Month: July 2011

Health care plans must cover abortion-causing drugs, Obama administration says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Obama administration announced Aug. 1 that insurance plans must cover without cost to women contraceptives that can cause abortions.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said last year's controversial health-care reform law –- dubbed “Obamacare” by its critics — would provide no-cost coverage of drugs with abortion-inducing properties such as “ella,” Plan B and Next Choice. The HHS action was expected. The department incorporated in its guidelines recommendations released July 19 by an Institute of Medicine committee.

The services will be required in insurance policies that begin their plan years Aug. 1, 2012, or thereafter, according to HHS.

Under the guidelines, all methods approved as contraceptives by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge.

Emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after” pill, is basically a heavy dose of birth control pills. While the two-step process can restrict ovulation in a woman or prevent fertilization, it also can block implantation of the early embryo in the uterine wall. The latter effect would cause an abortion, pro-life advocates point out.

Ella, though approved as emergency contraception by the FDA in 2010, is more closely related to the abortion drug RU 486, according to pro-life organizations. Like RU 486, it blocks production of the hormone progesterone, destroying the placenta that provides nutrition to the embryo and causing the tiny, unborn child's death, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists says. Ella also can block implantation.

Pro-life advocates decried the Institute of Medicine recommendations both when they were announced and when they were accepted by HHS.

Upon their recommendation, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, criticized the use of government funds to kill the unborn as “an abomination.”

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, said Aug. 1 the requirements “will violate the consciences of millions.”

The Obama administration included an amendment that allows religious institutions to choose whether to permit contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans, but Monahan called it “a fig leaf of conscience protection of certain churches that fulfill very specific criteria.”

“[R]eligious groups that provide social services, engage in missions work to people of different religious faiths, religious health insurance companies, let alone religious health care providers and individuals in such health plans are not protected from any discrimination whatever,” Monahan said in a written statement. “The new rule will force many Americans to violate their consciences or refrain from participating in health care insurance, further burdening an already costly system.”

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-choice America — two of the country's leading abortion rights organizations — praised the new guidelines.

“Today is a historic victory for women's health and women across the country,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a written release.

Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, took issue with an assertion by Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute that the “morning-after” pill does not prevent the implantation of an embryo and thereby cause an abortion. Sonfield said the medical field defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation, not the fertilization, of an egg, The Washington Post reported.

“The 'medical field' is attempting to define something far above its pay grade,” Land said in a statement. “God has already made it clear in Holy Scripture that human life begins at conception, or fertilization, and all of the unique, biological characteristics of that particular child are determined at the moment of conception, not implantation (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 51:5). The use of taxpayers' money to fund killing such babies is an abomination.”

The HHS guidelines also require health plans to cover without co-pay such services as counseling to prevent unintended pregnancies, testing for human papillomavirus for women over 30 years of age, screening for HIV and counseling on sexually transmitted infections.
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Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

Judge dismisses embryonic stem cell suit

WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal judge dismissed a legal challenge to government funding of embryonic stem cell research July 27, dealing an unsurprising setback to opponents of the lethal experimentation.

Royce Lamberth, chief judge of the District of Columbia District Court, ruled in the Obama administration's favor less than a year after suspending federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Lamberth's latest decision came after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals removed his preliminary injunction on such grants.

In his new opinion, Lamberth said the appeals court's April decision “constrains this Court,” forcing him to dismiss the lawsuit. 

The case involved a challenge to President Obama's 2009 executive order that overturned a more restrictive funding policy under President Bush. Obama ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to devise guidelines consistent with his decree.

In August of last year, Lamberth found the NIH guidelines violated a law that prohibits federal funds for research in which a human embryo is destroyed. The ability of stem cells to convert to other cells and tissues has provided great hope for developing cures for various diseases, but extracting stem cells from an embryo results in the destruction of the days-old human being.

In September, an appeals court panel of three judges lifted Lamberth's suspension of ESCR funding while the case went forward. In a 2-1 decision in April, the panel returned the case to Lamberth but virtually killed the challenge.

Foes of federal funds for ESCR were disappointed but not shocked.

“It's not Lamberth's fault, but once again, the Clintonesque public policy expediency technique is used to get around the law through the playing of semantics games,” bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said on his blog. “I wish I were surprised, but I predicted this very outcome late last year. The politics of this were always too white hot in our increasingly less principled country to permit a literal following of the clear purpose” of the law in question.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which helped represent non-embryonic stem cell researchers who brought the suit, said its lawyers and others are weighing their options for an appeal.

“Americans should not be forced to pay for experiments that destroy human life, have produced no real-world treatments, and violate federal law,” ADF senior counsel Steven Aden said n a written statement. “In these tough economic times, it makes no sense for the federal government to use taxpayer money for this illegal and unethical purpose.”

