Hold the ladder
By Norman JamesonRead More
By Norman JamesonRead More
Our magazine, Herald, is published every other month and provided as a benefit of membership in the Annual Fund, the financial backbone of Baptist News Global.
Each issue includes a lively collection of features, news trends and opinion, designed to be both useful and well designed. The magazine's content will be available online after the print version has been distributed.Read More
In Liberia, hard hit by the Ebola virus, the economy spirals downward and food is increasingly scarce.
Baptists in Virginia, Texas and elsewhere are addressing a critical side effect of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa — the depletion of food supplies.
Recent reports by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank warn that Liberia — hardest hit by the virus — is descending into what the Washington Post called “economic hell.”
As people abandon fields and factories, food is becoming increasingly scarce, and restrictions on public transport and internal travel are making it difficult to distribute food that is available. Worst case estimates of the impact on the economy as a whole are catastrophic, the Post reported.
“People are terrified by how fast the disease is spreading,” Alexis Bonte, a representative in Liberia for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, said in the FAO report. “Neighbors, friends and family members are dying within just a few days of exhibiting shocking symptoms, the causes of which are not fully understood by many local communities. This leads them to speculate that water, food or even crops could be responsible. Panic ensues, causing farmers to abandon their fields for weeks.”
That’s consistent with reports received by Dean Miller, team leader of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s glocal missions team.
“Liberian leaders have told me that while many people are dying of Ebola, many more may die of starvation,” Miller said.
After a recent conference call initiated by Baptist World Aid — which included Liberian Baptist leaders — confirmed the growing crisis, Miller decided to act. “This was something we could actually do,” he said. “We can’t cure the disease and we can only do so much medically. But we can provide food.”
Miller contacted Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency which partners with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. The organization told Miller its stockpile of meals in the United States had already been sent to Sierra Leone. But their warehouse in South Africa still had nearly 145,000 meals, none of them assigned. What’s more, transporting them to Liberia would take only three weeks, about half the time it would take to ship from the U.S.
Several Baptist General Association of Virginia congregations provided funds to ship the meals, which should arrive soon in Liberia. They’ll be distributed by representatives of the Liberia Missionary and Educational Convention.
Also contributing to shipping costs was Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery, a component of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. That contribution was part of a much larger effort launched by the TBDR which has arranged for about 570,000 meals to be sent to Liberia.
The effort was prompted in part by a visit to Texas by Olu Menjay, president of the Liberian convention. TBDR director Chris Liebrum began talking with Menjay several weeks ago about ways to respond to the growing food crisis. He discovered food packets were available from Convoy of Hope, a faith-based, international humanitarian-relief organization in Springfield, Mo. Liebrum secured funds to ship the meals, which are now en route.
“It became clear that what we can do is help the secondary crisis, by providing food, which is becoming the primary crisis for many in the area,” Liebrum said in a press release.
Menjay said Liberians are grateful despite their fear.
“The crisis is huge, and the needs are huge. I think this initiative is helping us reach the grassroots people in a real way because we’re using our churches. This partnership is putting hands and feet to what God has called us to.”
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention is coordinating an additional effort to distribute food in Liberia, where the convention supports a mission school it founded in 1908. A recent “Heart for Liberia” event in Philadelphia collected more than seven tons of food and medical supplies.
The convention’s executive secretary-treasurer, David Goatley, said in a press release Oct. 17 he and president Gregory Moss are working with leaders of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America and National Missionary Baptist Convention of America to provide financial support to distribute food and sanitary equipment in Liberia.
“The Ebola virus outbreak is an exceptional crisis which calls for extraordinary action,” Goatley said.
Liberian expatriates in Virginia also are taking steps. Earlier this year they organized Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola (VALAE), which describes itself as a “move-ment to mobilize and consolidate support for Liberia.” Chairing the group is Calvin Birch, pastor of African Christian Community Church, a congregation which worships in facilities provided by Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
VALAE is partnering with both the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and First Baptist Church in Richmond to ship supplies to Liberia.
Two seminaries with Baptist ties join others in adding science curricula.
As high-profile, science-versus-faith debates rage across the nation, a handful of American seminaries, including two with Baptist ties, are pursuing the notion that reason and religion are compatible and even complementary.
Andover Newton Theological School and Wake Forest University School of Divinity are among 10 seminaries recently awarded a combined $1.5 million in grants to integrate science into their curricula.
