Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prayer Blog - 12/13/2008

This afternoon, PCR escorted his wife ANDR to the emergency room. There is a small cyst on her left ovaries. It has been deemed too early to determine if the stomach pain she is experiencing on her right side indicatates appendicitis, a stomach virus, or something else. Please keep the newylweds in your prayers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/12/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 12, 2008 · (08-123)

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

In this issue
Controversy over NPR comments forces NAE lobbyist Cizik out (672 words)
Judge halts Christian-themed South Carolina license plates (651 words)
Guest Opinion: Change needed in U.S.-Cuba policy (652 words)

Controversy over NPR comments forces NAE lobbyist Cizik out
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Backlash over comments about gay rights on a public-radio broadcast has apparently cost a prominent National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist his job.

Richard Cizik resigned Dec. 10 as NAE's vice president for governmental affairs, according to a statement posted Dec. 11 on the website of the umbrella group for evangelical churches, denominations and parachurch ministries. Christianity Today first reported the resignation in a story posted on the evangelical magazine's website.

The resignation came after consultation with NAE president Leith Anderson and followed a week of criticism from some prominent conservative evangelical leaders over comments Cizik had made in an interview broadcast Dec. 2 on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air.

While most of the interview dealt with Cizik's strong stance in encouraging evangelicals to fight global warming -- also controversial among the most conservative of Christians -- host Terry Gross also asked him about same-sex marriage.

"A couple of years ago when you were on our show, I asked you if you were changing your mind on that. And two years ago, you said you were still opposed to gay marriage," Gross said. "But now as you identify more with younger voters, would you say you have changed on gay marriage?"

Cizik responded: "I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think."

Anderson said that response "did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents. Although he has subsequently expressed regret, apologized and affirmed our values there is a loss of trust in his credibility as a spokesperson among leaders and constituents."

The resignation came after an attempted clarification by Cizik and more than a week of mounting protests from Religious Right leaders. For example, the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy issued a Dec. 10 press release calling for Cizik to be replaced as the chief public-policy spokesman for NAE, which claims tens of millions of members in more than 40,000 evangelical congregations nationwide.

Cizik "has moved NAE away from its traditional social conservatism towards issues of the left, especially global warming," the IRD statement said.

Cizik has received criticism from those on the far evangelical right before. A group of prominent conservative religious leaders, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, tried unsuccessfully last year to get Cizik disciplined for his activism on global warming. More recently he was criticized -- along with other centrist evangelical and Catholic leaders -- for his involvement with an attempt at Muslim-Christian dialogue.

Cizik's resignation ends a 28-year career as NAE's chief public-policy representative. His activism on global warming and other issues have earned him -- and the NAE -- an increasingly high profile among politicians and journalists seeking to understand evangelicals.

Anderson praised Cizik's tenure in the NAE statement. "Over the past three decades he has been a tireless advocate for a broad variety of issues important to the evangelical community including passage of anti-persecution legislation, laws against human trafficking, nurture of family life, protection of children, justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, sanctity of human life, opposition to abortion on demand, peace and the restraint of violence in our world, creation care and others," he said.

Ironically, the resignation comes just days after Cizik was criticized by many gay-rights activists for signing on to an open letter, published in the Dec. 5 edition of the New York Times. The ad, titled "No Mob Rule," decried protests that have been held nationwide in the wake of their support for Proposition 8, the successful ballot initiative that revoked marriage rights for same-sex couples in California.

The ad, gay-rights activists said, unfairly implied that vandalism, violence and intimidation by gay-rights supporters against Mormons and other Proposition 8 supporters had been widespread at the protests. They also said the ad unfairly equated criticism of religious groups that gave millions of dollars to the campaign to revoke gays' marriage rights with "religious bigotry."

Judge halts Christian-themed South Carolina license plates
By Robert Marus

COLUMBIA, S.C. (ABP) -- South Carolinians who want to advertise their Christian faith on their car tags won't get to anytime soon, according to a Dec. 11 ruling by a federal judge.

In a preliminary injunction, United States District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie ordered state officials to halt production, sales, advertising and distribution of the new license plates. The tags feature a cross superimposed on a stylized stained-glass window and the inscription "I Believe" above the tag number and the name of the state.

In a five-page order, Currie said she issued the injunction because federal courts would likely find the law that created the plates a gross violation of the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.

Currie noted that federal courts under 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by which South Carolina is covered, use a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court to determine if something violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The so-called "Lemon Test" requires that any state law have a secular purpose, neither advance nor inhibit religion as its primary effect and not lead to "excessive entanglement" between religion and government.

"Based on the record now before the court, the court finds it unlikely that the I Believe Act satisfies even one of these three requirements. As the act must satisfy all three requirements to survive constitutional scrutiny, the court concludes that plaintiffs have made a strong showing of likelihood of success," Currie wrote.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, in a press statement, said he was "extremely disappointed in the court's ruling" and believes that the plate "is completely constitutional." He said he would urge the state motor-vehicles and corrections departments -- named as defendants in the lawsuit challenging the plates -- to appeal the injunction immediately to the 4th Circuit.

But opponents of the plate said the court did exactly what it was supposed to do. "The 'I Believe' license plate sends the message that South Carolina has a favored religion. That's one message the state is not permitted to transmit," said Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Khan and other attorneys argued the case before Currie on behalf of four South Carolina Christian and Jewish clergymen and Hindu and Arab organizations. They sued to prevent implementation of the law that created the plates, arguing that it was a clear endorsement of Christianity by the South Carolina Legislature. Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating the "I Believe" tags.

The plaintiffs noted that, at the time of its passage, some legislators who had voted for the "I Believe" law said that they would oppose efforts to create similar plates for Muslim South Carolinians.

Supporters of the plate -- most prominently Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who displays a mock-up of the plate on his state website -- noted that the state already allows people from a number of identity groups to purchase specialized plates that advertise their favorite institution or cause. One, Bauer notes on his website, is sponsored by the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry and sports an American flag and the inscription, "In Reason We Trust."

But those plates are different from the "I Believe" plate, plaintiffs argue, because they were not specifically established by legislative act. Instead, they are provided for under a state law that allows non-profit groups to create specialized tags as revenue-generating instruments as long as they can get at least 400 motorists to purchase them.

The case, Summers v. Adams, is the second time in as many years that the Palmetto State has had to defend a license tag created by legislative fiat. In 2006, the 4th Circuit -- considered the most conservative of the nation's appeals courts -- ruled unconstitutional a license plate with an anti-abortion message because it violated the First Amendment's free-speech provision.

That plate is now available, but is sponsored privately like other South Carolina specialty plates.

Robert Marus is acting managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Guest opinion: Change needed in U.S.-Cuba policy
By Stan Hastey

(ABP) -- The Alliance of Baptists' partner organization on Capitol Hill, the Latin America Working Group, has sent a carefully drafted letter to President-elect Barack Obama on changes it wishes to see implemented by the incoming administration throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The letter was circulated among members of the Alliance board of directors, and I have signed it in my official capacity.

In the section urging new policies with Cuba, the letter reads, "We ask you to support the lifting -- for ALL Americans -- of the travel ban that divides the U.S. and Cuban people -- because it is the right policy and as a demonstration to our Latin American neighbors that a new day has dawned in our relationship with the region."

In addition, the letter urges Mr. Obama "to explore diplomacy and dialogue with Cuba," noting that the relationship between our countries "is at a potentially transformational moment." This new moment has to do both "with new visions for change in this country" and the fact that "change is also occurring in Cuba."

Throughout the past eight years and especially during the Bush administration's second term, the essential cruelty of our policies toward Cuba has been exposed for the whole world to see. These include the strengthening of a trade embargo dating to 1962 and the imposition of stricter rules on travel to and from Cuba, by U.S. and Cuban citizens.

Of the latter, by far the cruelest are those that severely limit the ability of Cuban Americans to travel to their homeland, even in cases of medical emergencies or for the funerals of family members on the island.

Whereas in better times Cuban Americans were allowed to travel annually and stay for unspecified periods of time with immediate or extended families, the new Bush policies imposed in 2004 limit such visits to once every three years, for no more than 14 days, to be spent with immediate family members only. Visits to uncles and aunts and cousins, among many other extended family members, no longer were allowed.

Also in 2004 nearly all Cuba travel licenses previously issued to colleges and universities were nullified, again by regulatory decree and without benefit of congressional hearings or even a period for public comment -- usual practices before such sweeping measures are implemented administratively.

This meant that schools such as Furman University and the Divinity School of Wake Forest University, both of whom had used the Alliance's license to send students, faculty and administrators to Cuba, no longer were permitted to do so. Only those schools with graduate-level courses on Cuba requiring a minimum of 10 weeks of study on the island were to be licensed.

