Month: March 2008

CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE: Intl group disavows U.N.’s climate claims

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?TIME magazine warned that scientists had observed “bizarre and unpredictable weather patterns” which led them to believe the world was headed for “a global climatic upheaval.” Fluctuations in temperature, rainfall and sea ice were all described as signs of impending doom.

But the scientists interviewed by TIME weren’t talking about global warming, and the magazine wasn’t issued in the 21st century. The June 1974 report in TIME warned of a new ice age, touching off other articles in respected publications about expanding glaciers, crop failures and killer tornados.

Newsweek, for example, published its own story within a year, claiming that the evidence in support of the dire predictions “has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard pressed to keep up with it.” The New York Times followed in 1975, noting that “a major cooling is widely considered to be inevitable.”

For more than a century, American scientists and newspapers have been predicting catastrophic climate changes. So far, none of the climate predictions has proven true.

On Feb. 24, 1895, The New York Times warned of the next Ice Age, and in 1923, the Chicago Tribune warned that ice would soon make Canada uninhabitable. But by 1933, the same papers were warning of the greatest rise in temperatures since 1776. Reports two decades later also spoke of a spike in global temperatures. Even TIME magazine reported on global warming in 1951, just two decades before the article on a new Ice Age.

Scientists then were more likely to attribute changes in the global climate to natural forces, but today scientists refer to the warming experienced at the end of the 20th century as “anthropogenic global warming,” or that caused by man. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued successive reports that predict a rise in sea levels of 8 to 17 inches over the next century as a result of the human impact on the environment.

The cause of warming, the reports contend, is an increase in greenhouse gases?chiefly carbon dioxide?caused by the burning of fossil fuels, humanity’s primary fuel for transportation, manufacturing, cooking and heating. A warming atmosphere leads to melting sea ice and glaciers, according to the U.N.’s IPCC report.

The IPCC’s viewpoints were popularized by former Vice President Al Gore in his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore, however, claimed sea levels would rise by 18 to 20 feet if governments around the world failed to address CO2 emissions. His documentary, although it won an Academy Award, is now challenged by multiple sources, even by various IPCC findings.

The contradictions between reports of yesteryear and those of today were illustrated March 18 in a New York Times story on melting glaciers. According to a report from the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, the melting of glaciers has accelerated since 2006. The paper noted, however, that temperatures worldwide had actually decreased in recent months.

“The global average temperature dropped from its seasonal norm in recent months, and the Northern Hemisphere has had unusually extensive snow,” The Times report claimed. “But many experts have said those developments are almost assuredly a short-term wiggle on the way to more warming and melting from the influence of long-lived greenhouse gases produced mainly by burning fossil fuels and forests.”

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a report March 13 that confirmed global temperatures were at their coolest levels since 2001. Pacific storms dumped record snowfalls in the American West, in the Northeast and in Canada. China experienced its harshest winter in a century. Snow cover in Siberia and Mongolia is greater than at any time since the mid-1960s, and even Iraq saw snow this year for the first time in recent memory.

One of the most telling signs invalidating the predictions of catastrophic global warming is the expansion of Arctic sea ice. After a supposed record thaw, the ice has returned. A report from the Canadian Ice Service, which has kept records on sea ice since 1972, noted above-average coverage of the Arctic. Gilles Langis, a forecaster with the Ice Service, said the ice also is 10 to 20 cm thicker in most places. The report from the Ice Service was corroborated by the Denmark Meteorological Institute, which said the sea ice between Greenland and Canada was at its most expansive in 15 years.

“The nice thing about sea ice is that there is no analysis needed,” Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with NOAA’s hurricane research division, told Baptist Press in an interview. “This is raw data. You can look at the levels and see that it is colder.

“It is a lot more difficult to dispute that than it is a variable like global temperatures.”

In his service with NOAA, Goldenberg has flown through the eye walls of hurricanes more than 100 times, including the eye wall of Hurricane Katrina. And he also has been the victim of nature’s devastation. Hurricane Andrew destroyed his Florida home with him and his family inside. Fluctuations in climate, he said, are natural phenomena.

“With hurricanes, for example, there are high activity periods and low activity periods because of what is called ‘Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation’ or ‘AMO,’ a sort of see-saw, up and down of surface temperatures in the Atlantic. Wind, solar activity and a number of other factors cause the seas to sometimes warm for decades at a time. They sometimes cool for decades at a time and there is a lower level of activity. We are now in a high activity period.”

The fluctuation of the earth’s temperatures and storm patterns over decades is a relatively new scientific concept. Only recently, with the advent of satellite imagery and other technological advances, have scientists been able to make a wide range of calculations of worldwide trends. That is why scientists shouldn’t claim that the previous 10 or 20 years are the hottest years on record or that they have produced more hurricanes than ever before, Goldenberg said.

“We simply don’t know because no one was able to measure the information before. There’s no possible way someone in the 1930s could know about the formation of a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic that never made landfall?not before satellites.”

Cal Beisner, national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a group of evangelical scholars and scientists challenging the idea of human-induced global warming, also told Baptist Press in an e-mail that climate changes for five to 10 years do not constitute a trend or an imminent threat to human existence.

