Month: August 2011

Violence in Juarez faces foe in prayers of El Paso churches

EL PASO—After El Paso churches united in a 40-day prayer effort for the neighboring city of Juarez, Mexico, remarkable news broke: God answered their prayers by decreasing the murder rate in what has been dubbed one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The prayer effort, coordinated by the non-denominational Christian ministry El Paso for Jesus, involved approximately 20 congregations of various denominations and spanned the 40 days leading up to Easter. Each day a different church was responsible for meeting on a hill overlooking Juarez and praying from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 7 to 8 p.m. that God would decrease the violence, protect commuters and change the hearts of drug cartel members perpetuating the violence.

Following the prayer effort, Fox News reported June 24 that murders were down by nearly 200 in the first half of 2011. While there had already been 1,200 homicides after six months in 2010, this year’s six-month total stood at 1,037.

Over the past several years, warring drug cartels have turned Juarez into a war zone and the city has seen its murder rate increase tenfold, topping 3,000 homicides last year and 8,600 since 2008. In contrast, El Paso had five murders in 2010.

“The violence that is happening over there [in Juarez] and has been happening for several years now had gotten to such a point where we knew that only the prayer of God’s people could intercede,” Rod Smith, lead pastor of Cielo Vista Church, a congregation that participated in the 40-day prayer campaign, told the TEXAN. “It’s gotten to a point where you don’t even go across the border to witness anymore. It’s not safe. The violence is terrible.”

On Cielo Vista’s day to pray at the Juarez overlook, participants prayed silently using printed guides and then took turns praying aloud. In addition to praying on their assigned day, the church also made a point to pray for Juarez during all its worship services during the 40 days. Those prayers included interceding for members who have relatives in Juarez and for those who risk their lives to share Jesus in Mexico.

Rhonda Cariker, a Cielo Vista member who participated in the prayer overlooking Juarez, told the TEXAN the effort was an opportunity to engage in spiritual warfare.

“We were able to look down from the mountain and see the lights of the city of Juarez across the river,” she said. “You can see right down into it. So we could imagine the people and the needs that were down there as we stood and we prayed from the overlook.”

As she looked into Juarez, Cariker prayed for “the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people” and for “God to do something amazing spiritually to break the bondage that was going on there,” she said.

For Cariker, the prayer time was very personal. She said she is grieved that Christians in El Paso can no longer go across the border safely to minister in Juarez and regrets that she used to take such ministry opportunities for granted.

“We used to just take for granted that anytime we wanted to we would be able to go over and do an outreach there, do a mission emphasis with a missionary that might be over there doing something, actually go and work on buildings that the church was constructing, even building houses for areas where people live in cardboard houses or where they take packaging material and make temporary houses,” she said. “And that’s all come to a screeching halt. I felt ashamed of taking the opportunities for granted.”

In addition to the decrease in murders, El Paso believers have seen answers to specific prayers for individuals and churches. For example, one Mexican pastor’s kidnapped daughter was returned unharmed, and several churches have continued to minister without falling victim to violence.

“God is showing favor to some of the churches that are in Juarez, and there’s not a tremendous amount of violence that’s happening in those locations,” Smith said. “So that is a great thing.”

Still, there are many reasons for continued prayer, according to Smith and Cariker. They include rampant gang activity, corruption in the Mexican government and the need for Mexican criminals to be saved.

The situation in Juarez is “outright spiritual warfare,” Cariker said, “because it’s the gateway into the rest of Mexico. And we have a lot of missionaries that would have very effective ministries there. We have a lot of nationals that were having very effective ministry going on there. I think Satan is trying to put it to a stop because if you can put it to a stop right there as you enter Mexico, you can stop a lot of what was going on from Juarez down into the interior.”

Cariker also sounded a warning for American believers in other cities: “God has opened doors in front of whatever church that you’re a part of, wherever you’re attending and serving. Don’t take them for granted that they’re always going to be open. Like the Apostle Paul said, be wise and redeem the time because the days are evil. … We could have probably done a lot more when the door was open and didn’t because we just assumed the door would stay open.”