Finally, less than a year later licenses to national and regional religious bodies were discontinued, with the exception of bodies such as the Southern Baptist Convention, whose leaders have been Bush administration sycophants.

Among those previously licensed to travel to Cuba adversely affected by the new policy was the Alliance, and for a time we were doing legal battle with the Treasury Department over false allegations some of our travelers had abused the license we previously had.

As a consequence, you can understand my eagerness to sign the Latin America Working Group letter to President-elect Obama at the point it declares, "We should move beyond the past eight years, which have brought a reduction in citizen contacts, increased enforcement of cruel U.S. sanctions, and accelerated curtailment of Americans' fundamental right to travel."

My longstanding passion for improved U.S.-Cuba relations is rooted in deep friendships developed over 15 years and 26 trips to the island nation scarcely 90 miles from the Florida coast.

Our self-imposed isolation from the people of Cuba is a national disgrace and a despicable abandonment of a long history of diplomatic engagement as over against the practice of unilateral bullying of those nations that refuse to be our lackeys.

We must do everything within our power as citizens to encourage President Obama to reverse course on Cuba.

Stan Hastey is minister for missions and ecumenism for the Alliance of Baptists. This column is adapted from the December 2008 edition of the Alliance newsletter connections and is used with permission.

Bible Trivia - 12/12/2008

Question: What have this verse and the one following it come to be known as: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost?

Answer: The Great Commission.

Comments: The last two verses in Matthew's gospel, Matthew 28:19-20, have been dubbed the Great Commission. In this passage, the resurrected Jesus commands his disciples to disperse and evangelize. This directive has served as a primary basis for Christian missionary activity since the religion's inception.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB)

Due to its neglect, some critics have stated that it would be more accurate to call the charge the "Great Omission".

Word of the Day - 12/12/2008


Precipitant means 1. falling headlong. 2. rushing headlong, rapidly, or hastily onward.

Luke records that when Jesus was in Nazareth, his hometown audience attempted to precipitate a precipitant fall. (Luke 4:16-30)

And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29, NSASB)

Luke is the only canonical gospel which includes this detail.

Note: This watercolour of Jesus at the brow of the hill of Nazareth was painted by James Tissot (1836-1902).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/12/2008

On Thursday night, KLTW, KJW, RAW, and I drove around Farragut to look at Christmas lights.

I met the family at their home where they provided a home cooked meal. We had pork chops, green beans, and rice. It was great. The Brady Bunch fan in me was disappointed that there was no apple sauce to accompany the pork chops but it was otherwise fantastic.

KJW was quite the stinker on this night. After vehemently protesting saying the blessing, she refused to eat most of her meal. When asked to eat the rice she slyly asked, “Mommy, do you want some rice?” She also asked for ketchup to dip her pork chops in. Though she did not eat much of the pork chops, she did eat the ketchup.

Due to the rainy weather, KJW had been confined in the house since Tuesday, which broke her routine. This is a cardinal sin for her age group. By the time I had arrived she had already been spanked twice, first for hitting her father in the head with a maraca and then for repeatedly touching the lights on the Christmas tree and saying “ow.” I promise the child is quite bright ordinarily.

I played KJW’s new Dora the Explorer Memory Game with her. The version we play with KJW is simpler than its design. We use only six pairs of cards and the goal is, after revealing the first card, to turn over the other cards in succession until the player has matched the original card. If nothing else, it teaches KJW to take turns.

After the game, RAW and I watched part of the Celtics' domination of the Wizards. We left in the second quarter. RAW attempted to persuade his wife to wait until halftime, citing that there were only seven minutes of game time left before the break. KLTW is now wise to that move and realized how much time was entailed in her husband’s statement. So we hit the road to see Christmas lights in Farragut.

We had heard about a great show at Shadrack’s Watersports and RV off Watt Road but decided it was not worth the $10 charge to enter. So we drove around aimlessly in search of lights. KJW is now at the age where this activity is fun. She sang us “Jingle Bells” and waved to a Santa Claus that was waving at her. Her commentary was priceless. She did have a difficult time distinguishing between Christmas lights and well, lights. The most unusual sight we saw was a lighted Santa praying to Jesus. (Note: This photo was taken with my right hand as I held KJW in the left. Hence the poor aim and extreme close-up.)

In case you were wondering, the Celtics won the game 122-88 to establish the best 23-game start in franchise history.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/11/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 11, 2008 · (08-122)

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

In this issue
Ky. church, in Advent tradition, remembers homicide victims (296 words)
Indianapolis woman, church help ease pain of HIV/AIDS (674 words)
Anti-gay church's Santa protest latest part of Washington holiday 'circus' (518 words)
Kentucky Baptist paper names editor (366 words)
Opinion: Lessons learned from the Iraq war (773 words)

Ky. church, in Advent tradition, remembers homicide victims
By Bob Allen

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- Sixty-five crosses dot the front lawn of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., one for each person in the city killed in an act of violence so far this year. Each year the church closes its worship service on the second Sunday of Advent -- which features lighting of the Peace Candle -- by moving outdoors. As names of murder victims are read, families come forward, take a cross and drive it into the ground with a mallet.

The observance began in 1997, Joe Phelps' first year as pastor, to draw attention to a spike in murders in the metropolitan area. It was intended to be a one-time event, but response was so strong it was repeated in 1998 and every year since.

Now, Phelps said, many people in the community know Highland as "that church that puts up crosses at Christmastime." Phelps said placing the crosses on the lawn, reading the names, taking home names of people and families to pray for during Advent, has become a significant event on the congregation's church calendar.

"This annual event is a sobering dose of Advent reality in the midst of the frivolity of the larger community's Christmas preparations," Phelps said. "It is a reminder that the work of Christmas is not done, that we long for the day when God's wholeness will cover the earth, when lion and lamb will lie down together."

Phelps said the crosses are not intended to imply that each murder victim is a Christian, but "that God identifies with the pain and brokenness in every life lost."
"It is a testament to the hope that God is not done," he said.

Homicides in Louisville are down this year, despite seven apparently unrelated slayings during the week of Thanksgiving.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Indianapolis woman, church help ease pain of HIV/AIDS
By Charlotte Tubbs

INDIANAPOLIS (ABP) - The birthday celebrations that Karen Estle throws each month at an Indianapolis apartment building for people living with HIV/AIDS stick to the basics - a cake, sometimes pie, ice cream, soda and a card and gift bought from a local dollar store.

For many residents, the celebration is the only recognition of their birthday.

Some residents attend the birthday parties because they are regular members of the weekly HIV/AIDS support group that Estle leads. Others come to satisfy an empty stomach.

"I make it clear that everyone is welcome," said Estle, a member of Speedway Baptist Church in Indianapolis. "When a resident objects that someone only comes for cake, I explain it is not up to me to judge."

Estle, a certified pastoral counselor with an endorsement through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is the spiritual advisor with the palliative-care team at Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis.

During the 13 years that Estle has led the HIV/AIDS support group, residents have shared how others have abandoned or rejected them because of their HIV status. But the residents' expressions -- hardened by years of anger and fear -- begin to soften when Estle shares her own story of rejection.

Estle, who survived polio as a child, shares how some people were afraid to touch her when she had the dreaded disease of her day. Once, she was in her front yard when a man arrived to deliver some important papers to her parents. Rather than delivering the documents to the door and risking contact with someone who had polio, he instead tossed them into the yard.

"It amazes me how this story still calms down an angry new resident today as they realize I understand," Estle said. "I model Christ's unconditional love by touching, listening or being present. It creates an atmosphere in which topics and questions can be raised, discussed and wondered about. Over time, trust develops and healing comes."

The support group gives participants emotional and spiritual support as well as practical help with daily living. Residents have learned how to use the bus, where to buy groceries, how to access social services and how to deal with the side effects of medications, she said.

Estle has seen members of the group transformed by Christ's love. One man recently told Estle that he had let go of his anger and gave her a note asking her to keep spreading the "light." Other residents ask Estle to buy a gift for a hospital patient in place of a birthday gift for themselves.

Members of Speedway Baptist have joined Estle in her ministry at the apartment complex. The church, a CBF partner, covers the costs for the monthly birthday celebrations. One of the women's Bible study classes at Speedway provides meals for the residents four to five times a year. The women, who range in age from 50 to 90, eat with the residents and often play board games.

"I believe each of the women have helped residents heal from broken family relationships," Estle said. "The new residents are always surprised to find women who are like mothers and grandmas who are coming to feed and nurture them."

One of the women, Joyce Finch, lost her son to AIDS in 1992. She seldom mentioned his death and the disease that caused it at the time "because it was not a thing that was talked about," she said.

Finch's friendships with the residents have helped her heal from her son's loss, she said. Her first-hand experience with the challenges her son faced while living with AIDS now helps her relate to the residents.

"It takes a really courageous person to live with the physical effects of the disease and the social stigma attached to it," Finch said. "They need all of the encouragement and help that they can receive because it isn't an easy way to live. They need to be accepted as they are."

