Saturday, May 17, 2008

Separated at Birth?

For some reason during the Braves' baseball experience it occurred to me that my lifelong pal WCM has grown into looking like Braves' pitcher John Smoltz. It may be that they are both just tall, bald, and posing with attractive women. (WCM is engaged, I am not hitting on his woman.)

In any event, this post gives me the opportunity to provide a link to WCM's web site/blog

Friday, May 16, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 5/16/2008

Associated Baptist Press
May 16, 2008 (8-51)

Baptists, other Christians already in China beat limits on foreign help
Abundant field of SBC candidates may signal relaxed political reins
Gay marriage moves ahead in Calif. after state Supreme Court ruling
Analysis: ‘Evangelical Manifesto’ draws praise, critique from across Baptist life
Fellowship announces formal partnership with Ghana Baptist Convention
Three Baptist universities rank high in new survey
Southern gospel music legend Dottie Rambo dies in crash
Opinion: Christians’ attention to foreign policy long overdue

Baptists, other Christians already in China beat limits on foreign help
By ABP staff

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- While China has accepted a very limited number of foreign-aid workers in the wake of the disastrous earthquake that devastated much of Sichuan province May 12, several Baptists and other Christians from the United States were already situated to help.

According to the latest published reports on the morning of May 15, the quake had claimed nearly 20,000 lives – a toll that could go as high as 50,000.

At least 10,000 people are still buried beneath debris in Mianyang, a city near the quake’s epicenter. Bill and Michelle Cayard, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship representatives in China, had just started a partnership with a laity training center in that city, according to CBF officials. The workers also have connections with pastors in Dujiangyan, another city severely damaged.

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and head of the Samaritan’s Purse Christian aid organization, was already on a 10-day trip to China when the massive temblor struck. He met with officers of China’s government-sanctioned Protestant organization – representing thousands of officially registered churches across the country -- May 13.

“We want to do anything we can to assist with this crisis so we are committing these funds for initial support of the local church as they assist with the relief efforts,” Graham said, according to a Samaritan’s Purse press release. “I've been impressed with the effective and immediate response of the Chinese government and how they’ve responded to this devastating earthquake. Each day I’m here in China I am meeting with officials to assess the need and offer our assistance.”

The organization has already committed $1 million to assist with the immediate response. Following their meeting in Shanghai, China Christian Council President Gao Feng thanked Samaritan’s Purse for the help.

“This donation is very important to the people of China because it shows the love of God for all people,” Gao said, according to the release. “This will encourage more Chinese people to do the same and to reach out to their neighbors in need. Franklin Graham's visit is bringing us much more understanding and encouragement for each other.”

CBF, meanwhile has committed an initial $5,000 toward meeting immediate needs for water, food and tents in Jiangyou, another small city in the earthquake zone. Its only officially recognized church building was destroyed by the quake.

“That was the only registered church building in a city of over 100,000,” Michelle Cayard said May 13, according to a CBF statement. “The pastor there urgently requested tents, as people are sleeping outside without shelter and it has been raining now for almost 24 hours.”

“Though this is a small effort, it encourages those facing such a difficult time and provides a witness to the community,” Cayard said. “After immediate needs are met, we will work with local partners to identify longer-term needs.”


Abundant field of SBC candidates may signal relaxed political reins
By Greg Warner

INDIANAPOLIS (ABP) -- Candidates are lining up two-by-two for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention presidency, like animals filing into Noah’s Ark – two big-church pastors, two small-church pastors, two former missionaries.

For the first time in almost three decades, six men will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, to be held June 10-11 in Indianapolis.

Not since the first year of the SBC’s conservative movement in 1979 have six nominees been offered for the annual presidential election, which for the subsequent 12 years was a showdown between two warring factions and later was dominated by the victorious conservatives. In their first victory in that succession, conservatives nominated one candidate – Memphis megachurch pastor Adrian Rogers – against five moderate or local candidates.

This year, all six candidates are conservatives who support the three-decade-long movement.

But the nature of the election has changed, said Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson.

“In the past, the presidency was all about prestige,” Burleson said. “If you had prestige, were a megachurch pastor, and waited your turn, you could be elected. Those days are over.”

-- Two of the 2008 candidates fit the mold of most presidents since 1979 – well-known megachurch pastors – although in recent years the megachurches have gotten smaller and the pastors less famous.

In this case, both are from metro Atlanta. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., and Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., are both closely associated with the SBC’s conservative power structure. Cox and Hunt were on trips to Israel and unavailable for comment for this story.

-- Two of the candidates are small-church pastors who would qualify as SBC outsiders and -- if history is a guide -- longshots for the presidency. Wiley Drake is pastor of the 75-member First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif. Les Puryear, a North Carolina native who was a telecommunications executive for 25 years before entering the pastorate in 1996, serves Lewisville (N.C.) Baptist Church, with an average attendance of 195.

Both Drake and Puryear are better known than most small-church pastors. Drake served as SBC second vice president and is a mainstay at the annual meeting, proposing the famous boycott of Disney because of questionable programming and support of gay rights. Puryear was organizer of the SBC’s first Small Church Leadership Conference in March.

-- Two candidates were career Southern Baptist missionaries. Bill Wagner, a 72-year-old seminary professor and current president of Olivet University International in San Francisco, served the SBC International Mission Board from 1965 to 1996. Avery Willis, former senior vice president of overseas operations for the IMB and author of the popular MasterLife discipleship curriculum, served 15 years as head of adult discipleship for LifeWay Christian Resources before retiring to Arkansas.

Like Drake, Wagner served as SBC second vice president, in 2004.

The unusual election this year is being played out against a backdrop of decline in the country’s second-largest religious group. For the first time in history, the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention posted a decline in membership last year, after several years of baptism losses and other signs of slumping vitality.

The statistics belie the battle cry of conservatives, that seizing control of the denominational hierarchy would prevent a slide into liberal-inspired lethargy, the graveyard of mainline denominations.

The abundant field of candidates – and their less-than-obvious political alignment -- has prompted speculation that Southern Baptist conservatives are now so comfortable with their hold on the convention that they are less concerned about who holds the powerful office, which was the centerpiece of the strategy used to steer the SBC onto a rightward course.

Another interpretation, however, suggests that the convention’s powerbrokers are promoting a more-the-merrier strategy in hopes of assuring at least one sympathetic candidate makes it into a runoff.

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, a prominent blogger and leader among younger SBC conservatives, took the less cynical interpretation, welcoming the burgeoning field.

“I think it’s healthy when there are a lot of different candidates,” said the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid. He said there are “good choices” among the six announced candidates.

And he hinted the field may grow even larger. “When was the last time there were six, maybe seven, maybe eight candidates for president?” he asked. “There is a possibility [of more nominees], but it’s not for certain.”

The presidential winner will succeed South Carolina pastor Frank Page, who was elected with help from Burleson and other bloggers who advocated relaxing denominational control and spreading leadership around. Their goal is to broaden SBC involvement, innovation and inclusiveness in order to increase cooperation and turn around declining statistics.

“The issue is no longer who is president, but what are the issues?” Burleson continued. The issues are denominational cooperation, local-church autonomy and “resurgence of the gospel,” said Burleson.

The pastor promised there would be motions introduced at the June convention related to those issues – “either to stop progress or move it along.”

Burleson did not announce his favorite among the six nominees but said electing a small-church pastor “would represent a voice in the SBC that has not been heard.”

Puryear is an advocate for the SBC’s helping small churches, which he said represent 83 percent of the convention’s churches.

“Historically, the SBC has been a convention of small churches led by megachurch leaders,” he said in an e-mail interview. “I have nothing against those in megachurches. However, I don't think they understand the needs of the small church and its members and leaders as well as someone who ministers in that environment each day.”

Puryear admitted small-church pastors have not fared well in previous presidential elections. “I do know that now more than ever before I am hearing the small church included in convention discussions,” he said.

Puryear likewise welcomed the multitude of nominees. And he added, “Indianapolis will reveal whether the [2006] election of Frank Page was a true shift in the SBC or just a bump in the road for the establishment.”

In what has to be a first in SBC history, one candidate interviewed another about the SBC election on live radio May 15.