UPDATE: As the TEXAN went to press, the El Paso Times reported that murders in July in Juarez were the highest number since February, with 218 dead. The TEXAN editorial staff urges readers to join the churches of El Paso in prayer for the El Paso-Juarez area.

Telling good news

In the last 22 years, I have probably heard more often than any other the exhortation/criticism that a Christian newspaper should focus more on good news than we do. I suspect these well-intentioned critiques would just as easily apply to any city daily paper. It is a puzzling opinion. Most editors think their papers should report the most significant news of the day. Do we really have to choose between stories of effective ministry and reports on the African famine? Our readers do rightly expect to hear of ministry needs as well as ministry accomplishments. In reality, I think readers who do not like the news are actually anxious because bad things happen.

Looking at the last two issues of the TEXAN, I was struck by how much good news was there. Admittedly, the stories of relief efforts in Japan were occasioned by a tragic earthquake in that country, but it is still glorious to see the grace of God shining more brightly in the midst of sorrow. In addition to three Japan relief stories, we published the stories of local churches with effective ministries, a Navy chaplain, a good youth camp, and two reports of persecuted Christians in other countries. It was not all good news, but which of those reports would you not want to receive? Still, we publish a lot of good news, mostly because there is good news in the midst of Texas Southern Baptist churches that is not reported elsewhere. And these reports are not “slow news day” items. We laugh when we see stories about cats that speak five languages or a scorched hamburger bun that bears the image of Saint Alfonso, especially in broadcast news. Good news is not like that. It is happy but sober, the result of God’s people doing day-by-day good.

The less uplifting news, denominational challenges, natural disasters, the financial challenges of local ministry and such, are not pointless either. They tempt us to respond in prayer and in action. Perhaps they will warn us of mistakes some are making in ministry. Sometimes they remind us of the constant pull of our culture toward compromise in our biblical convictions. These stories are not in every issue of the paper but they can serve a positive purpose. Consider stories in the lives of Balaam the prophet, King David, Jonah, Peter, and Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5). Each of these lives contains cautionary tales suitable “for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Sometimes bad news can have that purpose.

We on the TEXAN staff enjoy telling the stories that urge us onward more than those that goad us back to the difficult path. We are readers too and enjoy being uplifted more than we enjoy being rebuked. Maybe it is similar to the way that many pastors enjoy preaching the story of Christmas or Easter than they might enjoy preaching the harsh warnings of Matthew 24-25. The truth is a whole, though, and not just selected sweets removed from context. We strive to tell the whole thing.

Maybe the place where people tend to judge the mix of positive and negative in a publication is more focused on the opinion content than on the news. I, like most of you, tend to read the opinion pages of a publication more thoroughly than I read news content. And we judge a publication, online, print, newspaper or magazine, based on the opinion columns—even though those pages are compiled by completely different people than is the news content. If the columnists tend to be more Lamentations than Psalms, then the newspaper is a downer. The same could be said for denominational spokesmen of all sorts. They may have one urgent message that they hope churches and leaders will hear above all others, and it usually involves a response to dire need or an answer to critical issues. Thus, the denomination can be more often seen as negative than positive, regardless of the overwhelming ratio of good news to bad news SBC agencies, conventions and associations could tell.

This evaluation is almost inevitably unfair, by the way. For example, it has been said enough that Southern Baptists are known more for what we are against than for what we favor. That may be more true than important. We are not necessarily known for what is true about us or for what we say of ourselves. Many people like bad news, snarky comments, any confirmation that validates their suspicions that others are despicable. When Baptists fight, literally hundreds of reporters show up at the SBC annual meeting. When we get along and commission missionaries and such, only a handful of reporters, all Baptist, (and a remarkably small number of messengers), make the trip. Some of our critics are ignorant, some are insincere—few will ever learn more or amend their opinions. Southern Baptists owe it to the kingdom of God to be more fair minded than those who do not care to know the whole story. A morbid preference for bad news leads one to believe that true story is far worse than it is.