Finch said she follows the example set by Christ.

"Jesus was inclusive," she said. "He didn't turn his back on anyone."

Charlotte Tubbs is a writer for CBF.

Anti-gay church's Santa protest latest part of Washington holiday 'circus'
By Bob Allen

TOPEKA, Kan. (ABP) -- They've picketed high schools, military funerals and even the Southern Baptist Convention with their controversial message that God hates homosexuals. Now members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have chosen a new target -- Santa Claus.

The headline-making congregation -- most of whom are related to Pastor Fred Phelps -- has weighed in on an ongoing controversy over religious displays at the Washington state Capitol by requesting permission to put up a sign that reads, "Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell."

Olympia, Wash., became an early battleground this year in what has been labeled the "Christmas wars." The Freedom From Religion Foundation received permission to display a Winter Solstice display on the front lawn of the Washington Legislature's office building, near a Christian Nativity scene erected by a private citizen. The atheist sign reads: "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

The back of the sign reads: "State/Church: Keep Them Separate."

"Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based foundation. Gaylor said Christians "really stole Christmas" from observances of the Solstice, which originally marked the shortest day of the year and celebrated the return of the sun and the new year.

About 500 people gathered Dec. 7 on the Washington Capitol steps to protest the Solstice sign. The sign was stolen but later found in a ditch.

Phelps wrote a letter to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) requesting permission to place another sign at what he said is a public forum that has been made available to multiple religious viewpoints.

The 3-by-5 foot placard carries a message, which can also be sung to the tune "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," that says Santa is a lie and to blame for the economy and the war.

"He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet," one verse proclaims. "But when you stand before your God, he won't help you take the heat."

Phelps said the sign reflects "sincerely held religious beliefs" and a viewpoint "well-grounded in Scripture."

Phelps isn't the only person trying to get into the Washington State Capitol act. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, another Kansas group, the KC Free Thinkers, wants permission to put up a display celebrating a tongue-in-cheek deity named the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Meanwhile, an Olympia man wants to erect a pole celebrating Festivus, a holiday whose invention was part of the plot in a famous episode of the 1990s TV comedy "Seinfeld."

Yet another display request is from a Christian woman who wants to send a conciliatory message to the atheist community in an effort to ease tensions.

"It's a circus and we're center ring," state Sen. Pam Roach told the Seattle Times. Roach wants the atheist sign moved farther from the Nativity scene and for the governor to establish stricter guidelines for future holiday displays.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Kentucky Baptist paper names editor
By ABP staff

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- Kentucky Baptists have tapped veteran denominational journalist Todd Deaton to become the next editor of their historic newspaper, the Western Recorder.

Deaton, 45, has been managing editor of the Baptist Courier, newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, since 1996. Before that he was associate editor for the Biblical Recorder in North Carolina.

"Todd Deaton meets and exceeds all of our requirements that we set," Skip Alexander, chairman of an editor search committee told the Kentucky Baptist Mission Board. "We believe he is right for Kentucky Baptists."

Alexander, pastor of Campbellsville, Ky., Baptist Church, introduced Deaton as "a bridge-builder and an encourager."

Deaton pledged to "support wholeheartedly" ministries of the state convention carried out through the Cooperative Program, a unified budget that supports both the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated state bodies.

He said he "would reflect traditional, conservative Southern Baptist" views on social issues like same-sex marriage, gambling and embryonic stem-cell research. He said he looks forward to showcasing Baptist work across the state.

"I would like to make Kentucky Baptists the main story," he said. "My personal belief is that the state Baptist paper is your paper."

His election marks Deaton's return to the news journal affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He worked three years as an intern for the newspaper while attending Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in the 1980s.

Founded in 1826, the Western Recorder is the second-oldest Baptist newspaper in the nation. Only Georgia's Christian Index, which is four years older, predates it. The Western portion of the journal's name owes to the fact that, when the paper was founded, Kentucky was part of America's western frontier.

Today the Kentucky Baptist Convention claims 2,400 affiliated churches and a variety of ministry institutions.

Deaton replaces Trennis Henderson, who resigned last March after eight years as editor to become vice president of communications at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

A graduate of Furman University in Greenville, S.C., Deaton holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary and expects to complete a doctor of education degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., in May.

He expects to assume his new role in mid-January.

Opinion: Lessons learned from the Iraq war
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- For President-elect Barack Obama, the agreement reached between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government that sets a December 2011 exit date for American combat troops is a great Christmas gift. Indeed, the fact that this deal was being negotiated during the campaign helped Obama even before the election.

So now the basic policy issue has been settled. The United States will not remain in Iraq indefinitely. Our troop numbers will reduce gradually and, eventually, most troops will leave. The details of the draw-down, of any continuing U.S. military presence, and of how the United States will conduct itself in Iraq, will be the subject of negotiation between the governments of two sovereign states -- rather than of an imperial power dictating terms to a supine nation.

Even opponents of the war, as I have been, are obligated to note the progress of recent months and the more positive outlook for the Iraqi future than was imaginable even a year ago. The good news includes:

-- The existence of a central Iraqi government with a clear leader, the capacity to negotiate an agreement with the United States on pretty tough terms, debate that agreement in parliament, and gain passage of the deal with a very substantial majority across all ethnic groups;

-- The relative decline in terror attacks and loss of life;

-- Tentative signs of a return to relative normality, including the opening of schools, rebuilding of communities, return of displaced people, and restoration of government services.

These achievements testify both to vast improvements in U.S. military and diplomatic strategy, and to the maturation of the young Iraqi democracy and its leaders. Surely great credit also must go to the Iraqi people themselves, who stared into the abyss of civil war and mass slaughter just a few years ago and have turned away from that path, at least for now. Those who suggested that Iraq would collapse into total chaos or break up into three mini-states have proven too pessimistic -- although there was certainly reason, at the time, to fear such a turn of events.

These positive developments came too late, after too many mistakes, and at too great a cost, for President Bush to gain much political benefit. He gambled his presidency on the war in Iraq, and -- at least in real time -- he lost his wager. It will be left to history to judge whether the president will gain more credit or blame for this war. If Iraq settles into a relatively tolerant Islamic democracy, with a free press, fair elections, and an independent and just judiciary, the improvement over Saddam Hussein's "republic of fear" will be hard to gainsay.

But, even if the best occurs, this kind of war of choice is unlikely ever to be repeated by the United States.

We have lost over 4,000 soldiers; ten times more than that have been seriously injured. We have spent over $600 billion, and the costs will stay with us for decades, for example, in terms of medical care for our wounded veterans. We have overextended our military, and our budget, and will be paying in subtle and direct ways for this under-resourced war for a long time to come. We have damaged relationships with our allies and worsened perceptions of our nation in the Arab world. Post-Iraq, we are a crippled giant, staggering economically and weakening militarily. Our power is waning relative to China and to other nations that steward their resources, influence, and power more carefully than we do.

It is possible both to recognize the positive signs of recent days in Iraq and conclude that for our own nation, at least, the costs of this war outweighed the benefits.

I think that there can be a convergence between Christian ethics and national well-being here. Christian ethics operates with a bias against war due to the teachings of Jesus Christ and sensitivity to the atrocious costs of war for human beings made in God's image. Whether we embrace pacifism or just-war theory, Christians should bear witness to God's will for the just and peaceful resolution of global conflicts. Meanwhile, it is in the best interests of our own nation to find ways to do exactly the same thing.

Good questions to ask from this point forward include the following: If military action were not an option in this situation, what other options might we pursue? What creative peacemaking strategies could achieve our objectives? It seems sometimes that both as Christians, and as Americans, we have forgotten how to ask such questions. Now is the time to remember them. We really have no choice.

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

Bible Trivia - 12/11/2008

Question: What prophetic book of the King James Version spawned the tradition that Satan was a fallen angel named Lucifer?

Answer: Isaiah. (Isaiah 14:12)

Comments: The association between the name Lucifer and Satan stems from the King James Version's translation of Isaiah 14:3-20. The passage speaks of a figure fallen from heaven who is given the name of "Day Star" or "Morning Star", which in Latin is Lucifer. The King James Version and New King James Version utilize Lucifier in conncetion with this figure while most modern translations do not (AMP, ASV, CEV, ESV, Message, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV).

In the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), the same Latin word is used of the morning star in II Peter 1:19 with no relation to Satan.

"How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!" (Isaiah 14:12, NASB)

The name "Lucifer" as used for Satan was popularized in literature in works such as Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)'s Inferno and John Milton (1608-1674)'s Paradise Lost.

Word of the Day - 12/11/2008


An alluvion is an overflow; flood.

Noah and his family were the lone survivors of the biggest alluvion the world has ever seen.