Wiley Drake, who hosts a daily radio show in Southern California that is also webcast on the Internet, interviewed fellow Californian Bill Wagner.

The interview focused more on the candidates’ agreements than differences, and Drake pledged to support Wagner if the mission leader is elected.

Wagner said the SBC should develop a program to recruit and send out college students for two-year stints as missionaries, with the individuals, their families and their churches supporting them financially.

He also advocated creating a convention department to relate to the secular media. Baptist Press, the denomination’s information arm, “does an outstanding job” of communicating with Southern Baptists but “a miserable job” with secular media, Wagner said.

“There is no apparatus to let people know who we are and the tremendous things we’re doing,” Wagner said, to Drake’s “amens.” Wagner, who has a website promoting his candidacy, added Southern Baptists are “behind on using the Internet.”

At the interview’s conclusion, Drake said of Wagner: “I agree with his presidential platform and will do everything I can to assist him … if he is elected.”

Wagner, on his website (, offers a “Contract with Southern Baptists” that advocates the “conservative resurgence,” expanding SBC involvement to include all conservatives, supporting the SBC mission boards, learning about world religions, deploying college students in missions, rebuilding relationships with national Baptist unions around the world, and involving younger Baptists, small churches and minority churches in SBC life.

Drake is emphasizing the spiritual dimension of his presidency, promising to promote “repentance and revival” in SBC churches and in America and to lead Southern Baptists to increase denominational cooperation and influence the social order – particularly as it concerns government “intimidation” of preachers.

“Win, lose or draw, I’m going to take on the [American Civil Liberties Union],” he pledged in an interview with ABP.

Drake, who supported Page’s election, said he is “one of the few candidates who can make changes” needed in the SBC. “If we don’t make those changes, we’re going to be in deep, deep trouble.”

Avery Willis, who also promotes his candidacy on a website (, told Associated Baptist Press his presidency will stress the spiritual needs of Southern Baptists.

“The thing I see missing most in the churches I visit is God,” he said.

If elected, he would “talk about whatever it means to be a disciple,” said the longtime proponent of personal discipleship. Denominational emphasis on revival and evangelism is important, he said, “but it’s not going to turn around the situation of 70 percent of our churches being stagnant or declining.”

“I will be calling for a spiritual returning to God on a personal level and a congregational level.”


Gay marriage moves ahead in Calif. after state Supreme Court ruling
By Robert Marus

SAN FRANCISCO (ABP) -- Sixty years after their predecessors handed down a landmark decision allowing interracial marriages, the California Supreme Court justices May 15 did the same for same-sex marriage, overturning a statewide ban on the controversial practice.

The decision paves the way for the Golden State to become the second jurisdiction in the union with fully legalized gay marriage. However, it likely will have little effect, legally speaking, on same-sex couples in the state, which already offers such couples domestic partnerships with rights and obligations virtually identical to those provided by marriage.

Nonetheless, the court’s majority decided that denying the use of the term “marriage” to such couples violates their rights under the state’s charter.

“The question we must address is whether, under these circumstances, the failure to designate the official relationship of same-sex couples as marriage violates the California Constitution,” said the court’s majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald George.

The majority referred to the court’s historic 1948 Perez v. Sharp ruling, which similarly said a California ban on interracial marriage violated the state constitution’s equal-protection provisions – even though such a ban had existed since California’s founding. It was the first state high court in the United States to issue a ruling on interracial marriage, and it predated by nearly two decades the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision overturning such anti-miscegenation laws nationwide.

The Perez decision, the current California court’s majority said, “makes clear that history alone is not invariably an appropriate guide for determining the meaning and scope of this fundamental constitutional guarantee. The decision in Perez, although rendered by a deeply divided court, is a judicial opinion whose legitimacy and constitutional soundness are by now universally recognized.”

The ruling overturns a 2000 statewide ballot initiative, called Proposition 22, that defined marriage exclusively in heterosexual terms. It passed with 61 percent of the vote. But recent polls have suggested opinions are quickly changing in favor of gay marriage in California.

Justice Marvin Baxter, in a dissenting opinion, said the court’s majority was not justified in overruling the proposition.

“Nothing in our Constitution, express or implicit, compels the majority’s startling conclusion that the age-old understanding of marriage -- an understanding recently confirmed by an initiative law -- is no longer valid,” he wrote. “California statutes already recognize same-sex unions and grant them all the substantive legal rights this state can bestow. If there is to be a further sea change in the social and legal understanding of marriage itself, that evolution should occur by similar democratic means.”

The case stemmed from 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) and other city officials began performing same-sex marriages despite the Proposition 22 ban. Hundreds of couples were wed before the California Supreme Court stepped in to halt the marriages.

The justices, six of whom were appointed by Republican governors, found that Newsom had overstepped his authority. They put a halt to the marriages, invalidating the ones that already had taken place.

Gay couples married under his edict sued, first challenging the state law banning same-sex marriage, then challenging the new state law that created domestic partnerships. They were joined by gay-rights and civil-liberties groups. The court consolidated several cases that dealt with the constitutionality of the two-tiered scheme of marriage and domestic partnership.

Conservative groups in the state have vowed to push harder for an amendment that is likely to appear on the November ballot to reinstitute the marriage ban. Since it would be a constitutional amendment, it would invalidate the court’s ruling.

“The voters realize that defining marriage as one man and one woman is important because the government should not, by design, deny a child both a mother and father,” said a statement from Glen Lavy, a senior counsel for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, who argued the case before the court. “The court’s decision clearly demonstrates that marriage is not ultimately safe from tampering by activists and others in government until the voters have amended the constitution.”

The organization will ask the court to stay their decision -- slated to take effect in a month – until after the election.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who vetoed legislative attempts to legalize same-sex marriage twice in as many years, said May 15 he would uphold and enforce the latest decision. He has previously said he would oppose the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage permanently.

The case is City and County of San Francisco v. California.


Analysis: ‘Evangelical Manifesto’ draws praise, critique from across Baptist life
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- If the authors of “An Evangelical Manifesto,” released May 7, aimed to inspire conversation and self-reflection among their kindred, they certainly succeeded.

Among Baptists at the intersection of faith and public life, the conversation and reflection have included both praise and critique of the document itself -- from the left and the right. Southern Baptist critics on the right, including Al Mohler and Richard Land – complained mostly about what they consider the document’s omissions, such as a condemnation of sexual immorality.

The 20-page statement, initially endorsed by about 75 prominent evangelical pastors, scholars and writers, delivers a barely concealed rebuke of the methods and rhetoric of the Religious Right from many either within its own ranks or very close to it.

The document specifically denounces what it describes as the “two equal and opposite errors” of privatizing faith and politicizing it.

Politicization of Christianity, the document says, amounts to “using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form.”

The manifesto emphasizes that evangelicalism should be primarily a theological identity rather than a political or theological one. It calls on conservative evangelicals to contribute to a more civil public discourse rather than simply adding ammunition to the culture wars.

“[W]e are especially troubled by the fact that a generation of culture warring, reinforced by understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world, is creating a powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people,” the statement notes. “If this were to harden and become an American equivalent of the long-held European animosity toward religion in the public life, the result would be disastrous for the American republic and a severe constriction of liberty for people of all faiths.”

The manifesto also calls on evangelicals to broaden their social advocacy beyond the classic issues of abortion rights and sexuality into other areas, such as the environment, poverty and international human rights.

Its initial endorsers included a broad range of evangelical leaders -- such as popular author Os Guinness, who spearheaded the effort, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Muow and Christianity Today Editor David Neff.

The first signatories also included a wide range of Baptists, such as Bethel University President George Brushaber, Liberty Theological Seminary President Ergun Caner, Mercer University professor (and Associated Baptist Press columnist) David Gushee, and Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George.

But even before it was released, some conservatives denounced the document for leaving out the most politically prominent evangelical leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Land, in a May 13 opinion column for the SBC’s news arm, said he was “in full agreement with at least 90 percent of what [the statement] has to say” but that details -- such as what he called theological imprecision -- would prevent him from signing it.

He also took issue with the authors’ decision to offer a specific critique of rampant consumerism and materialism in some parts of evangelical culture without offering a similarly specific critique of sexual immorality or other sins.