“Nothing is ever conclusive in science, but I think the evidence on climate change points increasingly toward natural cycles of warming and cooling,” Beisner wrote, noting that the changes are driven primarily by changes in solar energy and solar magnetic wind output, secondarily by a variety of ocean and atmospheric cycles, such as El Nino and La Nina, and thirdly by the natural, random fluctuations of the environment.

For Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, periods of warming and cooling are not matters for mere speculation. They are matters of history which lend further credence to the idea of a constantly changing climate.

While he notes that the world’s average surface temperature is warmer in the past 100 years, he asks the question, “Why is it warmer?”

“It was at least as warm during the Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings farmed Greenland,” Spencer told Baptist Press in an e-mail. “Also, about one-half of the recent warming occurre

SBC leaders: Earth care commanded

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?Christians and Southern Baptists on different sides in the policy debate over the environment can nonetheless partner together to care for it out of a belief that such action is biblically commanded, two Southern Baptist leaders who themselves are on different sides of the issue say.

The comments by Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., come after an initiative signed by Dockery and approximately 50 other Southern Baptists drew significant national media attention March 14. The Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative?which was not an official statement from the denomination?said that humans “must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change?however great or small.”

Duke did not sign the statement but in 2000 was among a group of leaders from various religions and denominations who signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship expressing skepticism that global warming is mainly human-induced. The statement also expressed concern about the effects that policies proposed by those who believe in human-induced climate change would have on the poor.

Both statements affirmed the biblical admonition to take care of God’s creation, which should be the starting point between the two groups, Duke said. Both sides believe humanity has a responsibility to care for the environment and believe that humanity can be either a blessing or a curse on it, he said.

“It is appropriate for Christians to be concerned about the environment because it is part of God’s creation,” he told Baptist Press. “We do recognize that when God created Adam and Eve he put them in the Garden and gave them responsibilities to care for it. We don’t see any indication that humanity no longer has that responsibility.”

Dockery agreed, saying in an e-mail to BP that Christians “should care about the environment because ‘the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1).'” God has given stewardship of the earth to humans, Dockery said, and Christians must “avoid both the idolizing of this creation (Romans 1:25) as well as the irresponsible neglect of it (Luke 12:13-21).”

“We should find areas of common concern and focus on our biblical responsibilities and not on the inconclusive scientific hypotheses over which there are many unanswered questions and disputed interpretations,” Dockery said. “… It seems good that believers have in recent years become concerned about the future of the earth. We need, however, to separate the biblical teaching from the political rhetoric,” he said. “Together we can affirm and proclaim a full-orbed Christian worldview that includes the creation mandate of Genesis 1 and the teachings of the New Testament. While we might differ in the application of these teachings, we must reaffirm our shared biblical, theological and ethical underpinnings. We live in hope that the biblical message of redemption from sins also promises redemption for God’s good earth.”

Duke said Christians have an obvious need to care for the environment out of a need for “self-preservation.” But Christians also have a unique desire to care for creation, he said, because they believe the earth and the universe declare the glory of God.

“Scripture tells us that the evidence of God can be seen in creation and so the more creation is assisted in showing its beauty and showing its magnificence, the better reflection that is on God,” Duke said.

“Perhaps the same kind of way as if we send our children out into the neighborhood all disheveled or clothed neatly, it reflects on who we are as parents.”

Both men also said they believe care for the environment is a moral issue. Dockery said he believes the scientific data on global warming is “inconclusive” and that “at best,” global warming is neither a primary or secondary moral issue but a “tertiary issue.” Issues related to marriage and life, such as abortion, are more important, he said. But that does not mean Christians should ignore environmental-related issues.

“It seems to me that if we recognize the need for the earth to be redeemed and if that need has come about because of our sin, then we start with our need for repentance,” Dockery said. “The problems related to the environment are not just related to technology or to science, but they are related to us. We must confess that we have not cared for God’s creation as we should. We have often abused our responsibilities of dominion and stewardship. We have mistreated the land, our neighbors, our friends and our families. Thus, we begin by humbly repenting of our wrong, turning from our failures, and living out our discipleship more responsibly.”

Southern Baptists, Duke said, should approach the issue of global warming with care.

“All Southern Baptists and all Christians in general need to be listening to the experts and they need to be asking questions,” he said. “And they need to make sure their questions are answered. Then, I think it would be wise for all Christians to do what the [2007] SBC resolution on global warming said, which was to proceed cautiously. We need cautious engagement on the issue. We can’t ignore it as though nobody’s talking about it. But we shouldn’t just take somebody’s word for it. We need to engage but we do need to engage cautiously, and we need to be even more cautious when we get into the whole issue of remedies.”

Caution is necessary, Duke said, because “so much is at stake” in the proposed remedies to global warming. Evangelicals, he said, have been targeted by global warming advocates for a strategic reason.

“If they can be moved on the global warming debate, then they can be used to put pressure on conservative politicians,” he said. “At this point evangelicals are being looked at as the most resistant group to the issue, which means that if the evangelical community and especially Southern Baptists change their position on global warming, it can be argued that the evidence [would have] become irresistible.”

But the issue should not divide Christians, he said.

“I don’t think that we should be breaking fellowship over whether or not they believe that global warming is occurring or whether or not humans are causing most of it,” Duke said. “We do need to continue to talk to each other. But it could be that when it comes to actual policy proposals, while we may agree to disagree, we may also find ourselves opposing each other on the solutions because of their significant implications for affecting the lives of millions of people.”

