Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 2/26/2008

Associated Baptist Press

February 26, 2008 (8-22)

Broad U.S. religious marketplace spurs conversion, study suggests
New Texas exec elected, wants to help Baptists fulfill ‘kingdom assignment’
Arkansas college prof nominee for CBF moderator-elect post
Hardin-Simmons head Turner leaves for North Carolina post
British Baptist pastor to aid U.N. effort to end slavery
Opinion: Marriage in the marketplace

Broad U.S. religious marketplace spurs conversion, study suggests
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A massive, groundbreaking new study of the American religious landscape shows that Protestants are losing their share of the nation’s population -- and that the nation’s broad religious diversity is paired with great religious dynamism.

The Pew Form on Religion and Public Life released the “American Religious Landscape Survey 2007” Feb. 25. The study -- the first in recent years to combine a huge sample size with in-depth questioning on Americans’ religious affiliations -- showed that 28 percent of adult respondents have left the faith of their childhood for another religious tradition or no religion at all. When those who have moved from one Protestant denomination to another are included, the figure leaps to 44 percent of adults.

“Everybody in this country is losing members, everybody is gaining members, even though …. There are some net winners and some net losers,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, in a conference call with reporters announcing the survey results. “It’s a very competitive marketplace, so if you rest on your laurels, you’re going to be history.”

The study involved in-depth questioning of more than 35,000 respondents throughout the continental United States. Among its most striking findings is that Protestants now comprise a slim majority -- 51 percent -- of U.S. adults. As recently as the 1980s, similar surveys showed that Protestants comprised nearly two-thirds of the population.

It also showed that the Roman Catholic Church, through immigration, has maintained the share of adults -- about 24 percent of the population -- that past studies have shown. However, Catholic numbers have been boosted by massive immigration by Latinos, the vast majority of whom are Catholic, in recent years. Native-born Catholics are converting to Protestantism, changing religions or leaving organized religion in significant numbers.

The study showed that evangelical Protestants, at 26 percent of the adult population, outnumber both their mainline Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters.

Mainline Protestants, meanwhile, continue to lose their status as the closest thing to an established religious group that the United States has ever had. The study showed that Protestants affiliated with traditionally white, moderate-to-progressive denominations (such as the United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Churches USA) comprise only 18 percent of U.S. adults.

The decline in Protestantism owes to several factors, including conversion, immigration and declining birthrates, said John Green, a Pew Forum scholar and expert on evangelicals in America.

But the decline could mark the beginning of a profound change in American culture, he noted.

“So much of the values and institutions in American life came out of Protestantism, particularly mainline Protestantism,” Green said.

He also noted that the term “Protestant” in the United States covers such a dizzying array of denominational groups, independent congregations, doctrinal outlooks and political perspectives as to render it almost meaningless.

“Protestantism is not just losing influence as a whole, but it is losing influence because of its divisions internally,” he said.

Baptists -- including those the survey counted as evangelicals and those counted as mainline or in a separate category for historically African-American denominations -- have not been immune to the tendency of Americans to switch faiths.

While 21 percent of adults said they were raised Baptist, only 17 percent of the population are currently members of Baptist churches, the survey found. A full eight percent of those surveyed said they were raised Baptist but no longer identify as such.

Baptists fared better than Catholics, however. Approximately 32 percent of respondents who said they were raised Catholic have left for another faith or none at all.

The biggest gainers from the religious flux appear to be the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. The survey found that more than 16 percent of adults are not affiliated with any particular faith or local congregation. Surveys in the past generally showed an unaffiliated figure of less than 10 percent.

However, the survey did not show an increase over similar polls in the percentage of the population who consider themselves atheist or agnostic. Only four percent of respondents said they believe that God doesn’t exist or that there may be a supreme being who does not intervene in human affairs. Another 12 percent said they have no religious affiliation in particular, but a majority of those said religion is important in their lives nonetheless.


Pew Forum ‘U.S. Religious Landscape Survey’ interactive website

New Texas exec elected, wants to help Baptists fulfill ‘kingdom assignment’
By Ken Camp

DALLAS (ABP) -- Commitment to a “kingdom assignment” -- namely, ensuring that every person in Texas has the opportunity to respond to Christ by Easter 2010 -- can help unite Texas Baptists, Randel Everett told the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board just prior to his election as executive director.

