Saturday, November 1, 2008

Prayer Blog - 11/1/2008

I received word this morning that JBT’s mother passed away last night. She had battled heart ailments for years. Please keep JBT and his brother in your prayers as she was all the family they had. Also pray help with the funeral arrangements.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/31/2008

Associated Baptist Press
October 31, 2008 · (08-105)

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

In this issue
Michelle Obama speech to Baptists spurs request for IRS investigation (410 words)
Baptist pastor's trial begins; Azerbaijanis claim intimidation (417 words)
Survey: Protestant pastors favor McCain, but many still undecided (232 words)
Opinion: Religion, values, and the 2008 election (720 words)

Michelle Obama speech to Baptists spurs request for IRS investigation
By Bob Allen (410 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether Oct. 29 remarks by Michelle Obama to an African-American Baptist gathering violated federal tax law.

According to media reports, the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate told about 1,000 delegates to the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, meeting in Fayetteville, that her husband understands the struggles of working families and offers the leadership America needs.

"Don't we deserve a president with that perspective, someone who knows first-hand the heartbreak caused by a broken health care system and is determined to fix it?" she asked, according to the Fayetteville Observer. "Don't we deserve a leader who gets it? Well, Barack Obama gets it."

"I come here today as a Christian, a person of faith who believes we've all been called to serve our fellow men and woman and honor all of God's creation," she said, according to the Associated Press. "I also come here as a wife who loves my husband, and I believe my husband will be an extraordinary president."

Barry Lynn, president of the Washington-based Americans United, said the speech was inappropriate for a tax-exempt religious group.

"This was an Obama campaign rally taking place during the meeting of a religious group," Lynn said. "Federal tax law simply does not allow religious organizations to sponsor events like this."

Federal tax law permits 501(c) (3) tax-exempt charities to invite political speakers for non-political purposes, but bans churches and other religious groups from endorsing candidates. In an Oct. 30 letter to the IRS, Lynn said the appearance by the candidate's wife "appeared very similar" to the sort of campaign appearance upon which the tax code frowns.

"In short, I believe this appearance by Ms. Obama before this religious group raises a host of issues, and I urge the IRS to investigate the matter," Lynn wrote.

In February the IRS launched an investigation into Sen. Barack Obama's 2007 address to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. In May the agency ruled that Obama's speech -- agreed to before he had announced his presidential candidacy and addressed to members of his own denomination -- did not qualify as a political speech.

About the same time the IRS ruled that former Southern Baptist Convention vice president Wiley Drake's use of his California church's resources to endorse Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee also was not "prohibited political campaign intervention."


Baptist pastor's trial begins; Azerbaijanis claim intimidation
By Bob Allen (417 words)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- A Baptist pastor in Azerbaijan, arrested in June on what his defenders say was a trumped-up charge, was scheduled to stand trial beginning Oct. 31.

Hamid Shabanov, 52, was arrested after police in the remote northern village of Aliabad, near the Georgian border, searched his house and claimed to find an illegal firearm and ammunition. Family members say Shabanov does not own a gun and allege that police planted the evidence as part of government efforts to intimidate and harass religious minorities.

Shabanov's arrest came three months after another Baptist pastor in the same town was released from prison. He had been jailed on charges of resisting arrest -- allegations his supporters also claimed were trumped up. Pastor Zauer Balaev was set free in March after a worldwide campaign calling for his release, which included a plea from former President Jimmy Carter.

Leaders of the European Baptist Federation and Baptist World Alliance protested both arrests.

Supporters of Shabanov questioned procedures related to his trial. They say his detention is illegal, because a court order holding him expired Oct. 21. In August, officials held a hearing in the case without notifying Shabanov or his lawyer.
His trial was scheduled to begin Oct. 28, but police did not deliver him to the courtroom on time.

Elnur Jabiyev, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Azerbaijan, told the Baptist World Alliance that investigators have not released any documents about tests on fingerprints taken from the weapon. "Our efforts and the efforts of our advocate bring no fruits," he said.

Shabanov's attorney, Mirman Aliev, told the Christian news service Forum 18 the delays were on purpose. "They are deliberately drawing this out, as they don't want Shabanov to go to court," Aliev said. "They want to hold him for as long as they can."

Shabanov's brother told Forum 18 that officials want to imprison the church's leader in hopes the Baptist community will "fall apart."

Shabanov's village, Aliabad, has about 10,000 residents. It is made up almost entirely made up of members of the Ingilo minority, ethnic Georgians who were converted to Islam from Orthodox Christianity several centuries ago. Local officials there distrust the Baptists because they view them as unpatriotic, Christian sources say.

While Azerbaijan's constitution provides that persons of all faiths may choose and practice their religion without restriction, the United States State Department's latest report on international religious freedom found "sporadic violations of religious freedom by some officials" in the former Soviet republic.


Survey: Protestant pastors favor McCain, but many still undecided
By ABP staff (232 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- A majority of Protestant pastors say they plan to vote for Republican presidential nominee John McCain, but just days before the Nov. 4 election nearly one in four is undecided, according to the latest LifeWay Research poll.

McCain outpolled Democrat Barack Obama 55 percent to 20 percent among Protestant pastors, according to the survey by the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing-and-research arm. The margin is even wider among those who identify themselves as evangelicals -- 66 percent plan to vote for McCain compared to 13 percent for Obama.

But Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, noted "a surprising number of undecideds" for so late in the race.

While as a group Protestant pastors tilt toward McCain, the proportion varies by denomination. Thirty-seven percent of mainline Protestant pastors plan to vote for Obama, 36 percent for McCain and 24 percent are undecided.

More than half (53 percent) of Protestant pastors surveyed said they have "personally endorsed candidates for public office this year," but outside of their church roles. Less than 3 percent reported publicly endorsing candidates for public office during a church service. Official church endorsements of candidates or parties violate federal tax law.

An earlier survey by LifeWay Research found church members overwhelmingly believe churches should not campaign or endorse candidates, but 54 percent said it is OK for a pastor to endorse candidates outside of their church role.


Opinion: Religion, values, and the 2008 election
By David Gushee (720 words)

(ABP) -- It's all over but the shouting. Millions have already voted, and the retrospectives on the 2008 presidential election are already beginning. Some of these will involve reflection on the way that faith played out in this election cycle.
Here is what I have seen.

There was little thoughtful discussion in this election season of the complex issues related to how a candidate's personal faith informs their moral values and, in turn, their policy choices. The high-water mark of such discussion during this campaign occurred at the "Compassion Forum" hosted by Messiah College and Faith in Public Life in April. Rick Warren's August event at Saddleback Church was also quite thoughtful.

But religion more often served as a game of guilt-by-association. Obama was guilty because of his association with Jeremiah Wright. Palin was guilty because of her association with Pentecostalism in Wasilla. Romney was guilty because he was a Mormon. McCain was guilty when he accepted the endorsement of John Hagee. This dimension of the campaign was not a high-water mark in our public discussion of faith and politics.

Religion was also used as a marker of identity, as a reason to vote for a candidate. This was most notable in the case of Sarah Palin, who was selected by John McCain, in part, as a point of identification for conservative evangelicals. They responded as desired.

It could be argued that Joe Biden was selected, in part, to appeal to Catholic voters.

Obama's long association with the black-church tradition helped to eventually solidify his appeal to the African-American Christian community and its leaders. He did not always have their support.

As an exception that proves the rule, John McCain's understated religious involvement hurt his appeal among religious conservatives.

Of course, there are real questions to be asked about whether religious affiliation per se should function as a reason to vote for a candidate. Certainly it is easier for candidates to claim religious affiliation than to live out its implications in any especially constructive or informed way.

Christians have often been deceived by mere claims or appearances of religious identity. The right question is not whether someone shares my particular brand of religious faith, but how their faith informs their worldview, leadership and policies.

