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Rebuilding Haiti tops 2010 newscomment (0)

January 6, 2011

By Jennifer Davis Rash

By now, your crisp, new calendar has several ink marks (or key strokes if you go paperless) dotting its January spread. You’ve not only set your feet toward 2011 but you’ve also plunged right in, leaving 2010 a quickly fading memory.

But several things already important for Baptists in 2011 are follow-ups to what happened in 2010 — rebuilding Haiti, adjusting to continued economic hardships and fleshing out Southern Baptists’ new direction known as the Great Commission Resurgence.

All three of these things involved a great number of people in 2010, but it was earthquake-ravaged Haiti that garnered top news with its Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 quake that killed more than 200,000 people. More than 300,000 people were injured, and more than 1 million people were left homeless.

The already poverty-stricken country was left in shambles, but religious and humanitarian groups across the United States stepped in and stepped up in what has been described as an unprecedented movement of compassion.

Relief efforts included a strong presence by Southern Baptists with an almost immediate open door through Florida Baptists’ partnership with Haitian Baptists.

Alabama Baptists were among the first Baptists to help and even initiated a new partnership between Alabama Baptists and Haiti’s city of Jacmel.

As part of the relief efforts, Southern Baptists collected and delivered 132,000 Buckets of Hope filled with basic food provisions such as flour, cooking oil, rice and other foodstuffs. Alabama Baptists sent about 8,300 buckets.

Scores of Alabama Baptist volunteers visited Jacmel and other areas of Haiti throughout the year delivering medical supplies, working with children and orphans and providing other relief efforts.

And while Alabama Baptists have found success helping Haitian orphans, one group of 10 from Idaho and Texas were not so fortunate. The volunteers traveled to Haiti in February to help and ended up arrested and detained on charges of trying to smuggle Haitian orphans out of the country. They were later released.

Alabamians, Americans and the world reached out to Haiti, and all while suffering intensely from the general state of the economy.

People were hurting, money was tight and the trickle effect was harsh, but many still found ways to help those less fortunate.

Studies showed this was happening in many places (see story, page 11), even though deep cuts were being made in budgets across the board.

Churches especially took a hit in 2010, seeming to be a little behind the curve of the major hit of the recent recession, which experts say actually ended in June 2009.

And the financial pain moved quickly down the line to associations and the state convention, which was predicted to end the year about $4 million under budget for receipts.

At press time, Alabama Baptists had given more than $40 million of the $46 million budget for the year. Bobby DuBois, associate executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said $4.3 million was needed in December to make the $42 million mark.

The decline in giving was no surprise, however, as November marked an overall record percentage of unemployment for the nation as well as a record budget deficit.

If the general state of the world economy weren’t enough, the Gulf Coast oil spill in the spring sunk several Southeastern states even lower, including Alabama.

An explosion on a British Petroleum (BP) oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 killed 11 workers and began the largest and worst accidental oil spill in petroleum history, according to London’s The Telegraph.

Before finally capping the oil well at the bottom of the ocean floor in July, more than 200 million gallons of crude oil had spilled into the water during a three-month period, devastating both wildlife and economic life along the Gulf Coast. Effects from the oil spill continued long after the well was capped. Merchants, hotels and restaurants along the Gulf Coast, including the coastline in Alabama, saw a significant drop in business during the summer months — usually it’s busiest time in the year — leading to several places having to close.

BP launched a major goodwill campaign and worked to help promote the Gulf Coast through media advertising, but business still wasn’t nearly the same. Social service agencies also found themselves stretched thin trying to deliver relief to families and businesses struggling to cope with the spill.

With an across-the-board tightening of the belt in 2010, the dollar became much sought after in all walks of life, including missions and ministry.

Southern Baptists found themselves debating how to divvy out Cooperative Program (CP) dollars while also moving quickly to cut several ministry areas.

The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force presented its report for a vote in June during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Messengers voted to accept the report and get to work on some new ways of doing things in SBC life, including making the CP the primary element of a new giving category rather than the sole recognized avenue of general missions support.

GCR Task Force leaders encouraged Southern Baptists to examine all areas of SBC life, but the specific areas mentioned in the report deal with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the International Mission Board (IMB) and the Executive Committee (EC).

Anxiety levels were high at two of the three (NAMB and EC) as work turned to scrutinizing the organizations, functions and personnel (noted below). The IMB looked to gain 1 percent in its CP allocation from the EC and was granted permission to appoint missionaries to serve in the United States as related to specific people groups from other countries.

Both mission boards and the EC also remained in leadership transition during 2010, with the IMB still searching for its leader at the close of the year.

Frank Page filled the first open slot, becoming president of the EC, when Morris Chapman retired. Within a few months Page announced staff reductions and ministry assignment changes for the EC in order to come in line with the GCR Task Force recommendations. A couple of his changes included eliminating the office focused on CP promotion and assuming the responsibility of CP promotion himself. Page also combined the convention relations office with the Baptist Press news office.

NAMB may have made the biggest splash with its new leader, Kevin Ezell. Elected to the position 37 to 12 in September, Ezell arrived on the scene amid controversy and managed to keep media outlets busy for several weeks after he took office.

He downsized the NAMB staff, cut funding from some existing ministries and caused a stir among state convention leaders as he initiated the move toward disbanding NAMB’s cooperative agreements (funding) for certain evangelistic efforts across the United States.