The board voted 78-6 to elect Everett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Newport News, Va., as executive director at a Feb. 26 meeting in Dallas. He succeeds Charles Wade, who retired Jan. 31. Jan Daehnert is serving as interim executive director until Everett assumes the executive’s post in April.

Chairman Ken Hugghins of Huntsville, Texas, said the executive director search committee “came to unanimity” in recommending Everett after praying and listening to Texas Baptists.

Everett’s commitment to historic Baptist principles, effectiveness as a communicator, lack of political agenda, ability to build coalitions, cultural sensitivity, theological soundness, and passion for missions and evangelism led the committee to recommend him, Hugghins said.

“Randel Everett cares about Texas, and he cares about people worldwide,” he said. “He cares across ethnicities and across generations. He relates well to people.”

God has a “kingdom assignment” for Texas Baptists as they seek to share the gospel in an increasingly diverse context, Everett told the board.

“We no longer live in Acts 2,” when Peter was able to address an audience with a shared understanding about God’s acts in Israel’s history, Everett said. “We live in a pluralistic Acts 17 world,” he continued, comparing postmodern culture to the time when the Apostle Paul addressed a philosophically and theologically diverse crowd at Mars Hill.

Many non-Christians today remain unimpressed by rational, linear evidence or proof of the gospel, but they crave something spiritual beyond themselves, he added.

“They want authenticity,” he said. “They want hope.”

Everett, a native of Arkansas, challenged Texas Baptists to take risks and set high goals, casting off anything that weighs them down and encumbers them.

“If we are not operating in the arena where great failure is a possibility, we are not operating in the arena of faith,” he said.

Challenging Texas Baptists to discover and fulfill their “kingdom assignment,” he presented a two-year evangelistic goal.

“By Resurrection Sunday 2010, give every person living in Texas the opportunity to respond to Christ in his own language and context,” he urged.

Rather than categorizing and labeling people, Everett urged Texas Baptists to focus on Jesus.

“Some want to know if I’m an SBC guy or a CBF guy or a BWA guy. I hope you’ll come to the conclusion I’m a Jesus guy,” he said of questions regarding his affinity for the Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist World Alliance.

Everett responded to questions from the board regarding:

-- Cooperation. Everett was asked if he would reach out to Christians from “the other state Baptist convention” -- the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Everett noted his involvement in a Scripture distribution campaign in Newport News, Va., that included both Baptist General Association of Virginia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia churches, as well as congregations of other denominations.

“I pray that we will work with anyone who shares our kingdom assignment,” he said.

-- Longevity. Pointing to legendary Dallas pastor George W. Truett as a “hero” and model, Everett said as a young pastor, he dreamed of serving one urban congregation 40 years. Instead, most of his pastorates have been relatively short in tenure.

“Almost every church I served was a church in crisis of some kind,” he noted. “That has been the kind of ministry to which it seems we have been called.”

But Everett said he believes the varied experiences as pastor of diverse churches and leader of an educational institution “makes sense” when seen as preparing him for the role of BGCT executive director.

“I hope to spend the rest of my vocational life with you,” he said.

-- Unity. A director asked how Everett would promote healing and unity in a climate of “disharmony” among BGCT-related churches. “I believe we are united around a common goal -- a simple, clear vision,” he said.

By uniting around a short-term goal -- such as a two-year evangelistic emphasis -- Texas Baptists can clarify their identity and begin to discover a longer-range vision, he stressed.

-- Diversity. Texas Baptists must demonstrate racial and ethnic diversity, both in terms of staffing and in the selection of people to responsible leadership positions, Everett said. “If we don’t, it will be at our own peril,” he said.

But Texas Baptists should recognize the opportunity to bridge racial and ethnic divisions as a privilege, not a burden, he stressed. “I thrive on diversity,” Everett said. “I see it as an expression of the mosaic of God’s love.”

Everett, 58, served nine years as president of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va. While he was at the helm, the center received accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools.