Beyond the candidate level, there is the more interesting question that has to do with the churches. How did the churches and their leaders bear public witness during this campaign?

This is a harder question, partly because religious life in this vast land is so decentralized. We will know more after the election about the extent to which pastors, churches and parachurch organizations became involved in efforts to affect the election.

My sense is that the Christian Right has undertaken its customary efforts to define the moral choices in the election so that a vote for the Republican ticket is more or less the obvious choice.

A stronger organizing effort on the Christian Left has been visible this year to define the moral choices in the election in such a way that a vote for the Democratic ticket seems the better choice.

And some voices have sought not so much to urge a vote for one side, but to blunt the approach of partisans on either side.

Priests, bishops, and other leaders in the Catholic Church have struggled with a question that also troubles evangelical voters -- whether abortion is the ultimate issue determining one's vote. A secondary question is whether overturning Roe v. Wade is the ultimate policy response to this problem.

For those who answer "yes" to both questions, a vote against Obama and for McCain has been treated as a moral obligation. Other evangelicals and Catholics are not so sure. This divide will undoubtedly continue after the election, and seems to be a major demarcation point between the Catholic and evangelical right and those to their left.

I published my book on faith and politics in January. There I suggested that there is an evangelical right, center and left and that the fractures between the evangelical approaches to politics were becoming deeper. I offered some hope that evangelical centrists could serve as a point of unity and a bridge between the more polarized right and left.

We'll see how the landscape looks after the election, but right now that hope seems faint indeed.


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

Bible Trivia - 10/31/2008

Question: What is the name of the festival year which is celebrated every 50th year in Jewish tradition?

Answer: The year of Jubilee. (Leviticus 25)

Comments: The year of Jubilee is described in Leviticus 25. It is the year at the end of a seven cycles of Sabbatical years. The year of Jubilee was to be treated like a Sabbatical year, with the land lying fallow, but also required the return of all property to its original owners or their heirs, except the houses of laymen within walled cities, in addition to the freeing of all Israelite indentured servants. It was to be a fresh start for all.

"'You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.'" (Levitcus 25:10, NASB)

Though Jubilee is referenced in three chapters of the Bible (Leviticus 25, 27; Numbers 36) at no point in the Biblical record is it acknowledged as having been practiced.

Note: This image of the "Proclamation of Jubilee" was created by Paul Hardy.

Word of the Day - 10/31/2008


Osculation is the act of kissing.

All three Synoptic Gospels report that Judas betrayed Jesus by osculation. (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:44-45; Luke 22:47-48).

Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him." Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.
(Matthew 26:48-49, NASB)

In Matthew and Mark the kiss (Greek: kataphilein) is delivered while in Luke it is only referenced.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/31/2008

On Thursday night, JTH, KL, WAM, KLTW, KJW, MPW, RAW, and I celebrated the recent birthdays of WAM (October 26th) and KLTW (October 28th). This photo is a subdued version of KJW’s “cold face”.

We all convened at RAW’s home shortly after 8 pm to celebrate. I brought the food: chocolate cake, mint chocolate chip (RAW’s favorite) and cookies and cream (KLTW’s favorite) ice cream and sodas. The always generous WAM brought caramel apples for everyone.

We spent the night talking and enjoying each other’s company. It was great.

KJW had a heavy dose of stimulants: cake, ice cream, candy apples, and JTH. Truthfully, JTH invigorates her more than the other items combined. While taking this photo, I asked her, “Do you ever get sick of me taking pictures of you?” After completing her bite, she nonchalantly and nonjudgementally replied, “Yeah.” I can’t say that I blame her.

For more of WAM, check out the WAM Quote of the Day.

Shortly after I returned home, my cousin NTC (from Jersey City) arrived. She will be spending the weeknd with us in her first visit to Tennessee since 2003. We are all excited to have her here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/30/2008

Associated Baptist Press
October 30, 2008 · (08-104)

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

In this issue
Religious Right appeals to fear as election nears (1,251 words)
Congo: New fighting creates latest humanitarian crisis (728 words)
Faculty, students, alumni want voice in Baylor presidential search (859 words)
Baptist criminal-justice advocate applauds Ga. stay of execution (597 words)

Religious Right appeals to fear as election nears
By Bob Allen (1,251 words)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (ABP) -- Perfect love may cast out fear, but some Religious Right leaders seem intent on scaring the pants off of their followers as the Nov. 4 presidential election approaches.

With Republican nominee John McCain trailing in the polls, some conservative Christian leaders are warning their supporters of nightmare scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama wins.

The political-action arm of James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry recently circulated an article written in the form of a letter from an imaginary Christian four years in the future. The "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" attempts to create an image of what the United States might look like at the end of a President Obama's first term, assuming he wins.

The letter's author conjures a scenario that includes far-left liberals controlling the Supreme Court by a 6-3 majority, legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, a ban on preaching from the Bible on radio and television, taxpayer-funded abortion and, in some states, a ban on owning guns.

The letter does not claim to "predict" the imagined future events, but says each of them could happen and all are the "natural outcome" of legal and political trends embraced by the left.

The letter envisions liberal justices, after gaining dominance on the Supreme Court, immediately ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Other scenarios include the demise of the Boy Scouts, who would choose to disband instead of obeying a Supreme Court ruling forcing them to accept gay scoutmasters; nationwide compulsory education on "gender identity" for first-grade students; requiring Christian adoption agencies to place children with gay couples; and forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages and to hire openly gay staff members.

In the letter's scenario, high schools would no longer be able to hold "See You at the Pole" prayer rallies, churches would be barred from meeting on public-school property, campus ministries would be shut down and the words "under God" would be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Doctors and nurses would be forced to perform abortions against their conscience. Home schooling would be curtailed. Pornography would be easily accessible on the airwaves. A "Fairness Doctrine" governing federally licensed broadcasters would require radio programs to provide equal time to opposing views, meaning that any social views expressed by conservative broadcasters like Dobson would be followed by immediate rebuttal from a liberal watchdog group.

The letter's imagined scenario for U.S. foreign policy turns even bleaker.

"Emboldened" by a premature U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the writer says, al-Qaeda carries out terrorist attacks against in American cities. Following a pattern set when it sent troops into Georgian territory in 2008, Russia moves to occupy and retake satellite states of the former Soviet Union. Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel, reducing it to a weaker country with an uncertain future.

The letter has prompted significant backlash from centrist and progressive Christians. Mara Vanderslice of the pro-Obama group Matthew 25 called it "blatant fearmongering in order to influence a political race."

"As Christians, we have been choosing hope over fear for 2,000 years," she said. "Our public witness should reflect our deepest hopes, not provoke unfounded fears."

Jim Wallis, of the Christian anti-poverty group Sojourners/Call to Renewal, said the letter "crosses all lines of decent public discourse."

In an Oct. 29 press release framed as a letter to Dobson, he continued: "In a time of utter political incivility, it shows the kind of negative Christian leadership that has become so embarrassing to so many of your fellow Christians in America. We are weary of this kind of Christian leadership, and that is why so many are forsaking the Religious Right in this election."

Wallis told Dobson the letter's fantasies "thoroughly" ignore "biblical teachings against slander" and "not only damage your credibility, they slander Barack Obama who, you should remember, is a brother in Christ, and they insult any Christian who might choose to vote for him."

Focus on the Family isn't the only conservative Christian outlet alarmed by the prospect of an Obama presidency. Editor Gerald Harris of the Georgia Baptist newspaper Christian Index envisioned "a new ideology" -- marked by a shifting moral compass and view that nothing is wrong except intolerance -- overtaking America.

"I don't know how much our nation will change before the presidential election in 2012, but I expect it to morph into something much different than what we have experienced in our history," Harris wrote. "The prevailing ideology that seems to be gaining new adherents each day will very likely become full-blown by then."

Harris said he can envision a day when sermons are censored, churches lose their tax-exempt status and Christians are ridiculed "if not outright persecuted" for their faith.

