Month: February 2008

Q&A: Former Texas pastor helps churches help those with homosexual attraction

Bob Stith spent 37 years as pastor at Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake before resigning to become the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues last spring. An Alabama native who came to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and never left, Stith shared his testimony at the SBC annual meeting in 2003 about the importance of reaching out to homosexuals with the gospel.

The TEXAN’s Jerry Pierce interviewed Stith at the SBTC office in Grapevine recently. What follows is adapted from that interview.

TEXAN: How did God put this issue on your heart?
STITH: For me, when I preached on the issue of homosexuality, it was always negative and harsh–very little if anything redemptive. And the Lord really convicted me at one point that if someone struggling with homosexuality heard you preach, would they come to you for help? And I thought, “Not likely.”

I realized I would not know how to relate to what they were dealing with at all. And it really broke my heart. I always told people–be very careful about condemning someone’s behavior if you’re not prepared to help them walk out of it. And as I applied that then, I realized that I was not doing that, that there were hurting people out there that I was not prepared to help.

This was in ’94, and at that time very little was known or said about anything that was from a redemptive perspective. It was probably about six months later that I ran across the name of Exodus International in an article. I wrote to them and asked them for information, and within that information was an invitation to their annual conference, which I had no intention of going to. Yet God continued to put it on my heart. I wound up going and it was one of the most eye-opening and incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

I had realized, even then, and I wrote to some friends then that this is going to be the watershed issue for the church in our generation. And they all thought, “What? How do you figure that?” And I told them this is just going to grow in its acceptance in the culture. Even in our churches, what I run across are good, solid Bible-believing people who in their minds weren’t sure what to think about this issue.

I ran across people who were very strong and then in questioning them, they’d say, “Don’t you really think they’re born that way? They can’t change.” And they were not speaking of it in the sense of accepting it, but “you know, they’re just doomed to celibacy at best.”

I thought, “If they think this, if this is what’s in their mind, then deep down they’re not convinced of the power of Christ to change.” And for others, there is a sense that we’ve missed this, we have been wrong about this. So if we’re wrong about this, then that undermines the whole concept of the infallibility of Scripture.

So that’s when I started to try to communicate to people. And it’s been fascinating. Even to this day, many of those in the church still don’t see it, and yet it’s happening all around us.

TEXAN: Tell us a little bit about your work in helping Baptists deal with this issue biblically and redemptively.
STITH: One of our big goals is to get into the churches and equip them. We do a one-day workshop similar to Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out” conference. Focus can only do about four to six of those a year, which means they can only reach about 6,000 people.

So our ministry developed one that would be accessible to the local church. It covers the things I think are pivotal for churches to understand in this area of ministry. But the people in the pews are much more interested in hearing about it than pastors are for some reason.

We’ve gone into some very large churches, and not only have the pastoral staff not shown up, but they haven’t really promoted it actively, which just really amazes me.

We include one keynote address on roots and causes of homosexuality, giving people some understanding. One of the important ways to address this is revisiting the way we do family ministry in the church. I would never say the family is always the cause of homosexuality. Certainly it isn’t. There are a variety of factors. But the family is key.

And then I do an afternoon keynote on homosexuality in the church. And I talk about some of my feelings about this issue early on. And then I talk about visiting with people who have struggled with this issue in the church and have been wounded, not maliciously, but just by things that were said and done, sometimes in innocence, but because [the church] didn’t understand how it came across.

I remember one guy, a really sharp guy, who went through our ministry and eventually went on to get married and have a family. He recounted how he was not a Christian but how he struggled with these feelings and knew it wasn’t right no matter what this homosexual peers were telling him.

And he finally decided to go to church and that Sunday the pastor told the little joke–“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”–and then nothing redemptive to follow that. So he left and it was a long time before he found a church.

Those are little things we don’t think much about, to see what that’s like for someone who’s scared already, someone who is uncertain of what’s going on. So trying to help our churches understand how we need to change and why it needs to change and what we do to make our churches redemptive and safe places for people who struggle.

