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Year in Review: A look back at 2006comment (0)

January 4, 2007

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Reflecting on 2006 just might take your breath away. The fragile state of world relations was enough to keep all Americans anxious, but Alabama Baptists discovered they had no time to fret. There was work to be done — in the Middle East, in Asia, in South America and especially in Alabama — a barrage of activity that constantly overlapped, requiring a skilled level of multitasking.

Rural Alabama captured the world’s attention early in the year as nine Baptist congregations fell victim to the first organized attack on churches in the South since the 1990s.

When five Bibb County churches went up in flames Feb. 3 and four more in west Alabama followed Feb. 7, national and international news sources followed the story closely and Baptists and others across the state and nation sent resources and volunteer help. Three college-age men were arrested in Birmingham a month later for setting the fires.

On Dec. 20, two of the men — Matthew Cloyd and Benjamin Nathan Moseley — pleaded guilty to a 10-count indictment charging them with all nine fires.

The other, Russell Lee Debusk, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and burning the five Bibb County churches, according to The Birmingham News. The three await sentencing in federal court March 28 and face a minimum sentence of seven years without parole.

As those churches began a long recovery process, the question "Who will be next?" loomed.

A Talladega County church — Rocky Mount Baptist near Sycamore — answered that question Oct. 8 when two 18-year-old Sylacauga men set it ablaze, making it the 10th Baptist church in the state to be destroyed by arson in 2006. Several other Alabama churches of different denominations also suffered isolated attacks during the eight months in between.

Alabama Baptists did not miss a beat throughout the church fire drama and showed little sign of fatigue, even though disaster relief volunteers had been working nonstop since the infamous Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. coast in August 2005.

Noted as one of the worst natural disasters in American history, Katrina left more than 1,300 dead as it hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; hundreds of thousands homeless and without jobs; and tens of billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and the Gulf Coast landscape.

Again Baptists were, and are, there helping — so much so that they were commended by the White House in a 2006 report assessing the response to Katrina.

The 228-page document, titled "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned," said, "Faith-based organizations … provided extraordinary services. For example, more than 9,000 Southern Baptist Convention … North American Mission Board (NAMB) volunteers from forty-one states served in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. These volunteers ran mobile kitchens and recovery sites."

While Alabama Baptists are among the countless volunteers continuing cleanup efforts even into 2007, Southern Baptists began to focus their work in New Orleans on rebuilding in early 2006.

In March, NAMB, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, New Orleans-area associations and churches and The Salvation Army partnered to form Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild.

Projected to last two years, the effort divides New Orleans and the surrounding parishes in southeastern Louisiana into 27 zones and will use volunteer labor to rehabilitate more than 1,000 homes and 20 churches.

Alabama Baptists are partnering with Zone 6. Plans are underway for a variety of ministries in the area, including rebuilding, evangelism and church planting.

At the one-year anniversary of Katrina, Southern Baptist volunteers from 41 state conventions had prepared more than 14 million hot meals; completed 16,973 cleanup and recovery jobs; provided 103,556 hot showers; cleaned 25,826 loads of laundry; cared for 7,817 children; and purified 21,595 gallons of water.

Though the work in Katrina-hit areas will be long-term, state Baptists were able to wrap up their large-scale tsunami-relief efforts in Thailand ahead of schedule.

State disaster relief director Tommy Puckett — asked by the International Mission Board (IMB) to head up the nationwide effort in Thailand — said teams had been "so thorough, so good and so fast" at rebuilding that they were able to pull out ahead of schedule.

The Khao Lak area, where Baptist teams had served through the effort since June 2005, was hit hard by a tsunami in late 2004. In less than a year, more than 200 in the area made professions of faith as a result of the presence of missions teams.

Baptists also assisted with other natural disasters taking place in 2006:

- A killer mudslide covered the Philippine village of Guinsaugon Feb. 17, killing an estimated 1,800 people.

- Torrential rains in May swamped Suriname’s remote rainforest, forcing an estimated 22,000 people from their homes and severely affecting another 15,000.

- A May 27 magnitude 6.3 earthquake destroyed thousands of dwellings in Indonesia’s central island of Java.

- Typhoon Durian tore through the Philippines Nov. 30, causing deadly mudslides and killing more than 500 people. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

But nature’s fury wasn’t the only thing causing destruction around the world.

Violence and religious persecution worldwide remained a constant in 2006, especially in Iraq as the war on terror entered its fourth year.

In Baghdad, for instance, 51 bodies killed execution-style were collected from the streets Dec. 19. There in the city, Saddam Hussein’s court proceedings continue, though he has already been convicted in one trial for the death of 148 Shiite Muslims and sentenced to death by hanging. He now faces charges of genocide for the death of 50,000 Kurds in the 1980s.

