Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prayer Blog - 2/28/2009

Tomorrow I will be teaching Chaplain Brad Hood (BMH)’s Sunday School class at the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. The class meets in Room 218 during the second session and follows the lectionary. I will be teaching on Mark 1:9-11. Please keep this lesson in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 2/28/2009

Question: In what town did Cain live, east of Eden?

Answer: Nod. (Genesis 4:16)

Comments: After killing his brother Abel, Cain is exiled to the land of Nod, east of Eden. "Nod" (נוד) is the Hebrew root of the verb "to wander" (לנדוד) and is indicative of Cain's nomadic lifestyle.

Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16, NASB)

It was from this location that East of Eden gets its name. See the April 8th, 2008 "Bible Trivia" post for details.

Note: This oil on canvas of Cain was painted by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/27/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 27, 2009 · (09-28)

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

In this issue
Court says Montana election law wrongly applied to church (360 words)
Opinion: Jesus' vacation and the Canaanite woman (1,103 words)
Opinion: On interpreting the Bible (725 words)
Music review: Grace inside a sound -- U2, 'No Line on the Horizon' (900 words)

Court says Montana election law wrongly applied to church
By Bob Allen (360 words)

SAN FRANCISCO (ABP) -- A federal appeals court ruled Feb. 25 that Montana officials violated the free-speech rights of a Southern Baptist church when they required the congregation to register as a political action committee for supporting a 2004 ballot initiative against gay marriage.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not address the constitutionality of a Montana law that labels as "incidental political committees" groups not specifically organized to influence elections but that make a contribution or expenditure on behalf of a candidate or issue. The law also requires reporting and financial disclosures from such organizations.

A three-judge panel did say, however, that Montana's commissioner of political practices erred in applying the law to Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in East Helena with about 200 members.

Judges said the church's actions -- sponsoring a video against gay marriage and encouraging members and guests to sign petitions supporting defining marriage in exculsively heterosexual terms in the Montana Constitution -- were so minimal they were unworthy of the state's attention.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which assisted in the church's defense, called the ruling a major victory that could embolden other churches to take a stand on ballot initiatives in the future.

"Churches shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," said Dale Schowengerdt, legal counsel for the ADF, a conservative Christian legal group formed in 1994 to counter the American Civil Liberties Union. "They should never be forced to forfeit their free-speech rights just because the government decides to enact unconstitutional laws requiring them to remain silent on social issues."

Montana Solicitor Anthony Johnstone, however, who argued before the appeals court that the church was subject to the disclosure law, said he doubted the ruling would have any broad implications.

Social conservatives often criticize the 9th Circuit, which recently said the federal government could not deprive same-sex couples of benefits offered to married couples, as being hostile toward religion.

The three judges, who unanimously ruled in favor of the church, were Circuit Judges Harry Pregerson and William Canby Jr., who were appointed to the bench by President Carter, and Senior Circuit Judge John Noonan, a Reagan appointee.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: Jesus' vacation and the Canaanite woman
By Jim Somerville (1,103 words)

(Editor's Note: A column that Associated Baptist Press published Feb. 23, written by Miguel De La Torre and offering a novel take on one of the New Testament's most difficult passages, set off a lively discussion about biblical interpretation in the column's comments thread as well as across the Baptist blogosphere. We decided to take the opportunity to ask a seminary dean and a local-church pastor to provide their takes on how to interpret difficult passages of Scripture faithfully.)

(ABP) -- In the verses that precede Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus goes about his ministry of teaching and healing tirelessly, although he is mobbed by crowds. Then, the Gospel accounts of the story say, he "went away."

So, while neither Matthew nor Mark say that Jesus was on vacation, they do say that he went away to the Mediterranean coast, that he entered a house, and that he didn't want anyone to know that he was there. Sounds like a vacation to me. I can imagine a nice pastel-colored beach cottage somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, with Jesus sitting on the front porch, gazing out over those deep blue waters, savoring those delicious breezes.

You wouldn't hold such a thing against him, would you? Everybody needs a break from time to time. But suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of this woman coming up the front steps in her flip-flops, calling for his help.

"Have mercy on me, Lord! I know you're on vacation. But my daughter is possessed by a demon. I need your help." And if Jesus had a widow's mite for every time he had heard that request, he would have been a rich man. He had been surrounded by crowds of people, remember? They had been pressing in against him, begging to touch the fringe of his cloak. He hadn't even been able to eat.

And now, when he has finally gotten a few minutes' peace, here comes this Canaanite woman. She's from another country. She has a different religion. It would be like a Muslim woman coming to me on vacation, asking for help. I might not say it, but I would wonder: "Isn't there a mosque you could go to? An imam you could ask? Why are you coming to me?"

And so Jesus tells her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In other words, "I can't help you. I'm up here in Gentile territory. I am way out of my jurisdiction."

But this woman comes and kneels before him, bowing her head to the ground and begging, "Lord, help me." It is the request Jesus has never been able to refuse, but this time he says, "It isn't fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." It is another way -- but not a more polite way -- of saying, "Go away, woman, you're bothering me."

And yet she won't go away. Jesus is not just her best hope; he is her only hope. She looks up into his face, her eyes searching for some flicker of empathy.

"Yes, Lord," she says, "yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." It's a good answer. It is such a good answer that Jesus looks into those pleading eyes and feels his resolve crumbling. He can't help himself. Above the weariness of his human nature and the strength of his divine nature, it is his nature to feel with those who are hurting and want to do something about it.

And so he says to her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." Even as he did it he must have known what it would mean. Soon the news would spread, and before long everyone in town would be coming up those front steps, begging for mercy. His vacation would be over. But he did it anyway.

There is a word for what preachers do when they try to explain why bad things happen to good people. It's called theodicy, and it comes from two Greek words that mean, essentially, "to justify God." Theodicy is how we try to get God off the hook, how we try to convince people that even though terrible things happen, God is still loving and still powerful.

Today I've been doing something that might be called Christodicy -- I've been trying to get Jesus off the hook. I've been trying to convince you that even though he first ignores this woman, and then tells her it's not his problem, and then calls her a Canaanite dog, he is still loving and compassionate. "He was just worn out," I've been saying. "He needed a break."

Surely you can sympathize. We have all said or done things we have regretted, and often we have said them or done them when we were tired, when we just weren't ourselves. That's the excuse I've been trying to make for Jesus today: he was tired; he wasn't himself.

And that's true, isn't it? Follow Jesus through the Gospels and you will see that it is his way, usually, to reach down into the depths of human misery to lift people up. The force that he used was humanizing rather than dehumanizing. And that's what makes this story so difficult. In it we see Jesus ignoring this woman, dismissing her, and finally insulting her. It isn't like him at all.

And maybe that's what we are supposed to learn from this story -- that ignoring, dismissing, or insulting a fellow human being is not Christlike behavior. When we see it in him it shocks us; we scramble to explain.

But what about when he sees it in us? Is he shocked by our behavior, or is it just what he has come to expect?

And that's something I learned from that Canaanite woman. No matter how much Jesus ignored her, dismissed her, insulted her, she never stopped believing that her daughter was worth something -- and, eventually, she convinced him that she was worth something too. Instead of seeing her as a Canaanite dog, he came to see her as a woman of great faith.

It may be only a coincidence, but at the end of this Gospel Jesus doesn't tell his followers to go and make disciples among the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He tells them to go and make disciples of every nation, including that nation where the Canaanite woman lived.

Is it possible that she persuaded him? That, while he was on vacation, Jesus learned that the love of God was big enough not only for the house of Israel, but for the whole human race? Is it possible he learned that among the people of the world there is no one we can ignore, dismiss, or insult, but that all people everywhere -- people of every class and race and culture -- are the children of God?

It sounds possible to me. It sounds like the truth. In fact, it sounds like the gospel truth.

-James Green Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Va. This column is adapted from a sermon he delivered there Aug. 17, 2008. Transcripts, audio and video files of this sermon are available on the church's website.

Opinion: On interpreting the Bible
By Alan Culpepper (725 words)

(Editor's Note: A column that Associated Baptist Press published Feb. 23, written by Miguel De La Torre and offering a novel take on one of the New Testament's most difficult passages, set off a lively discussion about biblical interpretation in the column's comments thread as well as across the Baptist blogosphere. We decided to take the opportunity to ask a seminary dean and a local-church pastor to provide their takes on how to interpret difficult passages of Scripture faithfully.)

(ABP) -- The story is told that when William Tyndale was a young man, a priest told him that it was better that the Bible was in Latin (a language only a few Englishmen could read) and that the church told people what to believe, so false teachings could be contained.

Tyndale responded, "If God spare my life, I will cause that the boy that driveth the plow shall know more Scripture than thou dost."

A revolution in human history started with that declaration. Tyndale translated the New Testament into English. His translation richly influenced the King James Version and later English translations, and English-speaking people have been able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves ever since.