TEXAN: Are the churches prepared to give an answer?
STITH: I do two workshop sessions. One is on the Bible and homosexuality, because gay activists are in many ways better at using Scripture for their own purposes than we are. Now, we know the basic scriptures that speak about homosexuality, but we don’t know how to defend those exegetically and apologetically, and they do.

They can be pretty convincing if you don’t understand the context of Scripture. You have to go back and see the deviation, but no, most Christians I talk with are not prepared to do that. They’re putting that out there continually and people are seeing it. In a seeker-church environment, a lot of guys are just willing to let that slide because they don’t want the hassle. I’m not coming down negatively on pastors. I understand that things are coming across your desk every day to get involved in this or that.

But I see this as something that poses a real threat to the church in this country because many homosexuals realize that the evangelical church is their last big obstacle. And they know that. Anything they can do to make us look bad or undermine us, they will do it. And when we are not prepared to explain Scripture in its context, then they carry the day just by default.

And the other area is the apologetics of science. It is frightening to me to see the change that polls show in the number of people who believe gays are born that way. There has been an onslaught of attempts to show a biological cause to homosexuality, and all have failed. One of the earliest studies by Simon LeVay tried to show a genetic cause by showing differences in the size of the hypothalamus between heterosexual and homosexual men. And he later admitted the study did not show a genetic cause. But people don’t know that.

There are a variety of factors. I do think there is such a thing as a genetic predisposition, which is a long way from predetermination. And people get disturbed when I say that sometimes. Remember, we’re a fallen race. Because of the fall we are predisposed to a lot of things–a lot of manifestations of that sin. And it shows up in a lot of different ways.

TEXAN: You are saying that no matter the sin, it is traced back to our depraved nature.
STITH: Yes. In our ministry we have run across people who were not Christians at the time but knew in their heart this was not right. This was not what they wanted. Some of them would seek until they found an answer. There are organizations and there have been studies done for years by psychologists and psychiatrists who are not Christians who have helped people come out of homosexuality.

We say to people, “Our goal is not heterosexuality. Our goal is holiness in Christ. We want you to be whole in Christ.”

TEXAN: Is that misunderstood largely?
STITH: Yes, very much so. When the report was made in Phoenix [of an SBC task force on gender issues in 2003], one headline read that “Baptists to help homosexuals become heterosexuals.” And that’s just typical of what happens with this. Just the headline of heterosexuality is exactly what the gay community latches onto.

At any rate, numerous studies both Christian and secular have shown change is possible. What the homosexual activists argue is that people don’t change, they just suppress. And they base that on the fact that sometimes people aadmit they still have a homosexual struggle. And I’ve said, “Well, I’ve worked with a lot of alcoholics and drug addicts in my life, and they recognize all their life that they could slip into that at any time. Does that mean nobody is ever really healed of drug addiction or homosexuality? With the whole area of lust, most men who battle lust, they don’t have lustful thoughts about their wives. Does that mean they’re not monogamous? Or does it mean they have a struggle they’ve got to deal with?

People have responded, “Well, that’s different.” But why is it different? It’s just an unwillingness to look at the whole picture. I know people personally where there is such peace and joy in their lives. Yeah, they would not say they never have a homosexual thought. But there is a great difference in having a thought and being driven by it and it consuming you. I see the peace in their lives. I see the joy that they have. I know what they have.

TEXAN: What would you say to someone who questions how a loving God could allow such human depravity?
STITH: For me it comes from a theological perspective. The fall contaminated the whole human race, and there were all kinds of things that came from that that were not God’s plan. My conviction is that God planned for man to have a fruitful, peaceful, productive life. I tell people I really believe the Bible. Jesus says, “I’ve come that you might have life and abundance.” And he said “my joy, my peace I give to you.” And I believe that. Now, I believe that’s God’s intention for all of us. But I also believe because I’m committed to Scripture that if we choose to live outside of God’s will in any area, whether it’s homosexuality or anything else, we can’t have all that God wants us to have. And I want people to have everything God wants for them. And I don’t believe we can ever have that if we choose to disobey God in any area of our lives.