U.N.: Manmade global warming certain

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?The most-often quoted authority on global climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific group established in 1988 by the United Nations to evaluate the risk of human-induced climate change. It was the IPCC that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, former vice president of the United States.

Since its inception, the panel has published four reports that reviewed climate research conducted around the world and summarized their findings. The most recent report, published in February 2007, summarized 12 key findings in its “Summary for Policymakers” document. Among those findings:

1) “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years.”

2) “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”

3) “The warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 m of sea level rise.”

4) “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

5) “Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the time scales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilised.”

Also among the findings, but not quoted as often in the media: “Some aspects of climate have not been observed to change.”

Criticisms of the reports vary widely, from the resignation of panel member Christopher Landsea in 2005, complaining that the process was motivated by pre-conceived agendas and scientifically unsound, to contentions that their reports understate the dangers of global warming.

In late April 2007, after a second report that reaffirmed the panel’s gloomy predictions of increased hunger, drought, heat and rising ocean levels, the IPCC issued recommendations about solutions to forestall catastrophic climate change.

“We’re moving from two very sobering reports to what we can do about climate change. And we can do it,” Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program, told Reuters news service at the time.

“Having shown us the path towards greater and greater problems, the IPCC raises our horizons to where the solutions lie and shows that they are within our grasp,” he said.

SBC ethics agency opposes climate change legislation

WASHINGTON  The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity is opposed to climate-change legislation the U.S. Senate is expected to consider soon.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Barrett Duke, the commission’s vice president for public policy, joined more than 70 other signers in a March 17 letter to all 100 senators urging them to oppose legislation requiring cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The collection of evangelical, pro-family, conservative and public policy leaders, as well as scientists, called for the Senate to defeat the America’s Climate Security Act (ACSA), S. 2191.

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, by June. It gained the approval of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in December.

The measure would establish a cap on emissions that many scientists believe contribute to global warming. It would permit a trading system among companies and other organizations, permitting those that produce more emissions to purchase credits from those producing fewer.

ACSA’s “underlying assumption”?that the world is undergoing catastrophic and human-induced climate change?is “highly questionable,” and its cap-and-trade proposal would result in an “imperceptible” effect on global warming “while doing grave harm to our economy, the poor and U.S. competitiveness,” said the letter from Land, Duke and the others.

The ERLC leadership’s endorsement of a warning of a detrimental economic impact from the climate-change legislation came out only a week after the release of a document calling for Southern Baptists to step up their commitment to combat climate change.

The declaration, initiated by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student Jonathan Merritt and signed by approximately 50 leaders, says Southern Baptists’ “current denominational engagement with these issues [has] often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better.”

The letter from Land, Duke and the others?including Tony Perkins of Family Research Council and Gary Bauer of American Values?said estimates are that home electricity costs will increase under ACSA by “28 percent by 2015, 40 percent by 2020 and 58 percent by 2050.”

A preliminary study cited by the letter and sponsored by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) said the enactment of ACSA would mean:
?Increased energy costs, resulting in U.S. job losses of 3.7 million in 2020 and 13.1 million by 2050;
?Dramatic growth in annual household costs of $1,760 in 2020 and $3,476 by 2050;
?Greater energy prices, with consumers paying 49 percent more for natural gas and 30 percent more for retail gas by 2020.

In addition, the study showed slower economic growth would result and industries would fall in their production, according to the letter. The signers also expressed concern the bill would harm the poor by producing increased food costs.

The letter expressed doubt ACSA would have any impact on global warming. It cited a report from the European Environmental Agency it said showed European countries “committed to reducing emissions have accumulated significant costs without reducing emissions.”

On March 14, however, Lieberman and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the leading Republican cosponsor, commended an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) they said demonstrated their bill would reduce global warming without harming the American economy or consumers.

Among its findings, the EPA study showed:
?Electricity costs would rise slowly, reaching a level of only 18 percent above the 2005 level 40 years after the bill’s adoption;
?America’s gross domestic product would increase by 80 percent from 2010 to 2030, only one percent less than the growth without the bill.

These predictions could be achieved while making deeper cuts in emissions than one shown previously by the EPA “to be consistent with keeping global CO2 concentrations below 500 parts per million [ppm] in 2100,” said a release from Lieberman’s office. The release said maintaining a ppm level below 500 significantly reduces the risk of “severe global warming impacts” worldwide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Warner said in a written statement after the release of the EPA analysis, “I am satisfied that EPA’s analysis demonstrates what we have long known: You can control greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that leaves the economy whole and is not burdensome on consumers.”

The ERLC’s Duke, however, said, “We need to keep in mind that the EPA is under direction by the Supreme Court to treat CO2 as a pollutant. Since the EPA treats carbon dioxide as a pollutant, it makes sense they would consider any policy that reduces CO2 emissions as having a positive benefit.

“And regardless of whether or not the EPA determines the costs to be manageable doesn’t change at all the hardship that it creates for the poorest among us,” Duke said. The signers of the March 17 letter to the Senate believe a cap-and-trade bill, such as ACSA, “increases costs for industry, and industry will pass those costs on to consumers,” he said.

