Month: April 2009

Texan named top bookstore manager looks to ‘impact lives’

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?Texas native William McGregor returned home in 2006 to assume leadership of the Hurst LifeWay Christian Store in the mid-cities area of Dallas-Fort Worth. Three years later, the retail chain has honored McGregor by naming him the 2008 Store Manager of the Year.

LifeWay Christian Stores, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, annually selects a recipient for the Store Manager of the Year award based on criteria including financial performance, customer service feedback, leadership and operational efficiency.

McGregor joined the LifeWay Christian Stores management team in 2004 already with a decade of experience in Christian retail. His leadership was immediately put to the test at his first LifeWay store on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In the days following Hurricane Katrina, McGregor remained at the store and was open for business when the seminary reopened following extensive repairs.

The next year, McGregor moved to serve as manager of the newly opened LifeWay Store in Texarkana, Texas, before moving again to Hurst.

“Being from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, this was like coming home,” he said.

McGregor said his approach to serving the community is complemented by his background as a pastor.

“The reason we exist is to provide ministry solutions that impact lives,” he said. “But the day-to-day ministry opportunities?touching the lives of the people who come in our store?cannot be overlooked. As a store manager, I’ve done immensely more ministry in the bookstore than I ever did as a pastor.”

David Pigg, western region director for LifeWay Christian Stores, said McGregor has strong leadership skills and an “incredible drive for excellence with the desire that God receive glory in everything he does.”

“This drive filters down to his staff and together they provide strong customer service,” Pigg said. “He is proactive in his management, anticipating needs and addressing problems in order to provide the best experience possible for each customer.”

McGregor said a major part of the Hurst store’s success can be attributed to the high standards of service and ministry by which the staff operates.

“This [Dallas-Fort Worth] market demands excellence in customer service and sales initiative,” he said. “But more than anything, we are successful because we know our products change lives and we stand behind not only the product but also the people who come in the stores. We know that our ministry continues when they leave.”

McGregor said receiving the Store Manager of the Year award is “confirmation of a job well done. It’s gratifying to know my peers and my leadership are pleased with my performance, but more than that, knowing that the Lord is pleased.”

SENT Conference attenders get advice on gospel work at home and abroad

HOUSTON–Whether preparing for the international mission field or struggling to start a neighborhood outreach in your city, the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference offered ways to equip those wishing to heed the Bible’s admonishment to go and tell.

Held at Houston’s First Baptist Church April 17-18, the conference’s 40-plus workshops led by experienced teachers, International Mission Board missionaries, seminary professors, lay leaders and the staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention gave conference participants a wide selection of courses from which to glean missions insight.

In more than a few of the sessions a unifying theme arose: Understanding and appreciating the worldviews of people of a different culture is the beginning of establishing a relationship with them and, ultimately, sharing the good news of the gospel. And Texans need not travel abroad to mingle with people of a different perspective. The nations have come to the Lone Star State.

Some, Barbara Oden would argue, live just across the street from any church. In one of her first efforts to begin what has become a flourishing apartment ministry, Oden discovered a large pocket of Korean immigrants in need of English as a Second Language classes. By taking note of the needs and interests of the apartment residents, Oden was able to earn their trust. Once she established a respectful relationship the residents accepted her offer to participate in a Bible study at the complex. One thing led to another and the Bible study was soon a church.

Oden, a resident activities consultant, works with the SBTC to promote missions to those living in apartments. Citing a report from 2000, she said 96 percent of apartment dwellers do not go to church.

From her first efforts in the 1980s to draw apartment residents to faith in the Lord and a fellowship of believers, Oden said several of the then-teenagers are now in full-time Christian ministry. Getting onto the premises of a complex and garnering management permission to host constructive activities and a Bible study is no longer the problem. Getting the church members, she conceded, to invest themselves into such a ministry has been the challenge of late.

But discovering how another group of people view the world, how they celebrate life, how they grieve, and how they interpret the motives of strangers–all can lead to mutually respectful relationships and even friendships. Once a foundation of trust is laid, missionaries can begin to communicate the truths of God’s word in a way that will be understood.

Repeated more than once at the SENT Conference: “You have to earn the right to be heard.”