TEXAN: How would you counsel people who have friends or relatives who are homosexuals?
STITH: One of the things I’ve noticed almost from the beginning of my involvement in Exodus was how many people who came out of homosexuality who had someone in their life who was able to say “I believe there is a way out of this and I care about you,” and then didn’t preach at them, didn’t hound them, just loved them unconditionally. And inevitably they reached a point in their life where they said, “You know, these people really care about me. I’m going to go to them for help.”

So I would recommend strongly that at some point you let them know that you’re sorry they are struggling with that and you believe there’s a way out of that, but you are going to love them and be there if there is anything you can do for them. And just be caring.

You say what you think Scripture says but you love them, you pray for them, and you care about them as a person—not because he or she is a homosexual, not to try to get them to change, but to love them as Jesus loved them.

TEXAN: The act of homosexuality is obviously a choice at some point, but is it helpful to say that homosexuality is a choice or does it beg from more explanation?
STITH: I still hear pastors say it’s a choice, and then leave it at that. I say, “Well, you know, we don’t always get to choose the dragon. Sometimes the dragon chooses us.” And in this case, the people I’ve talked to over and over and over again will say—people who have come out of it and people who are activists—“I’ve known all my life I was different.” And they did. They sensed some difference all their lives. They didn’t know what it was and didn’t know why. Of course, in some cases they do because there was molestation, sexual abuse. In some cases they do know because they’ve had an abusive father.

Ironically, whether it’s a girl or a guy, the end result is always the same. For that guy, it’s usually the sense that I want to be a male but need male affirmation. For the female, it’s “I want nothing to do with men.” So there’s a variety of factors, and sometimes you can figure it out, but not always.

TEXAN: What is it about the sexual nature of people that Satan attempts to seize for his benefit?
STITH: There may be theologians who would disagree with me or challenge me on this, but I’ve often thought one of the reasons is because it’s in our sexuality that we enter into our creative cooperation with God. It’s the area where man joins with God in creating life. And if he can pervert that and change that … And out of that we get our ethic for the foundation of the home, and the home being the foundation for society. So when you begin to mess with sexuality, you’re eroding the foundations and you are interfering with that thing where God allows us to join with him in his creative acts.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his niece while he was in the Nazi prison camp. She was about to be married. He said something like, “Your love is your own private possession. But in marriage you take an oath of responsibility to the ages. You become a link in the chain of those who have gone before and those who will come after.” So I think there is something to that; that’s a part of God’s plan for creation and perpetuation of the race and so forth. When you distort that in any way, then Satan has effectively challenged God’s plans and purposes.

Moody student tells of life after near death

EULESS?Kristen Anderson remembers feeling the pain, seeing the profuse bleeding and hearing the sound of the classic Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” playing in her head. It wasn’t until later that she understood that God’s hand of grace had kept her alive that day despite her losing eight pints of blood, she told the audience at the Empower Evangelism Conference on Feb. 5.

Anderson, now a Moody Bible Institute student, was 16 on Jan. 2, 2000, the day she attempted suicide by lying down in front of an oncoming train.

She said, “I thought suicide was the only way to escape my pain” after seeing four friends and a grandmother die within a year and a half and also being raped during that time. She went to church growing up, but doesn’t remember ever hearing the gospel.

“As a young, teenage girl I didn’t know how to handle any of that,” Anderson remembered, and after being raped, “I had lost all my dignity, I felt like.”

She had considered suicide several times, but not until she saw the train tracks that day near the park in her hometown did it cross her mind again.

Over a 90-minute period, she contemplated taking her life by lying down on the railroad tracks in what she described as a “major spiritual battle” over whether or not she had a reason to live.

