Sunday, November 04, 2007

All Saints Day

Today is being celebrated by many Christians as All Saints Day. I think a very appropriate passage of Scripture to commemorate this day is from Hebrews 11, the famous "roll call of faith." However, since Hebrews 11 was originally written in the late first century, there have been 2000 years of Christian history. Therefore, at the risk of leaving out someone's favorite, I submit here my addendum to the "roll call of faith" from Hebrews 11.

By faith, two Christian women named Perpetua and Felicitas were able to stand strong and firm in their faith even to the point of martyrdom.
By faith, Athanasius of Alexandria became a theological giant against the heresy of Arianism at the Council of Nicea.
By faith, Augustine of Hippo, the great theologian of the west was able to overcome his base temptations, live a life devoted exclusively to service to his Lord and give Western theology its primary focus for the next millennium.
By faith, John Chrysostom was able to stand in the high altar of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, look the Empress Eudoxia in the eye and publicly censure her for her resistance to his attempts at moral reform in Constantinople and the Eastern Church.
By faith, Thomas Aquinas was able to withstand the rigors of the Dominican monastic order and rise to academic prominence as Roman Catholicism’s greatest theologian and philosopher.
By faith, Martin Luther, a terrified, neurotic, sometimes irascible German monk, was able to experience the grace and forgiveness of God and initiate a movement which forever changed the face of Christianity.
By faith, Balthasar Hubmaier found strength to face a gruesome martyr’s death because of his convictions concerning believer’s baptism and liberty of conscience.
By faith, Thomas Helwys was able to lead a little band of brand new Baptists from Amsterdam back to England and courageously tell King James I that he was a mere mortal and had no authority over the conscience of another human being.
By faith, Roger Williams was able to endure banishment from Massachusetts Bay and establish the colony of Rhode Island, the first colony in the New World exclusively devoted to complete religious freedom and separation of Church and State.
By faith, John Wesley was able to breathe vitality into the Church of England because of his insistence that true religion must be of the heart, not the mind only.
By faith, Jonathan Edwards was able to give theological understanding to the Great Awakening.
By faith, John Leland, an uneducated Baptist preacher, was able to lead the Baptists of Virginia to pressure James Madison into supporting a Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States which includes as its first statement a guarantee of complete freedom of religion and ultimately the doctrine of separation of Church and state.
By faith, William Carey was able to leave the comfort of England for the rigors of the mission field in India because of his unwavering conviction that the people of India needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
By faith, Lottie Moon expended her little body in the cause of Southern Baptist missions and gave birth to a passion for missions among Baptists in the South that remains with us today.
By faith, Walter Rauschenbusch was able to minister to the poor and down-trodden in Hell’s Kitchen and then awaken the social conscience of the Church.
By faith, William J. Seymour was able to feel the wind of the Spirit move and found the Azusa Street mission from which the Pentecostal movement sprang.
By faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to challenge the evil of the Nazi regime.
By faith, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that our great nation would live up to its creed that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. . . and that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
By faith, Archbishop Oscar Romero was able to challenge an oppressive regime in El Salvador and bring empowerment to the poor of Latin America through a theology of Liberation.
Every believer has their personal "roll call of faith," those individuals whose names may not have made the history books, but who nevertheless serve as inspiration to us in our Christian lives. My grandmothers would be on that list. Dr. W. R. Estep, my church history professor in seminary would be on that list. Who is on your list?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Gideons Can't Pass Out Bibles in Harnett County Schools

The enclosed story from the Dunn Daily Record describes a decision reached by Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dan Honeycutt. There has been a long-standing practice of allowing the Gideons to distribute bibles in the elementary schools here in Harnett County. Someone complained to the ACLU which contacted Honeycutt to inform him that the practice was illegal. In short, the Harnett County School system has now been notified that the practice of passing out religious literature in its public schools is a violation of federal law. The case, a 1998 Supreme Court case (Peck v. the Upshur County Board of Education) determined that it was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment for schools to allow Bibles to be passed out to the students. It constitutes an endorsement of religion, a clear violation of decades of case law argued before both conservative and liberal supreme courts. If Harnett County Schools wanted to fight this, it would eventually have to be carried to the U.S. Supreme Court, a very lengthy, expensive process. It would have drained millions away from our school district in a time when we have so many very critical needs, not the least of which is over-crowding and the need for new schools.

This is a no-brainer but there will probably be a loud, vocal outcry from citizens of Harnett County who disagree with this. Most of them will not understand the intent of the First Amendment, that while guaranteeing freedom of religion, it also guarantees freedom from religion. The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." There are two clauses here: (1) the "free exercise" clause that says that in America, people should be free to practice their faith unhindered by government intrusion; and (2) the "establishment" clause which says that the government (in this case the school system) cannot establish religion or formally endorse one religion over another.

Fifty years ago, the vast majority of children in public schools in the South were reared in Christian homes and attended church regularly. No problem with these kinds of things. No complaints. But, during recent decades, even in rural areas, the religious landscape has changed drastically. Now, even in Harnett County, it is not unusual to find neighborhoods with children from many different religious traditions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a good number of children growing up in homes that are expressly non-religious. The reasoning behind these legal opinions that have remained fairly consistent over the last 4 decades is that if one religious tradition (in this case Christian) is allowed to distribute their literature, it is a discrimination against those other religious groups.