His last three years at the Leland Center overlapped the beginning of his pastorate in Newport News. He previously served five years at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va., a 3,000-member congregation in suburban Washington, D.C.

Other previous pastorates were at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.; First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark.; Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas; and First Baptist Church in Gonzales, Texas. He also was assistant minister of missions at First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Everett was chairman of the Baptist World Alliance’s education and evangelism commission from 2000 to 2005 and has held other positions with the BWA.

He served on the BGCT Executive Board from 1978 to 1979. Other denominational leadership posts included president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Executive Board, moderator of Peninsula Baptist Association in Virginia, and trustee of Florida Baptist College.

Everett earned his doctoral and master’s degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his bachelor’s degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.

He and his wife, Sheila, have been married 35 years. They have two children and two grandsons.


Arkansas college prof nominee for CBF moderator-elect post

By Patricia Heys

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Hal Bass, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University, has been nominated for the position of moderator-elect for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the group’s nominating committee has announced.

The panel has also recommended Joanne Carr of Georgia for CBF’s recorder position. Both officer nominees will be presented for a vote June 20 by attendees at the organization’s annual General Assembly, scheduled for Memphis, Tenn.

Bass, CBF’s current recorder, is a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. A graduate of Baylor University and Vanderbilt University, he teaches political science and is dean of the school of social sciences the Arkadelphia, Ark., school. Ouachita is the flagship institution of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Bass is a member of the First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia and has served on CBF coordinating councils at the national and state level.

“I am honored and humbled to be presented with this opportunity for service on CBF’s behalf,” Bass said, adding that he looks forward to helping support congregations and individuals “seeking to embrace the world in Christ’s name.”

The moderator-elect’s chief responsibility is to preside in the moderator’s absence over the annual meeting and meetings of the CBF Coordinating Council. The moderator-elect then automatically succeeds the moderator at the conclusion of a one-year term.

North Carolina pastor Jack Glasglow is the current moderator-elect. He will assume the office of moderator on June 20 at the conclusion of the General Assembly.

Harriet Harral, the Fellowship’s current moderator, will assume the immediate past moderator position in June. The chief duty of the immediate past moderator is to chair the nominating committee.

Carr, the recorder nominee, retired as a director for the Augusta (Ga.) Veterans Administration Medical Center in 2005 and now serves as a consultant with Resource Services Incorporated, a Christian organization based in Dallas. A member of First Baptist Church of Augusta, Carr currently serves as a member of the Coordinating Council.


Hardin-Simmons head Turner leaves for North Carolina post

By ABP Staff

ABILENE, Texas (ABP) -- Craig Turner, the president of Texas Baptists’ Hardin-Simmons University, has resigned to become president of Catawba College, a private liberal-arts school in Salisbury, N.C.

His decision to resign was influenced by his family, Turner said.

“The two most important words in this transition are the names Payton and Madeline -- the names of my granddaughters,” Turner said, in a press release. “This position is an opportunity to be near family, and that’s been the critical factor in this decision.”

Turner joined the Baptist General Convention of Texas-related school 1992 and served as vice president for academic affairs until 1996. He then became executive vice president and chief academic officer until becoming chief operating officer in June 2000. He became the school’s 14th president in 2001.

He said he expects HSU trustees to move quickly to form a search committee to select a successor. And he said he faces significant challenges at Catawba. “Their endowment is in need of strengthening, and that’s something I know something about,” he said.

“I also think they need to look at some new programs. They are in the heart of the financial center of that part of the country, and they don’t have a finance major at the college. That’s something I can look at from the outside and say ‘gee whiz, with all the opportunities, this is something you need to look at. ’”


British Baptist pastor to aid U.N. effort to end slavery
By ABP Staff

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- British Baptist pastor Steve Chalke has been appointed as a special advisor to the United Nation’s Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.

Chalke, chair of Stop the Traffic, a group of 1,000 organizations in 60 countries that work to stop the buying and selling of people, will work in the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime to help foster community action against human trafficking.