Looking back, “it is an incredible blessing because I can see God in all the details that night,” she said.
For example, as she lay with her legs hanging over one of the rails, the oncoming train should have sucked her up from the ground because of the air vacuum; Anderson said she remembers something almost pushing her against the ground as the rail cars severed her legs.

After the train passed, she said the scene was surreal as she saw her legs about 10 feet behind her. She crawled off the tracks, realized she was bleeding heavily, recalled feeling intense pain for the first time during the ordeal and crying for her mother, who was nowhere around.

Anderson said the doctors told her she should have died, and her family and friends rallied around her, telling her that she survived for a reason.

She returned to church after her accident and was told by a woman there that she would have gone to Hell had she died that day. Shocked by the woman’s statement, Anderson said she always thought she
would go to Heaven because she was a fairly good person.

Later, a friend of Anderson’s sister told her “all of us were created to be in a personal relationship with God. That was the first time I had ever heard that,” she recalled.

“I didn’t realize that I had to make a choice. ? God had given me a second chance, and most people don’t get a second chance,” she said.

Anderson said she has learned three truths since becoming a Christian: the importance of regular Bible study and devotional time, the importance of joining a “gospel-believing, Bible-preaching church,” and reality of Satan in the world.

Through the help of a Christian counselor who “gave me unconditional love and spoke more truth into my life than anyone ever had,” Anderson began to build on her faith and also began a speaking ministry after being called numerous times to share her story.

She has appeared on “Oprah” and a Billy Graham television special. In 2004, she started Reaching You Ministries to help people find hope from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Because of the “Oprah” appearance, Anderson said she received e-mails from hundreds of people who were contemplating suicide before they watched her share her story.

Women’s speakers exhort women not to lose wonder of walking with God

EULESS?”Don’t Lose the Wonder,” warned former Texan Barbara O’Chester, noting the tendency to practice “treadmill Christianity” whereby “we walk but don’t go anywhere” in the Christian life.

The wonder of salvation should cause believers to recognize a miracle has occurred, whether the recipient is a 6-year-old child as O’Chester was when she became a Christian or a 100 year old. And the wonder of sanctification should remind believers of the importance of maturing, controlled and filled with God’s spirit, she said.

As a lifelong Baptist, O’Chester said she was the mother of three daughters before she realized what sanctification meant.

“It’s a great big word that we have let the Pentecostals take,” said O’Chester, encouraging those listening to give God control of their lives so that they might live victoriously.

Furthermore, O’Chester said God will be glorified as believers recognize the wonder of his sovereignty.

She recounted the various circumstances of her life that she still did not understand?spending 82 nights under police protection when her husband stood against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, taking a 45 percent pay cut when their Austin church faced financial difficulty, the pain of a child wandering in the world for 15 years before returning to full deliverance.

“God is good. Remember what he’s done in your life and how he has protected you,” she reminded.
Christians also need to rediscover the wonder of service, recognizing the privilege of serving the King of kings, as well as the wonder of Scripture, realizing the sacrifice of those who bled and died to preserve it through the ages.

“The book is still relevant and a lot more truthful than your morning newspaper which many of you devour.”

O’Chester turned to Proverbs 30 to remind women not to lose “the wonder of your spouse,” as God brings two different people of different backgrounds and personalities together for good, and the importance of treasuring their children at all times whether they create joy or pain, fun or frustration.

“Those of you who know me didn’t really think you were going to get out of here without hearing the wonder of submission,” she quipped. “Submission to the Lord puts order in our lives. Submission to your husband puts order in the home,” she said, further noting the need for submission to leaders and authorities as part of God’s plan.

Finally, the wonder of spiritual warfare causes the Christian to recognize there is a target on the believer after receiving Jesus as Savior.

“You get to fight for your king. It’s a privilege,” she said.