One may say, "Well, Christians are in the majority and the majority rules." Majority rules is certainly the case in elections. However, when it comes to the Bill of Rights that is certainly not the case. The Bill of Rights exists specifically to protect the rights and voice of the minority opinion. The Founders were concerned with tyranny by the majority and wisely included the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to allow for the minority voice always to have an equal place at the table.

But, there is an even more important issue here. Where is the best place for religious instruction to take place anyway? The logical answer should be in the home. Quite frankly, I don't want public schools teaching my children religion or even influencing them in religious matters, unless it is perhaps a course on world religions which is taught from an objective point of view. In short, there is a fine line between teaching religion and indoctrination. I know this because I teach religion for a living. So, I'd rather the public schools teach my children reading, math, science, social studies, health and p.e. etc. and leave the religious instruction to our home and family.

So, really, while there will be dismay on the part of many citizens in Harnett County. This is a no-brainer and I applaud our superintendent for making this call.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rest in Peace Dr. Wiggins

Baptists in the South who read ABP News and particularly those in North Carolina who read the Biblical Recorder, no doubt heard of the death last week of Dr. Norman Adrian Wiggins, the Chancellor of Campbell University. Dr. Wiggins had been the president of the university from 1967-2003. He retired from the presidency and was named chancellor in 2003 because of his battle with cancer, which finally took him after a valiant struggle.

If you want to read more about Dr. Wiggins, you can find the story on the Campbell University website at

If you want to read a good analysis of his funeral service yesterday, see this site:

I am grateful to Dr. Wiggins for several things. First, he was president of Campbell University in 1994 when I was hired to teach in the Religion Department. I am grateful that he had enough trust in me to allow me to stand in the classroom and do what I sincerely love to do: teach college students about religion. Then, in 1999 he had enough confidence in me to approve my promotion to chairman of the Religion Department. Finally, even though Dr. Wiggins was very conservative theologically and politically, he had a very strong sense of academic freedom.

Dr. Wiggins was always kind to me and cordial whenever I saw him around campus. But there is one story about Dr. Wiggins that I will forever appreciate. During my first or second year (I can't remember now), when I was just getting my feet wet as a religion professor, I encountered a problem that many religion professors at Baptist colleges and universities have to deal with. Several students got it in their minds that I was too "liberal" in my theology and didn't belong as a professor at Campbell. One of the students made an appointment with Dr. Wiggins to discuss me. Of course, I was not invited to the meeting, but a friend of mine, our campus minister at the time, was present.

The conversation went something like this:

The student lodged his complaint about my theology and teaching with Dr. Wiggins. Dr. Wiggins responded by asking the student if he was currently in my class or had had me for the class in the past. The student responded that he had not. Dr. Wiggins then inquired about whether the student had ever sat down with me to talk with me about these concerns. The student responded that he had not. Dr. Wiggins then asked the student how he knew that I believed and taught such things. The student responded that he had a few friends that were in my class that were talking about me. Dr. Wiggins then said, "you mean that you have not personally heard Dr. Jonas teach those things and have not personally talked with him about your concerns?" The student said, "No." Dr. Wiggins then said, "Son, do you know what slander is?"

This was all told to me by my campus minister friend. And, I will always appreciate Dr. Wiggins' defense of me. He could have responded to the student's concern in another way. But, he chose to trust me and defend me.

Rest in peace Dr. Wiggins. Campbell is going to miss you!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Prayers for the Hokies

I have been in shock over what happened Monday morning at Virginia Tech. Being a professor on a college campus makes this tragedy even more frightening for me and my colleagues. This could have happened anywhere. In fact, we've had some scares over the last few years (one episode with me personally), always dealt with well by our campus and administration here at Campbell University. Nevertheless, we have all been just a little bit "jumpy" this week.

As I have processed this though, there are four thoughts that I have:

(1) How in the world was this troubled young man able to purchase two handguns and the ammunition for them? I know, he didn't violate any laws. That's precisely my point. Why can the N.R.A. at least not support some kind of national registry and at least a 15 day waiting period with requisite background checks before allowing someone to purchase a firearm? We all know that we live in a world with some people who do not need to own guns. And that has to be balanced with the law-abiding citizen who wants to purchase a firearm for hunting or even for protection. Could there not be some type of balance here? It would seem to me that this would be reasonable.

Related to that, unless I am mistaken, the shooter at Virginia Tech was not a U.S. citizen. He was a permanent resident alien. Should there not be again a federal law that would require all people who want to purchase a firearm to prove U.S. citizenship? Would that not be prudent, especially in a post-911 world?

(2) Why was the shooter still a student at Virginia Tech given all that has come out recently about his psychological condition? There was a 2005 court ruling which determined that he was a potential threat. And, there were faculty members and students who several times sounded the alarm and raised red flags about him. Was there not some procedure in place for removing him from the student body before it ever came to this? Did someone "drop the ball" here?

(3) Why did NBC feel that it needed to broadcast the "Cho Manifesto" to the nation yesterday? Oh, I know. They had a "scoop." They had something none of the other news agencies had and they knew they'd have a ratings winner. So, they promoted it all afternoon yesterday and finally broadcast those disturbing photographs and video yesterday evening. But, I fail to see how any of that really added to the story. I fail to see how any of that was journalism. No reporter went out there and "got" the story. It was a package that came to them that no other news agency had. All that was accomplished was to allow a troubled mass murderer to wreak havoc once again on grieving family members and the entire Virginia Tech community. NBC got it right with Imus (although I suspect that the decision to fire Imus was motivated more by financial issues rather than ethics) but made a serious mistake yesterday.

