Southern Baptists called forth as 'champions for the faith'

by Dwayne Hastings, posted Tuesday, June 20, 2000 (19 years ago)

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Capping a three-day effort to introduce a new "Champions for the Faith" emphasis, Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called on Southern Baptists "to engage and transform the culture."

"The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to the problems that wrack people's souls and torture their spirit," Land said during the ERLC's half-hour presentation during the June 14 closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Champions for the faith, Land said, are known for "taking a stand, speaking the truth and making a difference."

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC agency charged with addressing ethical, moral, religious liberty and public policy issues for Southern Baptists.

The ERLC presentation opened with video clips portraying the rampant decay of contemporary culture, noting that while the specific challenges to families and the Christian faith have changed over the past 2,000 years, the underlying issues remain the same.

Land declared that Christians "are outraged by shocking reports of wanton abuse and the reckless abandonment" of children and at "the lives of precious babies lost at the hands of abortionists." Citing a virtual laundry list of cultural ills, including pornography, drug abuse, homosexuality and racism, Land said Christians are "still haunted" by the question: "What can one person do?"

Champions for the faith "dare to step out from within their high-walled sanctuaries," re-entering society with the truth and light of the gospel in confronting these issues, Land said.

Southern Baptists have a "rich legacy of courage and conviction," he said, citing early Baptists who were martyred for their faith as well as contemporary Southern Baptists who are living out "the purifying power of God's Word as salt and light."

The ERLC presentation highlighted eight Southern Baptists as typical of the many champions for the faith who labor in Southern Baptist churches across the convention. Video vignettes on the eight champions' ministry were followed by a personal on-stage appearance by each.

First to be featured in the mini-video documentaries were Van and Shirley Hughes of Mesa, Ariz., who were in their early 50s and looking forward to "a cabin in the woods on a lake and dinners out" when God placed a burden on their heart for the welfare of 10 siblings, ages 4 to 17, who had been abandoned in a ramshackle house in Phoenix. The Hugheses, who have two grown sons and four grandchildren, adopted the youngsters in what is believed to be the largest group adoption ever in the United States.

Subsequently featured were:

-- Linda Keener Thomas, a mother and pro-life advocate in Chattanooga, Tenn., who was instrumental in establishing the city's National Memorial for the Unborn on the site of a defunct abortion clinic. Thomas, who knows firsthand the persistent emotional pain that follows an abortion, said the names of aborted babies on the memorial's black marble wall is an aid in soothing the grief felt by mothers, fathers and others for their aborted child.

-- Jane Neidenfeuhr, whose shock at seeing two elementary school-aged boys on a library computer looking at pornography on the Internet in the Plano, Texas, public library led to safeguards being implemented. Now the town's community library's public computers offer only filtered Internet service.

-- Peggy Ament, who ministers to "ladies of the night" on Orlando's Orange Blossom Trail. The highway features triple-X clubs, bars and less-than-desirable motels, and now a host of Southern Baptists led by a grandmotherly champion who are busy telling the people on the street that Jesus loves them.

-- Michael Johnston, of Newport News, Va., a former homosexual who now heads a ministry that reaches out to homosexuals with the gospel. Johnston, in the video clip, said homosexuals don't need to hear hatred or condemnation; they need to hear that God says their behavior is a sin.

-- pastors Clarence Robertson and Bob Price of Terrell, Texas, who determined to do more than preach about race relations, Land said, noting that "this tragic legacy of ignorance, hatred and misunderstanding is a matter of sin, not skin." Land said through Jesus' love and forgiveness the two have begun to heal the wounds of racism in the east Texas town.

Noting that the persons on stage were representative of countless other Southern Baptists, Land said champions for the faith confront the culture with "the truth and light" of the gospel. Comparing these Southern Baptists to Nehemiah in the Old Testament, Land said, "They surveyed their surroundings and found the wall between that which is profane and that which is holy had crumbled."

He praised the eight for "engaging and transforming the culture one heart, one mind and one soul at a time," saying a common quality in every champion for the faith is the knowledge that whatever good they accomplish is done in God's power, not their own strength.

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