Speaker Lilliana Lewis of Austin shared how the parable of the lost sheep took on new meaning when one of her daughters escaped her notice during a playground visit while a preschooler. Drawing from Matthew 18:10, she encouraged women to be about their heavenly father’s business in seeking souls to be saved.

The incident involving her daughter rallied members of their church to pray for the child’s safety as police and firefighters sped into action during the search. As she knelt to pray for her daughter, Lewis said she was reminded of David Livingstone’s request that God would walk with him on the road he was walking following his wife’s death.

“We must pray as though everything depended upon our prayers,” she urged, quoting the advice of Salvation Army founder William Booth.

“Then work as if everything depended on our work,” she added. In the midst of such anxiety, God gave her a peace and calmness of spirit that allowed her to comfort other members of her family, Lewis said.

Just as the rescue workers had a strategy for finding her daughter, Lewis encouraged women to take advantage of the many and varied methods of sharing their faith in order to find lost souls.

“If you aim at nothing you hit it every time. Let’s not aim at nothing. Have a plan.

“God gave us this parable so we’d know how he felt searching for the lost. His heart breaks as he cares for those who are lost.”

Ultimately, believers who sow in tears are able to reap in joy, she said. When her daughter was found the police chief told them to go home and rejoice.

“‘This is the way we want every story to end,'” she recalled him saying.

Katie Dyke-Kinsey shared her testimony of losing a husband to cancer, then marrying again, only to find that her husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“God is still in the miracle business and he has the plan for each of your lives from beginning to end.”

June Hunt of Dallas dealt with a common problem many Christians face in failing to forgive offenses. Pointing to Luke 6:27, she defined forgiveness as “dismissing the demand that others owe you something.”

Not only are Christians to “dismiss the debt,” they are also to “release resentment” that often remains. “It was a choice we made of whether we’re going to forgive people. We choose to release our resentment toward the offender.”

Hunt said forgiveness involves releasing rights to hear “I’m sorry,” and to not dwell on the offense or keep bringing it up.

“Let’s understand, forgiveness is not circumventing God’s justice,” Hunt added. “It is allowing God to execute his justice in his way and in his time. Forgiveness is not letting the guilty off the hook, it’s moving the guilty from your hook to God’s hook.”

She contrasted forgiveness, which can take place with only one person, and reconciliation, which is reciprocal.

“Forgiveness is extended even if it’s never ever earned. Reconciliation is offered to the offender because it has been earned.”

Refusing to forgive can be a block to salvation, added Hunt, relating accounts of several individuals who would not let go of an offense, ultimately refusing to trust in God. And yet, once forgiveness was extended, she saw others respond with joy over having been converted. She encouraged women attending the evangelism conference to extend forgiveness and share with others how Christ can change lives.

Criswell College establishes counseling chair

DALLAS?During the Feb. 5 chapel service at Criswell College, school President Jerry Johnson announced the establishment of the “Hope for the Heart Chair for Biblical Counseling” to be led by Steve Hunter, an associate professor of psychology and counseling and dean of students at Criswell.

Johnson also recognized June Hunt, founder of Dallas-based Hope for the Heart, as initiating the establishment of the chair in August 2007. The college continued moving forward on Nov. 12, when the executive committee of the trustees authorized the endowment. On Dec. 7, the board trustees formalized the establishment.

“I’m really thankful to June Hunt and Dr. Hunter,” Johnson said. “This is an exciting partnership.”

Hunter is also on staff at First Baptist Church of Dallas as a licensed professional counselor and is a former missionary and pastor. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Texas A&M University, as well as a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his doctor of ministry from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

Hope for the Heart is a biblical counseling ministry and June Hunt hosts the nationally syndicated radio program “Hope for the Heart,” which airs daily for 30 minutes, and “Hope In The Night,” a two-hour call-in broadcast. Both are designed to help listeners work through issues and problems with biblical answers and practical help.

