Saturday, October 4, 2008

Church Sign - 10/4/2008, Part 2

Church: Church of God of the Union Assembly (3428 Keith Ave; Knoxville, TN 37921)

Sign: “To be almost saved is to be totally lost”

Commentary: This sign unequivocally polarizes the terms lost and saved. Jesus did the same. Scholars have agreed that the key verse of Luke's gospel is found in Luke 19:10 in which Jesus says:

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10, NASB)

Church Sign - 10/4/2008, Part 1

Church: Church of God of the Union Assembly (3428 Keith Ave; Knoxville, TN 37921)

Sign: “Jesus became what we are so we can become like He is”

Commentary: In short, Jesus became fully human (e.g. Hebrews 4:15) so that humans could become wholly righteous (e.g. Romans 5:19).

For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19, NASB)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/3/2009

Associated Baptist Press
October 3, 2008 · (08-95)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
VP debate explores little on hot-button social issues
Challenge to ban on church politics may not excite Americans, polls say
Young evangelicals differ from elders on gays, similar on abortion rights

VP debate explores little on hot-button social issues
By Vicki Brown

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (ABP) -- Voters hoping to know more about the vice-presidential candidates' faith-influenced views on contentious policy issues probably learned little from the Oct. 2 debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin.

Only one question posed by moderator Gwen Ifill, host of PBS's Washington Week in Review, in the debate dealt directly with a religiously contentious social question -- same-sex marriage. Instead, the only scheduled debate between the Democratic senator from Delaware and the Republican governor of Alaska focused mostly on the economy and foreign policy.

When asked about benefits for same-sex couples, both candidates seemed to agree that couples, regardless of sexual orientation, should be granted the same civil benefits.

Biden emphasized that same-sex couples should not be discriminated against for insurance and other benefits. He also said gay partners should enjoy the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts in areas such as hospital visitation and jointly arranged legal contracts.

"In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple," Biden said, referring to running mate Barack Obama.

Claiming she has not discriminated against same-sex couples as Alaska's governor, Palin said she is "tolerant of choices adults make in their relationships."
But, she added, "in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose -- not in a McCain-Palin administration -- to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated, between parties." Her running mate is John McCain.

"But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman," she added, "and I think through nuances we can go 'round and 'round about what that actually means."

He, too, opposes the use of the term "marriage" for same-sex couples, Biden said. "And I take the governor at her word that she wouldn't discriminate" in civil matters.

However, the two have differing records on gay-rights issues. Although Biden did vote in favor of a 1996 federal law that defines marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms, Obama has vowed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Biden has also voted in favor of other gay-rights measures.

Palin's record has suggested she is more opposed to gay rights. As an Alaska gubernatorial candidate in 2006, she listed "preserving the definition of marriage as defined in our constitution" as one of her top three legislative priorities. She supported Alaska's decision to amend its charter to ban same-sex marriage.

She also said, during her gubernatorial campaign, that she disapproved of a recent Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the state had to provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees. While Palin later signed legislation that enforced the decision, she said at the time that she would support a ballot initiative that would effectively overturn the court ruling by banning gay spouses from state benefits.

She vetoed a legislative attempt to overturn the ruling, but said at the time she was doing so only because attorneys informed her the law would have been unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, gay supporters of Palin have noted, she has devoted very little political capital to opposing gay-rights measures during her term as governor.
Voters looking to the candidates' stand on Israel would have learned that both Biden and Palin seek to protect that nation through diplomatic means, if possible. However, they were sharply divided on the primary threat to peace and stability in the world.

Palin focused on McCain's insistence that the United States must win the war in Iraq, and that a timeline to withdraw American troops could not be established. Withdrawal, she said, must be based on Iraq's ability to assume its own protection.

Although she did not specify what a McCain-Palin administration would do about it, she insisted that a nuclear threat from Iran, particularly against Israel, must be stopped.

"Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East," Palin said. "We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust, despite, again, warnings from Iran and any other country that would seek to destroy Israel -- that that is what they would like to see."

McCain is "wrong" in his insistence that Iraq is the primary threat, Biden responded, emphasizing his "passion" for Israel.

"John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq," Biden said. "I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Throughout the debate, Biden hammered at Bush administration policies, suggesting that a McCain-Palin ticket would simply perpetuate Bush's mistakes. He emphasized the Obama-Biden ticket as the true agents of change.

Palin repeatedly alleged that Biden "only looked backward" to criticize the Bush administration, rather than being "forward-looking" to move into the future, and called the McCain-Palin ticket the true "team of mavericks."

The debate was held at Washington University in suburban St. Louis.


-- Robert Marus contributed to this story.

Challenge to ban on church politics may not excite Americans, polls say
By Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- While just 33 churches signed up to participate in a conservative Christian group's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" Sept. 28, planners viewed it as a success.

That is, organizers said, because its stated purpose was not to inject politics into the pulpit, but rather civil disobedience aimed at prompting a legal battle over an Internal Revenue Service restriction against churches endorsing candidates as a condition of their tax exemption.

However, new polls show that Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of injecting partisan politics into the pulpit.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund said they are prepared to defend any pastor targeted by the IRS for endorsing a candidate Sept. 28 based on the First Amendment guarantee of the right to free speech.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed complaints with the IRS against six churches for violating federal law by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. "These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences," said AU Executive Director Barry Lynn.

Rob Boston, AU's assistant director of communications, said if any church loses tax exemption because of the event and files suit, the church-state watchdog group would file friend-of-the-court briefs opposing partisan politics in America's pulpits.

"It's a shame it has come to this," Boston said. "But now the issue is engaged, and Americans United intends to see it through."

In his Pulpit Freedom Sunday sermon, Curtis Parker, pastor of the independent First Baptist Church of Avoca, N.Y., compared voting records of McCain and Obama on four issues: abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality and marriage.

"As we evaluate the candidates' stand on these issues, we can make our decisions easy," Parker said. "We can kind of do away with the rock-star personality, with the generation of excitement that comes along with individual candidates and kind of cut right to what's important.

"After everything you've heard about Barack Obama and Joe Biden, is it possible that, as a believer [in Christ], you can cast your vote in their favor?" Parker asked. "I would say no."

At Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Ga., Pastor Jody Hice endorsed John McCain for president, telling worshipers the Republican candidate has a more biblical worldview than Obama when it comes to issues of abortion and gay marriage. "These are not political issues," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Southern Baptist pastor and local talk-radio host as saying. "These are moral issues."

"According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama," said Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif. He used Obama's middle name, which is a common Arabic name. Allusions to it have fed unfounded rumors that Obama is a Muslim. He is a practicing Christian.

Instead of endorsing McCain, however, according to the Los Angeles Times, Drake suggested that his parishioners vote for a different presidential candidate -- himself. A past vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Drake is on the ballot in California as running mate of American Independent Party presidential candidate Alan Keyes.

The pulpit initiative comes at a time when many Americans are growing increasingly wary of politics in the pulpit.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that for the first time since the question was first included in their poll 10 years ago, a majority of Americans said churches should stay out of politics instead of expressing their views on social and political concerns.

Another poll, conducted by the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm, found that 59 percent of Americans disagreed with the statement: "I believe it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office."

"We saw a very strong response that Americans don't want churches to be actively campaigning for political candidates," commented Ed Stetzer, president of the research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that's because the ADF initiative was "misguided" and a "brazen attempt to blend the worship of God with electoral politics."

"This initiative certainly will politicize churches more than it will Christianize politics," Walker wrote in an opinion article prior to the event. "It will assuredly turn our pulpit prophets into political puppets. It will, no doubt, convert our churches into virtual political action committees -- where candidates will line up at the church door to seek endorsement, especially those that are on television."