"Perhaps, the church will be sifted through persecution so that we will know who the genuine, authentic Christians really are," Harris wrote. "That may be a blessing in disguise, because Christianity has always flourished better in times of adversity than in times of prosperity."

John Pierce, editor of the moderate publication Baptists Today, found both Dobson's and Harris' appeals troubling.

"These are last-gasp efforts to scare gullible adherents who share a fear that the cultural dominance for conservative Christians could be lost," Pierce wrote in a blog entry. He said people who write such "nonsense" do so for one of two reasons: "Either they are being intentionally dishonest in order to persuade voters to their political side or they actually possess such irrational fears."

E-mail rumors have circulated for months alleging that Obama -- who was raised in an irreligious home but professed Christ two decades ago -- is secretly a Muslim or even the anti-Christ. But conservative Christian attacks on Obama and his supporters have intensified of late.

Janet Porter of the conservative activist group Faith2Action said in a column on the conservative WorldNetDaily website that a person cannot be a Christian and vote for Obama, because he is pro-choice on abortion and opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"To all those who name the name of Christ who plan to willfully disobey him by voting for Obama, take warning," she wrote. "Not only is our nation in grave danger, according to the word of God, so are you."

Porter said the election is not about the race or the economy, but rather "obeying God."

"Obama-Biden are pro-death. McCain-Palin are pro-life," she wrote, referencing the presidential candidates and their running mates. "Now choose life that you and your children may live."

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote a piece in June declaring Obama is "not a Christian" but rather a "false prophet" who denies central tenets of the faith.

Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, wrote in August that Obama would not be the anti-Christ, but the enthusiastic reception the candidate received on a recent international tour "provided a foretaste of the reception [the anti-Christ] can expect to receive."

"Everyone uses fear in the last part of a campaign, but evangelicals are especially theologically prone to those sorts of arguments," Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University political scientist, told the Associated Press. "There's a long tradition of predicting doom and gloom."

But evangelical author Margaret Feinberg told the AP that such attempts might backfire with younger voters. "Young evangelicals are tired -- like most people at this point in the election -- and rhetoric which is fear-based, strong-arms the listener and states opinion as fact will only polarize rather than further the informed, balanced discussion that younger voters are hungry for," she said.


-- Robert Marus contributed to this story.

Congo: New fighting creates latest humanitarian crisis
By Bob Allen (728 words)

NEW YORK (ABP) -- Escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is creating a "humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions," the head of the United Nations said Oct. 29.

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon called attention to the flare-up, which has followed several days in which tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese have fled fighting in the North Kivu province. Government troops have battled ethnic Tutsi rebels led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda's forces routed the military and advanced to within miles of the provincial capital, Goma, before declaring a cease-fire to prevent panic in that city.

Several international relief agencies have suspended operations and are evacuating staff from the area until the situation stabilizes. Fighting has made it too dangerous to distribute food, prompting concern that an estimated 1 million people who have fled their homes since the most recent round of fighting began in August might be cut off from aid.

The situation only adds to Congo's suffering. Nearly 6 million people have died in a humanitarian crisis resulting from the nation's 1998-2003 civil war, mostly from hunger or disease and half of them children age 5 or younger. The war involved a scramble for control of the nation's rich resources, which include coltan, a mineral widely used in electronic devices like laptop computers, video-game consoles and cellular telephones.

Eastern Congo is home to the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world. Recently, on top of fighting rebels, the U.N. troops have had to dodge rocks thrown by citizens frustrated that 17,000 soldiers have been unable to protect a remote and far-flung area populated by 8 million people.

The U.N. estimates that as many as 200,000 Congolese have been displaced by fighting in the last two months. An estimated 2 million people in the region have fled their homes since 2007.

Many of those who have fled are reportedly malnourished and in a state of fear and panic.

"Some of the people we spoke with said they were very hungry, had not eaten any food and did not know where they were going," said Michael Arunga, emergency-communications manager for the Christian relief organization World Vision. "Most said they had lost all their property, leaving it behind when fleeing from the fighting."

A British aid worker in Goma described a city in a state of "chaos" in a telephone interview with the BBC.

Laura Seay, a University of Texas Ph.D. candidate who studies the Congo and has lived there, said internally displaced persons don't always get all the protections afforded to refugees who cross international borders.

Camps for internal refugees are often overcrowded, with no permanent toilets or source of clean water, Seay, a Baptist, said. Once the rainy season starts, diseases like cholera and malaria spread quickly in the camps.

"My contacts in Goma say that this year's round of fighting has been particularly bad because it's made food distribution very difficult," Seay wrote in her blog, Texas in Africa.

"The violence coincided with the rise in food prices we're all experiencing, and rebel and army movements cut off the [U.N.] World Food Program's supply lines. Even hospitals in Goma weren't getting food rations for a few days earlier this month, nor was food going to the Mugunga camp, just outside the urban zone. If it's that bad in a city that is well-protected by peacekeepers, imagine what it's like in the countryside."

Nkunda, the rebel leader, claims he is protecting Congo's minority Tutsis from militias of Rwandan Hutus that have been present in the country since they carried out the anti-Tutsi genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. He claims Congolese government forces are working with the militias. Suspicions are growing that Nkunda's latest offensive is supported by Rwanda.

Nkunda signed a peace agreement at the end of January, but says he won't disarm until the Rwandan Hutu remnant is removed from Congo. Congolese Pesident Joseph Kabila won't to talk to the rebel leader, whom he considers a terrorist.
On Oct. 29, World Vision called on all parties to cease hostilities and allow aid workers access to those in need.

"We will not abandon the critical needs in eastern Congo," said Omo Olupona, World Vision's southern Africa area director. "We expect to set up an operational base inside Rwanda, from where we will continue to monitor the crisis and support those in need of help."


Faculty, students, alumni want voice in Baylor presidential search
By Ken Camp (859 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Baylor University's faculty, alumni and students want a vote in choosing the school's next president, according to statements approved by representative bodies of each group.

The statements reflect continuing controversy over leadership at the Texas school, the world's largest Baptist institution of higher learning.

The Baylor Faculty Senate, the Baylor Alumni Association and Baylor Student Government each passed resolutions in recent weeks urging the school's board of regents to include faculty, staff, alumni, students and other constituencies as voting members of the presidential search committee.

The chair of the regents expressed his hope that the search committee would take seriously the suggestions of "the various members of the Baylor family," but he added the responsibility of choosing a president -- "and the method by which a president is selected" -- belongs to the board.

"It would be inappropriate for me to promise 'voting rights' to any party outside the Baylor board of regents," Regents Chair Howard Batson wrote in a statement to Faculty Senate Chair Georgia Green. However, he noted the board was "looking at best practices for presidential searches."

The regents are scheduled to meet prior to Baylor's Nov. 1 homecoming.

Baylor's Faculty Senate set the pace with a resolution adopted at its Sept. 9 meeting. The Baylor Alumni Association followed suit on Oct. 11, and Baylor Student Government approved a similar statement Oct. 23.

The resolutions indicate the degree of disunity that has plagued Baylor over the last five years.

Robert Sloan stepped down as Baylor's president in 2005. During the last two years of his presidency, the Faculty Senate twice gave him "no confidence" votes, and the regents voted three times on Sloan's continuing employment.

About nine months after Sloan and the regents agreed to the terms of his departure, the board unanimously elected John Lilley as president. Lilley had earned two degrees from Baylor, but he had been away from Texas 40 years. The board of regents fired him this July, halfway through his contract, for failing to "bring the Baylor family together."

In its recent resolution regarding the presidential search, the Faculty Senate commended the regents for their efforts "to unify the Baylor University community" by seeking input from faculty and other constituencies in naming David Garland as interim president and Elizabeth Davis as interim provost.

The alumni association resolution included a similar statement. The student resolution noted faculty and alumni were consulted regarding the interim provost and president positions, but Baylor Student Government did not have the opportunity to offer any input.

