available at the NAMB website.

– Third, engage in public conversation and in private witnessing in a respectful way, caring more about people than scoring points. Talk about the true gospel. Don’t be afraid to explain there are false gospels, but show the love of Jesus to your Mormon neighbor and to the world watching how you deal with that neighbor.

I hope Southern Baptists, and particularly SBC pastors, will love their Mormon neighbors enough not to blur the lines, and see Mormonism as simply another denomination which, it appears, is the current Mormon desire.

However, I also hope they don’t love the word “cult” more than they love their Mormon neighbor. I hope they keep in mind how a lost world understands that term – and how your Mormon neighbor understands the term. We all should ask, “Will it make them more willing to hear the truth?”

That’s grace.

For example, you can correctly proclaim that your divorcing neighbor is an “adulterer.” You can do so with the confident Baptist grin that often comes with such pronouncements, because you know you are right. You may feel better that you stuck it to her and stood against the cultural tide, but people around you will think you are angry and unloving, and you will be less likely to reach her (and others watching) for Christ.

So what is my advice for being on mission during this “Mormon Moment” and beyond? When we are setting out to theologically define religions, we should call it what it is – a theological cult. But if you want to reach people (particularly Mormons) for Christ, then drop the cult language as your starting point.

As with your divorcing neighbor, it is your call. The terms are technically correct. However, my suggestion is simple. Consider the words of Richard Land, follow the lead of NAMB and find a truth-and-grace filled Southern Baptist plan.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research.)
10/31/2012 1:38:06 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The reason gay marriage is wrong

October 30 2012 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Last week, a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. In making their decision, they determined the federal law defining marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman discriminated against homosexuals.

The court is simply wrong. The Defense of Marriage Act is not discriminatory. There is no “right to marry” in this country. If a “right to marry” existed, then anyone who wanted to marry anyone else, regardless of gender, family relationship, or anything else would have the right to marry. After all, if homosexuals are discriminated against by our nation’s definition of marriage, then why can’t others make the same claim? Brothers and sisters could argue they have the same “right to marry” each other by claiming they aren’t attracted to anyone else. Yet, even most same-sex marriage advocates don’t believe the right they claim for themselves extends to incestuous or polygamous relationships.

Now, please understand, my opposition to same-sex marriage is not about hatred of homosexuals. There is no room in the Christian faith, or any other faith for that matter, for hatred of people. Hatred of others is wrong, period. But neither is it loving for me to condone or normalize inappropriate and harmful behavior for the sake of affirming the person. I should not do that for people who engage in same-sex sexual behavior any more than I do that for people who engage in adultery, theft or myriad other activities.

My opposition to same-sex marriage derives from my commitment to the Bible and to children. The Bible offers very clear guidance. In Genesis, we are told that God saw the man in his loneliness and decided to create a person who could complement him. He chose to create a woman for this. And the gender was not irrelevant. God makes it quite clear in Scripture that homosexual behavior, among many other behaviors, is sinful. Jesus affirmed God’s design for marriage when He declared, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,” and the two, man and woman, “shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7).

For children, same-sex marriage does not offer the best environment in which to grow up. I’m not saying that same-sex couples cannot be good parents. But it is clear that same-sex marriages are not equivalent to heterosexual marriages in terms of what they offer children. The best environment for children is a mother and father in their home who love each other and their children. In this environment children benefit from watching both sexes interact with each other and with them. They learn something different from each. As a result, they can better interact with both sexes in society and with their spouses in their own marriages.

Friends, same-sex marriage is wrong. Redefining marriage to include it will not change that. All it will really do is confuse children, further break down our culture’s commitment to providing the best possible environment for children, and normalize a behavior that is destructive to so many of those who engage in it.

Our country should be incentivizing those things that are in our best interest. Marriage law does that by recognizing only one acceptable form of marriage – that which provides children with the best possible environment in which to grow into well-adjusted, fully engaged members of society. I hope you will let your elected representatives know that you will not tolerate any change in our country’s definition of marriage. The Second Circuit got this issue wrong. Our president got this issue wrong. God got it right, because it is, after all, His creation. May we remain on God’s side on this crucial, defining issue.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
10/30/2012 2:22:31 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

10 questions pro-choice candidates are never asked by the media

October 30 2012 by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Debate moderators and reporters love to ask pro-life candidates hard questions about abortion. Curiously, they don’t do the same for pro-choice candidates.