The “Science for Seminaries” grants were announced in October by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The association’s funding was provided by the John Templeton Foundation.
With individual grants ranging from $90,000 to $200,000, each institution agreed to combine science with at least two existing core courses such as biblical studies, church history or pastoral theology.
“This approach will bring science into the core of seminary theological education, impacting individual seminaries as well as the ministries in which graduates serve,” AAAS said.
Officials and educators from Andover Newton and Wake Divinity say their hope is to produce ministers knowledgeable about science and capable of guiding others through the controversial debates creating so much dissension in society.
“In today’s world, oftentimes religion and science are perceived as being at war and in our view they are not separate fields of endeavor but are bound together,” said Jennifer Craig, vice president for institutional advancement at Andover Newton, which is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.
The Massachusetts seminary received $161,000 to be used over three years, beginning in full in the fall of 2015.
“It’s important that our leaders are conversant in Bible, theology and ethics, but also in science,” said Craig, who wrote the grant proposal for the school.
A new generation of pastor is needed to help bridge the gaps between different groups skeptical that science and religion are compatible, said Kevin Jung, associate professor of Christian ethics at Wake Divinity.
One group consists of Christians who believe science is hostile to their faith. Another is Christians who believe the two fields are simply unrelated to each other, said Jung, who was the main grant writer for the $150,000 Wake grant.
“We want to facilitate meaningful dialogue between science and religion,” Jung said.
At Wake, professors will add science components in the areas of Bible, church history and theology, Jung said.
Among them is Bill Leonard, professor of church history, who will develop a course titled “The Scopes Trial: Darwinism and Anti-evolution in American Religion.” The course will use the 1925 trial as a case study examining the evolution/anti-evolution debate.
Jung said he will blend studies from evolutionary psychology, sociobiology and neuroscience into his existing “Foundations of Christian Ethics” course.
Another existing course that explores the cosmos, gods and humanity will include recent scientific studies of cosmology and the evolution of human life.
Jung said the Wake grant is for two years but the goal is, after surveying student and faculty interest, to permanently incorporate the new elements into its courses.
At Andover Newton, Christian theology professor Mark Heim and Christian ethics professor Nimi Wariboko will be leading the effort to develop curricula. They will be working with various Boston-area scientists to develop science modules for systematic theology and Christian ethics courses, the school said in a news release.
The idea in some classes will be to show how evolutionary and neurological sciences relate to belief in God, Craig said.
But she added that students taking ethics and theology courses will still be learning about ethics and theology.
“It’s not like it’s taking over the course,” she said of the science modules.
The underlying motivation behind the AAAS grants and the schools who applied for them isn’t to create pastor-scientists but culturally competent ministers.
“We don’t want our graduates shying away from questions that are important because they don’t have the scientific vocabulary or know-ledge to discuss them thoughtfully,” Sarah Drummond, dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement released by Andover Newton.
In a news release, Wake Divinity drew parallels between the science grant and Wake Forest University’s historic advocacy of construc-tive dialogue between religion and science.
The grant will help the seminary make use of its relationship with the university, said Gail O’Day, dean of the School of Divinity.
“Our students will be even more creative and effective religious leaders because they will be informed and articulate about the scientific perspective and contributions of the issues of our day,” O’Day said.
The other eight participating schools are Catholic University of America in Washington; Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.; Concordia Seminary in St. Louis; Howard University’s School of Divinity in Washington; Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara Uni-versity in Berkeley, Calif.; Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa.; Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore.; and Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Va.
African-American Baptist group protests Black Jesus.
An African-American Baptist convention born out of the 1960s struggle for civil rights has denounced the television comedy Black Jesus and is mobilizing members to join a petition drive asking network officials to take the program off the air.
The Progressive National Baptist Convention, formed in the early 1960s and the denominational home of Martin Luther King Jr., denounced the program that airs on a Turner Broadcasting System-owned cable network as “nothing short of blasphemous.”
“Black Jesus undermines the faith of the African-American community when our faith in Jesus is the only consistent source of empowerment that has brought us through centuries of enslavement, dehumanization and depersonalization,” says a description of the Washington-based PNBC’s Cancel Black Jesus Campaign.
“We cannot ignore those indignities that stare us in the face and undermine our faith,” the petition says. “It was only through our faith that we found meaning in life and the strength and courage to face life’s challenges.”
