Saturday, March 7, 2009

Prayer Blog - 3/7/2009

Tomorrow I will be teaching the college class at the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. I will be substituting for MLM who is leading a retreat for the church's young married couples. Please keep my lesson and the retreat in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 3/7/2009

Question: Name the first son of David.

Answer: Amnon. (II Samuel 3:2)

Comments: Amnon was the first of David’s numerous sons. His mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel (I Samuel 25:43). His name (Hebrew: אַמְנוֹן) means “faithful”.

Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; (II Samuel 3:2, NASB)

Amnon is best remembered for raping his half-sister Tamar and then being murdered by his half-brother and Tamar’s full brother Absalom. (II Samuel 13)

Note: This oil on canvas of Amnon and Tamar was painted by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri 1591-1666, known as “Guercino” due to his squinting). It hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Prayer Blog - 3/6/2009

After having my Adult Learning class at UT from 5:30 to 9 tonight, I am slated for a return session from 8:30 AM to 5 PM tomorrow. As you did last time I had one of these weekends, pray for stamina throughout the day. I enjoy the class but nine straight hours is just too long to study any one subject.

Associated Baptist Press - 3/6/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 6, 2009 · (09-33)

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

In this issue
Through a glass darkly: Churches respond to mental illness (1,220 words)
Dallas church offers lessons learned from ministry to mentally ill people (1,084 words)
Ministers often need help caring for their own mental health (593 words)
Va. pastor fights depression with medical, psychological treatment (1,242 words)

Through a glass darkly: Churches respond to mental illness
By Ken Camp (1,220 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- Living with depression -- or any other form of mental illness -- is like viewing life "through a glass darkly," according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University's Divinity School.

"It distorts how you see things."

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days.

Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful.

"When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward.. I guess they didn't know what to say," said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said.

"It was just nonexistent, like it never happened," she said. "They never acknowledged it."

When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful.

"When dealing with people in the church ... some see mental illness as a weakness -- a sign you don't have enough faith," she said. "They said, 'It's a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.' They make depression out to be a sin, because you don't have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have."

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member's diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. "It's not a sin to be sick," he insists.

Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion's longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives.

"Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin," Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted.

"The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth."

As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion.
"When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That's certainly true of Freud and Jung," he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that Scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority. But that doesn't mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality.

Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures -- Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others -- demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness.

"Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith," he said.
Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted.

"It's appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering," he said.

Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees.

"The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation," Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted.

Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental-health treatment -- and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them -- is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed.

"Get to know counselors in the community," Brake suggested.. "Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices."

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted.

Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders.

Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed.

"Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly," Brake said. Churches cannot "fix" people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope.

"The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system," Stanford said.

They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church -- a need Grondin echoed.

"There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships," she said.

She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time. People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted.

"Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don't realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed," Grondin said.

Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize "they are not able to see things clearly, and it's not their fault," Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness -- even if they don't fully understand, she insisted.

"Just be present. Offer support and love," Grondin concluded. "You won't always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything."

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

Dallas church offers lessons learned from ministry to mentally ill people
By George Henson (1,084 words)

DALLAS (ABP) -- As many as 25 percent of all Americans have diagnosable mental illnesses. Christians agree 100 percent of those people deserve to know Christ, but few churches reach out to them.

Believed to be the only church that counts the mentally ill as its target population, The Well Community in Dallas is seeking to be an avenue where mentally ill people can come to know the love of Christ. And the church hopes it can be a model for other congregations.

The Well started in 2002, and Pastor Joel Pulis has learned a few things he believes might be helpful to others.

"One of the things at the top of the list is that I don't have professional mental-health training. This is a lay ministry. The skills of praying for and with someone and just being a spiritual friend are what are needed in this ministry," he said. "I wouldn't seek to believe that everyone is called to this ministry. But if you are called to it, God will gift you for it."

The Scripture passage that the ministry points to as its theme, he said, is Matthew 9:35-10:10. In these verses, Pulis sees a balance between spiritual needs and physical ones. The passage recounts Jesus going through villages preaching the good news and also healing disease and sickness.

"At The Well, we see it as a spiritual problem, a medical problem and a biological problem. It's not, 'Take your meds, and you'll get better,' or, 'Trust Jesus more, and you'll get better.' It's both of those," he said.

"That passage also speaks about Jesus having compassion on the harassed and helpless, and there are probably no one in this country as harassed and helpless as the mentally ill.

"They are made in the image of God, and we're called to be compassionate toward them. So that compassion is huge, and if you don't have that, if you can't look at these people with a deep and abiding love, I'd question whether you're called to this ministry."

The severity of mental illness varies widely. Some are homeless. Others successfully hold down jobs and live with supportive families.. "These people are in every one of our churches," he said.

Despite the prevalence, a great stigma still surrounds mental illness, Pulis asserted. Some are afraid of the mentally ill, considering them to be violent.

"We've never had a violent episode in our history. And the reality is, the mentally ill are more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of violence," he said.

Perhaps Baptists should look at the mentally ill as an unreached people group, he suggested.

"In Dallas County, there are an estimated 21,000 with severe and disabling mental illness. That is not a language group, and that is not an ethnic group, but it is a group with a distinct culture," Pulis said..

"The Well is multi-ethnic and multigenerational. The glue that holds us together is being diagnosed with mental illness."

While he would like to see a greater willingness in mainstream churches to accept the mentally ill, Pulis looks at the success of niche congregations like the Western-heritage (or "cowboy") churches and sees the advantages of reaching out to a particular culture.

"I think there is some benefit in having this focus. Some of that is a concession to the stigma that goes along with mental illness, but there also is a balance in meeting the needs of these people," he said.

The essentials of a ministry to the mentally ill are to preach the good news and address spiritual issues, help engender a social community, try to help the mentally ill secure clean and decent housing and encourage them to see doctors and stay faithful to their orders.

"We try to tell them, 'We believe in you, there is hope for you.' We also try to give them a support network and be a friend. Those are things an average Christian could help with," he said.

Pulis encouraged churches interested in reaching out to the mentally ill to go to their county mental health/mental retardation center and ask how the church could help.

Last year, The Well ministered to 275 individuals. It averages about 45 each day at its noon meal and community center, and about 70 to 80 each Saturday night for worship services.

The ministry has a residential facility for eight men and a building where 30 people have individual efficiency apartments. It helps others find clean and secure places to live.

"Housing is a big challenge for us going forward," he acknowledged. "If they go back to a hellhole each night, it's not good for their mental or spiritual health."

For churches wanting to begin ministries, Pulis offered a few hints.

"When we first started, there wasn't a lot of peer-to-peer interaction of support. We weren't getting a lot of relationship going on between members. That will be that way to some degree with any new group, but in the mentally ill, they are so involved in their own worlds there is a lack of empathy and ability to love someone else. But we've seen that change over time at The Well," he said.

"And even though I'm describing these people as unable to love, I have people who are college graduates and people who have a wealth of life experiences, so while bringing what you have to the table, they have a contribution to make as well."

Realizing the intellectual acumen of his congregation has changed the way he preaches, he said.

"Early on, I felt I had to dumb down what I was saying. I've learned that some are extremely, extremely bright folks, and now I'm delivering a message the same as I would in any other context. Looking back, I could have slowed some of their spiritual progress," Pulis acknowledged.

"There have been frustrations over times, and we've seen doors close, but every time it was the Lord preventing us from making a mistake. We just try to be just as aware of the doors he opens for us."

One of those blessings is the support of other churches. Dallas' Cliff Temple Baptist Church is where The Well meets, and has supported the congregation from its infancy.

Over the years, other churches have partnered with the Well, and last year, 29 churches helped with volunteers, prayer support or financial gifts.

"Look beyond your local church," Pulis said.

"There may be others in the community who have a heart and skills you're looking for."

George Henson is a staff writer for the Texas Baptist Standard.