Here are 10 questions you never hear a pro-choice candidate asked by the media:

1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?

2. In 2010, The Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?

3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?

4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?

5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?

6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?

7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that African Americans and Latinos represent 25 percent of our population but account for 59 percent of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?

8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?

9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?

10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com, a Gospel Coalition blog.)
10/30/2012 2:20:40 PM by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

5 of the most difficult challenges pastors face

October 29 2012 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Serving as a pastor may be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Indeed, it may be an impossible job to do in our own strength.

I know. Before I was LifeWay’s president or a seminary dean, I served as pastor of four churches.

I have heard from countless pastors in countless churches. Their stories are similar to mine. So I asked the question: What specific part of being a pastor is the most difficult for you? Let’s look at five tough challenges for pastors.

1. Responding graciously to someone right before you preach. The pastor has put hours into the sermon. He has prayed for God’s power for that moment. He is focused on God’s Word and its proclamation. All of his energy is devoted to the upcoming moment. Then someone rushes up to him with a piece of paper and says. “Pastor, you need to announce about the garage sale we’re having this week.” Most of the times I showed grace. A few times I did not and showed something else.

2. Knowing what do with a staff member who is not making a vital contribution to the church. Many churches will not let leaders make the tough decision of letting a staff member go, even if he is not really productive and obviously an ill fit for the ministry and the church. Such a move is considered “un-Christian” and will not be tolerated, even if it would ultimately be best for that staff member. Many pastors have lost their own jobs when they made such a move. So we often move those persons to innocuous, low-accountability positions, even though we know it is poor stewardship.

3. Loving a person in the church when that person is your critic. We want to be Christ-like, and love people unconditionally. I admit that I often saw those people through their critical words instead of seeing them through the eyes of Christ.

4. Preparing more than one quality sermon a week. When I was a pastor I had to prepare a Sunday morning sermon, a Sunday evening sermon and a Wednesday evening Bible message. Frankly, it took all I had to prepare one good message. I know many churches no longer have the Sunday evening preaching service, but tens of thousands of pastors still prepare more than one message a week.

5. Doing the funeral of a person who was not a Christian. We can always hope the person had a deathbed conversion of which we are not aware. And we can always preach messages of comfort to the family and friends. But it is extremely difficult to talk about the deceased if he or she was lost.

Pastors, what wisdom can you share with other pastors regarding these challenges? And laypersons, what can you or your church do to support these pastors?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com.)
10/29/2012 3:08:12 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What should pro-lifers think about abortion ‘exceptions’?

October 29 2012 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The controversy over comments made by U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock reveals the undeniable ugliness of American politics. At the same time, the media firestorm underscores the importance of getting the pro-life position right – and expressing it well.

Mourdock, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, was debating his opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly when the issue of abortion emerged. Both candidates claimed to affirm that life begins at conception, but Mourdock called for the end of abortion on demand. He then extended his remarks with these words:

“This is that issue that every candidate for federal, or even state, office faces, and I too stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view and I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have [for abortion] is in that case [where] the life of the mother [is threatened]. I struggled with it for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Immediately, Mourdock was charged with claiming that God intended a rape to happen. A spokesperson for the Obama campaign said that President Obama “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.” Democratic operatives and media voices denounced Mourdock as hateful, extremist, and worse, and even many of his fellow Republicans scattered and ran for cover. Some demanded that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should pull an ad supportive of Mourdock.

A closer look at Mourdock’s comments reveals that the candidate was not in any true sense calling rape “something that God intended to happen.” Everything Mourdock said in that answer flowed from his stated presupposition that life begins at conception, and that every human life is a gift from God.

Nevertheless, the liberal media went into full apoplexy, painting Richard Mourdock as a woman-hating extremist with reprehensible views on an issue as serious as rape.

Almost none of those who quoted Mourdock in making these charges used the full quotation, much less the audio of its delivery in the debate. The full quote reveals that the candidate was affirming the full dignity of every human life, regardless of the circumstance of conception.

To their credit, some in the media saw through the controversy. Writing for The New Republic, Amy Sullivan made clear that she disagrees with Mourdock’s position, but she honestly explained his words, and she expressed disappointment in his treatment by many liberal commentators.