Warner spoke on a news media teleconference held by Merritt and other Southern Baptist signers of the declaration released March 10. He said the United States “must lead, we must have a start, and this is the only bill that will go onto the floor” of the Senate this year.

Congress needs to pass climate change legislation, and it can be revised in the future “as the science comes in, as public opinion affects it,” Warner said. “And I do hope your organization will come in behind us on the concept that we are the trustees of this planet and we should make that start so the rest of the world can see us leading and join us.”

Merritt thanked Warner but said he wanted it to be clear the declaration endorsed by 46 Southern Baptists “is not a political statement and this does not endorse any particular legislation.”

The March 10 document, which was signed by current SBC President Frank Page and two former convention presidents, followed by nine months a lengthy resolution on global warming adopted by messengers to the SBC’s 2007 meeting at San Antonio.

That resolution encouraged Southern Baptists “to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” It called for public policies that guarantee “an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce” carbon and other emissions. It also affirmed Southern Baptists’ responsibility to protect the environment.

The ERLC’s Duke is a co-chair of the Cornwall Stewardship Agenda, a project of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The Cornwall Alliance is a coalition of primarily evangelicals and scientists who say the cause of global warming is uncertain and have expressed concerns about the effects the policies proposed by those who believe in human-induced climate change would have on the poor.

Preach the real Jesus, whatever your style

Seems like we ought to be getting ready for Easter! It did come early this year. As a matter of fact, Easter will not be that early again until 2228! Surely Jesus will come before then. Speaking of Jesus ? a lot of churches are not.

I have been shocked by the avoidance of the name of Jesus. Dare to say mentioning sin, the blood, the cross, the resurrection or a number of other essential elements in helping people understand their need for Jesus.

North American Christianity in general and Southern Baptists in particular are in crisis. Our conversion-to-population growth ratio is at an all-time low. We have more buildings, education, money and technology than ever before. Yet we are doing less with more than any previous generation of believers. You have heard the dreary statistics: 70 percent of SBC churches are declining. Some say plateaued and declining, but unless you are growing you are declining; you can’t stand still. There is a lot of handwringing and finger pointing over this problem.

Numbers of young pastors have rejected the SBC model of cooperation. We have gone through “contemporary music,” the “Purpose-Driven” phenomenon and now the emerging church models. New forms are constantly in vogue.

Recently I heard about the Redneck Church. This flock, upon learning of the feeding of the 5,000, wanted to know whether the two fish were bass or catfish and what type of bait was used to catch’em.

We have become so niche-conscious that we may see a church start to target left-handed, blue-eyed 9-year-old girls who don’t like Hannah Montana. I’m for reaching all kinds of people in all kinds of ways, but we might be taking it to an extreme. Let me affirm much of the innovative church planting.

If I were 30 years younger, I would want to be on the cutting edge reaching the unreached with unique approaches as a church planter.

Music style is a preference, not a point of fellowship. Whether a guy sits on a stool or beats the pulpit is irrelevant. If he has bed-head, shaves his head or wears a pompadour, it doesn’t really matter. What is important is that churches both innovative and traditional uplift the Lord Jesus Christ, present clearly the gospel and depend upon the Holy Spirit.

Here’s my beef: Whatever style you are, present the biblical Jesus. Jesus had a virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious and bloody sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, and will have a visible return. I have been in churches recently that got so cute with their ministry that they forgot to present the gospel. And just because somebody baptizes a trough-full doesn’t mean the “converts” have been presented the biblical Jesus.

Use imagination and new tools, but know that only the Spirit of God can produce eternal results. We have become so slick in thinking we can “trick” people into conversion. It is the old “bait and switch” technique. We will make them think they really aren’t worshipping Jesus, never mention his name, don’t offend them and maybe they will be saved by some holy osmosis system. Paul spoke of the spirit of this world in 1 Corinthians 2:12. Don’t try to outsmart the Holy Spirit. Neither is it some jibber-jabber or some attention getting activity. Salvation is the clear, unmistakable work of the Spirit of God.

Willow Creek admitted error in their philosophy of ministry. It is hard to improve on presenting the gospel. People must understand their need. Conviction of sin is the first step toward repentance. How can a person repent if he doesn’t think he has anything to repent of? We have to preach the bad news before anyone will be ready for the Good News. We don’t have to be offensive in our methods, but the cross will offend.

The apostle Paul had a pastoral relationship with the church at Corinth. He pointed out shortcomings of the church in his first letter. In the book we call 2 Corinthians he confronted them about their infatuation with novelty. He used sarcasm to point out their rejection of his authority and the acceptance of deceivers. Paul was aggravated with the church that he started in its being so easily removed from the truth. He warned them about preaching another Jesus, receiving another spirit and having another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:1-5).

Even though Easter is passed, I urge you to boldly share the true gospel in the power of the Spirit by presenting the biblical Jesus.

Spirited, Christ-like climate debate

TAYLORS, S.C.?Recently, Southern Baptists’ attention has been focused on media reports which relate to the release of and the signing of a document titled, Southern Baptists Environment and Climate Initiative. Seldom have I seen such a reaction. Part of this has been slightly humorous.

For example, I had no idea that we had as many experts in climatology and earth science as we seem to have. Second, I have seen an arrogance among a few that is truly discouraging. Third, I have been called names that I have not been called in my entire life. As you might remember from last year’s annual meeting, I do not like to be “yelled at” and this has brought out some redneck reaction in me, to be totally honest.