None of that fazed Eric Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "The issue is not necessarily whether a pastor should or should not endorse or oppose a candidate from the pulpit," Stanley told CBN News.

"The issue is who gets to regulate that," Stanley said. "It's our contention that the government should not be the one regulating what a pastor can and can't say from the pulpit. It's the pastor's job to determine the content of his sermons, not the IRS."

Stanley believes that if challenged, the Johnson amendment -- inserted into the federal tax code in 1954 -- would be ruled unconstitutional. Championed by then-senator Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas), it instituted the ban on partisan political endorsements by churches and other non-profit organizations.

Americans United's Lynn isn't so sure. He says tax exemption is a privilege granted by the government, not a right.

"Houses of worship exist to enrich people's spiritual lives, not act like political machines that issue marching orders to voters," Lynn said. "They are tax-exempt because their work is religious and charitable, not political."


Young evangelicals differ from elders on gays, similar on abortion rights
By Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A new poll says white evangelicals under 30 are just as opposed to abortion as their older counterparts, but more liberal in their views on same-sex marriage or civil unions for gays.

The survey, conducted for the PBS show Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, found that only 25 percent of white evangelical Christians in the United States believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. Another 46 percent support limits on abortion rights, while 25 percent believe it should be completely illegal. The figures were similar among both older and younger evangelicals.

But on that other hottest of hot-button issues in America's culture wars, homosexuality, the age groups differed significantly. One in four (26 percent) of white evangelicals aged 18-29 believe that gay and lesbian couples should have the same right to marry as heterosexuals. That is two-and-a-half times as many as hold that view -- only 9 percent -- among their 30-and-older evangelical counterparts.

Older white evangelicals are more open toward legal arrangements that provide most or all of the same protections and responsibilities as full marriage. More than one-third of older evangelicals (37 percent) support legal recognition of civil unions. Nearly half of the older group (49 percent) said there should be no legal recognition of relationships between gays and lesbians, compared to 41 percent of those under 30.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, also found that young white evangelicals are less likely than the older generation to vote for John McCain for president. While support for the Republican nominee is solid among white evangelicals overall -- 71 percent compared to 23 percent for Democrat Barack Obama -- McCain's support slips nine points among members of the under-30 group.

McCain still holds a winning margin among evangelicals aged 18-29, by a margin of 62 percent to 30 percent for Obama. Among evangelicals over the age of 30, support for McCain runs 73 percent compared to 22 percent for Obama.

Younger evangelicals are also more likely to rate Obama the more religious of the two candidates -- 20 percent compared to 13 percent of older evangelicals. Fewer than half of young evangelicals (48 percent) said McCain is more religious, compared to 55 percent of older evangelicals.

The poll also revealed a generation split among evangelicals about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, picked as McCain's running mate in large part to excite conservative evangelical voters. Nearly two-thirds of older evangelical women (65 percent) expressed warm feelings toward Palin, compared to 46 percent of those under 30.

McCain's favorability rating is also lower among young evangelicals. Slightly more than half (54 percent) of those under 30 give McCain a positive rating, while 68 percent of those 30 and older view him warmly.

President Bush is far less popular among younger evangelicals than their older counterparts. More than half of 30-and-older evangelicals (57 percent) view Bush favorably, while only 39 percent of those under 30 gave him a positive review -- approval figures approaching his historic lows among the U.S. population at large.

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology who has studied the political thought of the next generation of evangelicals, said the findings match up with both other polls and trends he sees in teaching and visiting Christian college students around the nation.

"I think younger evangelicals are less reflexively loyal to the Republican Party and its candidates," Gushee, who also writes a regular column for Associated Baptist Press, said. "They are also now drawing a distinction between the life issues like abortion and violence over against the issue of homosexuality. Or perhaps they are properly seeing that the treatment of all people as sacred in the sight of God does require deep concern about abortion but also requires the humane treatment of homosexuals."

Gushee, author of The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center said younger evangelicals in this particular presidential race might be attracted to the relatively youthful Obama and to "the chance to make a historic step toward racial progress in America."

The survey was conducted by telephone with 1,400 adults Sept. 4-21. Margins of error ranged from 3.1 percent to 5.5 percent, depending on age group.


Church Sign - 10/3/2008

Church: Redemption Church International (3550 Pleasant Ridge Rd; Knoxville, TN 37912)

Sign: “Being great is serving others”

Commentary: This truism is dervied from Jesus' statement to his disciples when they were arguing about who amongst them was the greatest:

"But the greatest among you shall be your servant." (Matthew 23:11, NASB)

Bible Trivia - 10/3/2008

Question: Which version of the Lord’s prayer contains the line “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”-Matthew’s or Luke’s?

Answer: Neither. (Matthew 6, Luke 11)

Comments: The Lord's prayer is the most famous prayer in the Christian tradition. It appears in both Matthew and Luke. (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) The doxology of the prayer, however, is not present in Luke or the earliest manuscripts of Matthew's gospel. Some have speculated that it is based on I Chronicles 29:11:

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (I Chronicles 29:11, NASB)

Word of the Day - 10/3/2008


Diametric meands completely opposed;

Paul was diametrically opposed to the notion that one should sin so that grace whould increase.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/3/2008

On Thursday, I ate at Litton’s and caught up with my old friend JLM. The daughter of missionaries, her parents’ home still houses a revolving door of free tenants. Presently five Guatemalans live in the home. The three children speak English while the parents do not. Recently, JLM was called in by the frantic mother asking her to remove a rat from the kitchen. JLM told the family she had no expertise in herding rodents. It turns out, the rat was not roaming free, but rather in a compartment in the freezer. It seems JLM’s 12-year old nephew, Cody, has been catching rats and storing them there. No word on why.

In other Cody news, JLM recently explained to her long haired nephew that rock stars should be bald. (JLM’s boyfriend is in a band.) The impressionable youth then shaved a large bald spot into the top of his head. He wore it in that “style” for a week. Not surprisingly, JLM’s sister threatened her with homicide over the incident.

JLM also confirmed that our mutual friend, CMGS, is three months pregnant. We both agreed that the child will be cute and play about fifty sports.

On Thursday afternoon, CMU and I served with the FISH Hospitality Pantry ministry. FISH is a cooperative community food distribution service, founded in 1972. It is an all-volunteer organization, with no paid staff. My church serves during the first Thursday of each month. I have few gifts, but FISH incorporates two - driving and giving.

CMU and I had deliveries in Christenberry Heights, an apartment complex next to Inskip Baptist Church, and an apartment complex called the Palisades in the Bearden area. We had difficulties in finding only two of the three destinations. This showed progress. (I must note that we were given an incorrect address on one of the drops.)

During these stops, a woman named Margaret asked for prayer for heartburn. A home remedy given by her mother was not working. Also, Donna asked for additional products such as toilet paper. Please keep this ministry in your prayers.

On Thursday night, JTH, JDM and I ate at Applebees. We met after 11 pm as JDM had completed a long day. The new Kroger opens on Sunday (October 5th). As the new store prepares for its grand opening, JDM ran the old store. They are not transferring any food to the new store so all items in the old store are on clearance. If you need groceries, now is the time to go.

