Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'll get back to you

I just can't write about the New Baptist Covenant and also chat with the friend I came with. I'll have something to say when I get home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

First Impressions of the First Session of the New Baptist Covenant

I got back to the hotel after the first session of the New Baptist Covenant shortly before 11 p.m., answered a few emails, and now here I am. It is late and I am tired. Just a few first impressions, briefly:

1. The session tonight was wonderful. It was so exciting to go to such a large and diverse gathering of Baptists who all appeared eager to be "one" in Christ. The preaching, speaking and music were all great too.
2. The shuttle system for getting participants to and from the convocation site really stinks. I am thankful for friends who helped get me back tonight. I plan to walk the 1.1 miles from the hotel to the Georgia World Congress Center tomorrow even though it is supposed to be 29 degrees here in the morning.
3. I am really, really glad I came. The words of Bill Underwood, William Shaw and President Carter tonight were worth the trip.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dogs and Baptists

We have a dog. Imparting this information to you doesn't really tell you much. Dogs come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Chihuahuas and Saint Bernards are both dogs but one breed is far different than the other.

In like manner the Baptist family is a diverse group. I don't know how many types of Baptists there are, but one year and 18 days ago leaders of 40 Baptist organizations representing 20 million Baptists throughout North America met at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia and announced plans for a big meeting celebrating a "New Baptist Covenant." The announced gathering will begin in three days in Atlanta. A press release from the meeting last year mentioned above reported this ambitious aim:

"The covenant – endorsed by a racially, geographically and theologically diverse assembly of Baptists – underscores the group’s desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in North America. It goes on to reaffirm traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality. The group has specifically committed themselves to their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity."

President Jimmy Carter, a well known Baptist, said of the meeting, "This has been what may turn out to be one of the most historic events, at least in the history of Baptists in this country, and perhaps Christianity."

Actually we have three dogs. Earl is a big, red doberman. Pickles is a little, black miniature dachshund. Maxie is a gray mutt that is bigger than Pickles but smaller than Earl. It is a diverse group, but the three of them get along famously. They play together and they snuggle together when they are cold.

I wonder if a diverse group of Baptists will get along as well as my diverse group of dogs? I intend to find out. I'll be leaving for Atlanta on Wednesday morning with a fellow Baptist pastor to attend the New Baptist Covenant. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A rampant, preventable disease

Malaria kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds. It is the single leading cause of death of children under five in that continent. Malaria causes around 350 to 500 million illnesses and more than one million deaths annually. Making these facts all the more tragic is the reality that malaria is preventable and treatable.

You may have seen the news back in October that the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endorsed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations. The MDGs are eight goals targeted for completion by 2015, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, promotion of gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, and achievement of universal primary education.

Another of the eight goals is about combating "HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases." I confess that I was unaware of the plague that is malaria until a little over 13 months ago. I had, of course, heard of the disease but I had no idea that it infects and kills so many people every year until First Lady, Laura Bush, made headlines a little over a year ago by hosting America's first malaria summit. On one of the news shows on which Mrs. Bush appeared in conjunction with the summit she mentioned the work of Malaria No More. I got the statistics above from their web page.

For a donation of $10 Malaria No More will purchase a bed net that will protect several people from malaria for up to five years. The organization will also transport the net and educate the recipient on using it. A portion of the donation also supports the comprehensive malaria elimination strategies of Malaria No More.

This is an effort worth supporting. After all Jesus did say that we should look after the sick as if we were looking after him (Mat. 25:36). I'm sure that he would say that the same applies to preventing sickness, especially when the lives of so many are at risk.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A new slimy, gooey fuel?

This morning I read an article in the Wilmington Star News about a potential new fuel supply. Instead of slimy, gooey oil our vehicles may one day be powered by slimy, gooey algae. Yes, that yucky green stuff that is an ugly nuisance in aquariums and ponds might become a renewable fuel.