Your TEXAN staff seeks to tell as fair and thorough a story as we can. I think most editorial types strive to accomplish something similar within the confines of their own constituencies. We will continue to tell more good news than bad because there will always be abundant evidence that God is working among his people. And regrettably, we will always have occasion to tell bad news, not just because it happens, but because it is important. Bad news often demonstrates that our work has been cut out for us and we have just received our marching orders.

As always, we are grateful and humbled to hear from our readers. We read the letters and e-mails we get from you and are happy to know how we can better serve.

Patterson: Preparation for ministry requires sacrifice

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson isn’t particularly interested in making theological education more comfortable for the student. While many institutions are marketing their degrees as convenient for study in the context of the student’s home turf, Patterson would rather cause disruption in the lives of prospective ministers.

“The thing I want to do is take the man out of where he is, where he’s grown up and put him as quickly as I can in a situation where he has no hope unless God intervenes.” That initial decision to make the move to campus opens the door to transformation, he believes.

Patterson’s definition of theological education is to expose students “to great men and women of God, to their lives, their homes, their habits and their commitments,” a process that requires sacrificing the comforts of home. If it were nothing more than acquiring factual information, then online education might suffice, he said.

“Pastoral ministry, evangelism, missions, counseling and music are all, by the nature of the disciplines, incarnational, not mechanical,” Patterson added. To think otherwise is as ludicrous as believing the Navy SEALS who took down Osama bin Laden had received all of their training online, he observed.

“There’s never going to be a day when we train special ops or the common soldier without taking him to a base, out of his comfort zone, and instilling certain disciplines that can never be instilled online.”

When asked to remember something they learned in college or seminary, alumni are hard pressed to separate the knowledge they acquired from the influence of particular professors, he insisted. “If you ask, ‘Was there someone in college or seminary who impacted your life,’ then the information rolls out. What happens to that dynamic when a total education is online?”

That personal dynamic translates into pastoral ministry, Patterson said. “There’s no substitute for soul care in the ministry and that can’t be taught online.”

Accreditation affects distance-learning options

Why do some schools offer more distance learning programs than others? And why can’t you earn a master of divinity degree fully online at SBC seminaries?
Accreditation is a large part of the answer to these and other questions related to higher education.

The term “accreditation” refers to a school receiving an official stamp of approval from an agency certified by the U.S. Department of Education, state governments or the non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The practice serves as a form of quality control for graduate and undergraduate education.

All six Southern Baptist seminaries are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), a national accrediting agency for graduate-level theological education, and by regional accrediting agencies that monitor both graduate and undergraduate education in different sections of the country.

“ATS accreditation is the most broadly affirmed across religious communities in the United States and Canada and in fact has some recognition outside of North America by other schools and agencies,” Daniel Aleshire, ATS executive director, told the TEXAN. “So there is a certain value in having a degree from an ATS accredited school.”

Currently ATS standards permit accredited schools to offer up to two-thirds of a master of divinity through extension centers and online. Half of a master of arts may be earned through extension centers and online. No ATS-approved degree can be earned entirely online.

However, ATS does permit member schools to offer entire degrees at sites away from the main campus if those sites are determined to have adequate library facilities, administrative services and faculty.

For example, ATS granted approval for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to offer entire degrees at its Houston campus. And Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has five campuses throughout the western U.S. where students may earn entire degrees—Mill Valley, Calif.; Brea, Calif.; Vancouver, Wash.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Denver, Colo.

“The main difference” between Southwestern’s Houston campus and its extension centers is that Houston “has the requirements that a degree-offering institution should have such as full-time faculty that are on site, a library of sufficient size that’s on site,” Jim Wicker, director of web-based education at Southwestern, told the TEXAN. “We provide all the services that a student needs … They’re able to do everything at that campus.”

In contrast, Wicker said that “at the extensions, there are faculty that commute in either from Fort Worth or … local adjuncts that drive in. They come in and teach the course, but they don’t have office hours.”