In her words:

“Despite the assertions of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious and insensitive and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I think most don’t particularly care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body. But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about.”

She is exactly right, and bravely so. She continued:

“Take a look again at Mourdock’s words: ‘I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And ... even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.’ The key word here is ‘it.’ I think it’s pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by a rape. He is not arguing that rape is the something that God intended to happen.”

Amy Sullivan also acknowledged that Mourdock’s position is “a fairly common theological belief.” Her candor and honesty were refreshing exceptions to most of the coverage.

Similarly, Kevin Drum, writing in the liberal journal Mother Jones, also registered his disagreement with Mourdock’s argument. Nevertheless, he was bold to ask the obvious – “can’t we all acknowledge that this is just conventional Christian theology?” He added, “What I find occasionally odd is that so many conventional bits of theology like this are so controversial if someone actually mentions them in public.”

Both Drum and Sullivan described Mourdock’s argument as a form of theodicy, meaning a defense of God that points to good coming out of evil. They are certainly right to identify this argument as germane to the context of rape and pregnancy, but Mourdock did not actually go so far as to make the argument.

The controversy over his statements reveals the irresponsibility of so many in the media and the political arena. The characterizations and willful distortions of Mourdock’s words amount to nothing less than lies.

At the same time, Mr. Mourdock is responsible for giving the media and his political enemies the very ammunition for their distortions.

The debate question did not force Mourdock to garble his argument. The cause of defending the unborn is harmed when the argument for that defense is expressed badly and recklessly, and Mourdock’s answer was both reckless and catastrophically incomplete.

The issue of exceptions that might justify an abortion cannot be discussed carelessly. Furthermore, any reference to rape must start with a clear affirmation of the horrifying evil of rape and an equal affirmation of concern for any woman or girl victimized by a rapist. At this point, the defender of the unborn should point to the fact that every single human life is sacred at every point of its development and without regard to the context of that life’s conception. No one would deny that this is true of a 6-year-old child conceived in the horror of a rape. Those who defend the unborn know that it was equally true when that child was in the womb.

No doubt, Mourdock meant to express this point, but his words fell far short of an adequate expression of the argument. In his political situation, that failure might be fatal. In terms of the cause of defending life, his argument makes the task more difficult.

And yet, this controversy was really not about a failure of communication. Behind it all is the great chasm that separates those who defend the sanctity of life and those who defend abortion on demand. With that in mind, how should the defenders of life think about exceptions that might justify an abortion?

One truth must be transparently clear – a consistent defense of all human life means that there is no acceptable exception that would allow an intentional abortion. If every life is sacred, there is no exception.

The three exceptions most often proposed call for abortion to be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. These are the exceptions currently affirmed by Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign. What should we think of these?

First, when speaking of saving the life of the mother, we should be clear that the abortion of her unborn child cannot be the intentional result. There can be no active intention to kill the baby. This does not mean that a mother might, in very rare and always tragic circumstances, require a medical procedure or treatment to save her life that would, as a secondary effect, terminate the life of her unborn child. This is clearly established in moral theory, and we must be thankful that such cases are very rare.

Next, when speaking of cases involving rape and incest, we must affirm the sinful tragedy of such acts and sympathize without reservation with the victims. We must then make the argument that the unborn child that has resulted from such a heinous act should not be added to the list of victims. That child possesses no less dignity than a child conceived in any other context.

How should we think of these questions in light of our current cultural and political context? We must contend for the full dignity and humanity of every single human life at every point of development and life from conception until natural death, and we cannot rest from this cause so long as the threat to the dignity and sanctity of any life remains.

In the meantime, we are informed by the fact that, as the Gallup organization affirmed just months ago, the vast majority of Americans are willing to support increased restrictions on abortion so long as those exceptions are allowed. We should gladly accept and eagerly support such laws and the candidates who support them, knowing that such a law would save the life of over a million unborn children in the nation each year.

Can we be satisfied with such a law? Of course not, and we cannot be disingenuous in our public statements. But we can eagerly support a law that would save the vast majority of unborn children now threatened by abortion, even as we seek to convince our fellow Americans that this is not enough.