So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him. (Genesis 8:18, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas of the Flood was painted by modern British artist Norman Adams (1927-12005) in 1961.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/11/2008

I spent Wednesday with JTH and ALK.

I met the couple for lunch at Wishbone's Famous Fingers & Wings. I had already eaten but enjoyed their company. The trio of elderly women ordering in front of them were evidently confused by the ordering process which left JTH and ALK with too much time. They began wrestling in the restaurant. (Read: Playfully) Despite weighing next to nothing, ALK held her own.

The restaurant was decorated for the holidays with festive songs playing in the background. When “Jingle Bells” played, we all admitted that none of us truly know how much fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh, hey! Does anyone know where we can find one?

On Wednesday night, JTH and I had planned on watching The Dark Knight with my Dad. Yes, I would have watched it for the second night in a row. Dad is typically relegated to watching films my mother selects and it would have been nice for him to see an action picture. Unfortunately, Clyde Hylton, a longtime church member, passed away and requested Dad as a pallbearer. The funeral was held on Wednesday night, so we postponed our movie night.

After working at the church, JTH met me at my house. He had just come from playing Joseph in the nativity. Our pastor’s wife SMF asked him, “Is there anything that you won’t do?” It was a valid question that remains unanswered.

JTH and I decided to eat and watch another film, saving The Dark Knight for Dad. We headed to Applebees. En route, JTH confessed that he had to go and when you have to go, you have to go. So he asked that we stop by MoFoS to use their nonexistent restroom. (They have no public restroom and I cannot publicly admit that it exists.) I could not believe that we were going to the store for that reason.

In MoFoS news, earlier in the day, we learned that CTH “surrendered his keys”. Whether or not he was fired or just realized that he would not be scheduled again remains unclear.

Afterwards, we drove the short distance to Applebees and when we arrived we were hit with what could best be described as an ambush. Evidently, Wednesday night is kid’s night at Applebees. Entertainment is provided and children are privy to meals for only $1.99. A unicycling, balloon animal making clown named Wacko was performing for the kids on this rainy night.

Wacko’s presence in and of itself would not have been so bad. Shortly after we arrived we sat in AFH’s section. One of our other favorite servers, Amy, was there with her two children and asked that we sit with them. Emma recently turned five and Aiden will be two on January 6th. They are beautiful children who look just like their mother. They also were the most unruly kids ever! I spent the entire night with balloon animals being pounded at my head while Emma made the barking noise of the dog the balloon was shaped after. The children have also yet to develop a concept for personal space which made eating an interesting process. This may have been our shortest visit ever to Applebees.

My favorite part of the night came when Emma acknowledged how many people named Megan worked at the restaurant. I asked her who her favorite was. Her reply? Megan.

Afterwards, we picked up ALK and headed to my house to watch Holiday Inn on DVD. After watching White Christmas over the weekend, a friend of ALK's had recommended this film, another Bing Crosby-Irving Berlin holiday collaboration. This movie was made in 1942, twelve years before White Christmas. ALK’s friend insisted we watch the color version. This made JTH like it far better than White Christmas though he still hated the film. The song “White Christmas” is featured more prominently in this movie than the film of the same name.

The movie tells the story of a show business star who creates a holiday retreat center. He performs only on fifteen holidays a year. At each holiday, there is a calendar graphic indicating the passage of time. On Thanksgiving, the date alternated. JTH speculated that years were passing but ALK corrected him informing that there was a movement to change the date of the holiday. She then added,“You know how I know that? Because my Uncle Jim is nuts!” Evidently her uncle forced her family to answer Thanksgiving trivia questions before eating this year.

Finally, on Wednesday my family learned that my cousin HANW’s baby, due in May, will be a girl. I am excited though I could not help but feel for my uncle. He has four daughters, a wife, and all female dogs (dare I say “bitches”?). He will now be further surrounded by women.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/10/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 10, 2008 · (08-121)

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

In this issue
President Bush discusses faith in TV interview (542 words)
'True Woman' movement seeks counter-revolution to feminism (774 words)
Mo. appeals court hears latest round in Windermere dispute (774 words)
Guest opinion: Public ban on Christmas symbols (764 words)

President Bush discusses faith in TV interview
By Bob Allen (542 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- In a television interview broadcast Dec. 8, President Bush said he doesn't know if God wanted him to be president, doubts the Bible is literally true, agrees you can believe in God and evolution simultaneously and believes Christians and those of other faiths pray to the same God.

In the segment for ABC's "Nightline," Bush said he is "not so presumptuous as to be God" in knowing whether God picked him out of all the people in the world to be president.

"I just can't go there," he said. "I'm not that confident in knowing the Almighty to be able to say, 'Yeah, God wanted me, of all the other people.' But, you know, did God want me to be president? I don't know."

Bush said that, had he been asked if he believed God told him to run for president and guaranteed he would win, he would have replied emphatically. "The answer is absolutely not," he said. "Did it help to know that prayer would inform me during tough moments? Absolutely."

Bush described the Bible as "an amazing book," and ABC's Cynthia McFadden asked him if the Bible is literally true.

"You know, probably not," the president said. "No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it."

Bush said it is possible to believe God created the Earth while accepting the science of evolution and that Christians, Jews and Muslims all pray to the same God.

"I do believe there's an Almighty that is broad and big enough, loving enough that encompass a lot of people," he said. "I don't think God is a narrow concept. I think it's a broad concept. I just happen to believe the way to God is through Christ, and others have different avenues toward God, and I believe we pray to the same Almighty. I do."

The president added that does not mean he and the leader of the Taliban worship the same deity.

"I'm not so sure he's praying to a God," he said. "I think anybody who murders innocent people to achieve their objective is not a religious person. Now they think they're religious and they may play like they are religious, but I don't think they are religious. They're not praying to the God I pray to, the God of peace and love."

Bush said he is sometimes unfairly painted as viewing people who are not Christians as inferior to him. While he was governor of Texas, he said, a reporter asked him if you have to believe in Christ to go to heaven. Bush said he told the reporter the Bible says that, but Billy Graham once told him not to play God. The writer left out the Billy Graham part, and a lot of people in Texas read in their newspaper, "Bush to Jews: Go to hell."

"It was unbelievably unfair, but it's an interesting lesson, that you cannot underestimate how people can misread religion and religious intent," the president said. "I'm sure people will say George Bush is a Christian and therefore he can't possibly relate to me or he doesn't like me, or he thinks I'm condemned. I'm sorry that's the case, because that's not the way I feel."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

'True Woman' movement seeks counter-revolution to feminism
By Bob Allen (774 words)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- A group of conservative Christian women is seeking 100,000 signatures on a "True Woman Manifesto" aimed at sparking a counter-revolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.

Introduced at a gathering of more than 6,000 women in early October, the document calls not for equal rights, but instead proclaims that men and women are created to reflect God's image in "complementary and distinct ways."

That includes the idea that women are called "to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church."

"That is very explosive stuff," organizer Mary Kassian described the campaign Nov.25 on a radio program hosted by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "It is countercultural, because the world would be screaming at us, women would be screaming at us: 'What are you doing? All those rights that we fought so hard for, how can you say 'ust give that up and say that men are to be the heads of the homes?'

"The basis on which we do that is because we believe that is taught in Scripture," Kassian explained. "And we believe that is a blessing for women and not a curse against women, and that actually when we live according to God's design, we find blessing and peace and wholeness in our lives."

The idea for the True Woman '08 Conference held Oct. 9-11 and webcast from Schaumburg, Ill., came as Kassian -- an author, speaker and distinguished professor at the Louisville, Ky.-based seminary -- and Christian radio broadcaster Nancy Leigh DeMoss discussed how feminism revolutionized women's lives.

Recognizing that revolution began with a meeting of only a few women, they asked why there couldn't be a similar movement sparked by a meeting of women driven not by feminist ideals, but by teachings of the Bible.

"We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world," DeMoss said in the conference's closing address. "I just believe there is a massive women's movement of true women in those millions of women who are able to capture all kinds of battlefronts for Christ."

DeMoss said there are "a lot of truly desperate housewives" in homes and churches, who are not finding fulfillment in what God intended for them to be.

Kassian told the gathering that women have come a long way in the last 50 years, but not always in the right direction. While they may not have been able to identify the source of their values, she said, the idea of complementary roles for men and women was part of the social landscape until after the 1950s.

In the 1950s, for example, the Cleaver family in TV sitcom "Leave it to Beaver" exemplified the ideal suburban family. In contrast, she said, during the last decade media images overwhelmingly portrayed women as being in charge, while men were "marginalized and de-masculinized" into characters that are whiny, needy, not-too-bright and totally unreliable.

Kassian said even Christian women have been influenced more by feminism more than they realize, including the idea that patriarchy -- the idea of submitting to male authority -- is the source of all their heartache and problems.