But if we are not going to depend on a church official to tell us what the Bible means (remember the Baptist principles of freedom of conscience or "soul competence" and the priesthood of the believer!), then we face the task of interpreting the Bible for ourselves -- a challenge so daunting that we all need to approach it with a great deal of humility and seek all the help and guidance we can find.

Here are just a few suggestions about how to enrich your Bible study and how to work through the interpretation of difficult passages, hard texts and divisive issues:

1. Consult several translations. The King James is beautiful and irreplaceable, but it is Elizabethan English, and we have much more accurate Greek and Hebrew texts today. Read a translation like the New American Standard Bible that offers a word-for-word translation, a middle-of-the-road translation (in terms of whether the translators approached their task with an attempt to balance between literality and readability), like the New International Version, Revised Standard Version, or New Revised Standard Version, and a translation that translates meaning rather than words, like the Contemporary English Version or the New English Bible. By reading several translations you will get a clearer idea of the possible range of meanings.

2. Use a good study Bible, like the HarperCollins Study Bible or the New Oxford Annotated Bible. The notes at the bottom of the page are brief but valuable comments on the text. Learn to use the marginal or cross references to lead you to related passages.

3. Buy a good one-volume commentary on the Bible so that you will always have it handy. The Mercer Commentary on the Bible and the HarperCollins Bible Commentary will serve you well. When you need to go further, consult a good multi-volume commentary, like the New Interpreter's Bible, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, or any number of other fine commentaries. They will help you understand the issues, the history of interpretation, and the arguments for various interpretations.

4. Take a broad view. Look at the context of the passage. What is the historical setting, and what are the major themes of the book in which it appears?

5. Consult other passages in the Bible that speak on the same subject. The Bible often speaks differently to different settings, so we have to be very careful about taking any one passage to the exclusion of others on controversial social or ethical issues. Instead of planting our flag on just one verse, we need to consider everything the Bible says on a particular topic.

6. If the Bible says different things in different places, look for an ethical or theological progression. Ask yourself which verses reflect the grace and love of Jesus, or Jesus' uncompromising call to discipleship, most clearly? How does Jesus offer a context for understanding the Old Testament, and how did the early church interpret Jesus and his teachings? Where is the Bible crossing longstanding boundaries, and where is it simply echoing the culture of its day?

7. Seek the guidance of a pastor, teacher, or friend. None of us has all truth, and none of us is right all the time. Keep an open mind on subjects where the Scriptures are not clear, and above all pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most rewarding aspects of studying the Bible is that every time we work through a book or passage carefully, we gain insights we had never seen before. Thank God, even the "boy that driveth the plow" may hear a word the rest of us have missed.

- R. Alan Culpepper is dean of Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology.

Music review: Grace inside a sound -- U2, 'No Line on the Horizon'
By Steven R. Harmon (900 words)

(ABP) -- "This is the most thoroughly Christian thing they've done yet."

That was my initial reaction to the last two U2 albums in 2000 and 2004. In retrospect, that was just as true of the triad of albums U2 released in the 1990s, but I admit that wasn't what I thought on first listen to them. Their nuanced irony required a few more listens and a good bit of rewarding theological reflection to get there.

Once again, my early impression of No Line on the Horizon, to be released March 3 in the United States, has been, "This is the most thoroughly Christian thing they've done yet."

No Line on the Horizon is the 12th studio album by the Irish rock band U2. (Interscope Records)

Like the last two albums, No Line is much more overt in its Christian rendering of the world, what with lyrics like "Justified until we die/You and I will magnify/Oh, the Magnificent" from the album's second track. (So Bono is a fifth-point Calvinist. Who knew?) Yet what qualifies this album as thoroughly Christian is not so much its pervasive biblical/theological images as its overarching eschatological vision.

For those uninitiated in my profession's art of unclear communication, "eschatology" is the technical term for the division of theology that deals with "last things," from the Greek eschatos, "last," and logos, "ordered thought" about something. But eschatology isn't only about what happens at the end.

Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon Jr. helpfully defined eschatology much more broadly: it's "about what lasts; it is also about what comes last, and about the history that leads from the one to the other.."

In other words, eschatology has to do with God's goals for all creation, from creation to consummation and everything in between, as well as our participation in what God is doing to realize these goals in a world in which they are manifestly not yet realized.

U2's music has long occupied the tension between the present experience of what lasts -- "all that you can't leave behind" -- and the present absence of its full realization -- "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

The basic message of No Line is that earth is not yet heaven, and therefore the album summons us to "Get On Your Boots" and work toward the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven -- when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will at last be no line on the horizon.

Moving in that direction requires the triumph "of vision over visibility" ("Moment of Surrender"), an echo of an earlier formulation of the same insight: that the things that last and that come at the last constitute "a place that has to be believed to be seen" ("Walk On" from 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind). It also requires an inner transformation wrought by a receptive hearing of the voice of God ("Unknown Caller") and a faithful reception of the love of God which requires that one both "stand up" for it and "sit down" to receive it ("Stand Up Comedy").

The central eschatological metaphor of No Line is the sound of the divine song, heard only by those who have the ears to hear it, yet unconsciously sought by everyone, for all people were created to hear and sing this song. Seven of the album's 11 songs invoke that metaphor in one way or another. Key expressions of it are the lines "Let me in the me in the sound" from "Get On Your Boots," reprised at the beginning of "FEZ -- Being Born," and the concluding declaration of "Breathe," "I've found grace inside a sound."

Within this framework, No Line also calls our attention to the discordant dimensions of our world. For me the album's highlight is "White As Snow," set as the dying thoughts of a soldier fatally wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan to a melody loosely inspired by the medieval plainsong tune for the thoroughly eschatological hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The song's musical and narrative zenith, accompanied by crescendoing French horns, is the soldier's remembrance of his baptism, having received the forgiveness of "the lamb as white as snow." But he also remembers his post-baptismal life with regret, for neither his heart nor the hearts of others who have brought him, and the world, to this point have been "as white as snow."

The album's final song "Cedars of Lebanon," cast as the world-weary random musings of a foreign correspondent, closes with a question addressed to God -- "Where are you in the cedars of Lebanon?" -- and a warning: "Choose your enemies carefully 'cause they will define you/Make them interesting 'cause in some ways they will mind you." We're still asking the question voiced earlier in the album: "Where might we find the lamb as white as snow?"

The theologian in me can't resist pointing out that Karl Barth, who incidentally shared a May 10 birthday with Bono, likely would have resonated with this couplet from "Stand Up Comedy" in light of his aversion to rational apologetics: "But while I'm getting over certainty/Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady." And the laughing theologian probably would have chuckled in agreement with the assertion of "Get On Your Boots" that "laughter is eternity if joy is real."

Did I forget to mention that the sound U2 is now hearing and inviting others to hear sounds really, really good?

Steven R. Harmon is associate professor of divinity at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

Word of the Day - 2/27/2009


Pelf is money or wealth, especially when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means.

After betraying Jesus, a remorseful Judas threw his pelf into the temple before committing suicide.

And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas is "The Remorse of Judas" by Edward Armitage (1817-1896).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/27/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Thursday, February 26th, 2009

-On Thursday night, I attended Bible Study at Fellowship Evangelical Free Church for the second consecutive week. The class is entitled “I Corinthians: The Christian’s Guide for Living in a Hostile World” and meets from 7 PM-8:15 PM in the Fellowship Prayer Chapel. This week’s lesson on I Corinthians 5 was taught by Paul Hall. As usual, I enjoyed the experience.

-This week I took JTH with me. I love him but on this night he was the Bible Study participant from hell. Not only did his phone go off several times during the lesson but he also fell asleep at several junctures. This was made all the more obvious as he sat directly in front of the teacher! Ordinarily, I would make a humorous comment so that I could get the laughter out of my system but the subject matter did not lend itself to that. JTH’s explanation after the class? “I’ve always thought Bible studies are better with a table.” He insists the furniture makes it harder not to sleep! For all of you out there who lead Bible Studies, make a note of this.

-After the class, a well rested JTH and I met ALK at Applebees. We were also joined by ants. If you sit on the wall of the restaurant facing North Peters Road, be aware that there is a good chance your booth will be ant infested. Our waitress and friend, Amy, thought about moving us but figured that there would be ants throughout her section.

-ALK is well. She will begin training this weekend for a 25-mile bicycle event. She also finished Danielle Steel’s A Good Woman. (See this February 23rd “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” post for details.) It really did not get much better.

-I also heard the story of why Megan quit working at the restaurant. You may remember that I ran into the former Applebees hostess at O’Charley’s over the weekend. I asked her fellow hostess, Amanda, to relay an explanation. This proved quite awkward. It seems Megan asked Amanda to cover her shift on New Year’s Eve citing the need to visit family. She was caught in town and texted another employee admitting her ruse. When Amanda confronted her, she fled the restaurant crying. I would naturally ask the person who was involved in her quitting to relay the story of her leaving.