“[I]f the manifesto can take time to denounce ‘consumerism’ by name, why can't it take time to specify the sins of premarital and extramarital sex?” Land asked. “When evangelicals, who proclaim the sanctity of marriage, have the same rate of divorce as the general society, they have indeed shamed the gospel they proclaim with their lips but deny with their libidos.”

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a prominent conservative social critic, took similar issue with the document’s finer points, while praising its overall thrust. His overarching criticism was that the manifesto lacked specific proposals for how evangelicals could increase civility in public discourse and engage in public affairs without appearing as if they were attempting to hijack the government for purely theological ends.

“There can be no doubt that far too many evangelicals have confused the gospel with a political agenda -- and even with the Republican Party,” wrote Mohler, in a May 12 entry on his blog. “But what the document never makes clear is how to hold to deep moral and political convictions, based in biblical principles, without running the danger of identification with a political agenda -- at least to some extent. Does the manifesto suggest a Gnostic form of political engagement?”

While praising the document’s call for civility -- much of which echoes the thrust of Guinness’ most recent book, The Case for Civility -- Mohler said it didn’t lay out a plan for engaging civilly when debating principles of the highest importance.

“[N]either Guinness nor the manifesto can construct the framework for civility that Guinness brilliantly imagines. This is due to the fact that we are now dealing with the very fundamental questions of existence that the manifesto acknowledges; the questions that, in the end, will shape the civilization,” Mohler wrote.

“Issues such as abortion and marriage are not only important, but urgent…. The manifesto is wonderfully prophetic in calling for civility, but it never explains how civility can survive a policy conclusion -- or how civil parties to a conversation about ultimate things can speak the truth and always be considered civil.”

Guinness, in a written response sent to an Associated Baptist Press reporter, welcomed Mohler’s praise for the document but said his criticism was misdirected.

“Would that Dr Mohler’s simple agreement with [a] hotly contested statement in the manifesto be heard widely by supporters of the Religious Right! What even the pope now acknowledges about the errors of Christendom, and most thoughtful Christians confess sadly about many expressions of faith on both left and right, has been rejected by many as a statement of unfaithfulness and a pandering to the left,” he said.

Of the accusation that the manifesto calls for a political engagement that is “Gnostic” – disconnecting knowledge from physical action -- Guinness said: “God forbid, and why so? The manifesto calls for evangelicals to be ‘fully engaged’ in politics but never ‘completely equated’ with any party or ideology. In other words, Christian engagement that is faithful always requires the same steps as any other Christian engagement in any other field, such as economics or academic scholarship. It requires: 1) discernment (what actually is the truth of the matter and the facts of the case?), 2) assessment (from a biblical standard, is it true or false, right or wrong, wise or foolish?), and 3) engagement (where it is true, right, and wise, we use it gratefully; where it is false, wrong, and foolish, we resist it wholeheartedly). There is nothing Gnostic here.”

As for a lack of specificity about what the statement means when it extols “civility,” Guinness said it should “not be confused with niceness, etiquette or squeamishness about differences, and it is most certainly not a recipe for any syncretistic form of interfaith dialogue.”

Instead, he said, “A civil public square is a carefully constructed framework of the ‘three Rs’ – rights, responsibilities and respect – within which people of all faiths are free to enter and engage public life but with a due respect for the rights of all others too.”

It’s like the sport of boxing, which uses a set of long-established rules to structure a fight, Guinness said. “So a civil public square is not a grand, ecumenical love-in, at the end of which everybody agrees about everything. It is a political framework that acts like the ring within which important differences are ‘fought out’ robustly but always civilly,” he said.

Baptist critics with a different view of the relationship between church and state, meanwhile, also expressed agreement with the overall thrust of the manifesto but criticism of some of its finer points.

“From the perspective of the [Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty], this is a welcome contribution to the ongoing conversation about religion in public life and an important declaration of a Christian commitment to religious freedom,” said Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Washington-based BJC in an e-mail message. “The statement rejects the idea that Christianity should be treated preferentially [by government entities] and commits to a ‘civil public square’ to include all perspectives. By doing so, the signers seem to be signaling a greater willingness to reach across dividing lines and work toward common ground than many would assume.”

The document uses familiar terminology to describe two views of the proper place of religion in public life -- the so-called “sacred public square” versus the “naked public square.” That framework has been described by some who have supported government endorsements of religion in the past but denounced by some religious supporters of strict church-state separation as a false dichotomy.

In the case of the manifesto authors, Hollman said, “the utility of their statement on … religious expression in the public square is limited by their failure to define terms. Whether the word ‘public’ is being used to mean ‘government-sponsored’ or simply ‘outside one's home and church community’ has significant practical and legal implications.”

Guinness said he was closer to Hollman’s view of church-state separation than many religious conservatives. “Every term and label has been abused by someone. But that said, no such suspicion should be read into this,” he said. “I have been a constant critic, for example, of the president’s ‘faith-based initiatives,’ though that argument is no part of the manifesto.”

Melissa Rogers, professor of public policy at the Baptist-related Wake Forest University Divinity School, welcomed the statement’s robust defense of religious liberty. But, in a May 8 post on her blog (, she added: “A philosophical commitment to this principle is good; a pledge to act on that commitment is better. The next step is to pledge to go to bat for this principle in some specific debates about policy and law over the next year. If more evangelicals take this step, the cause of religious freedom will be advanced in important ways.”

Nonetheless, moderate/progressive Baptists and conservative Baptists alike seemed to find much to praise and only minor points to criticize about the statement overall.

Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and preaching pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La., said that while he found minor fault with the statement, he was happy to see it.

“This manifesto should be read as a strong criticism of the Religious Right’s so-called leadership, who were clearly not involved in the drafting or signing of this document,” he said, in a statement. “I appreciate the tone of this document, especially the call to remove religion from politics, though it does not and should not remove the right of people of faith to voice their concerns on issues of national importance.

“We will have to wait and see what, if any, impact this document has on the Religious Right.”


Fellowship announces formal partnership with Ghana Baptist Convention
By Patricia Heys

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Leaders from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Ghana Baptist Convention recently signed a memorandum of understanding, representing an official partnership between the organizations and churches that partner with them.

For many years, Fellowship partner churches and Ghanaian Baptist churches have collaborated in ministry. Leaders hope that this formal partnership will enable more congregations to join the work already in progress.

“The future of global missions will be shaped by strategic partnerships between Baptist bodies as well as between churches,” CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal said.

“This partnership has the potential of being transformative both for the Ghana Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It represents a vision of shared ministry that is exciting.”

The Ghana Baptist Convention represents approximately 1,000 churches with more than 65,000 members, primarily located in the country's rural areas. Twenty percent of these churches have their own building. The remainder worship in classrooms or temporary structures. The convention has approximately 600 trained ministers and two ministerial training institutions.

CBF and the Ghana Baptist Convention will collaborate in a variety of ministries, including establishing church-to-church connections, creating networks of congregations focused on meeting the needs of the most marginalized and supporting Ghanaian churches in the United States. The organizations will share resources in five specific areas -- prayer, church planting, leadership development, ministry infrastructure and community transformation.

The convention's Student Holiday Outreach Program will enable student groups from the United States to minister across Ghana through construction projects, sports activities and evangelism.


Three Baptist universities rank high in new survey
By ABP staff

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Three Baptist universities were listed among the top 50 national universities in a new results-based ranking by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), based in Washington.

The two-year-old nonprofit organization ranked Wake Forest University at 19th, Samford University at 27th and Baylor University at 34th on its list.

Rankings were released May 6 on the website, and are scheduled for publication in the May 19 issue of Forbes magazine.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity is an independent, not-for-profit organization that studies higher-education issues. Rankings are based on student perceptions of the quality of courses and instructors, graduation rates and such factors as percentage of students winning nationally competitive awards.

The center also looks at the number of graduates listed in “Who's Who in America” because that publication includes undergraduate affiliations of those listed. The organization measures student evaluations posted on, a 9-year-old site with 6.8 million student-generated evaluations.

Because the Center for College Affordability and Productivity is a results-based ranking, its findings often differ from other recognized college performance measures, such as the annual list produced by U.S. News & World Report.