Rick Durst, director of online education at Golden Gate, said his seminary uses five campuses in order to provide contextualized education and encourage ministers to stay on the field rather than moving away to attend seminary. Too often those who move to a seminary campus never return to the remote areas from which they were called to minister, he said.

“If someone feels called to the northwest, the southwest, Colorado or Arizona, it’s so much more effective for them to be trained on site—where they’re engaged in ministry, making relationships, seeing how ministry works in that context—than it is to train them somewhere else and then try to apply that in a context that’s different,” Durst told the TEXAN.

ONLINE EDUCATION
Because ATS does not permit theological degrees to be earned fully online, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s online master of arts in theological studies is not ATS accredited. Instead, it is offered through the seminary’s undergraduate college and accredited only by the regional Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Undergraduate colleges of SBC seminaries are not limited by ATS restrictions regarding distance education and may offer online degrees. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Boyce College, for example, offers a bachelor of arts entirely online.

Midwestern President R. Philip Roberts told the TEXAN that the online master’s degree is a way of ministering to those who need theological education but cannot access an extension center or the Kansas City, Mo., campus.

“This is a good way to provide and facilitate online education for people in remote areas especially that don’t have the advantage of seminary education,” Roberts said in an interview. “We obviously cannot provide enough extension centers across the United States and certainly around the world to service everyone who would like to have access to theological education. It’s a way of ministering to and helping those who would like to have the advantages of a good quality seminary and/or college theological education and yet have no ability to get to it physically.”

Rodney Harrison, Midwestern’s vice president for institutional effectiveness, emphasized that the online master’s degree is accredited by the same agency that accredits major colleges and universities in the Midwest. To earn accreditation, he said the seminary had to demonstrate that the quality of its online degree was comparable to the quality of a degree earned on campus.

Midwestern is working with ATS to develop pilot projects in online education, Harrison said.

According to Aleshire, who taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1990, ATS is in the process of reviewing its standards for online education and will have a first draft of new policies in the fall that likely will permit member schools to offer online master’s degrees. Schools will respond to it in subsequent drafts before voting on a final proposal in 2012.

However, he speculated that the new policies would maintain an on-campus requirement for the master of divinity.

“The requirement for residency has emerged from the assumption that an M.Div. or a professional M.A., a degree that’s equipping people for ministry with others, involves issues related to personhood, to character, to Christian spirituality and that those are issues that are discerned and learned more effectively in community kinds of contexts,” Aleshire said.

No changes in ATS standards will be adopted until 2012, though, and must be approved by two-thirds of ATS member schools.

Currently, no graduate degree at any school that is entirely online is accredited by ATS. Still, other accrediting bodies allow online degrees at all levels of higher education.

Distance ed. options abound at Baptist schools

In the past, earning a theological degree automatically meant packing up and moving to the campus of a college or seminary.

But that’s not the case anymore.

Through online courses and extension centers, students can earn credit toward degrees at all six SBC seminaries and at least two Texas colleges.

One Southern Baptist seminary offers a master’s degree entirely online while two others have multiple accredited campuses where students can earn degrees.

The following represents distance-learning options at several schools.

CRISWELL COLLEGE
Criswell College in Dallas offers an undergraduate-level certification program for pastors entirely online with the option of transferring the course work.

Called the Criswell Certificate in Great Doctrines of the Bible, the program involves eight three-hour courses and is for ministers who have not completed an undergraduate degree. Each course costs $783 to receive transferable college credit and less if no transferable credit is desired.

“This program of study is completed 100 percent online from the convenience of the student’s Internet connection,” Barry Creamer, dean of distance education, told the TEXAN. “It includes access to required reading, listening [to] and viewing materials at wacriswell.com, weekly online interaction with the professor and other students, online exams and papers submitted online.”

GOLDEN GATE BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., can earn graduate degrees at any of five fully accredited campuses. Online classes can also make up a portion of a student’s coursework.

Among the learning elements of online classes are live video and audio chats with professors, DVD lectures, online quizzes and exams and contact with professors through phone and e-mail.