-In the biggest news from Monday, WCM has officially joined our church league basketball team. WCM and I grew up together in the church and I am very excited about renewing our friendship.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/27/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

-On Wednesday afternoon, JTH and I delivered my resume to PCR’s mother, LLR, at Norwood Baptist Church. She serves as the church’s secretary. I was pleased to find that the church has a great facility and is less than eight miles from my home.

-LLR gave us a tour of the building and an update on the status of the church. The pastor did leave but his departure was not as abrupt as I had been made to believe. A faction in the church decided it was time he left and pushed him until he did so. LLR and her husband have been members of the church for nineteen years but the previous Sunday represented their last as members of the church. She worked closely with the pastor and felt it was time to leave. LLR and her family’s withdrawal is not an isolated incidence. The church’s story is all too common and unfortunately churches seem to be the last to learn that “a house divided will not stand” (Mark 3:25).

-After a lengthy visit with LLR, JTH and I picked up lunch from Wishbone’s Famous Fingers & Wings and ate at the daycare he works at.

-On Wednesday night, MPW, RAW, and I went to the Tennessee basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena. Though it was logistically ridiculous, I drove west to Farragut to pick them up at RAW’s home and then back further east of where I started to attend the game. This way, I got to get a quick kiss from KJW while she ate. (She removed the cup to administer the kiss.) It was worth the massive detour.

-Earlier in the day, KJW was playing with her wand and transforming things from one object to another. Her mother, KLTW, then used the wand on KJW. She asked KJW what she turned into. KJW responded, “Jesus.” She then asked “What does Jesus say?” Answer: “Hi. I’m Jesus.” At least she is thinking about Jesus...

-We used our tickets to get into the game, but our seats were upgraded. JTL had four seats in section 110 that he acquired at work and he graciously allowed us sit with him. We sat directly behind the sound board. As you can see, our view was far better than it usually is as you can actually make out people on the court from this photo. JCT, who often sits with us in Section 317, sat with his father in the same row as we did. We also got to see CD, JKM, and MBR from church.

-The Vols played the Mississippi State Bulldogs at 9 PM in their next-to-last home game. The Bulldogs shot very well (especially in the second half) and their great free throw shooting (15 of 19) kept them in the game. The Vols pulled out a close win, 81-76. Bruce Pearl has never lost to the Bulldogs.

-Heavily hyped freshman Scotty Hopson had originally committed to play at Mississippi State. Against the team he could have played for, he scored a career-high 21 points and was selected as player of the game. It is worth noting that the rainbow jump shooter air balled another free throw, making it at least three on the season. Is that a record?

-The play of the game came when Brian Williams blocked a shot, caught the deflection and immediately whipped an unbelievable bounce pass the length of the court to Wayne Chism who caught and dunked the ball. Although all aspects of the play were impressive, we were most surprised that Chism actually caught the ball.

-Despite the fact that the Vols failed to score 90 or more points, fans in attendance did get a free chicken sandwich from Chick fil-A. These vouchers were given at the doors upon entry. We figured that the franchise had a certain budget for this season-long offer and since the Vols have only scored 90 at home twice, they had extra funding for the promotion. Whatever the reason, free poultry is always appreciated.

-At halftime the finals of a campus wide three-point shootout were conducted. (Evidently only recreation majors knew about the competition as all finalists seemed to be associated with that field.) The two male finalists tied at nine points while the girls contest was won 8-4. There were 30 possible points so the shooting was not overly impressive. Still, they did better than I would have. The winners won a game from EA Sports, who had representatives on hand to promote a basketball video game. Thompson-Boling Arena was voted one of the fifteen toughest places to play in college basketball and the student section received commemorative shirts indicating as such. Unfortunately, the student section was sparsely populated on the night they were honored for their participation.

-Tennessee sports legends Bernard King (basketball, 1974-1977) and Albert Haynesworth (football, 1999-2001) were in attendance and announced to the crowd. More importantly, church members WRW and SWW were featured on the “Kiss Cam”.

-After the game, MPW, RAW, and I were joined at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery by JTH and JDM. None of us had eaten there in some time. We would have eaten at Applebees but it was nearing their midnight closing time. Despite their being quite a few customers, Perkins had only one waitress on duty covering the entire restaurant. Despite suffering from a migraine, she performed well.

-We discussed the upcoming church league basketball season, which begins on March 2nd. JTH had many ideas for MPW as MPW will jump the tip-off for us to start games. Among JTH’s suggestions was for him to pants the opposing player. After numerous ideas and much prodding, the taciturn MPW finally said, “How ’bout you jump and you can do whatever you want.”

-I also learned that I had underestimated a MoFoS marketing ploy. When I am wrong, I am wrong and I can admit it. I scoffed at the notion of selling “collectible cars” in this February 25th “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” post. I learned that earlier in the night, De La Rosa had put a collectible car on hold. Why on hold, I do not know. I do not see the demand being so great that the store will run out of the items. Then again, I could be wrong again. I never dreamt one would sell at all.

-Finally, Wednesday, the legendary Ric Flair turned 60. Whooo!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/26/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 26, 2009 · (09-27)

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

In this issue
Increasingly, Baptists turning to the observation of Lent (1,087 words)
Arkansas guns-in-church bill dies in state Senate (595 words)
Opinion: The church: Always in need of reformation (795 words)

Increasingly, Baptists turning to the observation of Lent
By Bob Allen (1,087 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- Though traditionally viewed as a Catholic rite, increasing numbers of Baptists are discovering the discipline of Lent.

Belmont University, until recently affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, marked Feb. 25 with an Ash Wednesday service co-officiated by a Catholic bishop.

"As a Christian university, we are strengthened by marking the seasons of the Christian calendar," said Todd Lake, Belmont's vice president for spiritual development. "It is thanks to our sisters and brothers in the liturgical churches that we add these practices to our rich Baptist heritage at Belmont."

Growing from the free-church branch of Protestantism, Baptists traditionally have been highly suspicious of virtually all of the rituals associated with the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. That began to break down in recent decades as more Baptist (and other Protestant) churches began observing the season of Advent, the four Sundays immediately before Christmas. Some of those congregations also began to incorporate other parts of the liturgical calendar into their worship planning, including the 40-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter known as Lent.

It begins with Ash Wednesday, in which Christians are reminded of their mortality and their share in Jesus' death on the Cross.

As Advent is intended to prepare Christians by identifying with ancient Israel in its long anticipation of Christ's birth, so Lent is intended to prepare Christians by identify with his sufferings in preparation for the Resurrection. For hundreds of years, believers have practiced small acts of self-denial during Lent, such as giving up favorite foods or other habits they enjoy.

Bo Prosser, coordinator for congregational life with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said he sees interest in Lent growing in Baptist churches every year.

"It's not a program," he said. "It's an appreciation of liturgy."

Prosser incorporated an Ash Wednesday service into the ninth annual True Survivors conference for Christian educators held Feb. 23-25 in Orlando, Fla.

"I think it's the receiving of a blessing as you move into Lent that really has meaning for people," Prosser said.

"We're in the doldrums after Christmas, and now the economy is taking a hit, and I need somebody to say to me, 'This is going to be OK.' My pastor touches me and makes a sign of the cross and reminds me that God is with me," Prosser said. "I think it satisfies a need for a spiritual sign from God that God is still with us."

Not all Baptists are jumping on the bandwagon. Jim West, pastor of Petros Baptist Church in Petros, Tenn., said real Baptists don't observe Lent "because for Baptists repentance can't be confined to a mere 40-day period preceded by the most intense gluttony and occupied with the setting aside of trivial pleasantries and followed by a return to the same-old, same-old," he said.

"True repentance, real repentance, authentic repentance is a 365-and-1/4-day-a-year occupation which, if pretentiously or lightly observed, becomes nothing more than a joke and a charade and a mockery," West wrote in a blog. "That's who Baptists are.."

Randel Everett, who recently took over as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, reported receiving a mild rebuke when he suggested a season of prayer, fasting and repentance for Texas Baptists during Lent.

"After I had mentioned this idea at a pastors' conference, one of the pastors helpfully reminded me that I was no longer in Virginia but back in Texas, and our Baptist churches don't celebrate Lent," Everett wrote in a column for the Baptist Standard. "He is right. Some of our churches emphasize Advent, but not many mention Lent. So, I began to say, let's celebrate 40 days of prayer between the first day of deer season and Super Bowl Sunday. Use whatever calendar works for each church."

Seasons of prayer and self-denial are nothing new in the Baptist tradition. Southern Baptist churches observe a "Week of Prayer" leading up to annual offerings for both home missions and foreign missions that are promoted -- like Lent and Advent -- during the seasons leading up to Easter and Christmas.

The notion of a 40-day focus on renewal gained traction in evangelical circles with the runaway success of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, written in 2002.

Warren, a Southern Baptist pastor, explained in a 2006 newspaper interview why he chose to spread his devotional readings over 40 days.