For example, Southern Methodist University in Dallas ranked 13th on the center’s list, but only made it to the 67th spot on the U.S. News list.

Wake Forest ranked 30th on the U.S. News list, with Baylor at 75th. Samford showed up at 118th.

The trio ranked among several nationally known institutions, including Rice University (24th), Carnegie Mellon University (25th), Georgetown University (26th), the University of California-Berkeley (28th), the University of Rochester (29th) and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (30th) in the CCAP listing.

"We always are pleased with national recognition because it affirms the work of our faculty, students, alumni, staff and friends in building the strong academic reputation of Samford University," said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland, in a press statement.


Southern gospel music legend Dottie Rambo dies in crash
By Vicki Brown

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -- Southern gospel music singer and songwriter Dottie Rambo, 74, was killed when her tour bus ran off a highway near Mount Vernon, Mo., May 11. She was en route to an engagement in Texas after performing in Illinois.

Born Joyce Reba Luttrell in Anton, Ky., Rambo wrote more than 2,500 songs, including “We Shall Behold Him,” “He Looked Beyond My Fault (and Saw My Need)” and “I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before.”

According to the singer’s Web site (, she wrote her first song as an 8-year-old “on a Morganfield, Ky, creek bank.” At 12 years old, she started traveling to sing in churches. She married Buck Rambo at 16. They were later divorced.

Rambo broke into the music business at 17 when she attracted the attention of then-Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. The governor, who was also a singer, funded publication of Rambo’s songs.

The music artist garnered a number of awards throughout her music career. In 1968, her song, “It’s the Soul of Me,” captured a Grammy for the Best Soul Gospel Performance. Rambo was among the first white gospel performers to use African-American backup singers.

The Country Christian Music Association named her its Songwriter of the Century in 1994, gave her its Pioneer Award in 2003, and named her Songwriter of the Year in 2004. Whitney Houston’s recording of Rambo’s “I Go to the Rock” garnered a Dove Award in 1999.

Rambo was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame twice -- as a solo performer and with her group, The Rambos. In 2006, she was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

The singer/songwriter also performed for television, regularly appearing in the 1960s broadcast, “Gospel Singing Jubilee.” She had her own program, “The Dottie Rambo Magazine” on TBN for several years.

Her 80th project -- “Sheltered,” a CD of fan favorites -- is due for release this summer.

Rambo is survived by a daughter, Reba Rambo-McGuire; a sister, Nellie Slaton of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; two brothers, Jerry Luttrell of Madisonville, Ky., and Freddie Luttrell of Sturgis, Ky.; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.


Opinion: Christians’ attention to foreign policy long overdue
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- One of the great weaknesses of contemporary Christian public engagement is in the area of U.S. foreign policy.

We live in what for now remains the most powerful nation on earth, and there are a goodly number of us Christians here -- perhaps a majority of the population, depending on how we make the count. And yet we have done little to hone our reflections about how this nation conducts its foreign policy.

This weakness became apparent to me when working on my book on faith and politics. I discovered that the evangelical/Christian right had two problems in this regard. One was a narrow focus on what have been called “moral values” issues such as abortion, stem cells and homosexuality.

The other was that, amid this supposedly narrow focus, these groups had in most cases essentially adopted neoconservative or Bush administration foreign policy as “the Christian position.” Just review the history or look at their websites and it will be apparent.

The evangelical left has tended to give much more attention to foreign-policy concerns, but their stance has often lacked nuance. They have generally been dovish, multilateralist, and aid/trade oriented. They have historically opposed every U.S. military action, emphasized globalized rather than unilateral solutions to foreign-policy challenges, and attacked the current U.S.-dominated international economic/political apparatus such as the World Bank and trade agreements.

Meanwhile, in Christian academia, in the world of textbooks and classes, it often seems that the only issue ever discussed is the ethics of war. Many who have been to a Christian college or seminary can now run through the criteria of just-war theory and contrast it with pacifism. Some even know about just-peacemaking theory. But even this laudable breakthrough often fails the concreteness test. Most presentations of the ethics of war are theoretical and abstract and fail to think about the particular challenges facing Christians in the most military-powerful and military-engaged nation in the world.

While I am no foreign-policy expert, I am convinced that Christians who seek to be thoughtful and engaged citizens need to be thinking about at least these issues:

-- The power of the United States in the world

Many have argued or now assume that the U.S. is the world’s sole superpower, or “hyperpower.” Sometimes our nation is described as the new Roman Empire, and this is not usually meant as a compliment. On the other hand, the staggering costs -- in blood, treasure and prestige -- of the Iraq War and to some extent of Afghanistan, together with the inexorable rise of powers like China, have others arguing that the United States is now clearly in decline.

There are factual and moral questions to consider here. The factual questions involve how one evaluates the power of a nation and how the United States is actually doing in relation to other nations or its own prior power.

The more interesting question is moral. It involves considering whether we, as Christians, should care about how much power the United States might have. Should we want our nation to have the power of an empire? Should we care if our nation is in decline? To what extent is loyalty to the self-interest of one nation -- our nation -- in a world of 190 nations, appropriate for Christians? Are we to be entirely internationalist, entirely nationalist or something in between?

-- Unilateralism vs. international cooperation

The world both is and is not one entity -- the world community. At times it does function as a kind of mega-polity, as one global community. We see this in international treaties (that work), in global market capitalism, in global emergency-relief efforts, to some extent in a disputed thing called international law, and sometimes in the meetings and acts of the United Nations. On the other hand, the world also gives evidence of functioning as an unsupervised, disunited collection of individual nations and alliances in which those with the most power win.

Most Christian ethicists believe that international cooperation and the strengthening of a strong global community are the right goals. They (we) believe that the United States is actually better off as a cooperating member of this international community, even if our actions are sometimes constrained by that involvement. Of course, after 9/11 the Bush administration emphasized U.S. unilateralism and embarked on the Iraq War with little international support.

Question: Can it be shown that multilateralism and international cooperation, rather than unilateralism and the rule of the most powerful, is the preferred Christian position?

-- Military intervention

Setbacks in Iraq and limited success in Afghanistan have shown that the U.S. military is not omnipotent. Nor is the U.S. budget omnicompetent to handle every stress we might load on it. With over 4,000 deaths in Iraq, many times that number seriously wounded, and a long-term commitment to care for survivors through a variety of expensive programs, our nation may be reaching the limit of how much military force we can hope to apply in the world.

Isolationists, libertarians, peacemakers and many others who are simply weary of war are calling for an end to our involvement in Iraq and a reconsideration of our military involvements in general. And yet some of the same people continue to press for involvement of our military to prevent genocide, as in Sudan. Christians must think through both the practicalities and the ethics of the use of the United States military in the world.

It is past time that Christians turn our attention to serious consideration of these and other moral issues relevant to U.S. foreign policy.


-- David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.

Prayer Blog - 5/16/2008, #2

CST is facing the potential loss of his job at Jewelry Television, which he loves. Today, the Knoxville-based shopping organization laid off 150 employees. CST is well aware that two from his department will also be relieved on Monday as downsizing continues. He finds not knowing worse than either answer. The company will pay one week severance for every year employed, so if he does lose his job, with 8½ years experience plus countless vacation hours accumulated, he will have ample time to seek employment. Please keep him in your prayers.

Prayer Blog - 5/16/2008

BKW's friend and business partner's daughter was close to two North Cobb High School students (18-year-old Jose R. Solorio-Martinez and 15-year-old and Edwardo Avalos)who drowned in about 60 feet of water on May 9 in Lake Allatoona. She often exchanged texts with one of them. Please keep the families and friends of all involved in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 5/16/2008

Question: Who was spared in the fall of Jericho?

Answer: Rahab and all who were in her house. (Joshua 6:17)

Comments: Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho who housed Israelite spies in hopes that they would spare her family during the conquest (Joshua 2:12) They did. As the Israelites entered Jericho, Joshua gave explicit instructions not to harm Rahab or her family.

"The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. (Joshua 6:17, NASB)

At the outset of the New Testament, the reader learns that Rahab became one of the descendants of Jesus. (Matthew 1:5)

Word of the Day - 5/16/2008


To inveigle is to entice, lure, or ensnare by flattery or artful talk or inducements.