Ministers often need help caring for their own mental health
By Jennifer Harris (593 words)

(ABP) -- Congregations often view their pastors as strong, stable shepherds, but many ministers experience a disconnect between the image they project and the mental and emotional battles to which they are subject.

"I have never met a clergy person, either in therapy or out, who did not suffer some type of wound to their self," said clinical psychologist Robert Randall, who spent 37 years as minister of counseling at St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Elmhurst, Ill.

Clergy are not very good at taking care of their health, he said. "The common excuse is 'not enough time,' but the underlying problem has more to do with narcissistic issues."

Clergy want to be seen as unshakeable and don't allow anyone to see what they are going through. Instead, they keep "working and working" to be seen as productive and indispensable, Randall said.

"For some clergy, there is a long history of struggles to maintain firm self-cohesion and self-esteem," he said. "But even pastors with a firm sense of self are always vulnerable to having their self shaken."

Cliff Caton, pastor of First Christian Church in Blue Springs, Mo., and a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Kansas City, Kan., speaks about his history of depression from the pulpit.

Caton's experience with depression came before he was a pastor. He lost his job at a bank, faced the foreclosure of his home and was divorced -- all in a 90-day period.. "I just sat in my apartment for a year, leaving to go to the gym and buy groceries," he said.

Sharing his experience from the pulpit gives his congregation permission to not be perfect themselves, he said. Several have come forward to seek help for their own struggles.

Speaking about depression and other mental health issues can help remove the stigma, he said.. "A number of clergy still view it [depression] as a weakness, but it's a disease. Is there shame in having mumps?"

Randall recommends four steps for pastors facing depression:

· "Admit you are depressed and need help. Understand that this admission is a sign of strength, not of weakness -- you care enough about yourself, and about those whose lives you touch, to reclaim your life.

· "Get into psychotherapy with a good therapist, one who not only understands depression but also understands the life of ministry. Stick with the therapy!

· "Consult your M.D. or a psychiatrist who your therapist might know to discuss the possible need for antidepressants. Stick with the medication!

· "Keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if you don't feel like it. Maintain your routine."

While Caton had good experience speaking to his congregation about his depression, Randall cautions against sharing while in the midst of the struggles. "If a depressed pastor is still functioning fairly well, then the pastor should treat his/her depression as his own personal issue, shared with family and select friends, but not made a congregational issue."

If the pastor's work is impaired, he or she needs to inform the elected leaders of the church. The pastor and the leaders can discuss the best way to inform the congregation and the path that needs to be taken, Randall said.

"At all times the pastor wants to avoid trying to attract sympathy to him- or herself. The pastor and church leaders should lift up the situation of the pastor's depression as a normal human predicament that commonly arises in individuals, that can be overcome and that will be dealt with common sense and caring skill."

Jennifer Harris is a news writer for Word & Way, the historic newspaper of Missouri Baptists.

Va. pastor fights depression with medical, psychological treatment
By Robert Dilday (1,242 words)

RICHMOND, Va. (ABP) - Kirby Smith has his life back.

After years of struggling with clinical depression -- what he calls "a hell on earth" -- the Virginia Baptist pastor has discovered in both medical and psychological treatment a way to deal with his disease.

"I feel better now emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and in terms of self-awareness than I have since I was in seminary and going to my first church and getting married -- better than in 25 years," says Smith, pastor of Oak Forest Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. Treatment, he said, "has given me back who I was in college and seminary."

It hasn't been easy. Over several years, Smith underwent a regimen of prayer, counseling, medication and electroconvulsive therapy -- a well-established though sometimes controversial psychiatric procedure in which seizures are electrically induced in patients for therapeutic effect.

Smith began exhibiting signs of clinical depression in the early 1990s, while pastor of a Baptist church in Lawrenceville, Va. It began as a sort of "malaise," he says -- a lack of enthusiasm and initiative he felt both at home and work.

"I talked about it with the director of missions in my [Baptist] association and he told me it sounded like clinical depression," Smith, then in his early 30s, recalled. "But I ignored it. It didn't mean anything to me -- I didn't know anything about clinical depression."

But within a few months, Smith was "sitting in my office and staring at the wall," he said. Other symptoms materialized. At times his heart rate was up and his breathing fast; at other times lethargy paralyzed him. He dreaded going home to greet his wife and two young children at the end of the day because "I knew the kids would want to be with Daddy and I didn't want to deal with. I hung around the office as long as I could.."

Smith's deep faith in God naturally inclined him to prayer.. "I prayed and prayed and prayed and got nowhere. I thought, 'God, what is the deal?'"

At about that time Smith was called to a new church, this one in Altavista, Va. Almost immediately his depression disappeared. "I don't know if it was a change of scenery or what, but overnight [the depression] just left. I'd been living with it for about five years and it just left.."

For two years, he felt energized by his new ministry responsibilities and took pleasure in the tasks. But eventually the symptoms reappeared. This time he turned to a member of his church who was a doctor and a trusted friend. The doctor prescribed medication, which diminished the effects -- so successfully that after about two years Smith, with the doctor's consent, stopped taking it.

By 2003, though, Smith -- now in his early 40s -- began "to feel really, really awful." He couldn't prepare sermons and recycled old ones instead. He avoided people whenever he could, making himself almost inaccessible to his church members.

For months, Smith had been scheduled to deliver the baccalaureate address before his daughter's high-school graduation that year. "I'd worked to prepare it and had it memorized -- I was excited, really pumped."

But a week before graduation, he suffered "a complete meltdown -- I guess the best way to describe it would be a nervous breakdown." He remained in bed, curled in a fetal position, completely immobilized.. Smith's wife, Laura, drove him to the emergency room at Lynchburg (Va.) General Hospital. Two days later he was on a psychiatrist's couch at nearby Virginia Baptist Hospital, sobbing. "I just couldn't help myself."

The doctor prescribed a high dosage of medication, which allowed Smith -- whose wife had arranged for another pastor to give the baccalaureate address -- to slip in and watch his daughter graduate. "I sat in the corner. I didn't want to talk to anyone."

The medication worked -- for a while. Two weeks later Smith was back in his Altavista pulpit and for the next year and a half he continued to minister effectively. But in 2005 the bottom fell out again -- the same lethargy, the same withdrawals. In July of that year, three deacons from his church told Smith he needed to take a medical leave of absence.

"I was so happy I didn't know what to do," he said. "They offered me a way out and I needed out." With the help of doctors and an attorney, he quickly qualified for disability insurance -- "One of God's miracles," he says, since the qualification process often takes much longer..

But this time Smith's symptoms didn't respond to medication and in the fall he resigned his church -- 10 years to the day after beginning ministry there.

"I needed to take care of myself and [the church] needed to move on as well," he said.

After another year of "playing with medicine dosages and combinations," Smith's doctors cautiously suggested electroconvulsive therapy. "I told them if it will help, I'm there."

During a 10-day hospital stay, Smith received ECT treatment every other day. Later he underwent five more treatments as an outpatient..

"If you've ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- well, ECT's not like that anymore," Smith said. "It's not 'medieval' like it used to be." And in fact, Smith says, the treatment made him feel better almost immediately, though complete healing took several more months. "But I've felt great ever since."

In 2006 he was called to the Oak Forest church, where his wife also leads music, and he teaches church history and ethics adjunctively at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, a Virginia Baptist-affiliated seminary in Arlington, Va.

Through his experience, Smith says he's become convinced that it's a mistake to treat depression only as a spiritual flaw. "A lot of people say that it's a spiritual battle, that you're battling demons; that if you're a strong enough Christian you can pray it away, or if you can't, it's a spiritual weakness or a character flaw," he says.

He finds it especially irritating when people ask him if his depression was prompted by the pressures of ministry. "It implies that I'm not strong enough to do my job," he said, though he acknowledged that external conditions can exacerbate the situation.

"But to my way of thinking, this is a 100-percent-medical condition caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and it needs to be treated medically, perhaps also with counseling.

"The brain is an organ in your body just like anything else," he adds. "If it gets messed up you treat it medically, just as someone would seek dialysis for a malfunctioning kidney."