"You don't feel comfortable in something till you've done it for six weeks," he said. "In 40 Days of Purpose, I was trying to get people to feel comfortable with daily reading, a weekly small group. Some things like these become habits. And, in the Bible, 40 days is used over and over and over in many examples."

"Noah was on the ark for 40 days," Warren said. "Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. When Jesus resurrected, he spent 40 days with his disciples. There are lots of 40 days in the Bible.

Today, it's interesting, a lot of Catholic churches count 40 days during Lent and a lot of Pentecostal churches count 40 days of Pentecost, after Easter."

New Baptist resources focus specifically on Lent. Passport, Inc., a student-ministry organization and partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, produces a web-based Lenten devotional called The Baptist Center for Ethics, another CBF partner, sells an online group study for Lent in PDF format that was produced in partnership with the Baptist World Alliance. Some churches write their own Lenten resources and share them with other churches on the CBF website.

Unbound by long traditions of Lent, some Baptist churches adapt the observation to custom-fit their particular congregational needs.

Steven Meriwether, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, recently moved to Tennessee from a church in New Orleans. He said he found it hard to observe Ash Wednesday without preceding revelry -- the season New Orleans observes as Carnival or Mardi Gras -- so he incorporated a Shrove Tuesday element into this year's Ash Wednesday service. The church's regular Wednesday-night meal featured a menu with hot pancakes. It was to be followed by a mini Mardi Gras parade with children before moving to the sanctuary for a service of hymns, prayer, confession and imposition of ashes for those who desire.

First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has observed Ash Wednesday for several years, but does not use ashes. Instead the pastor invites worshipers to pick up a small square of sackcloth (the other dominant symbol for penitence in the Bible) and use it in private devotions during the 40 days until Easter.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Arkansas guns-in-church bill dies in state Senate
By Bob Allen (595 words)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (ABP) -- A highly publicized bill that would have allowed worshipers to carry concealed weapons in Arkansas churches died Feb. 25 in the state Senate.

According to the Associated Press, the proposal to amend the state's concealed-weapons law to remove "any church or other place of worship" from a list of places where firearms are banned failed by a voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill, passed Feb. 11 by the Arkansas House of Representatives by a vote of 57-42, divided religious leaders, with pastors testifying both for and against the measure.

The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Beverly Pyle (R-Cedarville), said churches should have the option of deciding for themselves whether or not to allow firearms in their buildings. The Arkansas Concealed Carry Association said the issue was not whether weapons ought to be in church but rather the separation of church and state.

"The issue is that self-defense is a moral decision, and that decision should not be made for churches by the state," opined a blog entry on the group's website. "Churches have the freedom to make this decision free of government coercion."

The Legal Community Against Violence says 48 states and the District of Columbia allow carrying of concealed weapons. Twelve states and D.C. are "may-issue" states, where officials have discretion about whether to grant or deny a concealed-weapon permit, while 34 are "shall-issue" states, meaning law-enforcement officials must issue a permit to anyone who meets statutory criteria.

Most states that allow concealed weapons place restrictions on where they can be carried. The majority prohibit weapons in schools, government buildings and places where liquor is served. Fourteen states prohibit concealed weapons in places of worship.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the carrying of concealed weapons was prohibited or severely limited in most states prior to the mid-1990s. Then Second Amendment advocates, stunned by losses in enactment of the Brady Background Check Bill and Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1993 and 1994, made overhauling state gun laws the National Rifle Association's legislative priority.

In the United States about 30,000 people die each year from gun violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Legal Community Against Violence, a lawyer group formed after an assault weapon rampage that began at a law firm in San Francisco in 1993, says Americans own an estimated 270 million firearms -- about 90 guns for every 100 people.

Firearms are the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths nationwide, and firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans age 45 and younger.

About 5,000 people a year die from unintentional shootings, and 43 percent of suicides are committed with a firearm. Guns also increase the probability of death in incidents of domestic violence.

Firearm-related deaths and injuries cost $2.3 billion a year in medical bills, half of which are borne by taxpayers. Factoring in legal and societal costs, the legal center estimated the total annual cost of U.S. gun violence at $100 billion.

The sponsor of the failed Arkansas bill said she may try to submit the proposal again. On the same day the Senate killed the concealed-weapon bill, another Natural State lawmaker sought a measure making secret the list of people with concealed-handgun permits.

Rep. Randy Stewart (D-Kirby) filed legislation to make the names of license holders confidential and punish anyone who knowingly publishes them with up to $1,000 in fines and a year in prison.

The bill came in response to an online database to search for Arkansas handgun permits that has since been removed.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: The church: Always in need of reformation
By David Gushee (795 words)

(ABP) -- "And if we glance again at Jewish history and see the strangeness and absurdity of the Jew, his obnoxiousness which repeatedly made him odious among the nations -- and now you may give the anti-Semitic register full play -- what else does that mean but confirmation of this rejected Israel, which by God was made visible at the Cross, but also of the Israel with whom God keeps faith right through all stages of his wandering?"

Who said this? Martin Luther? David Duke? Richard Williamson, the controversial Holocaust-denying bishop?

None of the above. These words come from Karl Barth, probably the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century. In this same essay, drawn from 1946 lectures offered in a bombed-out Bonn university and published under the title Dogmatics in Outline, Barth writes: "Alongside the Church there is still a Synagogue, existing upon the denial of Jesus Christ and on a powerless continuation of Israelite history, which entered upon fullness [in Jesus Christ] long ago." And of God's relationship to Israel, Barth says: "He has never ceased to lead by cords of love this people which to His face has behaved like a whore." And: "It was no accidental matter ... that here in Germany it was said that 'Judah is the enemy.' We may say this and in some circumstances we must say it; but let us be quite sure what we are doing."

Think of when these words were spoken -- the summer of 1946! World War II had been over for one year. National Socialism had collapsed; its leaders were dead, missing or facing trials. But the regime had lasted long enough to murder six million Jews. How in the world could one of the church's most astute theologians say such things in the shadow of the catastrophe that had just befallen the Jewish people?

It is not as if Barth was unaware of that catastrophe. It runs like a subtext throughout this chapter. Israel for Barth is indeed God's chosen people. Israel is "the rock of the work and revelation of God." Nazism's attack on the Jews was therefore an attack on "the nation that embodies in history the free grace of God for us all." But this divine grace carries with it the sad necessity of being "a people in God's service," with a prophetic, priestly and kingly mission, which often involves "surrender ... even unto death" in the service of God. And the fact that, according to Barth, Israel has resisted its election and mission and, most significantly, "handed [Jesus] over to Pilate to be killed" means that Israel has "pronounce[d] its own condemnation" and is therefore "continually struck down and broken by the judgment which afflicts him just because he withdraws from grace."

Karl Barth resisted Nazism. He led theological efforts to resist the Nazification of the German church. He fled Germany rather than cooperate with that evil regime. History has judged him to be one of the very best leaders German Christianity had during the struggle for its soul in the early 1930s.

And yet, Barth left published words that are breathtaking and terrible; at least, they must seem that way to anyone who takes seriously the long history of Christian theological anti-Judaism and cultural/political anti-Semitism and its contribution to the Holocaust. As of 1946, at least, he had not reconsidered his theology of Israel in light of the grotesque evil of the Holocaust. (The book was published in English in 1959. Even 14 more years did not lead to a revision.)

Here is the point. Ecclesia semper reformanda -- in English, "The church is always in need of reformation."

It is a Lutheran slogan that would have been well known to Karl Barth himself. But Barth did not fully assimilate its implications when it came to how he talked about Jews and Judaism. His writing reveals evidence not just of a long Christian history of interpreting the Jewish people as God's reprobate elect who suffer for their rejection of Christ, but also shows traces of the anti-Semitic Nazi culture that, in so many profound ways, he had led in resisting.

If this could happen even to Karl Barth, one of the church's very best thinkers, what might that say about the rest of us? What are our blind spots? Where might we be in need of reformation?

This is a word that ought to speak to those hard-shelled traditionalists who have allowed their version of Christian faith to calcify and resist needed reformation prompted by new times, new tragedies and new insights. But it is also a word to those soft-shelled modernists who have allowed their version of Christian faith to stray from core convictions that must be held steadfastly in all times and places.

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

Word of the Day - 2/26/2009


Redolence means having a pleasant odor; fragrant.

At the outset of the Song of Solomon, the speaker compliments her lover's redolence.

“Your oils have a pleasing fragrance,
Your name is like purified oil;
Therefore the maidens love you. (Song of Solomon 1:3, NASB)

Note: This image is an interpretation of Song of Solomon by contemporary artist He Qi.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/25/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 25, 2009 · (09-26)

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

In this issue
Supreme Cout: Sect can't force Utah city to erect monument (728 words)
Obama, in first address to Congress, focuses on economy, justice goals (763 words)
BGCT officials authorize potential use of emergency reserve funds (575 words)
CBF partner groups adjust to contingency spending cuts (971 words)
Parachurch groups not yet feeling economy's pinch, survey says (448 words)

Supreme Court: Sect can't force Utah city to erect monument
By Robert Marus (728 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- In a groundbreaking, but limited, free-speech case handed down Feb. 25, the Supreme Court said the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah, can't be forced to accept the gift of a monument to a small religious sect's precepts -- even though the town already displays a donated monument to the Ten Commandments in its city-owned Pioneer Park.