At the chapel service, Johnson brought both Hunter and Hunt to the stage, expressing his hope that the endowment of the Hope for the Heart Chair will allow more Christians to be trained in biblical counseling.

The “Hope for the Heart” radio programs are broadcast in 25 countries and Hunt is also the author of more than 30 books, most recently “How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It.” Hunt earned a master of arts degree in counseling at Criswell. She also has been a guest professor at colleges and seminaries, and teaches courses nationally and internationally on topics such as crisis counseling, child abuse, spousal abuse, homosexuality, forgiveness, singleness and self-worth.

After years of teaching and research, Hunt developed “Counseling Through The Bible,” a scripturally based counseling course addressing 100 topics, such as depression and parenting, anger and abuse, guilt and grief. From this course, Hunt also authored and produced the “Biblical Counseling Keys “?all designed to move people from wrong thinking to right thinking … from wrong living to right living,” Hunt’s website states.

“There’s nothing more important than instilling in students truth, teaching them how to think about people and how to apply the Word of God to their lives,” Hunt said. “Biblical counseling gives people the tools to help others while knowing the counsel has its foundation in God’s Word. You can be sincere, and sincerely wrong, but the Word of God is never wrong.”

Johnson reiterated the unique place the endowed chair will have at Criswell.

“There are a lot of hurting people out there who are needy and are not hearing the right messages. They may go to a psychologist or psychiatrist, but this is the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling, really emphasizing that God’s Word has the answers.”

Hunt expressed her support for Hunter’s leadership in biblical counseling.

“No one would be a better representative of this school than Steve Hunter. He is solid, has heart and he truly has ‘Hope for the Heart’ that he gives.”

Speaking of his vision for the chair, Hunter said during chapel that he and June Hunt have “the same heartbeat, and that is to train Christians in how to effectively minister to the hurting through God’s Word ? that’s my desire and the purpose of Hope for the Heart.”

Hunt later stated that one of the keys to biblical counseling is to have the Word of God indwell the person who is counseling.

“We have a world of people who want help and hope, and they need to know how to think biblically so that truly they will have joy and the peace of God. There’s no substitute than having the peace of God and the only way to do that is to be in the will of God.”

Johnson emphasized that the counseling courses at Criswell span a broad spectrum. Students may earn a bachelor of arts in counseling and a master of arts in counseling at Criswell College.

“We want to encourage people who have an interest in helping others that they don’t have to be a professional counselor (to take courses in biblical counseling),” Johnson said. “This is also for laymen,
Sunday School teachers who really want to have the tools. We are excited. We think it will just grow.”
Criswell student Laura Kreisher praised the school for offering the course of study.

“My passion and commitment is for the Lord’s truth and how that applies to life. Criswell is where God was calling me so this is where I’m at, just to be used by God in whatever way he would have me. I’m majoring in biblical counseling.”

Land: Ivy League experiencing revival

DALLAS?”There is a spiritual revival going on at the Ivy League campuses of America,” Richard Land told the audience at Criswell College during his lecture series there Jan. 29-31.

Land told students he was up late the night of Jan. 30 preparing a written testimony for a book about committed Christians from Ivy League schools. Land, a Houston native, is a Princeton alumnus.

“When I was at Princeton it was like I was an alien creature from a faraway planet being an evangelical Christian,” Land said of his experience there in the 1960s. “Most of my classmates didn’t know what an evangelical Christian was. They didn’t know what born-again was, and they wanted to know if I handled snakes.

“? And today, in a student body of about 5,500 students, there are about 1,000 Princeton students involved in weekly Bible studies. It’s amazing to see what is going on. It’s going on at Princeton, it’s going on at Harvard, at Yale, at Brown and all of the Ivy League schools and many other schools.”
Land said while reflecting on his upbringing, “I had to stop and bow my head and thank the Lord for the many people God has sent into my life and has used in a wonderful way, beginning with my mother.”

“I was led to the Lord with a backyard Good News Club,” recounted Land, noting his memory of seeing flannel board Bible stories as a young child.