The Faculty Senate resolution also stated, "Baylor's standing in the larger academic community and its ability to raise institutional funds has been significantly hampered by transient leadership, perceptions of disunity and perceptions of non-standard procedures and searches."

When regents initiated the search that led to Lilley's hiring, they involved two groups -- a search committee made up entirely of regents and an advisory committee that included representatives from the school's various constituencies. Members of the advisory committee met with the search committee and participated in some candidate interviews, but did not have voting rights.

The Faculty Senate resolution urged the regents to follow the models of "America's best universities" where the presidential-search process is characterized by full faculty participation with voting rights, along with full the participation of students, staff and alumni.

Specifically, the Faculty Senate resolution called on the regents to form a search committee in which faculty representatives would serve with full voting rights and the balance between regents and faculty on the committee would reflect "best practices at other leading universities."

The resolution also called on regents to include, as voting members of the search committee, duly elected representatives of "Baylor's other constituent bodies," specifically mentioning not only the student body and alumni, but also the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In their statements, the Baylor Alumni Association and Baylor Student Government voiced support for the Faculty Senate's resolution.

The alumni and student resolutions included calls for openness and transparency.

The Baylor Alumni Association statement noted a call in the most recent issue of the Baylor Line alumni publication "in favor of open communication and greater transparency of governance." Regent meetings are closed to the media and the public.

Batson, chairman of regents and pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, issued a written statement in direct response to the Faculty Senate resolution.

"I am certainly grateful that the faculty recognizes the board of regents' attempts to reach out to them and take their input seriously. The goodwill between the faculty and the board is much better than I have experienced in many years," Batson said.

Citing the Southern Association of College and Schools accrediting agency, he noted "that the selection of the president properly resides with the board."
However, he noted the board was examining "best practices" for presidential searches.

"Of course, we will not be bound to any one model, but will consider both what Baylor has done in the past, as well as models from other universities," Batson said.

The board of regents "would like to continue to strengthen its relationship with all members of the Baylor family," he concluded.


Baptist criminal-justice activist applauds Ga. stay of execution
By Bob Allen (597 words)

ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) -- An American Baptist minister who advocates criminal-justice reform hailed as a "miracle" the latest stay of execution for a black man convicted of murdering a white Georgia police officer nearly 20 years ago.

Alan Bean of the Arlington, Texas-based group Friends of Justice was one of about 600 death-penalty protestors who demonstrated on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol on the eve of the most recent scheduled date for execution of Troy Davis.

The provisional stay was issued Sept. 24 by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was the third such stay for Davis, 40. His lawyers were given 15 days to file documents, after which the court will have 10 days to decide if the case should go back to a lower court, which could order a new trial.

Bean, best known for bringing attention to alleged racial injustice related to incidents at a Jena, La., high school in 2006, said the stay of execution was not expected. Davis has lost several appeals based on claims he is an innocent man.

Several public meetings and rallies were held in recent weeks around Atlanta demanding a new trial for Davis. One included about 1,000 people, who marched from a local park to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic congregation once co-pastored by Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr.

About 140,000 people signed a petition to halt Davis' execution by lethal injection. Pleas for commutation of his sentence came from former President Jimmy Carter, former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Pope Benedict XVI. Other supporters include entertainer Harry Belafonte and Sister Helen Prejean, the nun whose anti-death penalty activism inspired the film Dead Man Walking.

Davis has spent 17 years on death row for the Aug. 19, 1989 murder of Mark Allen MacPhail, a 27-year-old police officer in Savannah.

People close to Davis say he was wrongly convicted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and a murder weapon was never found. The case against him was solely based on witness testimony implicating him, and seven of the nine witnesses against him have since recanted.

Bean said he doesn't know if Davis is guilty or innocent -- which, he contends, is precisely why there needs to be a new trial. What is clear from reading court documents, Bean said in a recent blog, is that "law enforcement shaped testimony through threats and promises."

"Police officers, outraged by the savage and merciless slaying of one of their own, rushed to judgment [and] then shaped the 'evidence' to support a hastily-reached conclusion," he wrote.

Bean said the issue for him is not about Troy Davis or even just the death penalty. "Ultimately, this new movement is about our broken criminal-justice system and the urgent need for sweeping reform."

Friends of Justice started in 1999 in response to a drug sting in Tulia, Texas, in which half of the town's black males were arrested and convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of an undercover narcotics officer. The group advocates greater due-process protections for poor people of color, who populate the criminal-justice system in numbers disproportionate to their percentage of the population.

Bean labels that disparity the "New Jim Crow" and compares modern-day justice reform to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He said the Georgia rally on behalf of Davis "felt like the early stages of a religious revival."

"If you are the praying kind, please continue to pray for Troy Davis and for the nation that isn't sure what to do with him," Bean wrote.


WAM Quote of the Day - 10/30/2008

Tonight, we celebrated WAM's and KLTW's birthdays. At one point we were discussing my upcoming job interview. WAM developed a contingency plan should I not get the job:

“We will stand on the front steps and call down the power of Zeus on them.”

It is good to have friends so loyal and though I do not doubt WAM would do this, I do not feel invoking the name of a pagan deity will help me procure a job at a church.

Bible Trivia - 10/30/2008

Question: Who performed a miracle from a widow’s oil?

Answer: Elisha. (II Kings 4:1-7)

Comments: A widow with two sons was in debt to creditors. By law, her creditors were legally permitted to enslave her sons as payment. When she pleaded with prophet Elisha for help, he asked her to list her assets. She had but one - a jar of oil.

Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?" And she said, "Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” (II Kings 4:2, NASB)

Elisha instructed her to borrow vessels from anywhere she could. She did as he said and the widow’s oil was replenished until she had no more jars to fill. She then sold the oil to pay her debts and used the surplus to support her sons.

This was the first in a series of stories involving Elisha that span from II Kings 4-8.

Note: This woodcut of the Widow's Oil was first published in 1560.

Word of the Day - 10/30/2008


A paseo is a slow, idle, or leisurely walk or stroll.

After eating from the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were alarmed at the sound of God taking a paseo through the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:8)

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas, "Season of Seclusion", was inspired by Genesis 3:8-10. It was created by contemporary artist Patrick Wade Stewart. He is not to be confused with Patrick Hewes Stewart who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am sure you assumed it was...

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/30/2008

Though it was not technically a Sabbath day, Wednesday was a day of rest for me. I needed a day to recover from the Myrtle Beach trip.

I already had received an excused absence from my class at UT. We learned late the day before that CMU’s arraignment had been postponed again. It was rescheduled for November 20th. Though I really wish I had possessed this information before heading home, it did free up my Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, I ate with my parents at Calhoun’s before visiting NHH and JTH at MoFoS. This photo is of a filing cabinet drawer filled with MoFoS pens. JTH proudly displayed his handiwork as he had reorganized the store's filing cabinets. The OCD continues...

I picked up a copy of Anaconda 3: Offspring, released on DVD on October 21st. I was excited by this purchase. Though I have not seen either sequel and am generally not a fan of horror films, I am interested in is the film’s star - David Hasselhoff. The only thing better than Hasselhoff acting (save perhaps Shatner acting) is Hasselhoff acting alongside a massive snake.

Two things of note: The fourth installment of the series has already been filmed, also starring Hasselhoff. Secondly, if you visit Hasselhoff’s web site (provided by the above link), in addition to great Hasselhoff info, he also provides a social network. How will Facebookand MySpace compete with the Hoff?

After stopping by the store, I visited KJW and RAW. As is often the case, I was in KJW withdrawal after having been on a trip.

Both KJW and RAW are well. RAW recently learned that he will be transferred to the Best Buy in Turkey Creek. The store opens on November 4th with its grand opening on November 14th. A soft opening is customary as it serves as a trial run.