(4) Finally, I have a student here at Campbell University whose sister is a student at Virginia Tech. She was supposed to have been in that infamous building for class on Monday morning, but as it turned out, she overslept and missed class that morning. However, her two suitemates were both killed. Please keep this young woman in your prayers.

Also, I receive an email from a man named Brent Cloyd each week. He is a used theological books salesman. On Monday afternoon I received an email from him (which went to his entire list) requesting prayer for his niece, Austin Cloyd. She was a student at Virginia Tech. He said that his brother had not been able to raise her on the phone or via email and she was not admitted to any of the hospitals. They were fearing the worst. Finally, I got a follow-up email from him on Tuesday that they had confirmation that she was one of the victims that had been killed. Please pray for the family of Austin Cloyd.

At 11:00 this morning the tower bells on our campus tolled 32 times as we all observed a moment of silence for the victims and their families. I was struck by how long it took for the bell to ring 32 times. It was truly an unimaginable loss for the family members.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus' Troubles

I have never been a fan of Don Imus. I don't like his show. I particularly have disagreed with some of his political points of view in the past. I don't like the way he makes fun of people. In short, I confess that I simply do not like him. However, the fact that I don't like him gives me no reason to call for his removal from the airwaves. Like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, both radio talk-show hosts with whom I vehemently disagree, Imus has every right in the world under the first amendment to have a show on the public airwaves and to say anything he wants. I am an ardent defender of the first amendment. I believe freedom of speech is the bedrock freedom of our society in America. This includes everything from political disagreeements to calling political leaders various names in mocking humor.

However, I also believe that freedom of speech entails a certain level of responsibility. If you are speaking to an audience of millions, you need to show some wisdom not only in what you say but also in how you say it. If you are going to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre, you'd better be prepared to accept the consequences if people get hurt in the rush to get out.

Which brings me back to Don Imus. On his show last Wednesday morning, he made fun of the Rutgers University Women's basketball team by saying first:

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos ... ."

He then followed up that comment with: "That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that."

Finally, his producer Bernard McGuirk said, made reference to a Spike Lee movie and characterized the game as being between the "jigaboos and the wannabees."

Here's where the consequences come in. This is nothing short of hate-filled, racist speech. It is not tolerated except in the very sleaziest of places in our society such as Klan meetings, and back room conversations in the South (or North for that matter). And, so I believe that Don Imus and Bernard McGuirk ought to be summarily fired for this outburst. Other radio talk show hosts have been fired for less. I don't care how popular Imus is. I don't care how much money he makes for CBS Radio. I believe these comments are totally unacceptable for the public airwaves.

For a complete video of the episode last wednesday see this link:

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mega Churches and Shady Finances

If you are a member of a church which does not fully disclose all financial information, you perhaps ought to be suspicious. This has been an on-going dispute at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN recently with a group in the church demanding financial and other records in light of several scandals which have erupted in the congregation surrounding the successor to Adrian Rogers, Steve Gaines. You can read about Bellevue's woes here:

Now, here's another story about still another mega-church whose pastor refuses to disclose how he's spending the church's money. Church member beware. Just because a flashy, smooth-talking person claims to have a "call from God," that does not entitle that person to no accountability. Pastors are accountable. In an episcopal system of church governement, they are accountable to the bishop. In a congregational form of church government, they are accountable to the membership of the local church. Hold them accountable!!!

The story below is from: www.

Shell Games and Secrecy Keith Herron04-02-07

When The Kansas City Star published an investigative story a few weeks ago about the secretive financial oversight of one of the Baptist mega-churches in the area, it was as if a bomb went off in the community.
The news story reported that several hundred members had left the First Family Church of Overland Park, Kan., in the last few years because of the church's refusal to provide members with financial reports of the church income and expenses and the enforced secrecy surrounding the salaries and benefits of the pastor and those family members who are paid staff members.

Accountability issues also involved the broken promises of how funds raised to fund one capital campaign were apparently used to pay for another campaign, while other funds raised for particular projects were either mysteriously delayed or never spent for their stated purpose. Additionally, false explanations were given to the church about how a land deal was consummated according to court records. The members have left over their inability to get answers to their questions about these matters.

Pastor Jerry Johnston exercises tight control over financial disclosure policies by hiding behind the claim that all church financial records are accountable to a board of trustees. According to the story, a lawyer listed in church corporation papers as a board member acknowledged he hadn't been to a board meeting in years, didn't know he was a board member and hadn't attended the church in years.

Former members of a building committee for a recent project left the church out of frustration in obtaining financial reports in order to apply for loan approval to fund the project. They were repeatedly denied the reports and in the end, Johnston covered the loan himself. It is unknown whether he utilized the financial resources of others or underwrote the loan himself. The details are unknown to the members of the church. Within weeks, the entire building committee resigned. It should be noted that Johnston disagreed with the facts of the new story on this point. "Respectfully, I disagree," he said about these accusations.

Members are not given access for the salaries or benefits given to the pastor and staff. Complaints criticize the exorbitant life styles of the pastor and his family listing expensive cars, homes, clothing and the use of an exclusive and high-priced American Express card. Johnston has recently hired a public relations specialist from Dallas to handle all responses to the news stories.

The pastor responded defensively with the warning a few weeks before the story broke that the congregation should expect adversaries to attack them and their ministry. "Whenever God's work is being built, Satan sends opponents, and he energizes opponents," Johnston said. "Beware of Satan as he speaks through different people."

Johnston was apparently referring to the upcoming news story implying that the reporter, a member of another large church in the area, had an ulterior motive to hurt the credibility of the church and its pastor in order to benefit her own church.