However, I also see this as an opportunity for very healthy debate about important issues.
Unfortunately, this issue has been brought to a point where it is an internecine debate.

This has been caused, in part, by secular media misconstruing the very basis of this issue. I will take responsibility for part of that misunderstanding. Unfortunately, because of the title of the document in question, it has seemed to the secular media, as well as to persons within our convention, that this was a Southern Baptist Convention initiative or approved document. For that, I do apologize. It is a Christian worldview statement on biblical stewardship of the environment which was endorsed by a host of Southern Baptists in order to encourage a biblical perspective.

In the initiative are many items for discussion and debate. I continue to stand by the content of this document and believe that it is needed and appropriate. However, let me mention again my surprise at the amount of energy that has come forth, both positive and negative, since the announcement of this document. Honestly, if we could harness some of the emotion from this and turn it to evangelism and missions, we could see a massive change in our missionary and evangelistic endeavors. Many people have reacted strongly and negatively without having even read the document. We have been accused of being a part of a left wing, liberal agenda on global warming. There has been much misunderstanding, much anger, and much speaking of unkind and demeaning words.

I ask that Southern Baptists review the events of the last few weeks. Have we acted in a way to honor our Lord? Have we evaluated our positions in the light of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit’s leading?

Since being elected in 2006, I have called for Southern Baptists to be people who can honestly debate and dialogue about important issues. This is a prime opportunity to do so. Without listening to secular media reports, let’s truly dialogue about these issues. However, let us remember the words of Ephesians 4:15 and “speak the truth in love.”

I love each one of you and pray that we will be able to apply the greatest passions in our life to the greatest issue which are before us, and that is winning this world to Christ.

Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in
Taylors, S.C.

Seeing Israel at a gallop

In January, I was privileged to join eight other Baptist editors for a tour of Israel. Since that time I’ve wanted to share some of the experience with you but haven’t been able. This travelogue format might work best at describing a very full week in Israel. I hope you enjoy it. GL

Day one?Tel Aviv: We had a very thorough night’s sleep after a 10-hour flight that ended with most of us being awake for over 30 hours. Our plane arrived late afternoon and we didn’t sleep until nearly 11, local time.

Our first stop that morning was Joppa, actually a part of the Tel Aviv metro area. This is the site of Jonah’s flight from the Lord and also the home of Simon the Tanner whom Paul visited after his encounter with the resurrected Christ. We actually saw a house, that looked to have been built within the past two or three centuries, with a hand-lettered sign proclaiming it to be the house of Simon the Tanner. I have my doubts. Joppa is also the place where Napoleon was surprised at the vigor with which the locals resisted his invasion.

From Tel Aviv and Joppa we went north to visit the Baptist village. Founded in the 1950s, Baptist workers here sponsor a baseball league, a softball league (the best ball fields in the country), and American-style football games on the property. They also host training for Baptist groups and a couple of churches.

In what was to become an almost endless and fascinating series of excavation sites, our group wandered through the ancient city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast as we traveled further north. Workers have unearthed walls from the Crusader era, a palace from the time of Herod, and an entire hippodrome. The ingenious planning and grandeur of the place were evident at every turn.

We’re back on the bus to visit a can’t-miss stop on any trip to Israel, Megiddo. Of course we recognize the place from the common association with the biblical prophecy of the great battle of Armageddon (Har-Megedo or “Mountain of Megedo”). The currently exposed layer on top of this smallish hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley reveals a fortified city from Solomon’s time. The place is just a giant dig site. It has 25 layers of different eras of building. Solomon’s layer is number 16.

We spent that evening in Haifa, the great port city on the western side of Mount Carmel. It’s a beautiful and modern city. The port area still shows signs of rocket attacks out of Lebanon two years ago. The central feature of the western slope of Carmel is the tomb of a forerunner of the Baha’i religion. It’s very pretty and surrounded by well-kept tropical gardens.

Day two?After touring Haifa a bit we traveled to the eastern side of Carmel, to the traditional site of Elijah’s confrontation with the pagan priests and King Ahab. It’s one the most impressive vistas in the country. The hill overlooks the Jezreel (northwest of Megiddo) and it’s easy to imagine that the audience for the great showdown included those 20 miles away.

The rest of our day was spent in Nazareth. The Church of the Annunciation is a beautiful contemporary cathedral dedicated to the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Messiah.

Nazareth is also the location of a Baptist school and seminary staffed by Christians of various nationalities. Most of the students are Arabic. The location was at one time the Near East Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

We spent that night in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful location and one of the places it’s easiest to imagine as unchanged since Jesus’ preaching ministry.

Day three?Early that morning we boarded a boat to travel out on the Sea of Galilee. It was a brisk day but very scenic. From our boat we could see most of the shoreline sites of Jesus’ Galilean ministry we would visit later?the Mount of the Beatitudes (with accompanying church), the church commemorating Peter’s primacy, and Capernaum, the location of Peter’s house (with a church built on stilts over the excavation) and an extensive collection of houses and artifacts from that once-large town.

North of the sea, we traveled through lovely Galilee into the region of Dan, far in the north. Here we saw the snows of Mount Herman and the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi. Yes, there are two Ceasareas, one by the Mediterrean (day one), and this one in the far north of the country. Caesarea is located near where the headwaters of the Jordan flow out of Herman. It’s just a very park-like area in a region we usually assume to be desert.