REACHING YOUR CITY
Jack Allen, the Nehemiah Church Planting Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, drove that point home during his presentation of “God’s Guaranteed Way to Reach Your City.”

“God’s plan is so ridiculously simple but people are so infinitely complex,” Allen told the workshop participants.

Citing John 13:34-35, Allen reiterated Jesus’ proclamation to his disciples that they were living under a new commandment. By living out Christ’s admonition to love their fellow believers, God will draw the lost.

“That’s what Jesus is talking about. They’re watching!”

When non-Christians look at the church, Allen asked, what do they see? Bickering? Hypocrisy? Churches being operated like godless corporations? Their conclusion, Allen said, is reasonable: “Your God’s not worth knowing.”

But what speaks volumes to non-believers is witnessing the loving relationships within a church body–and by extension the body of Christ–living in loving, congenial relationships with one another. When that loving kindness flows out of the church body to the surrounding community the walls that once stood as barriers to relationships and witnessing begin to crumble.

Allen asked the group to discuss among themselves the ways Christians minister to one another. Answers included prayer and communication. Actively praying for and with people who share a concern can have a significant influence, Allen said. Do not give the pat “I’ll pray for you” response to concerns but instead pray immediately with the person.

Listening without interruptions is also a key element in ministry. Being a good listener is often the spiritual gift of merciful people. Taking time to listen, he said, demonstrates care for the speaker.

Allen encouraged the group to take these means for loving fellow believers and use them to minister to the lost. For example, he said, if a Christian listens to lost people, they’ll talk long enough to reveal clues about how the gospel can most effectively be communicated to them.

MINISTRY ACROSS CULTURES
Two of the workshops covered the topics of “Cross-Cultural Ministry” and “Planting Churches among Non-Anglo People.”

“The Bible tells us that the cross is an obstacle. So our challenge is to reduce or eliminate all other barriers so that the only one left is the cross,” said David Alexander, SBTC church planting associate and coteacher with Chad Vandiver of the SBTC People Groups Champions Project.

In teaching the workshop on church planting, the two men gave a broad overview of the factors that form the worldview for non-Anglos. Having been raised by white parents as missionary kids in foreign lands and now working in the United States, Alexander and Vandiver used the term “third culture” to describe their perspective on the world. By understanding and operating within the worldview of the people being reached, missionaries can avoid frustration for themselves and confusion for those hearing the gospel.

What might be considered a simple question00”Do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”—can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the worldview of the one being questioned. A Hindu, Alexander said, could say “yes” and simply add Jesus to the millions of gods he already worships. An immigrant to America may say “yes” as a means of fitting into the new culture. And a Mexican with even a modicum of Catholic upbringing will also answer “yes” because, David explained, “who wouldn’t want to?”

As missionaries begin to comprehend the society in which they have placed themselves, they gain vital insight into how to share their faith and understandably.

For some missionaries the study guide for learning about a culture is nothing more than a blank slate. There are 6,475 unreached and unengaged people groups in the world according to statistics from the International Mission Board. For detailed information about the number of people groups in the world and how many still have not been reached with the gospel, visit imb.org/GlobalResearch/.

During their presentation on “Cross-Cultural Ministry,” Eric Perking, former IMB missionary to Uruguay, and Larry Riley promoted the concept of churches adopting and unreached or engaged people group and making them the focus of all international missions outreach.

Mentioned more than once throughout the conference was the perceived ineffectiveness of “hit-and-run” mission trips. U.S. teams, sometimes with little planning and foresight, travel to another county with the well-intentioned plan of sharing the gospel while meeting a physical need in a community. Without at least a broad understanding of the culture in which the group will be working and a long-term plan for drawing people to Christ and discipling them, such trips bear little to no fruit in the long run.

Perkins and Riley, staff members of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, told of their church’s efforts to reach and engage the Toposa people of southern Sudan. After meeting with an IMB representative from that region, the church began the process in 2007 of meeting and establishing relationships with the people whose lifestyle has changed little in 700 years.

During the three mission projects the teams met a man of peace as mentioned in Luke 10:6. After gaining entrance into the community of between 400,000-700,000, the church members discovered a believer among them. The man had come out of Sudan as a refugee and had heard of Christ (Riley and Perkins discouraged use of the phrase “mission trip” because it connotes a vacation or one-time visit with no continuing relationships).