But, in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (No. 07-665) the opinion of a unanimous court also made clear the decision turned on whether the Decalogue monument was government speech or private speech -- not on the religious content of the speech itself. That means the existing monument could still be open to a challenge under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bans government endorsement of religion.

"The parties' fundamental disagreement thus centers on the nature of petitioners' conduct when they permitted privately donated monuments to be erected in Pioneer Park. Were [city officials] engaging in their own expressive conduct? Or were they providing a forum for private speech?" wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the court's opinion.

The decision overturns an earlier one by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of the lower court had said the sect, called Summum, has as much right to erect a monument in the park as the Fraternal Order of Eagles did in the 1960s, when it donated the Ten Commandments monument.

Leaders of the sect, based in nearby Salt Lake City, asked Pleasant Grove officials in 2003 to display the monument to the "Seven Aphorisms of Summum," which the 33-year-old group says were also handed to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Decalogue.

The Aphorisms include such sayings as, "Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates."

The courts have long established that government entities providing public forums for private speech -- such as speakers' corners in city parks -- cannot discriminate in what sorts of speech are allowed. But Alito said the Ten Commandments monument and other privately donated displays in the park have effectively become government speech, and therefore the city can refuse to endorse some messages.

"The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech; it does not regulate government speech," Alito wrote. "There may be situations in which it is difficult to tell whether a government entity is speaking on its own behalf or is providing a forum for private speech, but this case does not present such a situation. Permanent monuments displayed on public property typically represent government speech."

Several justices wrote separate concurrences limiting the effect of Alito's opinion.

Justice David Souter, who concurred only in the judgment overall and not in Alito's reasoning, noted that the case is one of the first in which the relatively new government-speech doctrine has been illuminated regarding public monuments. But, he envisioned situations in which the doctrine may come into conflict with existing court precedent on the Establishment Clause.

"After today's decision, whenever a government maintains a monument it will presumably be understood to be engaging in government speech," Souter wrote. "If the monument has some religious character, the specter of violating the Establishment Clause will behoove it to take care to avoid the appearance of a flat-out establishment of religion.... In such an instance, there will be safety in numbers, and it will be in the interest of a careful government to accept other monuments to stand nearby, to dilute the appearance of adopting whatever particular religious position the single example alone might stand for. As mementoes and testimonials pile up, however, the chatter may well make it less intuitively obvious that the government is speaking in its own right simply by maintaining the monuments."

Some supporters of church-state separation, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to take up the church-state issues the case raised.

"Because of the peculiarities of Tenth Circuit jurisprudence, Summum couched its legal claims principally in the language of free speech and viewpoint discrimination," the brief said. "The proper locus of its complaint is, however, the Establishment Clause -- which the Founders intended to serve as the principal bulwark against the government's resort to rank denominational prejudice."

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

Obama, in first address to Congress, focuses on economy, justice goals
By Robert Marus (763 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- In his first address to a joint session of Congress Feb. 24, President Obama focused squarely on the economic crisis that faces the United States and related problems with health care, education funding and fossil-fuel dependency.

"We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy, yet we import more oil today than ever before," said Obama near the beginning of his 50-minute-long address. "The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for."

In his first of what will be an annual speech to Congress -- which isn't referred to as a "State of the Union" report until the president has been in the office for a year -- Obama largely steered clear of many of the controversial social issues that often marked the speeches of his predecessor.

Obama said any response to the economic crisis must include public investment in the nation's crumbling public-services structure. He defended the trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package that passed Congress a week and a half before with only nominal Republican support and promised to deliver to Congress a budget proposal that includes spending for programs he said were designed to invest in America's future.

"I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves, that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity, for history tells a different story," Obama said. "History reminds us that, at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas."

"That is why, even as it cuts back on programs we don't need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education."

One of the few specific proposals Obama called for in the speech was designed to battle global warming. The president asked Congress for "legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America." He also requested $15 billion to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

On health care, Obama praised Congress for expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), providing an estimated 11 million children with health coverage. The quip inspired one of the evening's few partisan moments, when conservative Republicans -- who largely opposed SCHIP expansion because they feared it would encourage some middle-class families to switch from private to public insurance -- sat in stony silence while Democrats and moderate Republicans applauded.

Nonetheless, Obama demanded further government investment in health-care reform, saying it was overdue and necessary for economic progress.

"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. Once again, it will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and our conscience long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year," he said, to bipartisan applause.

On the issue of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama promised a significant reduction in American troops in the former country, and a commitment to fighting the war on terror in a way that upholds the nation's ideals.

He reiterated his decision to close the controversial prison for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as executive orders banning torture of detainees in U.S. custody.

Obama said he made those decisions: "because living our values doesn't make us weaker. It makes us safer, and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture. We can make that commitment here tonight."

Delivering the opposition party's traditional rebuttal, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said Obama was placing too much faith in government solutions to the nation's pressing problems.

"Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts," said Jindal, a Roman Catholic, the nation's first Indian-American governor and a favorite of many conservative Christians. "The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens."

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

BGCT officals authorize potential use of emergency reserve funds
By Ken Camp (575 words)

DALLAS (ABP) -- The Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board has granted the state convention's treasurer permission to tap up to $2.5 million in emergency-reserve funds this year.

Chief Financial Officer Jill Larsen reported Texas Cooperative Program receipts in January totaled only $4.3 million -- 78.9 percent of budget requirements and 88.2 percent of the same month's receipts last year.

According to board policies, Larsen said, the emergency funds are set aside from previous years' receipts for use in times of severe economic disruption or depression.

"While February receipts appear to be stronger, we are very concerned about the effect of the recession on our churches and their giving," Larsen wrote in a memo send to the board prior to their Feb. 24 meeting.

The balance in the reserve fund -- invested with the Baptist Foundation of Texas -- at the end of December was $7.895 million.

If the reserves are tapped, those funds will need to be repaid, Larsen noted.

"I don't really think the sky is falling," she told the board, adding she believes the convention is "well-positioned for the economic downturn."

BGCT investments dropped $40.9 million in 2008, with $34.2 million of the decrease due to market decline, Larsen reported.
Larsen commended BGCT Executive Board staff for their efforts in controlling expenses and living within resources, noting actual budget expenditures for 2008 totaled $44.7 million -- well below both the originally approved $49.8 million budget and the $45.6 million adjusted budget.

However, she also reported a customer-relations management system approved for purchase last year at about $1.49 million significantly exceeded budget. At the end of December, total costs were $2.14 million.

The system enables the BGCT to track church information such as giving records, contact information for staff members and statistics reported annually by churches to the convention. When fully implemented, it also will provide workflow management for church-starting projects, allow online registration for events and track product sales and inventories for resources.

Nestor Menjivar, pastor of Iglesia Principe de Paz in Austin, asked how the system could have gone more than 50 percent over budget, adding, "It doesn't sound like we did a very good job of controlling costs on this project."

Larsen noted several cost overruns -- $100,000 in licensing fees, $42,000 in imaging software and, primarily, $484,000 in consulting fees. Both Executive Board staff and consultants "underestimated the complexity" of the task, and it consequently "took a great deal more time" than originally projected, she said.

Fred Roach of Richardson, chairman of the board's finance subcommittee, noted the original projection included only basic equipment costs, and the board was told to anticipate some additional costs. The project actually exceeded anticipated expenses by about 20 percent, rather than 50 percent, he said.

Twin themes -- concern about the current economic situation and an urgent desire to share a message of hope -- continued to emerge throughout the board's meeting in Dallas.

"The economy is bad and could get worse," BGCT president David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon, acknowledged.
"We know our convention, our state and our nation are facing significant challenges. But if we are not a people of hope, how can we share hope?" he asked.

God may use times of economic instability to remind people of their need to trust in him rather than in material resources, he suggested.

"Bad times may be the best of times for the kingdom of God," he said.

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

CBF partner groups adjust to contingency spending cuts
By Bob Allen (971 words)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) -- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner agencies commenting on an anticipated 30 percent cut in CBF funding over the next 19 months took the news in stride.

The CBF Coordinating Council recently announced spending cuts of 20 percent off of their current budget, anticipating reduced income due to the current economic recession. A significant part of the cuts would come from CBF funding for theology schools and CBF partners -- independent ministries, including Associated Baptist Press, that receive a portion of their funding through CBF. Their contributions from CBF would be slashed by 30 percent from the current budget.

"We are aware that these cuts will impact our partners," CBF Moderator Jack Glasgow said in a news release. Since CBF by policy will not provide more than 25 percent of any partner's total budget, he said the largest possible impact on any such organization would be 7.5 percent of their total budget. "It is our intent that these reductions will not be an undue burden to their ministries," Glasgow said.