Kassian told radio host Al Mohler the solution is not going back to the 19th century but to Scripture. Instead of "wimpy women," she said the movement is out to recruit women who are "doctrinally strong and theologically strong" and who will "study and search Scripture and come to scriptural conclusions."

"I believe part of the reason the feminist movement was so successful throughout the '60s was that you had a whole culture that was just living by [a] Judeo-Christian framework in the '50s, without really thinking about [it]. And then when feminism came in with these new ideas, a lot of Christian women even began to embrace them," she said.

"We are interested in a countercultural movement," Kassian said, that looks nothing like "Leave it to Beaver" or the 1950s.

"True Woman is taking the Bible and God's plan for womanhood and applying it to my life today in this millennium, in this year, and for what that looks like for single women, for married women, for women at all stages of life," Kassian said.

Mohler, along with Kassian a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, termed the manifesto "a very important document."

"These are shots that ought to be heard around the world." Mohler said.

The effort has a long way to go before reaching its goal of 100,000 signatures. As of midday Dec. 10, the number of online signers stood at 2,667.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Mo. appeals court hears latest round in Windermere dispute
By Vicki Brown (774 words)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (ABP) -- Both sides in the legal dispute between the Missouri Baptist Convention and a breakaway agency faced tough questions at a recent hearing before an appellate panel.

The Nov. 25 argument in the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District concerned Windermere Baptist Conference Center, which removed itself from the fundamentalist-controlled convention's control in 2001. Two members of a three-judge panel suggested that messengers to the 2000 MBC annual meeting did not fully understand the charter under which Windermere would be governed when they approved making the center a separate entity.

The appellate judges also suggested that the convention's attorney at the time should have added restrictions on Win­dermere in the original charter if the convention did not want Windermere trustees to have the power to make charter changes.

Western District Chief Judge Thomas Newton, Judge Joseph Dandurand and Judge James Welsh heard the case. A decision likely will not be handed down until after Jan. 1.

The appeal hearing is the latest round in legal action the MBC took against Windermere, the Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Word & Way and the Missouri Baptist Foundation. The suit is an attempt to force the entities to rescind changes they had made in their corporate charters that allowed trustees to appoint their own successors rather than the convention doing so.

The Baptist Home retirement-home system changed its articles of incorporation in 2000 to elect its own trustees. The other four entities took the same action in 2001. The convention filed suit on Aug. 13, 2002.

The latest argument came on an appeal of Cole County Judge Richard Callahan's ruling that Windermere's trustees acted legally when they changed the center's articles of incorporation.

His decision centered on two main aspects of the convention's contention -- corporate membership and a contractual relationship with Windermere. The judge ruled the MBC is not a member of Windermere's corporation and that no contract exists between the two entities.

In the latest hearing, lead MBC attorney Michael Whitehead centered his appeal argument on membership. He argued that Win­der­mere had granted the convention the right to vote for its trustees. Therefore, he said, the MBC was a statutory member of Windermere's corporation.

When Judge Dandurand questioned the membership claim, Whitehead acknowledged that Windermere's charter states that the corporation has no members.

Whitehead suggested that former MBC executive dir­ector Jim Hill deliberately included the no-member clause so that trustees could take over control of the conference center. How­ever, Judge Welsh pointed out, the convention itself drafted Win­dermere's charter.

Windermere attorney Jim Shoemake argued that messengers to MBC annual meetings are delegates, and that delegates cannot be members under Missouri law. He noted that if a corporation has no members, the directors may amend the corporation's articles unless the charter spe­cif­ically requires approval.

Windermere's purpose clause does not say that the conference center was created for the convention, but for Christian purposes, Shoemake said. That purpose has not changed, despite the convention's inability to control Windermere's leaders, he argued.

"But that agreement didn't work out the way messengers thought it would, did it?" Judge Dandurand countered.

"After all that has taken place, I would say that's probably true today," Shoemake responded.

Judge Welsh pointed out the case's legal complexity. "How do you expect those folks [messengers] to understand?" he asked.

Shoemake responded that the Baptist Home had made the same changes a year before Win­der­mere did, so messengers were already aware of the issue. Nonetheless, during the 2000 MBC annual meeting, they still voted down a motion to delay the final approval of Windermere as a Missouri Baptist agency separate from the MBC Executive Board.

The Nov. 25 hearing marked the second MBC appeal in the seven-year legal action. In 2005, appellate judges sent the initial case back to Cole County after the convention appealed former Cole County Judge Thomas Brown's March 11 dismissal of the legal action against the university.

Judge Brown ruled the Exec­utive Board and six churches that filed the original lawsuit did not have the legal right to do so, and he applied the ruling to all five institutions. The appeals court overruled the Cole County judge on the Executive Board's standing, but upheld his decision regarding the six churches.

The MBC filed separate legal action against the conference center in 2006 for selling property as part of a refinancing plan. That case has been suspended pending the outcome of the appeal of the original case.

Judge Callahan suspended legal action involving the other four institutions until after the Windermere appeal process has been completed. He had decided to try each of the five separately.

-- Vicki Brown is a Missouri-based freelance writer.

Guest opinion: Public ban on Christmas symbols may be great faith gift
By Norman Jameson (764 words)

(ABP) -- No trees adorned with twinkling lights will bless -- or aggravate -- visitors to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's two main libraries this year, according to a Dec. 5 story in the Raleigh News and Observer.

After many years of displaying Christmas trees in the libraries, this year the trees are stuck in storage because some library employees and patrons were bothered by the Christian display, according to Sarah Michalak, UNC's associate provost for university libraries.

Puritans temporarily banned Christmas celebrations in Boston in the 17th century. Since then, of course, our nation has gladly taken the Christian holy day to heart and even recognized it as a federal holiday.

Now, the tree ban at the libraries is another drop in a steady stream of protest that overtly Christian symbols (not that a decorated tree is overtly Christian) are unwelcome in many public venues of our pluralistic society. America hosts both adherents of many religions and advocates of none. More and more of them seem to resent the historic willingness of our society at large to accommodate the Christian celebration in December.

This could be a good thing.

I have reached an age at which it is too late to die young. During most of my life, Christian friends have lamented that Christmas is becoming too secularized; it is losing its religious meaning; businesses have appropriated the religious symbols of Christmas until they are nothing more than decorations to sell merchandise.

Saints have morphed to Santas; tributes are diluted to toys and holy days are simply holidays. And all this seasonal fiscal flavor is salted with crèches, camels and caravans; stars, sheep and shepherds; wise men, mangers and drummer boys.

If, as the English proverb says, familiarity breeds contempt, it is logical that Christmas symbols floating in the marketplace unattached to their religious meaning will themselves become meaningless.

Can it be that, when Christians advocate for symbols of faith in public venues, we contribute to the emasculation of their meaning?

As Christians, we want to live in a society that respects our right to believe and practice that belief in public as we see fit. That was easier when our nation was considered "Christian." Although unspoken and certainly unlegislated, there was a long era when being a Christian was "required" for a healthy business or election to political office or even to secure many jobs unrelated to religious work. It was an identity that greased the wheels of social interaction.

Christians felt good about that because we lived in a geographically massive Christian enclave that stretched 3,000 miles between two oceans. Non-Christians gritted their teeth and bore it during public prayers at football games or to open city-council meetings. To do otherwise would create a stink and backlash that would be unhealthy for business and for seamless meshing of societal gears in the PTA or grocery store.

Those days are gone as more non-Christians react negatively to overt Christian presence and pressure in public venues. Surprised and resentful that others would react negatively to a century or more of tradition and to our well-meaning and harmless efforts to infuse the atmosphere with happy reminders that Christ has come, we Christians have had our own negative reactions in return.

Perhaps we are reacting to the time 20 centuries earlier when the first Christians could only identify themselves covertly to each other, with a subtle fish drawn in the sand or a cross etched in a doorpost or woven discretely into a bracelet or necklace. No one joined the early Christian church to gain a political or commercial advantage. No one corrupted Christian observances with garish, impotent, ubiquitous displays whose purpose is to lift dollars from our pockets via gift purchases to "honor the Christ child" who would rather we feed his sheep.

What will it mean if the public forum gradually closes to overt displays of Christian symbolism?

Perhaps those consumed with consumption can continue their mind-numbing, bank-breaking bondage to "the holiday season," and those who celebrate the Christ of Christmas can busy ourselves with service and worship undeterred by the annual indigestion over how our special day has been corrupted.

Let those harried by holidays be tethered to expectation in an atmosphere absent symbols of our faith. It is not destructive to us. If Christian Christmas displays must disappear from courthouse lawns and public buildings and school houses, it will add spiritual meaning to displays of Christmas joy in the places where they belong: in the churches, yards, homes and hearts of people who truly love the Christ child.

-- Norman Jameson is editor of the Biblical Recorder, North Carolina Baptists' newspaper. This column originally appeared as a Dec. 5 post on his blog, Spoke'n.