Smith hopes that churches can respond compassionately if their pastors face challenges similar to his. "Congregations need to encourage their pastor not to be Joe Super Faithful, but seek medical help," he said. "Church members need to encourage, be proactive, even interventionist..... They need to give pastors permission to seek help without thinking the congregation will fire them. And that people won't think the worst of them when they come back."

As for himself, Smith says in the back of his mind he often wonders if "I'm like a cancer patient in remission. I don't really know if it will never come back."

And if it does?

"I would have no hesitation in going through all the treatment again," he said. "It's worth it to have your life back."

Robert Dilday is associate editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.

Word of the Day - 3/6/2009


An assignation is an appointment for a meeting, especially a lover's secret rendezvous.

Abimelech discovered that Isaac and Rebekah were lovers (and not siblings as they had claimed) when he chanced upon an assignation between the two from his window.

It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. (Genesis 26:8, NASB)

Note: This fresco of the assignation between Isaac and Rebekah was painted by Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520). It is owned by the Vatican.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/6/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Thursday, March 5th, 2009

-On Thursday afternoon, I drove to Kennesaw, Georgia, for a brief visit with BKW, RCFW, their four-year old daughter Kelsey (my goddaughter), and their dog Jack (in this photo of horrible quality). When I arrived, I was pleased to see BKW was home early. Kelsey had gotten two splinters and he decided to work half of the day from home to console her.

-When I arrived, I was given a great compliment from my goddaughter. She entrusted me to hold her teddy bear (named “Bear”) while she used the bathroom. She was afraid Bear might get flushed down the toilet!

-Before speaking of anything relevant, BKW and I shot zombies on the Xbox while playing Call of Duty: World at War and then watched Hancock on DVD. I had never seen the film but BKW had watched it four times since he rented it!

-We then ate a great meal prepared by RCFW . The meal started with greens. I enjoyed all of the vegetables with the exception of artichokes. They may be an acquired taste and I am not yet willing to give up on them yet as they are very nutritious. We then ate Chicken Fettucine Alfredo, which was delicious. Kelsey tried to convince me to share her dessert with her - Barbie gummies. She did not understand why I do not eat desserts so she tried to sell me: “They are not vitamins or medicine.”

-Before spending the better part of the night in prayer, BKW and I tried to remove Kelsey’s splinters. She was terrified and despite trying for minutes, we never got it done. We did everything we possibly could. BKW even used the needle on himself to demonstrate the procedure to Kelsey. I tried to no avail to present Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)’s concept of dread to ease her mind. If Kierkegaard won’t work with a four-year old, I don't know what will.

-BKW and I spent the better part of the night praying. It was 1:43 AM when I finally arrived back in Knoxville. In the interim, both local basketball teams I support clinched championships. Bearden High School defeated Oak Ridge 93-43 to win the Region 2-AAA championship. The Tennessee basketball team clinched the SEC East with an impressive 86-70 win at South Carolina. Maybe I should avoid watching games from now on...

-Finally, Thursday was my cousin ACN’s birthday. Happy birthday! I am sorry I called so late.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/6/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Wednesday, March 4nd, 2009

-On Wednesday morning, I had an appointment with my dermatologist, CIH of the Knoxville Dermatology Group. CIH has been my dermatologist for years and I like him very much. He is a fellow redhead and Christian who attends Concord United Methodist Church so what’s not to like? My appointment was at 10:15 AM and I was summoned from the waiting room at 10:40 AM. They are improving.

-In addition to getting my prescription refilled, I was there to have a biopsy. On February 15th, 2007, they treated an abnormality on my right jaw line and I was advised to get it checked immediately if it ever resurfaced. (Does something beneath the skin resurface?) Thankfully, it was a “benign neoplasm”. While this sounded like something out of Ghostbusters to me, it meant that I do not have cancer. It is never a pleasant thing to hear your name and cancer in the same sentence.

-After my time at the dermatologist’s office, I met JTH at Nixon’s Deli. I had not eaten there in many years. We have both been having a string of bad luck, even by our standards. JTH attributed it to us picking up a “cursed” volleyball while at the Christian Academy of Knoxville on February 16th. At 10:19 PM I received a text informing me that the volleyball had been returned. Here’s hoping our more cursed than normalness ends.

-On Wednesday night, I ate with KLTW, KJW, and RAW. RAW cooked pasta. We also ate kiwi. RAW served KJW’s meal in a plate divided into three parts. Since not all three compartments were filled, she insisted more than once, “There’s something missing!”

-We spent the rest of the night talking and alternating between television shows. We watched SpongeBob SquarePants (guess who picked?), Georgia score a 90-85 upset win at Kentucky, and Dog The Bounty Hunter. I had never seen the latter before. I can honestly say that I find Dog’s wife far scarier than him.

-RAW wanted to know if it was acceptable to give up work for Lent. I told him I was fairly sure that was not how that worked. I could be wrong though...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/5/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 5, 2009 · (09-32)

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

In this issue
Baylor chair, over objections, names search panel comprised entirely of regents (1,578 words)
Bill Leonard stepping down as dean of Wake Forest divinity school (439 words)
Lanny Hall to return to Hardin-Simmons as president (426 words)
School sued for censoring religious message (457 words)
Opinion: A Christian rationale for a truth commission (873 words)

Baylor chair, over objections, names search panel comprised entirely of regents
By Ken Camp (1,578 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Baylor University Regents chairman Howie Batson announced March 5 that he had named 14 current members of the school's governing board to a committee charged with searching for the university's next president. He also named 10 representatives of various Baylor constituencies to a non-voting advisory committee.

Batson's decision contravenes calls by faculty, student and alumni groups at the world's largest Baptist school asking him to include non-regents as voting members of the search panel.

Last fall, the Baylor Faculty Senate, the Baylor Alumni Association and Baylor Student Government each passed resolutions urging regents to include as voting members of the presidential-search committee representatives from Baylor's constituent bodies, but Batson chose an all-regent search committee.

"We've been respectful of the spirit of the resolutions," Batson told reporters in a March 5 conference call. "They wanted to be included. They wanted to be heard."

But ultimately, Batson concluded, accrediting rules and Baylor's governing documents required that regents alone hold responsibility for selecting the university's chief executive officer.

"It's not the process we would have preferred. That's obvious from the resolution we passed. But it is the process we have," said Georgia Green, chair of the Baylor Faculty Senate, who was named to the advisory committee.

Green pledged to do her best to provide input into the search process on behalf of faculty, adding, "No president at any university can be successful without the support of the faculty, and that's certainly true at Baylor."

Baylor's presidential search is the "number-one issue" on the minds of alumni and donors -- particularly the need to have "a process that is as inclusive and transparent as possible," Baylor Alumni Association President David Lacy of Waco, Texas, said. "This is what alumni and donors want, and it's paramount to the future of Baylor in finding the most-qualified leader."

The Baylor Alumni Association wants what is best for the university -- including finding the most-qualified president to lead the school, Lacy stressed.

"Although it was our request that all constituents would be given a voting role in the final selection ... [the Alumni Association] is committed to continue working toward finding the most qualified leader," he said. "We know from talking to alumni, that Baylor's alumni desire inclusiveness, transparency and increased communication in this search process. These are the top priorities for alumni and donors for a successful process ... [the Alumni Association] will remain vigilant in advocating for these priorities."

Lacy continued: "We believe strongly that the best outcome for Baylor is achieved if the voices of all the stakeholders are formally voiced and factored into the process of finding the most-qualified president. The board of regents could have furthered its commitment to an inclusive process by giving all stakeholders an official, voting role in the process. The historically supportive Baylor alumni donor base that we represent clearly remains supportive of the most open and inclusive search process possible. This process has been proven to be effective in many other higher education institutions, and significantly enhances the communication and trust between all the stakeholder groups."

Batson noted he researched the presidential-search policies of at least 20 universities, but determined there is no single procedure followed across the board.

But Lynn Tatum, immediate past president of the American Association of University Professors, took issue with the process the regents are following.