Black Jesus, which just completed its first season, features Jesus Christ living in modern-day Compton, Calif., a Los Angeles County slum known for gang violence, sex and drug dealing and home to famous rap artists including Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
As portrayed by actor Gerald “Slink” Johnson, creator Aaron McGruder’s Jesus is on a mission to spread love and kindness to a small group of followers but there’s plenty of profanity and a plot line that includes growing marijuana in a community garden sparked controversy even before the series premiere Aug. 7.
The PNBC, led by President James Perkins, pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit, says “there are better and theologically consistent ways to represent Jesus to a contemporary audience without contemporizing Jesus.”
New research identifies fuzzy details about theology.
Most Americans hold views that the earliest Christians might have regarded as heretical.
That’s among the findings of a new study by LifeWay Research commissioned by Ligonier Ministries.
Researchers asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife. Many Americans get the basics right, but they’re often fuzzy on the details, Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a press release.
People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines. However, when we asked about harder beliefs — things that the church has and still considers orthodoxy — the numbers shift.”
Among the study’s findings:
Two thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe heaven is a real place. But just under half of them (45 percent) say there are many ways to heaven. Catholics (67 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are most likely to say heaven’s gates are wide open with many ways in. Evangelicals (19 percent) and Black Protestants (33 percent) are more skeptical.
About half of Americans (53 percent) say salvation is in Christ alone. Four in 10 (41 percent) say people who have never heard of Jesus can still get into heaven. And 3 in 10 (30 percent) say people will have a chance to follow God after they die.
About 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say hell is a real place. Black Protestants (86 percent) and Evangelicals (87 percent) are most likely to say hell is real. Catholics (66 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are less convinced.
Two-thirds (67 percent) say most people are basically good, even though everyone sins a little bit. Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) say even small sins should lead to damnation, while about half (55 percent) say God has a wrathful side.
Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.
Many Americans also don’t mind being disconnected from a local church. About half (52 percent) say worshiping alone or with family is as good as going to church. 82 percent say their local church has no authority to “declare that I am not a Christian.” More than half (56 percent) believe their pastor’s sermons have no authority in their life, while slightly less than half (45 percent) say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose.
About 7 in 10 (71 percent) Americans believe in the Trinity. But few seem to grasp the details of how Christians have historically taught the Trinity. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent), for example, say the Holy Spirit is a force — not a personal being. Ten percent are not sure, while 31 percent agree the Spirit is a person. Overall, two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force.
More than 1 in 7 Americans (15 percent) say the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. A third (33 percent) believe God the Father is more divine than Jesus. One in 5 (19 percent) say Jesus was the first creature made by God.
About half of Americans (48 percent) believe the Bible is the Word of God. Four in 10 (43 percent) say the Bible is 100 percent accurate, while a similar share of Americans (41 percent) say it’s helpful but not literally true. Evangelicals (76 percent) and Black Protestants (67 percent) are most likely to say the Bible is accurate. Mainline Protestants (50 percent) and Catholics (49 percent) lean toward the Bible being helpful but not literally true.
About 4 in 10 (42 percent) Americans — and more than half (55 percent) of non-Christians — say churches should remain silent about politics.
Among Christian groups, Catholics (47 percent) and Mainline Protestants (44 percent) want less politics in church. Black Protestants (31 percent) and Evangelicals (26 percent) are less likely to want their church to skip politics.
Less than half (48 percent) of Americans say sex outside of marriage is a sin. Christian groups are split on the topic. Mainline Protestants (44 percent) and Catholics (40 percent) don’t see sex outside of marriage as sinful. Three quarters of Black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (76 percent) believe it is.
New Baptist Covenant gets $1 million gift.
A Texas foundation started by Sysco founder and Baptist layman John Baugh has pledged $1 million over four years for operating expenses of a movement spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter to unify U.S. Baptists across racial, geographical and theological lines.
The gift from the San Antonio-based Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation will help the 7-year-old New Baptist Covenant movement shift from large meetings to “covenants of action,” where two or more churches from different Baptist traditions come together to address a pressing need in their community.
Hannah McMahan, New Baptist Covenant coordinator, said the movement plans to nurture 100 covenants of action nationwide over the next four years.
“We are delighted by the generosity of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation,” said Mahan, a graduate of Wake Forest Divinity School and whose office is based at the Progressive National Baptist Convention headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“The Baughs have been dedicated partners in the ministry of the New Baptist Covenant since the beginning,” McMahan said. “I am deeply moved by their generosity, and their faithful support of the mission of the New Baptist Covenant movement.”