With little information about the culture and worldview of the Toposa people, the mission team’s primary goal was to establish relationships to best understand how to share the gospel. Perkins said asking a lot of questions has two-fold benefits. It is a source of information and it demonstrates an interest in the people and, by inference, care and concern for them.

By becoming “wholly invested” the church hopes in the long-run to establish a Christian community among the Toposa. Perkins and Riley emphasized the greatest impact mission teams could have are those that disciple believers and rise up leaders with a people group.

Preparation before a mission journey is key to success, they said. Not all problems can be foreseen but most can be averted with good planning.

In preparing for any mission trip, Perkins and Riley said it is important to consider what being lost means. When empathy for those who don’t know Christ guides the preparation and execution of a project, then missionaries have a sense of urgency for the mission and a desire to do it well.

SBTC churches gathering care buckets for victims of Africa AIDS pandemic

Medical volunteers with South Africa-based Tabitha Ministries last year saw 85-105 people in their care die to AIDS weekly?a staggering loss that pales in comparison to all of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV/AIDS infects 22.5 million of the 37 million HIV/AIDS carriers worldwide.

In Swaziland, a country bordering South Africa and Mozambique, 30 percent of children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Only one person in 10 there will reach age 40 because of AIDS and other diseases.

Through Baptist Global Relief (BGR), a Southern Baptist relief and development organization, Texas Southern Baptist churches will be among those collecting supplies?lotions, toothbrushes, vitamins, bedding, hygiene products?to be sent to Africa in five-gallon, plastic In-Home Care Kits.

The kits, said SBTC Disaster Relief Director Jim Richardson, cost less than $100 to prepare with a national goal of 5,000 kits for 2009. Last year, BGR worked with congregations in three states to send 1,378 care kits through Baptist Fellowship of Zambia’s human needs program and to Tabitha Ministries, which cares for more than 1,300 HIV-positive children in a district of South Africa where per capita HIV rates are the world’s highest.

Richardson said: “It gives us an opportunity to involve Texans in direct mission activity for people in Africa who are suffering with AIDS, knowing that these care buckets will be used over and over again by Southern Baptist missionaries in the care of people who are facing imminent death, and knowing our missionaries will be able distribute these ministry buckets with the life-giving message of hope found only in Jesus Christ.”

The items are a tremendous help to families that must care for terminally ill relatives at home because healthcare access is very limited, explained Mark Hatfield, Baptist Global Response’s area director for sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to AIDS, thousands of other Africans are homebound sufferers of cancer, tuberculosis, malaria and other fatal illnesses.

Hatfield said the temptation is to see the AIDS pandemic as “just a bunch of statistics.”

“All you have to do, though, is visit in the home of someone with full-blown AIDS who is experiencing a slow, painful death or stop in a home in which a 14-year-old is caring for three brothers and sisters because no adult is left to head the home,” Hatfield said. “Then you begin to see the HIV/AIDS crisis as an extremely personal issue.”

The SBTC is coordinating the collection of In-Home Care Kits to be delivered to to BGR’s warehouse in Richmond, Va., by Sept. 1.

Promotional materials include a form press release to be used by churches announcing their participation in the project in their local newspaper. Also included is a seven-day AIDS prayer guide.


For information on how to participate, call Jim Richardson toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC) or e-mail him at jrichardson@sbtexas.com. A video about the In-Home Care Kit project is viewable at sbtexas.com.

Church puts mission statement into practice

GALVESTON?Last year, Glenview Baptist Church in Fort Worth adopted a new mission statement with the hope it would influence the entire church, from preschoolers to senior adults.

God has called “Glenview Baptist Church to make disciples who: Love God, Love Each Other, and Serve the World,” explained Zach Zettler, Glenview’s children’s minister.

That mission statement was in mind when, over the last six months, Glenview took on a project for one of her own church members and also traveled to help Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

Last fall Zettler was approached by a parent distraught because he had recently lost his job in the trucking business and was worried how he was going to be able to put his house back together.

The rental house was recently occupied and trashed by the tenants, and the homeowner was in dire straits in needing a place to live.