Paul used the fact that he never inveigled as part of the basis of his credibility with the church at Thessalonica.

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness-- nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (I Thessalonians 2:5-6, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/16/2008

I spent my 2nd day of imprisonment with the wallpaper man. Actually, that is not true. I did not allow myself to be trapped. I went to Bible Study and arrived to find the wallpaperer (is that a word?) in the house. I have no idea how he got in. (Come to think of it, that is rather disturbing.) I assumed that since he had spent several hours unsupervised and the house remained intact, I would leave him be. He made a great deal of progress as both rooms were completely stripped. I will keep you updated on this riveting story.

The Bible Study went well and I also delivered all of my recommendation forms for my PhD program. Only one actually works at the church (MLM) but HTB and TAM had me drop the paperwork off there. It was convenient. Be praying, as not getting participation from my seminary professors is somewhat irregular. Pray for all things involved too.

My Bible Study actually met at the same time in consecutive weeks as MLM, CMU and I gathered at 10 am. We met in the same building, but not the same room as we returned to the BS (Bible Study) Arena (aka the Bride's Room). We do not want to get carried away with consistency.

I tentatively agreed to report on my mission trip at Central Baptist Church of Bearden at the Wednesyday night service on May 21st. The only potential deal breaker is rather petty but probable. Life would be easier if the entire church just read my blog. (I thought I would include another photo of nondescript empty white room.)

At Bible Study, I learned that one of DLM's (MLM's wife) student at Sequoyah Elementary School hung himself at age 11. This was highly disturbing and hit close to home at it was the school my mother taught at. I do not know if I have ever heard of a suicide of one so young. Keep the young man’s family and all affected in your prayers. Here is the obituary that appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

WADSWORTH, NICK - age 11, of Knoxville, went to be with the Lord Thursday, May 8, 2008. He was a student of Sequoyah Elementary School. Survived by mother, Ms. Gina Gose; father and step-mother, George & Jacqui Wadsworth; brother, Tyler Wadsworth; step-brothers, Nathan and Jake Alexander; step-sister, Grace Alexander; grandparents, Sandra Gose, Gene Gose, Bill & Jean Wadsworth; step-grandparents, Dwain & Margaret Kitchel; greatgrandparents, Jesse Gose, Agnes Mikels, Callie Cockman, Rebecca Crawford; aunts and uncles, Melinda & Keith Spears, Jeannine & Bill Burkhart, Terry & Michael Flanery, Elizabeth & Todd Ethridge; several cousins. Nick was a shining light, full of life, who will be missed and remembered by all who knew him. Family will receive friends Monday from 6PM until 8PM in the chapel of Berry Funeral Home with funeral services to follow at 8PM, Rev. Mike Mikels officiating. Family and friends will meet at Highland South Cemetery at 2PM Tuesday for interment services. Arrangements by Berry Funeral Home, Chapman Hwy.

Thursday also marked my seminary buddy MDC's birthday. Happy birthday. As always, you were in my thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bible Trivia - 5/15/2008

Question: Who saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at His right hand just before his death?

Answer: Stephen. (Acts 7:55)

Comments: Stephen was the first Christian martyr. As he was dying, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

"But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;" (Acts 7:55, NASB)

Though Jesus is always presented at God's right hand, he is typically sitting, having accomplished the work of our redemption (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). In fact, Acts 7:55 & 7:56 record the only Biblical account of Jesus standing (histemi) at God's side.

David J. Williams speculates, "The thought may be that he had risen to receive Stephen into heaven or to plead his case in the heavenly court, as though two trials were in progress: this one, conducted by the Sanhedrin, and another, which alone would determine Stephen’s fate [Luke 12:8]." (Williams, New International Bible Commentary: Acts, p. 146.)

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) adds, "Stephen had been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing His servant before God. The proper posture for a witness is the standing posture. Stephen, condemned by an earthly court, appeals for vindication to a heavenly court, and his vindicator in that supreme court is Jesus, who stands at God's right hand as Stephen's advocate." (Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 168.)

The change in Jesus' posture may also indicate the earnestness with which he watched the events unfold.

Word of the Day - 5/15/2008


Elegiac means used in, suitable for, or resembling an elegy; i.e. expressing sorrow or lamentation.

In the Beattitudes, Jesus asserted that the elegiac listeners were blessed as they would be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/15/2008

I spent the better part of Wednesday imprisoned in my own home as a workman arrived to wallpaper two bathrooms. This was especially inconvenient as when he arrived, I had no idea he was scheduled to be there. On top of that, he only completed part of a single wall in one of the bathrooms. In the entire day! (After my Gulfport trip, I am now qualified to critique such things.)

On Wednesday night, I visited with KLTW and KJW. RAW was playing basketball at the YMCA. In his absence, I did bring RAW a book - Finding God in the Lord of The Rings. He loved the trilogy and has nothing to read. KLTW has mixed emotions as in his lack of reading material, he has been working on many of her “projects.” On the other hand, she can study without being distracted.

When, I arrived, KJW was taking a bath, which she likes. She also had to wash her hair, which she does not. She had eaten at Mangia earlier in the day and gotten pizza in her hair. The photo on the left is what she does when you ask her to see her “beautiful face” (as opposed to her “mad face.”) The right is what she looks like with a faux-hawk.

I learned that “Chan’s Car” has now made KJW’s list of “family.” This list previously included only her parents, herself, and her “Frannie Bear.” Yes, my Xterra made the family before I did.

After her bath, KJW and I watched an episode of the ubiquitous SpongeBob SquarePants on Nickelodeon. She has television tunnel vision just like her father as she simply cannot be bothered while watching. When the show ended, we switched to Noggin (a live action show was beginning on Nick) and began an episode Wonder Pets. She is very cute singing “What's gonna work? Teamwork!" It is in every single episode. You would think if that was always the answer, the Wonder Pets would instinctively use it. I'm probably analyzing too much...

I did not finish the episode as even I have my limits in regards to children’s programming. Though SpongeBob is unequivocally her favorite, she has added both WonderPetz and Max and Ruby to her favorites. RAW especially likes the latter program as of the two bunnies who star on the show, the male is always portrayed as the smarter character. Insert your own realistic joke here.

As we watched television, her mother worked on a poetry critique as part of her curriculum at South College. We watched the former Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins here. Collins is great. Unfortunately, her paper was on a 16-line poem. We enjoyed Collins nevertheless.

Finally, during a break, we saw a commercial for the Atlantic resort, which uses a reworked version of the Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You"(featured prominently in Juno.) The new version features lyrics like “Let’s go ride a couple of dolphins/Or maybe play tennis/Or do some golfing.” Need I say, this is horrible!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Last night while I was at dinner with Couple X, a discussion of the NBA ensued. During this chat, Ms. X referred to San Antonio Spurs power forward Robert Horry (left) as the player who looks like Will Smith (right). Do you agree?

Horry set an NBA record by appearing in his 238th playoff game during Game 5 of San Antonio's series against New Orleans on Tuesday night.

Bible Trivia - 5/14/2008

Question: How many silver coins did the Good Samaritan give to the innkeeper for the care of the wounded traveler?

Answer: Two. (Luke 10:30-37)

Comments: The currency left by the "Good Samaritan" has been translated many ways. The KJV reads "two pence" The CEV, The Message, NIV, NLT render "two silver coins." The Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and RSV choose not to translate but rather keep it as "denarii."

"On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'" (Luke 10:35), NASB)

A denarii was a Roman silver coin in New Testament era. The word occurs 16 times in the New Testament. The coin first appeared around 211 BCE during the Roman Republic concurrent with the Second Punic War. Most carried the likeness of a Roman emperor. It literally menans "containing ten" as it took its name from it being equal to ten "asses." At the time of Jesus, it weighed 3.9 grams (a theoretical weight of 1/84 of a Roman pound). It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus.

Classical historians regularly claim that in the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire the daily wage for an unskilled laborer and common soldier was 1 denarius without tax, or about $20 (US) in bread. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard also suggests that a denarius was then the ordinary pay for a day's wages. (Matthew 20:2-13)

Thus, the Samaritan left an ample amount of money to tend the wounded.