An inaugural New Baptist Covenant celebration in January of 2008 in Atlanta attracted more than 15,000 Baptists from various traditions. A second national meeting in 2011 was beamed via satellite to locations around the country.
The next New Baptist Covenant summit is scheduled Jan. 14-15, 2015. Confirmed speakers include Amy Butler of the Riverside Church in New York, Luis Cortés of Esperanza in Philadelphia and Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Americans with fewest resources are giving greater percentage to charity.
America’s poor and middle class are giving more to charity even though they’re earning less, while the country’s rich are earning more but giving a smaller portion of their income to charity.
That’s the conclusion of a report released this month by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which tabulated IRS data from 2012.
Americans on average give about 3 percent of their income to charity, the Chronicle’s study found. But those who earn more than $200,000 reduced their charitable giving by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012, while Americans who earn less than $100,000 increased their charitable donations by 4.5 percent during the same period. Low and middle income Americans earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.
The study also found that most of the states and largest cities with the highest rate of charitable giving were in the South — the region which also registers the highest level of church involvement. At the top of the list, though, were Utah and Salt Lake City, where there’s a high concentration of Mormons.
Rank, State, Rate of giving
1 Utah 6.56%
2 Miss. 4.99%
3 Ala. 4.81%
4 Tenn. 4.45%
5 Ga. 4.20%
6 S.C. 4.13%
7 Idaho 4.09%
8 Okla. 3.94%
9 Ark. 3.91%
10 N.C. 3.63%
11 Kans. 3.45%
12 Texas 3.42%
13 S.D. 3.35%
14 Ky. 3.29%
15 La. 3.29%
16 Neb. 3.27%
17 Ind. 3.26%
18 Fla. 3.22%
19 Mo. 3.18%
20 D.C. 3.15%
Rank, Metro area, Giving rate in 2012, Change in giving since 2006
1 Salt Lake City 5.4% +2.7%
2 Memphis, Tenn. 5.1% +6.7%
3 Birmingham, AL 4.8% +1.7%
4 Atlanta 4.0% +6.5%
5 Nashville, TN 3.9% +4.8%
6 Jacksonville, FL 3.8% +8.7%
7 Oklahoma City 3.7% -1.6%
8 Dallas-Fort Worth 3.6% +4.6%
9 Charlotte, NC 3.4% -5.5%
10 Virginia Beach, VA 3.3% -6.1%
11 Houston 3.2% +1.6%
12 Indianapolis 3.2% +5.2%
13 Louisville, KY 3.2% -3.3%
14 San Antonio, TX 3.1% -2.8%
15 Orlando, FL 3.1% +4.0%
16 Kansas City 3.1% -1.6%
17 Richmond, VA 3.0% -6.7%
18 Raleigh-Cary, NC 3.0% -7.4%
19 Miami-Ft Lauderdale 3.0% +3.1%
20 Riverside, CA 3.0% -0.7%
Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy
North Carolina’s Gardner-Webb University to partner with BGAV.
North Carolina-based Gardner-Webb University has forged a new partnership with the Baptist General Association of Virginia following a vote of approval by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
The 4,600-student Baptist school in Boiling Springs will partner with the BGAV on the basis of shared values, said leaders of both organizations.
Gardner-Webb has been located in Boiling Springs, N.C., since 1905.
The new partnership is an indicator of Baptists’ shifting denominational landscape. Historically, Baptist colleges and universities in the South have identified with a single state Baptist convention, though students and financial donations frequently came from beyond the state. Gardner-Webb will continue to affiliate with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the CBF of North Carolina.
The Virginia Baptist Mission Board approved a “partnership mission covenant” with the school to help “fulfill the Great Commission through shared commitments and cooperative ministry while at the same time maintaining the independence and distinct character of each.” The agreement does not provide for BGAV financial contributions to Gardner-Webb.
The BGAV identifies as partners five other Virginia-based schools, all of which receive a level of funding: Averett University, Bluefield College, Fork Union Military Academy, Hargrave Military Academy and Oak Hill Academy. It also partners with and funds Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.
Gardner-Webb is one of five educational institutions affiliated with the North Carolina convention, though the convention does not provide financial support to them through its unified budget or elect their trustees. The others are Campbell University, Chowan University, Mars Hill University and Wingate University.Read More
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For two Salvadoran sisters who were part of the recent immigration “surge,” reuniting with their mother in Virginia also meant finding Baptists with open arms.Read More