“Often courses have one of Golden Gate’s librarians sitting in to make sure that students are aware and make wise use of the online resources and databases available,” Rick Durst, Golden Gate’s director of online education, told the TEXAN. “This [past] semester our president, Jeff Iorg, premiered his online Introduction to Preaching using video lectures linked through Vimeo, a weekly video chat with students and student submission of their sermons via uploads to Vimeo.”

Starting this fall, online SBC students will pay the same tuition rate as on campus SBC students: $205 per credit hour. Online students pay an additional technology fee of $230 per course.

JACKSONVILLE COLLEGE
Jacksonville College, a two-year Christian liberal arts school in Jacksonville, Texas, offers 30 hours of courses taught either entirely online or with a mix of online learning and personal contact with an instructor.

Online and on-campus courses cost $210 per credit hour. All students pay a $10 per semester technology fee and if enrolled for six hours or more, a student service fee of $200.

“While all learning outcomes for a distance learning course match those taught in a comparable face-to-face course, the method of accomplishing those outcomes will typically be different in the online classroom,” Jacksonville College’s academic dean Tampa Clark said. “All courses require significant reading, but some courses may require online group projects in addition to individual assignments. Discussion boards are prevalent, as are links to videos and other resource materials.”

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., offers an extensive selection of graduate and undergraduate degrees entirely online.

The online courses incorporate video and audio teaching along with presentations given through electronic slides. Prices vary according to the degree a student is working on and are posted at Liberty’s website.

Liberty’s selection of online degrees is larger than that of SBC seminaries because it is accredited by a different national accrediting agency that is more lenient regarding on-campus study requirements.

MIDWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City is the only SBC seminary that offers a master’s degree entirely online—the 45-hour master of arts in theological studies.

Students in other programs may take courses online and at extension centers, but no other degree may be earned fully without studying on the main campus. The cost for online classes is $250 per credit hour.

“Online classes are eight weeks in length,” Midwestern’s director of admissions and student recruitment Rusty Marriot said. “They are reading intensive, but students are required to access their student portal on Blackboard [an online learning management system] to respond to different assignments from professors and interact with others in the class.”

The online master’s degree is offered through Midwestern’s undergraduate college rather than the seminary and is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national agency that accredits all six SBC seminaries. Current ATS standards do not allow any degrees to be offered fully online. However, the degree is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

NEW ORLEANS BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, students can earn credit toward graduate and undergraduate degrees at extension centers and through online classes. They can also earn multiple undergraduate-level certificates entirely online.

For SBC students, the tuition is $250 per credit hour.

Craig Price, associate dean of online learning, said online classes allow students to adapt coursework to their own schedules.

“We use video links, iTunes U, audio links, YouTube links, reading, online tests, blogs, some synchronous learning using chat rooms and Webex,” Price told the TEXAN. “We employ online testing, paper assignments and weekly discussion boards.”

New “hybrid” format courses include three weeks of online study and a class meeting on campus during the fourth week, and count as on-campus credit toward a degree.

SOUTHEASTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Though students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary are required to spend some time on the Wake Forest campus for all degree programs, online classes and extension centers can be significant components of many degree programs.

For online classes, a professor’s instruction is recorded on campus then distributed to students through iTunes U or DVDs. Reading assignments, tests and other work are all administered through the Internet.

Tuition for master’s-level SBC students is $714 per class at extension centers and $877 per class online.

SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College, students can earn entirely online both an associate of arts in biblical and theological studies and a bachelor of arts in biblical and theological studies. But all seminary degrees require study on the main campus in Louisville, Ky.

Up to two-thirds of the master of divinity and up to one-half of any master of arts may be earned online and at extension centers. Internet courses consist of a combination of recorded video lectures, required reading, discussion forums, quizzes, exams, written assignments and web-based research projects.

Seminary tuition for SBC students is $219 per credit hour plus a $250 per course Internet fee for online classes.