"The Baylor process does not conform with best practices at the nation's top universities," said Tatum, senior lecturer in religion and associate director of Middle Eastern studies at Baylor.

"The usual process is to have a search committee composed of a rough parity between regents and faculty, with a few other representatives such as students and/or staff," he said, citing as examples Yale, Rice, Duke, Cornell, Stanford and Princeton universities.

"A few schools will have a committee made up entirely of faculty, working in tandem with a regents' committee," Tatum added, pointing to MIT, Cal Tech and Harvard as examples..

At the board's February meeting, regents charged Batson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, to establish the committees. He issued an invitation to all regents not rotating off the board after its May meeting to participate in the presidential search, and 14 accepted an appointment to the committee. Tommy Bowman of Waco, Texas, was the lone returning regent who declined a seat on the search committee.

Bowman "did not believe that his work schedule would permit the time that this effort is likely to require," said John Barry, Baylor's vice president for marketing and communciations. "As a board member, he will still have a vote on the final candidate, but Tommy felt that he shouldn't agree to serve on the presidential-search committee if he couldn't guarantee full participation."

Regent Joe Armes, chief operating officer of Hicks Holdings in Dallas, will chair the search committee, and Ken Hall, president of the Texas Baptist social-service agency Buckner International, will chair the advisory committee.

Batson praised Armes as "an accomplished senior executive who is very committed to Baylor's 2012 vision and [who] has served in many leadership roles during his eight years on the board of regents." He praised Hall for his "long and distinguished record of accomplishment in Baptist life" as a pastor, agency head and denominational leader.

"Both have demonstrated over a long period of time a commitment to Baylor and a desire to see her prosper," he said.

The search committee includes four Texas Baptist pastors -- Stan Allcorn from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, Duane Brooks from Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, Bobby Dagnel from First Baptist Church in Lubbock and Ramiro Peña from Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco.

Other members of the search committee are Wes Bailey, an insurance executive from Waco; Albert Black, president of On-Target Supplies and Logistics in Dallas; Stephen Carmack, chair and chief executive officer of Legacy Bank in Hinton, Okla.; Harold Cunningham, a retired Baylor administrator from Crawford, Texas; Gary Elliston, an attorney in Dallas; Sue Holt Getterman, a philanthropist from Waco; Neal "Buddy" Jones, owner of HillCo Partners in Austin, Texas; John Reimers, a dentist from Beaumont, Texas; and Dary Stone, vice chairman of Cousin Properties in Dallas.

Batson named the search committee more than seven months after regents fired John Lilley as president -- halfway through his contract -- for "failing to bring the Baylor family together."

Lack of togetherness in the "Baylor family" has plagued the university at least six years. Robert Sloan stepped down as Baylor's president in 2005 after two tumultuous years in which the Faculty Senate twice gave him "no confidence" votes, and the regents voted three times on his continuing employment.

The regents unanimously elected Lilley about nine months after Sloan and the board agreed to the terms of his departure, but they fired him after a little more than two and a half years.

Last August, regents approved Batson's appointment of David Garland, dean of Baylor's Truett Theological Seminary, as the university's interim president.

Batson, who rotates off the regents board after May, is not a member of the search committee. When asked if he would be considered as a presidential candidate, he replied the board needs to conduct "a national, comprehensive search," and he is "very, very happy at First Baptist Church of Amarillo."

Garland "expressed no interest in the permanent job," Batson noted, but added he is "doing an outstanding job" as interim.

While regents haven't precluded anyone from consideration, Batson said he questioned the wisdom of an interim ever being considered among a field of candidates for a permanent post.

With the exception of at-large members named by the regent's chair, members of the advisory committee were selected by the groups they represent, Batson said. He characterized the advisory committee as "very ecumenical" and "very eclectic."

In addition to Hall, a past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, other members of the advisory committee include Baylor faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Faculty Senate representatives are Green, associate dean of the Baylor School of Music; and Jaime Diaz-Granados, chair of the psychology and neuroscience department. Thomas Hibbs, dean of the Honors College, represents the Baylor Council of Deans, and Batson named religion professor Mikeal Parsons as at-large faculty representative.

Angela Funai, director of foundation and corporate development at Baylor, represents the Baylor Staff Council, which she chairs.

Thomas Phillips, a retired Texas Supreme Court chief justice, represents the Baylor Alumni Association. Also named as alumnus-at-large was Randy Lee Pullin, a life member of the Baylor Alumni Association.

Clifton Robinson, chairman of Specialty Property, was named to represent the Waco community in which Baylor's main campus is located, and Chelsea Saylors, a senior from Rowlett, Texas, represents Baylor Student Government.

"The presidential-search committee has the responsibility to recommend the best finalist for the board's consideration in selecting Baylor's next president, and it will do so having been informed by a steady flow of very good information from the presidential-search advisory committee," Batson said. "We're grateful that all these members of the Baylor family have stepped forward to assist in this very important process that is so critical to our university's future."

The presidential-search committee has established a website that will be updated with the latest news as the presidential search process unfolds. Through an online form on the website, individuals are invited to provide input regarding the university's next chief executive, Batson stressed.

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

Bill Leonard stepping down as dean of Wake Forest divinity school
By Bob Allen (439 words)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (ABP) -- The founding dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School is stepping down next year, school officials announced March 5.

Bill Leonard will retire from that post June 30, 2010. But he will continue to teach full-time as professor of church history and Baptist studies in the divinity school and professor of religion in the university's religion department. Wake Forest, founded in 1834 and located in Winston-Salem, N.C., is one of the most historic Baptist universities in the world.

Leonard, who turns 63 March 20, said the university has established a standard tenure of 10 years for deans. It has been 14 years since he came to Wake Forest, and next year will be the 10th year since the divinity school held its first classes in the fall of 1999.

"It was time to move along as dean and back to full-time teaching and research," he said.

As founding dean, Leonard recruited the divinity school's first faculty. The school now claims 12 professors.

Wake Forest is one of 15 seminaries, theology schools or Baptist-studies programs that partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate Baptist group that split from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991. Though Baptist in heritage, the school's outlook is ecumenical and it has no formal denominational affiliation.

A total of 163 students have graduated from Wake Forest Divinity School. Current enrollment is 104.

"The opportunity to work with Wake Forest undergraduate and divinity students has been one of the highlights of my time as dean and I look forward to continuing those classroom relationships," Leonard said. "When I hear the seniors preach in weekly Divinity Chapel I know that this endeavor was worth the effort."

Leonard is a graduate of Texas Wesleyan College. An ordained Baptist minister, he holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His Ph.D., from Boston University, is in American religion with an emphasis on revivalism.

He taught church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1975 until 1991. He left to join Samford University in 1992 as religion professor and department chair before coming to Wake Forest in 1996..

Leonard has been interim pastor of churches in several states. He has written or edited 16 books, including God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the SBC in 1990; Baptist Ways: A History in 2003; Baptists in America in 2005 and Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers in 2009.

He is popular as a speaker and lecturer and is often quoted by media outlets as an expert on Baptist history and politics.

School officials said there will be a national search to find Leonard's successor.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Lanny Hall to return to Hardin-Simmons University as president
By Ken Camp (426 words)

ABILENE, Texas (ABP) -- Hardin-Simmons University trustees elected as their school's president Lanny Hall, president of Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and a past president and chancellor at Hardin-Simmons.

Hall will be the 15th president in Hardin-Simmons' 118-year history, returning to the university where he started as a student more than 40 years ago and where he served a decade as president.

"Dr. Hall knows and loves the school and has an exciting vision for enhancing its academic excellence and facilities," Trustee Chairman Hilton Hemphill said. "He has extensive experience in fundraising and in the financial management of a university."

Hall began his administrative career in higher education in 1986 as executive vice president and chief academic officer at Howard Payne, leaving there to take over the reins as president of Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas.

Hall served as president at Hardin Simmons 10 years before being named chancellor in 2001. As chancellor, he held the Haggerton Chair of political science and served as executive director of the HSU Institute for Leadership.