Prayer Blog - 12/10/2008

My "aunt" PRL's father is scheduled to have surgery tomorrow at St. Mary's Hospital in Knoxville. Her father has been diagnosed with spinal cancer. An only child, PRL, is especially wounded by this ailment. Her mother is presently an invalid from another recent surgery. PRL may stay with my family while her father recuperates. Please keep all involved in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 12/10/2008

Question: To what number did God reduce Gideon's army of 32,000 before allowing them to invade Midian?

Answer: 300. (Judges 7:1-8)

Comments: Like the great King Leonidas in the Battle of Thermopylae, Gideon set out to do battle severely overmatched with only 300 soldiers at his disposal. Leonidas did so out of necessity but Gideon did so because God told him to. God reduced the size of Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300 so that the Israelites would not believe they had won the battle by their own might, but rather by divine intervention. (Judges 7:2)

The LORD said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home." (Judges 7:7, NASB)

Word of the Day - 12/10/2008


Pied means 1. having patches of two or more colors, as various birds and other animals; 2. wearing pied clothing.

Many have taken the lead from the King James Version's translation "coat of many colours" and assume that Joseph's presented him with a pied cloak.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. (Genesis 37:3, NASB)

Note: This illustration of Joseph's cloak by Isabella Colette was taken from the 1998 book "L'imagerie de la bible" written by Emile Beaumont.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/10/2008, Part 2

On Tuesday night, KLTW, RAW, and I watched The Dark Knight on DVD.

I arrived to find the family decorating for Christmas. KLTW had consecutive days off for the first time in recent memory and that fact alone was enough to put her in a great mood. As is their annual tradition, they were preparing to plant an Amaryllis. It should bloom in time for Christmas. KLTW also had the Delilah radio program playing in the background. It was a sign of how much I love her that I did not request that the channel be changed. I am convinced that people like Delilah are the reason a lot of people don’t like Christians.

After much debate, we decided to eat at the Texas Roadhouse in nearby Turkey Creek. On the way out the door, KLTW attempted to force her daughter into a jacket. KJW objected, citing the unseasonably warm weather. I sided with the kid on this one.

At the restaurant, we were seated in a large booth. I was shocked when Allen Horton appeared as our sever. He is a former MoFoS “supplier”. The women (KLTW and KJW) sat on one side of the booth and the men on the other. At one point, KJW wanted to crawl under the table. When asked where she was going, she said to me. Her mommy then asked, “Do you want to go to Chan because you know he’ll let you have your way?” Without hesitation, the child replied, “Yes”. KLTW could not even give me a few seconds to enjoy the delusion that the child just loved me.

During dinner, KJW used the expression, “What the?” We have no idea where she picked this colloquialism up. Her parents denied that it originated with them by noting that they would have completed the question.

After eating, we drove across the street and shopped at Linens-N-Things and Target. We frequented the former as the store is going out of business and all merchandise is at least 40% off. We shopped at the latter because we were low on diapers. No, the child is still not potty trained. (Note: It is really disturbing how much KJW enjoys being behind bars....)

Naturally, we stopped by Target’s toy department. I would attribute this to KJW’s presence, but if she were not there, RAW and I still would have walked those aisles. As always, KJW was well aware of the Spike the Ultra Dinosaur on display. When other children were playing with it out of her sight, she said, “I hear the dinosaur!” At another point, she pointed to a display and informed, “I want that for Christmas!” It is amazing that the concept that she is entitled to a gift on Christmas has already been instilled...

For some reason, the child does not want Christmas to be Jesus’ birthday. She is okay with it being someone’s birthday, just not Jesus’. Perhaps she simply is aware that it is unlikely that jesus was born in December and wants to correct the traditional error and relocate the holiday to spring. Yes. I am sure that’s it...

After shopping and procuring the all important diapers, we returned to RAW’s home where we watched The Dark Knight. KLTW and RAW had not seen the film previously and thoroughly enjoyed it. For the record, we started the film after KJW was in bed do that she would not see any of the movie. This did not stop her from interrupting on several occasions, but she was spared the violence.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prayer Blog - 12/9/2008, #2

Longtime church member Clyde Hylton (CDH) passed away yesterday. His funeral will be held tomorrow night at 8 pm with my father serving as one of the pallbearers. Please keep his family and friends in your prayers.

Here is CDH’s obituary as it appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

HYLTON, CLYDE D. - age 87 of Knoxville, passed away Monday, December 8, 2008 at St. Mary's Residential Hospice. He was a member of theCentral Baptist Church, Bearden where his greatest joy came from working with children in the pre-school Sunday School. Clyde was born in Lincoln Park, Oakwood community in Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated from old Knoxville High School with the class of 1939 and from the University of Tennessee in Spring 1947 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. A veteran of WWII serving in the European Theater, he was part of the 256th Engineer Combat Battalion which was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. Together they liberated the "Colmar Pocket" on February 2, 1945. Clyde's battalion was given a commendation by the Major General F.W. Milburn, commander of the 21st Corps. The Mayor of Colmar, France also authorized the wearing of the Arms of Colmar by the 256th E.C.B. After the war, Clyde was assigned to the Allied mission for observing the elections in Greece, a part of the "Truman Document." He was active in the Reserves and retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Clyde retired from Union Carbide Corp. having worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in experimental nuclear recovery programs and later with utilities at the Y-12 Plant. Clyde learned to play tennis at an early age because of the interest of his older brother, Harry. He credited this game for enriching his life with very many close friends. He was a charter member of the Knoxville Racquet Club and was highly involved in senior tennis. Clyde was preceded in death by parents, P.D. and Rosa Branson Hylton; siblings, Pete Hylton, Lillie Mae Starmer, Harry Hylton. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Josie K. Hylton; son, Clyde Dayton Hylton, Jr. and daughter-in-law, Sheila Hylton of Knoxville; daughter, Hannah H. O'Neal and son-in-law, Dwight O'Neal, of McMinnville, Tennessee; daughter, Jan Ellen H. Boyer and son-in-law, Mark Boyer of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; daughter, Susan H. LeHoven and son-in-law, Tony LeHoven of Kauai, Hawaii; five grandchildren, Joe and Chris O'Neal, Katie and Logan Boyer and Taylor Martin; numerous nieces and nephews; sister, Hannah Pedersen and his good friends and adopted brothers, Dr. Reese Patterson and Floyd Stone. Funeral service will be 8:00 P.M. Wednesday at Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel with The Reverend Bill Couch and Reverend Archie Fendley officiating. Family and friends will meet Thursday at Highland Memorial Cemetery for a 2:00 P.M. interment service. Memorials may be made to Central Baptist Church, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 6300 Deanne Hill Drive, Knoxville, TN 37919 or to St. Mary's Residential Hospice, 7447 Andersonville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37938. The family will receive friends 4-8:00 P.M. Wednesday at Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel.

Prayer Blog - 12/9/2008

This morning I met with GWS
regarding my future employment at my church. In response to TWC’s resignation on Monday, the personnel committee has essentially instituted a hiring freeze until a new senior pastor is hired. Our present pastor, LWF, is slated to retire next December. It will take quite awhile to hire a replacement.

After praying and discussing the matter with my father, I have decided to continue pursuing the position. We both agree that a three-year hiring freeze with several pastors scheduled to retire is an unwise decision. Further, I have been given a strong vision for the educational system at the church. In short, the worst thing they can do is say no. More details will be posted in tomorrow’s edition of “In Eckleburg’s Eyes”.

Please keep this situation in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 12/9/2008

Question: How many Psalms are there in the Book of Psalms?

Answer: 150.

Comments: The book of Psalms is the ancient Hebrew hymnal. The word psalms is derived from the Greek psalmoi, which originally meant "songs sung to a harp". There are 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms.

Psalm 150:6 is the last verse of Psalms:

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6, NASB)

Most manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) also include a Psalm 151, present in Eastern Orthodox translations. A Hebrew version of this poem was found in the Psalms Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Word of the Day - 12/9/2008


Defeasible means capable of being annulled or terminated.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus countered the false notion that he made the law defeasible.

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17, NASB)

Note: This image came from the Brick Testament, a project which illustrates selected Bible passages with Lego blocks. The specific passage can be accessed here.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/9/2008

I spent Monday night with the MoFoS and Applebees, the official restaurant of MoFoS.

I joined JTH late in his shift. He was working alone. Unbeknownst to me, I would be paid back for a weekend indiscretion. JTH, ALK and I watched the 1954 holiday classic White Christmas on Saturday night. The movie is one of her favorite films. She had also recently learned that the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville is putting on a performance of the play and wanted to go. Since I love plays and road trips, I thought it was a great idea. This last sentence represents my entire involvement in this plan. You will note that the concepts of attending the play and alerting ALK to its existence did not originate with me.