The news story also highlighted the duplicity of claims the pastor has a doctoral degree. Johnston uses "Dr. Jerry Johnston" publicly and in all church publications and media, but in fact he does not have such a degree other than the honorary doctorate received when invited by Jerry Falwell to preach the baccalaureate service at Liberty University in 1998.

Johnston was a high school dropout from the Christian high school he attended in Kansas City in the 1970s. He later passed the general equivalency degree but has not earned college or graduate degrees beyond that. He claims he will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in biblical studies from the Midwestern Baptist College (SBC), the undergraduate program of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

While the letters to the editor in The Kansas City Star have been numerous and polarized, it's clear the issue of trust and integrity are central to the story. Many have defended Johnston and the First Family Church as being the victim of a scathing news story that was unfair in light of all the good the church has done in the community while others have voiced their opposition to the strange need for absolute control of such matters.

The news report on First Family's secretive control of their finances has created a community-wide conversation on the issues of trust, disclosure and integrity. In a follow-up article on this issue, a number of local pastors and congregations were asked about their practices regarding financial accountability.

The majority of responses were openly counter to the practices of Johnston at First Family. Nodell Dennis, director of missions for the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association said, "The first thing I tell pastors is 'Don't touch the money.'" By that he meant the church should hold itself responsible for creating a system of accountability where the funds are appropriately protected and spent according to a budget system that's open to all members for approval and regular review. Such an open system would create a safe barrier between the minister and the money.

The open accountability of a church's financial reports are a form of sacred trust. Some call it a "covenant" between church members and God that is mutually shared between all members, including the pastor and other ministers.

Dan Busby, vice-president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, says the best way to engender trust in a congregation is to be open about its money. "If there isn't that basic appropriate transparency, then people in and out of the congregation will tend to believe that something is being hidden, whether it is or not," he said.

Churches cannot be healthy where secrets abound and refusing to answer the hard questions has the appearance of being its own answer.

Keith D. Herron is senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More on "Hollywood" Bob Reccord

This article from Associated Baptist Press speaks for itself. How a church could fall for this line is beyond me. And "Hollywood" Bob just keeps raking in the bucks, bilking from good-hearted Christian people.

Church's offering for Reccord raises questions about six-figure severance

By Greg Warner
Published: March 27, 2007
SALISBURY, N.C. (ABP) -- Former missions leader Bob Reccord preached a revival last week in a North Carolina church where congregants were asked to give a sacrificial "love offering" because preaching is Reccord's "only source of income" -- one year after leaving his top Baptist missions post with a six-figure severance deal.

In a March 1 letter to his congregation, Rick Cockerham, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Salisbury, N.C., appealed for members to give generously to support their revival preacher. "Since he is no longer with NAMB, this ministry is Dr. Reccord's only source of income to support his family," Cockerham wrote three weeks before the March 23-25 revival. "He also is supporting his aging mother, who is in a nursing home near his home."
Reccord left the North American Mission Board in Spring 2006 after allegations of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest.

While it's customary for a visiting preacher to benefit from a voluntary offering from various congregations, few itinerant ministers receive severance pay from their last job. In Reccord's case, the severance was reported to be two-year's worth of his estimated $250,000 annual salary as president of NAMB.

A second letter 10 days later from Calvary's deacon chairman Kirby Sells admitted the love offering had not been successful and pleaded for more money. "Since Dr. Reccord left NAMB, he has not had a salary from anybody," the letter said. "He is totally dependent on meetings like ours for his livelihood…."

Trustee leaders who negotiated the severance agreement never revealed the details. When asked in April 2006 about the report of two-years' salary, NAMB trustee chairman Bill Curtis said "there is precedent at other SBC agencies" for such a settlement.
A member of the Salisbury church, who asked not to be identified, said "it makes me mad" that, after receiving a $500,000 severance from NAMB, Reccord "is now preying on small Baptist churches in our state."

Asked about the letter and revival, Cockerham said he couldn’t be happier with the three days the Reccords spent with his church. “I’ve never had anybody come who was more gracious and kind than Bob and Cheryl,” he said.

He said he never spoke with Reccord about Reccord’s personal finances, and he said Reccord didn’t know about the letter.

Cockerham said his church always asks for “love offerings” for guest speakers, and he sent the supplication letter only to the most “faithful” members to give them additional opportunities to give, he said.

“We’ve had just a very, very positive response with our people, and nobody to my knowledge at Calvary ever even mentioned anything other than a super positive response,” Cockerham said. “We were very pleased with the meeting and very pleased with the Reccords, and I was very pleased with the love offering.”

Reccord did not respond to two e-mail messages and was not available by phone. But his wife, Cheryl, said the couple was not aware of the fund-raising letter. "We never discussed financial things with the pastor," she said March 26. "We focus on the positive aspects of ministry, and we hope you would do the same."

She said the three-day revival provided "wonderful opportunities to minister to people and wonderful stories of people’s lives that were changed."

Preaching a revival at a 500-member church is a far cry from Reccord's heyday, when he spoke to Promise Keepers crowds of 10,000-plus people and flew around the world in a private plane.
His extravagant spending and self-aggrandizing earned him the nickname "Hollywood Bob" at NAMB and prompted an expose by the Christian Index newspaper and a trustee investigation, both of which led to his resignation under pressure in April 2006. They also were the subject of a tell-all book, Spending God's Money, by former NAMB administrator Mary Branson.
Curtis, the NAMB chairman, declined again to discuss the severance agreement March 26. "You know I can't answer those questions," said Curtis, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Florence, S.C. But he added "it is generally known" that Reccord received a severance.
As for the appropriateness of the Calvary Baptist appeal, he said, "I can't interpose myself into a local-church situation."