During his administration, Hardin-Simmons more than doubled in enrollment and experienced growth in endowment, academic programs and campus facilities.

Under his leadership, the university added numerous new campus buildings, including the Skiles Social Sciences Building and the Connally Missions Center.

"Carol and I love the work in which we have been engaged over the last 20 years," Hall said. "We welcome the opportunity to put all of our experience, ability, talent and energy to work again for Hardin-Simmons University."

The presidential search committee and the search advisory committee jointly evaluated numerous candidates who were identified from across the country. The committees included trustees, faculty, staff, members from various HSU boards and the HSU student body president.

"Personal interviews were conducted with the top 10 candidates with more in-depth visits with the four finalists," Hemphill said.

Hall was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1979 to 1984 and served in key government leadership positions at the national level.

Hall earned his Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas in Austin in 1985.

He and his wife, Carol, have two children -- Lana McCutchen and Chad Hall -- and three grandchildren.

"With an understanding of HSU's history and heritage, and with abiding respect for the solid fiscal foundation that the University enjoys today, I look forward to the high privilege of leading HSU," Hall said.

Hardin-Simmons began looking for a new president shortly after Craig Turner left last summer to accept the presidency at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.

School sued for censoring religious message
By Bob Allen (457 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- An elementary school in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., is being sued for censoring the word "God" out of posters promoting a student-led prayer event.

A lawsuit filed March 3 by the Alliance Defense Fund said administrators at Lakeview Elementary School ordered students and parents to either remove signs promoting a "See You at the Pole" event or edit out religious language. With too little time to redo the posters, parents in the suit complied by covering the phrases like "In God We Trust," "Come and Pray" and a theme Bible verse with green paper.

Filed on behalf of 10 parents and the children, the lawsuit claims school officials violated the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights both by limiting their free speech and establishing hostility toward their religion. It seeks injunctive relief, nominal damages and court costs.

It isn't the first time the school has landed in hot water over religion. Last year a federal judge ruled the school unconstitutionally endorsed religion by allowing a group of parents to pray in the school cafeteria and pass out fliers to students during school hours.

Federal District Judge Robert Echols ruled that such accommodation excessively entangled the school with the religious purposes of Praying Parents, a loose-knit organization of parents who gather to pray for the school. Echols said the Constitution demands that public schools be neutral toward religion and that by promoting the group administrators effectively promoted its religious views.

Echols said students could still make flyers for "See You at the Pole," though. School policy allows such posters as long as they contain a disclaimer that the event is not sponsored by Lakeview.

For that reason, some members of the Praying Parents group said they were astonished last September when a school employee told them that posters their children made could not be displayed because they contained the word "God."

The parents obscured the religious phrases as directed but later complained about what they viewed as censorship and an attempt to belittle their religion. They said their children want to participate in future public prayer events, but now fear reprimand if they do.

"Christian students shouldn't be censored for expressing their beliefs," Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Nate Kellum said in a press release about the lawsuit. Kellum said school officials "appear to be having an allergic reaction to the ACLU's long-term record of fear, intimidation and disinformation" with regard to religious expression in public schools.

Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said he sympathizes with school administrators attempting to negotiate complicated church-state issues amid competing voices, but based on what he knows about the case, "It looks to me like the school clearly overreacted" by censoring religious content altogether.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: A Christian rationale for a truth commission
By David Gushee (873 words)

(ABP) -- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has begun hearings exploring the possibility of establishing a "Truth Commission" to investigate Bush policies in several areas related to national security. I want to comment here in favor of an inquiry on the subject of torture, leaving other issues aside for now.

Our nation needs a Truth Commission on the issue of torture because we need to know exactly what happened. We need the truth, and we need it from multiple perspectives. Minimally, such a body needs to gain access to all government documents in which policies related to detainee interrogation were debated and articulated. The commission further needs to talk to the policy-makers who developed the policies, at least some of the people who implemented them, and some who were on the receiving end of that implementation and are willing to speak about it. If there are surviving videotapes of these interrogations, these also need to be examined by any Truth Commission.

The Bible teaches that truth is central to God's character, to a community's well-being, and to the way of life of God's people. Many people who know the Bible only minimally think of truth primarily in terms of a moral obligation not to bear false witness. But the Bible at least as often emphasizes truthfulness as an aspect of character -- both personal and national character. Believers are called to live in truth, to walk in truth, to stay on the path of truth. And it is recognized repeatedly in Scripture that truth is essential to healthy public life, and that lies corrode life in community.

It has been very difficult to have an honest public debate about exactly what our nation has done to those in our custody because we have never been given full information. We have half-debated what has been only half-revealed. We need to bring what has been done in the shadows into the full light of day, and see how it looks when exposed to that cleansing sunlight.

Those who have defended these policies as both moral and essential to national security would be given full opportunity to make their case in light of what was actually done, to how many people, with what results, and with what effects on everyone involved. If the policies were truly defensible, they will reveal themselves as such in the process of exposure to the sunlight of public scrutiny. If they were not defensible, that will also very likely be obvious in the course of public examination.

Finding out exactly what happened could be the first step toward a process of national and international reconciliation. In Scripture, reconciliation is a fundamental theme. It is God's goal in relation to humanity, and should be the goal of Christians (and all people) in relation to one another. It is sufficiently important to fractured societies and to international relations that, in many cases, lives depend on it.

Biblically, reconciliation generally involves truth-telling, repentance and forgiveness. Unpacked a bit further, reconciliation includes the wrongdoer's acknowledgment of responsibility, confession of the act as sin, expression of grief for any harm done, serious commitment to a new course of action and request for forgiveness. It sometimes also involves some concrete form of recompense offered to the one harmed by the one who did the harm.

Of course, forgiveness then needs to be extended by the aggrieved party for full reconciliation to be experienced. And in situations in which wrong has been done by both sides, both parties need to walk through this process and extend forgiveness to each other at the end of it.

Is it too much to dream that the United States of America could walk through a process like this in relation to our detainee policies? Once our nation's acts have been exposed to the clear light of day and we see that the facts merit repentance, I dream that we would demonstrate the moral courage to acknowledge responsibility for wrong acts, confess them as sin, express real grief for the harms done, commit ourselves to a new course of action (and solidify that commitment in concrete legislation and executive policies), offer recompense to those whom we have harmed where that is appropriate and ask our victims for forgiveness.

There is much discussion about whether punishment of wrongdoers is appropriate as an aspect of a Truth Commission process, or as one possible outcome of such a commission. It partly depends on whether our goal is fundamentally a truth-and-reconciliation goal or instead a justice-and-punishment goal. I fear that the inevitable result of a commission of inquiry that might lead to prosecution is that everyone will "lawyer up" and the truth will remain buried in layers of legal maneuvering and refusal to testify.

Probably the full truth will be revealed only if everyone is granted immunity from prosecution for their actions in relation to detainees. No one would be prosecuted for anything other than for refusing to tell the truth about what they knew and what they did. This decision not to prosecute would not be because any crimes committed were insignificant, but because getting the truth out for the sake of healing and reconciliation was judged the higher good. This is probably the best way forward.

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

Word of the Day - 3/5/2009


A rapprochement is an establishment or reestablishment of harmonious relations.

After years of separation, Jacob and Esau finally reached a rapprochement. (Genesis 33).

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Genesis 33:4, NASB)

Note: This image of Jacob and Esau was created by contemporary American aritist Phillip Ratner.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/4/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 4, 2009 · (09-31)

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

In this issue
BWA leaders hear sobering finance report, fill justice post (760 words)
Student newspaper, Catholic prof spar over indulgences (842 words)
Trustees keep Liberty University gun-free (488 words)

BWA leaders hear sobering finance report, fill justice post
By Robert Marus (760 words)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- Members of the Baptist World Alliance's executive committee heard a sobering financial report detailing investment losses over the last year, agreed to slash the group's budget, gave initial approval to organizational changes and met BWA's new director for freedom and justice during their annual meeting March 3-4.