Not surprisingly, JTH hated the film. It is in black and white and a musical. These facts alone would have made him detest it. Now, he will be going to see the play live. He blamed me.

When I arrived at the store, there was a customer lurking near the register. He was analyzing which Blu-Ray films he would purchase. He had already decided he would buy eight DVDs (a man after my own heart). Now, it was just a matter of selecting which eight he would purchase. After JTH informed him that I had superior movie knowledge the man consulted me about virtually every DVD in the store. I tried to walk away from him but he followed me! At this point, JTH left me alone with the customer. As Dante Hicks lamented, "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" (Read: Clerks reference.) JTH insists that this was not a conscious decision, but I believe at the very least he was subconsciously punishing me for the White Christmas trip.

Before the shift closed, TK and JBT joined us at the store. We were then met at Applebees by ALK. AFH was our waitress. She did not take my order but simply brought me my standard meal. For a man noted for hijinks, I am so predictable...

Also on Monday, Fleenor Security Systems completed installation of my home’s alarm system. Setting and disarming the system will prove to be quite a nuisance. I feel the burglars have already taken quite a deal from my family without ever having entered my home.

Finally, the biggest news of Monday came from my church, where TWC gave his two weeks notice. He and his entire family will be moving to Birmingham, Alabama. I have been in negotiations with him to work under his program for some time. I will post more news on this developing story, and specifically how if affects me, as it emerges.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/8/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 8, 2008 · (08-120)

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

In this issue
Christian leaders urge Obama to make Israeli-Palestinian peace top priority (547 words)
Studies show rise in greenhouse gases in 2007 (764 words)
Richard Land compares President Bush to Harry Truman (305 words)
WMU WorldCrafts program birngs income to impoverished, gifts to U.S. (750 words)
Russian Baptists mourn death of Orthodox leader (349 words)
Guest opinion: The caboose of Christianity (773 words)

Christian leaders urge Obama to make Israeli-Palestinian peace top priority
By Bob Allen (547 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A group of Christian leaders in the United States has called on President-elect Barack Obama to make the Israeli-Palestinian peace process an immediate priority during his first year in office.

Leaders from a broad spectrum of American Christianity -- Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, evangelical and historic African-American denominations -- signed an open letter Dec. 1 urging "vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts" to secure peace in the Middle East.

"As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace," the letter said.

Sent to the president-elect as well as key members of his transition and national-security teams, the letter is a project of Christians for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 22 public-policy offices of national churches and agencies that supports a "two-state" solution consisting of both a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel.

"The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long," the letter says. "It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists. As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible."

Original signatories include Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.

"It doesn't take a prophet to see that without strong international support and encouragement to both parties for a negotiated settlement that honors the rights of both, the Middle East will continue to boil and engulf the world in its conflict, with the faithful Christian community of the Middle East being further decimated by the violence of the rivalry," Medley said.

The letter challenges the Obama administration to "provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final-status agreement" and to "encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace."

The leaders said a two-state solution would help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. They also said failure to achieve resolution would negatively affect Christians in the Holy Land, whose numbers are steadily declining.

Mideast observers hope Obama's election will prompt a new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, which have stalled since the Bush administration convened a conference aimed at reviving the peace process in November 2007 in Annapolis, Md.

Medley, one of three signatories identified as a Baptist -- along with Stan Hastey of the Alliance of Baptists and Tyrone Pitts of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. -- said the ABC-USA General Board has supported a two-state solution as far back as December 1980.

"The tragic irony of the situation is that two peoples, Jews and Palestinian Arabs, who have both profoundly experienced 'homelessness,' have not been able to agree to grant each other the right to a secure homeland," Medley said. "Unfortunately, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Palestinian Baptists, the situation has been further compounded by the fact that many American evangelicals, influenced by Christian Zionists, have dismissed out-of-hand the just concerns of Palestinian Arabs."

The letter is being followed by a campaign inviting church members to add their names to it at the campaign website. The final letter, signed by both Christian leaders and congregants, will be delivered to Obama during his inauguration.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Studies show rise in greenhouse gases in 2007
By Bob Allen (764 words)

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Greenhouse-gas emissions continued to rise in 2007, according to two new studies. But Southern Baptists are still divided over what, if anything, to do about it.

The World Meteorological Organisation said Nov. 26 that concentrations of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide reached new highs in 2007, and methane had its largest annual increase in a decade.

The gases are thought to contribute to the "greenhouse effect" that the vast majority of climatological scientists believe is causing a gradual warming of the planet.

A government study released Dec. 3 showed that, despite increased public awareness about global warming and numerous policy changes, 2007 greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States increased 1.4 percent over the 2006 total.

The WMO report found that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the single most important gas thought to affect global temperatures, increased 0.5 percent from 2006 to 2007. That growth rate is consistent with recent years.

Methane, another gas created by both natural and human activities, increased last year at the highest rate since 1998.

A third gas, nitrous oxide, also reached record levels in 2007.

The study says Earth's greenhouse-gas levels were fairly consistent for 10,000 years until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric carbon dioxide, which accounts for 63 percent of greenhouse gases, has increased 37 percent since the late 1700s, primarily due to emissions from fossil fuels and, to a lesser degree, because of deforestation.

According to Reuters, WMO expert Geir Braathen told a news briefing in Switzerland there is no sign that carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are leveling off, and it is too early to tell if methane would keep rising.

Scientists warn that the gradual warming of Earth's atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases will lead to rising sea levels, more damaging severe weather and increased heat waves and droughts.

The current international pact curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012. World leaders hope the United States, which did not ratify the accord, will sign on to a new treaty, and that developing nations like China and India will commit to emissions targets.

The Energy Information Administration study blamed increased U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions on two factors: unfavorable weather conditions -- which increased demand for heating and cooling in buildings -- and a drop in hydropower availability that led to greater reliance on coal and natural gas for generating electricity.

In the United States, evangelicals remain divided over how seriously to regard rising levels of atmospheric gases linked to climate change.

Jonathan Merritt, spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, said the new data is significant not only from a climatological standpoint, but for theological reasons.

"As Southern Baptists, we believe in the truth of God's word, which includes the command to keep and tend the Earth and see it flourish," Merritt said. "Regardless of one's stance on climate change, everyone can agree that pumping record levels of gas into our atmosphere isn't a good idea and certainly wouldn't be consistent with the idea of stewardship."

A number of prominent Southern Baptists, including current Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, signed a declaration in March urging increased action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, more than 500 individuals have endorsed "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change."

Those signers don't include the denomination's official representative for moral and public-policy concerns, who maintains the globe is actually getting colder instead of warmer.

Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called global warming a "hoax" and a "scam" on his weekly radio program Nov. 22.

Land attributed fluctuations in global temperature to "cycles of nature that God has allowed in the cosmos" and labeled human activity "a minor contribution to global warming."

"The sunspots have faded, the solar cycle has peaked, the sun is going into a quiescent period and everybody but [former Vice President and anti-global warming activist] Al Gore is cooling off," Land said.

But Merritt said people who selectively quote data to support a contrarian view on the evidence for global warming "are driven more by an ideology than a theology."

Merritt said he has spoken to Southern Baptist missionaries around the world who thanked him for speaking out on the issue.

"They say that they use the creation as a starting point for sharing the gospel," he said. "Furthermore, they say that the Western world's witness is hurt by our wasteful and consumptive habits. When we speak with a unified moral voice and put feet to our faith, the gospel is stronger both at home and around the world."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Richard Land compares President Bush to Harry Truman
By Bob Allen (305 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- A prominent Southern Baptist leader has compared George W. Bush to Harry Truman, another president whose approval ratings dropped to the 20s in his final months in office but is now considered one of the greatest American presidents of the 20th century.

"Just remember that you heard it here from me," Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Dec. 6 on his weekly radio program. "He will be the Harry Truman of our time."

Commenting on reports of a debate about whether Bush would go down as one of the worst presidents in the last 50 years, Land predicted that, like Truman's, Bush's legacy will be vindicated by the long scope of history.

That includes the president's least popular decision, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While acknowledging the entry into war was handled poorly, Land said, the 2007 troop surge has placed the U.S.-led coalition on the cusp of victory of Iraq.

In addition to making America safer, Land applauded Bush for blunting "the metastasizing of abortion" by opposing late-term abortions and research using embryonic stem cells.

Land quoted a paragraph from Allen Guelzo in the National Post saying: "Like Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov, one act of killing requires more acts of killing to legitimize itself. This has been the real agenda behind the enigmatic enthusiasm for stem-cell research and the furious criticism of bans on late-term, or 'partial-birth,' abortion. It was an act of singular political courage for Bush to see this agenda for what it was, expose it publicly for what it is, and obstruct it for as long as he has."