And just days before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans passed a grave benchmark in the war on terror — the number of military deaths in the war exceeded the 2,973 lost on 9/11.

In Lebanon, the war between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in the summer left Baptists in Beirut and other areas ministering to the hundreds of refugees seeking safety.

Since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire took effect Aug. 14, Southern Baptists have given more than $750,000 in aid and are sending teams to assist villages in southern Lebanon.

A team of Alabama Baptists traveled to the area in November. The group handed out 18 water tanks, 100 oil heaters and 250 blankets.

In Palestine, apprehension remained high after the Islamic militant party Hamas pulled out a surprise defeat of the ruling party, Fatah, in the January elections.

Fatah, which was Yasser Arafat’s party, is a main faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization. It signed on to the 1993 Oslo Accords and the "road map" to peace in 2003.

The victory of Hamas, a nearly 20-year-old Islamic group classified by the United States as a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel, left leaders around the world doubtful the Mideast peace process would proceed.

And for the fourth straight year, North Korea remained atop the Open Doors’ World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians are persecuted the most. The annual list ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.

One religious persecution case close to Alabama Baptists came to a close Feb. 27 when the Yemeni gunman who killed three Southern Baptist medical workers in 2002 was executed by firing squad.

Abed Abdul Razak Kamel was convicted for the Dec. 30, 2002, shooting deaths of Jibla Baptist Hospital business administrator William Koehn, physician and Alabama Baptist Martha Myers and purchasing agent Kathleen Gariety. A pharmacist was seriously wounded but later recovered.

2006 also caught much of the outcry and riots from the Muslim world following the editorial cartoons from Denmark that targeted Muhammad in late 2005.

Back in the United States religion was not so much riddled by persecution as it was scandal.

Evangelical Christians took a blow with the gay-sex charges coming against high-profile Denver pastor Ted Haggard.

Haggard, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was accused of homosexual sex and drug abuse by a former male prostitute and masseur.

In Texas, a five-month investigation uncovered evidence that church-starting funds from The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) were misused between 1999 and 2005 in the Rio Grande Valley. Independent investigators discovered about 98 percent of the 258 church starts reported by three pastors in the Valley no longer exist — and some never existed, except on paper. The BGCT gave more than $1.3 million in startup funding and monthly financial support to those 258 churches.

In Arizona, a jury found the former president and the former legal counsel of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona guilty of three counts of fraudulent schemes and one count of knowingly conducting an illegal enterprise, seven years after the collapse of the organization.

Social issues also caused a flurry of debate among evangelical Christians in 2006, especially related to Southern Baptist pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren.

Warren garnered the spotlight early in the year with his work to help slow down global warming and then resurfaced later when he hosted a conference on AIDS. His conference received criticism from anti-abortion leaders because of the appearance of pro-choice Sen. Barack Obama.

Southern Baptists also found themselves debating the issues of speaking in tongues and Calvinism.

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic gave the tongues debate teeth when

he affirmed it during a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Southwestern president Paige Patterson opposes speaking in tongues, so the seminary was not appreciative of the remarks. McKissic, a trustee of Southwestern, has asked SBC leaders to consider defining the convention’s position on tongues and other spiritual gifts.

The issue also led to the departure of Scott Camp, dean of students at The Criswell College in Dallas, who supports speaking in tongues.

Calvinism discussions continued to escalate as more SBC pastors follow this theology. The issue gained enough weight in 2006 that Patterson, a nonCalvinist, and Al Mohler, a staunch Calvinist and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., held a friendly debate during the SBC annual meeting in June.

And, then there was the firestorm surrounding the Cooperative Program (CP) that led to the election of South Carolina president Frank Page as SBC president.

Page was elected with 50.48 percent of the vote against Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd and Tennessee pastor Jerry Sutton. The election was the first highly contested presidential race at an SBC annual meeting since 1994.

Page’s election indicated that Baptists do want their officers to be strong supporters of the CP — his church gives 12.4 percent. But messengers stopped short of requiring officers to give a certain amount.

An ad hoc committee established to provide a report on CP promotion recommended mandating that churches of convention officers must give at least 10 percent through the CP. The SBC Executive Committee removed the 10-percent standard, so a committee member attempted to amend it from the convention floor. But messengers defeated it.

Both missions boards also found themselves steeped in internal problems and spent a major part of the year dealing with the issues.

NAMB president Bob Reccord resigned in April following nearly two months of controversy that surfaced when an exposé on NAMB’s accomplishments and Reccord’s leadership was published by The Christian Index newspaper.