We must argue for the dignity, humanity and right to life of every unborn child, regardless of the context of its conception, but we must argue well and make our arguments carefully. The use and deliberate abuse of Richard Mourdock’s comments should underline the risk of falling short in that task.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com.)
10/29/2012 3:06:23 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When Halloween falls on a church night ...

October 26 2012 by Craig Webb, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Pastors and church leaders faced the question of how to handle Christmas Day when it fell on a Sunday last year. The news media highlighted churches that chose to cancel services on Sunday to allow families to celebrate at home. A LifeWay Research study, however, found that nine in 10 pastors planned for their churches to host Christmas services on that Sunday.

This year, Halloween falls on a Wednesday.

According to a 2011 National Retail Federation study, “seven in 10 Americans (68.6 percent) plan to celebrate Halloween.” If your church is like most others, you have midweek programming on Wednesday nights and it is unlikely that you would cancel those activities for Halloween.

The question is: What do you do when a major cultural event that does not represent your values threatens to hijack your activities?

Let me share how our church has chosen to tackle this. Our Wednesday night programming includes dinner, age-level activities and short-term connect groups for adults. I called an “ad hoc strategic meeting” with key staff members who lead or are involved in Wednesday activities. The only item on our agenda was to deal with our plans for Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.

After discussing all the options, we decided not to ignore Halloween, but to plan a few simple enhancements for the night and communicate to our church family in time for them to make their own decisions about participation.

This is what we are planning to do.

1) We will not cancel any of our activities on Oct. 31.

2) We will host a Fall Family Festival the previous Sunday evening (Oct. 28).

3) We are planning a fun “family meal” on Oct. 31.

4) We are planning service-focused activities and games for our children and middle school students. They will be packing Operation Christmas Child boxes.

5) We will hold normal activities for our high school and adult ministries.

While that may not sound revolutionary, we have clarity and agreement about our path, and we can communicate this direction to the larger staff, church leaders and the whole church family. If you have not decided what you will do, here’s my suggestion for your church:

1) Call a strategic meeting with your staff, key church leaders or those involved in leading Wednesday night activities.

2) Discuss ways to capitalize on Halloween for your Wednesday activities.

3) Plan enhancements on Wednesday night that will make people think twice about missing.

4) Communicate these plans to your leaders and your church family.

Two other options to consider for Oct. 31:

1) Host a trunk-or-treat or fall family festival.

2) Host a community movie night. Visit LifeWay Films for help.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Craig Webb is pastor of vision & purpose at Gladeville Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. This article first appeared in the Pastors Today weekly newsletter published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
10/26/2012 1:34:41 PM by Craig Webb, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christianity isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is

October 25 2012 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – You’ve heard it suggested the United States is simply Europe on a 50-year delay. Supposedly most churches will be museums before our grandchildren reach adulthood.

Though new numbers from Pew Research released this month point to a decline in American Protestants, no serious scholar believes Christianity in America is on a trajectory of extinction. And, as a Ph.D. researcher and practicing evangelical Christian, I say to those who’ve read recent reports and come to that conclusion, “Not so fast.”

You see, many in the U.S. who identify as Christian do so only superficially. These cultural Christians use the term but do not practice the faith. Now it seems many of them are giving up the Christian label, and those cultural or nominal Christians are becoming “nones,” people with no religious label.

Christian nominalism is nothing new. As soon as any belief system is broadly held, people are motivated to adopt it, even with a low level of connection. Yet, much of the change in our religious identification is in nominal Christians no longer using the term and, instead, not identifying with any religion.

In other words, the nominals are becoming the nones.

I’ve seen this in my own family. Growing up in an Irish Catholic community outside New York City, the Catholic Church was the church we didn’t go to. Today, I am an evangelical Christian, and I attend church like one, but most of my extended family do not attend church, and don’t bother to call themselves Catholics any longer. The nominals became the nones.

Furthermore, the cultural value of identifying as a Christian is decreasing. When that happens, those whose connection to Christianity was more an identifying mark than a deeply held belief find they don’t need that identity anymore. The label does not matter.

When considering why someone does or does not label themselves a Christian, we see three broad ways people identify as Christian.

On a survey, cultural Christians mark “Christian” rather than another world religion, because they know they are not Hindu, Jewish, etc., or because their family always has.