Here also we drove past miles of minefields as we traveled across the Golan Heights. At our northernmost point we overlooked the United Nations base tasked with guaranteeing the security on the border between Syria and Israel. Above that, and behind our scenic overlook, was a huge Israeli listening post apparently meant to backstop the U.N. in that same task.

The sun is going down as we descend the heights back down to the Galilee. We circumnavigate the little sea and return to Tiberias for a second night.

Day four?Checking out of Tiberias, we head south along the Jordan Valley toward the Dead Sea. We are far below sea level the whole way and the view into Jordan, across a heavily fortified frontier, is covered with haze from the river valley. It’s nearly three hours to the end point of the Jordan.

We all decided to pass on swimming in the Dead Sea and went on down to Masada, another can’t miss location. After looking through the visitors’ center we ascended from 1,400 below sea level to 65 feet above sea level on a cable car.

The fortress is another Herodian project. His paranoidness wanted a place to hide if people decided they were through with him. Of course it’s primary place in history was when a group of Jewish rebels hid in the fortress during the destruction of Jerusalem from 70-72 AD. The Romans were tenacious and built an enormous ramp up to the gates of the hilltop stronghold. At this point, the Jews committed suicide amidst food and water that would have lasted for years. A good bit of the palace and other buildings have been excavated. It’s a moving place with a view that seems to go on forever. Some Israeli military units hike up to Masada to take their induction vows.

After a stop at En Gedi, a commune in the garden spot of the Judean desert, we continued north to Qumran, site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archeologists have dug up enough to give us an idea about how the Essene monastics lived around the first century. God provided just the right place for the preservation of ancient biblical material in this dry and remote location.

From there we headed toward Jerusalem. When people refer to going up to Jerusalem, they aren’t kidding, especially if you’re coming from the Jordan Valley.

Day five?It’s surprisingly cold in Jerusalem. At 7:30 AM we’re on the Temple Mount and there is ice on the Moslem washing pool. Being a high place, we’re also huddling together against a sharp wind. The significance of the place is moving, but right now it is a Moslem stronghold and has been for centuries.

Then we make the trek from the Mount of Olives, a great cemetery and site of most of the photos you see of Jerusalem, down to Gethsemene, and then toward the eastern gate of the city. This hike is the traditional Palm Sunday route of Jesus.

A current and working archeological site is in the old Jebusite city of David (2 Samuel 5). The location was formerly within the walls of the city but now is not. The excavation includes the tunnel of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:20) that goes from the city to the brook of Gihon. Visitors can actually wade through the 600-yard

Judge dismisses suit against Southwestern

FORT WORTH, Texas–A federal judge has ruled in favor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, in a lawsuit by a former theology professor who claimed she was wrongly dismissed from a tenure-track position because she is a woman.

Sheri L. Klouda filed the federal employment lawsuit alleging breach of contract, fraud and related claims on March 8, 2007, and had sought unspecified damages and a jury trial.

Instead, in a ruling filed March 20 in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, Judge John McBryde signed a judgment granting “summary judgment” dismissing “all of her alleged actions against defendants” and ordering Klouda to cover the plaintiffs’ court costs.

Patterson, in a statement following the judge’s decision, said: “My response is simply one of gratitude to God and to a host of people. The decision of the court has implications for all of our institutions and churches. Americans everywhere may still rejoice in freedom of faith and the ordering of their churches and institutions accordingly. I am thankful to God for his every kindness. I am thankful to the thousands who prayed for us. I am thankful to the trustees who faithfully stood with the institution, and I am thankful for our superb attorneys. Gratitude is all that I feel in my heart this day.”

Patterson attorney J. Shelby Sharpe of Fort Worth added, “Judge McBryde followed well-established court opinions going back over 130 years. The opinion he issued is soundly reasoned and the law properly applied to the record before him.”

Meanwhile, Klouda’s attorney, Gary Richardson of Tulsa, Okla., said, “No one questions the fact that it’s a tough call. History is, of course, against us. We knew that and we believe this case has merit. And most likely we will make the decision to appeal it. We haven’t made that decision, but most likely that is what we’ll do.”

Richardson said he believes new laws are needed if “an entity can violate someone’s civil rights and constitutional rights and not be held responsible … and then hide behind doctrinal positions to justify it.”

The defendants’ attorneys had argued that the court had no jurisdiction because Klouda’s tenure denial was on constitutionally protected religious grounds.

The judge agreed, writing in his ruling that seminary faculty are “hired, assigned, advanced, tenured, evaluated, and terminated on predominantly religious criteria” and that Klouda’s classes “had sectarian goals.”

Klouda earned a Ph.D. at Southwestern in 2002 and was elected by the trustees to her tenure-track position teaching Hebrew. A Criswell College graduate, Klouda left the seminary in 2006 and now teaches at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In the lawsuit, Klouda charged that Patterson assured her “personally and specifically” that her position was secure.

Patterson has stated that the seminary’s policy prohibiting women from teaching theology to men is drawn from its desire to “model the local church.” The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, adopted by a majority of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention that year, states that the role of senior pastor in local churches is limited to men. Patterson, according to the suit, believes the same standard applies to the seminary.