The initial disagreement between Lamberth and the appeals court stemmed from the Obama administration's policy in light of an annual, spending bill rider known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. First approved in 1996, Dickey-Wicker says federal funds are not to be used for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero” under a related law.

In his 2010 ruling, Lamberth rejected arguments by lawyers for the Obama administration that Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and permits federal funding for research on stem cells after they have been removed from embryos.

The appeals court, however, agreed in its April opinion that Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous, saying although the law “bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an [embryonic stem cell] from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an [embryonic stem cell] will be used.” The word “research” is “flexible enough to describe either a discrete project or an extended process,” the panel said.

The appeals court's determination that the word “research” in the law “is ambiguous binds” him, Lambert wrote in his 38-page opinion issued July 27.

Obama's March 2009 executive order overturned a prohibition instituted by Bush on federal funding of stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. Bush's 2001 order permitted, however, grants for experiments on stem cell lines, or colonies, already in existence at the time of his action. 

NIH's final guidelines, issued in July 2009, allowed funding for research on stem cells derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization but not implanted. The embryos had to be donated by the parents who underwent the fertility treatments.

ESCR has fallen short of other forms of stem cell experimentation that do not harm the donor. It has yet to provide any treatments for human beings and has been plagued by tumors in lab animals. 

Meanwhile, research with adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has produced therapies for more than 70 afflictions and demonstrated promising results, respectively, without injuring donors.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' yearly spending bill, is named after its lead sponsors, former Republican Reps. Jay Dickey of Arkansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Wicker is now a member of the Senate

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius.
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Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

Mobile ultrasound unit rescues ‘2 babies & 2 souls’ in 1 day

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A mobile pregnancy care resource center may be relatively new for the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, but it already has become a strategic advocate for life and the health of the unborn.

“Two babies and two souls were saved” when the unit was stationed next door to a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Orlando in late June, Mary Lou Hendry, director of sanctity of human life for the children's homes, reported.

The two women intended to get abortions but instead, by divine appointment, each was able to see her baby on an ultrasound machine screen provided by gifts to the Psalm 139 Project of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The mobile pregnancy care resource center — housed in a reconfigured travel trailer donated to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes last year — offered its services from a vacant lot adjacent to the Planned Parenthood clinic in an economically depressed area of the city. The owner of the land granted the team permission to work from the parcel of land.

Few women came over to the unit that Saturday. Venturing into the community to encourage women heading to an abortion clinic to reconsider their decision can be joyful at times, Hendry said, but “it also brings you to a point of brokenness.”

While the pregnancy care center unit was on site, 25 to 30 babies were aborted by Planned Parenthood next door, Hendry said.

Yet Hendry focuses on the “significance of the ones” who are saved, noting it is pure joy to see a mother accept Christ and reject the idea that her unborn child is a disposable inconvenience.

The mobile pregnancy care center, Hendry explained, is a Christ-focused outreach to women and their families who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy and do not have access to a pregnancy care resource center in their area.

Although designed to provide ultrasound screenings, counseling and other services to women in areas struck by natural disasters, the mobile care center doesn't sit inactive until the state faces a natural disaster but is being utilized in underserved communities in Florida.

In May, the Florida Baptist Children's Homes team provided pregnancy care services and information to young women in an area of west Orlando which does not have a pregnancy care resource center.

“During the four hours that we were set up we provided free pregnancy tests, biblical counseling, as well as ultrasound screenings for women to confirm that they were indeed pregnant,” Hendry said.

The outreach, called “Love Orlando,” was in partnership with First Baptist Church of Orlando's First Life Center for Pregnancy.

“One young woman came by our mobile center who was 33 weeks along in her pregnancy and had not had any prenatal care,” Hendry recounted. “She wasn't able to qualify for Medicaid and didn't have health insurance.

“We provided her with her first ultrasound where she could see her fully developed baby, which will be born in the next several weeks,” Hendry said, adding, “It's always an amazing moment when you are able to show mothers the new life that is living and growing inside their womb.”

The Florida Baptist team connected the woman with a nurse midwife to help with her needs through the remainder of her pregnancy and afterward.

The ultrasound machine, provided at no cost through the Psalm 139 Project, is an invaluable tool in helping to inform and educate women about their unborn child during a crisis pregnancy, Hendry said, noting, “She can see her baby's heart beating at the very earliest stages of pregnancy.

“It's important to note that nearly 80 percent of all women considering abortion choose life when they see their unborn child on the ultrasound screen,” Hendry stated.

Carmem Carmo, interim director for First Life Center for Pregnancy, said the Love Orlando outreach not only was a way to protect the unborn but also share the love of Christ.