In other Best Buy news, the existing location is now opening a music section. (They are still located directly adjacent to a Guitar Center.) They plan on providing music lessons as well. To work in the new department, the store was going to require that one be proficient in at least two musical instruments. After polling the store, they found that this description fit only two employees one of whom was not interested as he would have to take a pay cut to take the position. If Best Buy can pull this new department off, I will be amazed.

KJW was a bit ornery as she continues to test her boundaries. She is at a stage where she feigns crying when she does not get her way. Fear not. This is not persuasive. As the night progressed, she became more tired and consequently sweeter. My favorite point came when she was at one end of the room and we were at the other. This distance spans ten feet. We asked her to join us on the couch. She responded, “The couch...It’s too far.”

Later in the night, KLTW returned from work and her daughter naturally gravitated towards her. KJW sat in a chair while her mother sat on the floor below her. KJW looked over her mother’s head and said, “I’m here.” (Note: She did not speak in a Poltergeist type of tone.) KLTW acknowledged her and jokingly asked to see her boogers. The child took this literally as two-year olds are prone to do and tried to blow her nose directly into her mommy’s face. Priceless!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 10/29/2008

Associated Baptist Press
October 29, 2008 · (08-103)

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

In this issue
Constitution aside, why should churches avoid partisanship? (1,214 word)
Religious 'test' for public office? Yes and no (1,195 words)
'Values' distinguish both candidates and voters (989 words)
Global Christians signing on to meet Micah Challenge (394 words)
Texas pastor warns against conservative 'takeover' of BGCT (528 words)

Constitution aside, why should churches avoid partisanship?
By Robert Marus (1,214 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP)-The forbidden idea of churches and other tax-exempt organizations endorsing political parties or candidates has started to sound like a good one, in recent decades, to many conservative evangelicals in the United States.

In fact, a group of pastors from around the country, aided by a conservative legal group, recently decided to test the constitutionality of the tax law that prevents such endorsements.

But constitutional rights aside, is church endorsement of political candidates a good idea from either a civic or theological perspective? Does it profit or harm either the body politic or the Body of Christ for the latter to jump into the former with both feet?

"Historically, churches have emphatically, and with great passion, spoken scriptural truth from the pulpit about government and culture," begins a statement on the Alliance Defense Fund's website. The group is an association of conservative Christian lawyers who volunteer to take on cases about church-state issues and other causes important to the Religious Right.

The statement continues: "All that changed in 1954 with the passage of the Johnson amendment, which restricted the right of churches and pastors to speak scriptural truth about candidates for office. The Johnson amendment was proposed by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, and it changed the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit churches and other non-profit organizations from supporting or opposing a candidate for office. After the Johnson amendment passed, churches faced a choice of either continuing their tradition of speaking out or silencing themselves in order to retain their church's tax exemption."

On Sept. 28, 33 pastors across the country endorsed candidates or parties from the pulpit, setting up potential direct challenges to the tax code. ADF advised and encouraged the pastors, hoping to create test cases that could go, ultimately, to the Supreme Court. They contend the Johnson amendment violates the Constitution by suppressing churches' freedom of religion.

But many religious groups and thinkers opposed the effort.

"As an old-timey Baptist, I think that pastors, churches -- black and white and Latino -- have every right to endorse candidates publicly," said Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian and dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School.

"What they don't have is the right to tax exemption for expressing their conscience. That is patently wrong, regardless of their color, because you can't have it both ways. You can't speak out of conscience and expect to be privileged at the same time."

The ban on tax-exempt groups like churches endorsing candidates "simply means you can't -- this is my historian side -- you can't bow the knee to Constantine and to Jesus; you have to choose," Leonard continued. "So, endorse a candidate and give up tax exemption. It's an easy choice."

Bob Tuttle, a First Amendment expert at George Washington University Law School, noted the electioneering ban doesn't single out churches or houses of worship, but applies to all non-profits organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code.

"It's not targeted at churches; it's not targeted at religion," he said. "It deals with all organizations that have this one feature -- that is, donations made to them are deductible against the donors' taxes. This is not primarily about the tax-exempt institutions.... It's about donations and what kinds of things the government effectively wants to subsidize."

Even though political campaigns and political-action committees are not-for-profit ventures under the federal tax code, they are governed by a different set of laws. They don't enjoy the advantage that churches and other charitable organizations do by being not only tax-free, but being able to receive tax-deductible donations.
Yet houses of worship, educational institutions and charities receive the same level of fire and police protection and other governmental services as organizations that pay taxes.

In terms of how lifting the ban on church electioneering would affect U.S. politics overall, Tuttle said, "from the civil side, I think people make a big mistake when they say that this [the Johnson amendment] is just some quirky artifact of the 1950s."

That's because, he said, the amount of money that churches and other non-profits take in -- and the sheer numbers of non-profits -- has exploded since 1954.

"The power I'm talking about is the ability to command the kinds of benefits that churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations get and to use those benefits to project a particular [political] message," Tuttle said.

"We're talking about real money now, you know. If you were forced to do what some have said, which is to stop limiting the ability of churches to participate ... you force the IRS to make some very difficult decisions about what it means to be a church -- because you could have somebody set up a mechanism that would fork over a considerable amount of its assets to campaign activities."

Tuttle, who holds a Ph.D. in religious ethics and a Lutheran seminary degree, worries about upending the Johnson amendment from another perspective, though -- a theological one.

"From a more Protestant perspective, we tend to believe that justification comes by faith -- not by conformity with a particular political agenda," Tuttle said.
"We recognize that political agendas are not matters about which the faith is going to stand or fall, and to draw lines in a strong way starts to draw lines within the Body [of Christ] about matters that really should not divide people ... in the place of worship."

Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, said risking congregational or denominational unity is a danger when churches dive into partisan politics.

"There will always be differences within congregations over candidates. When the pulpit takes it upon itself to choose a candidate for the entire congregation, it threatens to undermine the freedom it cherishes," he wrote, in a recent piece published by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

"Sacred space where people are free to decide according to conscience gets turned into secular space that becomes suspect as to its judgment, integrity and motives. Over time, the prophetic influence of the church diminishes because its political preferences obscure its concerns for justice, equality and fairness for all people."

Stan Hastey of the Washington-based Alliance of Baptists said compromising unity and the church's prophetic role are among several dangers associated with church political endorsements.

"For me, the key questions pastors who are tempted to endorse candidates should ask themselves are these: Will my endorsing a candidate enhance or compromise my vocation as a pastor? Will it enhance or compromise the church's witness? Will it divide the people I am called to serve?" he said.

"Will it embarrass and demean the church's witness to Christ when politicians fail, as they invariably do? Is hitching my star to any politician worth the risk to my credibility as a preacher and teacher of the good news of God?"

Tuttle -- who serves as legal counsel to the Washington synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- also said he worries that pastors entering politics are prone to the same corruptions as anybody else.

"This may just come from having spent a lot of time having done internal church-discipline stuff, but I tend to think of pastors not being better than anybody else -- you know, they get seduced," he said. "I'm deeply worried about corruptibility of the office."


Religious 'test' for public office? Yes and no
By Ken Camp (1,195 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- American Christians may pledge loyalty to the United States Constitution. But behind the closed curtain of the polling booth, many violate the spirit of the constitutional prohibition on any religious test for public office. And several church-state experts insist that's not altogether bad -- up to a point.

Article Six of the Constitution ends with the clause: "... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." But imposing religious tests as a matter of law differs from voters imposing them in practice, some authorities on church-state issues noted.

American voters "impose an unofficial religious test that vets candidates based on their religious views," and it's entirely legal and appropriate, said Derek Davis, dean at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and former director of Baylor University's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Both are Texas Baptist schools.

"This unofficial test does not serve to disqualify anyone from running for office; it only serves to allow voters the freedom to consider the religious views of candidates for whom they might vote," Davis said.