There will be a pianist at the new store during its first month of operation. Yes, at Kroger.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/2/2008

Associated Baptist Press
October 2, 2008 · (08-94)

Greg Warner, Executive Editor
Robert Marus, News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief

In this issue
Human Rights & Wrongs: Why the religious silence on torture?...
Human Rights & Wrongs: Torture has consequences for body, soul
Human Right & Wrongs: Christians should defend rights, ethicist says
Human Rights & Wrongs: Not all coercion is torture, ethicist says
Opinion: God-talk and conservative politics

Human Rights & Wrongs: Why the religious silence on torture?
By Ken Camp

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Most evangelical American Christians remained silent about torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo for some of the same reasons European Christians 70 years ago largely failed to resist the Holocaust, ethicist David Gushee told a national summit on torture.

"The great majority of European Christians proved to be bystanders, neither helping the Nazis nor helping the Jews," Gushee observed during the National Religious Summit on Torture, held Sept. 11-12 in Atlanta.

Similarly, evangelical Christians -- particularly white Southern evangelicals -- failed to speak up when it became apparent American policy to sanction the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- many of which can be considered torture -- to interrogate suspected terrorists.

Gushee, professor at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, noted when governments misuse their power to harm people and violate human rights, they hold key advantages that discourage resistance:

-- Information. Only a small number of people within the government know what its policies are and how they are implemented.

"Even in a society with a free press and a political opposition, there will always be a time lag between the development and implementation of secret government policies and the public discovery of those policies," he said. "Thus, any resistance will always be playing catch-up and operating on the basis of less-than-complete information -- often information purposefully distorted by the government."

In the case of torture, two years passed between the time secret government interrogation policies were developed and abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison became public knowledge.

"Once again, government had a head start over those who would check its behavior and has retained an informational advantage as the Bush Administration has sought to keep its paper trail as hidden as possible," Gushee, who also writes a regular column for Associated Baptist Press, said.

-- Authority. Most ordinary citizens hold the presupposition "that the government has both the right and the obligation to undertake the policies it deems necessary to protect national security or advance the common good, and that citizens should trust government with that power," he said.

That tendency proves even stronger among conservative Christians, who believe the biblical text in Romans 13 grants the state a God-ordained right to exercise the power of "the sword."

"This is related to a broader evangelical authoritarianism -- especially in our most conservative quarters -- that elevates the role of the man over his family, the male pastor over his church, the president over his nation and our nation over the rest of the world," Gushee said.

"All of these authorities are viewed as having been put into place by God and as answerable primarily or only to God. The kind of checks and balances provided by democratic constitutionalism, the wisdom of other nations and international law are devalued."

-- Intimidation. Government has the power to impose high costs on anyone who resists its policies.

In the case of evangelicals, critics of the Bush Administration's policies on torture "have been charged with everything from being soft on terrorism to being closet leftists to offering shoddy definitions of torture to being naïve for not realizing that it is a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy requiring new kinds of policies," Gushee said.

Many evangelicals also fell into the trap of objectifying Muslims, he added.

"It is clear to me from the nature of conservative evangelical discourse about Islam and terrorism that many evangelicals after 9/11 perceived Islam as an intrinsically dangerous religion and Muslims as the enemy of both America and Christianity -- as the international cultural 'other,'" he said.

People who resist injustice face clear disadvantages, Gushee noted. Potential resisters must notice something is wrong or someone needs help; discern the significance of what they notice; and move from inertia to action. That demands a heightened sense of personal responsibility, a conviction that action will make a difference, the ability to execute an action plan and network-building skills to sustain resistance.

"Despite a biblical record full of the demand for justice and the affirmation of human dignity; despite the commitment to justice and human rights of the Radical Reformers; despite the 19th-century evangelical reform groups that fought for abolition, women's rights and the rights of workers; despite the Catholic social teaching tradition with its careful theology and ethic of justice; despite the Christian liberation movements and Civil Rights Movement anchored in the black church; and despite the justice witness of many other faiths, late-20th-century white evangelicals have often acted as if justice and human rights are strange, alien, irreligious concepts imported from the Enlightenment," Gushee said.

"This has left us with weak antennae for sensing injustices in society -- or for that matter, in our own churches. What an incredible tragedy that evangelicals lost touch with their own tradition and with the broader Christian tradition, and with such horrifying implications."

Evangelicals -- particularly high-profile leaders -- were slow to notice torture as a moral issue and reticent to criticize an administration they had supported, he added.

"If our faith's leaders can't figure out that waterboarding and freezing people to death is immoral -- people who have been disarmed, deprived of protection from international law and the U.S. Constitution, defenseless against their abusers, made in the image of God, loved by Jesus Christ and sacred in God's sight -- we need some new leaders," Gushee said.

In a panel discussion that followed Gushee's address, an African-American Protestant, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim and a Roman Catholic offered perspectives from their faith communities.

American policy carried out in Abu Ghraib and the prison at the U.S. base in Guantanamo, Cuba, is consistent with the same attitude that allowed racism to flourish in the South, said Lawrence Carter, dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College. "Torture is the new lynching," he said.

Mohammed Elsanousi, director of communications and community outreach for the Islamic Society of North America, stressed many Muslim Americans failed to speak out against torture out of fear of being associated with terrorists.
Brian Walt, founding executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, underscored Gushee's observation about seeing Muslims as "the other."

"How we deal with 'the other' is the litmus test for our religious integrity," he said.

Roman Catholic teaching declares torture "an intrinsic evil," said Cathleen Kaveny, professor of law and theology at the University of Notre Dame.
"Even so, in the United States, Catholic voices against torture are far more muted than they ought to be, and the response of the faithful has been lukewarm at best," she said.

Given the Catholic affinity for iconic imagery, she suggested the image of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus has provided a compelling visual for right-to-life advocates. She suggested a similar emphasis on the iconic images of Mary on Good Friday, watching her son being beaten and crucified, could provide a similar visual expression for the torture issue.

"Every man who is subjected to extraordinary rendition is some mother's son," she said.


Human Rights & Wrongs: Torture has consequences for body, soul
By Robert Marus

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Nearly two decades ago, Sister Dianna Ortiz says, Guatemalan security forces abducted her and took her to a clandestine prison where she was brutally gang-raped; burned more than 100 times with cigarettes; forced to cut another woman with a machete; and suspended by her wrists over a pit full of dead and dying men, women and children.

Worse, yet, her torturers documented their brutality through videotape and photographs -- with her captors warning they would release the visual evidence to the press if she spoke out about the experience.

"This past has awakened again, both here and now," Ortiz said of the experience, in remarks prepared for a recent summit of religious leaders in Atlanta. "The smells of burning flesh and decomposing corpses, the mutilated bodies of children, the policeman's cratered face and button-like eyes devoid of feeling are returning. I have no wish whatsoever to return to that prison in Guatemala; nor do I wish to hearken back to how I felt as I cried to a silent and deaf God. Yet, it all does come back."

The American Catholic nun went to the Guatemalan highlands in 1987 as a missionary to indigenous Mayan people. What she experienced at the hands of right-wing paramilitary officials -- and a fair-skinned accomplice, identified only as "Alejandro," who she said was obviously an American -- in 1989 nearly destroyed her faith.

It wasn't like that before the torture. Ortiz experienced what she called "the radiant face of God" in the first two years of her missionary work, teaching Mayan children in their own language.

"We are nearly blinded by the glorious colors, shining from heaven's door," she wrote. "But now, try to imagine a dark shadow falling across that face of God -- eclipsing it, obliterating every sign of it. Hope is gone. Belief is gone. The God you once knew -- you once trusted -- is dead. Where are the colors now? What colors emanate from a dead God? 'I will be with you always.' That was the promise. Where is that promise now? What kind of a place is it where God dies -- where trust in self and others die as well?"

Ortiz had been scheduled as a speaker at the summit on torture and United States policy, sponsored by Mercer University, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Evangelicals for Human Rights and a host of other religious organizations. Although unable to attend because she was to testify in a torture trial, Ortiz provided prepared remarks to conference participants.