“Our goal was to reach lost souls with the love of Jesus through this very unique pregnancy care ministry,” Carmo said. “We believe this project started in God's heart, and we definitely felt His presence that day.”

In Psalm 139, the psalmist affirms God's intimate involvement in his creation, writing, “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother's womb.”

“We are on the front lines,” Hendry said, committed to “bringing light into darkness.”

This year, funds donated by individuals to the Psalm 139 Project provided a mobile ultrasound unit for the Arizona Baptist Children's Home to serve pregnancy care centers in Phoenix. Next, the project will underwrite the cost of an ultrasound machine and training in southern Louisiana, once sufficient financial gifts are in hand. Currently, there is a critical need for Southern Baptist outreach to women in crisis pregnancies in the greater New Orleans area. The Psalm 139 Project was launched in 2004 with the placement of an ultrasound machine in southern Indiana, with subsequent units placed in Florida, Arizona and four other states.

For more information about the Psalm 139 Project, visit psalm139project.org.
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This article originated with the Florida Baptist Children's Homes based in Lakeland, Fla., and has been republished by the Florida Baptist Witness and updated by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Gays see ‘watershed moment’: Gov’t court brief says they face ‘purposeful discrimination’

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP)–In a landmark legal brief that reads more like one from the ACLU or a gay legal group, the U.S. Justice Department argues that homosexuals exhibit immutable characteristics, have suffered a history of discrimination and that the federal government's marriage law is driven by prejudice.

The legal brief — called a watershed moment by gay groups — seeks to have only part of the Defense of Marriage Act overturned, but its legal reasoning goes much further. The same legal arguments have been used in successful state court lawsuits to legalize gay “marriage.” If adopted by a federal court, the arguments eventually could be used in overturning not just all of DOMA but also the traditional marriage laws in the 44 states that do not recognize same-sex “marriage.”

“[G]ay and lesbian individuals have suffered a long and significant history of purposeful discrimination,” the department's brief states, pointing to death penalty laws going back to Colonial times but also including current-day laws defining marriage in the traditional sense.

The Justice Department's legal role is to defend the nation's laws, but President Obama has ordered the department to stop defending the 15-year-old law in court. The House of Representatives has filled the void by hiring its own attorney.

The law, often called “DOMA,” has two primary functions: It 1) defines marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman and 2) gives states the option of not recognizing another state's gay “marriages.” The Justice Department's brief, filed July 1 in a district court within the Ninth Circuit, sides with a lesbian woman who filed suit to have the part of the law dealing with the federal definition of marriage overturned. She is a staff attorney within the Ninth Circuit who wants her partner to receive legal benefits. They received a marriage license in California before Proposition 8 passed.

But the Justice Department's arguments, while only targeting one segment of DOMA that would not directly impact state laws, could be used later to target those laws.

“If a federal court finds these persuasive for purposes of interpreting a federal statute, then when it comes to interpreting a state constitutional amendment [defining marriage], they'll have the exact same analysis,” Daniel Blomberg, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund — which supports the Defense of Marriage Act — told Baptist Press. “It will be identical. The government's argument here could certainly be used to strike down not only all of DOMA but to force this definition on all of the states.”

The ACLU and gay legal groups have been making such legal arguments “for quite some time.”

“What is uncommon about this is the fact that the Justice Department has signed on in such a vocal manner to what even proponents of this perspective are saying is a quote-unquote gay rights manifesto,” Blomberg said.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign — the nation's largest homosexual organization — called the brief a “watershed moment in the fight for LGBT equality.” Tara Borelli, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay group, called it an “historic shift with enormous significance.” Every presidential administration until the current one defended DOMA, and the Obama administration did so, tepidly, until this year.

The 24-page document broke new ground for the Justice Department by arguing that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be subject to what is called “heightened scrutiny” — a legal term that, if accepted by a federal court, would make it tougher to uphold the 1996 law. For heightened scrutiny to apply to gays, a four-part threshold would have to be met. It would have to be proven that homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination, exhibit immutable characteristics, are a minority or politically powerless, and that the Defense of Marriage Act has no legitimate policy objective. The justice department contends that gays meet all four standards.

The Alliance Defense Fund and others who support DOMA argue that the law should be subject to what is called “rational basis,” which holds that as long as the legislature had a rational reason for passing the law, it can stand. Under rational basis, the court begins with a presumption that the law is valid. Generally, under “heightened scrutiny,” the opposite is true.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously has held that sexual orientation should not be held to heightened scrutiny. That holding is binding on the current case.

“Heightened scrutiny is a much more difficult standard to pass,” Blomberg said. “Even if DOMA was subjected to heightened scrutiny, frankly it should pass. We're talking about a law that ensconces the definition of marriage that has been true throughout American history and really throughout all of human history. So there's nothing about it that should be subject to heightened review concerns.”