Gathering at the organization's headquarters in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Va., BWA leaders agreed to slash the 2009 budget by nearly 30 percent, from an original figure of $2,973,155 to $2,111,155 -- a reduction of nearly $900,000 in expenditures.

Ellen Teague, finance director for the worldwide umbrella group for Baptists, said the cuts are necessary to maintain a decent amount of reserve funds, heavily depleted over the last year because of huge investment losses.

"This is the most difficult financial situation that we've encountered in the 15 years that I've been the director of finance and administration," Teague told committee members.

She noted that, giving-wise, BWA actually ended 2008 much better than many other non-profits -- with income from donors and member bodies less than 5 percent behind 2007's total.

But the organization was forced to draw heavily from its reserves to cover heavy investment losses owing to the world's tanking markets. BWA transferred more than $2.3 million in unrestricted reserves to the operating fund to cover the losses..

In order to stick to internal guidelines that require a minimum of $500,000 in reserves -- and even under a best-case 2009 income scenario of donation income similar to 2008's -- Teague said BWA would have to slash its spending dramatically.

"Basically what we've done is we've experienced the good years and the bad year. It's a lot of good years -- and in one year we've managed to wipe out most of it," Teague said. "This is very serious, because it means that we no longer have reserves that we've had in the past, that we've built up over a number of years."

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said the organization's staff had already instituted pay-raise freezes and significantly cut their expenditures in anticipation of a reduced overall budget. He and Teague said that, after the committee approved the new budget figure, they'd go line-by-line to figure out exactly where the additional cuts should come.

Callam -- who became the organization's first non-white CEO in 2007 -- also said he hoped to identify new sources of revenue by beefing up BWA's list of potential contributors.

"The database of donors is too small," he said. "It is astonishing that the database of donors is so small."

After discussion, committee members approved the new budget figure. They also approved a separate resolution that empowered Callam and the rest of the staff to increase expenditures above budgeted levels during the year if revenues were significantly higher than expected.

BWA president David Coffey said that, while the financial report was sobering, committee members shouldn't waver in their faith. "God has been good to us over 100 years, and he's not going to abandon us now," he said.

The body also gave initial approval to a set of bylaws revisions necessitated by constitutional changes that are already in motion. The BWA General Council -- a larger governing body that gathers annually -- is scheduled to have a final vote on the recommendations at its next meeting, set for July 27-Aug. 1 in Ede, Netherlands.

Committee members also voted to recommend that the General Council approve Raimundo Cesar Barreto as director of the new BWA Division of Freedom and Justice. Council members created the new division -- which will focus on religious freedom and justice issues that affect BWA member bodies -- last year at the organization's annual gathering in Prague, Czech Republic.

Barreto, who currently is a pastor in Salvador, Brazil, holds a doctorate in Christian ethics from Princeton Theological Seminary. He also has degrees from Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and the North Brazil Theological Seminary. He has taught at theology schools in Brazil and the United States.

Executive committee members also heard that the recipient of the 2009 Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award is Indian Baptist activist Leena Lavanya.

Referred to by some as the "Baptist Mother Teresa," Lavanya's Serve Trust organization operates several charities among India's poor and dispossessed. They include HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and other ministries to female sex workers as well as homes for the elderly and those suffering from leprosy.

Lavanya is the granddaughter and niece of prominent Baptist leaders. She will formally receive the award during the Netherlands meeting.

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

Student newspaper, Catholic prof spar over indulgences revival
By Bob Allen (842 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- A Baylor Lariat editorial critical of the Catholic Church's newly revived practice of indulgences brought a strong rebuke from a prominent Catholic professor at the world's largest Baptist university.

The Feb. 27 editorial in Baylor's student newspaper criticized several Roman Catholic parishes in the United States for beginning to issue indulgences as part of a larger campaign to make Catholics more concerned with their spirituality.

The student newspaper called indulgences -- acts of contrition that Catholics believe help mitigate the punishment for sins -- "a dated solution to a problem that needs a modern-day, innovative strategy to truly raise awareness of sin and reconnect people with their religion and their God."

The editorial earned mention on the Catholic Culture website and prompted a letter to the editor from Francis Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor.

Beckwith made headlines in 2007, when he resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society and announced that he had converted back to his original Catholicism.

Beckwith, who describes his faith journey from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism and back in a new book, criticized the editorial for "poor timing" -- appearing during the first week in the season of Lent -- and "poor taste" for an accompanying cartoon mocking Pope Benedict XVI. He also lamented what he called bad history and faulty theology.

"If the Catholic Church believes it has good grounds to hold this belief and its critics disagree on the adequacy of those grounds, then it would seem beside the point for the editors of a student newspaper at a Baptist university in Central Texas to suggest that the Catholic Church should abandon its belief because it is unfashionable," Beckwith wrote.

The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church defines indulgences as "a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."

The Catholic Church claims the doctrinal prerogative to dispense indulgences as part of the authority of "binding and loosing" granted by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16:19. Catholics believe Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and that the spiritual authority of pontiffs since has flowed from Christ's charge to his disciple.

Indulgences can be partial -- removing some of the temporal consequences of past sins -- or plenary, removing them all. Catholics may obtain indulgences either for themselves or for souls in purgatory, but not for another person living on Earth.

Though not a sacrament -- a visible ceremony that Catholics believe imparts grace -- the tradition of indulgences dates back to the early church, when Christians who had fallen away from the faith during periods of persecution desired to be restored to full communion. Over the centuries, severe forms of penance prescribed in those cases transitioned to less-demanding works such as prayer, fasts or payment of sums of money to the church.

The earliest conspicuous use of plenary indulgences was in 1095 by Pope Urban II, who decreed them for all who engaged in the First Crusade.

Abuses arose during the Middle Ages, with unrestricted sale of indulgences to raise funds for capital projects. Aggressive marketing of indulgences to raise money to build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome provoked Martin Luther in 1517 to write his "Ninety-Five Theses," the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) affirmed the efficacy of indulgences, but decreed almsgiving should never be a necessary condition for receiving them.

Indulgences fell into disuse after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, but Pope John Paul II reinstated them in 2000 to celebrate the church's third millennium.

Benedict, a conservative sometimes criticized for turning back the reforms of Vatican II, has issued indulgences on several occasions -- most recently to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the apostle Paul. The original decree was for pilgrims traveling to St. Paul's Basilica in Rome, but later was expanded to include other specified pilgrimage sites for Catholics who cannot afford to travel abroad.

The Lariat editorial opined that, because of their negative connotation, indulgences will hurt Catholicism instead of helping it.

"Catholics should on their own choose to go to confession because they recognize their sins and desire to truly atone," the newspaper said. "They shouldn't be motivated simply because the award of an indulgence makes it more appealing."

Beckwith, who first posted his reaction to the editorial on a blog promoting his new book, Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic, said as an official university publication, the Lariat's articles and opinions cannot be read apart from the university community's common good.

"[T]he next time the Lariat's editors choose to offer a theological critique, they should at least consult those within their midst who embrace the tradition they have targeted," he advised. "Anything less than that is uncharitable and unchristian."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Trustees keep Liberty University gun-free
By Bob Allen (488 words)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP) -- Liberty University will remain gun-free, trustees at the Baptist school founded by the late Jerry Falwell decided March 3.

Last year, Liberty's chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus asked university officials to change the school's firearm policies to allow people with concealed-handgun permits to carry weapons on campus.

"Liberty University prides itself in not adhering to 'political correctness' and is obligated to consider the facts instead of simply adhering to politically popular policies," the group appealed in an online petition.

The petition said current rules banning firearms on campus "only deter the honorable" and that anyone intending to commit violence "would have no concern for breaking a university rule."

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a non-profit group claiming 36,000 members nationwide, was formed immediately after the April 16, 2007, massacre that killed more than 30 at Virginia Tech University. The group claims to have no affiliation with the National Rifle Association or any political party.

Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said last October he would take the request to Liberty's board of trustees. According to local media, trustees did not take a formal vote at their March 3 meeting but agreed by consensus of continuing the policy of allowing only police officers to bear arms while on campus.