Associated Baptist Press, which published a story about the CBF cuts Feb. 20, sent a bulk e-mail message to heads of most of the entities affected by the cut inviting comment with a deadline for response. Those that replied said they recognize financial realities and expect to weather the storm.

"I commend the Coordinating Council's efforts to be proactive in response to declining receipts in recent months," said David Wilkinson, ABP's executive director. "The impact of the global economic crisis is forcing all of us to make difficult and painful budgetary decisions."

ABP has been included in every CBF budget since 1991. CBF currently provides about one-fifth of ABP's funding, and the contingency plan calls for reducing that amount by $33,000 in the current and following budget years.

Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said news of the cuts "is not at all surprising."

"We are all confronting financial realities in churches, community agencies, schools and other non-profits nationwide," Leonard said. He noted all the money the seminary receives from CBF goes directly to scholarships, so students will be the ones most directly affected. Leonard said Wake Forest "is grateful for any funding that CBF can provide" and expressed hope "that these realities do not deepen in the next few years."

Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said, "These are challenging times for all charitable organizations."

"We appreciate CBF's faithful support over the years," he continued. "This cut in funding is a reminder of the importance of our partnership with CBF. But the vital work of the Baptist Joint Committee, protecting religious liberty for all, will go on -- as will the partnership."

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said the decision to cut the agency's CBF funding from $60,000 to $42,000 would not curtail programming related to primary objectives in 2009, including an already launched redesign of the website.

"We think our continued productivity will be good for CBF in general and goodwill Baptists in particular," Parham said. "Now is not the time to retreat from the moral imperative to do justice and the call to advance the common good."

Charles Deweese, executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, applauded the CBF "for taking steps to protect its financial viability," a move he said "reflects common sense and integrity."

"Even though the Baptist History and Heritage Society may sustain a temporary decline in funding because of our CBF-partner relationship, we will attempt to make up that loss by exploring other channels of giving," he said. "We are all in this thing together."

Curtis Freeman, director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, said the house doesn't receive any direct funding from CBF. "This may affect the number of student scholarships, though we haven't been informed," he said.

Robert Canoy, dean of the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, said his school has 11 students classified as CBF Scholars that receive some scholarship money, but he had not heard if their scholarships had been reduced.

Glasgow said the CBF planned to communicate specific amounts being cut in letters to partners and theology schools.
Wilkinson, who attended the Feb. 19-20 Coordinating Council meeting where the contingency plan was announced, said he looks forward to receiving more details.

"I'm not sure I understand the rationale for a 19-month contingency plan that reduces funding for CBF's partners by 30 percent since those allocations are already based on a percentage of CBF's budget," Wilkinson said. "If CBF's receipts were to fall to as much as 70 percent of budgeted income, then each partner would receive only 70 percent of its budgeted CBF allocation. I would have hoped for a more measured response that would have alerted CBF's partners to the year-to-date shortfall in receipts and to the possibility that adjustments in allocations for 2009-2010 may have to be considered. That would have allowed time to factor likely reductions into our budgets for next year while also adjusting as necessary to below-budget receipts for the current year. It's also unclear what the process will be for restoring allocations to partner organizations in the event that receipts for the year end up above the 70 percent level."

In the meantime, Wilkinson said, "I know that ABP's staff and board of directors is committed to working alongside CBF and other Baptist organizations to be faithful stewards of every dollar contributed by churches and individuals."

CBF receives about $16 million a year from individuals and 1,900 churches. Those funds both support CBF ministries -- including a global missionary force of 135 and an approximately 60-member staff -- and supplement budgets of 15 theology schools and numerous partner ministry organizations.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Parachurch groups not yet feeling economy's pinch, survey says
By Bob Allen (448 words)

WINCHESTER, Va. (ABP) -- Faith-based charities haven't been hit as hard by the economic downturn as expected, says a new survey by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The ECFA, established in 1979 to accredit Christian non-profit organizations that model standards of financial accountability, polled members in January to gauge the economy's impact on charitable giving.

A recent survey by another organization, the National Association of Church Business Administration, found 57 percent of local congregations had experienced a slowdown in contributions.

So far that decline hasn't filtered down to parachurch ministries, however. Nationwide, nearly three quarters (72 percent) of organizations responding to the ECFA said they exceeded, met or came close to their fourth-quarter contribution goals in 2008.

Dan Busby, acting president of ECFA, said many parachurch ministries reported small donations between $10 and $100 were relatively unaffected and in some cases actually increased. Some said with widespread humanitarian concerns related to the recession, ministries that serve the poor believe they will see less impact on giving than other organizations.

That doesn't mean faith-based charities are immune to the economy. Forty-one percent said they froze or delayed salary increases due to the economic downturn, 38 percent froze or reduced hiring and 18 percent laid off staff. One in 10 (11 percent) reduced salary levels, while 4 percent moved to four-day work weeks.

Half (53 percent) said they had cut travel or conference expenses. Thirty percent cut or delayed capital projects, and about a quarter reduced programming (27 percent), cut consulting fees (23 percent), postponed or cut back on computer upgrades (23 percent) or considered outsourcing to save costs and increase efficiency (22 percent).

About one in 10 said they had considered borrowing from restricted funds or a bank, selling assets or restructuring debt.
Half (50 percent) said they had lost between 15 percent and 30 percent of their investment value, and 17 percent said investment losses topped 30 percent.

More than half (53 percent) said they had stepped up one-on-one contact with key donors. Smaller percentages reported structural changes like increased partnering (22 percent), considered merging (5 percent) or planned for the possibility of shutting down (2 percent).

Busby said most ECFA member ministries expect 2009 to be more challenging, because many major donors who made gifts in 2008 said they may not be able to renew their financial commitments because of the economy.

"But for leadership and staff members, this is ministry, not a job," Busby said. "Despite challenges, most remain committed to making positive operational and structural decisions, including developing contingency plans, which will enable them to continue to carry out God's purpose despite limited resources."

More than 300 parachurch ministries participated in the ECFA survey.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

The Feb. 24 ABP story, "St. Louis church committed to its urban neighborhood for good, for God," incorrectly identified its author as John Rutledge. Jennifer Harris wrote the story. Harris is a news writer for Word & Way, the historic Missouri Baptist newspaper.

WAM Quote of the Day - 2/25/2009

At 3:21 PM, I received the following text from WAM:

“Mai kung-fu iz teh 1337”

Not surprisingly my response was, “What does that mean?” From the response I received, I believe this message was an indication that WAM is returning to martial arts full-time. I will admit, I am not 100% certain.

Word of the Day - 2/25/2009


Maculation is 1. the act of spotting. 2. a spotted condition. 3. a marking of spots, as on an animal. 4. a disfiguring spot or stain.

Jacob made a bargain with Laban that he would continue working for him if he could keep every sheep stricken with maculation.

"let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages." (Genesis 30:32, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas, "Jacob with the Flock of Laban" by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), hangs in the National Gallery in London.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/25/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

-I spent Tuesday morning at the Hope Resource Center. My 9 AM appointment turned out to be a girl. Actually, she was always female, she just has an androgynous name, and I had been misinformed. Thankfully, my 10 AM arrived early and went well. I took this photo of the carpet in the facility’s main room as I saw a man with a goatee wearing an ornamented hat in the floral design. Does anyone else see it?

-At 4 PM, I met MLM at IHOP. It was National Pancake Day. This event combines two of my favorite concepts, free and pancakes. All patrons are entitled to three free pancakes. Donations are accepted for the Children’s Miracle Network. We arrived just before a throng of high school students did but even with good timing, the restaurant was already out of clean cups. No, we did not drink from dirty glasses. The waitress provided to-go cups.

-It was good to see MLM. We met in part so I could get the curriculum to teach the college department on March 8th. I will be teaching on Isaiah 5. Please keep that lesson in your prayers.

-On Wednesday night, I made a quick visit to MoFoS to see JTH. When I arrived, JTH and JDK were rearranging the clearance aisle for the umpteenth time. At times, working at MoFoS is like moving a pile of dirt in the military from one side of the camp to the other and back for no apparent reason.

-MoFoS has diversified. They are now selling “collectible cars”. For $9.99 (+ tax) the buyer receives the car of her choice and a copy of RedLine on DVD. It seems one of JBT’s friends is in need of money and this was the solution the two derived.

-I left MoFoS relatively quickly for two reasons: 1. To hear Barack Obama’s Presidential Address and 2. because the most indecisive man on the planet (LFS) returned to the store and I did not wish to review every film in the store for him. See this February 6th “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” post for an explanation.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/25/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Monday, February 23rd, 2009

-I spent Monday night with KLTW, KJW, and RAW. When I arrived RAW was working on well, work, and KLTW was completing a take home test online. This meant that I was responsible for KJW. I was not disappointed. (Note: This is not KJW sleeping. She is only pretending to sleep. This pose lasted less than five seconds before she began laughing.)