The Justice Department lists a series of instances of discrimination against gays, including a period in the 1900s when homosexuals were not eligible for federal jobs. It then goes one to argue that same-sex couples have “limited political power” and, as an example, it mentions the “political backlashes against same-sex marriage” with the adoption of state constitutional amendments explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Perhaps the brief's most significant statement is that the Defense of Marriage Act was driven by prejudice.

“[T]he legislative history demonstrates that the statute was motivated in significant part by animus towards gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships,” it says, using a term that means spiteful or prejudiced.

Blomberg called the argument “plainly inaccurate.”

“The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by 84 percent of Congress and signed by President Clinton,” Blomberg said, “and all it does is state what has been the definition of marriage for the entirety of human history, and particularly for American history. Are they prepared to argue that all those definitions were entirely based on animus? It's an indefensible position. That makes no sense at all.”

The Justice Department brief further argues that the “overwhelming consensus in the scientific community” is that “sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic.”

Blomberg said his organization and others like it have argued the exact opposite.

“There is not sufficient evidence to show that this is really a definable class at all,” Blomberg said. “Sexual orientation is not immutable, it does change, and there are significant studies to support that and show that. And, of course, anecdotal evidence shows it on a broad scale, where you have individuals changing their sexual orientation on a regular basis.”

The brief was filed at a time when Obama is still, as least in his public statements, opposing gay “marriage.” But he has said he is “evolving” on the issue, and his actions have left both sides of the debate questioning where he really stands.

Said Borelli, the Lambda Legal attorney, “The government itself has now forcefully argued that the marriages of same-sex couples cannot be treated as different and inferior under the law, and that any laws that treat lesbian and gay people differently must be reviewed with heightened scrutiny and presumed to be unconstitutional. Lambda Legal has been arguing that for years — it's great to have them on our side. The Department of Justice is living up to its name in seeking to uphold the constitutional guarantee of equality for lesbian and gay people.”

The Justice Department initially filed a motion to dismiss the case, but then changed sides in the case and is now fighting against its own motion.

“It is just bizarre,” Blomberg said. “It's very unusual.”

The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management.
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Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the brief online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/59626917/3-10-cv-00257-145.

NAMB sends states $950,000 in disaster relief funds

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board is sending $950,000 to Baptist conventions in seven states hard-hit by tornadoes and storms this spring.

The funds have been distributed based on a formula prioritizing the states' needs, NAMB President Kevin Ezell has announced.

The amount of funds by state follows: Alabama, $494,000 (52 percent of the $950,000); Missouri and Tennessee, $114,000 each (12 percent each); Mississippi, $66,500 (7 percent); Arkansas and Oklahoma, $57,000 each (6 percent each); and Georgia, $47,500 (5 percent).

“We are disbursing all the funds we received for spring storm relief,” Ezell said. “We are grateful to Southern Baptists for their generosity and want them to know the money is going where it is most needed.” Funds received after the current distribution will go to North Dakota for flood relief, Ezell added.

Through July 8, 1,719 donors had made 1,940 gifts totaling nearly $1 million to support the disaster relief efforts of the North American Mission Board and the state conventions, reported Carlos Ferrer, NAMB vice president and chief financial officer. This amount is in addition to monies Southern Baptists gave directly to state convention disaster relief funds.

“It's been an expensive year for disaster relief,” said Mickey Caison, NAMB's disaster relief coordinator, “and we haven't begun to get money for our upcoming North Dakota flood response yet.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief currently is gearing up for a major response in Minot, N.D., where flooding of the local Souris River has impacted 4,000 homes, requiring extensive mud-out work.

Even with this year far from over and in the midst of the annual hurricane season that does not end until Nov. 30, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in 2011 will be remembered as the year of deadly tornadoes, historic flooding, an unusual number of state wildfires, earthquakes and even a tsunami.

Except for 2005 — the year of Hurricane Katrina — SBDR staff and volunteers have seldom been so taxed and spread so thin.

“We've had a lot of states involved in a lot of responses,” Caison said, adding that he thinks the SBDR network is continually gaining strength.

“Even though we've been stretched thin and involved in so many different states, our state leaders and volunteers continue to step up in ministry,” Caison said. “We've had the diversity of disasters in past years but not the diversity of disasters spread across so many states.”

Yet, 2011 will go down as another successful year not just because of the thousands of SBDR volunteers who have worked across the United States and Canada, and not because of the 412,000 meals prepared, the 28,000 “volunteer days” served or the 4,000 mud-out and chainsaw jobs completed.