The initiative, also known as U.N.GIFT, was launched in March 2007 and is managed in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, the International Labor Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The author of more than 40 books, Chalke has long campaigned to end poverty through housing, healthcare and educational projects. He has also become a major advocate in the anti-trafficking campaign.

Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, called Chalke “probably the UK’s best known Baptist pastor.”

According to a BWA press release, Chalke said that “the crime of people trafficking -- or, to put it in stark terms, modern slavery -- for sex, forced labor and even organ harvesting is one that shames us all.” His remarks came during the first international anti-human trafficking forum, held in February in Austria. The event, planned by U.N.GIFT, drew 1,200 delegates from the 192 member countries of the United Nations.

Human trafficking is “the world’s fastest growing crime” and is “a great evil” that needs to be defeated, Chalke said.

According to U.N. estimates, more than 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide each year. The vast majority of them are under the age of 24. The trafficking industry generates an estimated $31 billion annually.


Opinion: Marriage in the marketplace
By Beth Newman

I don’t wish to be thought unperceptive, but apparently the world I had always known has ended without my being aware of it.

The occasion for this epiphany was a radio ad for car insurance. This commercial took the form of a little drama, a dialog between girlfriend and boyfriend. The joke turns on the girlfriend’s irritation with the boyfriend’s disregard of her needs -- generally, his refusal to propose marriage, and specifically with his ignorance of how she’s spent all the money she had saved on car insurance.

The jolt for me was that the details of this 60-second scenario make it clear that the two are living together. There’s even a snide comment about how his mother is treated when she comes to visit. It’s a sort of “pre-mother-in-law” joke.

What brought me up short is that this ad was not trying to sell clothes or cars or beer. It was pushing that sine qua non of middle-class respectability: insurance. And the producers felt no fear of offending that class with the assumption it had dramatized: living together before marriage.

How quickly and how completely the old bourgeois morality has collapsed.

What has all this to do with the church? In one sense, nothing, I suppose. When questions of sexual morality are raised, it is routinely and correctly pointed out that Scripture spends much more space on economic injustice than what used to be called the sins of the flesh. I would urge us to be careful, however, that we don’t abandon the Ozzie and Harriet values too quickly. (By the way, does anyone really remember who these two were?) After all, to quote another maxim from the bygone days, the personal is always political.

And while the church can no longer assume that either the marketplace or the middle class underwrites her sexual ethics, we ought to be very sure that we are not endorsing theirs.

I am very much afraid that we have already done so, and to a considerable extent. Exactly to the degree that we have embraced the language of choice, of privacy, of inclusion and so forth, we forget that for the Christian there is always a prior question: Do our actions build up the body of Christ or do they damage it? How we spend our money, how we express our sexuality, how we raise our children -- these are all, or ought to be, questions that are the concern of the whole church.

The biblical celebration of diversity is very much at odds with a secular understanding of all choices being equally good. Our dominant culture respects diversity because everyone supposedly has the right to make his or her own choices.

In Scripture, however, diversity enriches the church because diversity provides the variety of gifts securely proceeding from a foundation of common assumptions. Ephesians, for example, names this commonality as “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...” (4:5-6). Only after describing this common good does Paul then talk about the diverse gifts that God pours out on his people for the building up of the larger body.

It is well to remember that not all things are beneficial.

In fact, human marriage, we need also to remember, is but a pale enactment of Christ’s marriage to the church where, through Word and sacrament, we enter into communion with God. Marriage is a supreme sign of God’s love (as in the prophet Hosea) and of Christ’s self-giving to the church on behalf of the world. Reference to Hosea reminds us of human faithlessness and evasion, and of a divine love that will not let us go.

The Christian story has long considered marriage a “school for virtue,” where we learn that love is not a feeling or private choice, but an invitation to practice living in dependence upon Christ and his body.

It is strange to imagine that in the year of grace 2008, that the most counter-cultural statement that the church can make is to assert that marriage is really a necessity. But perhaps it is.


-- Beth Newman is professor of theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. bnewman@btsr.edu

By ABP Staff

In the Feb. 21 story titled “Pastor points to Muslims as source of Kenya violence; experts disagree,” please change the byline from Greg Warner to Ken Camp.

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