The kind of crisis of faith and psyche that Ortiz endured is just one of many long-term consequences victims of torture suffer, said Doug Johnson, executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

"Whatever we do learn about the impact of torture must be placed in the context of what we know about the impact of intense traumas, and particularly human-induced traumas," Johnson said. "We're getting a clear idea that there is a biological effect that is induced by intense traumas -- not merely a psychological one."

For example, even mild forms of torture -- forcing victims into stress positions for long periods of time, or sleep deprivation -- can have subtle physical side-effects that only manifest themselves years later, Johnson said. And the psychological effects can be not only profound, but long-lasting.

"We know, for example, that survivors of the Holocaust ... still have high rates of clinical depression and suicide 50 years after the fact," Johnson said. He noted the sin of torture visits itself on subsequent generations, as well -- children and even grandchildren of Holocaust survivors also have higher rates of suicide and depression than the general population.

Johnson's organization provides psychological treatment to survivors of torture at clinics in Minnesota; Washington, D.C.; Guinea and Sierra Leone. He said some effects of torture are so profound they can fundamentally change its victims' personalities.

"I had a very gentle, sweet client who was driving an ice-cream truck in the streets of Minneapolis.... He got rear-ended," Johnson said. "He came out swinging, totally enraged."

The man, who had been abducted by his torturers in another country and then fled to the United States, later told Johnson the rear-ending caused him to act irrationally because it brought back a flood of bad memories.

"He told me that, when he had been taken in his country, he had been in his car, on the streets of the capital city," Johnson said. "His abductors crashed into him."

The man also exhibited another long-term consequence of torture, Johnson said -- the inability to complete tasks. "This man was a wealthy businessman in his home country; now he is having difficulty driving an ice-cream truck," he said.

And the often-stated purpose of torture -- to gain information -- is almost never achieved by physical or psychological coercion, both Johnson and Ortiz said.
Ortiz, who founded an organization of torture survivors, said simply destroying the victim and his or her community is torture's true goal.

"Torture is an attempt to obliterate a person's personality, to turn him or her into a quivering mass of fear, cowering in some corner of the world afraid to look for the dawn," she said.

"It is not something we, the tortured 'get over.' It is something we live with the rest of our days. It is forever strapped to our backs. It constitutes a permanent invasion of our minds and our souls. Someone in uniform; a scream; the smell of a cigarette; the sound of someone whistling; the sight of a dog; the sound of keys rattling; cutting a piece of meat with a knife -- any of these may continually threaten a return to that past which walks so closely behind us."


Human Right & Wrongs: Christians should defend rights, ethicist says
By Ken Camp

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Concern about human rights means biblically grounded compassion for oppressed people -- not a selfish desire to protect one's own property or prestige, Baptist ethicist Glen Stassen told a recent meeting of religious leaders concerned about torture.

"It has been the defenders of the unjust status quo and unequal privileges who have said: 'Christians should not push for human rights. Human rights are selfish,'" he told the interfaith conference. It was held on Mercer University's Atlanta campus Sept. 11-12.

"My theme is that human rights are about caring for those who can be victimized by the more powerful," he noted.

Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, insisted human rights are rooted in the Bible and in religious teaching that predated any Enlightenment emphasis on possessive individualism.

He urged churches -- particularly those in the free-church Baptist tradition -- to recover their history and reclaim their heritage. "Human rights are our baby, coming from the struggle for the right to religious liberty -- well before the Enlightenment," he said.

Historically, Richard Overton -- an early Baptist, alongside John Smyth and Thomas Helwys -- articulated a call for human rights during the free-church struggle for religious liberty in Puritan England, Stassen noted. Overton advocated human rights in writing dating to 1645, drawing support for his position from the New Testament, natural law and historical experience.

Overton urged full religious liberty for all people, economic justice for the poor and expansion of civil liberties, including "the right not to be arbitrarily arrested nor forced to incriminate oneself; the right to speedy trial; the right to understand the law in one's own language; equality before the law; and the right of prisoners not to be starved, tortured or extorted," Stassen noted.

Christians care about human rights because it is a teaching grounded in the Gospels. Jesus cared about people, Stassen insisted.

"He cared for people with so much compassion that he confronted the authorities over the wrongs they were doing," he said. "Many people miss this. They think the authorities were the Romans. But the day-by-day authorities were the high priests and the wealthy and the Sadducees, and their somewhat-supporters, the Pharisees and Scribes who taught and enforced the moral codes."

Jesus confronted religious authorities over four types of injustice, Stassen noted:

-- Greed: "Human rights emphasize the positive right to life as having the basics needed to pursue a life's calling."

-- Exclusion: "Human rights emphasize the human right to community."

-- Domination: "Human rights emphasize the rights to liberty and to the means to check and balance unjust authority."

-- Violence: "Human rights emphasize the right to life."

"They are not four arbitrary types of injustice; they are deeply grounded in the prophetic tradition of God's own caring for the powerless and the deprived and the oppressed," Stassen added.

"They are based in God's caring, and in God's own realism about who needs standing up for in a world of greed, oppression, domination, exclusion, violence -- a world of sin."

And nations are as prone to sin as are individuals, he insisted.

"The temptation to sin is greater the more powerful you are, and our nation is very powerful. So, we badly need the check and balance of humility enough to listen to other nations, to restore international cooperation, to respect international law," Stassen said.

Human Rights & Wrongs: Not all coercion is torture, ethicist says
By Ken Camp

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (ABP) -- Debate over the morality of coercive force would be served better if everyone involved quit using the word "torture" altogether, said Daniel Heimbach, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"The problem here is that in hotly debating the ethics of so-called 'torture,' one side strongly -- and rather self-righteously -- objects to any 'immoral use of force,' while the other side is most often in fact trying to defend nothing more than 'morally justified use of force,'" said Heimbach, research institute fellow with the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"But, of course, 'moral' and 'immoral' uses of force are by definition completely different things, and there is no real disagreement as to the ethical substance of the issue."

The real questions are when, how and under what circumstances the line between morally justified and unjustified use of force is crossed, he insisted.

"Neither side in the torture debate is defending immoral use of force, and neither side is saying coercion should never be used, under any circumstance, no matter how mild. [Which is] all to say, we should stop using the word 'torture,' which is so emotionally inflammatory opponents cease communicating," Heimbach said.
Instead, opponents over the use of coercive force "should use other language that states more clearly and exactly what is truly opposed and defended," Heimbach said.

Both sides in the debate should be able to find common ground by starting with the acknowledgement that coercive force is a "graduated continuum" that extends from mild discomfort to painful death, he asserted.

"For those able to set aside emotion for the sake of moral clarity, answers for how anyone finds the moral boundary separating justified from unjustified use of force are answered by applying principles of just war," Heimbach said.

Just-war principles -- such as proportionality of ends and means, probability of success, whether war is the option of last resort, whether the proper authority is making the decision to enter war and whether the prosecutors of the war use no essentially evil means -- would provide reasonable guidelines for determining whether moral boundaries are violated in regard to coercive force, he suggested.

"I strongly agree it is always wrong to apply force immorally, and if that is what ... [is meant] by 'torture,' then I do indeed strongly oppose torture -- immoral use of force -- under any circumstance and urge everyone else to oppose it as well," he said.


Opinion: God-talk and conservative politics
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- Every so often, conservative evangelical politicians, military officials, or ministers are quoted describing the outcome of an election, the actions of the United States, or the deeds of its president or its troops as if they are self-evidently the direct will of God.