Its success also will be measured in the 100-plus people who were led to Christ and 22,000 Gospel presentations, ministry contacts and chaplaincy contacts made during the first seven months of the year.

YEAR-TO-DATE RECAP

While the predicted effects on the West Coast of the tsunami from the 9.0 earthquake in Japan on March 11 turned out to be a false alarm, the same could not be said of the killer tornadoes that struck the South during two different weeks in April.

On April 15-16, more than 50 people died across 14 states — from Oklahoma to Virginia — by an onslaught of some 250 tornadoes. In North Carolina alone, 21 people died when a reported 60 tornadoes struck on April 16. In response, 1,500 North Carolina SBDR volunteers were mobilized for feeding and chainsaw work, reported Richard Brunson, director of Baptist Men for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

On that same weekend in Alabama, an estimated 40 tornadoes tore through that state, including an EF-3 tornado that destroyed the sanctuary of Boone's Chapel Baptist Church near Prattville, Ala., and killed three family members who lived about 200 yards from the church in a mobile home.

But the outbreak was merely a foretaste of what was to come on April 27 when some 300 people were killed in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas by an even deadlier spate of tornadoes. More than 249 were killed in Alabama alone when a mile-wide tornado plowed 200 miles northeast from Tuscaloosa up to Fort Payne and over into Ringgold, Ga. Dozens of Southern Baptist churches were destroyed or damaged.

In the two weeks following the April 27 tornadoes in Alabama, SBDR mobilized nearly 5,900 trained volunteers from 10 state conventions, including 200-plus SBC chaplains who fanned out across the state to help tornado victims cope with the stress brought on by grief over lost loved ones and massive property damage.

The chaplains — many of them CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) chaplains — not only comforted the tornado victims, but also first-responders affected by the death and devastation, said Mel Johnson, state disaster relief director for the Alabama State Board of Missions.

State conventions responding in the aftermath of the historic Alabama tornadoes included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.

Rick Lance, executive director and state missionary of the Alabama State Board of Missions, called the tornadoes “our Katrina.” NAMB's Caison called it the “storm you never want to see.” Initially, the Weather Channel dubbed the April 27 tornadoes as the “deadliest tornado outbreak since 1974” but as the body count climbed, that would later be revised to “the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1932.”

With DR response activity still under way in Alabama and the South, 2011's tornado list expanded to Joplin, Mo., a city of 50,000 where at least 159 people were killed by an EF-5 tornado on May 25. As in Tuscaloosa, Ala., U.S. President Barack Obama and NAMB's Ezell were among the officials who traveled to Joplin to survey the damage and encourage victims and survivors.

In Joplin, the tornado literally hit home for one SBDR volunteer, Gary Hunley, who lost his own home to the storm. Yet he continued to work in SBDR as one of the Missouri Baptist Convention's “Blue Hat” leaders.

“You just don't know where to start,” Hunley said as he and his wife Twyla sifted through what was left of their belongings. “You don't want to let people help you because you think other people need it more. Then you realize you do need the help.

“Southern Baptists have been a true blessing to me,” said Hunley, who was honored with his wife Twyla by a standing ovation by the 5,000 messengers and attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix in June. “They have helped me grow in my faith,” Hunley said of fellow Baptists. “When you face something like this, you need to have your life in order. You never know how long you have,” he said.

In the wake of the Joplin tornado, some 400 SBDR volunteers from Missouri, Kansas/Nebraska and Oklahoma prepared more than 18,000 meals; chaplains made 4,000 visits and contacts; 400 chainsaw jobs were completed; 134 children were cared for; and nearly 900 showers and laundry loads were provided.

“We just appreciate the prayers and financial support and all the teams who volunteered,” said Rick Seaton, the Missouri Baptist Convention's director of men's missions and ministry. “It was a tremendous response and a big operation. It went well because of the 400 volunteers who made it happen.”

After the state disaster relief teams' deployment ended in storm-ravaged Alabama and Missouri, other state teams were deployed to Brimfield, Mass., and Williston, Vt., where three tornadoes ripped the region June 1, killing four and impacting 19 communities. Some 30 SBDR volunteers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Maine and NAMB were deployed to Massachusetts. Working from of an incident command post set up at Friendship Baptist Church in Brimfield, they included SBDR recovery, feeding, assessment, chaplaincy and shower units.

SBDR teams also have responded to heavy flooding in Vermont, Kentucky, Ohio, Montana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Iowa and Wyoming – along with a rash of wildfires, which have plagued Texas, Arizona, Kansas/Nebraska, Florida and Silver Lake, Alberta, Canada, with the latest fire in New Mexico.

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist response to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which run state disaster relief programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for operations in feeding, chainsaws, mud-out, command, communications, child care, showers, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is the largest mobilizer of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

On the international front, SBDR continues to support ongoing responses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Japan, Caison noted.

