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Year in Review 2003comment (0)

January 1, 2004

By Jennifer Davis Rash

The word embedded took on new meaning in 2003 when reporters were allowed to live alongside soldiers fighting the war in Iraq. A Southern Baptist reporter and photographer were among that group, allowing Baptist newspapers to report the faith angles of the war.

Operation Iraqi Freedom consumed Americans for several months as war coverage could be viewed 24 hours a day. Even after the war officially ended May 1, updates came with every newscast as U.S. soldiers worked to establish a sense of freedom for Iraqis and deal with renegade shooters and car bombs. As of Dec. 18, 460 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq, 322 of those since the war ended.

Continuous coverage of the situation in Iraq reemerged Dec. 14 when Saddam Hussein was captured by 600 U.S. soldiers. Considered a victory for the world, the United States’ capture of Hussein meant Iraqis could move forward toward a free, democratic government without fear, U.S. military officials said. As of Dec. 19, the exact fate of Hussein had not been determined.

The thousands of soldiers who served or are still serving in Iraq include scores of Alabama Baptist church members.

Churches across the state demonstrated support for the soldiers with activities such as prayer rallies and billboards supporting the troops. But Alabama Baptists did not only support the troops, they poured out love to the Iraqi people through the Iraqi Food Box effort.

Southern Baptists across America spent approximately $2 million to fill 70-pound food boxes for Iraqi families in an effort coordinated by the International Mission Board (IMB). The approximately $325,000 freight cost was paid out of the IMB’s World Hunger Fund.

Of the total 46,000 boxes shipped to Iraq Alabama Baptist churches donated 1,890.

But even with all the support and love shown to the soldiers and Iraqi people, concern arose over the Roadmap for Peace’s backseat position to the war. The roadmap is a plan championed by the Bush Administration for peace in the Middle East.

Issues in America

On the homefront Bush continued seeking ways to uplift the economy, signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortion and supported a Defense of Marriage Amendment.

The marriage amendment to the Constitution came in response to the gay marriage movement across the United States, in Canada and in Europe.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced Aug. 12 that he would vigorously support legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. The Canadian Supreme Court is reviewing the draft of the marriage legislation. If approved, the legislation moves to the House of Commons, which must approve the bill by vote.

But the biggest news on homosexual marriages came Nov. 18 when Massachusetts’ highest court ruled 4–3 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The court gave lawmakers 180 days to come up with a solution that would allow homosexual couples to marry.

Homosexual couples also can still legally form “civil unions” in Vermont.

The issue came close to the church when Gene Robinson of New Hampshire became the first openly homosexual man named a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The recent movements within individual states have raised awareness that a federal law dealing with same-sex marriages may indeed have to be instated.

The proposed marriage amendment for the United States will likely be introduced into Congress in early 2004.

Alabama Baptists also rang in on the issue by passing a resolution at the state convention opposing same-sex marriage. And the Southern Baptist Convention launched a new ministry to homosexuals in June.

While these issues overshadowed most news headlines in 2003, a few Alabama Baptists managed to capture national attention.

From Ruben Studdard’s capturing of the American Idol title to Judge Roy Moore’s divisive battle about the display of the Ten Commandments, Alabama Baptists found areas to cheer and issues to debate.

Studdard, a member of Rising Star Baptist Church, Birmingham, sang his way into America’s heart and became known as the “Velvet Teddy Bear” as he competed on a new hit television program, “American Idol.”

Birmingham and its area code became household words to millions of people as Studdard sported a large 205 t-shirt during the majority of his appearances.

Moore also quickly escalated to national notoriety when he was removed from his office as chief justice Nov. 13 for refusing to obey a federal judge’s order to remove his 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building.

When Moore appealed the ruling, the eight remaining state Supreme Court justices removed themselves from presiding over the case because of their earlier involvement in the dispute. The Dec. 15 announcement from the justices meant replacement judges would be needed. Seven were selected in a random lottery that same day, but the final verdict of who will serve on the court for this case remained uncertain.

Many Alabama Baptist church members rallied in support of Moore and continue to praise his efforts. Several churches displayed banners and called their members to pray about the issue.