Word of the Day - 5/14/2008


Sodality is fellowship; comradeship.

Sodality was one of the the activities the early church committed itself to immediately after Pentecost. (Acts 2:47)

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42, NASB)

In the jargon of the Roman Catholic Church, sodality is a lay society for religious and charitable purposes.

Note: This picture of early Christian worship was painted by William Hole.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/14/2008

Tuesday was a great day as I got to see both of my “anonymous” factions, Couple Y and Couple X.

WRK spent much of the day getting her car serviced at both Fisher Tire and Toyota of Knoxville. As she waited for her tires to be rotated, I met she and SMA at Calhoun’s in Turkey Creek.

Though I have eaten at the franchise often, I have never eaten at this particular (very large) location. The Bearden Calhoun’s is the only one I have eaten at that serves twiced baked potatoes. As such, it is my favorite. Other than having only once baked (half baked?) potatoes, it was a great experience.

WRK is well. The following day (May 14) was to be her last day at Dynasty Kitchen & Bath. I do not hink she ate though. This is a photo of her leftovers. She swears that she ate at least one of her chicken fingers though I do not believe her. She had so many leftovers that the complimentary bread could not even fit into her box.

We discussed my phone issues over lunch. My cell phone randomly shuts off and always after I answer incoming calls (not outgoing). I have a Verizon phone. Any ideas? Right now we are operating under the assumption that I carry a dormant illness that infects only technology, cell phones in particular. This is based upon my horrible history with phones.

In another cell phone issue, if I am texting using the T9 function and a word is spelled, but not the one I wish, how do I scroll for more options? For instance, if I intend "food" and the phone produces "done," can I use something other than the ABC function to amend the text? I haved filed this under "Questions I never saw my self asking".

On Tuesday night, JTH and I met Couple X at the Applebees in Oak Ridge. We not only met there because I am attempting to eat at every Applebees on the planet, but also because my father obtained $50 in certificates at his Kidney Foundation fundraiser on May 3rd. A free meal was certainly worth the drive to Oak Ridge.

While picking JTH up, I checked on his mother, still recovering from knee replacement surgery (4/15). She is progressing. Reduced swelling has almost made her left knee symmetrical with her right and her range of motion is at 130°, which was her ultimate goal. She resumes work next week. She did try to do too much on Mother’s Day (5/11) and paid for it. She also sleeps anytime she closes her eyes which her doctor assessed as her body’s way of telling her to rest. On hearing this, her husband, CEH, asked her how she could possibly rest any more than she does as she sits in her chair twelve hours a day. He then told her to get up regardless of what her body told her and even suggested she go cut the grass. CEH has always been one of my heroes.

I had intended to drive all four of us, but a failure to communicate left Couple X waiting on us at the restaurant for some time. Even so, it was a good Applebees experience. Our waiter, Dewayne Leftwich (DJL), is JTH’s boss’ son-in-law and JTH watches his child daily in the daycare. Hence, our service was good.

Both halves of couple X had big news. Ms. X proudly discussed two new toys - a metallic red (technically “ultra red pearl”) Mitsubishi Eclipse (her Nissan Xterra had high payments and guzzled gas) and a new dog named Hemingway. Mr. X begins working with his father at B & T Distributing Co. on Monday. We are hoping its nearby offices will allow us to see him more.

Couple X has been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs and though she tends to read during the viewing, Ms. X is now even to drop some players’ names into the discussion. They have also been attending movies, as usual. Mr. X panned What Happens in Vegas (the new Ashton Kutcher/Cameron Diaz comedy) as he was “slightly intoxicated” and still did not laugh at any of it.

JTH was dejected most of the night and after dinner finally revealed that he had learned from her MySpace page that CDM is now engaged to her ex-boyfriend, David (D). She and JTH were linked as recently as Sunday (5/11, two days earlier). It is debatable whether or not she actually cheated on him in an issue similar to the eternal Ross-Rachel "We were on a break" debate. (Read: "Friends" reference.)

The ex-boyfriend lives in a trailer park in Powell, or at least he did. He was facing a possible eviction. (Evidently, there are park rangers for trailer parks. Who knew?) He had gotten into a wreck while drunk driving and suffered severe injuries. Highly responsible, he blamed CDM for putting him in the mental frame to do so. Naturally, he did not have any insurance and is also $27,000 in debt from the incident. JTH is unsure if he is even employed. The unfortunate automobile experience made the two realize how much they missed each other. As sentimental as this tale is, I am sure a Hallmark movie is forthcoming. I for one hope she believes in short engagements so that he can put her in his rearview mirror as soon as possible.

Can you see why everyone, especially me, rejected this relationship? No, I did not say, “I told you so.” I still hated to see my friend hurt. I also hate that his involvement with her (and admittedly my utter rejection of it) has distanced us.

To all Christians out there, use JTH as a cautionary tale and before dating read II Corinthians 6:14!

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (II Corinthians 6:14, NASB)

In more pleasant news, AOL has done a “Where are They Now feature on the cast of the television series “Saved By The Bell.” It is accessible to all (not just AOL subscribers) here. Some notes of interest:

  • Mark-Paul Gosselaar (“Zack Morris”) will be starring in a new TNT legal drama series called “Raising the Bar” created by Emmy-winner Steven Bochco. TNT released a press release on January 24th announcing the purchase of ten episodes. Gosselaar will stars as Jerry Kellerman, an idealistic public defender who will stop at nothing to help those who cannot help themselves. It will debut later this year.
  • Chattanooga native Dennis Haskins (“Mr. Belding”) recently posted on his MySpace page that he's "working on an album of karaoke favorites." Seriously. You can watch him sing karaoke here.
  • Future stars who appeared as extras on the shows included Eric Dane, Denise Richards, Casper Van Dien, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Pete’s wife), and Scott Wolf. Casper Van Dien?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 5/13/2008

Associated Baptist Press
May 13, 2008 (8-50)

Baptists mobilize relief efforts after Mother’s Day tornadoes
Blogging Baptists: As many motivations for blogging as there are bloggers
Blogging Baptists: Guidelines for ethical blogging? Start with the New Testament
Blogging Baptists: Blogs only latest battleground for historical Baptist contention
CBF to commission 18 missionaries under new online cohort process
Longtime Baptist musician, seminary professor dies

Baptists mobilize relief efforts after Mother’s Day tornadoes
By Vicki Brown

(ABP) – Various Baptist disaster-relief groups began mobilizing chainsaw teams and feeding units May 12 to assist victims of deadly tornadoes that tore across the Midwest and Southeast Mother’s Day weekend.

The storms claimed the lives of at least 22 people, including 15 in Missouri, six in Oklahoma and one in Georgia.

Among the dead in Missouri was a former volunteer worship leader at Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin. Rick Roundtree, 52, and three family members – his wife, Kathy, 47, son, Clayton, 13, and mother-in-law, Ruby Bilke, 76 -- were killed near Racine, Mo., May 10 as they traveled to a wedding. Roundtree had completed interim work at the church on May 4.

The Missouri Baptist Convention has a handful of chainsaw units in the area, according to disaster-relief coordinator Rick Seaton. “We are planning to send a head cook, but we don’t know how involved we will be yet,” Seaton said. “We’re still trying to coordinate with the Red Cross.”

The disaster team from Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association has sent a feeding unit.

According to the Baptist Messenger, Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief has two feeding units in place. One has been set up in Miami, Okla., near the hard-hit town of Picher. Six people were killed there, and the tiny town was virtually wiped off the map.

Another Oklahoma Baptist unit has been stationed at Albion, in the southeastern part of the state.

One person was killed when a tornado touched down near Dublin, Ga. Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief has sent volunteers to three locations -- Douglas County, Wrightsville and Macon. Clean-up and recovery, feeding and childcare units, and shower trailers are among the units dispatched, according to Eddie Oliver, communications specialist for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has not yet responded but plans to do so, according to Charles Ray, CBF’s national coordinator for disaster relief. The Fellowship normally waits 72 hours for utility companies to declare affected areas as safe.

“We are not first responders. We are not set up as feeding units,” Ray said. “We have been in contact with Missouri and Oklahoma people to check on CBF-supporting churches.”