Upon review from Zettler and several laymen?W.L. Fuller, David Grant, David Henn, and Butch Givens?the group decided to do an “Extreme Home Makeover: Church Edition.”

Much like on the show, the church rallied around one of its own members and sought to restore his house for his family.

During this time, they moved into an apartment complex and a team of volunteers began the rebuilding of Harlan and Vickie Atchley’s home. Working with the city of Haltom City, the first priority was to tear out all of the sheetrock and start from the studs. With a limited budget, the men and women started readjusting several of the crossbeams and wall studs in order to hang sheetrock.

“This has been a great way to see the body of Christ rally around its own membership and help one of its own out and still accomplish what God has called us to do,” Grant said.

With the help of local businesses and their donations and the church, the Atchleys are close to moving into their home, Zettler said.

“It has been really neat to watch local businesses and skills from different people all work together to accomplish one goal: getting Harlan and Vickie Atchley back in their home,” Zettler added.

During the rebuilding, donations included a new roof from G.W. Roofing; a 3-ton HV/AC unit from Arnold Stowe; plumbing from Warick Plumbing; Sixty 10-foot sheets of sheetrock from Home Depot; a discount from Perma Pier Foundation Repair; and new floors from Oak Floor Supply.

Glenview also used its new mission statement to reach out on the Texas Gulf Coast to Hurricane Ike victims. In March, 130 volunteers ages 6 to 70 helped First Baptist Church, LaMarque, Central Baptist, Galveston, and area residents in relief work and construction.

“That week allowed me to see that my daughter is capable of being a missionary, just like any other adult. She did an amazing job and I am so proud of her,” said Glenview member Jennifer Dobbins.

Homemaking House complete at seminary

FORT WORTH?In its centennial year, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is returning to its roots to train women in the art and skill of homemaking, an emphasis listed in the 1901 academic catalog. The dedication of the Sarah Horner Homemaking House last month is the culmination of an effort to restore the home as a primary place for ministry, equipping those women enrolled in the homemaking concentration of the school’s bachelor’s program.

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson pledged, “We’re going to do everything within our power to turn out a generation of highly educated young women who have the home first place in their hearts.”

The debt that Andy Horner owes to his own mother motivated him and his wife, Joan, to fund the construction of an educational building designed to look like a model home on the Texas landscape. Horner’s own mother journeyed from Ireland to Canada with the four youngest of 13 children to provide hope for a better life.

Though it took many more years for him to appreciate his mother’s sacrifice, Horner said, “As I got older I understood the power of a woman who had no education and couldn’t lead in silent prayer, but she was a homemaker.”

Bailey Draper of Roanoke donated his time as a custom home builder to create space for a kitchen and textile lab, a large library filled with resources for classroom lectures and upstairs bedrooms that will house two students enrolled in the homemaking concentration. Another bedroom will be available for guest housing.

Other donors honored family members by outfitting rooms designed to teach particular skills. Churches are encouraged to stage their own kitchen showers to collect needed supplies listed on a registry by the seminary.

Joan Horner voiced her desire to see the home used to teach pastors’ wives to have a home that honors God in every way.

“Over these past 100 years, God has brought to Southwestern women who have taken up the mantle to continue that legacy of the primary place of the home in ministry,” added Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at Southwestern.

Students enrolled in the 23-hour concentration will fill the remaining 108 hours of credit in biblical and theological studies, including Greek or Latin. Trained “intellectually, practically and spiritually,” Stovall said a dozen women enrolled in the initial class in 2007. That number doubled in size last fall with more students expected for the next school year.

Individuals or churches interested in donating further funding or equipment may contact Stovall toll-free at 800-SWBTS-01 or email tstovall@swbts.edu.

Pastor envisions National Day of Evangelism

Reflecting on the annual National Day of Prayer (NDP), Damon Halliday wondered, “Why not a National Day of Evangelism?” For Halliday, pastor of Keystone Community Outreach in Fort Worth, that’s not really a question but an opportunity.

Halliday already has plans for following up this year’s NDP on May 7 and is organizing area pastors and churches to hit the streets to share the gospel two days later.