During the state convention, a resolution was passed in favor of the right to display the Ten Commandments as well as support of religious liberty.

While the Ten Commandments issue is far from over, another issue that faced the state was definitely decided — tax reform.

On Sept. 9, 68 percent of Alabama voters said no to Gov. Bob Riley’s tax proposal for the state.

This topic captivated Alabamians for several months leading up to the September vote.

Alabama Baptists fell on both sides of the issue and chose not to take a stand either way as a convention. State convention officers did call Alabama Baptists to a day of prayer about the issue, however.

Tax reform

Tax reform was initiated by Riley due to the unhealthy condition of the state budget. Alabamians seem to agree something needs to be done about the financial situation of the state, but they did not agree the recent proposal was the answer.

Just as the state faces a budget crisis, Alabama Baptists had to realize they were barely going to make budget for 2003. Because of the reality of what is going into the offering plates, state convention messengers voted to keep the same budget in 2004 as they had in 2003 — $40,427,480.

The Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries also faced a deficit operating budget for the year ending Dec. 31, 2003.

The IMB also faced budget restraints and had to limit the number of missionaries being appointed to the field. Sixty-one full-time and part-time positions were eliminated from the IMB’s Richmond, Va., headquarters June 10. Both management and support positions were affected by the reduction.

Focus on missions

But Southern Baptists’ focus on missions did not diminish because giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering set another record. IMB officials announced in June that the 2002 gifts to the offering totaled $115,015, 216, an increase of 1.15 percent over the previous year.

Even though a record amount was given, it was still $10 million shy of the $125 million goal.

Alabama Baptists ranked fourth in giving among all the state conventions with $9,436,018.22. Alabama giving also increased 50 percent more than the national average.

An analysis of financial data reported by Southern Baptist Convention churches showed congregations nationwide were sending smaller percentages of their undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program (CP) unified missions budget. That budget funds state, national and international missions programs.

Further designated giving to special missions offerings also increased at only half the pace of increases in undesignated giving to church causes.

Alabama Baptist churches were found to be following the same trends but not with as much a decline. In fact, Alabama Baptist gifts through the CP for 2003 doubled that of the national average. Total SBC CP giving for the 2002-2003 year (ending Sept. 30) was $183,201,694.14, a one-half percent increase from 2001–2002. Alabama Baptists increased missions giving almost an entire percent with CP gifts totaling $17,086,958.14.

Missions fairs and global missions conferences are also continuing, possibly even growing in popularity, among churches and associations.

Groups are traveling in the state, across the nation and around the world. Some go with a church or associational group, others join national efforts.

For instance, National Woman’s Missionary Union’s FamilyFEST and MissionsFEST opportunities continued to gain in popularity among Alabama Baptists.

The North American Mission Board’s World Changers program also garnered a historic undertaking in Birmingham during the summer when more than 1,600 students helped renovate houses. The event was the largest-ever World Changers event in the organization’s 13-year history.

BF&M 2000

While celebrations were made for volunteer missions, those working as career missionaries faced several bouts of controversy.

In January 2002 IMB President Jerry Rankin asked IMB missionaries to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). In April 2003, he asked missionaries who had not yet made the affirmation to make their decisions by May 5. Almost 99 percent of Southern Baptists’ 5,500 overseas missionaries affirmed the BF&M, according to the IMB.

During the May 6–9 IMB trustee meeting, 13 career missionaries were fired because they refused to affirm the 2000 BF&M. Ten others took early retirement with full benefits, and 20 submitted resignations. During 2002, 34 other missionaries resigned citing the BF&M as a factor in their decision. The total number of missionaries refusing to affirm the faith statement was 77.

Another development emerged later in the year when a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.) professor criticized the IMB and its leadership. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, supported the attack on the IMB.

Keith Eitel, professor of Christian missions at Southeastern, circulated a paper he wrote arguing that missions work in some areas is in the hands of theological novices and that women are inappropriately placed in positions of authority over men.

Rankin denied these accusations and noted that Eitel has endangered collaborative efforts between Southeastern and the IMB.

Missions and the tragedy of missionaries lost took hold of Alabama Baptists at the dawn of 2003. On Dec. 30, 2002, a lone gunman attacked the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen, killing Alabama Baptist Dr. Martha Myers, a 57-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist. Also killed were two other IMB workers — business administrator William Koehn and purchasing manager Kathleen Gariety.