-KJW was well behaved for the most part but did pitch a couple of fits. It seems her aunt, PWC, kept her during the day and did not have the child take a nap as she was being good. Unfortunately, when she returned said child, she was not well rested. I think there is a lesson in there somewhere about short term gains and long term benefits...

-At her request, KJW and I played in her castle. As she was playing with yellow and blue (plastic toy) knives, I asked her what color the two would make if combined as she has a video that covers this material. (I cannot resist a teachable moment.) She then asked, “What do yellow and pink make?” Anyone?

-At one point, I snuck KJW’s beloved Frannie Bear from her. After telling me, “Swiper, no swiping!"” (a Dora the Explorer
reference) she explained, “I need that for the parade.” I then asked where the parade was. She responded, “It’s in here (in the castle) .” I had not even noticed that the parade was going on as we spoke. I think that is how the Kingdom of God works.

-After finishing her test, KLTW prepared KJW’s lunch for preschool the next day, she asked herself, “Where is the apple cutter?” (It is not that uncommon for KLTW to talk to herself.) KJW responded, “Apple? Did somebody say apple?”

-It was a good night with The Buddy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/24/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 24, 2009 · (09-25)

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

In this issue
Yearbook notes membership declines for Catholics, Southern Baptists (822 words)
St. Louis church committed to its urban neighborhood for good, for God (1,127 words)
Baptists, liquor store owners united against Tennessee proposal (504 words)
Opinion: God and guns (1,070 words)

Yearbook notes membership declines for Catholics, Southern Baptists
By Bob Allen (882 words)

NEW YORK (ABP) -- The nation's two largest Christian denominations are experiencing slight but statistically significant membership declines, according to the latest edition of the National Council of Churches' Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

Released Feb. 23, the 77th annual compilation of church statistics reports membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent last year. It also reported a 0.24 percent drop in the Southern Baptist Convention's membership.

Roman Catholics are still America's largest denomination, with 67 million members. Southern Baptists still rank second, with 16.2 million. Given the groups' respective sizes, neither decline is earth-shattering, authors of the study said. But the report raises eyebrows because both groups have in the past grown steadily but now may be joining virtually every mainline church in experiencing persistent membership decline.

According to the 2009 Yearbook, just four of the 25 largest faith groups grew last year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is up 1.63 percent, to 5.8 million members in North America. The Assemblies of God are up 0.96 percent, to 2.8 million members. Jehovah's Witnesses grew 2.12 percent and now number 1.09 million. The Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) is up 2.04 percent, to 1.05 million.

According to membership figures compiled by churches in 2007 and reported to the Yearbook in 2008, the Catholic Church lost 398,000 members in a year, while Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000.

Churches with the highest rate of membership loss include the United Church of Christ (down 6 percent,) the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (down 3.1 percent) and the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.79 percent.

While still losing members, the American Baptist Churches USA cut its previous decline rate in half, from 1.82 percent to 0.94 percent.

Overall membership in the top 25 groups declined 0.49 percent, to about 146 million.

Eileen Lindner, editor of the 2009 Yearbook, said the annual ranking is often viewed as a gauge for relative vitality of communions reporting either increases or declines in membership, but in reality counting those numbers "is a rather imprecise art."

Some churches, Lindner said in a title essay published in the new Yearbook, count children who are baptized as infants as members, while others wait until they are confirmed. Still others rely on a "born-again" experience or "believer's baptism" for counting members.

Some churches, particularly Orthodox and African-American communions, estimate their membership based on numbers of their constituents living in a community. The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., sixth-largest faith group with 5 million members; National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., with 3.5 million members and ranked No. 8; and Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., ranked 11th with 2.5 million members, all fall under that category.

Further complicating the picture, Lindner said, many church members relocate, join other congregations or drop out of church without removing their names from the rolls. Some traditions, by assessing dues based on the number of parishioners, encourage local churches to cull their membership rolls regularly. But others, like those that reward numerical growth, encourage padding.

Non-denominational and megachurch congregations often permit or encourage people to attend but not join. Emergent-church fellowships don't always place emphasis on formal membership, but may instead measure church effectiveness by the number of meals served or other forms of ministry.

Studies show younger generations are either mistrustful of institutions or find them irrelevant, making them less likely to join a church.

Lindner said all this calls for rethinking church membership as a measure of congregational health.

In the 1960s, for example, growth of evangelical churches while mainline churches declined prompted some to believe that conservative churches grow because they maintain traditional teaching and place high expectations on members while liberal churches, by nature, become secularized and tepid.

Later studies attributed those patterns to demographics, suggesting that higher birth rates and younger memberships explain growth and decline better than theology.

Still others said declining numbers forecast a gradual secularization of American culture similar to what happened in Europe following World War II.

"Today it appears that another dimension of this discussion has been opened," Lindner wrote. "Now a variety of expressions of church has become a part of the American religious landscape, and these expressions have begun to alter, once again, the place of numerical assessment of patterns of religious affiliations."

"Whether or not church membership counts remain the most common measure of church vitality in the long term may be open to question," she wrote. "There is little doubt that the topic of church membership and its meaning are undergoing a review in the life and organization of many church bodies."

She said Rick Warren, for example, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, has reasserted the importance of membership by developing an elaborate "Covenant of Membership" for those who would affiliate with his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

The 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches is available for order at

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

St. Louis church committed to its urban neighborhood for good, for God
By John Rutledge (1,127 words)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- With 12,000 theater seats, 12 galleries and museums and more than 1,500 cultural events each year, St. Louis' Grand Center neighborhood is an arts lover's dream. In the heart of the historic midtown neighborhood stands Third Baptist Church, a congregation determined to be "in the city for good."

Third Baptist is a place of diversity. On any given Sunday, the congregation includes everyone from the homeless to millionaires, a variety of colors and ages. "It's not something we advertise or try to be," Pastor Warren Hoffman said. "It's just who we are."

The church has stood on the corner of Grand and Washington boulevards for nearly 125 years, and has been a part of St. Louis for nearly 160 years. When it first moved to its current location the church was on the far west end of town, said Leslie Limbaugh, minister of students and communication.

Since that time, the church has watched the demographics of the neighborhood change several times. They included the bustling days of 1920 to 1950, when streetcars passed the church, which grew to over 6,000 under the pastorate of C. Oscar Johnson; to the decline of the area, when many St. Louisans flocked to the suburbs; to the rebirth of the district as an arts mecca in recent years.

In the midst of decline, the church received an offer of land in the suburbs but voted to remain in the city. "We suffered with the city as it bled," Hoffman said.

The church's history of commitment to the city influences what it is today. "It's in the DNA of this congregation; there is more elasticity," Hoffman said.

Today, Grand Center's boosters describe the neighborhood as "a playground for the senses, full of exotic sights, amazing sounds, tantalizing smells and tastes and overwhelming feelings. We are the center of all that feeds the mind, body and soul."

Third Baptist believes their role at Grand and Washington is to be a good neighbor, providing the "fragrance of Christ" in the neighborhood.

To accomplish that role, the church practices hospitality. "We want people to feel welcome here, no matter their station in life. We want to be a safe and worshipful place," Limbaugh said.

This means that members and visitors don't stress about what to wear, what is put in the offering plate or what others pay for supper.

There is no "looking over the shoulder of self-righteousness," Hoffman said. "After four or five years ago," when the church was in survival mode after years of decline, he said, "we don't have the luxury of that."

If an individual or family can't pay for Wednesday night dinner or a church activity, a wink or nod from the pastoral staff will signal their ability to participate.

"We don't make a big deal out of it, but we make it [participation] happen," Limbaugh said. "We work to make sure everyone feels included and engaged. I'm sure it doesn't always work, but most of the time we are successful."

Limbaugh said she likes the fact that the lines and tables during Wednesday-night suppers display the church's diversity. "This is what God's kingdom will look like," she said.

Hospitality isn't limited to people attending church functions, however. Church staff members partner with Grand Center and other community organizations to keep a finger on the pulse of the neighborhood.

"When we hear of somebody else doing something, we ask 'couldn't we walk alongside and do this?' Or, 'could we piggyback on this event and do that?'" she said.

The church offers their building for community events -- sometimes as a concert venue or art space, other times as a place for dance troupes to change clothes. "We have a big space on prime real estate," Limbaugh said. The neighborhood "looks for venues for events, and sometimes we can provide that."

During these events, volunteers from the church act as greeters as well as security, crowd-control and concession workers.

Hoffman acknowledges that most of those who participate in the Grand Center events never will come to worship services. But by being hospitable, he said, Third is displaying the fragrance of Christ.

"We are still a missional place," he said. "We see the call to serve right around us, not just to send dollars to others to do it for us."

The church is home to a tutoring program, staffed mainly by local college students. Third has also served as a host for the local elementary school's summer-school program. This past summer, the church offered to provide an hour of arts education for each day of summer school. Third utilized its connections in the neighborhood to introduce various forms of music, performance and visual arts.