This year’s NDP is May 7. On May 2, Halliday had planned to lead evangelism training at Keystone for churches wishing to participate in the inaugural National Day of Evangelism on May 9. Halliday explained each church would be responsible for reaching its own neighborhood.

“What would it look like to have hundreds of Christians out in the neighborhoods sharing their faith?” Halliday said. Hoping that a National Day of Evangelism takes hold, he asked, “What would it look like to have 300 churches on board sharing the love of Christ with this city?”


Halliday said churches or individuals interested in participating may call him at 214-403-4408.

Conference includes Houston Vision Tour

HOUSTON?Prior to the start of the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference, some participants took advantage of a tour promoted by Houston’s First Baptist Church, the conference host.

Becky Parker, HFBC missions associate, guided the 10 participants on April 16 around Houston to experience first-hand the diversity of the nation’s fourth-largest city and the means by which Christians work to minister to the needy and share the gospel with a significant international population.

On tour were members of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, a professor from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and members from Texas churches.

First stop on the tour was Long Point Baptist Church, one of the many local churches brought under the care and support of HFBC. Part of the church’s mission is to revive declining churches like Long Point. While there the group swapped ministry ideas. Each said they hoped to get ideas on how to minister within their own communities or even plan for trips to Houston to help in ongoing ministries.

One such ministry has been to the homeless. The Star of Hope hosts men, women, and families in need of a home, jobs, work skills, and Christ. At two of the sites, The Women and Children’s Emergency Shelter and the Men’s Emergency Shelter, the group split up to serve lunch for the clients of the shelters.


Following lunch at a Vietnamese deli the group visited the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. Although the grounds were attractive, the 72-foot-high statue of Quan Am loomed over the grounds, adding to the gloomy atmosphere of the late cloudy afternoon. Parker said she often brings mission groups to the site to illustrate the diverse population of greater Houston and the need for international missions within the state.

Couple right method with right message

Recently we had two contrasting views of how Christians respond in the public square. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” was asked on the “Larry King Live” television program about his support of Proposition 8 in California. The proposition called for the codifying in state law that marriage was between a man and a woman. Essentially Warren said that he had not campaigned for it. He was then caught by a video clip in which he urged his church to support the measure. He said he had sought to apologize to his “gay” friends for his actions. Brother Rick has done some damage to himself, the authenticity of believers and the cause for biblical marriage.

Compare this with the answer Miss California USA gave when questioned on stage at the Miss USA contest about her belief concerning same-sex marriage. A pageant finalist, Carrie Prejean, said that marriage should be between a man and a woman. She was gracious, kind and humble. She was not belligerent. Her questioner, a militant homosexual who calls himself Perez Hilton, sat on the judging panel. He was infuriated. He voted against her and said her comments caused her to lose the Miss USA crown. Later, Hilton blogged about Carrie. He called her unprintable names.

Following the firestorm, Matt Lauer interviewed Carrie, giving her a chance to recant. She said she was more concerned about being biblically correct than politically correct. Carrie is a committed Christian seeking to identify with Jesus at every opportunity.

These two incidents are telling in a number of ways. For years we have said the message never changes but methods do. Contextualization is major part of missions and evangelism. I think it is time to discuss the limits of contextualization. God forbid that I should judge Rick Warren’s motives; I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he was simply trying to backpedal because he wants to see homosexuals come to Christ. Perhaps he thought his stand for biblical marriage would be seen as offensive to the homosexuals he was trying to win to Jesus. Right message, but wrong method.

Miss California USA was simply trying to state her convictions in a loving manner. When put in the spotlight she did not speak in a judgmental or harsh way. With a very humble demeanor she said she believed that marriage was between a man and woman. The vitriol was displayed by the homosexual community and liberal media. Right message, right method.

All of this brings me to a corollary issue. God and Country Day is not on the church calendar on Memorial Day or the 4th of July in a lot of churches. Many churches downplay patriotism for various reasons. Becoming a political party at prayer is not a good idea. Having too much hope in candidates has disappointed many and even muted the prophetic voice of some. However, I believe as a reaction against some tying Christianity with national identity, we have lost a biblical truth.