In recent decades, actions ranging from the "crusade" against communism, to the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and the appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices have been described in these ways.

These comments then evoke outrage from those who, for a variety of reasons, strongly reject any such identification of a political or military action with God's will.

The dust settles after each of these latest angry volleys in the culture wars , with cultural polarization and mutual incomprehension only deepening. And then the cycle repeats.

This issue has surfaced again recently in the public vetting of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as both Palin and her pastor are visible on YouTube with comments appearing to identify preferred policies, such as an expensive gas-pipeline project, as "God's will."

I think we need a deeper analysis of what is going on when Christian politicians and pastors make these sometimes-troubling rhetorical moves. I also think it is possible to draw at least some rough distinctions between harmless and harmful uses of "God talk" in relation to government and its policies.

It all begins with the Bible. Remember that evangelical Christians are taught to read the Bible every day on their own as well as to study the Bible in church and in small groups. Our pastors dream of immersing their people in the Bible, and many are really quite successful at creating churches in which their people are essentially drenched in biblical teaching. As a Baptist minister, seminary professor, and Sunday School teacher myself, this is certainly one of my own goals.

I propose that, for most evangelicals, the Bible is the primary text from which we first derive at least an implicit political philosophy -- because it is our primary text for understanding the world in general.

Two-thirds of the Christian Bible consists of what we call the "Old Testament." And most of the Old Testament tells the story of an ancient nation-state called Israel. I believe it is no overstatement to claim that for millions of Americans, the meaning of nationhood is learned more fully from the Old Testament than from any civics or government class offered sometime along the way in school.

Many scholars have documented the impact that this immersion in the Bible has on evangelical attitudes toward the contemporary state of Israel. Fewer have emphasized the impact that such an immersion has on evangelical attitudes toward America.

I am coming to believe that most of the seemingly outrageous claims that theologically conservative politicians and ministers make about America flow from a political-moral imagination in which ancient Israel provides the template for the functions of a nation -- any nation, including our own. The accounts offered in the historical books of the Old Testament, running from Joshua to II Chronicles in the Christian canon, are read with a kind of authoritarian literalist straightforwardness , producing the following basic understanding of nationhood:

-- The source of the state of Israel was God, who brought it into being.
-- The proper ruler of Israel is therefore also God, whose will is to be obeyed.
-- Any earthly ruler of Israel has been appointed by God and is answerable to God alone.
-- The wars of Israel are divinely ordained, and Israel's troops are fighting for God.
-- Setbacks for Israel are not coincidental but are God's will -- and are usually punishment for the nation's sins.

Of course, this is only one version of how to understand biblical Israel, and it has been challenged, reworked, and revised in many ways through the centuries. Such revisions and reinterpretations have come within the canon itself, from the prophets, and later from Jewish and Christian biblical scholars and community leaders. Certainly it is not the way the modern state of Israel is understood by most of its own inhabitants.

Nor is it the understanding of America taught in our high school American government classes. (Well, actually, I have seen curriculum in private Christian schools that comes pretty close to this.) I am not sure that it is a self-consciously chosen vision of America even for a majority of evangelicals. But it goes deeper than that. It lies in our moral and political imagination.

This helps to explain why many conservative evangelicals persist in describing America as an especially God-blessed and God-called nation and why they persist in calling America as a nation "back" to obedience to the God in whom, says our currency, we trust. It also helps explain why they tend to envision at least their favored politicians as God-appointed and God-anointed leaders whom it is wrong to question or criticize, and why they often lift our wars to a kind of holy status and describe our warriors as doing the work of God. Finally, it helps explain why they often attribute national setbacks to divine punishment for our sins. They are, effortlessly and naturally, applying an ancient Israelite paradigm to the modern United States.

And remember, I am not just talking about rabid ideologues or those with a particular ideological ax to grind. I am suggesting that this is the native language of millions of grassroots evangelicals.

If this is true, the implications are enormous. I will name just one implication for evangelical churches, and one for all Americans.

Evangelical churches and their leaders need to read more widely in Christian theology and ethics to develop a theology of the state that considers seriously both the difference that Jesus makes and the difference between ancient, theocratic Israel and modern, democratic America.

Americans need to take seriously the fact that millions of their countrymen are operating from an implicitly theocratic paradigm into which Enlightenment-era American constitutionalism has only partially penetrated. They certainly need to know as much as possible about the political imaginations of those who seek the highest offices of the land.


-- David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University.

Church Sign - 10/2/2008

Church: Olivet Baptist Church (4701 Pleasant Ridge Rd; Knoxville, TN 37912)

Sign: “The Ten Commandments are not multiple choice”

Commentary: This sign places the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21) in the forefront and reminds that the believer should not be selective in one's obedience to these guidelines. Jesus affirmed this in his conversation with the "Rich Young Ruler." (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27,; Luke 18:18-27) Jesus restated the commandments to him, omitting the ones that he was not following.


When Jesus reminded the young man of the commandments he was not following as closely and asked that the man sell his possessions in compliance, the Rich Young Ruler "was saddened, and he went away grieving..." (Mark 10:22)

Which of the Ten Commandments do I adhere to?

Bible Trivia - 10/2/2008

Question: What was the name of King Ahab’s father and wicked predecessor?

Answer: Omri. (I Kings 16:28)

Comments: Omri became the sixth king of the northern kingdom of Israel when he overthrew Zimri. He was a political success with the building the capital city of Samaria among his accomplishments (I Kings 16:24). Despite his exploits, Omri represented a spiritual setback for the nation. The writer of Kings summarizes, "Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him."(I Kings 16:25, NASB)

So Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria; and Ahab his son became king in his place. (I Kings 16:28, NASB)

Omri's son Ahab succeeded him and proved more evil than his father. (I Kings 16:30) Ahab is perhaps best remembered as the husband of the notorious Jezebel.

Note: This woodcut of "Omri's Coup" was engraved by Matthäus Merian (1593-1650).

Word of the Day - 10/2/2008


Plenary means full; complete; entire; absolute; unqualified.

Jesus desired that his followers experience plenary joy.

"These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:11, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/2/2008

How many consecutive Wednesdays can there be perfect weather in Knoxville while I am sequestered indoors? It is uncanny.

On Wednesday morning, I worked at the Hope Resource Center (HRC). The organization has moved our Wednesday sessions from afternoons to mornings to better accommodate nurses. MLM and I had three appointments scheduled. I participated in the 9:45 am and 10:15 am appointments while BL handled the last one at 11:45 am. For the first time since I have worked there, all of my appointments showed up. I was beginning to get worried that it was me. (Note: These staff pictures are of AH and BL. AH drew BL so that he would not feel left out.)

I made another foolish mistake. (Yes, again.) I acknowledged that I was hoping for a challenging session as all of my clients have been very likable. My first appointment showed up admittedly hung over from a fraternity party. Though I still liked the guy a lot, the conversation was more awkward than usual, and you must remember that all of these conversations involve people’s sex lives. I am such an idiot.

This appointment was also significant due to the contrasting styles displayed between the team of MLM and I and the nurse, Tina Jackson (TJ). MLM and I were kind to the guy. TJ let him have it for engaging in such a high risk life style. Honestly, she was probably more helpful to the guy than I was. Instilling the fear of God just is not in my arsenal. In the proverbial good cop, bap cop routine, I stink at being the bad cop. (Note: This is one of the many educational cards that can be found at the HRC. Read it and have the fear of God instilled in you!)