"Well, I can only say 'amen' to that," Land said, noting that judges appointed by Bush during the last eight years represent sitting majorities on 10 out of 13 federal appeals courts.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

WMU WorldCrafts program brings income to impoverished, gifts to U.S.
By Bob Allen (750 words)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (ABP) -- Paulina Navichoc lives in San Pedro, a remote village high in the mountains surrounding Lake Atitlan in western Guatemala. This Christmas her family has food, clothes and medicine they might otherwise have gone without if it weren't for WorldCrafts, a non-profit ministry of Woman's Missionary Union.

Paulina and her mother, a pastor's wife who became a widow last year, work together to make hand-beaded Christmas ornaments that WorldCrafts sells for $19.99.

Andrea Mullins, director of WMU's product-development center, said people often ask why WorldCrafts products are more expensive than other similar products on the market.

The answer, Mullins said, is because the ministry's aim is not to make a profit, but to improve the lives of women like Paulina who live in extreme poverty in nations all over the world.

"One of the interesting facts about WorldCrafts is that we are a fair-trade organization," Mullins recently told a group of Baptist state convention executive directors and editors visiting the Birmingham, Ala., headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention-related auxiliary organization.

That means WorldCrafts buys products only from businesses that abide by Fair Trade Federation guidelines, which include paying fair wages and practicing environmental sustainability.

"We in the United States are a free-trade society," Mullins said. "We've seen what free trade can do -- both positive and negative -- over the last few months. Fair trade gives people who are very poor a place at the table."

Beyond helping the working woman's immediate family, Mullins said, WorldCrafts partnerships help communities by bringing new jobs and income into local economies.

"We're not after them to get the cheapest price that they can give us," Mullins said. "We work with them so they are getting a fair price and also help them to invest back into the community."

The program also establishes credibility for Baptist missionaries. All artisans involved with WorldCrafts are also in contact with mission personnel. Often, helping local businesses is a core part of the missionary's ministry.

"Many of our missionaries work in high-security places, and they couldn't go in and work with the people they work with if they didn't have some sort of a business platform to go into that country," Mullins said. "We do that."

If a missionary leaves, however, the business continues. "Our objective is, in the long term, to bring sustainable transformation to people who are living in poverty," Mullins said.

Started in 1996 with one artisan group --Thai Country Trim in Thailand -- Mullins said WorldCrafts now works in 38 countries with 66 artisan groups ranging in size from a few people to hundreds of workers.

WorldCrafts imports more than 300 different items of indigenous artistry from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Items offered at the WMU online store range alphabetically from backpacks, baskets, Bible covers and bookmarks to stationery and tablecloths. Prices start at 79 cents for a key ring to a Mount Ararat Rug that sells for $199.99.

Mullins acknowledged that some of the items would cost less if they were mass produced in a factory, but those profits might go to the owners of a sweatshop instead of people who need the income to live a better life.

Compared to items of similar quality, however, Mullins said WorldCrafts' prices are often quite comparable to those charged by for-profit businesses. That is especially true when the value of an item is gauged by the amount of work it took to produce.

Making a single hand-beaded Ki'che Christmas Ball takes a Mayan woman in Guatemala a full day, but the sale of that ornament will feed the artisan's family for a week in an area so poor that only about two children in five reach preschool age due to malnutrition.

Another new product, the $29.99 King's Garden Bracelet, is made by women in Afghanistan -- many of them widows due to that country's decades of war. Featuring more than 1,000 beads applied by hand, the product would have no access to market if not for contact with WMU.

WorldCrafts products are not sold in stores. They can be purchased online at or ordered from a catalogue. One popular way to purchase the items is at WorldCrafts parties. They can be planned as a small home gathering, an existing group or a large event such as at a church.

One added benefit of the parties, Mullins said, is they provide an opportunity to educate women about undiscovered talents of other women from around the world.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Russian Baptists mourn death of Orthodox leader
By ABP staff (349 words)

MOSCOW (ABP) -- A Russian Baptist leader praised Patriarch Alexey II of the Russian Orthodox Church, who died Dec. 5, as a creator of "peace and consensus" during the post-communist and post-Soviet years in Russia.

The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists posted a letter of condolence on its website within hours of the 79-year-old patriarch's death.

Yuri Sipko, the union's president, praised Alexey for his "massive, unifying role in the creation of peace and consensus during the travail of Russian society in the 1990s."

"In those days, the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church was a voice of reconciliation and hope," Sipko wrote. "We prize highly the courage and resolution which Partriarch Alexey II demonstrated during the formation of the New Russia."

Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB's director of external church relations, met with Alexey on numerous occasions. He praised his late colleague's efforts to further inter-confessional dialogue. Alexey was instrumental in fostering Orthodox-Baptist dialogue, which included two theological consultations in 2006 and 2007.

"The patriarch had a very elegant and warm style," Vlasenko said. "He always spoke to us kindly and remembered us Baptists very well. We felt like the Christian wisdom of the ages emanated from him. We hope very much that his successor will continue down the road of understanding between our two churches -- the route which Alexey himself had embarked upon."

During a visit to Russia and Georgia in June, Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, also met with the patriarch, who called for continued consultation between the two groups on common moral values.

"We look forward to strong ties of friendship between you and the Baptists of this great country as we seek faithfulness in God in the face of the monster of secularism and the terror of sin," Callam told the Orthodox leader. "We are committed to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, the hope of the world."

News reports did not indicate the cause of Alexey's death. His funeral, scheduled for Dec. 9, will be attended by Russian dignitaries including President Dimitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Guest opinion: The caboose of Christianity
By John Pierce (773 words)

We all have our blind spots. Clarity often comes only from the perspective of hindsight.

That's what leaders of Bob Jones University confessed in apologizing for the independent, fundamentalist Christian school's past racist policies.

A statement on the school's website reads, in part: "For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it. In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry."

African-American students were not permitted to attend Bob Jones until 1971 -- some 17 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that public-school segregation was unconstitutional. Only within the last decade has BJU dropped its policy forbidding interracial dating.

In other words: the secular court interpreting a secular Constitution reached the right conclusion about God-given human equality well before these devout Christians interpreting the Bible they hold as divine truth.

The most significant aspect of this confession is found in the words: "We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it."

The continuing tragedy of fundamentalist American Christianity is the unwillingness to learn from mistakes. Past failures do not seem to bring any humility that would recognize the possibility of misinterpretations of the biblical revelation in the present or future.

It brings to mind a question I have raised before: When will the evangelical Christian church become the engine rather than the caboose concerning societal change regarding the basic biblical issues of justice, equality and compassion?

When land was taken from Native Americans and thousands died during forced, inhumane relocation, where was the Christian outcry?

When Baptists of the North questioned Baptists of the South on the issue of owning -- for economic benefit -- precious human beings of African decent created in the image of God, Southern Baptists just formed their own group.

When the secular government enforced public-school desegregation, white conservative Christians just started their own schools.

Yet the unfailing fundamentalist mantra is that they alone stay true to Scripture while all others head down the path of cultural accommodation. (The opposite of what Bob Jones leaders admitted concerning their racist past.)

Just this fall, when the Georgia Baptist Convention pompously brushed aside the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., for calling a female pastor, the charge was that the congregation had violated biblical truth and embraced secular social patterns. In a letter to the GBC newspaper, The Christian Index, pastor Bobby Braswell Jr. of Guyton, Ga., wrote that the convention's action is "not a popular position in today's cultural climate, but we are following the dictates of Scripture, not culture."

Brother Bobby, so said the Baptist slaveholders; so said the good Christians who forced "savages" off the land they wanted; so said the earlier leaders of Bob Jones University in forbidding African-American students from studying at their "Christian" school -- and on and on.

It is amazing how fundamentalist Christians -- many decades after societal change occurs due to the motivation provided by secular forces and more-attuned Christians and those of other faith traditions -- can confess that they "conformed to the culture" at the expense of biblical truth. Yet they cannot -- in the present tense -- humbly allow for even the remotest possibility that any current blind spots might exist.

If so, at the very least the self-righteous Georgia Baptist leadership would have left the Decatur congregation alone to suffer in their "error." But, no, they had to straighten them out.
Why? Because fundamentalists don't think Paul's admission that we all see through dark glass applies to them. Because they do not learn from their own tragic history.

Or, more specifically, it is because that is the nature of fundamentalism. It is marked by a resistance to change, a proclivity toward propping up one's predetermined belief system with isolated biblical texts, and an attitude of condemnation toward those (even other Christians) who would dare hold a different viewpoint.

Fundamentalist Christians are always denouncing "secular" society. But thank God for a secular court and a secular Constitution -- and open-minded, compassionate religious peoples of varied traditions -- that lead us to truth pertaining to basic (biblical) concerns of human justice.

But never fear ... somewhere way, way, way back there, the caboose will be coming.

-- John Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today, a national news journal based in Macon, Ga. This column originally appeared as a Nov. 25 post on his blog.