God made the nations, (Acts 17:26). I know that “nation” can mean an ethno-linguistic group and there are many nations comprised of several ethnicities. But God has also sanctioned geo-political entities. When Paul said pray for those in authority, (1 Timothy 2:2), he was talking about bloody Nero the Roman Emperor. My point is this: from a biblical perspective the United States is going to Hell in a hand basket. Unless we see a sweeping move of God we may one day be under a politically correct system that will infringe on our rights and mute our open witness. Just think about believers in China who had forced abortions. Remember the Jesus-followers in Saudi Arabia who are imprisoned. The kingdom of God will advance with or without America. Wouldn’t it behoove us to be a part of the advancing of the kingdom of God in a nation that reflects biblical values and doesn’t denigrate them? It is time to speak up like Carrie Prejean.

God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 righteous. We don’t know what His number is for America. Pray for the president and other government officials. Honor our troops for their sacrifice. Remember the fallen on Memorial Day. Share the gospel without compromise to everyone. Get desperate for God to do something in your church, family, and personal life. Perhaps God will allow us to continue with liberty to spread the gospel.

Stetzer: Get your hands dirty, keep your heart clean

HOUSTON  “I want you to have more bad friends.”

That’s the advice Ed Stetzer gave the 383 gathered for the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference: to “live sent” and make sure their social circles include people who do not know Jesus Christ. Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research and missiologist in residence, was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual conference held at Houston’s First Baptist Church April 17-18.

He said Satan tells Christians they cannot live sent and remain holy. But, Stetzer countered, “You cannot live sent and act Amish.”

Stetzer drew his comments primarily from Philippians 3:20 but reminded the audience of Jesus’ proclamation to his disciples following his resurrection: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

“Sentness is inherent to who God is. He is a sender,” Stetzer said.

Christians can begin to live with a sense of “sentness” when they remind themselves that this “fallen and hostile” world is not their home and their loyalty belongs to a king in a faraway land.

Living for the king means being obedient to his call to go. The Acts 1:8 SENT Conferences are designed to encourage and equip those loyal to the call. Participants at the two-day conference had more than 40 workshops from which to choose, some offered in Spanish. Facilitators offered counsel for those preparing for international missionary work and others looking for encouragement in going across their hometown streets and inviting unreached apartment residents to join a Bible study.

Stetzer told the mission-minded group that they were citizens of a “transplanted colony of Heaven.”

“Living sent,” he said, “isn’t about avoiding bad people but living for a good king.”

God does not call Christians to disassociate themselves from the world but from ungodly believers (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

On the other hand, believers’ spiritual fortitude can be strained to the point of ambivalence toward sin if care is not taken.

Stetzer warned, “We have become a little too comfortable in the world.”

Quoting 1 Peter 1, Stetzer reminded Christians they are to live as strangers?not so much that they appear strangely different but so much so that they live differently.
Churches are full of people who look different from the world but do not behave out of the ordinary. This type of Christian practice is apparent in a recent survey conducted by a Texas Tech University professor who noted that church attendance and economic conditions are counter-cyclical: When the economy is in the tank, people are in the pews. As the economy recovers, people’s need for God wanes.

“Kind of leaves you in a quandary of what to pray for right now,” Stetzer quipped.

Ultimately, he concluded, Christians should pray for God to “shake us loose so we are not comfortable here.” At the end of the day, he said, we have to yearn for something different.

As Christians live in loyalty to their king and longing for his return, they are to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. In the end, Jesus has to return to set all things right, but in the meantime sent Christians and sent churches must live by the Lord’s agenda.

Churches filled with emotional experiences but lacking depth of spiritual growth will not last, he argued, noting he would rather watch such emoting on the Oprah television show than in the church. Sent churches, Stetzer said, are “biblically faithful, culturally relevant, counter-culture communities for the kingdom of God” who are sanctified for service in a dirty world.

“Get your hands, not your heart, dirty for God.”

Paving the road to ? you know where

As the Texas legislature works through their biggest item of business this spring, the budget, a pesky little moral issue threatens to trouble their water. Two views of the world are squaring off over whether our state should provide state funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research.