“The entire core curriculum for the M.Div. and the core curriculums for most M.A. degrees are available online, giving students great flexibility in planning for their online and on-campus needs,” Hayward Armstrong, associate vice president for online learning and intercultural programs at Southern, said.

SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students may complete full degrees at either the Fort Worth or Houston campuses. They may also earn up to 49 percent of their degree online and up to 66 percent of their degree at extension centers. At least 30 hours though, must be taken at the Fort Worth or Houston campuses.

Most online classes use a multi-media format, including PowerPoint slide shows, audio lectures, short videos, online chats, blogging, journaling and wiki assignments. Others employ a live video chat feature, and a few lecture-format classes use streamed classroom video recordings or DVDs.

For SBC students, a normal three-hour online class costs $813 and a normal three-hour extension center class costs $651.

Evolution critics, proponents laud Texas board’s science vote


AUSTIN—The Texas State Board of Education has unanimously approved a list of supplemental science materials that appears to please proponents and critics of evolution alike.

The supplemental materials, offered by more than a dozen publishers, aim to bring science classes in Texas public schools up to date with standards the board passed in 2009. The science standards have drawn national attention in requiring students to be able to “analyze, evaluate and critique” all scientific theories.

The board’s July 22 vote to approve the recommended texts, vetted by educator review panels and Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, followed a four-hour public hearing on July 21 that mostly pitted church-state watchdogs and evolutionary science advocates against those supportive of the board’s requirements that all theories be scrutinized.

The supplemental materials cover general science for the fifth grade through middle school, and secondary chemistry, physics and biology, with biology attracting the most attention during the hearing July 21.

The next day, the 15-member elected board voted 14-0 (with one member absent) to approve the list of electronic supplements, with two biology textbook publishers agreeing to edit their material in select places to meet the board’s approval.

Opposing factions in the debate over how evolution is presented in public schools seemed to claim victory after the vote.

“It’s great that there was a unanimous vote by the board to protect children and to not allow errors to go into classroom textbooks,” said Jonathan Saenz, legislative director for the conservative Liberty Institute, based in Plano. “This was a total loss for the liberal left that wanted to protect these errors and allow them to stay in, while trying to bring in this bogeyman of intelligent design that never existed.”

Steven Schafersman, director of Texas Citizens for Science and a vocal critic of intelligent design, said, “As a member of the scientific community I am very pleased with the results of the vote today. With the exception of the Holt McDougal materials [in biology] all of the science materials were adopted with only the legitimate factual errors changed.

“All in all, this was a victory for science and a victory for my side.”

Two publishers of biology texts agreed to make changes beyond the list of routine corrections requested by review panels.

Adaptive Curriculum agreed to replace stylized versions of human and animal embryo drawings by 19th-century biologist Ernst Haeckel, whose early work is deemed outdated, with actual photos of embryo development.

Holt McDougal agreed, after some resistance, to offer changes in the language it employed in eight instances dealing with evolution concepts. The board agreed to adopt the text after passing a motion asking Scott, the education commissioner, to coordinate the changes with the publisher.

Scott told the board, “I can’t promise either side that they’d be happy” with the edits. “All I have is my commitment to be as fair as I can be.” Scott said the contested material “could be more precisely written and accurately portrayed.”

The one biology textbook that included intelligent design concepts did not make the recommended list. According to an evaluation of the proposed textbooks by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, International Databases was one of the few publishers that met standards for students to critically evaluate theories. But they also included intelligent design (ID) concepts, which the Discovery Institute opposes requiring in public school science classes. The Center for Science & Culture is a leading ID think tank.

Despite the Discovery Institute’s stated opposition to teaching ID in public secondary schools, much of the public hearing focused on perceptions that ID or some form of biblical creationism would be forced into science materials. The International Databases supplement was cited several times despite board members’ repeated statements that the book was not among the recommended materials being considered.

Among the 60 or so people who testified, a wide majority argued against any weakening of evolution instruction. More than one person equated critical analysis of evolution with opening the door for religious dogma, which was one too many for board member Ken Mercer, R.-San Antonio.