The results of the trustee investigation, released in March 2006, faulted Reccord for poor management, autocratic decision-making, extravagant spending on failed ministry projects, apparent conflicts of interest in no-bid contracts for a friend, and creating a "culture of fear" that prevented staffers from questioning the abuses. The trustees also said Reccord spent time and money on events and projects on the periphery of NAMB’s mission and was absent so much he couldn't provide consistent oversight "to properly manage the agency," which directs Southern Baptist mission work in the United States and Canada.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Confederate Heritage Month?

If I were a citizen of the state of Georgia, I would be ashamed of this effort described below in an Ethics Daily story. The NAACP of Georgia had proposed that the legislature issue a public apology for the state's role in supporting slavery in the 19th century, in hopes of following the action taken recently by the Virginia legislature. Instead, it looks as if the Georgia legislature wants to perpetuate the myth of the Confederacy.

By the way, for all those who believe that the Civil War was not about the issue of slavery, but was instead about states rights or confederate independence, you need go no further than to read the documents of secession written by several of the Confederate States' legislatures which spell out in black and white that the issue causing the separation is indeed slavery. For the document related to the state of Georgia, see this link:

The Southern states went to war to defend the institution of slavery. End of case. I can't believe Georgia has legislators who want to celebrate that!

Georgia State Senate Considering Confederate Heritage Month Bob Allen03-21-07

After being asked by black leaders to apologize for Georgia's role in slavery, the state Senate instead moved forward with a bill designating April as Confederate Heritage and History Month.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said his proposal is not a reaction to a call by the Georgia state conference of the NAACP for the legislature to follow Virginia's example. Virginia's General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in February atoning for "involuntary servitude of Africans" and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians.

Georgia's Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, said he was skeptical about his state following Virginia's lead in apologizing for slavery. "Repentance comes from the heart," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I'm not sure about public apologies ... as far as the motivation for them."

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, also a Republican, broke ranks with Perdue, saying he would support the effort to acknowledge the state's role in slavery, which has biracial and bipartisan support. A top Republican leader, Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said he would introduce such an apology, increasing its chance of passage.

In the meantime, the Senate Rules committee on Monday voted unanimously to send SB 283, setting aside each April "to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause of Southern Independence…."

Mullis' district is home to Chickamauga Battlefield, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War in September 1863. Mullis said he introduced the bill as a favor to John Culpepper, commissioner of the Georgia Civil War Commission and a personal friend, and because he believes children need to know the state's history.

His proposal encourages the Civil War Commission to develop curriculum for elementary and high schools about Georgia's Confederate heritage.

Mullis told the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., he filed his bill before the NAACP made their demand for an apology, and the timing made it more controversial. He said he is open to having "reconciliation language" added to the bill but not an apology.

"If I had done something personally, yes, I would apologize," he told the Associated Press.

Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta), an African-American, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the timing of Mullis' proposal is troublesome.

"I think that in light of the conversation we've been having about Georgia accepting responsibility for its history as it relates to slavery, this is not appropriate," Reed said. "If we're not going to address that issue in a candid way, I find it inappropriate to be passing a measure such as this."

Reed also said he is disappointed that lawmakers have not yet approved a proposal to hang a portrait of civil rights figure Coretta Scott King in the state Capitol.

Several Southern states observe Confederate Heritage and History Month in some form. April is the month the War Between the States both began in 1861 and ended in 1865. Georgia already celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.

The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is working in all 159 counties in the state requesting proclamations by county commissions.

Mullis said his measure would help promote tourism in the state. State officials are already working on plans to promote tourism for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011.

This year marks the 145th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an 1883 executive order by President Abraham Lincoln declaring freedom for slaves in confederate states.

Bob Allen is managing editor of
Copyright © 2002-2005

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Promising Future for Baptists

I am very excited about the New North American Baptist Convenant and its forthcoming celebration in January, 2008. I plan to be at this historic meeting. For the first time in a very long time, I have hope that the name "Baptist" might be able to be rehabilited. For the last several decades the Baptist name has been increasingly viewed in a negative light. Now, I have hope that with this Covenant signed by the leaders of 18 other Baptists groups, the name "Baptist" might be able to be viewed positively again. Below is an article about the Covenant and the celebration next January written by one of the premier Baptist historians of our day, Buddy Shurden. The link is found at:

"Living History: The New North American Baptist Covenant and Its Celebration"By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that “The New North American Baptist Covenant and its Celebration” that is presently in the planning stage for early 2008 in Atlanta, GA is one of the most exciting things that has happened in my half-century of traipsing around the Baptist yard of America.

By now, most Baptists and many other Christians are aware that “A New North American Baptist Covenant” has been adopted by Baptist leaders representing an estimated twenty million Baptists, and probably more. It all started with the majestic dream of one of the good and prophetic Baptists of our time, evangelical President Jimmy Carter. Without him, the Covenant would not be a possibility. President Carter wisely chose Mercer President William D. Underwood to help him spearhead the movement.