With the Florida Baptist Convention and the Baptist Global Response (BGR) relief organization leading the effort, Southern Baptists have built 2,000 new concrete block houses in Haiti at a cost of about $2,500 each. Using concrete blocks, wood and tin purchased in Haiti — as well as local Haitian labor — Caison said at least 1,000 more homes are in the works.

In Japan, SBDR is partnering with the International Mission Board, the Japan Baptist Convention, Tokyo Baptist Church and BGR to provide training as well as recovery and clean-up assistance following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeastern area.
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Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.

Pornography targeted by state conv.

LINN, Mo. (BP)–“There is an 800-pound gorilla in the church auditorium that most congregations seem to be ignoring,” pastor David Krueger said.

“That gorilla is pornography.”

The Missouri Baptist Convention's Christian Life Commission, with Krueger as chairman, plans to tackle the problem head-on through two upcoming workshops.

“Last year when we were discussing our priorities for 2011, pornography and the sexualizing of our culture was a top issue,” said Krueger, pastor of First Baptist Church in Linn. “We committed ourselves and our resources to attempting to raise awareness of the problem in our churches and to provide them with resources to combat this scourge.”

Titled “Providing Moral Leadership in a Sexualized Culture,” the workshops will train pastors, church staff, and congregations for helping people trapped in the web of pornography. The first workshop will be Aug. 27 at Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis; the second, Sept. 17 at Sycamore Hills Baptist Church in Independence, Mo. Each workshop runs from 8:30 a.m. through 12:30 p.m.

John Splinter, executive director of Pure Hope Ministries in St. Louis, will be the keynote speaker. Attendees will be able to choose from eight different topics during two break-out sessions.

“We're targeting Missouri Baptists through our mailings, but the conference is open to pastors, staff and church members of all faith groups,” Krueger said. “This is not just a Baptist problem.”

The Internet has been a game-changer in porn delivery, Krueger stated. Previous generations had to seek out illicit magazines or movies in retail stores, but now hardcore content is available anytime free of charge to anyone with Internet access.

“When you had to go into a drug store or video rental place to purchase porn, that kept a lot of Christian men from yielding to the temptation because of the public shame of being seen acquiring such material,” Krueger said. “But the anonymity of the Internet has been too big a temptation for many Christian men and women to resist.”

Among the findings Krueger cites from various surveys about the nation's pornography plague:

— 12 percent of all Web content is pornographic in nature.

— 35 percent of all Internet downloads contain pornographic material.

— Porn revenue is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises – $12 billion a year in the United States and $57 billion worldwide.

— The largest consumers of Internet pornography are teenage boys age 12-17.

— 57 percent of pastors say addiction to pornography is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregation.

— More than 50 percent of evangelical pastors admit to having viewed pornography in the last year.

— 34 percent of readers of a Christian women's online newsletter admitted to intentionally accessing Internet porn.

Krueger said the workshops reflect the Christian Life Commission's mission to educate and to encourage Missouri Baptist churches to challenge their members toward Christ-like living and the development of a biblical worldview in such matters as family life and current moral issues.
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Reported by The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. For more information on the “Providing Moral Leadership in a Sexualized Culture” workshops of Missouri Baptists' Christian Life Commission, visit “Christian Life Commission Workshop” at www.mobaptist.org/moral_issues or email David Krueger at fbclinn@osageconnect.net.

 

Brownsville team aids with Japan disaster relief

Most nights, we slept on straw mats, Japanese style, laid out on hardwood floors. We took off our shoes and put on slippers when entering homes. We learned how to eat raw fish, raw shellfish, and raw whale meat with chopsticks. Japan, riveted by earthquakes and tsunami floods last March and then nuclear threats from damaged reactors, was a different world for our six-person team (four men, two women) from First Baptist Church of Brownsville.

From our landing in Japan onward, our companions included Gerald and Brenda Burch and Tony and Marsha Woods, two International Mission Board missionary couples who have served in Japan and Asia for decades. They knew the language, culture, and how to drive on the left side of the road.

We quickly became friends with the church members of the Tokyo, Yoshioka, and the Tatomei Baptist Churches. They were already doing their own disaster relief work, and we were able to join them on some projects and be in their church services that Sunday. Our missionaries and one member of our team who spoke Japanese translated for the rest of us.

For each family devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, the recovery work begins one shovel at a time, sifting through debris that once was a home. Many are trying to figure out how to rebuild without a job and without tsunami insurance. In their grief, we shoveled beside them. We handed them things they might desire to salvage—pictures, dishes, anything remaining of personal value to them. Without saying a word, we saw what still had value in their eyes. Then, in the homes that could be saved, we removed what was damaged and unusable, cleaned out and disinfected what was left, and began replacing floors and walls where possible. We wanted the people to know that they are not alone, that there is help and hope, and that Jesus cares about them.