I got to hang with the HRC crew a lot. I will be working at the main center soon and will really miss these guys. I had a political conversation with BLB, who is leading the local McCain campaign. She believes that McCain will better represent the Christian values upon which the country was founded. (This is where my liberal education had me internally screaming, "John Locke!") I was advised not to be a "Kool-Aid" republican, democrat, etc. Though I am not entirely certain of its meaning, I like the expression.

BL works at Cedar Springs Christian Stores and they have already received a shipment of Christmas merchandise. This includes a snowman made from scrap metal that sells for $150. What would compel someone to buy such an item?

I always feel guilty acknowledging how much I enjoy working at HRC.

Wednesday night was spent in class at UT as usual. We spent the class discussing Eduard C. Lindeman (1885-1954) and his book The Meaning of Adult Education, which was part of our weekly reading. We were asked to select a favorite quote. Mine was:

“Somehow we must learn to cleanse the dreams of old men so that the visions seen by young men will not turn into bitterness.” (Lindeman, page 29)

This quote uses the language of Joel 2:28 (which Peter cites in the first Christian speech in Acts 2:17). It also conveys how I feel about the wars in my denomination.

After class I picked up dinner at Subway and visited RAW. There was a customer ahead of me at Subway which gave me time to contemplate my selection. I decided to try the 6" version of one of their signature sandwiches “The Feast.” The only employee working admitted, “I don’t even know what’s on a damn Feast.” It was awesome. Thankfully, said employee did know how to make a Philly cheese steak sandwich.

RAW and KJW were well. KJW has begun using personal pronouns. Hopefully, she will quit speaking of herself in the third person soon. RAW has entertained KJW by teaching her the entire vocabulary of Lil John. Yes, all three expressions ("Yeah!", "Okay!" "What?") She laughs profusely at all of this. We both think it is amusing that the two-year old finds Lil John ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/1/2008

Associated Baptist Press
September 29, 2008 · (08-93)

Greg Warner, Executive Editor
Robert Marus, News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief

In this issue
Palin terms sexuality 'choice,' sidesteps abortion in interview
American Baptist history archives reunited at Mercer University
Opinion: Being a people of the Word

Palin terms sexuality 'choice,' sidesteps abortion in interview
By Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin described homosexuality as "a choice" while sidestepping policy questions about it and several other divisive social issues in a television interview aired Sept. 30.

But the Alaska governor told Katie Couric of "CBS Evening News" that she is "not going to judge Americans and the decisions that they make in their adult personal relationships."

"One of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years happens to be gay, and I love her dearly," Palin said, when asked by Couric about homosexuality. "And she is not my 'gay friend,' she is one of my best friends -- who happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I have made. But I am not going to judge people."

Most gay-rights groups criticized GOP nominee John McCain for choosing someone with Palin's views as his running mate. "For Governor Palin to suggest that individuals randomly choose their sexual orientation based on nothing but a whim is wrong and it repeats the talking points of the anti-gay special interests which continue to control the McCain/Palin campaign and the Republican Party," said Jon Hoadley, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, in a statement.

As a candidate for governor in 2006, Palin listed "preserving the definition of marriage as defined in our constitution" as one of her top three legislative priorities. She supported Alaska's decision to amend its charter to ban same-sex marriage.

She also said, during her gubernatorial campaign, that she disapproved of a recent Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the state had to provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees.

While Palin later signed legislation that enforced the decision, she said at the time that she would support a ballot initiative that would effectively overturn the court ruling by banning gay spouses from state benefits. While she vetoed a legislative attempt to overturn the ruling, she said at the time she was doing so only because attorneys informed her the law would have been unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, at least one pro-gay GOP group has expressed support for the Palin choice. Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon released a statement shortly after McCain picked her Aug. 29, saying Palin is "a mainstream Republican who will unite the party and serve John McCain well as vice president. Gov. Palin is an inclusive Republican who will help Sen. McCain appeal to gay and lesbian voters."

In the Couric interview, Palin accused the media of misrepresenting her church's promotion of a Focus on the Family conference designed to help individuals overcome unwanted same-sex attraction through counseling and prayer. When the news of the conference broke a couple of weeks before the interview, some bloggers and other media outlets claimed that Wasilla Bible Church had "sponsored" the conference. In reality, it simply promoted the conference -- held in nearby Anchorage -- in the church bulletin. Palin attends Wasilla Bible when she is in her hometown.

Palin told Couric that when the media gets it wrong, "It frustrates Americans who are just trying to get the facts and ... be able to make up their mind on, about a person's values."

"But what you're talking about, I think, values here, what my position is on homosexuality and you can 'pray it away,' because I think that was the title that was listed on that bulletin," she continued. "And you know, I don't know what prayers are worthy of being prayed. I don't know what's prayers are going to be asked and answered."

Palin didn't say much when pressed by Couric on how she would handle public policy related to homosexuality and other hot-button social issues like abortion, global warming and teaching religious theories of the origins of life alongside evolution in public schools.

She reaffirmed her view that human life begins at the moment of conception. Because of that Palin, who described herself as both pro-contraceptive and pro-life, told Couric she personally would not use "morning after" emergency contraceptives, which can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

Palin has, in the past, said she opposed all abortions except those performed to save the mother's life. Asked by Couric if it should be illegal for a 15-year-old raped by her father to get an abortion, Palin said she would "counsel the person to choose life" but added that nobody should "end up in jail" for having an abortion.

As recently as Aug. 29 Palin told the conservative magazine Newsmax she is a pro-life candidate. "I'll do all I can to see every baby is created with a future and potential," she said. "The legislature should do all it can to protect human life."

In the CBS interview Palin also backed away from a statement she made previously suggesting that both evolution and "intelligent design" should be taught in public schools. Asked if she believed evolution should be "taught as an accepted scientific principle or as one of several theories, Palin told Couric it "should be taught as an accepted principle."

"I won't deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth, but that is not part of the state policy or a local curriculum in a school district," she said. "Science should be taught in science class."

Asked during a televised debate two years ago about teaching alternatives to evolution like creationism or intelligent design, Palin responded: "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

Palin later attempted to clarify those remarks, saying she meant there should be no prohibition on debating the issue if it comes up in class, but it didn't necessarily need to be part of the curriculum.

In the Couric interview, Palin also said she doesn't know if global warming is induced by humans.

"There are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now, these impacts," she said. "I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities [for] changes in climate, because the world's weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it."

Palin told CBS News she is not a member of any church, but she visits a couple of them when she is at home.

According to media reports, Palin was baptized a Catholic as an infant but began attending evangelical churches as a child with her mother. She was re-baptized at age 12 into the Wasilla Assembly of God by its then-pastor, Paul Reilly.

She attended there with her family on a regular basis until 2002, about the time she entered public service by running for lieutenant governor, when she switched over to Wasilla Bible Church. Political opponents at the time said she was trying to downplay her upbringing in the Pentecostal tradition, but Palin said the non-denominational church had a better children's program.

Wasilla Bible's pastor, Larry Kroons, said Palin and her family have been attending there regularly for about six years. They are "attenders" but not on the membership roll, which he said is not unusual in Alaska.

As governor, Palin has occasionally attended Juneau Christian Center, an Assemblies of God congregation in the capital, when she is there attending to business. Before running for governor she frequently attended another Wasilla church, Church on the Rock, for about a year and has visited a few times since.
What all Palin's churches share in common, says Howard Bess, a retired American Baptist pastor in nearby Palmer, Alaska, is they are "rock-solid fundamentalist" in their theology.

"Her churches are literalists and into [biblical] inerrancy," Bess said in a recent e-mail interview.

Bess said he clashed several times over the years with Palin's allies on local culture-war issues like banning library books.