A candidate's religious affiliation remains "the litmus test most people won't admit to, but that they carry around with them" into the voting booth, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.

"As responsible citizens, religious affiliation should have no bearing whatsoever on selecting someone for public office," Haynes insisted. But he draws a sharp distinction between religious affiliation and religious commitment.

"Their religious commitment in terms of its influence on the lives that they live, on the values they hold and on their worldview -- those all go into character," he said. "It's fair for voters to know the source of a person's values and how that person makes decisions."

As a practical matter, "voters can and do take religion into account," said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Voters should bring their religious values to the public square. They have every right to consider a candidate's religious faith as one factor out of many in making an informed decision about whether that person would be a good public servant, Walker said.

"When candidates talk about their faith, it helps us know who they are, learn what makes them tick, and examine their moral core. The free and fluid discussion of candidates' faith carries the promise of improving the electorate's ability to make an informed decision in the voting booth," he said.

In fact, public interest in the private religious faith of candidates signals a healthy level of respect for religion's role in society, said Suzii Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission, the public-policy and moral-concerns arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Questions about religious convictions can reveal valuable insights into a candidate's character and values, she noted.

"The alternative would be a prohibition against talking about religion, and that would just be terrible," she said. "It would deny the electorate a window into who the candidates are."

While voters should consider a candidate's religious commitment as one factor out of many, it never should become the single decisive test to determine an individual's suitability for public office, said James Dunn, resident professor of Christianity and public policy at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
"Religion ought to be a factor, but not a prohibitive factor," said Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee.

To the extent that a person's religious views shape his or her moral character, those views can be weighed. And a candidate's adherence to some beliefs also may reveal something about the individual's discernment and ability to make rational decisions, he added.

"We insist, in Western democracies, that our public leaders should not believe absurdities, because those who believe absurdities are capable of atrocities," he said, paraphrasing Voltaire.

Looking back on their heritage as a persecuted minority religion, Baptists should resist "the de facto political anointing of particular religious perspectives," recognizing the danger that presents both to religion and government, Dunn added.

In practical terms, voters historically often have excluded from office people who do not follow the religion practiced by the majority, Paynter acknowledged. But she sees positive signs of change. "I'm hesitant to use the term 'religious test' because of its specific meaning and because a test does not change. But the electorate's tolerance [of religious minorities] changes," she said.

Discussion of personal religious convictions can be helpful, but it should not be seen as mandatory, Walker stressed. He suggested an important backstop to keep questions of faith from devolving into religious bigotry.

"Ask the follow-up question, 'So what?' he recommended. "What difference will a candidate's religion make on his or her performance in office? What impact will it have on public policy? How does it affect his or her leadership style?"

Matters of personal religious conviction become fair game when related to policy decisions and a candidate's ability to lead. But adherence to the spirit of the no-religious-test principle demands that linkage be made, Walker said.

"It is not only not very helpful, but also terribly invasive to have a theological inquiry isolated from policy and matters of governance," he said.

Nonetheless, when appropriately framed in terms of how convictions make an impact on decisions, questions of religious commitment can provide valuable insights into the character of candidates, Paynter observed.

When people reach a certain level -- whether in politics, business or any other powerful enterprise -- there's always a temptation to see themselves as above the rules that apply to others, she noted.

"It's important to know the grounding people have for their public ethic," she said. "Public ethics come from private ethics. They don't go the other way."

In selecting a president, Davis added, voters also rightly may consider the office's ceremonial role, which has an almost pastoral dimension in times of national catastrophe "when Americans need their national leader to share their grief and soothe their hearts and somehow offer some spiritual comfort."

But, he cautioned, the president must respect the institutional separation of church and state. Davis also prescribed a good dose of humility, saying voters should take care to elect leaders who recognize the danger in equating their policies with God's will.

"The ability of any world leader to know precisely the will of God is foreign to the Bible. The Bible speaks of an inscrutable God who often has brought down powerful nations in their prime due to their pride," he said.

"The temptation to act religiously based on our own fallible interpretations of domestic and world events is among the reasons our constitution wisely mandates a degree of separation between church and state, thus preventing too close an alliance between the interests of religion and government that might harm our great nation."

Human experience and biblical revelation both point to the need for humility, Dunn added. He quoted Romans 11:34: "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?"

"True believers understand we do not know the mind of God," he said. And he strongly suggested steering clear of those who claim they do.


'Values' distinguish both candidates and voters
By Bob Allen (989 words)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (ABP) -- "Values voters" -- a term popularized by conservative evangelicals after the 2004 elections -- may bring a wide array of values to the polls. Here's a rundown of the two presidential candidates' views on a number of issues cited by religiously motivated voters on both the left and right, as compiled by the website :

· Abortion. John McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade -- the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide -- with exceptions for incest and rape. He would prohibit late-term abortion procedures labeled by opponents as "partial-birth" abortion and ban public funding of organizations that advocate or perform abortions. He would prosecute abortion doctors, not the women who get them.

Barack Obama supports Roe v. Wade. He believes common ground can be found by acknowledging there is a moral dimension to the abortion debate and that people of good will are on both sides. He says everyone can agree on working to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might lead someone to consider an abortion.

· Capital punishment. McCain supports broadened use of the death penalty, stricter penalties for violent crime and increasing spending to build more federal prisons.

While supporting capital punishment for some heinous crimes, Obama says the death penalty should be enforced fairly and with caution.

· Gay marriage. Obama opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions for gay couples. He says decisions about same-sex marriage should be left up to the states but opposes California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and woman.

McCain supports Proposition 8 and has supported a statewide ban on gay marriage in his home state of Arizona, but he opposes a similar ban on the federal level, saying it should be left up to individual states.

· Global warming. McCain says climate change is real and must be addressed, and nuclear power is the best way to fix it. He also supports alternative fuels like wind, tide, solar, natural gas and clean-coal technology and favors offshore drilling to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Obama favors nuclear power as one component of the nation's overall energy mix. He says 20 percent of the nation's power supply should come from renewable sources by 2020. He believes the Bible teaches stewardship of the earth and sacrifice on behalf of future generations.

· Health care. Obama says health care is a right for every American, and it is morally wrong when the terminally ill Sen. Barack Obama
must worry about paying their medical bills. He says he would take on insurance companies to drive down health care costs and provide mandatory health care for children.

McCain says health care is a responsibility. He says affordable health care should be available to every citizen, but families, rather than the government, should make decisions about health care.

· Immigration. McCain says he would restart comprehensive immigration reform only after securing America's borders. He would deport 2 million people in the country illegally who have committed crimes and says he would veto any bill giving "amnesty" to illegal immigrants.

Obama says America has nothing to fear from today's immigrants. He supports immigration reform that secures America's borders, punishes employers who exploit migrant workers and requires the 12 million undocumented immigrants to take steps to become legal citizens.

· Iraq. Obama opposed the war in Iraq from its beginning and says it has distracted the United States from catching Osama bin Laden.

McCain believes in the Bush policy of pre-emptive war. He credits President Bush and the troops for the fact there has not been another major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. McCain says America is winning in Iraq.

· Israel. Both candidates support a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.

McCain wants to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to show solidarity with Israel. Obama says Jerusalem should be a final-status issue resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

· Labor. Obama says workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union -- without harassment or intimidation. He says farm policy should benefit families, not corporations. He supports making the minimum wage a living wage and says customers having to pay more for consumer items produced domestically is worth it to keep jobs in the United States.

McCain says Americans are not afraid of foreign competition and supports lowering barriers to free trade.

· Race. McCain voted against the federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1990 but now says it was a mistake. He defended the Confederate flag as a "symbol of heritage" but said South Carolina was wise to fly the flag in front of instead of on top of the state house.

Obama says the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, not on public property.

· Schools. McCain says the key to improving the quality of public schools is to promote competition from charters, home-schooling and vouchers for private schools.

Obama supports charter schools but opposes vouchers.