In Japan, there are constant reminders that the people do not have Jesus as their savior.

Ancestor worship, Buddhism, and Shintoism dominate the Japanese religious culture. In sifting through rubble, we found most homes had their own “god shelves” filled with miniature replicas of the gods they worshiped. We were constantly praying God would overcome these false religious concepts and replace them with his truth. And, we also prayed that God could use the help we were able to give in the name of Jesus to begin that process.

Also, our team also helped clear out rubble from a landslide, cleaned out a nursing home submerged during the tsunami, assisted a Japanese Baptist Convention feeding unit by taking food to displaced persons, sang for a gathering of residents at an emergency housing area, and even toured a crematorium being used as an emergency shelter. We prayed with people who had lost everything—jobs, homes, and family members, and made positive contacts with people who, for the first time, were open to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One young lady who was open to hearing the gospel was named Emi, a young mother about 25 years old. As the tsunami approached, her husband and father-in-law raced to the waterfront to rescue some of their co-workers. The co-workers survived; the husband and father-in-law did not. With her home destroyed and husband and father-in-law dead, Emi made her way, with her young daughter, to a neighboring village where her mother lived on a hillside.

It was there that we met Emi. We were assigned to remove the rubble around her mother’s home. Emi wanted to know why we cared enough to come and help her. We told her, her mother, and her daughter about Jesus. A few days later, we heard that Emi had called Marsha Woods, the IMB missionary we were working with there, and had promised to continue reading the Bible Marsha had given her when we left.

One night, a town leader came to where we had been staying and said he wanted to learn from us everything we could teach him, because he was amazed that we would come so far to help. He heard the gospel that night.

Another women burst into tears when she heard us singing “Amazing Grace” at a temporary housing center. We were able to pray with her and share the gospel. She agreed to visit the local Japanese Baptist church, if for nothing else, to hear “Amazing Grace” again.

One homeowner, on whose home we were working, refused to pray with us when we invited him. Surprised and saddened, we wondered if our time there would have any spiritual results. Later that day, a pastor from the area shared with us that the homeowner was a friend of his, and though the man was not yet a Christian, he believed he soon would be because of the influence of God’s love shown him by Christians.

That is why we do disaster relief work—that through what people see us doing, they will want to know why we do it. And we will tell them about Jesus.

—Steve Dorman is pastor of First Baptist Church of Brownsville and author of this article.

The winners re-write history

It is easy to find something to say about the California law that requires public schools to emphasize the accomplishments of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people alongside those of various racial and ethnic groups. Let me focus for a minute on the mockery this makes of history.

One phrase in the bill forbids any instructional material that reflects adversely upon persons because of their “race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, and sexual orientation, or other characteristic listed as specified.” Of course, this is meant to circumvent the entire discussion of whether “sexual identity,” behavior actually, is a function of behavior or choice.

Clearly, we’d have to say that in a free society, identifying with a particular religion is a matter of will, not genetics. Millions in our nation have also demonstrated that nationality/citizenship can be changed by those who choose to do so. Sexual identification (male or female) is, in the minds of some, also a matter of choice reflected by how a person dresses or even surgically alters himself. A person’s race and ethnicity are conditions of birth, actually so is a person’s sex in the opinion of most of us. This is a mixed bag of traits—some behavioral, some not.

Neither are all the traits on this list morally neutral. Religion certainly is not. Those who hold firmly to a syncretic religion such as Buddhism or Christian liberalism definitely do not consider my John 14:6 Southern Baptist theology to be moral or tolerable. Neither do they approve of the orthodox versions of any other religion whose adherents believe themselves to know the truth. By the same token, I do not consider manmade religions, including Christian liberalism, to be moral or respectable belief systems. And you know that I cannot consider sexual behavior to have no moral aspect. The other items on the list are morally neutral. The inclusion of religion and sexual behavior on the list implies that religion does not matter and that sexual behavior is as morally neutral as race. Once again, liberals try to settle with legislation arguments they cannot win with facts.

But how would a teacher explain genocide or ethnic cleansing without “reflecting adversely” on an oppressor mostly identified by his ethnicity? A similar difficulty arises when one religion oppresses another. Can we talk about the Inquisition, Crusades, or the Salem Witch Trials? I’m sure we can, but it doesn’t appear so. Was the majority in America that upheld slavery for nearly a century of any particular race? If there is a victim defined by his race, ethnicity, religion or any other status, then there is a persecutor who can rightly be defined by his own status. I think that might reflect adversely on those who behave badly based on some twisted view of their specific status. That might be illegal in California.