Myers was memorialized Jan. 4 at her home church, Dalraida Baptist Church, Montgomery. The gunman confessed to the crime April 20 and was sentenced to death May 10.

Another Southern Baptist missionary was killed when a bomb exploded March 4 at the airport in Davao City, Philippines. William P. “Bill” Hyde, 59, died in surgery from severe head and leg injuries.

Leaders pass away

Other high-profile deaths included Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; Larry Burkett, Christian financial expert, author and conference leader; and Carl F.H. Henry, one of the leading evangelical theologians of the 20th century and former editor of Christianity Today.

Several Alabama Baptist pastors, state leaders and retired missionaries also died in 2003.

A national tragedy resulted in the deaths of seven astronauts Feb. 1 when the Columbia space shuttle exploded over Texas only minutes from landing.

Disaster also came across the nation in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods during 2003. Southern Baptists and Alabama Baptists teams were deployed numerous times throughout the year, but the worst disaster came in September when Hurricane Isabel hit the eastern seaboard. Alabama disaster relief volunteers were among the 116 volunteer teams from 22 state Baptist conventions. This was the largest disaster relief effort in 37-year history of Southern Baptist disaster relief.

Alabama Baptists spent several weeks working in the area.

At home in Alabama, church fires seem to be a frequent occurrence in Baldwin and Mobile associations. Three churches near the coast burned within a few months of each other.

While the burned churches were forced to rebuild, hundreds of other churches were choosing to rebuild, remodel and/or relocate, resulting in celebrations and dedication services.

Alabama Baptists also found other reasons to celebrate:

Alabama leads nation with LifeWay Christian Resources’ FAITH evangelism training plan. The strategy, which was created by then-Alabama Baptist Bobby Welch, turned five in 2003. Alabama Baptists have 3,322 people in about 700 churches trained in the program.

Alabama also became the pilot state for the North American Mission Board’s new man-to-man ministry, which complements national WMU’s Christian Women’s Job Corps.

Candace McIntosh was named executive director of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union.

Convention entities remained strong and free from controversy.

Baptism numbers remained steady in the state. There was a continued focus on evangelism and discipleship.

One of the state’s two Baptist health care systems had a few shaky moments in 2003, but in the end the board of trustees for Baptist Health System decided to keep the system as part of Birmingham Baptist Association. BHS CEO Dennis Hall was fired, a new structure was implemented and Mary Elizabeth O’Brien was hired as the new CEO Dec. 17. The hospital system also continues to exist to provide faith-based health care.

Alabama Baptists moved forward with the ministries reaching the growing ethnic groups across the state. While Hispanics make up the largest ethnic group, Koreans are growing at a rapid pace.

Healthy focus

During the Alabama Baptist State Convention Nov. 18–19 in Mobile, Alabama Baptists launched a new effort, “Healthy Leaders, Healthy Churches” to promote healthy lifestyles among Baptist leaders.

While the convention moved along with ease, it was the lowest attended in at least 50 years with 1,088. The same happened with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in June in Phoenix. It also was the lowest in more than 50 years with 7,008.

The SBC meeting in Phoenix also kicked off the beginning of the end of the SBC-Baptist World Alliance relationship when funding was cut. The deteriorating relationship between BWA and SBC came to a head Dec. 19 when a study committee released its recommendation to totally defund BWA. The committee also suggested finding a “new innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships with conservative, evangelical Christians around the world.”

The biggest news coming from SBC personalities in 2003 was the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Kenneth Hemphill resigned as president and Paige Patterson, who was president of Southeastern Seminary, took Southwestern’s top spot. Danny Akin became president of Southeastern.

Back in Alabama a few battles were fought with video gambling and alcohol related issues.

All forms of gambling expansion efforts were defeated during the legislative session, but a bill dealing with alcohol sales allowed for Sunday sales in Cedar Bluff.

The constitutionality of the bill was challenged, however, and was found to be unconstitutional. That ruling is expected to be appealed. The outcome of the Cedar Bluff case will impact similar attempts in other parts of the state.

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