First, let’s look at the level of dialog the debate has engendered. For The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, whose editorial board regularly operates under the delusion that people in Forth Worth think like people in New York City, the question is between “demagoguery” and the alleviation of human suffering. So simple, yes? Also note their distinction between the Obama White House which will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” and the Bush White House which tended to “politicize science on this [embryonic stem cell research] and other matters.” Ah, so we have people who are both right and sincere on one side and both wrong and deceitful on the other. It’s a simpler debate when both sides agree in their hearts but one side is too dishonest to admit it. And to some, every debate appears that way.

Rick Perry, Warren Chisum, John Carona, and other pro-life politicians are simply posturing, then. Although one amateur debater threw in, via a comment stream, that pro-lifers were also uneducated and stupid. Wow, who’d want to be a pro-lifer then? Maybe it’s because of the financial rewards.

When we disagree with someone, it’s not necessary that they be evil. It is sufficient to say that we believe them to be wrong. It is also needlessly nasty (and also foolish) to assume that those who hold views different from our own are merely ignorant or incompetent. That leads to the silly assumption that anyone who knows as much as we ourselves will certainly agree with us. Disagreements are rarely between the evil and the righteous or between the smart and the stupid.

The facts, again, with apologies to those of you who pay attention:

Human embryos are human life. They would be of no use if they were not alive and they would be of little use if they were not human. Perhaps we can argue about personhood or ensoulment or other speculative matters but they are human life. For some of us, this matters. The casual use and destruction of human life has moral consequences even if it pays off someday.

Embryonic stem cell research has not yet paid off. Successful treatments have already been developed using adult stem cells. Although embryonic stem cell research is already underway, using public funds from other states and some private funding, nothing but hope has yet resulted. One reader comment declared on this subject that it is appropriate for one life to be given to save thousands. The truth is more like thousands will be destroyed for no yet-imaginable benefit. There is also a difference between you taking my life to save you and me giving it for that purpose.

Some of us, even conservatives, do believe what we say. I know, it’s a radical thought, but some of us also graduated high school and have a college-level grasp of biology. For either side to suggest that his counterpart in an argument is, by definition, insincere in his viewpoints is a schoolyard bully’s tactic. It’s an ad hominem (ooh, Latin!) attack that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Some political advocates should be embarrassed that they keep forgetting this simple point. By the way, I’m not clear on what we pro-life poseurs (and French!) are getting out of pretending to believe something that is mere “politics and demagoguery.”

Science is “politicized” when public money pays for research. Nothing wrong with politics and nothing wrong with publicly funded research. But if you want to gripe when the unwashed masses elect the representatives of their choice, and when this unworthy rube has the temerity to disagree with you, you’re hating the game, not the player. It’s an immature instinct to expect the public to give you money with no guidance or strings. That’s politics and you signed up for it. In a similar way, it is unrealistic (not to mention condescending) to expect laymen, be they politicians or voters, to shut up and trust the scientists.

There is a big issue here that some of us despise. A lot of things “work” in some limited way but are simply wrong?we can’t generally live with their implications. Bad ideas like child labor, poor safety standards, no speed limits, polygamy, animal cruelty, and open borders worked for a few of us for a little while. In some cases there was a moral issue that made the idea bad regardless of who benefited. Americans fought their bloodiest war behind the banner of doing the right thing because it was right. It was the most impractical thing in the world but morality trumped practicality in the mind of President Lincoln.

We all benefit from the professional study of the natural order. Biology, chemistry, physics, and so on, have improved life and health for nearly everyone. That said, “science” is not, or shouldn’t be, a holy word that, once invoked, ends all debate. The philosophy and theology of a discovery and its use matter very much. All human endeavors have theological underpinnings; denying their existence is simply foolish.
Those who argue that the science of a decision is thoroughly distinct from and superior to the ideology of it are favoring an ideology nonetheless. They are also ignoring an integral part of the science.

Does a human embryo have any inherent worth? How much? Should we destroy one if we can net $1 from the exchange? Maybe that sounds crass. Perhaps $100 profit makes it worthwhile. Still offensive? One embryonic stem cell research advocate guesses that we might gain $30 billion in grants and research help if we commit ourselves to profligate use and destruction of human embryos. Any limits at all would jinx the whole thing. Maybe that’s enough money. Maybe that money will buy enough respect and prestige to insulate us from the awareness that we have crossed a moral line and will face consequences none of us yet know. Those of us who