Government must accommodate religion, not endorse it, Land says

DALLAS?There are three competing approaches to the Constitution’s First Amendment, the most valid being the one in which government fairly accommodates the free expression of its citizens’ varied religious viewpoints, Richard D. Land told a Criswell College audience during a lecture series held Jan. 29-31 in Dallas.

Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president and a leading evangelical voice on cultural issues who once taught at Criswell, spoke on the subject “What Does God Have to Do with America?Past, Present and Future?” during the Criswell Theological Lectures.

Land began his three lectures by explaining the context of Thomas Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation” letter to the Danbury Baptists, and ended noting the open religious speech?mostly biblical allusions, quotations and public prayers?of former U.S. presidents while in office.

Of the three approaches championed by First Amendment advocates?the avoidance position, the acknowledgement position, and the accommodation position?Land said the latter most closely honors the American founders’ intent and historic Baptist principles.

“The accommodation position would say, ‘If the people in the community want to have a manger scene on the courthouse lawn, then they ought to be allowed to collect the money and buy a manger scene and the government should accommodate their wish by allowing its display at the appropriate Christmas time, and they should provide police protection for it and the lighting for it and possibly even the storage for it during the Christmas season,” Land explained.

“But that also means that if there are Jewish people in the community and they want to have a Menorah scene at the appropriate time in the Jewish calendar, then they ought to be able to have a Menorah celebrating Judaism as well. And if there are Muslims in that community, then at the appropriate time they ought to be allowed to display a Muslim scene. Accommodation means the government is an umpire. And the government makes sure that everybody plays fair.”

Land said the avoidance position, championed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), seeks to keep all religious expression out of the public square, while the acknowledgment position “says that it’s perfectly all right for the government to acknowledge on behalf of the people the majority religion, that, after all, Christians are the majority.”

“What we should want as Baptists,” Land said, “is maximum accommodation. That is your view and my view and everyone else’s view [included] in the public square.”

Land said President Jefferson?perhaps the most frequently quoted advocate of church-state separation?never intended his famous phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” to mean anything but that citizens are free to follow their religious or irreligious consciences without the state’s favoritism or infringement.

Land explained that Baptists such as John Leland championed the First Amendment guaranteeing “a free church in a free state,” and that early American Baptist forebear Roger Williams had written more than a century before Jefferson that “there needs to be a wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the state to protect the garden from the encroachment of the wilderness.”
Land said, “The last thing we as Baptists should want is government-sponsored religion. Government-sponsored religion is like getting a hug from a python.”

Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase has been claimed by proponents of the accommodation position and by groups like the ACLU that champion the avoidance position.

But Land said if Jefferson had intended that government avoid religious expression in its domain, it is curious that Jefferson, the Sunday after penning his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, attended Sunday worship services in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber led by his friend Leland, a Baptist pastor from Connecticut.

Land said the ERLC’s vision statement?”An American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority”?alarmed a New York Times reporter who asked, “What about separation of church and state?”

Land said he answered: “Well, do you see the word ‘church’ or the word ‘state’ in that vision statement? It says an American society that affirms Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority.”

“She said, ‘Well, no.’ I said, ‘See, what we’re calling for is for people of faith to go out and by the way they live and by their sharing their faith, to change our society so our society becomes a society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values.'”

“I explained to her that it is the people of faith who are the engine that drives the locomotive of the church and society, and the government is the caboose,” Land said. “It comes along behind. I said, ‘I know you believe in democratic and representative government. So if the majority of Americans affirmed and practiced Judeo-Christian values, you would want to see that reflected in the nation’s laws, right?’ She said she’d have to think about that.”

One of the most egregious examples of the avoidance position being imposed by the courts, Land said, was the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that a female high school student in Santa Fe, Texas had acted unconstitutionally “because the school district had paid for the microphone [during a public prayer before a football game]. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make that up.”