“It will take a while to change the NAMB DNA, but we will do it through attrition, retirement incentives and infusing some of the right DNA,” Ezell told The Christian Index in October. “I didn’t come here to go out and beg churches to just give. They are giving and we are competing for dollars, but we want to do something that people can believe in.”

The IMB managed to move along steadily and quietly while still not finding the right person to head the organization. Several high-profile names were rumored to be candidates for the position off and on throughout the year, but at press time trustees continued to argue among themselves about who was the right person.

And amid all the movement and news coming out of the IMB, NAMB, EC and SBC in general, the SBC Twitterverse population increased daily. More and more SBC leaders, pastors and laypeople are communicating their initial reactions and opinions to convention-related decisions and releasing news and information via Twitter, an online social media tool. Some are even finding themselves in heated debates and saying things for which they have to later call and apologize.

But Twitter was not only used for SBC news, it became a favorite among many following politics in 2010.

And the political climate turned intense as the November elections neared with numerous incumbents being defeated and the recent Tea Party movement working to unseat Democrats in favor of shifting power to the Republicans. The movement was successful in the U.S. House but not in the U.S. Senate, even though it was a close call.

In Alabama, several legislators also felt the wrath of angry citizens and found themselves out of state political work.

While some of the reasoning matched that on the national front, some of the concern in Alabama also came from the major gambling battle that has increasingly grown over the past few years. The latest two- to three-year push finally met defeat during the legislative session in the spring when a FBI “electronic bingo” investigation over vote buying was announced.

The FBI probe resulted in Montgomery lobbyist Jennifer D. Pouncy pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy for her role in the scheme and 11 indictments of lawmakers, gambling bosses, lobbyists and others. Those indicted pleaded not guilty in October, but lobbyist Jarrod Massey struck a deal with prosecutors in late December and admitted to offering bribes to legislators over this year’s “bingo” legislation.

Pouncy worked under the authority of Massey and admitted offering bribes as well.

Massey represented Ronnie Gilley, owner of Houston County’s Country Crossing and another one of the 11 indicted. Gilley and Alabama gambling superpower Milton McGregor were pushing the legislation being considered, which would have protected their gambling operations from Gov. Bob Riley’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling. The task force had successfully closed down Gilley’s and McGregor’s “electronic bingo” operations early in the year.

How Massey’s testimony will play out for the others involved was not known at press time. The lawmakers involved are Sens. Larry Means, Jim Preuitt, Quinton Ross and Harri Anne Smith.

And while Riley and others had difficulty getting a fair hearing from Alabama legislators for any type of ethics reforms previously, they had no problem in December when Riley called a special session to deal with hindering political corruption. Many attributed this to the indictments and information that had been revealed from the indictments.

The “historic” ethics reform package of seven bills were signed into law Dec. 20. “Passing any one of these reforms would have meant a tremendous positive change for the way the people’s business is conducted in Montgomery,” Riley said in a press release. “Passing all seven of these reforms represents a sea change of historic proportions and will make Alabama the new standard for ethical government in the United States.”

These laws include giving the Alabama Ethics Commission subpoena power, or the power to call witnesses and require them to take an oath and provide evidence; banning transfers of money between political action committees (PAC), better known as PAC-to-PAC transfers; and limiting the amount of what a lobbyist can spend on a legislator to no more than $150 a year.

“[These laws] won’t alleviate corruption, but it will certainly make it harder for corruption to exist in our state, and that’s always good for Alabama,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.

Back on the national scene, this year seemed to have more, at least more publicized, religious tensions, especially in regards to Islam.

Tennessee made headlines during the summer regarding opposition to Islamic sites planned in Brentwood and Murfreesboro. A month after Brentwood residents defeated a plan for a mosque, residents in Murfreesboro and its Rutherford County tried to do the same by opposing planned construction on an Islamic mosque, community center and athletic fields. By August, attention had turned to New York City where Muslims were readying plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque just two blocks from where the World Trade centers were destroyed Sept. 11, 2001. If this weren’t enough to start a national debate and garner worldwide attention, a Florida pastor planned to burn copies of the Muslim’s holy book the Quran on Sept. 11. The day before the anniversary he suspended his plans after receiving backlash from President Obama, the Pentagon and the state department.  

Tensions also escalated in the homosexual debate in 2010.

In a landmark moment for the homosexual movement, President Obama signed a bill into law Dec. 22 overturning the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a move that will lead to open homosexuality in the military and will harm religious liberty, readiness, privacy and retention, critics say.

The U.S. House and Senate’s approval of the bill during the lame duck session capped a nearly yearlong effort by the Obama administration to reverse the 17-year-old policy, which was adopted in 1993 as a compromise between conservatives and President Clinton. Clinton wanted homosexuals to be able to serve openly but faced resistance from Congress and the Pentagon. As part of the ’93 compromise, homosexuals would not have to disclose their sexuality on the front end — as had been required — although they would be required to keep their homosexuality secret while serving.

The U.S. military has never allowed open homosexuality.

Homosexuality also made news in 2010 as a federal judge struck down California’s Proposition 8 banning gay “marriage” in the state, and gay bullying became a hot topic in Hollywood after a rash of homosexual teen suicides.

The homosexual topic also surfaced again in the Episcopal Church as Mary Glasspool was elected the church’s second openly gay bishop and first openly gay female bishop. New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop whose 2003 election sparked a global schism, announced he will retire in 2013. (Kristen Padilla, Leigh Pritchett, BP, RNS contributed)

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