McCain believes virtues contained in the Ten Commandments should be taught in public schools and that school prayer should be allowed but not mandated. Obama supports a stricter separation between church and state.

McCain says whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution is up to local school districts. He says he believes in evolution but sees the hand of God in creation. Obama opposes teaching creationism in public schools.

· Stem-cell research. Obama says America owes it to her citizens to explore the potential of embryonic stem cells to treat debilitating diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries and diabetes.

McCain also supports expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

· Torture. McCain disagrees with the White House position that waterboarding is not torture and says torture is supported only by people without military experience.

Obama says torture should not be used under any circumstance.


Global Christians signing on to meet Micah Challenge
By Bob Allen (394 words)

NEW YORK (ABP) -- A reported 119 million Christians around the globe stood up for action to end poverty Oct. 19.

Observed the Sunday closest to the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Micah Sunday aims to mobilize churches to learn, reflect and act on global-poverty issues. Sponsored by the international anti-poverty group Micah Challenge, the emphasis focuses on the Old Testament prophet's call to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Launched internationally four years ago, the Micah Challenge aims to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 by deepening Christian commitment to the poor and holding governments accountable to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, eight international development goals adopted by 189 U.N. member states in 2001.

Micah Challenge USA recently issued an open letter challenging presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to support a foreign policy that renews America's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship entered a two-year partnership with Micah Challenge USA earlier this year. The Baptist World Alliance endorsed the campaign in 2004.

On Oct. 26 in Thailand, leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance commissioned Joel Edwards, their formal general director, as the first international director of Micah Challenge. A British immigrant from Jamaica, Edwards resigned in September after 11 years from his post at the largest evangelical body in the United Kingdom. His new work with Micah Challenge begins Jan. 1.

In Washington earlier in October to meet with U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Edwards told the newspaper Christian Today that evangelicals in the United States have been a little slow to get behind Micah Challenge, but now have expressed their full commitment to the effort.

"I think the problem with America is that it is so large that it is very insular," Edwards said. "Any nation which has a major sporting event with all American teams and calls it an 'international' has serious problems with its foreign policy."

Edwards said listening to foreign leaders is a way for Americans to learn "there is a world out there beyond the U.S. that has something to say to you and something to teach you."

"That is very important," he said. "The extent to which the U.S. can do that is the extent to which we will accelerate the change in attitude in the rest of the world."

Texas pastor warns against conservative 'takeover' of BGCT
By Bob Allen (528 words)

FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) -- A Baptist pastor says moderates should be on guard against renewed attempts by fundamentalists to gain control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Paul Kenley, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Lampasas, Texas, penned an article for the moderate political group Texas Baptists Committed's newsletter in advance of the BGCT annual meeting, scheduled for Nov. 10-11 in Fort Worth.

The veteran of the Southern Baptist Convention struggle between conservatives and moderates said he sees signs of "subtle, precursory efforts" toward a fundamentalist "repositioning" aimed at reclaiming leadership of the state convention.

Kenley said many churches that followed their pastors 10 years ago into forming a breakaway conservative statewide body didn't realize that, apart from promoting the national convention's conservative leadership, the new group did not support traditional state-convention ministries. Unlike other state conventions, the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was not initially created to support hospitals, universities, seminaries or children's homes.

Kenley said SBTC leaders recognize the lack of institutions is a drawback, but it is unlikely they will start up new ones in a weak economy.

"I believe they will make a strong and reinvigorated attempt to do it as their parent-leaders in the SBC did it in the '80s and '90s -- by stealing ministries and institutions that are already in existence," he wrote.

The shortest route to that acquisition, he added, is to "take over the Baptist General Convention of Texas."

Kenley said the BGCT's moderate leadership faces a dilemma in responding to a nascent conservative resurgence. If they exclude conservatives, they risk alienating large conservative churches that never fully cut ties with the BGCT that in turn might respond by cutting off gifts to the state convention.

"The dilemma is how long, and to what extent, can we afford to feign oneness with these churches for the sake of keeping the budget afloat?" Kenley said.

Kenley said he has been serving this year on a key BGCT committee, where he observed what he believes to be "to be subtle, precursory efforts toward a fundamentalist 'repositioning' aimed at reclaiming leadership."

"There is no one incident that, by itself, proves this suspicion, but the preponderance of events has alarmed this old [Texas Baptists Committed] warrior!" he wrote. "We must be careful, lest the noble cry that 'We must be inclusive' winds up empowering those who, perhaps unknowingly and with the best intentions, would take us back into a precarious position."

Founded in November of 1998, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention set missions and evangelism as priorities, alongside a doctrinal foundation of affirming biblical "inerrancy."

The new convention's "affiliated ministries" include Criswell College, the SBTC's first ministry partner; Jacksonville College, a two-year school started by the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, which affiliated with the SBTC in 2004; East Texas Baptist Family Ministries and Texas Baptist Home.

The convention also has fraternal relationships with Houston Baptist University and Baptist Credit Union. Its "ministry partners" include Texas Baptist Men.

The BGCT's new executive director, Randel Everett, made news recently when he spoke in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a fundamentalist bastion long estranged from the state convention's moderate leadership.


Church Sign - 10/29/2008

Church: Chapel By the Sea Baptist Church (1051 Sea Mountain Hwy; North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582)

Sign: “God Loves You! And He Approved This Message”

Commentary: This sign uses the ubiquitous campaign advertisements to draw out one of the simplest yet most profound Christian truths: we have a God who loves us. How would the world look if everyone truly felt they were loved by the creator of the universe?

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying,
"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." (Jeremiah 31:3, NASB)

Note: The other side of this sign read: "No man has ever been shot while doing the dishes!" I will let you interpret that one for yourselves...

Bible Trivia - 10/29/2008

Question: What was the name of the pagan god worshiped by the Philistines during the time of Samson?

Answer: Dagon. (Judges 16:22-30)

Comments: Dagon was a major northwest Semitic god associated with agriculture and grain. The Hebrew dāgān and the Samaritan dīgan are both archaic words for grain and some have connected them to the deity. Traditionally Dagon was associated with fish and represented with the face and hands of a man and the tail of a fish. See image.

Dagon was worshiped by the early Amorites and was also a major component, and perhaps head, of the pantheon of gods worshiped by the Philistines. Dagon is referenced thirteen times in the Old Testament, including in conjunction with the Samson story.

Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,"Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands." (Judges 16:23, NASB)

Samson's last act before dying was destroying the temple of Dagon. (Judges 16:28-31)

Word of the Day - 10/29/2008


To glom is to steal.

The eighth commandment prohibits glomming.

"You shall not steal." (Exodus 20:15, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/29/2008

On Tuesday, JTH and I returned from our trip to Myrtle Beach.

Our day began by eating lunch with ANDR and PCR. We drove from our hotel in North Myrtle to theirs in Myrtle Beach. We traversed this landscape via Interstate 17 so often over our two days at the beach that we wondered whether or not we traveled more in the city or going to it. This was the scene as we arrived in their room at the Holiday Inn Express. They knew we were coming.

Once we got the newlyweds out of bed, we followed them to the River City Cafe (located at 404 21st Avenue North). It is a burger joint that appears as though the roof could cave in at any moment. Naturally, I loved it. The combination of hamburgers and classic Paul Abdul playing in the background was as great as it sounds. Peanuts are at each table and the patron is permitted to discard the shells onto the restaurant’s wooden floors. This is one of life’s unexplained pleasures.

After lunch, JTH and I bid the newlyweds farewell. We then went to the former site of the Apache Motel (2709 S Ocean Blvd) where JTH and his family spent many family vacations. The location is now home to an Ocean Blue Luxury Condo.

We also stopped at the Springmade Pier, where JTH’s father spent many of his days on vacation. JTH was surprised that a $1 charge to walk the pier was invoked four years ago. The view was beautiful and there were fishermen everywhere. The fact that they are wearing winter attire in this photo should give you an idea of the windy weather we encountered on the trip. On this day, one of the fisherman caught a 28" fish but had to return it to its ocean home by law.