Churchgoing Christians identify as such, because they occasionally attend worship services.

On the other hand, conversion Christians claim to have had a faith experience in which they were transformed, resulting in a deeply held belief.

The recent growth in nones, I believe, comes primarily from cultural and churchgoing Christians no longer using a religious identification.

The obvious question is why the decline at all and what does the future hold? Some may say this sounds exactly like what has happened in Europe. Well, yes and no.

Europe’s religious decline happened for different reasons than what we are seeing here – bloody religious wars and a church/state alliance led to mandated religions which led to distaste and rejection of religion. That’s not the case in the United States, and I don’t think we will go that path.

Yet, there is movement in religious identification that should cause us to consider three ramifications.

First, Christians continue to lose what some have called a home-field advantage. Christianity is no longer the first choice of many seeking spiritual meaning, and identifying as Christian is not necessary to be an accepted part of society.

Second, the squishy middle is collapsing. It makes less sense to be a cultural Christian today. Better to be spiritual than religious, unless your religion matters to you, as it does to devout Roman Catholics, Protestants and many others.

Third, Christianity is not collapsing, but it is being clarified. If you cut through the recent hype, and look to studies such as the General Social Survey, you’ll find the United States is filled with vibrant Believers.

The survey shows the evangelical movement has remained generally steady from 1972 to 2010 (and, contrary to what you might have heard, the data include young adults), that church attendance has declined among mainline Protestants, and that the nones have increased. But Christianity has not collapsed.

Other examples of resiliency abound.

Each year, Gallup asks Americans whether they consider themselves a born-again or evangelical Christian. Since 1992, the percentage has fluctuated from a low of 36 percent in 1993 to a high of 47 percent in 1998. The 2011 yearly aggregate is 42 percent, very similar to the percentages over the past eight years.

So, Christianity has hardly been replaced by the nones.

If not extinction, what then does the future look like? I believe if trends continue the future will look more like the present-day Pacific Northwest. There, we find a majority of the population is spiritual but not religious, yet vibrant churches and devout Christians abound.

For example, in the Foursquare Church (a mid-size Pentecostal denomination), the Northwest District oversees 150 churches. Fifteen years ago, 66 of those churches did not exist. Those 66 churches alone report 40,000 new believers. Similar examples of such vibrant growth, there and elsewhere, demonstrate the point.

So, in an increasingly secular environment we have vibrant congregations. That’s the future.

It’s true that many mainline church buildings in America, like their European counterparts, have converted into shops, concert halls and museums. But I find it telling that churches like Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., are buying back former cathedrals and filling them anew with vibrant young congregations.

Even in the shadow of the decline of cultural and nominal religion, the future of vibrant Christianity in America is all around us. The future of Christianity in America is not extinction but clarification that a devout faith is what will last.

Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is. I am glad to see it go.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column is an expanded version of one which appeared in USA Today.)
10/25/2012 1:46:54 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The silencing of supporters of traditional marriage

October 25 2012 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a policy employed by the U.S. armed forces. Military officials were instructed not to inquire concerning a serviceperson’s sexual preference and, in turn, the serviceperson was expected to keep his or her sexuality private. In other words, everyone was expected to keep their mouths shut when it came to homosexuality.

Homosexual activists, and some liberals, decried the practice of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as un-American, and President Obama signed a repeal of it in 2010. However, a variation of the practice seems to be reemerging in a different form, and it is liberals who are now employing what they once deemed “un-American.”

Angela McCaskill, longtime Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., has been placed on administrative leave because she signed a petition calling for voters to have a say on Maryland’s gay marriage law.

Proponents of traditional marriage gathered enough signatures to place a referendum, Question 6, on the November ballot. Question 6 asks voters whether they are “for” or “against” the new law, which is set to take effect Jan. 1. McCaskill was one of the approximately 160,000 Maryland citizens who signed the petition, but when her employer learned she had signed it, she was immediately placed on paid administrative leave.

This is what Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz said:

“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently. I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university. In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future.”

Signing a petition as a private citizen is an act of inappropriate legislative initiative? It would be one thing if McCaskill was campaigning for Question 6 while wearing Gallaudet regalia or using the school’s letterhead. In that case, disciplinary action could well be in order. However, all she did was sign a petition.