Another difficulty may present itself to those who would comply with this bit of social engineering. Most history texts are already chock full of men, women, Englishmen, Africans, disabled people, Asians, and homosexuals. Unfortunately, many of these folks are identified by what they did rather than by their particular tags. Would it be easier to go through and sub-identify everyone already in the story (maybe color code their names) or sort them into discrete chapters, each containing only one subgrouping of historical figures? The latter approach seems most consonant with the thinking behind this bill. The story of great, significant events doesn’t matter so much as the affirmation of all the things people are and do. It seems a small thing that our citizens know the what or why of human events, at least compared with the weird fiction that we’re all both special and identical.

So, in California, we know who has won the culture war there, the ones who get to revise history. In Texas, the other behemoth in influencing textbook content, our State Board of Education went another way. Their more tempered approach to updating history and science books resulted in some of the most absurd rhetoric I’ve ever heard from those who prefer the worldview of California but the tax structure of Texas. 

This story from California sounds like a pretty good argument for the parents of school-age children to find I-10 and head east with all they hold dear.

Grand Prairie church tutors students, for Jesus’ sake

GRAND PRAIRIE—Sometimes the mission field is closer than you think. Maybe it’s right next door. That’s what South Park Baptist Church in Grand Prairie realized when looking at South Grand Prairie High School, a stone’s toss away—literally.

“The pastor and I began talking,” said Henry Loftin, director of Glowing Heart Ministries. “I said, ‘We’ve got to reach this school.’ God has put us 20 feet from the property of a 4,000-student high school.”

As a result, South Park, in cooperation with Glowing Heart Ministries, has found a way to reach out to middle- and high-school students with an after-school tutoring program that serves as a springboard for the gospel.

For the past three years, the tutoring ministry has met three nights a week after school.

“The church provides the facility,” said Pastor Randy Capote. “Glowing Hearts provides leadership and tutors and some of our church members also work as tutors. It’s a little unusual, but I like unusual.”

The program is designed mainly for secondary school students and is also geared toward involving them in the life of the church. 

“It became a symbiotic relationship,” Loftin said. “We’re responsible for Wednesdays and daily program services, but count on the church to have Sunday structure for them.”

To kickoff this outreach, South Park sponsors a yearly teacher appreciation luncheon for the teachers at South Grand Prairie High School during teacher in-service before school starts in the fall. 

“We introduced what we were doing and that we are providing an atmosphere that is going to be wholesome and healthy and we also are providing tutoring in math, science, English and history,” Loftin said. The first teacher appreciation lunch drew about 60 teachers. A year later, the second luncheon saw 135 teachers attend.

Loftin said teachers have gotten on board with the program. “Some teachers next door are giving kids a 100 daily grade for coming over here—an extra incentive for getting tutoring.”

“We’ve exposed ourselves and gained trust with the teachers,” Capote said. “They encourage the kids to come over.”

Tutors for the program come from many different sources, Loftin said. Some are retired teachers while others come from Dallas Baptist University.

“We try to get college students because they connect so well with the students and see that you can be young, enjoy learning and be good at your subject.”

Loftin also believes the tutors’ willingness to share their faith is vital.  

“Testimony is important because after tutoring they can say ‘Can I pray with you and ask God to help you retain the things we talked about?’ It’s one step toward the kingdom that they’re not going to be doing next door.”

In addition to the tutoring, the program sponsors a Wednesday night youth worship service and cook-out that averages about 100 students each week. Students who come to tutoring are not required to attend the Wednesday activities, but the option is open to them. 

“We don’t require that kids stay,” Loftin said. “We want to begin to plant the truth in their hearts. About 90 percent of the kids who come over here are unchurched—in a lot of ways unfamiliar with Christian living.”

South Park is seeing a response to the tutoring and Wednesday night outreach programs. “We’ve seen 30 come to Christ this semester,” Loftin said. “We baptized three on Wednesday night during the youth service so that we could describe the purpose and meaning of baptism, showing a step of obedience that shows your allegiance to Christ.”

“We’ve added at least one really solid family as a result. The parents came to the Lord and are now plugged into the church,” Capote said.

Capote is excited about how the Lord is using the program to reach kids for Christ.

“This has been a good partnership between us, Glowing Hearts, and the school district.”

Perry invites governors to Aug. 6 prayer event

HOUSTON—Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate, has invited the nation’s governors to a prayer and fasting event on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Sponsored by the American Family Association, “The Response” is meant to be a non-denominational and non-partisan Christian prayer service, according to the AFA.

In a letter to the other 49 governors, Perry urged them to declare Aug. 6 a day to pray for “unity and righteousness.”

In a message on the event website—theresponseusa.com—Perry said: “Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.”