The pollution created by fossil fuels along with our dependence on foreign oil are big concerns in the United States. Biofuels, fuels made from plan material, are one possible solution,

Brunswick Community College (BCC) here in Brunswick County, North Carolina is about to begin research into algae as a biofuel. Because this water-borne plant can be grown vertically it uses less space to produce than current biofuel sources. We don't eat algae so we can use as much as we want for fuel and it will not affect food prices.

The plan at BCC is to secure the funds to build algae tanks at a wastewater treatment plant in the county. Kim Jones, a chemistry teacher and grant writer, hopes to see the school produce algae in industrial quantities and then extract oils that could be sold to companies for the mass production of biofuel. Treated wastewater would be used for growing the algae.

"Wouldn't it be a wonderful vision to have every wastewater treatment facility ... growing algae for oil to produce biodiesel?" Jones said.

Anything that helps us to protect creation and reduces our potential to fight over a finite supply of oil is indeed a wonderful vision.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The cooling of a hot button?

The race for the White House has taken center stage in national news as we begin 2008. I have no intention of using this space to endorse a candidate. There is, however, a feature of the campaign that interests me because it is connected to a matter that is very important to me and it may underscore a trend that I mentioned back in November.

Have you heard anyone ask the candidates about the death penalty?

Actually I have because I listen for that question. But capital punishment has not come up often in the presidential campaign and it certainly has not made headlines. Such was not always the case.

I remember Bill Clinton running for president as a "new Democrat" back in 1992. One of the issues that he frequently cited as one differentiating him from presumably "old" Democrats was his support for the death penalty. He brought it up many times including, I think, in his acceptance speech at the convention. During that White House run, in January of 1992, Clinton, who was then the governor of Arkansas, made a point to fly back to his home state to witness the execution of Ricky Rector who had an IQ of 70. Clinton made his staunch support of the death penalty a centerpiece of his successful White House bid.

But it is 16 years later and discussion of the death penalty is largely muted in presidential politics despite ample opportunity for it to come up. Last month New Jersey became the first state in a generation to repeal the death penalty. But I didn't hear of any candidates issuing statements one way or the other on this decision. I saw no reporters asking any campaign representatives for response to the New Jersey action.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether or not lethal injections, the most widely used method of execution, constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Again, the candidates were silent as far as I could tell in the news. Numerous candidates have spoken of the types of judges they would appoint, especially in relationship to the issue of abortion. But I have not heard judicial appointments come up in connection with the death penalty in the race for the White House.

Presidential candidates spend a lot of money on internal polling trying to determine what is important to the American people so that they can make it known where they stand on the issues that matter to the electorate. I can only attribute the quietness surrounding the death penalty in this campaign to this apparent fact: the American public doesn't really care about the death penalty that much anymore. If the people did care then you can bet that the candidates would be weighing in and the reporters would be asking about it. The fact that neither of these is happening tells me that an issue that was so important to the people a few years ago is not so important to them anymore.

In my blog entry cited above I asked whether the death penalty is fading away. For numerous reasons the number of juries choosing death fell from 317 in 1996 to 128 in 2005. The number of executions dropped from a modern high of 98 in 1999 to 53 in 2006. More and more it looks like the hot button issue of the death penalty is cooling off.

Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (TNIV). The power of God is powerful enough to transform anyone, even murderers, but not if we give them lethal injections first. We can protect society from murderers short of killing them. Because life is precious and because the gospel, the power of God, can transform anyone we must put murderers in prison for life rather than executing them.

"Life for life" is the principle given in Deuteronomy 19:21 and several other passages. The state can embody this principle in its laws by taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment. Indeed, taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment is true to the "life for life" principle while upholding the crucial scriptural principle of the sanctity of human life.

Study after study has shown that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on crime. Moral questions should not be decided based on money, but if we were to factor in dollars and cents, the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Capital cases, with the mandatory appeal process, are very expensive. We can't do away with the expensive appeals process, because we will run the risk of executing an innocent person as we almost did here in North Carolina in the case of Alan Gell.

It is no wonder that Americans are becoming more ambivalent toward the death penalty. Would that we would develop a passion for following the lead of New Jersey by repealing the practice.