It seems that some now want to apply the principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the subject of gay marriage: If you are in academia or a part of the government and you are opposed to gay marriage, then you better keep your mouth shut.

It is worth noting that McCaskill was the first deaf black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Gallaudet University, which is a private college and was established specifically for the education of deaf students. She has served her alma mater with distinction as a teacher and administrator for 23 years. However, because she signed a petition based on the conviction that the state should only recognize a marriage that is between and man and woman, she has been disciplined and could lose her job.

To be clear, Gallaudet is a private institution and, as such, can impose any employee guidelines it so chooses. That said, I believe McCaskill’s situation is sobering and instructive.

I have maintained for a long time that the goal of many homosexual activists in seeking so-called marriage equality is not an egalitarian live-and-let-live utopia, but rather it is to silence those who believe homosexuality is morally and biologically aberrant.

There are many who believe it is only a matter of time before the government begins to curtail opposition to homosexuality. If and when it does, you can be sure it will be under the guise of doing what is right for society.

“This is just a microcosm of a really larger problem that I’m seeing across the country – Christians who want to engage in their religious belief and express their views are being punished,” Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, told CitizenLink.

Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said McCaskill’s case should serve as a warning of what will come if gay marriage is legalized.

“No one is safe when marriage is redefined,” Brown wrote in an email to supporters. “The architects of same-sex marriage are bent on silencing and firing those who oppose their agenda. The irony of a university putting its own chief diversity officer on leave – a woman who by all accounts has served the institution with distinction for over two decades – simply because she chose to exercise her rights as a citizen, cannot be ignored.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was un-American according to homosexual activists when it was used in the military and applied to homosexual behavior. However, when it comes to opposition to gay marriage, its application appears to be perfectly fine with those same activists. America has been warned.

(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.)
10/25/2012 1:39:11 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Banning reparative therapy

October 24 2012 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

DALLAS – California teenagers who experience same-sex attractions and wish to seek professional help in trying to overcome them can no longer do so. The reason: California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a disturbing bill that prohibits licensed mental health professionals from using what’s come to be called “reparative” therapy in counseling teenage homosexuals who have expressed a desire to change their sexual orientation or behavior.

These therapies are intended for those who experience same-sex attraction but want help to change. The bill, known as SB 1172, states that mental health providers who render these services to clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct, subject to discipline by their respective licensing boards – meaning, they’ll lose their licenses to practice.

California is often on the cutting edge of radical policies. We can hope this one doesn’t spread further. But two New Jersey lawmakers are drafting similar legislation. And members of the group that helped get the law passed in California are helping counterparts in other states with talking points and “expert” witnesses.

As he signed the bill, Gov. Brown called reparative therapies “quackery” that “have no basis in science or medicine.” Supporters of the bill call reparative therapy “discredited,” “dangerous,” “abusive.” They say trying to help someone change or lessen or manage the same-sex attraction they feel can cause “serious, lasting harm.”

But the truth is that the same-sex attractions a young person experiences do not make that person a “homosexual.” If someone wants to battle those feelings and attractions, he or she should be able to get professional help in doing so.

Worldview scholar John Stonestreet said, “[I]t’s a troubling precedent to nail an identity on an entire segment of the population with the stroke of a pen. We’re telling young people who may want to change that they should live a lifestyle that statistics say is a dangerous one.”

Clearly, same-sex attractions can be powerful. So can other attractions that should not be acted on. Sin entices, and James 1 in Scripture describes the progression of a person giving in to temptation.

Believing saint, you know it. We battle sin. And homosexuality is a tough one. With forgiveness in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s power, we still fight sin. It’s relentless.

But there are those who walk in victory over this sin, even though for some the temptation never leaves. Grace. Backsliding. More grace. Godly friendships. Accountability. A Christian marriage. These are all part of the stories of those who have overcome. So is counseling – the kind that can actually affirm that homosexuality is wrong.

Parents and children who have benefitted from this type of counseling are joining therapists and counseling groups to challenge the law. Their attorney, Mat Staver of Liberty University’s law school, says government may not license a viewpoint. Let’s hope and pray he and his colleagues can prove that point in court.

(EDITOR’ S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.)
10/24/2012 2:09:26 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 1-10 (of 41)
 |<  < 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5  >  >|