The National Weather Service notes that 819 tornadoes have been reported since January, making 2008 the most active tornado season, to date, in a decade.


Blogging Baptists: As many motivations for blogging as there are bloggers
By John Hall

DALLAS (ABP) -- For some people, blogs are like a family reunion where people barely know each other. There's a lot of talking going on, but there's little agreement on much of anything.

But for many of the increasing number of Baptist bloggers, that's the beauty of it.

A blog -- short for "Web log" -- is a website or online journal where authors regularly publish commentaries on personal and public issues. Typically, blogs allow readers to comment on posts, creating the opportunity for readers to engage in dialogue with each other and the blogger.

The blogosphere is the world's online dinner table, where people from all perspectives can share their thoughts and opinions on what is going on in their lives and the world around them.

Diane Schiano, researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif., said people sit at the cybertable for as many reasons as there are blogs. Some are meant to update friends and family about what's going on in someone's life. Some authors blog as a kind of self-validation, seeing other people reading their blog as an indication that what they're doing or saying is important. And younger people are clamoring to have their own place in cyberspace, she added.

"There are a lot of people who want to feel in constant contact," Schiano said. "I call it hyper-connectivity. Wherever they go, whatever they're doing, they want to be able to reach out to someone."

Amanda Sturgill, a journalism professor at Baylor University, blogs on media and religious issues at She believes Baptists, in particular, blog for two reasons: they are family-oriented, creating a desire to share their family lives with others; and as evangelicals, they believe they have something important to add to the global conversation.

Baptists may be supplying information and perspectives that Internet surfers are wanting, Sturgill noted. Research indicates 25 percent of 'net-surfers’ have looked for religious information.

"People from evangelical faiths have classically seen new media technologies as being a great witnessing tool, allowing believers to reach all the world in an expeditious manner," Sturgill said. "This has been true for everything from print to the World Wide Web. It's no accident that Gutenberg's first product was a Bible."

However, he added, "But usually it doesn't live up to hopes. There is Christian broadcasting, but mostly existing Christians watch and listen, for example."

He continued, "Blogs have the potential to be different because they can, at the same time, be both a megaphone and an intimate conversation. But to do this requires the blogger to actually interact with readers through comments and the like."

Many Baptist bloggers point to participating in the online conversation as the primary reason they write. They talk about "iron sharpening iron," noting that thinking through blog posts and responding to comments helps them improve their ministries. They also hope it helps others.

"Blogging is like a conversation; it's people sharing what's on their hearts and mind," said Ferrell Foster, communications director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which has a blog at

"The BGCT staff wants to be part of that conversation because we serve our churches and need to be in constant contact with them. Blogging is simply a great way to talk and to listen via the burgeoning electronic media."

Marty Duren, a former contributor at -- a prominent blog pushing for change within the Southern Baptist Convention -- now blogs on missional living at Duren said his blog is a way of increasing his spiritual influence, which is what he said Christ called each Christian to do. He's learned some lessons in ministry and hopes to help others in ministry.

The blog also has given him the opportunity to meet people he otherwise wouldn't have met, he added. For example, Duren recently had lunch with an Atlanta atheist he met through his blog.

Melissa Rogers, director of Wake Forest University's Center for Religion and Public Affairs, also blogs about faith and public life at She said her blog was a natural outgrowth of her regular media tracking and discussions.

"I thought, since I'm tracking these things anyway, they may be of use to others as well," she said.

Aaron Weaver, a Baylor graduate student who blogs at, uses his blog to keep readers informed about Baptist issues related to politics, but he also advocates what he calls Baptist distinctives. He believes blogging is a way to connect with younger generations.

"I believe that young Baptists can be reached by blogging. For the most part, the young Baptists that I know don't read Baptist publications. They don't read denominational newspapers. But they do read blogs; they like blogs. Many even have blogs of their own. They are exchanging ideas with each other, and they are willing to read blogs from other Baptists of all ages," he said.

"Their blogging is definitely not limited to Baptist or even religious subjects, but some young Baptists are thinking and writing about topics of interest to other Baptists. It is my hope that more younger Baptists will discover the Baptist blogosphere and become more interested in our distinctives, history and the future of Baptists.

"In our increasingly pluralistic, postmodern, post-denominational world, what is the future of Baptists? That is a question [that] Baptists -- young and old -- should be dialoguing about. The Baptist blogosphere is the perfect place in which to have that much-needed conversation."


Blogging Baptists: Guidelines for ethical blogging? Start with the New Testament
By Ken Camp

(ABP) -- The New Testament book of James compares the tongue to raging fire and a wild beast that cannot be tamed. And the author of that book never was "flamed" on a blog, in a chat room or on a discussion board.

Words have power, whether spoken or written in cyberspace. And Christians don't get a free pass to ignore the Golden Rule when they log on to their computers, according to ethicist Bill Tillman.

"Basic civility and communication etiquette should always be in place for a Christian, no matter the medium," said Tillman, the T.B. Maston professor of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary.

"The same guidelines such as those from James regarding discipline with our tongue should be translated over to any form of getting words to others or for others. Unfortunately, too many in the Christian circles who blog have operated with the guidelines you can find anywhere else in society. Usually, when cultural guidelines are used on format, style and word choice, things move to a lower level of style."

While self-expression has its place, some bloggers cross the line by focusing more on themselves than on the ideas they are trying to express, Tillman observed.

"I recognize a dynamic at work in some of them that the blogger is so intent on establishing herself or himself as a person of significance and all his or her ideas are so important that the communication comes off as nearly yelling," he said. "There is quite a bit of emotional exhibitionism going across the Ethernet."

Not everyone who claims to be speaking prophetically -- or blogging prophetically -- truly bears the mantle of a prophet, Tillman noted.

"Being prophetic is not clearing off a space and having a fit, whatever the subject matter or the medium in which it is communicated," he said.

Like any tool, blogging can be used for good or bad purposes, said David Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology.

"Blogging at its best represents the democratization of the media. It reflects an entrepreneurial culture in which skill and interest can override official status, title, or position. An effective blogger can have more influence than the evening news or a thousand official press releases," Gushee, who also writes a weekly column for Associated Baptist Press, said.

"Blogging at its worst represents public speech unbound by public standards. It can damage both the blogger and especially the blogged-about. It can also waste enormous amounts of time and can become habitual or even addictive. It is the latest but not the last form of an addictive new technology."

Tillman echoed that theme of time-wasting, but he also noted the potential of blogs as ministry tools.

"There are actually ministry facets that can be addressed through blogging," he said. But he urged caution -- particularly for ministers who blog during office hours.

"Pastors and other ministers often have a great deal of time that is essentially handed to them by a church for the minister's discretionary use," he said.

"So much is left to the individual's conscience to handle the time and how it's used. With that said, I have to say that from some of the blogging I have read, probably some infringement is done on churches' good will regarding their staff's time."

Blogs as a communications medium are neither good nor bad -- but they have the capacity for both good and bad, Tillman added.

"There is a certain neutrality about the technology and the medium. But, just like fire, it's how it's used that qualifies its ethicality," he said.

Some characteristics of blogs set them apart as distinctive, such as their potential reach and their capacity to allow anonymous expression in a public place. But those traits really just demonstrate the human capacity for good or evil, Gushee observed.

"Like all things human, blogging illustrates the exalted and debased nature of the human person and human community," he said. "Moral responsibility involves curbing the damaging dimensions of blogging while elevating those dimensions that contribute to human well-being and the common good."


Blogging Baptists: Blogs only latest battleground for historical Baptist contention
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- One classic joke about Baptists is that wherever two or three are gathered, there are four opinions among them.

The same can probably be said of bloggers, and Baptists seem to have taken to the blog medium with particular gusto, on both the institutional and individual levels. But as a democratically governed and notoriously fractious bunch, blogging Baptists also seem to have put a new virtual twist on the time-honored tradition of contentious business meetings.

For instance, the recent highly publicized spat over homosexuality, pastoral leadership and other issues at a prominent Texas Baptist church made headlines in local and national media outlets after a handful of members wrote about it in their personal blogs.