Klouda’s case became widely known after a news story on Jan. 19, 2007, appeared in the Dallas Morning News following her denial of tenure. The story stemmed from comments of Baptist bloggers decrying Klouda’s tenure denial in 2006.

Nearly two months later, Klouda hired Richardson and filed suit against the seminary. Richardson is a former U.S. attorney with a long history of winning large declaratory judgments.

Prior to her lawsuit, Klouda told the newspaper: “I don’t think it was right to hire me to do this job, put me in the position where I, in good faith, assumed that I was working toward tenure, and then suddenly remove me without any cause other than gender.”

Southwestern trustee chairman Van McClain countered that the school “allowed her to teach a full two years after she was told she would not have tenure” and that “I do not know of any women teaching in any of the SBC seminaries presently in the area of theology or biblical languages.”

Dorothy Patterson, wife of the Southwestern president, teaches theology at the school, but only before female students, the seminary said.

The seminary also offered Klouda financial support after her teaching responsibilities were over, McClain noted, adding: “The seminary went far beyond anything that could be expressed as its duty or responsibility.” According to court documents, Southwestern offered Klouda a position as associate director of the writing center on campus, with no reduction in pay or benefits, before she accepted her current position at Taylor University.

Also, according to the court papers, Klouda’s assertion in some published reports that Patterson had told her she was “a mistake the trustees needed to fix” came not from Patterson but from B. Paul Wolfe, assistant dean of biblical studies. And, “so far as she knows, she is the one who published the comment to the media,” a footnote in the ruling states.

On Jan. 23, attorneys for the seminary, Roland K. Johnson and Shannan E. Goss, filed a motion for a summary judgment, and a brief in support of that motion. A summary judgment contends that all necessary factual issues are settled or so one-sided they need not be tried.

Furthermore, a motion to dismiss by Patterson attorney Sharpe countered the suit, essentially saying that the court had no jurisdiction in such an ecclesiastical “realm where the Constitution forbids the federal judiciary to ‘tread.'” On Jan. 24, McBryde ordered Sharpe to refile the motion as a request for summary judgment.

Last September, attorneys for the seminary and Patterson argued unsuccessfully for the case to be dismissed after the plaintiff’s attorneys amended their complaint against the defendants — a move both camps interpreted as positive for their clients.

Plano, Texas, attorney Kelly Shackelford, who has argued many religious liberty cases in the federal courts, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN last fall that issues which “touch in any way on the seminary’s right to follow doctrine in hiring its religious instructors” are constitutionally protected.

Project enlisting churches to reach Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in Texas

Although the percentage of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in Texas is still relatively small, these groups are growing and they present an opportunity Texas Southern Baptists should not miss, says Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting strategist.

“How does a Baptist church engage, evangelize and plant churches among those people groups?” Coy asked.

The answer, Coy said, involves awareness of the changing demographics in many Texas cities, engaging new people groups with a missionary mindset, transforming them through relational evangelism, and modeling the process for other churches to do the same.

That four-step model is the template for the People Group Champions Project, an SBTC endeavor that has moved from a pilot program involving just a couple of churches to the implementation stage, which Coy hopes will flourish as churches catch a vision for reaching Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in their communities.

The reason for emphasizing evangelization of these three groups is that they, like evangelical Christians, are involved in proselytizing, and the window of opportunity for gospel work among them is often as they are assimilating into their new culture, Coy said.

“They may not be numerically large in Texas,” Coy explained, “but they are growing very fast. Also, we need to counter the missionary strategy of those groups, especially Muslims.”

Chad Vandiver, the church planting specialist for the People Group Champions Project and a consultant to the SBTC missions department, is conducting the training for churches interested in pursuing outreach to these people groups. Vandiver grew up on the mission field in Paris and in West Africa, playing with Muslim friends and sharing Christ with them from an early age.

Later, as a Southern Baptist missionary in Madrid, Spain, his experience with Muslims led to his teaching English in the largest mosque there, he said.

“As immigrants move in droves to Texas, it’s practically becoming a foreign mission field,” Vandiver said. “There are whole communities in Texas that have developed around a new religious or ethnic group, which has caused a need for churches to become strategically minded in how to reach these new neighbors with the hope of Jesus.”

What is surprising to many people, Vandiver said, is the movement of Muslims into rural communities, such as Royce City, where about 800 of them now live. Sizable Muslim communities exist in Irving, McKinney, and Sherman as well.

One reason for a drift to rural towns is that “real estate is cheaper for one thing and there is opportunity for them to develop a community,” Vandiver said.

When Jerry Jewell began noticing an Islamic community center on his drive from Copperas Cove to Killeen, he remembered a question Vandiver posed to him in an earlier meeting: “What about Muslims in your community?”

“I told Chad about it and he said, ‘Why don’t we go over there?’ We went over with some New Testaments and introduced ourselves. We tried to take the imam to lunch. But they invited me to go to lunch with them. I went over and ate with them several times. I ended up visiting their worship service. While I was listening to the imam talk, he said the Koran came down from Heaven to Mohammad just like he gave the Old Testament to Moses and the New Testament to Jesus.”

Afterwards, one of the Muslim men remarked that if God gave a New Testament, the old one must not have been any good. Jewell remarked to him that in the Old Testament, “God tells us he’s going to give out a new covenant.”