Hoffman invited the school principal to participate in the Sunday worship service on several occasions, to emphasize the church's commitment to the school. Recently, the principal came forward to join the church. "That was totally unexpected," Hoffman said.

With the variety of programs and partnerships with neighbors, "the building is well-used again," said Hoffman. The church was able to re-open an entire wing of the facility that had been closed due to lack of use. But now, the pastor said, "We need the space."

Last year, for the first time in decades, Third gained more members than it lost. "We knew the church had reached a turn-around, but this was a demonstrative display," Hoffman said. While he has no "grandiose vision of thousands" in worship, he believes the church will continue to grow.

Both Limbaugh and Hoffman agreed Third Baptist is what it is today because the church stays true to who it is.

In worship, that means being a "different type of contemporary." Praise and worship songs may not find a home in the service, but the church pulls from contemporary traditions such as Taizé and jazz. The sanctuary features a full pipe organ, and once a month the pastors wear clerical robes.

"I don't preach from the Lectionary, but we do follow the church calendar," Hoffman said, quick to note that they aren't tied to any particular liturgical trappings.

"We are still Baptists," he said. "We are free to do it [wear robes and follow the traditional Christian calendar], and we are free not to."

"The niche is smaller, but you have to be who you are," he said.
Limbaugh said the church really is blessed to have the facility that past generations built and maintained. "We are able to say: 'We have this building. What can we do here?'"

"This is who we are and where we are," she said. "And we're having fun."

"People know where they are loved," Hoffman added. "There is an oasis, a family here. It's hard to describe, but it feels good; it feels right."

John Rutledge is webmaster for the Texas Baptist Standard.

Baptists, liquor-store owners unite against Tennessee proposal
By Bob Allen (504 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- They might seem like unlikely allies, but booze peddlers and Southern Baptists are teaming up in opposition to proposed legislation that would allow the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores in Tennessee.

Currently Tennessee allows the sale of beer, but not wine, in food stores. Grocers are backing bills introduced in the Tennessee Legislature to create a new class of liquor license allowing the sale of wine at retail food stores in counties and towns that already permit package liquor sales.

The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association posted an online petition for consumers to sign up to support wine sales at stores.

Tennessee Consumers for Fair Wine Laws also support the measure, saying competition with other retail wine sales would result in lower costs for customers as well as an increase in the number of wine varieties and brands available.

Opponents say more than 500 independent liquor stores in the state would stand to lose half their business, jeopardizing jobs of the 3,000 people they employ. State law does not allow liquor stores to sell beer.

Recently the editor of Baptist & Reflector, newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, weighed in with an editorial urging the state's Baptists to oppose the bill as well.

"I find it ironic (even funny) that Baptists would be on the same side as the liquor industry, but it is true in this case, even though for totally different reasons," Editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote in an editorial reprinted Feb. 22 in The Tennessean, Nashville's main daily newspaper.

Wilkey said increasing the number of outlets selling alcohol would allow easier access to wine for those who shouldn't have it, including teenagers and alcoholics.

"Research has shown that increasing the number of outlets selling alcohol leads to more addiction, violent crime, underage drinking and car crashes," Wilkey wrote. "That's not only research-proven, it's just plain common sense."

Tennessee is one of a number of states currently considering loosening restrictions on liquor sales as a way to boost tax revenues. Georgia, Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, Alabama and Minnesota are all considering legislation that would end the ban on Sunday liquor sales. Two dozen states are looking to help their budgets by raising taxes on alcohol.

Legislation dealing with wine sales in Tennessee was deferred during the last legislative session for study until this year. A Senate committee took up the matter in a hearing at its first meeting of the year Feb. 10.

Wilkey said Baptists are not trying to "legislate morality" in opposing the change.

"Opposing this bill is not forcing our beliefs on anyone, because the alcohol can already be purchased," he wrote. "We are just opposed to making it easier and more convenient to buy."

"Tennessee probably will never be alcohol-free, but we can help limit its availability," he said.

The sponsor of the state Senate version of the bill is Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro). Sponsoring the companion House bill is Rep. David Shepard (D-Dickson). According to their legislative biographies, both are Methodists.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: Of God and guns
By Benjamin Cole (1,070 words)

(ABP) -- Count me among those Baptists who are about as likely to carry a leather-bound King James Bible as we are to carry a stainless-steel Colt Python .357.

Etched with almost equal prominence in my memories of childhood are my first Bible -- received in the first grade as a gift from the First Baptist Church of Longview, Texas -- and my first rifle -- received in the fifth grade as a gift from my late father.

For many American boys, these two moments are among the most significant rites of passage to form the framework within which we learn our constitutional heritage. As humans, it is our natural right to worship God freely according to the dictates of our conscience and apart from government intrusion or coercion. As Americans, it is our constitutional right to keep and bear firearms.

I'm not sure many young men conflate the two, as if somehow our freedom to worship is safeguarded by our freedom to pack heat. But this month, the 87th General Assembly of the State of Arkansas is considering a bill that is causing critical reflection about these two separate-but-equal constitutional guarantees.

On January 27 Republican state Rep. Beverly Pyle of Cedarville, Ark., introduced House Bill 1237 to amend a state law that prohibits licensees from carrying a concealed firearm into houses of worship, schools and several other kinds of public spaces. The bill passed the House Feb. 11, and is now awaiting approval by the Arkansas Senate. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has promised to sign it into law if it is passed. The effort, according to the bill's sponsor, is a response to the growing incidence of church shootings across the nation.

As would be expected, Baptist pastors across the state are weighing in on the issue. And like every other issue about which Baptists squabble, there is no shortage of opinions. Some ministers oppose the bill because they fear that concealed weapons in their worship services would disturb the "tranquility and sanctity of church." Others oppose the bill on a more substantive theological basis, advocating instead an ethic of Christian non-violence. Still others default to the separation of church and state and argue that the government is constitutionally restricted from interfering in church affairs.

For some reason, the question of God and guns always ignites our passions.

Most of us, at the moment of crisis, are unable to engage in the serious task of weighing moral responsibilities. Adrenaline kicks in, and the flight-or-fight instinct trumps our previously planned course of action when confronted with a choice between life and death.

As a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment who believes that the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear firearms is a double bulwark against both totalitarianism and anarchy, I bristle every time the Left tries to restrict my gun rights. As a thinking Christian who is able to weigh the moral distinction between passive resistance and self-preservation, I'm aware that the Second Amendment does not supplant the gospel call to suffering injustice for Christ's sake.

The question for me is one of competence. That is, who exactly is competent to tell me when and where to worship? And who, exactly, can tell me when and where to carry a gun?

Perhaps this is where it is helpful to read both the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence side-by-side, for the latter draws a distinction between alienable and unalienable rights while the former draws a distinction between the jurisdictions of federal and state governments.

It seems to me that these are two different rights grounded in two different laws and subject to two different facets of ordered liberty. The freedom to worship is a freedom of the individual conscience grounded in the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," to borrow a Jeffersonian formula. This right, as the Founders aptly saw, is among those unalienable rights that men possess irrespective of their age, race, creed or position in society. Not even a death-row inmate loses his right to worship God freely, for there is no shackle on earth than can constrain the soul.

The freedom to keep and bear firearms, however, is not an unalienable right. It is a constitutional one, lawfully and rightly retained by citizens who do not oppose just and reasonable laws. It is not a right to be retained by the irresponsible or the unlawful. We cannot keep a crazy man from worshiping a stick of butter, for instance, but we can certainly keep him from attempting to shoot those who prefer to prostrate themselves before a crock of margarine.

What House Bill 1237 has truly exposed, rather than a question of drawing lines between church and state, is the brilliance of federalism. We are beholding the people of the state of Arkansas determine, through a process of representative democracy, what the laws of their state shall be. And it is prudent that this question is determined by the state legislatures and not by the United States Congress.

I say it is prudent because of the cultural differences that exist between the states. A boy growing up in Longview, Texas, for instance, is more likely to receive a gun from his father than a boy growing up in Newark, N.J.. The fear that a gun rack in the back of a pickup truck would cause in Arkadelphia, Ark., is much different than it might cause in San Francisco.

So I cannot say that a Christian should or should not carry a gun to church. Nor can I determine whether or not the state of Arkansas should allow it. All I can say is that until a man is compelled by the democratically determined greater good of his society to relinquish his right to carry a concealed weapon to church, he is free to do so. Because he is free, however, does not mean that he is obliged. As a general rule I'm committed to maximizing the freedoms of citizens and limiting the power of government, though I realize a society where fathers do not take the care to raise responsible law-abiding sons might require the intervention of government to preserve ordered liberty.

On the other hand, no government has the authority to bind a man's conscience in matters of worship. Fortunately, no major religion in America requires its adherents to worship the Almighty with both shotgun shells and chorus bells.

-- Benjamin Cole is a former Southern Baptist pastor who now works on public-policy issues in the nation's capital.