Two years ago, reform-minded bloggers in the Southern Baptist Convention helped an outsider candidate get elected president of the denomination for the first time in more than a decade. But their critiques of the denomination's entrenched power structure earned them the enmity of some of their fellow conservative SBC supporters, who have denounced bloggers like Wade Burleson and Benjamin Cole with the ugliest accusation possible in modern-day Southern Baptist life -- calling them "liberals."

Are Baptists prone to fighting on-line, and, if so, why? Prominent bloggers said that the rancor associated with many Baptist blogs may simply be a reflection of the rancor of Baptist life in general. And such contentiousness, while aired more prominently when viewed in millions of homes via the Internet, isn't inherently evil.

"Historically, we Baptists have been dissenters," said Aaron Weaver, a graduate student at Baylor University who operates the Big Daddy Weave blog ( "The blog is merely a new medium ... Baptists use to dissent when dissent is necessary. In some ways, blogs are a form of congregationalism."

But in an age when megachurch pastors have a strong hand in their congregations' decision-making and when an entrenched and well-funded bureaucracy holds tight political control over the Southern Baptist Convention, such congregationalism is less common, according to bloggers.

"The blog medium has tapped into the growing sense that congregational polity is an increasingly rare commodity among Baptists," said Cole, an associate pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla.

Two years ago, Cole's now-inactive Baptist Blogger site helped contribute to the election of Frank Page as SBC president. He currently is a regular contributor to the SBC Outpost blog (

"The frustration that the disenfranchised and unempowered have sensed on account of the new Baptist magisterium has given rise to their advent in the blogosphere," he said in an e-mail interview.

And heretofore powerless bloggers can produce results that dissenting groups couldn't have expected in Baptist life just a few years ago, in the pre-blog era. That, he said, is because "bureaucracies on both the local-church and denominational levels are too big and too slow to counter the speed with which dissident bloggers have articulated their ideas and advanced their causes."

Weaver, who supports the alternative Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and describes himself as "theologically moderate and politically progressive," agreed.

"The format of the blogosphere disallows coercion tactics that have been employed in the past by dictatorial church leaders," he said. "The blog medium serves as a safe haven for those who feel that public dissent is their only option."

Both Cole and Weaver agreed that blogs can lend themselves to nastiness. But, they warned, don't throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water.

"Blogs are not inherently bad," Weaver said. "Negative and destructive blogs are a reflection of the blogger, not the blogosphere. I suppose anonymity can lead to people being dishonest. But if honesty is an issue, it is an issue of character and not the medium of blogging itself."

Cole and other SBC bloggers have been criticized by their fellow conservatives for their use of the medium to political ends. And Cole has used his blogging to reveal less-than-flattering information about prominent SBC leaders.

But critics of Baptist blogging are overlooking the whole of Baptist history, he said.

"Quite frankly, those who lament the 'unhealthy' and 'un-Christian' character of blogging must have been ridiculously blind or purposefully naïve for the last 400 years of Baptist bickering," Cole said. "That some of the current SBC leadership weep and wail over blogging and gather 'round like huddled martyrs, and yet they were the selfsame provocateurs of the fundamentalist juggernaut, would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetic."

Cole concluded: "Would Christ blog about the malfeasance run amok in Baptist life? Probably not. Neither would he sit quietly and cover the backsides of the worst denominational offenders, as some of our convention trustees seem content to do."


CBF to commission 18 missionaries under new online cohort process
By Patricia Heys

ATLANTA (ABP) - An innovative missionary-training process has produced 18 new Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missions personnel, who will be commissioned June 18 during the group's General Assembly in Memphis, Tenn.

The appointees are the first to apply through CBF's new online "cohort" process.

The 10-week stints allow candidates to learn about CBF Global Missions and hear first-person testimonials from current field personnel and staff through online discussion, video and audio streams. The cohorts are the first step in a process -- which includes personal interviews, an exploratory conference and orientation -- toward more permanent assignments.

The cohorts are divided into 10 sessions, which lead candidates through a process of self-discernment and reflection on how God is calling them. Topics include introduction to CBF missiology and mission strategy; reflection on childhood, adolescent and adult experiences; personal religious history and identification with CBF; and missional church discussion.

"The ability to combine technology with our written reflection process has been transformational," CBF selection manager Matt Norman said. "These cohorts allow candidates a condensed time of self-reflection and missional discernment that helps inform and empower the unique way they will continue to serve God in the world. Reading and interacting with each other weekly adds a dimension of community building and peer interaction that is essential during times of discernment."

The commissioning service is slated for 7:30 p.m. June 18 at Memphis' First Baptist Church. New field personnel include Carita and Lindsay, Southeast Asia; Brittany Phillips, China; Matthew and Melanie Storie, Alabama; Elaine Childs, Croatia; Leah Crowley, Florida; Cynthia Levesque, China; Eric and Julie Maas, Belize; Gene Murdock, India; Karen and Kenny Sherin, Missouri; Dan and Jolene Tucker, Mexico; Dee Donalson, Ethiopia; and Christopher and Jessica Rose, Peru.


-- Due to security concerns, CBF does not disclose the full names and specific assignment locations of some of its field personnel.

Longtime Baptist musician,seminary professor dies
By Vicki Brown

ORANGE PARK, Fla. (ABP) -- Longtime Baptist hymn writer and music professor Hugh McElrath passed away May 8 at his winter home in Penney Farms, Fla. He also resided in Louisville, Ky. He was 86.

McElrath was a professor of church music at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., for nearly 50 years, serving from 1948-1992. Officially retiring as the V.V. Cooke Professor of Church Music in 1992, he taught part time as a senior professor for a few years afterward.

He also served as minister of music at Beechwood Baptist Church in Louisville for 22 years.

A native of Murray, Ky., McElrath earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Murray State University, intending to become an English teacher. Instead, he entered Southern Seminary's first music degree program. He completed requirements for a bachelor of sacred music degree in 1947 and a master of sacred music degree in 1948. He earned a doctor of philosophy degree at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in 1967.

Singing With Understanding, a music textbook co-authored with Harry Eskew, is among his most noted works. He wrote several hymns, including "We Praise You With Our Minds, O Lord."

In 1992, he was the first church-music professor to receive the Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Award for Teaching Excellence, the highest teaching honor Southern awards.

President of the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference from 1987-89, McElrath served on the doctrinal/theological committee for the 1991 edition of the Baptist Hymnal, the Southern Baptist Convention's official hymnal. He also served as editor of an accompanying handbook.

He later served on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's Coordinating Council.

Minds and Hearts in Praise of God: Hymns and Essays in Church Music in Honor of Hugh T. McElrath was published in December 2006 to celebrate his life and mark his contributions to church music.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, and three children, Hugh Donald McElrath, Douglas McElrath and Margaret Partridge.

Funeral services will be held in Alumni Memorial Chapel at Southern Seminary at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 14.


Bible Trivia - 5/13/2008

Question: What virtue did Moses possess more than anyone on earth as stated in the Bible?

Answer: Humility. (Numbers 12:3)

Comments: The statement that Moses was the most humble human arises in the context of Moses’ siblings having spoken against him. The parenthetical aside illuminates the fact that Moses' subsequent rebuke is done for the good of the nation which needed stable leadership and not out of spite. Jacob Milgrom (b. 1923) further adds, "Moses' selflessness reaches its apogee in this passage and thereby merits the accolade awarded him."

"(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)" (Numbers 12:3, NASB)

The Hebrew word used for "humble" in Number 12:3 is `anav. This is the first time the word occurs in Scripture. Cleon Rogers claims that `anav likely derived from a root meaning "to be bowed down." (Rogers, "Moses: Meek or Miserable?", Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1986, pp. 257-263.) R. Dennis Cole adds that `anav "conveys an individual's devout dependence upon the Lord" [New American Commentary: Numbers, Volume 3B, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, 2000, p. 202]. He cites Psalm 22:26 and Zephaniah 2:3 as passages to support a connection between `anav and earnestly seeking God.

This passage is especially humrous when considering traditionally Moses penned the book. Even conservatives Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman acknowledge that this is "scarcely a statement that the world’s most humble man would make about himself" (An Introduction to the Old Testament. Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p. 39). Critics of Mosaic authorship naturally ask - Just how humble could Moses have been?