"The feeling was that, unlike most private property owners, we have our own police force," the younger Falwell said, quoted in the Lynchburg News & Advance. "So the decision was made, since crime has not really been a problem at L.U., not to make any changes to the policy at this time."

Virginia requires that a person be 21 years old to apply for a concealed-handgun permit. Falwell said a major concern was that, if permit holders live in a dorm, their weapons might fall into the wrong hands. He also said some faculty members were uncomfortable with students carrying weapons while they handed out grades.

The Students for Concealed Carry on Campus group says on its website that legislatures in nine states are now considering changing gun laws to allow concealed carry on college campuses for permit holders.

The petition by the Liberty chapter said they were not asking for all students to be allowed to have guns, but only that those already trained and licensed to carry a firearm be allowed to do so while on campus like they do everywhere else.

In comments to media, Falwell left open the possibility of, in the future, allowing faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons if they determine they need it for enhanced security.

Recently the university opened its off-campus firearm ranges -- previously used primarily for police training -- to students for target practice with rifles, shotguns and handguns. When not in use at the range, students living on campus are required to store their weapons with university police, and commuters must keep them unloaded and stored in the trunk of their vehicle.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Prayer Blog - 3/4/2009

Tomorrow, I will be driving to Kennesaw, Georgia, for a very brief visit with BKW. I apologize to all of my friends in the Atlanta area that I will unfortunately not be able to see on this particular trip. In spite of this, please keep my travel in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 3/4/2009


Conversant means familiar by use or study (usually followed by with): conversant with Spanish history.

From his childhood, Timothy was conversant with the Scriptures.

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (II Timothy 3:15, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/4/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

-On Tuesday, my 1 PM (and only) appointment at the Hope Resource Center (HRC) no-showed. This was the first time this has occurred in some time. The trip was not for naught as I got to talk with many of the wonderful volunteers on hand. Among the topics somehow addressed was the music of Prince. I can’t tell you the last time I had a discussion involving Prince, much less at HRC.

-On Tuesday night, MPW and I went to see the state’s top ranked AAA basketball team Bearden High School (MPW’s alma mater) play Farragut High School (their arch rival) at West High School (my alma mater). The game was a semifinal of the Region 2-AAA Tournament. MPW went at my request after I had been so impressed by Bearden in previous games. Naturally, they played one of their worst games of the season.

-As they typically do, Bearden substituted liberally throughout the game. Finally playing their first string, Bearden forced three consecutive turnovers in the games final seventy seconds, to secure a 54-47 win. Despite all of Bearden’s star power, only Nathan Parker played a noteworthy game. The 6'5" senior scored eight of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a decisive steal and dunk with 52 seconds to play to extend the Bearden lead to 51-43. Blake Jenkins, who I believe is the best player on the team, did not play in the first quarter and finished with only five points.

-Bearden is now 33-2 (neither loss was in state) while Farragut finished its season 25-7.

-Despite the unimpressive game, MPW and I had a good time in the packed gym and saw many familiar faces. The p.a. played 1990s hip hop throughout the night, which pleased me, if noone else. Former West High Coach CDL stood atop the West student section much of the game and we visited after the game. MPW and I watched the fourth quarter with MSC, who was there with his Young Life students from Hardin Valley High School. We were glad we went.

-After the game, MPW and I ate at Applebees where we were eventually joined by KL. With our usual waitresses having the night off, Nikki stepped in. We had fun despite the people at the table next to us. MPW groaned when two tables were put together. No good ever comes from this scenario. You know how most groups have one loud, obnoxious member. There must have been a convention as all members of this group were that guy!

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/4/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Monday, March 2nd, 2009, Part 2

-On Monday night, my new (and hopefully improved) basketball team debuted in the Slow Break basketball league at the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. There were three games on this night (the league has expanded to six team) and my team played in the last game at 8:30 PM. Since it was the first night, much of my team was there for all three games. (Note: At my request, ALK took all the photos in this post. Thanks, Bart!)

-In the opening game, GLO’s team beat MBR’s team, scoring 55 en route to winning a close game. The game marked the return of PDR to the church league after a season off. In the middle game, SES’s crew beat MEB’s team 41-34. MEB fielded a squad after sitting out last season.

-Also returning to the league were the Bearden High School football coaches captained by MHF. They would be our opponents on this night. They had not changed much. In fact my guys occasionally became confused as to who they were guarding as all of the players had the same massive, stocky build. (Like Silver King, do not be fooled by their stocky physiques.) At one point when PCR checked out of the game he attempted to tell his teammate who he was guarding by indicating the player by his camouflage cargo shorts. He quickly amended his statement adding the adjective “darker” as there was more than one person playing basketball in camouflage cargo short!. Bruce Pearl never had this problem!

-My team has eight players, six of whom played on last season’s squad: JTH, JAH, JTL, JDM, PCR, and MPW. Our two new players are PCR’s friend and point guard extraordinaire BS and my long time friend WCM (shooting). I was overly excited to see WCM. I acted like a teenage girl at the sight of MPW.

-We played well all things considered. WCM and BS had played in games in other leagues earlier in the night and JTH was limited to just a few minutes as he was suffering from sinus and bronchial infections. The game was tied at 27 at the half but the hosses pulled away and eventually won 51-47. Despite once again losing by six points or less, it was a very different scenario than last season. We were the team making a run at the end of the game.

-I face a big challenge in creating a substitution pattern with this team. All eight of the guys on the team are great guys who can play. I am tempted to bench WCM just so I can hear his commentary from the bench. He consoled PCR on a foul call noting that he probably would have gotten the jump ball call had he not applied a headlock. As MHF set a pick and then proceeded to walk his man across the court, he commented that he was pretty sure that was illegal. At one point he turned to me and said, “Oh, we shoot three’s.” He assessed our team really quickly.

-WCM confessed that it would take four of him to move one of them and left vowing to try to gain sixty pounds before the next match up with the team! That will be on April 20th.

-We will have to play only two teams twice, one of which is these ogres. It is not the draw I would have chosen. My guys get bruised in this match up. The only advantage is the forced cordiality. The opposing team hates me and in church has to be affable. I am not used to being hated (at least not in this situation) and I find the atmosphere somewhat amusing.

-I will give them credit. They came prepared with a devotional (from an Upward booklet). This is good. After playing Florida (and winning I might add) the previous day, it would have been hard not to do an environmental devotional based upon Nick Calathes’ hair’s effect on the ozone layer. (If you are not familiar with Calathes, think Zack Morris circa 1991. If you are not familiar with Zack Morris, I pity you.)

-After the game, JTH, ALK, JDM, ANDR, PCR, and I ate at Applebees. We were exhausted and the conversation was minimal. The food and service (AFH) was good. The only problem came when it took many, minutes to leave when the credit card machine broke.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/3/3009

Associated Baptist Press
March 3, 2009 · (09-30)

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

In this issue
Christians, other torture opponents call for comission to investigate (428 words)
Mercer conference calls Christians to 'creation care' (746 words)
Study: Churchgoers like porn, but don't buy it on the Sabbath (589 words)

Christians, other torture opponents call for commission to investigate
By Robert Marus (428 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A coalition of religious leaders who oppose the United States' use of torture in the fight against terrorism called March 3 for a "truth commission" to investigate government policy and allegations of inhumane actions against terrorism detainees under the previous administration.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture released the statement, signed by 23 prominent religious leaders from a wide variety of faith traditions, on the eve of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings scheduled to delve into the subject.

"We call for an impartial, nonpartisan, and independent Commission of Inquiry," the statement said. "Its purpose should be to gather all the facts and make recommendations. It should ascertain the extent to which our interrogation practices have constituted torture and 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.' Understanding the causes, nature and scope of U.S.-sponsored torture is essential for preventing it in the future and eliminating it from our system without loopholes. U.S. law will determine the extent of any criminal culpability."

It continued: "As people of faith, we know that brokenness can be healed -- both in individual lives and in the life of the nation. All religions believe that redemption is possible. Learning the truth can set us on a path toward national healing and renewal."