What is “The North American Baptist Covenant Celebration?” Foremost, it is a “covenant,” a good biblical word. It is a covenant that eighteen Baptist leaders adopted on 10 April 2006 in Atlanta, GA at the Carter Center “to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times. They reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality. They specifically committed themselves to their obligations as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”

A second strategic planning committee convened at the Carter Center on 13 June 2006. At this meeting several significant developments occurred. One, the Covenant was reaffirmed. Second, those present underscored the necessity of celebrating the Covenant by crossing racial, ethnic, and gender barriers among Baptists. Third, these Baptists wanted to project an image of Baptist unity among those who represent prophetic and traditional moral values, especially themes of religious liberty and equality in the service of Christ. Fourth, two committees were appointed. The first, led by President William Underwood of Mercer University, would seek to find a time and place for a Baptist convocation that would be a massive Celebration of the North American Baptist Covenant. Dr. Jimmy Allen was appointed chair of the Program Committee of the future Celebration.

The last meeting for the Covenant planning celebration, now much publicized, met on 9 January 2007, again at the Carter Center in Atlanta. President Bill Clinton was present to endorse and affirm the Baptist Covenant and its celebration.

Why do I think that the Covenant Celebration is one of the most exciting things that has happened in my half century of traipsing around the Baptist yard of America?

First, it puts Baptists on the road to healing. Tragic wounds have scarred the Baptist landscape over the years. These wounds have divided white Baptists from white Baptists since the mid-nineteenth century issue of slavery. White Baptists, North and South and East and West, are now sitting around the same table talking to each other, listening to each other, embracing each other.

Second, it puts us on the road to healing some sinful wounds in Baptist life. These are the wounds of slavery itself, wounds that divided black Baptists from white Baptists since before the nineteenth century. I cannot put into words the thrill of sitting with black Baptists, names that I have known for some years, but who are now becoming friends. One element of our conversation that I have most enjoyed is the absence of playing to an audience. Deference is out. Honesty is in. People are not afraid to say what they think, and others are not afraid to disagree.

Third, it puts Baptists of North America on the road to integration of smaller ethnic groups into the larger Baptist family. Japanese Baptists, Laotian Baptists, Korean Baptists and Hispanic Baptists were all gathered around the table at the Carter Center on Tuesday, 9 January 2007.

Fourth, it puts us on the road to greater awareness of our Canadian and Mexican Baptist friends.

Fifth, and most important, it puts us on the road to working together on issues that unite rather than issues that divide. Those who signed the Covenant and who will be part of its celebration are not a monolithic group. Like good Baptists, we still differ on a number of issues. But we have decided to work in areas of agreement, and most of these have to do with the hurt and suffering of humankind. The best definition of “church” that I have ever heard is: “All who love Christ in the service of all who suffer.” The North American Baptist Covenant Celebration is not a “Church,” but the Covenant leaders certainly plan to act in a churchly manner.

A word simply must be said about what the “New North American Baptist Covenant Celebration” is NOT.

First, it is NOT an effort to construct a new mammoth Baptist denomination in America. The NABC is an informal Baptist network, not a new Baptist corporation. Baptists don’t need a new Baptist Denominational Corporation in this country. We need cooperation, not Corporation. We need to talk to each other. We need not tread on each other’s turf, and we certainly do not need to tear up turf securely planted. We need energy from each other. We do not need a phony Baptist ecumenism, and we do not plan to have such.

Second, the NABC is NOT an anti-SBC movement. It was not designed to embarrass the SBC. It was not even designed to call attention to the SBC in any possible way. That the Covenant represents some commitments lacking in fundamentalist SBC leadership minds since 1979 has not been a major issue. Most of the Baptists involved in the Covenant group have had very little, if any, historical relationship with the SBC for over a century. Only the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship people, a very small portion of the Covenant group, has had SBC relations within the last 30 years.

Third, the North American Baptist Covenant and its celebration in early 2008 is NOT an anti-Republican movement to get a Democratic candidate elected president of the United States. Indeed, the Covenant Baptists are looking for Republicans and Independents that share the values of the Covenant itself. Unfortunately, a kind of political conspiracy theory quickly developed in some suspicious minds that this was an anti-SBC, anti-Republican movement. However, that talk has never been uttered in any of the meetings that I have been in with the New Covenant planning groups, and I have been present at every one of them, including some of the subcommittee meetings. On the other hand, I have witnessed efforts to include people of all political and theological stripes who can commit to the Covenant.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The New SBC Leadership: Do You Know Where Your Money is Going?

I have been a critic of the leadership of theSBC since they began to move into power in 1979. My experience, talking to people who have been hurt by these demagogues is that they can be very mean and hurtful people and that they have a very high opinion of themselves at times. Furthermore, many of them have an attitude of "entitlement," especially when it comes to financial arrangements. In other words, I have long suspected that they may be doing some really unethical things with money and the budgets at the institutions they control.

Below is an article from Bob Allen at about "Hollywood Bob" Reccord and how he fleeced the coffers of the North American Mission Board while he was president. It is worth reading. And, I think every person who remains loyal to the SBC ought to read it and begin to question what is being done with their money.

The article is located at:

Author Describes Culture of Waste at Baptist Agency

Bob Allen02-12-07

A radio interviewer Sunday dubbed it "Branson's Law:" The extent of misuse of mission dollars is directly proportional to the distance between the giver and the spender.
Mary Kinney Branson, author of Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, uses the following analogy: If a preschooler brought a jar of coins to church and desired to give it to the Lord's work, most everyone would take care to make sure it is spent wisely. As those small gifts are combined through collective giving into multi-million-dollar budgets of denominational entities, however, it becomes easy to forget it's made up of many small sacrifices.