Bess said he worries how Palin's "Christian triumphalism" and belief in dispensational views of eschatology might play out on a world stage and has encouraged the media to take a closer look at how her churches' teachings influence her worldview.

"Sarah is a charming person," Bess said. "I have always considered her moral and ethical. However, since her nomination, I believe she is shaving truth and rewriting history."


-- Bob Allen is ABP's senior writer. Robert Marus contributed to this story.

American Baptist history archives reunited at Mercer University
By Bob Perkins

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Scholars and history buffs who want to learn more about Baptist history now can do so in one place.

The American Baptist Historical Society dedicated the Samuel Colgate Historical Library and Archives on Mercer University's Atlanta campus Sept. 27, bringing its vast collections previously housed at Valley Forge, Pa., and Rochester, N.Y., under one roof.

The space also represents something of a reunion for Baptists -- who divided over slavery in 1845 and have never reunited. While some questioned relocating the library and archives to Atlanta, particularly with American Baptist Churches USA headquarters in Pennsylvania, Mercer President Bill Underwood said Atlanta was the perfect location, because of the city's civil-rights history and the personal history of university founder Jesse Mercer.

The Georgia Baptist preacher whose financial contributions helped establish the university in 1833 also made a substantial gift to the American Baptist Publication Society. That, in turn, helped lead to establishment of the American Baptist Historical Society in 1853.

"This is a partnership between the leading Baptist research university and the largest Baptist historical resource in the nation," Underwood said. "I felt from the beginning this partnership could help both institutions advance their missions."

The building is also the new home for the Baptist History and Heritage Society, which was the successor to the former Southern Baptist Historical Commission. In addition, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship -- which was where most in the moderate camp of the Southern Baptist Convention's controversies of the 1980s migrated -- has announced plans to move into the building. And the building was formerly home to the Georgia Baptist Convention headquarters.

Albert Brinson, co-chair of a fundraising campaign for the American Baptist Historical Society, said the move is appropriate. Brinson was ordained at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta by co-pastors Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. He said both men thought Atlanta was a natural spot for bringing diverse people together.

"Our relationship with American Baptists makes this a special moment that now, in 2008, we celebrate the opening of the largest center of Baptist history," Brinson said. "We are a part of that Baptist history. Atlanta is a great place for bringing people together, and we are asking God to bless this place."

Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said the dedication was momentous for those who treasure the nation's rich Baptist heritage. "This is a significant day for those who have prayed for the unity of the church," Medley said. "By joining with this storied institution rooted in Baptist life and in the South, it's another way in which God is healing the divisions, the scars and the wounds of Baptists in the past."

From a research perspective, proximity to other historical collections at Emory University and Vanderbilt University make the new site convenient for researchers, said Anthea Butler, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester and a participant in the dedication ceremony. "It's important for the archives to be in Atlanta because it puts it in great proximity to all the great Baptist research sites in the South, all within a 500-mile radius," said Butler, a Baptist historian.

Trinette McCray, president of the historical society, echoed that proximity is important. "To have our collections together under one roof makes it easy for researchers and history buffs to see our historical documents," she said. "Atlanta is perfect because it is one flight from almost any city in the country, and researchers and students won't have to search for documents in two locations."

The archives hold tens of thousands of artifacts of Baptist history, some from as early as the 1500s from Dutch and German Baptists, according to Deborah Van Broekhoven, the historical society's executive director. She called the new library and archives an exciting place where learning is still taking place."

We're always stumbling upon a wide variety of stories," Van Broekhoven said. "People come from all over the world to use our collections because part of their history is in our archives. Probably the most exciting thing is they tell us more about the story, from different perspectives, because it's a piece of their own history."


Opinion: Being a people of the Word
By Beth Newman

(ABP) -- Who was the sage who observed that "no matter how cynical you become, it's impossible to keep up?"

The latest example of this particular eternal verity is the procession of the secretary of the Treasury Department, the chair of the Federal Reserve, and other assorted experts appearing before Congress to explain that we stand on the edge of national financial disaster. Of course, these same persons were assuring us only a few days before that the foundations were basically sound.

And these are the experts.

Let me say here that I see something more threatening in this drama than even the threat of another Great Depression. The breakdown in trust between a people and their leaders makes any idea of a commonwealth impossible.

Another news story illustrates the same problem, albeit on a level much less likely to receive any national attention. Lifeway Research has commented on a newly discovered "disconnect" between pew and pulpit on the issue of biblical authority. Basically, according to these surveys, while Southern Baptist pastors are united in affirming the "inerrancy of Scripture," at least one quarter of the persons in the pews don't regard the Bible as "the authoritative source of truth and wisdom for daily living."

Of course, a division between clergy and laity over the authority of Scripture is nothing new. But in the past (I speak from the experience of being both a student and teacher in seminary) the questions about authority were usually on the clergy side. Anyone who has been exposed to the historical-critical method of studying Scripture has wrestled with questions about how much of what one has been taught about the Bible can actually be shared from the pulpit without risking one's job.

The new division is something else.

On one level, I'm sure it's a reflection of the so-called postmodern rejection of any notion of any objective and authoritative truth. Another explanation might be the supposed freedom of each Baptist to interpret Scripture for him or herself.
The deeper problem is this: the questions are framed in a way that reflects a lack of consensus as to what the Scriptures are about in the first place. Without a common vision on what the Bible is, there can be no consensus on how to allow it to form a way of life together.

On one hand, take the question of the "inerrancy of Scripture." As an issue, this arose during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century and, as many before me have observed, the inerrantists shared with their opponents one assumption: that the Bible can be properly read and understood in the absence of the gathered community of the church. An example from my youth would be Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

The alternative is what one might call a "therapeutic" view of Scripture that is reflected in language about the Bible being a source of "wisdom for daily living." Certainly the Bible contains much wisdom of this sort, but so does The Old Farmer's Almanac. And in neither case do we need to accept the sources as completely authoritative to profit from them.

As I observed earlier, the differing conceptions about the role and value of Scripture reflect the difficulty we are currently experiencing at many different levels within our society. The way through (if not the way out) is not for either side of the biblical divide to convince the other, but for all of us who bear the name of Christ to recapture a full vision of what it means to be a people of the Word.

To do this, I want to suggest we need to leave behind the dichotomies of our earlier debates and enter fully into the story that the Bible narrates: God is working to restore ourselves to him. This involves God creating a people -- first Israel and then, we believe, the church.

This process, of course, did not end in the first century. God continues to create a people through his Word, grafting them onto that great communion of saints that stretches across time and place.

It is certainly true that a modern myopia easily leads some to domesticate God's Word -- turning it into an historical text or private faith document. And yet, to hear God's Word faithfully is to be drawn, by grace, into God's adventure of re-creation. The exciting task, both for the preacher and for the congregation, is to discover for ourselves our place within this cosmic story.


-- Beth Newman is professor of theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

Church Sign - 10/1/2008

Church: Bethesda Christian Fellowship (1015 Cedar Ln; Knoxville, TN 37912)

Sign: “Satan is a loser”

Commentary: In addition to making me chuckle, this sign is literally true.

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10, NASB)

It is fitting that the sign appears on a cross, the site of Satan's ultimate defeat.

Bible Trivia - 10/1/2008

Question: What is the term used to refer to the collection of statements which Jesus began with the words, “Blessed are...”

Answer: The Beatitudes.

Comments: The beatitudes appear at the outset of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). The name comes from Latin beatus, meaning "blessed" or "happy". In each beattitude, Jesus sets out a condition that is typically undesired and then states a favorable result of that condition. These statements were to demonstrate the radical nature of the kingdom of heaven and likely shocked the original audience. As an example:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3, NASB)

Most scholars count eight Beatitudes in Matthew. Four of the eight appear in Luke 6:20-26.