There were signs on the pier disallowing shark fishing and diving. If they allowed these activities they could really up their prices. I may write them a letter.

Before leaving the beach, we visited some gift shops. One of the largest was this establishment: the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove. We again found stores with swords, which are very popular in the area. We contemplated buying one for WAM and we are sure he would have loved it. We decided against that choice as we would have created a new variation on Matthew 26:52: Buy the sword, die by the sword. Our deaths would be accidental of course, but we would be assuredly be dead nevertheless.

I must note that a restaurant on the strip was called Fat Man’s Dream. I give Myrtle Beach credit. They have more creative business titles than any place I have ever visited.

We made two stops on the long trip home: first to a Goodwill in Conway, South Carolina (2913 Church St) and second to a huge souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere called Sharky’s. This store was featured on countless billboards advertising everything from shark's teeth to clean bathrooms. We felt compelled to stop.

Our biggest purchase was a book: Scratch & Solve Movie Hangman by Mike Ward. We played this game most of the way back. In this version, one received six missed letters before losing. We solved the first nineteen puzzles without any casualties before hanging Pinocchio. We speculate that we are some of the few to miss Pinocchio but to get Rutger Hauer. The fact that we know Hauer’s work is evidence that we have both worked in a movie store.

My only regret from the trip was that we did not have time to eat at Medieval Times. Reasons to make a return trip...

JTH and I arrived back in Knoxville in time to eat a late supper at Applebees with ALK. I had a feeling we might...

Amy was our waitress which offended AFH, who often serves us. We had not seen her in some time as she had just returned from a two week vacation that featured stops in Pennsylvania, Atlantic City, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was good to see her.

Amy invited us to her daughter Emma’s fifth birthday party the following day. We really eat at Applebees way too much...

Finally, Tuesday was KLTW’s 27th birthday. Happy birthday, Butterfinger! I love you!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prayer Blog - 10/28/2008

Tomorrow at 2 pm, CMU, who regularly attends Bible study with me, faces sentencing regarding felony charges. He faces life in prison though that sentence is seemingly unlikely. Please keep all involved in this process in your prayers.

Here is an article regarding the case that appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on May 2nd:

Man pleads guilty to ID theft, fraud
Knoxville News Sentinel (TN) - Friday, May 2, 2008

A 34-year-old Knoxville man who used how-to books to teach himself how to steal identities, and perform a little ninja mind manipulation to boot, pleaded guilty Thursday to a beefed-up federal law.

Christopher McEwan Ulmer admitted at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan that he concocted a complicated scheme to steal the identities of at least 19 people and used their personal information to trick banks into issuing him 22 credit cards, ripping off the institutions for more than $35,000.

Among the charges to which Ulmer confessed was an aggravated identity theft law recently authorized by Congress that beefs up penalties for the crime. Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Hamilton said that law requires that Ulmer serve a minimum mandatory two-year prison term on top of any other sentence he may receive for mail fraud and identity-theft charges to which he admitted guilt.

Ulmer was nabbed last year after U.S. Postal Inspections Agent Wendy Boles and her cohorts raided Ulmer ’s Jomandowa Lane home and discovered not only a computer full of fake identifi cation documents, including Social Security cards, pay stubs, utility bills and driver’s licenses, but a bookshelf stocked with instructional guides on how to defraud people and glean personal information from them.

Also in his how-to collection were books on the “techniques of ninja mind manipulation,” the crafting of disguises and tips for getting a date, federal court records show.

Ulmer suggested at Thursday’s hearing he might suffer from mental health woes.

“I was initially treated for schizophrenia and later for bipolar (disorder),” Ulmer said. “I don’t think they ever came to a defi nitive answer.”

Hamilton was quick to point out there was no evidence Ulmer , who has some college courses under his belt, is mentally incompetent.

Defense attorney Ralph Harwell agreed. “We have no problems or questions of his competency,” Harwell said.

Ulmer concocted a scheme to steal identities that involved the use of mailboxes of vacant homes in West and South Knoxville and the fooling of credit bureaus through the use of the addresses of those homes. Once Ulmer convinced credit bureaus to change key information on the reports of those people whose identities he had stolen, he was able to convince banks to issue him credit in others’ names, court records stated.

Varlan set an Aug. 27 sentencing hearing.

Bible Trivia - 10/28/2008

Question: Name the second wife of Abraham.

Answer: Keturah. (Genesis 25:1-10)

Comments: Abraham married Keturah after the death of his first and more famous wife, Sarah. Keturah bore Abraham six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. (Genesis 25:1-1) Abraham distinguished these children from the child of promise, Isaac. (Genesis 25:6)

Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. (Genesis 25:1, NASB)

Keturah's origins are unknown and some Jewish rabbis identify her with the previously exiled Hagar. This interpretation, set forth in the Midrash, is supported by Rashi (1040-1105), Obadiah ben Abraham (d. 1500), Gur Aryeh (1525-1609) and Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (1550-1619). Others disputed this correlation claiming that Keturah was a previously unknown character. Supporters of this theory include Rashbam (1085-1158), Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167), David Kimhi (1160-1235), and Nahmanides (1194-1270).

Note: Keturah is a marginalized character in Biblical history. Images of her are sparse. This one of her and her six sons is from the Venice Haggadah of 1609.

Word of the Day - 10/28/2008


A farrago is a confused mixture; hodgepodge; medley,

During the building of the Tower of Babel, God decided to make human languages a farrago. This decision effectively stopped construction of the edifice.

"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." (Genesis 11:7, NASB)

The name "Babel" is the Hebrew equivalent of Akkadian Babilu which denotes confusion.

Note: This woodcut of the Tower of Babel was created in 1928 by the famed Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher (1998-1972).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 10/28/2008, Part 3

After the wedding, JTH and I were asked to join the bride and groom and her family at the Cracker Barrell. ANDR’s grandmother is “allergic” to fish (she really just abhors the smell of it) so we accommodated her by eating at the country staple.

En route, JTH and I made two stops, to Pacific Rem (a souvenir shop) and Roses (a department store). I had not been to a Roses since I was a kid in Newport.

The souvenir shop, like many of the places we went to, sold sharks in a jar. Why?

We then joined the bride’s family at the restaurant. Her father made fun of her mother for being northern. She is from Michigan, though she has lived in the south for some time. He ridiculed her for her inability to properly say, “slicker than a minnow’s Peter”. He asked JTH and I if we could pronounce the expression and we had to admit that we had never tried.

Afterwards, the bride and groom asked us to spend their wedding night with them. (You read that correctly.) We went across the highway to the Ron Jon Surf Shop before heading back to their hotel, the Holiday Inn Express. When we arrived, ANDR proudly displayed her new D’Eva Bra. She and JTH posed for this picture shortly after we arrived. Believe it or not, this moment was not the least bit awkward. I do not know if that is good or bad so you be the judge.

PCR and ANDR were staying in Room 115. The significance of this was that it once served as a conference room and as such had a very high ceiling. The ceiling was so high that one could jump on the bed without hitting one’s head. We know this because one tried to do so.

This also gave us a chance to play volleyball in the room. The room adjoined with ANDR’s grandmother’s so her little brother Hunter joined us. (This family must be really close.) When this grew boring, we added a degree of difficulty. A chair was placed in front of the bed and JTH practiced hurdling the chair, diving on the bed, while hitting the ball back to PCR. As you can see, ANDR filmed this. Of all the things to film on your honeymoon...

Afterwords, JTH and I made the trek back to our hotel in North Myrtle Beach where we played Sudoku, which did often on this trip. JTH also texted ALK continuously. Their conversation must not have been too riveting as he fell asleep mid-text. This is not a posed photo. ALK do not feel bad, he does this with everyone.