An exasperated Mercer challenged anyone to find a mention of creationism, ID, God or Jesus in the proposed science texts.

“It’s just not there, period!” Mercer said.

Mercer’s statement didn’t sway Rebecca Robertson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, who warned the board that sneaking ID concepts into science classes likely would lead to lawsuits against financially strapped school districts.

“We believe in leaving religious instruction to the parents and faith community of Texas. That’s what our Constitution demands…. The Supreme Court has made very clear that when government organizations like this one teach religious concepts like intelligent design or intelligent causation,” they have crossed a line, she said.

Daniel Romo, professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, said not all data proposed within the evolution model are settled science. For example, Romo said the study of abiogenesis—how life initially arose—is one area “where multiple sides of the evidence must be shown” and where “there is so much mystery and unknown in this area.”

“The primary premise of my testimony is driven by my desire to ensure that outdated scientific experiments that are now widely accepted to have been performed under incorrect conditions be removed [from textbooks],” Romo said.

R.E. Smith, a member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, testified on behalf of his friend Ide Trotter that use of data such as the 1950s Miller-Urey experiment that claimed to have produced abiogenesis with amino acids is considered invalid today. He encouraged the board to hold publishers to accuracy.

“No scientist has any idea how the first molecule containing coded information came about,” Smith said.

Following the vote, Mercer praised new board chair Barbara Cargill, R.-The Woodlands, and told fellow board members, “We have put great books out there and I am proud of that process.”

Texas is influential in the textbook market because it buys or distributes about 48 million books annually, affecting textbook content nationally.

Due to a state budget crunch, new textbooks estimated to cost $347 million were passed over in favor of the supplements to existing textbooks, an expense of about $60 million.

To watch the video interview with Daniel Romo click here

Calif. voters may get say on gay history law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California's first-in-the-nation public school gay history law could be reversed by voters next year if a coalition of conservative groups collects enough signatures.

The coalition, known as StopSB48, must collect 500,000 valid signatures by Oct. 7 in order to place the issue on the ballot for the next statewide election, likely in 2012. Signatures already are being gathered. The referendum often is called a “people's veto.”

The new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, could impact other states because it forces social science textbooks to include the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.” California is one of the nation's largest buyers of textbooks, and its textbooks often make their way to other states.

“There are two or three states which, because of their population, drive the textbook industry for the other 47 states — California being the first among equals,” Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the California-based Pacific Justice Institute, told Baptist Press. “If these textbook companies are required to adopt these new standards, then that could be in essence the standard by default on a number of other states that purchase California textbooks.”

The Pacific Justice Institute is part of the StopSB48 coalition, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Capitol Resource Institute. The coalition gets its name from the bill's number.

The new law prohibits instructional materials from “reflecting adversely” upon homosexuals — language some conservative leaders say would impact what is taught about marriage.

The law, which has yet to take effect, also requires the contributions of Pacific Islanders and persons with disabilities to be included in the textbooks, but the language about homosexuals has been at the heart of the controversy.

Parental rights and religious liberty are under assault, critics say. The coalition's website says the law “forces children to study materials that tell them their families' values are wrong.”

“This law doesn't provide for any opt-outs for parents,” Snider said, “and so the way the law would work would be that parents would have no more recourse to opt their kids out of this than they could out of a section on, say, the Napoleonic Wars.”

The law also has no age or grade limit, leading opponents to charge that gay history could be taught in elementary school.    

The law passed the Assembly, 49-25, and the Senate, 23-14, each controlled by Democrats.

Brown said the law is needed.

“History should be honest,” he said in a statement. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state…”

Others, though, disagreed.

“I think it's one thing to say that we should be tolerant,” Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly said during floor debate, according to the Associated Press. “It is something else altogether to say that my children are going to be taught that this lifestyle is good.”

He added, “As a Christian I am deeply offended.”

Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, said the goal for supporters of the law is “to put homosexuality on the same level as a minority status based on race or color or religion.”

For more information or to download petitions, visit www.StopSB48.com
–30–
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.