Word of the Day - 10/1/2008


An artificer is a person who is skillful or clever in devising ways of making things; inventor.

In Romans 1, Paul relays a laundry list of sinful acts, including mentioning artificers of evil.

slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (Romans 1:30, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/1/2008, Part 2

I spent Tuesday night with my parents at the Compassion Coalition Fund Raising Banquet. The event was held at Calhoun’s on the River. I have had the pleasure of working with the Compassion Coalition on many occasions and my parents and I were invited to the event by MLM.

The Compassion Coalition is a nondenominational group that attempts to unite churches and nonprofit organizations to respond to the needs of the community. It was founded in 2000 by Andy Rittenhouse (JAR). JAR now serves as Minister of Domestic Missions & Evangelism at the First Baptist Church of Concord while Grant Standefur (GLS) is filling JAR’s previous role of executive director.

From what I understand the fundraiser was typical of such events. There was assigned seating. We were crammed into the restaurants’s upper level banquet hall into a space that would have made sardines uncomfortable. My parents and I sat at Table 11 with Bob (BIP) and Sarah Poston (SAP), the Ulmer family (CMU and his parents JMU and MMU), the musical trio of “Two or More” (and one of the members’ baby Abel) who were performing on this night, and of course, MLM. (Note: This picture is of CMU and his beautiful mother, MMU.)

The group used the Chris Tomlin’s song “God of This City” as its theme, sung by both the musical act and accompanying a video. The night’s theme verse was John 17:18:

“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18, NASB)

Bob Bell from the Christian radio station WRJZ served as Master of Ceremonies. The speakers were GLS and Randy Nichols, who has served as Knox County Attorney General since August 18, 1992.

As noted the music was provided by the local group, 2 Or More. (The group also has a MySpace that can be accessed here.) The trio is comprised of Sarah Mentzer (SEBM), Brandee Vandergirff (BCFG), and Rebekah Wade (RW). SEBM and RW are sisters whose father served as music minister at Broadway Baptist Church in Maryville for 29 years. They were really good. The trio sang at the White House on December 16, 2006. They had given their second performance at Carnegie Hall earlier in the same day. The group’s name comes from the King James Verison of Matthew 18:20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20, KJV)

The organization has a $350,000 annual budget and hoped to raise $100,000 on this night. No word on the results at this time. Though I loathe events such as these, I strongly support this organization.

It is also worth noting that the third edition of the group’s Salt and Light Guidebook has been released. If you would like to serve in the Knoxville area, this is an invaluable resource. It takes its name from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14, NASB)

After the event, I visited KLTW, KJW and RAW. KJW was in a snuggly mood with me after having been apparently a typical two-year old earlier in the night. (I don't believe it.) We flipped between watching the White Sox’s 1-0 victory in a one game playoff over Twins and an episode of House, MD. Has anyone else noticed the USA Network has played that show almost continuously of late?

Finally, Tuesday marked ALK’s birthday. I will take you out soon to celebrate “47"!

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/1/2008, Part 1

Part 1 of this edition of “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” is titled “Chan Goes to the Allergist.” I am describing the process in detail for two reasons: 1. If any of you are contemplating being tested for allergies, you will know what to expect. 2. I will document what the allergist told me to do as I inevitably would forget otherwise.

I spent Tuesday morning at the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center. I had been there many times to drop SMA off in their “shotroom” but on this day I was going to have a battery of tests run. Having the appointment scheduled in advance, I already had completed my paperwork and had the Claritin out of my system when I arrived. Going without medicine for a week affected me, but not as much as I would have thought.

My appointment began in the office of Robert M. Overholt (RMO). RMO, also known as “Dr. Bob” has his own radio and television program in the area known as the Dr. Bob Show. His office was decorated with family photos everywhere. In fact, I am not sure that my family owns as many photos as adorn his office.

Before examining me, RMO wanted to get to know me. When he learned that I attended McAfee, he asked if f I was familiar with John Claypool. I liked this guy already.

RMO is a member of a member of West Hills Baptist Church and as such knows my seminary pal AJP (the former pastor’s son). In fact, all of AJP’s family works with him. AJP’s brother Ty (TLP) is a doctor and his sisters all also work there. RMO was also familiar with Carson-Newman College and my church’s pastor, LWF. I could have talked with RMO for hours.

After talking with RMO, I went into Exam Room 1. Upon examination, RMO discovered that my nose showed signs of a serious allergy problem. This was great as it meant I could be helped and also that I am not just a pansy.

Shortly after this inspection, a nurse named Lisa wrote on my back and scratched me 72 times to test for various allergies. After fifteen minutes, these pricks would have swelled were I allergic. I tested positive for only one. I had a strong reaction to dust mites.

I then went with a nurse named Sherry into another room where I was given a lead apron and a CT scan. Two images were taken, one shot took an instant and in another I had to remain still with my eyes closed for forty seconds. The results came back negative for a chronic sinus infection. The news was almost as cool as the fact that I wore a lead apron.

I then returned to the exam room where Lisa gave me ten more markings on each arm. Though the process was not painful, I felt as though a really bad tattoo artist had taken me captive. The first tests were externally focused on the outside of my skin, these tests were done beneath the skin.

While awaiting the results, I watched a brief video on allergies and dust mites. The video was hosted by RMO but the audio track was slightly off, giving it the feel of an Asian martial arts film. I learned that my allergies were caused by genetics. I have yet another thing to thank my parents for.

My favorite line from the video was: “When you lay on your pillow you leave a hot fudge Sunday for the dust mites.” I learned the following tips for ameliorating dust bites:

  • Cover the pillow and bed with a “vinyl” protective covering.
  • Wash the bedding in a hot cycle at least 130 degrees or more as the dust mites can survive the cold cycle.
  • Do not run a ceiling fan in the bedroom.
  • If given the choice, do not have carpeting in the bedroom.
  • Position the vent so that it faces away from the bed.

The positive news was that doing these simple tasks has been known to cause improvement in as quickly as 5-6 days.

After watching the video, another nurse washed my arm and then I debriefed in RMO’s office.

I learned that 30% of people have an allergy to dust mites. In addition to the “Allergy Avoidance Program” detailed above, I was two given prescriptions for nasal sprays. I am to spray (to the outside of the nose) Flonase twice each morning. I am also to use Astelin twice daily. This topical antihistamine helps in four different ways and is RMO’s favorite antihistamine. I felt guilty for not having a favorite antihistamine.

I also made a three-year commitment to allergy shots. As the program persists, the shots will becoming less frequent. During the first three months, I will be injected twice a week and weekly for the remainder of the first year. If all goes according to schedule, I would be injected once every two weeks for the remaining two years. There is a 50% chance I will show improvement by the end of the year and an 85% chance that the allergies will eventually be eliminated entirely. My regime begins on October 14th.

RMO was very sympathetic to the ministry noting that it is the second hardest job in the country, behind major college football coach. Thankfully my name is not in the paper every time I give a poor sermon.

I bought a cover for my pillow at the Patient Care Center and was on my way. It was a great experience. It took about 1 ½ hours, less than the two hours that had been projected. Everyone was incredibly nice as well. If you have allergy problems, this is the place to go.

Afterwards, I met JTH at Big Fatty’s Catering Kitchen. The place was packed and we had to sit at the restaurant’s purple high top chairs. I ate the blue plate special - chicken ‘n dumplings with a side of scalloped potatoes. I am really glad my blood pressure was checked prior to this meal as I am fairly certain I clogged some arteries in the process. Sadly, I think it was worth it.