When religious speech is challenged, Land said, “Their right not to hear ends with our right to free expression and free speech.”

There is “theological imperialism” in places such as Iran, where every woman must cover her head under penalty of law, Land said, and there is “supreme secularism” in places such as France, where if you are a Muslim girl, “you can either wear your head covering or you can attend public school, but you can’t do both.”

“And then we have what we call in the United States principled pluralism, where in Muskogee, Okla.?about as deep into Red State country as you can get?the decision was made that Muslim girls may or may not wear their headscarves in public school. It’s up to the Muslim parents and each Muslim girl. They are not going to be discriminated against and they are not going to be disallowed from going to the public schools because they are practicing their faith. That is what our Baptist forefathers had in mind, and it is the principle that we should promote in the public square. And if we do so, we will benefit because all that Baptists and Christians have ever needed to flourish is a level playing field.”

SBTC marks 2,000 affiliated churches

Four churches whose affiliations were received by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention the week of Jan. 28 pushed the convention past 2,000 congregations in its 10th year.

The congregations are Luz de Betel Baptist Church in Austin, Gateway Baptist Church of Big Spring, Calvary Baptist Church of Snyder, and Denton Chinese Church of Denton.

“On average, a church every other day affiliates with the SBTC,” said Troy Brooks, director of Minister-Church Relations. “We are thankful that so many churches are choosing to partner with us as we reach Texas and touch the world. Since we are a confessional fellowship, churches wishing to affiliate with the SBTC complete an affiliation application indicating their agreement with the doctrinal position of the SBTC [Baptist Faith and Message] and make an initial contribution to the Cooperative Program. Frequently we are contacted by churches that have already voted to affiliate but for one reason or another, they have not completed and sent in the affiliation form. For that church to be counted, the SBTC needs the affiliation form.”

“The SBTC is blessed to have reached this milestone in the affiliation of these churches,” Brooks added.

The SBTC will mark 10 years this November when it meets for its annual meeting at Houston’s First Baptist Church. It constituted in Houston in 1998.

Longtime pastor, farmer-turned-evangelist honored at evangelism conference

EULESS?A farmer-turned-evangelist and a retired Austin pastor were recipients of the SBTC’s annual evangelism awards given to ministry leaders who exhibit a lifetime commitment to winning souls.

Herman Cramer’s 28 years in full-time evangelism which followed a successful farming endeavor was lauded by SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass before the award’s namesake, Roy Fish, presented to Cramer the 2008 Roy Fish Lifetime Achievement Award for Vocational Evangelism.

Harold O’Chester, who was pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin for 34 years, accompanied by his wife, Barbara, received the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award for Pastoral Evangelism.
O’Chester told the Empower Evangelism Conference audience he treasured a letter Criswell wrote him after the legendary pastor spoke at Great Hills. O’Chester said he didn’t feel worthy to have an award named after Criswell.

Barbara O’Chester said, “Next to being saved, the greatest blessing of my life is to have been married to Harold O’Chester.”

Texas Southern Baptists pledge support for Union University

GRAPEVINE, TEXAS?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has pledged $20,000 to assist Union University in Jackson, Tenn. after tornados devastated the Baptist school the evening of February 5. Dorms and other campus buildings were destroyed, displacing a large number of students. Nine students were hospitalized by the storm.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said, “We certainly want to lift up this fine school as they face a time of great crisis. As a token of that, we want to send a gift to help relieve immediate needs they might have as they work to get back on their feet.”

The convention’s gift will be divided into two parts: $10,000 will be sent to the University to meet any need they might have. A second gift of $10,000 will be used to help with hardships Union students might experience during their transition to new living quarters.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is a fellowship of 2,000 Texas Southern Baptist churches focused on “reaching Texas and touching the world.” More information is available at Questions regarding this release should be directed to Communications Director TRONG>Gary Ledbetter at 817-552-2500. -an official site for recovery information on Union University