Allegations included a lack of consistent evangelism strategy, a loss of momentum in church-planting efforts and a drop in NAMB cash reserves from $55 million to $23 million. Questions were also raised about Reccord’s activities as president, some deemed a conflict of interest.

As part of the rebuilding process, NAMB trustees approved a new set of policies and guidelines designed to clarify existing procedures and implement new accountability for future leaders of the entity.

Southwestern professor Roy Fish stepped in as interim president.

IMB trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma came under fire following his outspoken criticism about new IMB policies dealing with believer’s baptism and a form of speaking in tongues known as "private prayer language." The new policies were approved in late 2005.

Speaking out against the policies on his Web blog, Burleson launched a firestorm of discussions.

IMB trustees voted in January to recommend that Burleson be removed as a trustee because of "broken trust and resistance to accountability." It was more about his blogging than his disagreement with the IMB policy, trustees leaders said.

The recommendation was to be voted on by SBC messengers at the annual meeting in June — a first for any SBC entity — but trustees rescinded their recommendation.

Following the incident, the IMB passed a new staff policy that gave trustees of IMB power to censor news stories about their work.

Despite the controversial issues, 2006 was a great year for giving among Southern Baptists.

CP gifts topped the $200-million mark for the first time, with the 2005–2006 fiscal year’s total of $200,601,536.29.

The two missions offerings also received record giving — Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for 2006 brought in more than $55 million and the results of the $137,939,677.59 2005 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering were announced in 2006.

Alabama Baptists also learned they set an all-time high for CP giving and exceeded the 2005 top giving goal by more than $300,000 with $42,832,989 given. They also set a record for disaster relief donations following Hurricane Katrina in August with $3,484,898.

Alabama Baptists approved a record $43.925 million budget, elected a new slate of officers and launched a state-to-state partnership with Michigan during the annual meeting in November.

Earlier in the year Alabama Baptists formalized their three-year partnerships with Ukraine and Guatemala and wrapped up their six-year partnership with Venezuela.

Samford University captured headlines as Andrew Westmoreland was unanimously elected president Jan. 10. He took office June 1, following the May 31 retirement of Thomas E. Corts. Westmoreland was previously president of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

At all three Baptist schools in the state, a number of new buildings opened, and other major construction projects follow closely behind.

Samford opened new music and theater facilities while continuing work on the new $32 million Pete Hanna Arena and a new four-level, 600-space parking deck.

Judson College dedicated the Charles F. Dunkin Athletic Park, which has a new softball field and a future soccer field, and began renovations on the WMU Dormitory.

And the University of Mobile (UM) began the 2006–2007 school year with the opening of a new four-story, 151-bed residence hall. UM also announced plans to begin raising money for a student center. Future building plans include a performance hall and conference area.

In church news, two Mobile churches grabbed headlines when they faced differences with the Mobile Baptist Association.

Hillcrest Baptist Church, Mobile, was ousted from the association Oct. 19 by an overwhelming vote on the grounds that the church’s hiring a female associate pastor violated the association’s membership guidelines.

First Baptist Church, Mobile, responded to the action by an overwhelming vote to withdraw membership from the association Nov. 29.

In other news:

- Alabama adopted a constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman with 81 percent of Alabama voters approving the measure June 6. By year’s end, 27 states had passed similar amendments. The federal Marriage Protection Amendment failed in both the U.S. House and the Senate.

- The casino-style Quincy’s MegaSweeps gambling operation at the Birmingham Race Course was ruled illegal, which breathed new life into the attempt to make all electronic gambling machines in the state illegal.

- Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources since 1991, retired Feb. 1. Union Springs native Thom Rainer was elected as president. Rainer previously served as the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

- Birmingham’s Baptist Health System (BHS) finalized the sale of Cherokee and DeKalb Baptist medical centers to Community Health Systems and worked out a joint venture with Triad Hospitals, Inc., for Montclair Baptist Medical Center. This left BHS with a core group of three hospitals — Princeton, Shelby and Walker Baptist medical centers — and part ownership in Montclair, renamed Trinity Medical Center as part of the change. Trinity officials began the process of building a new nearly $315 million replacement hospital, possibly in Irondale, just off Interstate 459.

The changes with the hospitals, along with the sale of its home care and hospice ministries, completed the restructuring phase of the reorganization of BHS that began in 2004.

BHS officials also continue to search for a chief executive officer (CEO) after the June retirement of CEO Beth O’Brien.

- Three civil rights leaders from Alabama died within weeks of each other early in the year.

Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, died Jan. 31. She was 78.

John T. Porter, pastor emeritus of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, Birmingham, died Feb. 15. He was 74.

Earl Stallings, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, died Feb. 23. He was 89. Stallings was one of the eight white clergy Martin Luther King addressed in his Letter From Birmingham Jail.

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