Branson worked 16 years for the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily as editing and marketing director of the Home Mission Board and its successor North American Mission Board, formed in a denominational reorganization in 1997.

Not long after arriving at the HMB, Branson said, she began hearing stories about "old timers" and how rigid they were with approving expenditures. Arthur Rutledge, HMB president from 1964 to 1976, once refused to approve a U-Haul trailer rented to carry supplies to a conference in Florida, saying staffers already driving to the conference could have packed supplies in the trunks and backseats of their personal cars.

After an uninitiated new worker mistakenly listed a massage taken to relax after a hard day's work on a line in an expense form labeled "entertainment," Rutledge took up all the expense forms and issued new ones without an "entertainment" category.

While the environment was somewhat more relaxed when Branson arrived--not long after Larry Lewis became president in 1987--the appearance of extravagance was still strongly discouraged. Traveling staff members were told not to accept free upgrades at rental car counters, because people observing them would assume they paid full price. Lewis once refused to ride in a stretch limo sent to an airport to pick him up.

That culture changed, she said, after formation of NAMB and election of President Robert Reccord, a former mega-church pastor whose extravagant lifestyle soon earned him the nickname "Hollywood Bob."

"Dr. Reccord came from a mega-church, and he brought with him a mega-church mindset," Branson said Sunday on "Religious Talk," a weekly radio program hosted by Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.

"Dr. Lewis had been a church planter," Branson said. "Some of the things a mega-church pastor feels entitled to do became part of our culture."

One of the first things to go, she said, was full financial disclosure. A half-inch-thick budget that had been presented to HMB trustees was reduced at NAMB to a few pages. As a result, she said, trustees didn't know what questions to ask.

"We are finding that in a lot of mega-churches," Branson told Prescott. "People are standing up and saying, 'We want the information. We want to know what the salaries are.'"

"I've actually received e-mails from some people asking for advice on how to receive that information from their church," she said. Some have set up Web sites, because they feel too intimidated to ask their pastor for the information.

"We are not children," she said. "This is our money. If we are paying for it, we have a right to know how it's being spent."

Branson said her book's focus is not on individuals but on a system that promotes waste and rewards hubris.

"Most of us, if we were in a position of entitlement, and we had no checks and balances, would do the same thing," she said. "It's very difficult to spend that kind of money with humility."

Branson said she left NAMB under positive circumstances and had no intention of writing a book. She probably never would have, she admitted, if--like about 100 people let go during Reccord's administration--she had been offered a couple of thousand dollars of severance in exchange for never saying or writing anything negative about NAMB. Branson said she has long wondered about a Christian organization that would require former employees to sign such a statement.

She said she also wonders about the leadership of 41 prominent SBC leaders who signed a letter unconditionally supporting Reccord after he stepped down, despite knowing about his spending practices. After Reccord left, auditors found that two of those signers, evangelist Jay Strack and Reccord's pastor, Johnny Hunt of Woodstock Baptist Church, were paid a total of $392,000 without written contracts through verbal agreements with Reccord, who at one time had $1 million in discretionary spending cleared by auditors.

At least one of 31 employees laid off as a result as Reccord's lucrative contract with InovaOne, a business owned by a member of Reccord's former church in Norfolk, Va., ended up on food stamps. When he decided to resign, Reccord reportedly took a lawyer with him to negotiate his own settlement. It was supposed to be secret, Branson said, but word leaked out it was in the neighborhood of $500,000 with additional funds for a headhunter to help him find a new job.

Branson said not everything that occurred at NAMB was bad, but much of it was not part of the agency's primary assignment. Directors were repeatedly told to cut budgets and reduce staff, even while money was coming in, to make room for entrepreneurial ideas of leaders without input from church planters on the field.

"I do feel it's important to bring these things to light," she said. "I've heard people say 'you could hurt the cause of Christ.' I believe it could hurt the cause of man, but not the cause of Christ. If you look in the Bible, sin is confronted."

Another change when she moved to NAMB, Branson said, is that on at least two occasions part of her job was to "brand" Bob Reccord. One poster displayed in NAMB's chapel promoted a meeting with Reccord as a featured speaker that identified him only as "author" without any mention of NAMB.

Reccord contracted two outside PR firms, despite having a public relations department on staff at his service, at a cost of $12,000 a month with a goal of "getting him on CNN."

Asked by Prescott if Reccord ever made it onto CNN, Branson quipped: "I don't know, but maybe Spending God's Money will get on CNN."

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I Am Proud of My Church

I am a member of Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, NC. As I was sitting with my children in church today, there were several thoughts that occurred to me which illustrate why I am so proud of my church. I'd like to share them with you. In a day and time when there are many churches in turmoil, and people frequently complain about their church, I'd like to say a positive word about the community of faith where my family worships.

First, we have a wonderful pastor, Dr. David Whiteman. He has been our pastor for more than 20 years. He is beloved by the membership of our church, indeed the "marriage" between pastor and parish has been very good. It is a healthy relationship and the fact that he is such a good pastor means a lot to my family. He is always there when we need him to bring a "pastoral presence." He leads the staff well as they plan and conduct the worship services and his sermons always have a tremendous amount of depth to them. He makes me think. And any pastor worth his/her salt should do that every Sunday. Furthermore, I consider David to be one of my closest friends. I always feel at ease around him. I never feel like he's judging me for my weaknesses. I always feel accepted by him, which is how I think people probably felt around Jesus, again a trait that any pastor worth his/her salt should possess. Pastors should welcome people to their presence, not repel people away by their arrogance.