Baptist signers of the statement were Stan Hastey, minister for mission and ecumenism at the Alliance of Baptists; and David Gushee, president of Evangelicals for Human Rights and professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta. Gushee also writes a weekly column for Associated Baptist Press.

The call came a day after Justice Department officials released nine previously classified memoranda, produced by lawyers for President Bush, outlining sweeping presidential powers to circumvent legal constraints established by Congress on interrogation techniques and other aspects of detainee treatment.

Bush's White House claimed the authority described in the memos in response to the post-9/11 terrorism threat. Some torture opponents and civil libertarians have said the powers claimed by the memos went even further than they thought Bush's administration had.

Several similar memos are believed also to exist, but remain classified.

The Judiciary Committee hearings, scheduled to begin March 4, will explore creation of a formal commission to investigate government policy on interrogation techniques under the Bush administration. The panel's chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, has called for such a body. So has his House counterpart, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

While President Obama followed through on a campaign promise to revoke controversial Bush policies on interrogation and treatment of terrorism detainees, the White House has rebuffed calls by many torture opponents to investigate Bush officials.

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

Mercer conference calls Christians to 'creation care'
By Mark Vanderhoek (746 words)

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Faith leaders at a Feb. 27-28 Mercer University conference challenged participants to re-engage themselves, their faiths and their communities to address the moral and ethical implications of climate change.

Titled "Caring for Creation: Ethical Responses to Climate Change," the conference was held on Mercer's Atlanta campus as part of a campus-wide ethics program and was presented in conjunction with Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

At the opening session on Feb. 27, Cheryl Bridges Johns of the Church of God Theological Seminary noted that humans are becoming disconnected from their roots in the natural world through urbanization, the increasing reliance on science to explain the world or the increase in technology's role in their daily lives.

Confronting global climate change requires getting through to people who are suffering "enchantment-deficit disorder," she said. Humankind's divorce from nature and from God's creation -- and the wonderment and enchantment from that creation -- is part of the struggle for religious and moral leaders in confronting climate change, Johns said.

"I believe that we can re-enchant the world," she said. "As a person of faith, I believe I can live an enchanted life of faith, a spirited life, where I see, sometimes as the ancient Celts, that the veil between this world and the world that is to come getting very, very thin in certain places. And sometimes I see that in nature and it's a glorious expression of that which is to come.

"So creation care and caring for creation, to me, means that we become enchanted, we become re-enchanted," Johns continued. "We can be great scientists and wonder. We can be astute physicians and wonder. We can be wonderful people, who are teachers and lawyers and pastors, and wonder, can't we?"

The event included more than 200 students, faculty and staff from the Atlanta campus, as well as a contingent from Mercer's main campus in Macon, Ga.

David Gushee, a Christian ethics professor at Mercer and one of the event's organizers, said the conference stemmed, in part, from his work with a group of scientists and evangelical leaders examining whether the two groups could "come to a common mind on issues of climate change." The Mercer event was the first full-scale event on a college campus highlighting those issues as a part of the scientist-evangelical effort, which began in 2006.

On Feb. 28, the conference broke into sessions focusing on ways to address climate change including public health, greening the campus, individual lifestyle changes and public-policy efforts.

In a session on the ethical implications of climate change, Gushee (who also writes a regular column for Associated Baptist Press) said Christians need to focus their energies on creation care because it is part of their overall calling. It goes hand-in-hand with their care of all life, human and animal -- and particularly in light of their role as stewards who were given power over the Earth by God.

"Climate change is an example of a moral issue, where even paying attention to the well-being of humanity requires some address of this problem," he said. "I think we are in a time where we need to re-read sacred Scriptures to see the connections, for example, between human beings and other creatures, to see the web of life that was already set up as revealed in the early chapters of Genesis. We need to reinterpret rule as stewardship and care. We need to see the way in which the Bible teaches us the covenant relationship between God and the other creatures and between us and the other creatures."

Johns also highlighted the stewardship called for by faith and, even with interpretations of the Bible's apocalyptic passages that seem to indicate that global warming may hasten the return of Christ. Christians, she said, should focus on making the world like it will be on the day he does return, rather than on hastening his return through indifference to climate destruction.

"Let us not live with our eschatology out there.... Let us live with the eschatology of the day here, and that's a very different theme, because if we live with that day here, that day will judge this day," Johns said. "That day will judge how I live, so if that day is going to be a day of beauty and creation, it's judging this day in which I live. So eschatology to me doesn't hinder creation care, as much as it facilitates creation care."

Mark Vanderhoek is director of media relations at Mercer University.

Study: Churchgoers like porn, but don't buy it on the Sabbath
By Bob Allen (589 words)

BOSTON (ABP) -- According to a new study, people who live in states with high church-attendance rates buy as much Internet pornography as their more secularized counterparts -- but they are less likely to subscribe to an adult website on Sundays.

Researcher Benjamin Edelman said subscriptions to a top-10 seller of online adult entertainment he studied are not statistically different in pious states from subscription rates elsewhere, but significantly fewer subscriptions in religious states are purchased on the Christian Sabbath.

"This analysis suggests that, on the whole, those who attend religious services shift their consumption of adult entertainment to other days of the week, despite on average consuming the same amount of adult entertainment as others," Edelman, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, wrote in the study.

Studies of Americans' beliefs generally reveal some of the highest levels of religiosity in the developed world. For example, 68 percent of Americans say the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally. At the same time, social critics have argued the rise of Internet pornography is contributing to a coarsening of American culture.

Edelman, an expert in electronic commerce, set out to learn if consumption patterns of adult entertainment would reveal two separate Americas, or if porn consumption is widespread regardless of factors such as moral conservatism and religious conviction.

Edelman analyzed anonymous credit-card purchases of online porn by ZIP codes and factored in the availability of broadband Internet access in the surveyed areas. Broadband connections allow faster downloading of images and video, and broadband users outnumber narrowband customers on adult sites 18 to 1.

Edelman found Democratic- and Republican-leaning states "remarkably similar" to each other in patterns of consumption of online porn. In fact, he found adult-site subscriptions slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative laws on social issues, such as "defense of marriage" amendments.

He also found online porn more prevalent in states whose residents tended to express more conservative religious views in studies, such as agreeing with the statements, "I never doubt the existence of God" and "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior."

The biggest per-capita consumer of online porn is Utah, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That state averaged 5.47 adult-content subscriptions per 1,000 home-broadband users. Widely known for its family-friendly image, the Mormon church received backlash last year for working hard to pass Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of marriage for same-sex couples in California.

Six of the top-10 states for porn-subscription rates are familiar territory for Baptists. Mississippi, the state with the highest concentration of Southern Baptist churches, ranked third with 4.30 subscribing homes per 1,000, between Alaska (5.03) and Hawaii (3.61).

Oklahoma ranked fifth (3.21), followed by Arkansas (3.12) North Dakota (3.05), Louisiana (3.01), Florida (3.01) and West Virginia (2.94).

Montana bought the least on-line porn, 1.92 subscriptions per 1,000 broadband connections. Also ranking near the bottom were Idaho (1.98 per 1,000) and Tennessee (2.13).

The study said Americans spend $2.8 billion a year for online porn. More than a third of Internet users visit at least one adult website a month, and the average user visits adult websites between seven and eight times a month.

Edelman noted the irony in the most conservative religious states also being some of the most porn-hungry.

"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman said in an article in New Scientist magazine.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


In the March 2 ABP story, "Senate scandal divides state
Democrats over race," please replace the third paragraph with the

"White Democrats -- including Burris' Senate colleague Dick Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn -- want the senator to step down and allow voters to decide his replacement. African-American politicians and clergy leaders claim Burris is being held to a higher standard than the other 99 senators."

The original story erroneously reported that Attorney General Lisa Madigan is among Democrats calling for U.S. Sen. Roland Burris to resign. A Madigan spokesperson said the attorney general issued a legal opinion that a special election could be held to remove Burris from office, but has not called for him to step down.