On another visit, Jewell was able to have a discussion about Heaven with a man from Pakistan. In the meantime, Jewell said he is trying to develop awareness among his flock of 50 or so members that a foreign mission field exists among them.

“Culturally, this is still Texas, but demographically it’s the world,” Jewell said.

Vandiver said, “With Muslims, like never before, the Lord is opening doors for us to share Christ with them.”

Coy said estimates of the number of Muslims in Texas, for example, range from 350,000 to 500,000, with Hindus and Buddhists not far behind.

By 2015, Islam could be the second-largest American religion, surpassing Judaism, although by some estimates it has already eclipsed Judaism, said Tiffany Smith, SBTC missions mobilization associate. Smith said globalization has increased religious diversity in the West.

“It fundamentally changes the contexts in which we minister, the way people and cultures perceive each other, how people think, and the means available to spread the gospel,” she said during a global missions seminar at the SBTC Church Planters’ Retreat in February.

“God loves the nations, and as Christians, we are to have the same love for the nations,” Smith said.
Coy said churches involved in the People Group Champions Project are trained in four segments, the first of which involves identifying and embracing a people group in their city, learning about and praying for that group, and prayer walking in the area where the group lives, works and worships.

The end goal is starting a church planting movement among a given people group, he said.

“This endeavor has been well-received thus far,” Coy said. “It’s just a matter of more churches being trained and implementing the strategy for reaching these people groups in their communities.”

For more information on the People Group Champions Project, visit or contact Chad Vandiver at 817-584-8164 or by e-mail at

After 60 years, church pianist ‘semi-retiring’

FORNEY?Stella Cates does not recall possessing any latent talents at age 3, but she was told she could play the piano by ear. By age 9 she was playing piano for services at her family’s church in La
Feria, Texas.

“There were no nerves at all because it came so natural,” Cates, now 70, said of her experience at leading worship services at such a young age.

She has been playing for God ever sense, for 60 years?the past 30 at Forney’s First Baptist Church.
She said she would rather play for an audience then have to speak to them.

“I just tell the Lord, ‘Thank you for my talent’ and it’s for him.”

She attended Baylor University where she studied piano performance for two years before meeting her husband, Don Cates. Job opportunities took the Cates family around Texas before finally settling in the rural plains of Forney. With each move and new church location, Cates took on the role of piano accompanist for children’s choirs to senior adult choirs. It was a role that would take her overseas and across North America.

She recalled working with Leroy Till and the high school choir while a member of First Baptist Church of Dallas in the 1960s. The youth choir traveled to Mexico, Canada, and Scotland. The work
was challenging but the performances were always well done.

“That was an exciting time,” she recalled.

Never content to just play well enough, Cates endeavored to improve her talent and studied five years under the tutelage of the director of piano at Southern Methodist University. Having left her performance degree unfulfilled, Cates said her later music studies “just seemed like the thing to do.”

Cates’s skill and reputation led her to play throughout the Forney community. Her performances have taken her out of the church hall and into the concert halls where she performed in piano ensembles with local artists. Her skills do not begin and end on the bench of a piano. The musical talents Cates shares spill over into hand bells, singing, and keyboard accompanist with the praise ensemble.

Having been involved in church music for so many years, Cates has seen her share of conflicting egos and discord over music styles. She has persevered anyway.

“I’d just talk to the Lord about it,” she confessed. Her tenure is a testimony to her ability to simply focus on the music. “I love being able to praise the Lord in that way.”

As to recent disagreements over music styles within the church, Cates said she never felt her job was ever at risk. On the contrary, the piano, she said, is generally the lead instrument in the contemporary praise music. It is the organ, she said with regret, that has lost its place in church worship. As a child she taught herself to play the complex instrument and hopes one will be installed in the planned worship center at FBC Forney.

Through her years of performing, Cates has worked to pass on her talents to up-and-coming pianists. It was her talents as a piano instructor that would, ultimately, help train a student who would some day fill the bench Cates would eventually vacate.

“I don’t like the word retirement,” said Cates, who recently stepped down from full-time work as the church pianist.

An illness suffered by her husband last autumn forced Cates to relinquish her role temporarily while helping him recuperate. It was during that time that she began toying with the idea of semi-retirement. The woman who was filling Cates’ place at the piano, Becky Dobbs, was a former student of Cates and a capable worship leader.

When Cates confided in Dobbs about her desire to give up the bulk of responsibilities, Dobbs told her, “Go for it!”

“It’s been a relief,” Cates admitted.

Rehearsal schedules for the various music ensembles at the church can be very time consuming, and, Cates said, “I realized [Don] had been sitting out there all by himself all these years” during worship services. Her family’s accommodation of her love of music has not gone unappreciated.

Cates readily acknowledges that music, specifically her ability to play the piano, is a gift from God. But, she admitted, from the time she was a young girl her heart’s desire was to be a good wife and mother. God gave her the desire of her heart and, in the process, allowed her to pass on her gift to her four children. Each one, she said, grew up playing the piano and, for a couple of her sons, the guitar.

Making music has been such a natural outpouring of her love for the Lord.

“You just live it and don’t notice the years going by,” she said.

Cates is not resigning all music duties.

She said, “I’ll be available. I have to play. I can’t live without playing.”