Second, our church has a wonderful program for children. My children are happy at Memorial Baptist Church. There are lots of activities for the children. The Sunday School is good. And, children are treasured at our church. Our Childrens' Minister, Rev. Robin Hardison, is the best in the business. Even though she is a busy mother herself, she always finds time for the children in our church. I have always admired how patient she seems around the children and every child is valued and loved the same by her.

Third, we have one of the best atmospheres of fellowship that I have ever experienced in a church. Our church has one of the most diverse congregations that I have ever been a part of, yet we celebrate that diversity and it becomes our strength rather than an impediment. Let me illustrate what I mean. Some churches are like blankets. They are all one color, all one depth, and all one pattern. They might keep the congregation warm, but there is no diversity. In fact, diversity is not encouraged and is even threatening in a church like this. The leadership of churches like this would prefer that the church remain like a blanket because diversity could lead to change or a least might lead to challenging the status quo. But, our church is like a quilt. We have lots of color, lots of different edges, lots of shapes and sizes. But in spite of that diversity, we are all united in purpose. Our church's statement of purpose "Celebrating Christ, Growing Together and Serving Others," unites us as one body with different parts, all important for our mission. Do we always agree? Absolutely not. But, we're Christian about it. We discuss things in committees, in business meetings, and in Sunday School classes, but no one goes away mad. We respect one another. We have different theological perspectives from liberal to conservative. We have different political perspectives from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat and everything in between. Sometimes our discussions are passionate. But, we are always there for each other and our diversity becomes our strength. I like belonging to a "quilt-style" church rather than a "blanket-style" church! Furthermore, quilts are prettier than blankets. They take more work to make and they even keep you warmer on a cold, dark night! Our church is one of the best I have ever seen at celebrating its diversity.

Fourth, our church prays for and cares for those in need. My family has experienced this firsthand over the last several months. My wife has had a long history of chronic back pain. Finally, she had an accident last August which ultimately led to a very extensive back surgery just before Christmas. I can't even begin to express how helpful our church community has been to our family. Several people kept our children overnight during the time that my wife was in the hospital. Others have made meals for us. Still more have prayed for Pam. And, there has been an outpouring of love and concern that we'll never be able to repay. Perhaps the way we repay is simply to return the love and sharing of resources to someone else who is in need.

Fifth, our church understands the essence of the Baptist tradition. We are a church that celebrates freedom. Early Baptists understood the value of freedom. They celebrated the freedom of the individual believer within the community of faith. They valued the freedom of the local congregation to govern itself without any kind of coercion from the outside. They cherished the freedom to interpret Scripture for themselves. And they worked tirelessly to secure religious freedom from the government, both for themselves and for others. They understood the nature of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." They understood that if they needed freedom to practice their faith as they were led to do so, they in turn had to work for freedom for others with different beliefs as well. If freedom of religion is repressed for one group, ultimately there is no true freedom of religion. Our church is a "Baptist" church and as such we value the freedom to be whatever God's Spirit leads us to be.

Sixth, and this is a little bit more specific, I am very proud that our church celebrates that God can call and use both women and men in ministry. I am so proud that our church has just recently been named to receive the "Church Award" from Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina. This means that we have been selected as the church of the year by this fine organization for our promotion of women in ministry. Today, we celebrated "women in ministry Sunday," an emphasis promoted by the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Our Minister to Youth and College Students, Rev. Jenny Folmar, shared an outstanding message with our congregation today from I Corinthians 15 entitled, "I Am What I Am." It was a very good message that challenged us. As good as the sermon was though, the thing that stood out the most to me was how much attention my ten year-old daughter Hannah paid to it. The fact that a woman was proclaiming the Gospel from the pulpit of our church today and held the attention of my daughter made quite an impression on me. And, it also sent a message to my daughter and to any other young girls in the congregation that if they hear God's voice calling them to ministry someday, our church will celebrate and encourage God's call on their lives, not try and convince them that they are mistaken.

That leads me to one final thought. Our church is in the process of trying to make some decisions about the entities it is going to affiliate with beyond itself. More specifically, we are trying to decide whether we need to continue in fellowship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or are we going to alter that relationship in some kind of way. For me, the decision becomes a matter of conscience. How can we continue to associate with a Convention which seems to be moving so rapidly in the direction of becoming a de facto auxilliary of the Southen Baptist Convention? And, anyone who has followed, even from a distance, the direction that the Southern Baptist Convention has travelled, should be concerned. The SBC is now one group of Baptists which are defined on the basis of what they are against rather than what they are for. And that is a terrible p.r. problem! The SBC has made it clear in its Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement that it has no room for women serving God in ministry positions, most especially the pastorate. In other words, they want to try and limit whom God will call to the ministry. Furthermore, there is a mean spirit prevalent in the SBC which comes across in a militant tone. It turns people away rather than invites people in. So, if this is the direction that the Baptist State Convention seems to be going, does our church really need to be affiliated with it? What can I say to my daughters some day if either or both of them should feel the call of God to preach and our church is formally affiliated with a Convention that not only does not celebrate her call, but would want us to tell her that she is mistaken? Additionally, how can a church that celebrates its diversity (a "quilt-style" church) find commonality with a Convention that seems bent on encouraging more "blanket-style" churches? Or, put another way, can a "quilt-style" church find a place at the table in a Convention full of "blanket-style" churches?

If you live in the Buies Creek area and you are looking for a church, I encourage you to come by Memorial Baptist Church. Our quilt will keep you warm! Check out our website at: